Josh Hornik Blog

February 28, 2006

My future solo project

OK, you might call it selling out to make a cheap album of all covers to trade on the popularity of your band and make a quick buck. But before you attack my future motivations, you should know that all the future profits for this future solo project of mine between Elefoot albums will go to (future) charity. And you can't really blame me for wanting to record Jessie's Girl, can you?!?

Elefoot's Josh Hornik's solo album as Wooly Mammofoot - Puntitled

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:27 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2006

Music Nerd Strikes Again

So I just finished a massive alphabetization project on my CD collection. I have a lot of CD's, from The Allman Brothers to Zwan, and it got me wondering...

What are the best 1-2 punches, alphabetically speaking, in my collection? Sometimes I wonder if new bands ever name themselves with the express intent of getting good placement at record stores. Why not name yourself The Bears to get that premier position next to The Beatles?

Anyway, here are my findings:

There are several good, but random combos, like
- Joe Jackson and Michael Jackson
- Pink Floyd and The Police
- Smashing Pumpkins and Jill Sobule
- The Sundays and The Talking Heads
- Stevie Wonder and Neil Young

Like roots?
- Taj Mahal and Bob Marley
How about funk?
- Outkast and Parliament
For the folkies, here's a good threesome
- Abra Moore and Van Morrison and Peter Mulvey

Like newer music? How about
- Ben Folds and Foo Fighters
- Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists

The weirdest combo? How about this threesome?
- rapper Nelly and Willie Nelson and Green Day Devo-tribute The Network

The worst?
- William Shatner and reggae-rapper Shinehead

1-hit wonder combos:
- Buena Vista Social Club and Butter 08
- The La's and Ray LaMontagne

Unfortunately, Bob Dylan is bookended by Pete Droge and The Eagles and so, the awards for greatest alphabetical 1-2 combos in music history go to:
#3 Muddy Waters and The Who (with a bonus for Hank Williams following The Who)
#2 The Beach Boys and The Beatles
and, #1, for both having created genres and brought them to the mainstream:
Nirvana and NWA
Nirvana - Nevermind NWA - Straight Outta Compton

Posted by JoshHornik at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2006

Way More Pretty - Back Cover

OK, I finally found the time to scan in the back cover of my future Elefoot album, Way More Pretty. As you can see, it seems I'll be creating my own label (Reclining Pig Records) and after probably saying for years that someone should cover the Devo song "Girl U Want", I'm finally just going to do it myself with Elefoot. (It rocks, too.)

Saved it big, so you could read the track list...

Elefoot - Way More Pretty - Back Cover

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2006

Another Elefoot Album

The hunger for more information about my future band Elefoot has been overwhelming. So I jumped back in the time machine to search for more Elefoot music. Score! I found the 2nd Elefoot album, "Way More Pretty" on vinyl in a used record store. Will try to scan in the back cover soon, but for now, here's the front.

Elefoot's 2nd album - Way More Pretty

PS - don't forget, you can still get Elefoot shirts here.

Posted by JoshHornik at 09:16 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2006

My future band's first album

I hopped in my time machine again for a short trip to the future. While there, I saw my future band Elefoot's first album "Disremember Me Not" in future Tower Records. Album of the Year 2010?

Unfortunately, they seem to have figured out digital rights management in the future, so I can't upload any of the songs, but I can tell you they rock! And I do have the track listing:

1. Disremember
2. When I Say Go
3. A Backpack in My Rucksack
4. Domestic Policy
5. Ella Had It Right
6. Wintergreen
7. Not So Jonesin'
8. Instrumental
9. Yes Yes Yes I Said Yes

While I love the single Disremember -- power pop at its future best -- I have to say my favorite song is the anthemic set-closer Yes Yes Yes I Said Yes. It's 8 minutes long, building from a slow acoustic opening to a driving, almost symphonic climax (thus the Joyce allusion, I guess) at the 5-1/2 minute mark, before an extended coda that could have stood alone as one of the better songs on the album. Great stuff. Can't wait til I write these songs.

Good news! I bought some Elefoot T-shirts and brought them back with me. They are for sale at the Reclining Pig store.

Posted by JoshHornik at 11:44 PM | Comments (1)

January 17, 2006

Q: Are we not men? A: We are still DEVO!

