Power or Pub Rock… screw the labels: Spoon – Hot Thoughts

spoon hot thoughts

Very few bands garner my ever elusive “buy unheard” designation. That place where you drop cash on release day or do that advance order thing. With the popularity of music streaming sites and advance listens on popular music mag web pages, there isn’t much need for the mystery purchase. Regardless, Spoon remains one of the ‘only’ rock bands that actually matter. Whether it be their debut Girls Can Tell, the best-selling Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, my personal favorite Gimme Fiction, or even the half-hearted They Want My Soul, Spoon has remained not only one of the most consistently great bands of this new(ish) century, but also one of the most intriguing.

They don’t often give away the subjects of their songs, usually choosing to keep their cards close to the chest, but when they do… well damn! “Let them build a wall around us, I don’t care I’m going to tear it down…” are lyrics found on “Tear it Down” and coming from a bunch of Texans, it might as well be a declaration of war against ‘Forty-Five.’ Of course, the lyrics are veiled enough that one might see it another way… BUT COME ON – it was written during the f@#king Presidential Primaries.

The thing is, Britt Daniels could write just about anything and it would still allow you enough room to project just about anything you damn well please onto the lyrical theme. “Do I have to talk you into it?” is just open enough to be up for any interpretation. “For your love, my first caress/ your friends have came and went/ Coconut milk/ Coconut water/ You still like to tell me they’re the same/ and whom I to say.” “First Caress” could be a direct shot at a former lover, or a bunch of crap written in a journal that sounded good together… in all honesty it doesn’t matter, the end destination is a great ride.

Which is kinda (kinda isn’t a word, I know… but stay with me here) the point. Great rock ‘n’ roll can be open to interpretation; meaning everything to the writer and something completely different and equally important to the listener.  Yet, somehow these two places have common ground, and when I find Spoon to be at their greatest is when these diverging points mix seamlessly. The deeper meaning is secondary to the emotional reaction you have to it. Fuck the definitions and labels… how does it make you feel?

Now, if you are looking to pick this up on vinyl, then you have boat loads of choices… including a lucky lottery version. You can pre-order clear, purple and red. You can special order a pink copy from Urban Outfitters (1000 available). There is the regular black at your local record store….OR…

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If you did a pre-order from their label Matador, you may be one of the lucky !!!TWO!!!! to have received golden ticket green vinyl edition. One is being sold in the UK and the other in North America.

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I’d love to tell ya I’ve heard them all, but that just isn’t so. The pink Urban Outfitters is spinning on the turntable sounding like a mix between Duran Duran and a Texan version of Elton John (seriously… “I Ain’t The One” is just about as heartbreaking as “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”). Which is to say, it sounds fantastic and I’m assuming the others do too… but you know… you’ll have to buy it to find out.

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17 Great Songs if the Inauguration Made You See Red!!!!

A lot of people are happy… and even more are angry!!! The world in one day seems more divisive than ever. President Trump’s Inauguration hasn’t been a celebration but rather a clear indication of the deep divisions that separate people throughout the world. Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure when politics were going all that smoothly. Watching the Women’s rights marches today reminds me of all the past protests over the years. Gender, sexuality, race, and war remain the themes and the only thing that ever changes are the people singing the songs. For those of you looking for a quick soundtrack to all the crap going on… here is one to add to your list.

Sonic Youth – Youth Against Fascism

With the first Gulf War (Iraq) as the background, Sonic Youth vent their frustration and overall hatred of the stupidity in their country. In what is almost a laundry list of issues and various assholes, Thurston Moore calls out poverty, racism, Judge Clarence Thomas, fascists, skinheads, the Christian right and finally, in their drop the mic moment, delivers a line for George Bush himself. “Yeah the President sucks / He’s a war pig fuck / His shit is out of luck / It’s the song I hate”.

Credence Clearwater Revival – Effigy

From the same record that spawned the much more popular anti-war tune “Fortunate Son”, deep cut “Effigy” is clearly the more desperate and impassioned younger brother. While the subject of the ‘burn’ is ambiguous, the emotional content is anything but. John Fogerty lets his voice trail and moan as he laments “The palace door / Silent majority weren’t keepin’ quiet anymore / Who is burnin’ / Effigy.” Watching protests world wide, this song always comes to mind.

