Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bastardizing Albums: The Best Playlists of 2007

Ah, yes... 2007! The year that will be remembered for leaded toys and unleaded gasoline toying with us. And then of course hate is back, apparently by popular demand. Not since the civil rights movement of the '60s has the country--from Jena, Louisiana to Columbia University, New York City--been adorned with so many nooses. Nevermind Don Imus or the church shootings. But all is not lost. In 2007, it seems that everyone from Bush's most trusted confidants (they pretty much all resigned) to his own party (no Republican candidate is dropping his name too often), realized what the Dixie Chicks knew all along. Lead singer Natalie Maines told a London crowd way back in 2003: “Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Of course, know you can replace "Texas" with pretty much anything and it kinda works: "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from THE UNITED STATES or IS REPUBLICAN or WAS RE-ELECTED TWICE, etc." It seems, Bush or as my favorite garage rock band under 14 (Tiny Masters of Today) call him, "Bushy," is fulfilling his own prophecy of being supported only by his dog Barney and his wife Laura.

Music biz-wise, 2007 will be remembered as the year that the record industry gasped its last breath, as digital music reigned supreme. People realized two simple things: Who buys albums anymore and whoever liked every single track on any given album to begin with? I can probably count with one hand how many albums are solid masterpieces from track 1 to track X. I know this is probably a bit acerbic to the music purist or to musicians, but to the music fanatic with not enough time to sit through shabby tracks to get to the gems, the new digital age is a very welcome age. So rather than give you my top albums for 2007, since I don't think there is a single album that is outstanding from start to finish this year, I will give you my favorite playlists. There are certainly some repeated offenders who had more than one great track, but rather than suggest that you waste $9.99 or $11.99 for albums where you only get about $4.96 worth of good music, here are the best playlists for the year. And why split hairs with any kind of order. All these tracks are great in no particular order.

2007 was handsdown the year of rockin' ladies, thus my first playlist is "Rawkin' Ladies":

1. Brandi Carlile: "The Story," "Turpentine"
2. Laura Veirs: "Wandering Kind"
3. Amy Winehouse: "Rehab," "You Know I'm No Good"
4. Lilly Allen: "Smile"
5. Rilo Kiley: "Silver Lining"
6. The Puppini Sisters: "Mr. Sandman"
7. The Detroit Cobras: "On a Monday"
8. The Pipettes: "Your Kisses are Wasted on Me"
9. Au Revoir Simone: "Sad Song"
10. Bettye LaVette: "The High Road"
11. Feist: "1234," "My Moon My Man"
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Down Boy," "Rockers to Swallow"
13. KT Tunstall: "Hold On"
14. M.I.A.: "Paper Planes," "Mango Pickle Down River"
15. Mala Rodriguez: "Nanai"
16. Keren Ann: "Lay Your Head Down," "Jardin d'hiver"
17. The Long Blondes: "Once and Never Again," "Fulwood Babylon"

"Rock Not in English" Playlist
1. Manu Chao: "Me Llaman Calle," "A Cosa"
2. Café Tacvba: "Volver a Comenzar"
3. Dani Umpi: "Atracción"
4. Federico Aubele: "En El Desierto (Live at Stubb's)"
5. Pacha Massive: "Get It On"
6. Bonde do Role: "James Bonde," "Bondallica"
7. Mexican Institute of Sound: "Escribeme Pronto"

"Late Night Blues" Playlist
1. Alamo Race Track: "Black Cat John Brown"
2. Jens Lekman: "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo," "The Opposite of Hallelujah"
3. Castanets: "This is the Early Game"
4. The National: "Brainy," "Squalor Victoria," "Apartment Story" and "Blank Slate"
5. The Mary Onettes: "Explosions"
6. The Clientele: "Bookshop Casanova"
7. Caribou: "Melody Day"

"Sweet Twang" Playlist
1. The Avett Brothers: "Paranoia in B Major"
2. The Bees: "Love in Harbour"
3. Castanets: "Westbound, Blue"
4. Josh Ritter: "Next to the Last Romantic"
5. Nyles Lannon: "Hesitation"
6. Utah Carol: "Ruby"

"The Wannabes" Playlist
1. Spoon: "The Underdog" (Billy Joel)
2. Mika: "Grace Kelly," "Relax, Take It Easy" (Freddy Mercury/Queen)
3. Okkervil River: "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe," "Unless It's Kicks" (Bruce Springsteen)
4. Arcade Fire: "Keep the Car Running," "Intervention" (Bruce Springsteen)