Devo in classic yellow jumpsuit, red energy dome combo
Last Saturday, I had the rare opportunity to step back in time and see one of the great acts of the 1980's. Do not call them a one-hit wonder. DEVO were much more than just Whip It: They were original, wrote great music (if there are any new bands reading this, cover "Girl U Want" and I guarantee a hit!), and they were one of only 2 80's bands my brother and I both agreed was great. (The other was The Knack, and yes, I still think My Sharona rocks.) The show was in Agoura Hills, some random town I'd never heard of -- probably the most secret Devo gig since Muffy Tepperman's Bat Mitzvah on Square Pegs.

Anyway, though I must admit to some nostalgia -- every time Mark Mothersbaugh went for a familiar synthesizer solo, I wanted to go roller-skating or play Atari -- these guys can still play and sing. They don't quite look as good in their yellow Devo jumpsuits and red energy domes (AKA flower-pot hats) -- in fact, they're gray-haired and fat -- but they didn't disappoint on energy or choreography. Why would a band that hadn't had a hit or put out a new song in over 20 years play 4 gigs a year in small local clubs? It seems it's because they really enjoy doing it.

On to the concert:
After a brief video montage of classic Devo videos, the band appeared in yellow jumpsuits and red energy domes, playing "That's Good" in true 80's-synth glory: guitar, drums, and 3 synthesizer players. They then played a couple others in this configuration, including the aforementioned great piece of songwriting, Girl U Want, and then they switched to guitar-band format. Little known Devo fact: the band was really much more guitar-centered than synthesizer, and always played live drums, too. Switching to three guitars, bass and drums (with the occasional Mothersbaugh synth solo), they broke into a greatest hits set list, especially focused on their first breakthrough album. Songs played included Whip It, Mongoloid, Gates of Steel, Satisfaction, the truly outstanding Uncontrollable Urge, and Are We Not Men?, at which point they tore off their yellow jumpsuits to reveal matching Devo t-shirts, shorts and knee pads (not the most flattering look for aging nerd-rockers). They then finished with a few more, closing with the seemingly never-ending (in a good way) Come Back Jonee.

The arrangements were all almost exactly the same as the album versions, and the band was surprisingly tight for guys that presumably don't play together that often. (And though we know some still have flourishing musical careers, who knows if they all still play?) Mothersbaugh's voice sounded exactly the same as always (though I guess it was never exactly about the notes with Devo vocals). The crowd was enthusiastic -- who knew there were so many Devo fans?

As Devo's bass player Gerry Casale said, "you don't have to look any further than the chimp in the White House to see that de-evolution is still happening" and considering some of the popular music today (Strokes, Hives, etc.), it's clear Devo are still relevant, maybe more so today than ever.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2006

Best in Music 2005

OK, time for the year-end lists. Here are my lists of the best music from last year.

Best CD's of 2005
1. Devin Davis -- Lonely People of the World, Unite!
This one breaks a virtual 3-way tie at the top by being the most accessible. Straight-ahead 3-minute rock tunes win every time.
Read my review

2. Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois
Every time I hear one of these songs (with the iPod on shuffle), I get more respect for this CD. True musical genius, considering the guy wrote the songs, produced it, and played most of the instruments. This is not straight-ahead rock, but totally rewarding.
Read my review

3. Bright Eyes -- I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Pure songwriting. The focus is on simple melodies and lyrics over acoustic guitar. The few accents (like a solo trumpet or an Emmylou Harris harmony vocal) work perfectly. The album is even better as a whole than the sum of its parts.

4. Joy Zipper -- American Whip
Vocal harmonies, enveloping atmospheric music, downer lyrics over happy music. If you like "shoegazer" music, you'll love it. Even if you don't, you might like this, as it's a little more interesting than the usual shoegazer. Check out the song Alzheimer's, which straddles the line of decency but stays on the right side (and sounds great, too).

5. Stubbs The Zombie -- soundtrack
A video game soundtrack? I guess it's a video game about a zombie from the 50's, so the music is all rock 'n roll songs from the 1950's (Lollipop, Mr. Sandman, Everyday, Earth Angel, etc.) performed by alternative bands of the 2000's. Great concept, very well executed.

