(This is the second post-Record Store Day open letter. To read the first, An Open Letter To The People Who Lined Up Outside BK Music On Record Store Day, click here.)
An Open Letter To The Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr Album That Made Me Bleed On Record Store Day
Edgar Allen Poe once said that “There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm.” I really like that, don’t you?
It reminds me — ironically, I suppose — of the breathlessness with which children tell stories they’re particularly excited about. Respiration and recitation crash into one another like waves headed in different directions, making for a bumpy, sometimes incoherent narrative — certainly not eloquence in the traditional sense. But within that crazy cadence, natural rhythms are hiding. Lungs working at full capacity. Synapses firing as fast as possible. Pitch rising at the end of each phrase. When you look closer, you find the body and spirit in perfect harmony, flowing as smoothly as ballroom dancers who have rehearsed every move they intend to make.
It’s just that type of enthusiasm I blame for our… incident.
For those of you who missed Volume 1 of YHT’s Tournament Album Coverage, I spent last weekend glued to my couch, watching the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament in a most gloriously sloth-like fashion. I can think of no better occasion for acting like a shut-in and no better way to enhance the experience than muting the television and choosing your own soundtrack for each game. (There’s only so much of Jay Bilas’ voice I can take before I just start yelling at the TV screen like a crazy person.)
With a few exceptions, things took a decidedly more contemporary turn after Friday night’s Garfunkel-fest. Below, I’ve posted the art for everything my friends and I listened to on Saturday and Sunday, along with a sample song and a context-free quote from someone in the room about each record.
A pivotal moment in my Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr obsession occurred when I heard their electro-silken version of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” What struck me about the cover wasn’t the degree of difficulty (though it’s true that the original is a musical beast that’s said to have taken 23 musicians and 20 takes to bring down). Nor was it the considerable chutzpah it requires to reimagine one of the most revered songs of all time. What drew me in was the sense of adventure I gleaned from Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr’s recording. In context with their elaborate marketing persona and DIY showmanship, it felt like their cover of “God Only Knows” was channeling the creative spirit that The Beach Boys had in droves — a drive that helped them expand the general sandbox in which future pop musicians could play.
I was so excited when I heard Mercies’ cover of The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” because that same adventurous spirit comes through loud and clear.
Ladies and gentlemen of central Virginia, start your engines. Race weekend in Richmond is upon us, and it’s got me all nostalgic about how, almost exactly one year ago, I rang in the spring NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway with my very first post about Detroit duo Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr. Imagine my joy, having found a group that combined my love of soulful electro-pop and brightly-colored sports merch, just a short time before their revered namesake was coming to town for my favorite weekend of the year (keeping in mind of course that the weekend of the fall race is also my favorite weekend of the year). NASCAR in Richmond is a tradition that’s grown near and dear to my heart over the past half-decade, just as Dale Jr Jr has done over the course of the last 12 months.
Aren’t top 10 music lists funny? They’re arbitrary, for one thing. Unless you’re quantitatively ranking performances (American Idol and X-Factor, I’m not going to call on you so please put your hands down), the order of your top 10 is usually based on gut feelings and random associations. Plus, they’re a dime a dozen — any yahoo, including this one, that listened to at least 10 albums in a calendar year can make one. Yet for some reason, people love to create them and debate them… and then debate them some more. And as annoying as it is to see people arguing about top 10 lists on the internet, therein lies their beauty. There may be no clearer testament to the fact that every human being experiences music differently, and that’s a good thing. Lists like these are a great way to discover bands that other people are crazy about that you might not even know existed. And someone’s conviction about an album you dismissed out of hand may finally convince you to give it a shot. I hope this list does one of those things for you, and if not, feel free join the ranks of these people and lash out about what’s ranked too high or how Bon Iver sucks.