"2007 Miscellaneous Playlist from Hell"
1. Tiny Masters of Today: "Bushy"
2. Q-Tip: "Work It Out"
3. Against Me: "Stop!"
4. Born Again Floozies: "7 Deadly Sinners"
5. The Teeth: "Ball of the Dead Rat"
6. Devendra Banhart: "Tonada Yanomaminista"
7. Kaiser Chiefs: "Ruby"
8. Public Enemy: "Harder Than You Think," "Can You Hear Me Now"
9. Liars: "Houseclouds," "Plaster Casts of Everything"
10. MKC: "In Da Club-Historia Nuestra" (Remix)
11. Architecture in Helsinki: "Heart it Races"
12. White Stripes: "Icky Thump"
13. Travis: "Selfish Jean"
14. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: "Gone Gone Gone"
15. Paul McCartney: "Dance Tonight"
16. Kenna: "Say Goodbye to Love"
17. The Rosebuds: "Get Up Get Out"
18. Portugal the Man: "The Bottom"
19. The Cinematics: "A Strange Education"
20. Shout Out Louds: "Normandie"
21. Vampire Weekend: "Mansard Roof"
22. Van Hunt: "Turn My TV On"
23. Sean Kingston: "Beautiful Girls"
24. Beirut: "Guyamas Sonora"

And finally my favorite end-of-the-year list that is not mine: Bill Maher's "Dickheads of the Year" in Rolling Stone.

I did break my own rule and provided my top ten world music albums to Global Rhythm.

Brian Wilson: Another 'Beautiful Mind'

The first time I really listened to "Pet Sounds" (after watching the movie "Almost Famous," you know when the older sister gives her very young music journalist brother a stack of albums that will "set [him] free," among them "Pet Sounds"), I didn't get it. I listened again--nada. And then one day while driving, it hit me. Maybe the concept of what I thought the Beach Boys were--a blond boy band that made terrific teeny-bopper beach surfer pop music--overshadowed the fact that some of their music could be so ethereal and complex. More importantly, it overshadowed the fact that behind such brightly sunburnt, aloe-scented music was a tormented, mad genius.

Now I understand, and as a music omnivore, I stand 100 percent behind the argument that it is one of the best American albums of all time, even though we, in America, were too dumb to realize it then. Leave it to the Brits to tell us what great music is. "God Only Knows," for example made it to #39 here, while in England it was a top five hit. Remarkably, the Beach Boys even beat out the Beatles in NME's end-of-the-year poll as Britain's "most popular vocal group" of 1966, according to the "Pet Sounds" liner notes.

By Wilson's admission, "Pet Sounds'" design was "to compete with the Beatles" and trump the Fab Four's 1965 masterpiece "Rubber Soul." By Paul McCartney's admission, "God Only Knows" is one of the greatest songs ever written and "Pet Sounds" is "a total classic record that is unbeatable in many ways." Beatles producer George Martin went as far as saying that "without 'Pet Sounds,' 'Sgt. Pepper' wouldn't have
happened... it was an attempt to equal 'Pet Sounds.'"

Today, "Pet Sounds" is a classic by most standards and Brian Wilson is a bona fide and recently crowned genius--he was one of the five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honor medal this past Sunday, Dec. 2.

Washington Post pop music journalist J. Freedom du Lac, wrote a revelatory piece on Wilson. Du Lac's piece, which reads like Sylvia Nasar's excellent biography "A Beautiful Mind," about Nobel Prize Honoree John Forbes Nash, Jr and his bout with paranoid schizophrenia and the woman who stood by him until his abatement and beyond, rectifies any false sense of hope that the dark demons that have haunted Wilson since his drug-induced melt down in 1965 are gone. Du Lac begins: "Brian Wilson still hears voices."

This was news to my wife and I, who witnessed one of the most spectacular concerts we've ever seen, when a bright-eyed, lucid and beaming Wilson performed at the Warner Theatre here in D.C. in 2006. We saw the kind of Wilson most would expect to see as the voice and brains behind the happy-go-lucky Beach Boys music. The distant, distressed Wilson was nearly absent. He was giddy and jubilant. Though at times his stage presence seemed slightly uneasy, it was in the way a kindergartner might be before performing on parents' night: nervously smiling, coquettishly blushing, unsure where to look.

The concert began with an almost informal, around-the-beach bonfire acoustic jam session where they sang "Surfer Girl," among other songs. After a set, heavy with hits and a few obscure gems, and then a short intermission, Wilson and his band,
who were joined by original Beach Boy Al Jardine , played "Pet Sounds" in its entirety. For the encore, the played their faster and most well-known hits like "Good Vibrations" and "Surfin' U.S.A." We could not believe what we had witnessed and more importantly we could not think of a single Beach Boys song that they didn't play!