Best Concerts of 2005
1. The Decemberists at Henry Fonda 3/21
Great songs, well-played but spontaneous. High energy. With the addition of Petra Hayden to the band, the harmonies were great, and Colin Meloy's voice is unique and interesting (live and in-studio). Good song selection (easy with only 3 albums) and a good crowd.

2. James Brown at House of Blues 11/16
The hardest-working man in show business never lets you down, even at age 72. Just writing that is amazing. The guy doesn't dance as much or even sing as much as he used to, but he can still hit the notes when he tries. And he does still scream, grunt, and perform like he always has. The songs are all-time classics, and he always puts on a killer show.

3. Rolling Stones at Angels Stadium 11/4
More old guys who can still do it. Mick can still sing, and dances around the massive stage like a 20-something. Keith, Ron, and Charlie still play great. (Keith cannot sing, but, hey, he never could, and it's always fun to see him try.) The song selection was a bit 'greatest hits' but the show was a crowd-pleaser and it's always fun to see a huge show with giant moving stage, fireworks and videos, and a large crowd.

4. Newport Folk Festival - Newport, RI 8/6-7
Great lineup and perfect weather. Traditional bluegrass like Del McCoury and festival highlight Foghorn Stringband, mixed with modern folk musicians like Ray LaMontagne and Bright Eyes, with a couple classic rockers (Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello) thrown in. A few lows (Pixies, Kaki King) but the highs definitely outnumbered the lows by a lot.

5. Polyphonic Spree at Henry Fonda 2/21
No concert brings more positive energy than the Polyphonic Spree. The number in the band almost approach the number in the crowd, and the energy and controlled chaos they bring is truly a sight to see. And contagious, bringing the always-appreciative crowd to its feet, dancing and singing along.

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2005

Santa Monica Symphony 12/11

Hey, I'm not just movies & TV. I've got some culture in me, too.

Heard the Santa Monica Symphony play the other day. This is the 2nd time I've heard them, and once again, I was impressed by how good they sound, considering they play for free for an audience mostly consisting of the Greatest Generation (i.e. OLD). OK, they're all pro's and studio musicians, probably, so I shouldn't be surprised.

Anyway, the program consisted of an early Schubert symphony, a concerto for piccolo & contrabassoon (yes, you read that right) by a 20-something baby composer, and excerpts from Copland's Rodeo.

The Schubert symphony was good. Like Mozart, it had nice melodies and was certainly enjoyable to listen to, but lacked a little passion. I think this was a symphony Mr. Schubert wrote in his teens, so I'll cut the guy a break. I'm sure after he'd heard a few more Beethoven symphonies, he got a little deeper with his stuff. Hopefully, at least, he started using less of the clarinet and more of the bassoon.

The Concerto for Piccolo and Contrabassoon was doomed from the start. The concept was to write a piece of music for the highest instrument in the orchestra and the lowest. Note to music lovers: the highest & the lowest instruments are meant for texturing and building sound, and not for carrying melodies by themselves. This just didn't work. In fact, I'm fully behind anyone who would like to burn every contrabassoon in existence. (How can the bassoon be so amazing and the contrabassoon be so horrible?) Besides the failed concept, I think composer Damian Montano wrote some good music. Whenever you read "premiere" in the program, you know you'll be hearing something weird, and this had it's atonal moments. But it also had some great sections (when the full orchestra took over the theme). Montano writes for TV and movies, and listed a film scorer as one of his influences, and the music was a little too background-y, but (when the contrabassoon wasn't trying to croak itself a solo) pleasant.

Finally, Copland's Rodeo was entertaining. The brass came in to liven things up. The different movements rarely maintain a theme for very long, which would be my biggest complaint. But when they got to Hoe-Down at the end, I was ready to dance like a Sooner or a Cornhusker. Unfortunately, I hadn't eaten dinner and that is also the music for The Beef Council's ads ("Beef -- It's What's For Dinner") and the entire last movement made me starving for a steak.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:17 PM | Comments (1)

December 07, 2005

The Josh Sampler 2005

OK, we're coming to the close of another year. Now is the time to look back at all the great music I bought this year, and share the best tracks with the world.

For those of you who received a Sampler CD from me, here are your liner notes. If you didn't get one, but you want one, email me.

The CD focuses mostly on music released this year, but there were a few classic tracks that I purchased this year and just had to include.

1. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
If this song were 10 seconds long and only consisted of the opening riff, it would still be one of the greatest songs ever. That riff is so excellent, it makes me happy every time the song starts.

2. The Magic Numbers - Mornings Eleven
The Magic Numbers are a new sensation out of England. They're at their best on their upbeat tunes -- happy songs with great boy-girl harmonies. This one's my favorite on a pretty good album (The Magic Numbers). I had a ticket to see them live, which I'm sure would have been great, but my stupid back was hurting too much to drive over and stand for 3 hours.

3. Joy Zipper - Thought's a Waste of Time
Joy Zipper is my super-secret music find of '05. Popular in England, despite being 2 Americans, they make great mellow tunes for late nights. I bought 2 Joy Zipper CD's this year (both released this year, I think) and this is from the 2nd (The Heartlight Set), which is much more straightforward (less psychedelic) but still good. I tried to see them live, too, but got there late and only heard the last note (literally).

4. Bright Eyes - First Day of My Life
Bright Eyes (aka Conor Oberst) lived up to all the hype (and there's lots) this year with 2 incredible CD's. This is the first of 2 tracks off the acoustic CD (I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning). Saw him play this at the Newport Folk Festival. Nice lyrics, and a really good, clean melody that seems so obvious, it's weird it was never done before.

5. The Decemberists - The Sporting Life
The Decemberists are definitely getting short-changed on this Sampler. For the first 6 months of the year, they ruled my iPod. I bought all 3 of their albums (after Tony turned me on to them on his 2004 sampler). This is one off their 2005 release Picaresque, but all their albums are awesome, and I recommend you buy them all. Managed to make it on time to their concert and it was one of the best I heard all year.

6. Ray Lamontagne - Trouble
Here's another pickup from the Newport Folk Festival. I admit he is entirely retro (this just feels like a Stephen Stills album from 1969), but in a good way. Incredible voice. I kept trying to figure out what it was about this track and I finally placed it. Electrify it and add a horn section and this could be a classic Otis Redding tune from the Stax collection. And that is incredibly high praise.

7. The Rolling Stones - Fool To Cry
I filled out my Rolling Stones collection this year, and here is one of the underrated classics from the (also greatly underrated) Stones late-70's catalog (Black and Blue). Not enough falsetto being used these days, and Mick is one of the all-time falsetto kings.

8. Devin Davis - Turtle and the Flightless Bird
My favorite song from my favorite album of the year (Lonely People of the World, Unite!) From the organ intro, to the triumphant chorus, to Davis' incredible barely-reaching vocals, to the poignant lyrics about loneliness and loss, this is an ALL-TIME CLASSIC.

9. Iron & Wine and Calexico - He Lays In the Reins
I got into Iron&Wine (1-man acoustic rainy-day music) this year, and one of the most interesting CD's of the year was his collaboration with Calexico for an EP (In The Reins). It's definitely a nice mix -- Calexico's layered instrumentation cozily sitting behind Iron&Wine's almost-too-mellow vocals. Also, my childhood friend Nick Luca engineered and played on the record.

10. Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day
I dare you to sit and listen to this song and think about the lyrics, and not cry. It's that powerful. It's a good example of the genius that was Stevens' album Illinois -- interesting lyrics and even more interesting music (though this is one of the most restrained songs on the album). The guitar lays down the chords. The banjo provides accents. The trumpet solo is perfect. And the focus is on the vocals, as it should be with lyrics this good.

11. Death Cab for Cutie - Your Heart is an Empty Room
I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed with the new Death Cab album (Plans). But this is a standout track.

12. Coldplay - Talk
OK, here's another good track from a disappointing album. Nothing too interesting in the new Coldplay album (X&Y), but it's all solid enough. I guess.

13. Curtis Mayfield - Pusherman
Back to the classics. It doesn't get any funkier than Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack to Superfly. This one didn't get the radio-play (I'm guessing due to the n-word in the chorus), but for my money, it's the best song on the album.

14. Joy Zipper - Dosed and Became Invisible
Clearly from the title, this is a song from the drug-influenced, psychedelic Joy Zipper record (American Whip). I was coming home from Hollywood late one foggy night. I turned this song on and made my way down through the lights of Hollywood Boulevard, and I think I got a taste of what it's like to drop acid. Anyway, don't be scared by the drug-influence. This album is full of great music that envelops you and makes you feel it.