Staples Singers – For What It’s Worth

Starting out as a more Gospel oriented band, by the 60’s the Staples Singers had joined the civil rights movement and their music reflected it. Something about this cover being stripped of Neil Young’s signature guitar and leaving only the Staples’ family vocals and Pops’ understated blues guitar make it powerful. Like a whisper, “For What It’s Worth” comes off more sorrowful than the angry original Buffalo Springfield classic. The result is that it demands your attention.

Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come

A virtual anthem of the civil rights era by one of the greatest voices to grace this planet, Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is both enlightening and heartbreaking simultaneously. Written as both a challenge and answer to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”, Cooke’s classic seems more heartfelt and honest with its mixture of despair and gospel belief. To this day, it is impossible to listen to without goosebumps appearing on the skin and a need for tear suppression.

Green Day – American Idiot

You would think that the song and album would say it all, but the band really try to put it all out there in what would become a signature moment for the band. With the second Gulf War (Iraq) in the backdrop, Green Day takes a shot George W Bush and tries to antagonize his supporters with the lyrics “Maybe I’m the faggot America / Not a part of your redneck agenda.” They pulled the song out two days before the election at MTV EMA’s Awards in November changing the lyrics from “mind-fuck” to “Subliminal mind-Trump America.”

Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer – Redemption Song

Something about Cash and Strummer, both unknowingly not far from the grave themselves, singing about regret and not standing idly rings true. Bob Marley’s words (lifted from a speech by Marcus Garvey) “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery” takes on a more significant meaning in the era of media hatred and laments that all news is fake news. Once you add the gravity of broken voices, it becomes that much more urgent. Of course, Marley himself was already suffering from cancer when he wrote this song and was quite reflective about the fragility of life.

The Dirtbombs – Living For The City

Stevie Wonder wrote “Living In The City” as a stroll through the failure of the American Dream. A place where people are casually left behind. The irony is that you need to really listen to the lyrics to catch the anger in the original, as Wonder plays up his pop sensibilities. The Dirtbombs cover leaves nothing ambiguous about it. Mick Collins’ garage/blues guitar lines and more ferocious vocal treatment bring this family story right into the moment. A song that was once angry becomes “livid.”

Bob Marley & the Wailers – Get Up, Stand Up

A tour of Haiti influenced Bob Marley to begin writing this anthem with Peter Tosh. The song was so important to the Wailers that differing versions would appear throughout the 1970’s. It appears first as a Wailers single, then a Bob Marley & the Wailers track, then a Peter Tosh solo single and finally as a solo performance by Bunny Wailer. It would eventually be the final song Bob Marley would play live before his death in 1981. Regardless of the performer, it’s meaning can’t be misinterpreted, and the warning to so-called leaders is obvious… “You can fool some people sometimes / But You Can’t fool all the people all the time”.

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name

Between Tom Morello’s insane guitar work and Zac de la Rocha’s screams of pure anger “Killing In The Name” could make even Chuck Norris blush. Another song released in the Bush Sr years, Rage Against The Machine pull no punches in this expletive-filled song against institutional racism and police brutality. It’s kind of hard to miss the implication of lyrics “Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses.”  In the end, it’s a pretty simple message for both those ordered to do wrong, and those standing against it… “Fuck You! I won’t do what ya tell me!” repeat over and over folks.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Gaye may have been blessed with one of the sexiest damn voices on this earth, but he could also tell you just how fucked up the world really is at the same time. Rather than professing anger, Gaye goes for the high road as he tries to de-escalate problems with love. He too looks at “brutality” but suggests we move past it to love one another.

Hole – Plump

People have made a career going after Courtney Love. Yet in one fell swoop, she writes a song that is ambiguous enough to take on several meanings, and powerful enough to be one giant middle finger to media hysterics, the double standards and stupidity of slut shaming, body shaming and celebrity obsession. Who else could sing “I don’t do the dishes, I throw them in the crib” with both a wink and a snarl. It may indeed be a personal sounding protest, but it is a little more universal than most would admit. It’s brilliant!

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA

After years of playing it as a rallying cry for jingoistic Republican rallies, now Trump fans are booing “Born In The USA”… I guess the songs’ true meaning is out. Not quite. Republican’s were just pissed “The Boss” was actively campaigning for Clinton. Despite it’s anthemic chorus, “Born In The USA” was and remains a powerful rebuke against nationalism and war.