In du Lac's article, Wilson tells him: "Things were rough for me from about 2002 to 2006... Rough enough that I should have been in a mental institution under heavy sedation." So, when we saw him in 2006, was Wilson--as du Lac writes--being "tormented by hecklers no one else can hear?" God only knows.

As in "A Beautiful Mind," Du Lac's piece is as much, if not more, about Wilson, as it is about his emotional and psychological fortress: his wife Melinda. As du Lac acknowledges, his piece has a "behind-every-mad-genius-there-is-a-woman" sub theme to it. Wilson unabashedly admits that his wife is the reason behind his resurgence.
And by resurgence, I mean that Wilson finally completed his follow-up to "Pet Sounds," "Smile," in 2004 (nearly 40 years after shelving it) and he recently released a single on his Web site called, "Midnight's Another Day," from his forthcoming work,"That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative)."

Just one more great moment in the article, before I let you go read it: Wilson tells du Lac: "['Good Vibrations'] is a little bit flat in the choruses... I wish I'd taken more time and done it a little better." What-huh-what!?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Born Again Floozies Will Tap And Blast Their Way Into Your Ears

How can anyone go wrong with a name like that? Every once in a while those "free" CDs that come in music magazines contain a genuine gem. Ever since I found Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel," which is actually a song built around an unfinished and unreleased chorus that Bob Dylan penned for the film, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," I frantically dig through all those freebie CDs looking for something similar. Finally... I found another gem: Born Again Floozies' "7 Deadly Sinners." It was in a recent Paste Magazine accompanying CD. The Floozies craft beautiful music that skips around from country to rockabilly to blues, but with two magical ingredients: a pounding, blasting tuba and the clickity-clack of tap dancing. Though no other song compares to "7 Deadly Sinners" within the album of the same name, there are a few other noteworthy tracks if you just can't get enough tuba or tap dancing:"Floozies Repent" and "Miranda Rights."

Devendra Banhart

Freak folk, freak folk, freak folk... Please, let it be the last time either of those two words are used as short cuts to define or contain a magnificently complicated and almost uncategorizable talent like Devendra Banhart. The only thing to say about his new album "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Mountain" is that it's a challenging affair that cavorts from samba to salsa to art rock to Andean rock, all the while stitched together by some vintage 60s thread. Although he lived in Venezuela for some years and he often sings in Spanish, he's never been considered part of the Latin alternative movement. It seems it's time to reconsider. Banhart's new effort may very well rank among the best Latin alternative albums of the year based simply on four tracks: "Cristobal", "Samba Vexillographica", "Rosa" and "Carmensita." And considering that this year, pioneers and genre monoliths like Manu Chao and Café Tacvba both released outstanding albums, Señor Banhart is good company.

Of course, if the Brazilian and Latin American-influenced stuff doesn't grab you, the album's gem, the harder-hitting, Morrison-esque "Tonada Yanomaminista," should be in contention for one of the best singles of the year--definitely THE best single that you will never learn how to pronounce.

Read A.D. Amarosi's excellent cover story on Banhart here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The kids are alright!

Tiny Masters of Today are proof positive you're never too young to start rocking out or to tell "Bushy" what you think of him. Ivan and little sister Ada, who were born two years AFTER the first Bush left office and four years before the second Bush came on, respectively, delivered one of the most punk albums of the year. Once you get over their pint-sized frames and the fact that--yes--Ivan just hit his teens, you realize that their garage punk sound, screeching vocals and unforced lyrics that sadly seem too angry for kids their age (until you look into the world we're leaving them) far outburn the "novelty band" label. In a nanny-nanny boo-boo kinda way, they gut punch the president with such delicious intensity that they've probably caused many, many struggling bands to just hang it up and ponder, "If these little kids can come up with this, what chance do we have?" In "Bushy" clocking in just over a minute, they simply sing: "All my friends agree with me/ You're the worst president... Bushy/ I talked to the government and they agree/ You're the worst president... Bushy." To add insult to injury, some Web sites report that Ada came up with the lyrics when she was eight!