15. The Walkmen - There Goes My Baby
One of the best albums of the year was the soundtrack to a video game (Stubbs the Zombie). It consisted of modern bands re-interpreting 1950's rock'n'roll songs. There are a bunch of great renditions on the CD, by bands like Cake, Oranger, Clem Snide, and Death Cab for Cutie, but The Walkmen have the winner.

16. Ray Lamontagne - Jolene
I pretty much could have chosen any song from Ray Lamontagne's album (Trouble). They're all consistently great. (They're also all very similar in tone, let's be honest.) I picked this one, because I like the line "a picture of you, holding a picture of me, in the pocket of my blue jeans".

17. Devin Davis - Deserted Eyeland
I'll say it again - Best Record of 2005! This is one of my favorite songs for a bunch of reasons, the biggest of which being the 4-second silence at 2:15, followed by a rousing horn-fueled finale.

18. Bright Eyes - Land Locked Blues
This is ostensibly an anti-war song, and though the concept that war could end if everyone just "walked away" is a little feeble, Bright Eyes uses repetition the best I've heard since Bob Dylan (think Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts, or Tangled Up In Blue). Something like 10 verses that all sound pretty much the same, but he keeps it interesting w/ lyrics, harmonies, and musical nuance.

Enjoy! And look for Joshcars 2006 coming soon!

Posted by JoshHornik at 09:56 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2005

Jill Sobule at Largo 9/7/05

In trying to get friends to see last night's Jill Sobule show at Largo, I personally guaranteed she would be charming and hilarious and play great music. Although my proselytizing earned her no new converts, I went to the show myself and she didn't disappoint on any of the 3.

Playing a mix of old and new (Underdog Victorious and newer) songs on both her funny little guitar and a mandolin (an instrument that she admitted she "knew nothing about" and had bought only 3 days earlier), accompanied at times by her opening act Goldenboy playing bass, piano and drums, Sobule left the small but appreciative crowd satisfied and well entertained.

The highlights were the new songs, mostly because her backup musicians had actually rehearsed those songs and the fuller sound let Jill loosen the reins a little more. However, it was still the kind of show where an audience member could call out a request for an old, obscure song, and Jill could then spend a couple minutes with the band trying to remember the chords, then singing it (very well) with that same audience member holding up her laptop computer with the lyrics for her to read.

Largo is an intimate (read: tiny) venue, perfect for a performer as charming as Jill Sobule, who spoke freely with the audience about times Paula Cole was bitchy to her, her love for the show The Comeback, and her addiction to Christian Right-wing talk radio.

Finally, knowing Jill's liberal leanings, I went in expecting some amusing commentary on the administration's failings in New Orleans. But I didn't think she would already have a brilliant satirical song written about it. She did. Playing an upbeat hoe-down beat on her mandolin, she sang "High Five" -- a song in which George Bush commends his people on the great job they're doing. "Good job, Brownie. Hey buddy, high five." Truly hilarious, with lines about the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Iraq and their mothers who appreciated his private vacation time, and a line about sharing a drink on Trent Lott's new porch. It was so good, the crowd asked to hear it again later in the show (though Jill would only do it again if people danced the hoe-down jig she invented to go along with it).

And after all the funny and satirical songs, she closed out the night perfectly with the emotionally powerful Somewhere in New Mexico.

Charming. Hilarious. And great music. Tremendous show.

Posted by JoshHornik at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

Devin Davis -- Lonely People of the World, Unite!

Devin Davis - Lonely People of the World, Unite!It's been a good year for musical genius auteurs. People like Jack White, Brendan Benson, Sufjan Stevens, and the king of all indie musical genius auteurs, Conor Oberst, have all successfully put their visions on vinyl (or plastic, as I guess CD's would be) this year.

Now add to that list Devin Davis, who, with Lonely People of the World, Unite!, singlehandedly created one of the best CD's of modern but retro-rock instant classics you will find. Davis wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, and sang all the vocals. I guess, since he must have been down in his basement alone working on this music for some time, that it's fitting that it would be an album full of songs dedicated to loneliness and the lonely.