Peter Gabriel – Biko

In a world that often looks at protesters as instigators of problems, people often forget the price that is paid for using your voice. “Biko” is one of the most powerful songs ever written about a man who was murdered for daring to fight for equality in his nation. Stephen Biko’s death in 1977 was the rock that started the avalanche towards the end of apartheid and Gabriel’s song helped focus the worlds’ attention on South Africa in 1980. As a reminder, he often ends concerts with it.

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

Like many protest songs, “Mississippi Goddam” was written in direct response to the worst of humanity. In this case, it was the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the later bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Simone laments about the slow pace of change while people die, “Alabama got me so upset / Tennessee made me lose my rest / And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam.” The song became a civil rights anthem. In fact, her next record Sings The Blues included a reply (“Backlash Blues”) to the backlash she received over “Mississippi Goddam”. She had no regrets because none were required.

The Clash – White Riot

Some idiots thought the Clash were trying to incite race riots with this song. Those people really missed the point. Instead Joe Strummer was telling white kids to protest for a real reason and do away with their misplaced angry bullshit. After watching the rhetoric fly in the election I find this song to be more relevant that ever. Lots of blame, but is it really directed where it should be? Don’t look at me for an answer… I’m just asking the question.

NWA – F*** Tha Police

People get upset when you put down “the boys in blue” but when a massive part of the population is afraid of them, there is a serious problem. NWA put the police straight into the middle of their musical crosshairs and let loose, finding the LAPD to be guilty of being a “redneck, white bread, chickenshit motherfucker.” Spend ten minutes watching the news and you’ll see that sentiment still rings true for minorities throughout the western world.

Michael Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World

The only song I’ve included from 2016, it features the exact same themes carried from the socially conscious songs throughout the 20th century. Except that we are well into the second decade of the 21st century and the world requires new voices to keep singing. Kiwanuka highlights that despite the fact that many people view the world as having changed, it really hasn’t changed much at all. Worse, unlike Cooke, Gaye, Marley, and Simone, Kiwanuka’s song leaves one not with hope but resignation. I want to believe he’s wrong… but… optimism does seem in short supply these days.

Helen Reddy – I Am Woman

In the 21st Century, “I Am Woman” sounds almost cliché and rather obvious. It is a straight-forward list of equality and empowerment. It is almost embarrassing that this needed to be stated at all in 1972. Except that the current President of the United States of America has been caught saying that he can get away with grabbing women by the pussy because he is a rich celebrity. The embarrassment here is that 45 years after it achieved being a #1 single, it is still relevant. In fact, as I’m writing this more women are marching in Washington to protest the President’s antiquated sense of morality than people that actually showed up to celebrate his inauguration. Ouch!

2016: The Year That Sucked!!!

2016-sucks

I can’t do a top ten of 2016 music list. Actually, there just isn’t a Top Ten of anything list in me that represents this year. I can pop out a Christmas list because most of the music isn’t new, and somehow there is this imaginary space between the year and the season… but honestly, a real countdown just gets me too fucking depressed. 2016 feels like a giant obituary. There is a tragic element of the macabre when you giving posthumous kudos to work that is so full of life… even as it talks about death. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were staring the reaper down in their final works. Gord Downie and the Hip releasing new material and touring even as the singer goes toe to toe with a terminal diagnosis. Glen Frey, Prince, Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali all fell before we had even saw the first half of the year finish.

Then add in the state of the world. Syria, Brexit, the American election, lone wolf terrorists, populist politicians stirring racist rhetoric, polarization of the ‘other’ on all sides of the political spectrum and, well, damn… the whole planet appeared to be giving into hate.

And…

the lights just kept dimming…

Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), Keith Emerson, Garry Shandling, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Edward Albee, Harper Lee, Doris Roberts, Sharon Jones and then, even as I had begun to write this George Michael and Princess Leia herself Carrie Fisher. In fact, there are (many) more names, (many) more news events. So many more reasons why 2016 is indeed the year that sucked.

Worse

2017 isn’t looking at all hopeful. Unless you are a gay bashing, woman hating, racist asshole who wants to run every (insert any group that isn’t white here) out of town, there isn’t much to hope for. You see, people often look to music, sports and movies as a method to feel good in a world that doesn’t make much sense. However, the very people we have looked to for smiles are dropping all around us. Yes, new artists, athletes and entertainers are making us laugh, cry and even scream, but… we’ve lost so much.