[Cue Most Interesting Man in the World music] I don’t always listen to math-rocky type stuff. But when I do… I listen to Battles. Their previous album Mirrored drew me in, even though proggy math rock isn’t really my thang, and Gloss Drop picked up right where its predecessor left off. Given that they lost a key band member in between that album and this one, I was impressed right away by how the group’s sense of intensity and adventure had endured, and had maybe even grown. “Ice Cream” became one of my favorite upbeat songs of the year, and I still can’t get enough of it. Listen below, read more about Battles here, here and here, and buy here.
Trevor Powers seemed to come out of nowhere, garnering lots of attention all at once thanks to a May Pitchfork article that linked to a few self-released songs, including the wonderfully haunting “July.” But his instant notoriety was no fluke, as his debut full-length The Year of Hibernation illustrates so convincingly. Powers is just 22, but his old-soul dexterity with themes of nostalgia and the fragility of youth is remarkable, and his album leaves you with the odd sensation that he’s older than he really is. Kind of like how it’s easy to forget that the basketball players you bet on each March in your office pool are really 18-year-olds who only recently learned how to drive. Now if only they’d learn how to hit their goddamn free throws. Listen to “July” below, read more here and here, and buy here.
w h o k i l l is one of the most refreshing albums I’ve heard in a long time, absolutely bursting at the seams with creativity. Merrill Garbus is one of those rare artists who is capable of committing great leaps of the imagination to tape without drifting off into the obscure or unlistenable. Watching her loop-happy live performances online is a special treat, as her execution is flawless despite the fact that she employs so many off-kilter, rhythmically complex and densely layered elements. My favorite of these videos came in August, when she played “Gangsta” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon with members of the Roots. I’d give you a link, but none of the embedded videos are currently working because NBC is comprised of a-holes who don’t understand the internet. Listen to the studio version of “Gangsta” below, read more here, and buy here.
Delicate Steve was the source of equal parts laughter, enjoyment and regret during the course of 2011. Laughter because of Chuck Klosterman’s hilarious fake press release; enjoyment because his album Wondervisions is a twisting, turning and totally addictive monument to the endless possibilities of melody; and regret because I wish so badly I could have seen him perform on the tour he did with Ra Ra Riot, as my mother- and father-in-law did in Harrisburg, PA at Appalachian Brewing Company. Hearing my father-in-law talk about how much he enjoyed seeing Delicate Steve helped the bitterness pass though, as it filled me with excitement for whenever I finally make it to one of his shows. Listen to his song “Butterfly” below, read more here, and buy here.
I wrote about Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr incessantly this past year (please don’t do a search for the band’s name in the search bar to the right, my obsession is slightly embarrassing), and much of that writing was about the Detroit duo’s clever marketing and knack for PR. But when you look past their masterfully constructed image, you find sturdy electro-pop tunes that exhibit real heart and soul, as well as a clear gift for arrangement and instrumentation. It’s A Corporate World is an excellent listen from its first notes to its last, and I felt extremely lucky to have seen the album come alive in September at the Southern in Charlottesville, VA (complete with black lights and matching Tigers jackets, of course). Listen to their song “Nothing But Our Love” below, read more here, here and here, and buy here.