The lyrics are wild and inventive stories of relationships fleeting, past, or never-to-be. Included, and perhaps most representative, is the song Turtle and the Flightless Bird, which tells the tale of a turtle who comes upon a bird with a broken wing. They are a quirky, but beautiful, pair. The turtle sings:

We may not live up in the sky where the air gets scared when the planes go by but you can hop up on my shell when we crawl across the highway. 'Cause we might get flattened today but at least we lived here long enough to say "hey hey, you're the one for me."

This touching and heartwarming fable is quickly followed in the next verse by a story of love lost, where the narrator (perhaps, the turtle himself) drinks himself to sleep and rhetorically asks: Won't you ever come back to me? I haven't got what it takes to wait and see. The theme is repeated throughout the songs: You might find someone, or think you found someone, or want to find someone, but you will never get to be with him/her and we are all alone. In Paratrooper With Amnesia, inability to connect with someone is compared to inability to pull the ripcord (to save one's life as he falls). Giant Spiders is Davis' most optimistic song, with its clumsy but catchy chorus "I won't sit still 'til I'm upside down in the back of your eyes" and the confidence that the singer and his partner can survive everything from oil spills to nuclear holocausts to, of course, giant spiders.

Musically, the songs sound (in the best way) like the classic rock of the 1970's with fuzzy guitars and horn sections, and insistent hooks. Included are both straight-ahead rockers like Moon Over Shark City and When I Turn Ninety-Nine, and smooth ballads (Sandie, Deserted Eyeland) that build from acoustic guitars to large swelling choruses. The melodies are outstanding and despite what clearly is a highly produced sound (since it was one guy doing part after part by himself), the songs sound raw and alive. That is mostly due to Davis' vocals. He doesn't quite hit all the notes, though it's certainly not for lack of trying, and his ardent style fits the songs perfectly.

This is a true gem -- a coherent collection of resonant songs that happens to also contain, individually, some of the best 3-minute rock songs you'll hear these days.

The Turtle and the Flightless Bird

P.S. - Did I mention the 2-measure silence in the last song?!? It rocks!

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:17 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2005

Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois

Here is my latest CD recommendation for everyone: I believe the official title may be just "Illinois" but the cover reads "Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Come on feel the Illinoise". Whatever you call it, this is an outstanding CD, one of the best I've heard all year.Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Come on feel the Illinoise!

I can't pretend to know much about Sufjan Stevens, including how to pronounce the guy's name. I had heard of him before, especially in association/comparison with Iron & Wine, whose CD I also bought recently and loved. Like Iron & Wine, he sings mellow folk songs, but unlike Iron & Wine, on this album at least, Stevens expands beyond acoustic guitar and banjo to widely varying instrumentation.

The songs here, as the title suggests, are thematically centered on Illinois. Even more than on his previous effort "Greetings from Michigan", Stevens researched the history and places of Illinois and took these for inspiration, leading to a far-reaching group of songs, touching on people from Abe Lincoln and Helen Keller to John Wayne Gacy, in places from Decatur and Jacksonville to Chicago.

The CD contains 22 tracks, about half of which are standard songs with vocals while the other half are musical interludes and short transitions, with names ranging from "Chicago" all the way to "To The Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament". Lyrically, there are a few songs that sound a bit like a 6th-grade book report, such as "Come on! Feel the Illinoise, part 1: The World's Columbian Exposition", with its short descriptions of the things found at the Expo, or "DECATUR, or, Round of Applause for your Stepmother!", with the outstanding rhyme "Stephen Douglas was a great debater. Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator." If all of this sounds pretentious, or quirky/annoying to They Might Be Giants levels, the amazing thing is that it is not.

Tucked in between these songs and rhymes are some really serious and sophisticated songs, such as "CASIMIR PULASKI DAY", about the death of a past lover, which happened on what is apparently an Illinois state holiday, or "JOHN WAYNE GACY, JR.", an interesting take on the life of the famed serial killer.

But it's the music that makes the CD. The songs are expansive but light and the arrangements are as varied as the subject matter of the songs. Some songs utilize a string section for backup, others a female chorus, and some just a solo trumpet. While a whole album of songs with strings, or just acoustic guitar songs may have dragged or seemed monotonous, the flow here keeps things moving and keeps the listener surprised. There would be no problem listening to this entire CD straight through. The rhythms are also very interesting -- they seem to be built on non-standard time signatures, though it may just be a musical trick (I haven't focused hard enough to figure it out).