So, I can’t write about “The Best Of 2016” because the bad has outweighed the good by so much it is hard to see anything good about it. I’d like to thank Michael Kiwanuka, Dressy Bessy, PUP and TUNS for some great distractions. Again, there are other artists who deserve congrats, but I just haven’t got it in me. The good is intertwined with the bad so tightly in 2016 that it is hard to zero in on highlights.

In other words, the best thing about 2016 is that it will end. And if 2017 is worse, we will still look at 2016 as the year the ‘shit-storm’ began. John Oliver said it best when he blew up the whole thing as a giant FU to the year. Best exclamation mark ever… and that was the only good thing I got to say about the year.

 

A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

You’ve Got To Be F%!king Kidding Me! – A $25000 Lightsaber Pen

lightsaber pen

In a giant case of “you’ve got to be ‘effing’ kidding me” the world of collectors is being introduced to a $25000 lightsaber pen. Sure, it force-floats on its base, lights up in Vader-red or Yoda-green and is an exceptional writing utensil… but unless it can deflect blaster fire, the price seems a little steep.

Made by S.T. Dupont in Paris, the pen is made from bronze with black lacquer, palladium and rhodium embellishments. Only eight of the pens will be sold making it a (wealthy) collectors dream come true.

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I just hope those collectors don’t lose pens the way I do… not sure I could misplace something that valuable without being a tad stressed!

 

Barrettbites Top 10 “Super-Awesome” Songs of 2015

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Could you make a lasting impression in mere minutes? The kind of connection that lasts a lifetime completed in clicks of a second-hand. That’s what a great song does.

Of course, the best tunes have you forget time even exists until the last moment, when you wish they could go on for much longer… if only to recapture the feeling you just had. Instead we can only replay it; in some desperate attempt to keep that response (whatever it was) going.

 10. The Elwins – “Show Me How To Move”

Coming off like a cross between The Cars, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Motion City Soundtrack “Show Me How To Move” is an infectious little gem about life’s insecurities. It’s catchy enough to stay in your head for weeks without wearing out its welcome.

 9. Terra Lightfoot – “Never Will”

A pure blast of rock ‘n’ roll delivered from just down the QEW in Hamilton. Terra Lightfoot put together a record full of gems with “Never Will” leading the charge.

 8. City & Colour – “Lover Come Back”

The second single from If I Should Go Before You, “Lover Come Back” is an outstanding soul tinged tune harkening back to the days of Stax was the king of Memphis.

 7. Wolf Alice – “Moaning Lisa Smile”

On first listen, “Moaning Lisa Smile” sounds like it may have been dropped into us from 1992, with its nineties alt rock vibe. However, it was just the start to what turned out to be a great record. Can’t wait for more!

 6. Hollerado – “Firefly”

“Firefly” was a 7” single released on record store day as part of the coolest release of the day. Buy the little green vinyl, and get a download card for 111 songs. How many bands can say they released 10 albums worth of material with a 45 RPM.

 5. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats – “S.O.B.”

Conjuring sounds ranging from Van Morrison to Elvis Presley, “S.O.B” was the single that started the ball rolling on a great record and rave reviews from everywhere Rateliff went to play.

 4. Cage The Elephant – “Mess Around”

It’s only been around for a few weeks, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a great song. Full of influences ranging from the UK to San Francisco, it rides a great groove from start to finish.

 3. Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrain At Best”

Talk about a salvo! Barnett’s “Pedestrain At Best” is like a personal mission statement to music. She puts out songs that carry the confessional style of Paul Westerberg (the Replacements), the humour of David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) and energy of the frickin Pixies.

 2. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Somewhere between soul, disco and straight up rock ‘n’ roll, “Don’t Wanna Fight” is the kind of tune that hits emotionally and has you singing along. Even my kids try hitting those high notes as we cruise the streets in the minivan.

 1. Beck – “Dreams”

Speaking of my kids, “Dreams” was their favourite of the year, as well as mine. Like the most memorable of Beck’s work, it had elements of hip-hop built into the rhythm, a great ‘wonky’ guitar riff, and lyrics that captured the imagination even when they seemingly made sense only within the context of a dream. Only wish it was supported by a full album.