You guys! ZOMG! Did you hear the news about Ben and Zooey? OK, OK, so it’s not exactly news anymore that Death Cab for Cutie frontman and 500 Days of Summer starlet Zooey Deschanel filed for divorce after their own 500 days (give or take) of marriage. According to my sources… A. That news broke in early November; B. It’s now the middle of December; and C. I’m a terrible celebrity gossip blogger. Regardless, it’s always sad when two seemingly nice people split up (apparently not too sad to use the whole incident for a blog post setup), leaving them to wonder what could have been, and what could have been done differently. Though there are seldom second chances in marriage, fortunately for Mr. Gibbard, there are second chances in music, as his band’s Keys and Codes Remix EP exemplifies so enjoyably. All the way back in October, when Ben and Zooey were still hitched and Death Cab for Cutie’s most recent full-length Codes and Keys was but a six-month-old bundle of joy, the group started releasing one remixed track every Monday, each featuring a different guest producer, leading up to the November 22 release of a 7-track remix album. From the beginning, I was a fan. I liked the marketing — the slow rollout built suspense, letting you hear one piece of the (CHEESY ALBUM CONCEPT METAPHOR ALERT) puzzle [groan] at a time. I liked the results — the tracks vary wildly but each one offers a fresh view on the source material. But more than anything else, I like this concept. Given how difficult it is these days to profit from record sales, I love that artists are taking control of the secondary consumption market by releasing their own remix albums. Radiohead did the same this year with TKOL RMX 1234567, the follow-up to King of Limbs, as did Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr with It’s A Corporate World’s companion Horse Power EP. Some might say that these groups should leave well enough alone and let their albums stand for themselves, and it’s true that not every single one of these remixed tracks has been a winner for me, but so many of them are winners, and I can’t help but enjoy having the opportunity to look at all of these songs in a different light, like I’m hearing them again for the first time. Listen to the Keys and Codes Remix EP for yourself to decide where you stand on the matter, and if you like what you hear, head over to iTunes to make it official.
Being a floor tom ain’t easy. You labor in the corner of the drum set, the last stop on solos and fills (if the guy with the sticks even gets to you). You watch as song after song is written about your bigger, bassier brother, the kick drum. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Well the times they are a-changin’, thanks to a phenomenon that was on display at September 23rd’s Foster the People show at the National in Richmond, VA. I’m talking about the lead singer floor tom solo. Please tell me you’ve seen this… there’s an extra stand-alone floor tom set up within reach of the frontman, and as the song reaches a crescendo, he or she grabs a set of drum sticks and starts pounding away. Mark Foster of Foster the People did just that at the National during “Helena Beat” (start at the 3-minute mark), and the gents of Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr did the same just two days before at the Southern in Charlottesville. It never fails to get people going, and it’s symbolic of a larger theme that united both shows — how to put on a satisfying live show when your studio music relies heavily on sampling. The lead singer tom solo is fascinating to me, in part because it strikes me as a form of vicarious audience participation. Few people at any given concert can play a full set of drums, but just about everyone, if given the opportunity and some sticks, could wail away on a floor tom. I think that’s where the excitement comes from — people can picture themselves on stage, taking all their energy and aggression out that drum, just as Mark Foster was. Maybe I’m wrong, but either way, it works… and so did Foster the People. They put on one of the highest-energy shows I’ve seen, running around the stage, earning every single clap, whistle and shriek (yes, shriekers were out in full force). I walked away from the National with a great deal of respect for a band that had a meteoric rise to fame, but can back up their notoriety with a hard-working, substantive live show. To see what I mean, check out the video I found of the night’s very last song “Pumped Up Kicks” above (studio version below). Be sure to stick around for the floor tom action at the 4:15 minute mark! If you dig it, buy their album here.
Wow. What the hell just happened?!? Let’s see… Seven bands. Five days. Three venues. Two states. One blown mind. My head actually exploded, and it’s going to take a full week to put it back together, so I hope you’ll grab a glue stick and join me as I collect the pieces. I already shared my experience from Wednesday’s headlining Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr set, but I haven’t yet mentioned their dynamite opening act, Kyle Andrews. The past five days have been an embarrassment of opening act riches, and I know I’ve said it once, but I’ll keep saying it until the Statue of Liberty is buried in sand and the apes won’t let us use the interweb anymore — heading to concerts early is one of the best ways to discover new music. Fortunately, my wife and I were way early to Wednesday’s show, and we were ready when Mr. Andrews hit the stage with his artful marriage of efficient pop songcraft and upbeat synth. Andrews’ latest album, Robot Learn Love, sets out to explore the relationship people have with the machines that we use on a daily basis, and I enjoyed the results, both in the car on the way to the Southern and in person once we were there. We were even treated to a guest appearance by Dale Jr Jr on Andrews’ “Heart U 4 Ever” — fitting, given that the Detroit duo recently remixed the song. Check out the original and the remix below, buy Robot Learn Love here, and check back for another trip to the awesome opening act buffet!