The albums is filled with other gritty gems like "Hey, Mr. DJ", "Hologram World (featuring 2/3 of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Karen O and Nick Zinner)" and "Stickin' It to the Man," which David Bowie had this to say about it:
"This 2:43 minute slice of detached cool comes across like Suicide crashing a Shaggs rehearsal. How can you resist? 'You say yes, I say no. You say stop, I say go. You say up, I say down. You say smile, I say frown. Stickin' it to The Man, stickin' it cos I can, stickin it to The Man, every day.' Genius."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Café Tacvba new album "Sino"

There isn't a more Mexican band, nor one more entrenched in Anglo music than Café Tacvba (they grew up listening to the Clash, the Cure and the Smiths--among others). And there sure as hell ain't a band that can splice the sounds from both sides of the border more creatively or more effortlessly. While they've flirted with just about every Mexican folkloric genre and given their punk, rockabilly or electronica treatment to anything they could muster musically, the first single "Volver a Comenzar" off their new album "Sino" stands out because of its lyrical introspection and daring length at 7:44. It starts out as a bouncy, disco-punk number with a swirling sugarsweet synth hook. About halfway through, the tempo slows down to dreamy lullaby speed that has Brian Wilson-Pet Sounds written all over it--down to the swirving choral vintage Beach Boys ooh-ahhhs. It then progressively returns to the starting danceable beat ("Volver a Comenzar" means "starting over"). Interestingly enough, when I interviewed bassist Quique Rangel at the Latin Alternative Music Conference this past summer, he shared with me that the first album he plans to upload into his new iPod (after his old iPod and iTunes crashed) was "Pet Sounds." Thematically and lyrically, this epic single doesn't fall too far from its Wilson tree: its gushy, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics of lament and "not having enough time to repair" all that's broken over soothing, almost meditative music is classic Wilson.

But there's more to "Sino." For the Tacvbos, it is an exercise in masterfully albeit metaphorically giving a peck on the cheek to some of the music that made them what they are. They walk a fine line between honoring their heroes and straight-up mugging them. By inserting musical or vocal nuances that are unmistakenly someone else's, as when lead singer Rubén Albarrán's decadent whiny Spanish vocals on "Cierto O Falso" slightly reek of Johnny Rotten, they avoid committing the cardinal sin of simply ripping off the Sex Pistols or becoming the Sex Pistols en Español, for instance.

Throughout the album you get a whiff of scents ranging from '66 ethereal surf pop to '77 British punk, but you're never clubbed over the head with it. But perhaps most importantly, the album is unequivocally a Café Tacvba album from start to finish.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Covering the Latin Alternative Music Conference

Hello. Been a long time. Must. Update. Blog. Very. Soon. For now, please visit www.harpmagazine.com (front page, left hand side or click on the links here on your right) and check out my four-part series on the Latin Alternative Music Conference. If you scroll down you can also see a few photos I took with my little Kodak snapshot camera--pardon the crudeness. I've also added a few names and links to bands/aritst I highly recommend.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tio Ivan News Footage

TV stations pay tribute to my late Tio Iván

Varias estaciones de television hablan sobre el fallecimiento del Tio Iván

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Iván Oña R.I.H.

I'm pretty sure my uncle and namesake, Iván Oña, just got to heaven and is quickly looking for his old man--my grandpa, Guillermo or Abuelito Lempis, as we used to call him. After Tio Iván finds him, they will probably catch up over a few "jabas de Pilsener" (cases of Ecuadorian beer). If there's a soccer game on, all the better.

It would probably behoove Tio Iván to keep it low key that since Lempis's passing in '81, Ivan became a die hard fan of the Ecuadorian soccer team, Barcelona. Lempis, being a Liguista (fan of Liga Deportiva Universitaria) and consequently a hater of all things Barcelona, would probably disown him AGAIN (we'll get to that later). After drinking, smoking and shooting the shit, they will probably go chasing angel skirts.

After that, he would probably look up John Lennon. I'm sure that in Tio's extremely poor, but hilarious English he would find ways to tell Lennon how much his music, particularly "Imagine," meant to him. Tio Iván was definitely a "dreamer." He even spray-painted a Lennon quote on a wall right outside of his home.

Tio Iván was no saint. Not even close. He was a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered hippy and womanizer. But if there's a heaven or "above us only sky"--as the song goes--the man secured his place a long time ago through his transparency and monolithic integrity. His honesty in a country devastated by corruption and greed is one for the history books. As an esteemed journalist and consequently Ecuador press representative in Cuba, advisor to a vice president and then press secretary for another president, the opportunities to sell out and escape monetary despair were ripe. All he needed to do was pick one. He never did. Even friends and colleagues who visited him at his home in Los Molinos del Viento (The Windmills) in el Valle de los Chillos (Valley of Screams) in the outskirts of Quito, where Tio Iván chose to live out his last days, marveled at what could have been: "Iván could have been a millionaire many times over, if he wanted to." But it wasn't in the cards for him. Instead, he remained an honest man who chose to die under a roof that leaked right onto his death bed in the modest house where he made a home with his wife, Miriam and their kids Tammy, Miriam Julem, Marisol and "Comandante."