Stevens' voice is a little thin, but fits the music fine, especially on the acoustic numbers. The lyrics are quirky, but musically, they are brilliant -- every syllable fitting like a puzzle piece -- and the songs are extremely sing-along-able.

Finally, the cover art is terrific, depicting many of the Illinois subjects in one long, folded mural.

Posted by JoshHornik at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

My Favorite Music -- Statistically Proven

I have finally finished rating every one of the more than 7000 songs that are on my iPod (yes, I admit to obsessive iPod usage). After giving every song a rating from 1 to 5 stars.

1 star: something I really never want to hear, like a stupid spoken intro (very popular on rap albums) or a Christmas song that I only want to hear at Christmastime, or a really terrible 80's song I got for my comprehensive 80's mix. Example: Me So Horny, by 2 Live Crew.
2 stars: a song I don't really like by an artist I probably like. Something boring, or in many cases when a hard rock artist gets a little too hard. Or your average crappy 80's song. Example: Mary Queen of Arkansas, by Bruce Springsteen.
3 stars: good but not great. The majority of the songs. Example: Ants Marching, by Dave Matthews Band.
4 stars: a really good song. One that I'll always like to hear. Example: Billy Liar, by The Decemberists. (There are 1599 of these.)
5 stars: the best of the best. The songs I won't always want to hear, because they're so good, if I listened to them all the time, they'd lose their power. Example: Purple Rain, by Prince. (Only 486 songs make this cut -- 6.6% of the songs.)

Now that my songs are all rated, I can tell for sure who my favorite musicians are, just by counting who has the most top-rated (4's and 5's) songs. So, here is the list of my official favorite bands and artists, with one standout 5-starrer by each:

1. Bob Dylan -- No surprise there. Of course, when you have 40 CD's by the guy, you get a lot of good songs... (Buckets of Rain)
2. Los Lobos -- Great in English or in Spanish. And this doesn't even include all the great Latin Playboys and Los Super Seven songs. (I Got Loaded)
3. U2 -- I am a sucker for power ballads like One and Bad and With or Without You. (Stay - Faraway, So Close)
4. Aretha Franklin -- And she easily wins for highest percentage of great songs. Almost every one of her songs is 4 or 5 stars. (Dr. Feelgood - Love is a Serious Business)
5. Smashing Pumpkins -- Plus there are a few Zwan songs I love, too. (Set the Ray to Jerry)
6. Midnight Oil -- Helped by a live album with amazing renditions of all their best songs. (Dreamworld)
7. Frank Sinatra -- If I knew how to ballroom dance, I'd dance to nothing but Sinatra. (All The Way)
8. The Rolling Stones -- I have a feeling they will be moving up, as I've only recently realized just how great their whole catalog is and need to buy all the rest. (Dead Flowers)
9. Tom Waits -- You have to be in the right mood, but if you are, there's no one better. (The Piano Has Been Drinking)
10. Joe Jackson -- Surprised he snuck into the Top Ten, but I guess it's because every single song on Look Sharp is 4 or higher. (Is She Really Going Out With Him)

Special mention to Paul Simon because his solo stuff and his Simon and Garfunkel stuff were tied for #12, so put them together and he'd be my second favorite. Sting also would be top 5 if I put together his solo songs and Police songs.

Also just missing the top ten: James Brown, Ben Folds (w/ and w/o the Five), Indigo Girls, Bob Marley, Dave Matthews (w/ and w/o the Band), Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Shawn Colvin, The Beatles, and Suzanne Vega.
Rising fast, after just a few albums: The Decemberists and Kings of Convenience.

Posted by JoshHornik at 03:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

NOT a Joy Zipper @ Avalon 4/22/05 review

I am a jackass. Having purchased a ticket for the Joy Zipper - Dogs Die in Hot Cars - Phoenix show mostly to see the opener to the opener, Joy Zipper, I managed to arrive at the show in time for the last sustain of Joy Zipper's set. Distrust for a ticket that said the concert started at 7:00, a poor venue Web site, Hollywood Boulevard traffic, and my idiotically heading for the show without knowing precisely where the Avalon was are all to blame.