“Have you seen ‘em live?” is a question that’s getting more and more difficult to answer. On one level, it’s a basic yes or no question about whether you’ve dragged your physical being out to a music venue to see a band perform. Why complicate something so simple? Well, because chances are, if you want to find out what a band’s live performance is like, you can do so right this very second by going to YouTube. Of course YouTube isn’t the same as being there yourself, with the lights a-flashin’, bass a-thumpin’ and that tall guy inevitably swooping in to stand in your line of sight, but the interweb does make it possible to see and hear how the potential energy of studio tracks are transformed into kinetic energy onstage. This transformation is particularly intriguing for bands that use samples in the studio, as Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr does. That’s why I was so excited when I saw this video of “Nothing But Our Love” from their recent set at the Austin City Limits festival. The song bursts out of its studio seams with a spectacular final sequence, adding aggressive dashes of spice to a dish that previously thrived on its sweetness. With this clip in the back of my mind, I gleefully dragged my physical being to the Southern in Charlottesville, VA last night to get the full, lights-bass-tall-guy, Jr Jr experience. It was an incredible show of talent, showmanship, jackets (my enjoyment of their costumes and marketing knows no bounds) and production savvy. It’s no surprise that these two are involved in the remix community — onstage and off they make one smart musical decision after another, carefully managing instrumentation, samples and harmonies to maximize the impact of each song. We were treated to a booming version of “We Almost Lost Detroit,” an extremely catchy new tune and, as I’d hoped, the evolutionary ending to “Nothing But Our Love.” Did already having seen this ending on YouTube spoil the moment? Not even a little. It was glorious. Check out the ACL performance above, the studio version below, and buy their album It’s A Corporate World here.
I’m on earthquake watch tonight. The biggun happened on Tuesday afternoon, but I slept through both of the subsequent early-morning aftershocks. As I try to stay awake long enough for tonight’s edition, I thought I’d try something totally new — Read It Later roulette. If you don’t use Read It Later (or something like it), it’s an incredibly useful and simple tool (it’s a plugin for many browsers, my iPhone Twitter client uses it as well) that lets you add links to one central list for future perusal. It’s great for when you don’t have time to freely surf the world wide web of information by day, and great for keeping up with music news. Without further ado, let’s play! The following are links I stumbled across at some point today:
Apparently, Kate Miller-Heidke, whose song “Are You Fucking Kidding Me” still has me rotflmao-ing, once sang in an opera about Jerry Springer, which she calls “sheer brilliance” (the opera, not Springer). I think she’s brilliant, and I’m excited she’s recording an album in October! Read an interview with KMH at the Village Voice.
St. Vincent released the video for new song “Cruel,” in which she has the worst kids and husband ever. Let’s find Annie Clark a better family, because she seems like a nice lady to me. And if anyone can think of what commercial(s) the husband is from, PLEASE leave a comment. It’s bugging the hell out of me.
Kanye performed a 20-minute version of “Runaway” in Portland, and Rolling Stone posted a fan video. Just when I was ready to cry senseless self-indulgence, he brings the free-form epic to a close by pointing out that he “had the nerve to play you this song.” That is why Kayne is the best. Never ever change, Yeezy.
Lastly, music blogs asploded (and I nearly spat out my lunch) last Wednesday when James Blake cryptically announced a collabo with Bon Iver. The gorgeous tune is called “Fall Creek Boys Choir” and it just made it’s way online. I would like to place an order for an entire album of that. Kthx.
So, still no aftershocks, but I’m going to bed. I need my sleep — hurricane watch is on tap for tomorrow…