Ironically, he died of complications from cancer of the larynx. For over 30 years, it was his voice that gave him his livelihood as a broadcast journalist and in the end it was his cancer-stricken voice that took away his life.

People come and go and that's a sad part of life. But few will leave behind such a marvelous and enduring legacy. As my dad said, "My younger brother Iván was special since he was a little boy." This is one of my favorite Tio Iván stories that is sad, funny and tugs at your heart, but is also a glimpse at how special he was from so early on.

For Catholics, your first communion is an absolutely mandatory ritual--no ifs, ands or buts. So the story goes that sometime before my uncle was supposed to do his first communion, Abuelito Lempis nabbed him pocketing his lunch money. Grandpa, who was a strict disciplinarian, authoritarian, judge and juror sentenced Tio Iván to a magnificent ass-whoopin.' No questions were asked when it came to dishonesty or theft. Murder would have been received with a little less hostility by my grandparents. So after essentially disowning him and a several belt lashes that undoubtedly left a few marks, the truth surfaced. The paternal instinct to visualize Tio Iván's lunch money on smut magazines , junk food and general childhood foolishness was way off the mark. You could imagine the crash of conscience that strangled Abuelito Lempis, when he found out that Tio Iván had used the money to buy a candle for his first communion. As it turned out, Tio Iván had felt bad about asking my grandparents for money since they were essentially in the poorhouse. Instead, he didn't eat his lunch for a few weeks to buy the candle. All he really wanted to do is fit in. He didn't want to be the poor kid without the candle.

But my uncle never did fit in. To fit in would imply someone who gets by and lives in relative anonymity--someone who doesn't stick out. Tio stuck out like a sore middle finger. He was far too extraordinary--his life, his wisdom, his actions. He was bigger than he, himself, could comprehend. Though he will be missed far more than words could ever convey, he leaves behind enough anecdotes to keep the family smiling and remembering for a long, long time.

He is survived by his mother and my grandmother, Abuelita Blanquita; his wife and soulmate, Tia Miriam; their kids and my cousins: Tammy, Miriam Julem, Marisol and "Comandante;" his older brother and my father, Mario, and our family; older sister Tia Lali and all her family; and his younger siblings: Tia Jenny, Tia Ligia, Tio Patricio, Tia Vero and all of their respective families.

Tio Iván: Rest in Hippydom (1950 - 2007).

Estoy casi seguro que mi Tio Iván, por quien me llamo Mario Iván,
acaba de llegar al cielo y esta buscando desesperadamente a su
Viejo--mi abuelo Guillermo o como le deciamos, Abuelito Lempis. Al
encontrarse los dos, estoy mas que seguro que se pegaran sus jabas de
Pilsener y si hay un partido de fútbol, mejor todavia!

Creo que seria prudente que mi Tio Iván ni mencione que despues de la muerte del Abuelito Lempis, se volvio hincha del Barcelona. Siendo Liguista hasta no se donde, capaz quel Abuelito lo mata.
Despues del chupe y de ponerse al dia, estoy seguro que ira en
busca de “guambras angelicales.”

Despues de eso, me imagino que buscara a John Lennon. Aunque estoy convencido de que no hay persona que hable el ingles peor que mi tio, el encontrara la forma de dejarle saber a Lennon cuanto significo su musica en la vida del tio, particularmente la canción "Imagine." Tio Iván siempre fue un soñador ("dreamer") como dice la cancion, inclusive hizo un “graffiti”con un dicho de Lennon en la pared afuerita de su casa.

Mi tio no fue ningun santo. Se le hiban malas palabras,
tenia un temperamento fuerte, era hippy y mujeriego. Pero si existe
el cielo como lo cantaba Lennon en la misma cancion, mi tio aseguro su puesto hace muchos años con su transparencia e integridad monolítica. Su honestidad en su Ecuador podrido con corrupción y
avaricia es casi historica. Como un periodista admirado y
consequentemente diplomatico Ecuatoriano de prensa en Cuba, asesor de la ex-Vice Presidenta Rosalia Arteaga y ex-secretario de comunicación bajo Lucio Gutierrez, las oportunidades para salir de una situacion financieramente dificil se le ofrecieron muchas veces. Pero el jamas lo hizo. Inclusive sus amigos y colegas que le visitaban en su casa en el vecindario de los Molinos del Viento en el Valle de los Chillos, se asombraban y comentaban: "Iván, facilmente, pudo ser millonario." Pero para mi tio no habia suficiente plata para que el comprometa sus principios y entregue su lealtad.

En lugar, el se mantuvo un hombre honesto que escojio morir bajo un
techo con goteras donde las gotas le caian en la misma cama que murio. El escogio morir en su casita con su mujer, Miriam y sus hijos, Tammy, Miriam Julem, Marisol e Iván Guillermo (Comandante).

Ironicamente, murio de complicaciones de cancer a la laringe. Despues de casi 30 años de hacer subsistencia con su voz en la radio y la television, en el final fue su misma voz que le quito la vida.

Gente viene y va y esa es la triste realidad de la vida. Pero pocos
dejan un legado tan maravilloso y permanente. Como mi viejo decia,
"My hermano Iván fue super especial desde niño." Aqui va una de las
anecdotas mas chistosas y a la misma vez mas tristes de mi tio que
demuestra lo especial que fue desde guaguito:

Para los catolicos, la primera comunión es completamente mandatoria y da acuerdo al cuento, mi tio estaba en edad de hacer su primera comunion. Cuando mi Abuelito Lempis le agarro guardandose la plata que le daban para su almuerzo en las escuela. Mi abuelito que era estricto y disciplinario, sirvio de juez y jurado y lo sentencio a una tremenda paliza. Ninguna averiguacion se hacia cuando se trataba de robar o ser deshonesto. Homicidio hubiera sido un crimen menos grave para mis abuelos. Despues de algunos correazos que seguramente dejaron su marca permanente, la verdad se dio. El instincto paternal de visualizar la plata para el almuerzo convertido en caramelos, revistas sucias o tipicos gastos tontos de los jovenes estaba super equivocado. Ya se pueden imaginar el cargo de conciencia cuando mi abuelito se dio cuenta que mi tio habia usado la plata para comprar una vela para su primera comunion. Lo que paso es que mi tio se sentia mal en pedir plata a mis abuelitos en medio de su crisis economica. Por lo cual, el tio escogio no comer su almuerzo por un par de semanas para comprar la vela. Al final, lo unico que queria era ser un chico comun, no queria ser el chico pobre que no tenia ni para una triste vela.

Pero mi tio nunca fue comun. Ser "comun," hubiera implicado alguien que vivia su vida casi anonimamente--alguien que no relucia. Mi tio relucio como el dedo del medio dando el pajarito. El fue
demasiadamente extraordinario--su vida, su sabiduria y sus acciones.
El fue mucho mas grande de lo que el mismo se imaginaba. Aunque sera extrañado sin limite, el deja suficientes anecdotas para dejar a su familia sonriendo por muchos, muchos años.

Le sobreviven su mama y mi abuela, Abuelita Blanquita; su esposa y
media naranja, Tia Miriam; sus hijos y mis primos: Tammy, Miriam
Julem, Marisol e Iván Guillermo (Comandante); y por fin su hermano mayor y mi papa, Mario, con nuestra familia, su hermana, mi Tia Lali, con su familia y sus hermanos menores: Tia Jenny, Tia Ligia, Tio Patricio, Tia Vero y sus familias correspondientes.

Descansa en paz Tio Ivan, quel cielo este lleno de guitarras, musica de los Beatles y amor. Te recordaremos y viviras en nuestros corazones por siempre!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tuesday Worship Service

Back to the music... Here's the quickie: Nick Cave's Grinderman project is okay at first listen. It's not the greasier, sleazier and grungier garage rock album you'd hoped, but it's Nick Cave nonetheless. Kings of Leon's "Beacuse of the Times" still sucks ass (except for "Knocked Up," which is listenable). I downloaded two songs off Brother Ali's new album, "The Undisputed Truth." Five letters: S - O - L - I - D. It's soulful, thought-provoking rap done right by his seemingly lazy, raspy voice. At times, he sounds like Everlast. At other times, his generous use of "lawdy-lawd" ("lordy-lord") makes him sound like a church minister. "Uncle Sam Goddamn" and "Pedigree" leave you begging for more. Downloading the rest of the album, as I type! (Note: iTunes must be reading this blog or at the very least had me in mind: they put a new tool that allows you to complete an album sale at a discounted price, should you download a couple of tracks and then kick yourself in the ass for not getting the whole album and paying song for song, instead of the standard $9.99--see blog entry about Brandi Carlile's new album.)

Still pissed at Modest Mouse for pissing away a golden, thick, frothy opportunity to use one of the most recognizable guitars of all times: ex-Smith Johnny Marr's. But even putting aside my obvious infatuation with los Smiths, Morrissey and all things mope, the album is still "eh."

The Onion nails it with their review on Bright Eyes' "Cassadaga": "But it's ["Cassadaga"] already been outclassed by last month's "Four Winds" EP, which matches one of "Cassadaga's" best songs with five tracks arguably better than anything on the album." True that--saddly.

Virginia Tech Massacre

What could I say that hasn't already been said by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News--over and over and over and over? The thing that gets me is that this seems to be an American problem. It seems at least once every few years some crazy son of a bitch snaps and takes as many people as he can down with him. If it's not some crazy kid shooting classmates from elementary school to college, it's some whack-job who takes his lack of getting some, mediocre existence and takes it out on his co-workers. Whatever the case, you just don't hear this type of thing happing with the same oomph and frequency as you do here. I'm positive it has most to do with the availability of guns. We Americans--sadly--are the most gun-slingin' cowboys on this earth. I guarantee if you researched the amount of times a gun came in handy (i.e. to scare off an intruder or thief) in a given year against the times a gun enabled an unprecedented tragedy, the evidence would be staggering. The possibility of Ted Nugent's stupid ass accidentally shooting a grandchild or his grandchild accidentally shooting himself is much, much, much more probable than Nugent saving his family from a would-be assailant.

Everytime a tragedy like this happens, folks briefly talk about guns, but quickly move onto parenting, pop culture and society. I'm proud to be an American and I'm proud that our Constitution and Bill of Rights--except in minor instances--have proven timeless. But our right to guns needs updating. Back in revolutionary times and in the lawless west, it made sense. Now, all it does is enables the wrong people and provides a morbid form of entertainment to others. In this day an age, no one NEEDS a gun. If you worried about home security, invest in an alarm system. Apart from that, when else would you NEED a gun like you NEED your right to free speech or a speedy trial? The gun amendment just doesn't fit anymore. It's outdated and unnecessary. Forget about gun control laws, just get rid of it as an unalienable right.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jarvis Cocker's Solo Album So-So

Jarvis Cocker's album is probably getting better reviews than it deserves, because it's Jarvis Cocker. If you want his best work, dig into Pulp. That's not to say that the album's a total dud. "Black Magic" has the velvety magnificance and tempo of "Crimson and Clover" and "Fat Children," not only displays Cocker's great sense of humour, but it's a catchy, rockin' track that could fit in with Pulp's greatest hits.

Monday, April 9, 2007

My Easter Present: Brandi Carlile

This Easter I was pleasantly surprised by a fantastic new album: Brandi Carlile's "The Story." Although the album came out a few weeks ago, I discovered her during the last couple of minutes of her performance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Although I was laying out on the couch with my wife--teetering between sleep and awakedness--her performance was compelling enough to open my eyes long enough to take note, get up and go to iTunes to download. Ahhh! The beauty of technology: no more list of CDs that I need to pick up at more and more scarce and sparse record stores.

I'm certain she sang her single, "The Story," on Leno. It's a beautiful composition with a sweet melody that starts off soft and mighty purdy, as she gracefully strums her guitar as though she were singing a newborn to sleep. She then roars into an impassioned, heavy electric guitar-backed howl that's a little reminiscent of Sheryl Crow's chorus on "If It Makes You Happy ." But don't worry, the comparison to Crow ends there.

I won't try to categorize her, but I will say she is what she eats--er listens to. Her influences are Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Patsy Cline. And if you could imagine a musical child of these three, you have Carlile.

Her new album is her sophomore major label release and she's on the quick up and up. It's not too shabby when master producer T. Bone Burnett agrees to do your album. The result is phenomenal. I downloaded the single because it's just so good. Then, I started sampling the other songs hoping there would be a few other gems. As I started downloading one by one, I knew the inevitable would happen. I ended up paying almost $13 for downloading the album song by song, instead of downloading the album in one shot for $7.99. Please don't make the same mistake. As for me, it was the best $13 I've spent on a single CD since way back in the day of Tower Records. Ahhh, technology!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Tuesday is My Day of Worship

Tuesdays are my favorite. It's my day of worship--the day new albums hit the streets.

After being on their myspace page for the whole week, the Kings of Leon's new album, "Because of the Times," dropped today. The reviews continue to be all over the place. The Washington Post got it right in calling their debut "excellent," but then they blew it by calling the new album "the Kings' best." They're also a little off in referring to "Aha Shake Heartbreak" as "underwhelming." "Aha" wasn't on par with "Youth and Young Manhood," but it's still a solid follow-up. I'm curious to see what the music snobs at Pitchfork (www.pitchforkmedia.com) think. They've blasted everything the Kings have put out, except their first EP. Pitchfork tends to delve into some interesting musical territory, but unfortunately they tend to blast new music just for the hell of it or just to go against the grain. Good music is good music is good music, regardless of who likes it or how popular it gets. If you wanna a good laugh, check out Pitchfork's review of Jet's dartboard album, "Shine On."

Anyway, I'm really stoked about listening to Jarvis Cocker's new solo album, "Jarvis." He's the brains and broken pelvis (read his bio on answers.com) behind Pulp. Though not as well known stateside, Cocker is a beautiful mess and the tabloids adoration, before Pete Doherty rolled along. Not quite as debaucherous as Doherty, but as cantankerous as Oasis' dueling brothers, he's sheer entertainment on and off stage. He's as well remembered for his hit song, "Common People," as he is for crashing Michael Jackson's performance during the 1996 Brit Awards, where he performed in front of hundreds of children (if only Cocker would have busted up Jackson's shenanigans at his Neverland Ranch). Anyway, Reports state that Pulp is simply on hiatus.

Sidetracking a bit, I've been on a real Britpoprock binge lately: Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, etc. The binge started after working on a piece for New Jersey's Star-Ledger. I interviewed the Britpop rockers-by-way-of-Argentina, Babasonicos, for a story that unfortunately fell through. Ex-Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown even has a song named after them and during a recent show in Buenos Aires, Brown asked the hometown band to join him on stage. Must have been a riveting performance. Speaking of missing great performances, I really hope the Happy Mondays play at Virgin Fest in Baltimore (so far only The Police, Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys have been confirmed), since I will not be making it to Coachella this year for their reunion show. Supposedly, they will also release a new album. Note to self: get home and upload all the Happy Mondays and Kula Shaker stuff onto my iPod and quench my music thirst.

Nick Cave's garage band side project Grinderman will come out next week. Waiting for this one, should keep me pumped until next week. Gotta go read Pitchfork's Jarvis Cocker and Nicke Cave/Grinderman interviews.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rolling Stone's Sheffield Off Mark With Kings of Leon Review

Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield is on crack. It's not bad enough that he gave the Kings of Leon's hideous new album, "Because of the Times," an undeserving 4 out of 5 stars, but adding insult to injury he implicitly blasted KOL's debut masterpiece, "Youth and Young Manhood," by claiming: "When the Kings first arrived on the scene a few years ago, they whipped up so much interest right away, nobody really minded that they weren't any good." Weren't any good? Are you friggin' kidding me? From the album's opening "Red Morning Light" with its exploding guitar to the brilliant closer "Holy Roller Novacaine," where leadsinger Caleb Followill with his southern drawl blasts a promiscious preacher for using faith to bed women: "I'll be outback in my white Cadillac, won't you join me for a ride?/ We'll go up to the mountain top, where I'll show you all the good's I got/ Don't look back keep your eyes ahead/ This could be the night that the moon goes red/ Oh Lord!/ Don'cha worry babe, you won't feel a thing... close your eyes: Holy Roller Novacaine," it's solid. In fact, the album is riddled with so much outstanding writing like the girl who is "shaking her apple right in my face" (notice the religious allusion also?) that England's NME wondered if 17 and 18-year-olds were capable of writing that good! They WERE that good and they WERE 17 and 18 when they released the debut. And nevermind their live shows. I have a feeling that Sheffield was either asleep on the job or maybe got caught up listening to something "important" like Fall Out Boy or Evanescence and is now desparately trying to make it up to the sons of a preacherman (plus a cousin). The problem is the new album is as crappy as The Killer's shabby sophomore release, "Sam's Town," where they try to go Springsteen. On "Because of the Times," the Kings strip the southern rawk sound that made their first two albums so enduring and replaced it with corny electronic samples. When I first heard the single, "On Call," I thought Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Cities in Dust" was about to start. In a year marked by the "make-up" award of the century: Martin Scorsese finally getting an Oscar for not-his-best movie, "The Departed," it seems Rolling Stone is trying to do the same and give KOL the adulation they deserve. Nothing wrong with that. They deserve much more album sales and recognition than they've achieved in the U.S., but this isn't the album to point to. People just need to play catch up and buy their debut and the excellent follow-up, "Aha Shake Heartbreak." My review would be simple: Forget this album, wait for the next one and if you haven't already done so, buy the first two.

Ha Ha Not Hilarious

It was sickening watching our stupid president telling jokes and that mother***** Karl Rove doing some rap-dance thing at some press dinner, while our kids continue to die in a war that may very well be stupider than both of them. I believe in the healing power of laughter, but it becomes a little ineffective when the person doing the healing, is the same person gutting you and kicking you in the jimmy... over and over and over and over. Thank God Jon Stewart restored order on the Daily Show by making the observation that even a dancing and joking Jeffrey Dahmer is still Jeffrey Dahmer.