So here is my Joy Zipper review. The last 15 seconds of their final song sounded OK. Their merchandise table attendant was a nice guy (and son of the namesake actual human being Joy Zipper). And the merch was very reasonably priced.

As for the rest of the show... Dogs Die in Hot Cars were really disappointing. Their CD is full of smart pop songs with driving rhythms and catchy pop hoooks, and the music seemed like a perfect fit for a live show. Unfortunately, the band (lead singer in particular) seem a little too seduced by the chance to be rock stars. Which means a loose show where songs are sung at the top of one's lungs, no matter what it does to the vocal chords and intricate harmonies. Backing music was also a lot muddier than on the record, which didn't help any. Too bad, because occasionally it all came together and they showcased what really are good songs (like Godhopping and Lounger).

The headliners were Phoenix. I don't know anything about them, but after a couple songs I knew they sounded good, their sound was more mature than Dogs Die in Hot Cars, and they sang songs I had no interest in hearing. So I left.

Posted by JoshHornik at 01:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 27, 2005

Bob Dylan @ Pantages Theater

Bob Dylan just finished 5 shows at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood with Merle Haggard opening. Dylan and Haggard. That's redundant, isn't it? (See picture above.)

I went to two of those shows and, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. While he came back with a better show on Saturday than on Friday, the moments where Dylan's singing rose to levels worthy of the songs were still too few. The fact is, while it is great to hear him play any of his songs live for the first time, and I can think of over 100 songs I have never but would love to hear live, his set lists have not changed enough over the years for the concerts to hold up for me. This is, of course, unfair to Bob Dylan. The guy's probably written over 1000 songs and to expect him to sing them all is stupid. (That's a lot of lyrics to remember.) And I'm sure there were a lot of people hearing Dylan play All Along the Watchtower for the first time.

On Friday, Dylan did a great job with his Oscar-winning song Things Have Changed, and he dusted off Every Grain Of Sand (not one of my favorites, but I appreciated the rarity.) Although I was half expecting it, I was pleased to hear my all-time personal favorite Dylan song Don't Think Twice, It's Alright in the encore. The rest of the show was pretty standard -- a lot of songs from acclaimed recent albums Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind, which are good, but not generally interesting.

On Saturday night, the opening of the show gave me hope that it would be a special night. The first 3 numbers were amazing: a well-done Maggie's Farm to start, into a rare Blood On The Tracks nugget, If You See Her Say Hello, and then the best of the 2 nights: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), on which Dylan's crazy new vocal style -- staccato phrasing and emphases on the end of lines -- worked perfectly. The rest of the show didn't quite live up to those three, but he did throw in a nice acoustic Girl From the North Country and his Love and Theft songs were very good (especially High Water).

While the song choice holds the interest for me at a Dylan show, the music is just OK. Dylan has country-fied his band, including pedal steel guitar and a fiddle. At times they try to open up and crank up the rock, but Dylan seems to keep the musicians on a pretty tight leash. Solos tend to be single-phrase trading between 2 or 3 of the musicians and only once did the lead guitarist get to really build on something. (Not that I was all that impressed with his solos in the first place.) I'm sorry -- No band should ever have a violin. (Kudos to The Decemberists for somehow overcoming that in their show on Thursday.)

As for Bob, he played piano -- piano!?!? -- instead of guitar, but to be honest, his piano-playing was almost completely unheard throughout both shows. (Probably just as well, based on the few notes I did hear.) His voice is awfully bad these days. He overcomes it on some songs and makes it work for him, but in many songs (especially the ballads) he was either unintelligible or seemed like a caricature of himself. However, he played a lot more harmonica than I had seen in the past, and while somewhat lacking in energy, I liked his solos and at least they got him out from behind the piano and moving to the center of the stage.

So, to sum up, if you've never seen Bob Dylan, it is worth going because he's a legend playing legendary songs. If you've only seen him a couple times, it is worth going to hear songs you've never heard him play. If you've seen him a lot, it may not be worth seeing a whole concert for the 1 or 2 songs you haven't heard before. (But then again, maybe it's worth it all, just to hear him sing "money doesn't talk, it swears" live.)

Posted by JoshHornik at 10:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack