March 21, 2009

No Line on the Horizon: Anatomy of an Album Review

I went to great lengths to not hear U2's No Line on the Horizon until it was officially released on March 3. Believe it or not, I resisted temptation and my first listen was at about 9pm on March 2 (it was already March 3 on the East Coast and the album was available on AmazonMP3). The first listen was at a low volume and all I did was sit and notes, no real analysis at all. The next day I listened to it pretty much non-stop. That night I got home from work and listened to it with notepad open with the intention of writing a review. I started with rough notes. I kept listening and listening and listening. I went back and forth on how to review the album. Upon first listen I would have rated it 4 stars (out of 5 if I believed in stars). That next day I started to digest it a little more. I started to hear themes and patterns. I recognized that the song structures were similar to what I'd observed in How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and "Window in the Skies". It started to feel like U2 had created an album for me...or for fanatics. There seem to be lots of hints to other work they'd done going all the way back to Boy. I'm now confident giving it a 5 star review. Here's a quote from The Mad Fishicist [posted without permission]:

"the melodies of unforgettable fire,
the guitars of achtung baby,
the rhythm of pop,
and the sentiment of how to dismantle an atomic bomb got together one night for a few beers,
but got so drunk they couldn't find their keys.

no line on the horizon had them the whole time."

And as a treat, to you few readers who still tune in, I'm including the first notepad text I jotted down on day 2.

1. No Line on the Horizon

wow great opening, feels like a preface to the journey

Verse: my favorite Bono voice register

Chorus – Simplicity

Verse: time is irrelevant…

2. Magnificent

Intro: that’s a meaty chord

Euro dance

Great riff

This will be the live song of the tour!

Very “Until the End of the World”

Edge and Larry rockin us into the chorus

Only Love – Can make such a mark, can heal such a scar

Adam’s challenging himself

I’m air guitaring…I can’t help it in this bridge/solo

I want a djembe a la The Visitor

3. Moment of Surrender

Neat little intro very Achtung Baby

Part "Love is Blindness", part "So Cruel"

Feels like "N + S of the River", might be trying to be the "So Cruel" wherein the drug is the lover.

Bono’s not cheating on the vocals, he’s selling it.

Very theatric

It’s not if I believe in love, if love believes in me…oh believe in me.

Kinda Pink Floyd -> momentary lapse of reason

Understated little solo with piano and Edge taunting us

There’s the Edge…lots of compression, just what the song needs.

4. Unknown Caller
Intro - Feels like "Walk On", birds chirping
Wow, sounds like vocals off of

Verse - Back to Achtung Baby
Bridge - Go Shout it Out, Rise Up
Chorus 2 – Restart and Reboot Yourself, nice

French Horn transitioning to Solo – Edge making guitar sing

5. I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight

Larry nice beat

Cheesy lyrics? Bono, falsetto trying to do the New Radicals thing?

Chorus kicks – great melody, Edge ripping

Answer to cheesy lyrics “The right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear” ironic lyrics?

Background melody in chorus


BABY BABY BABY Bridge (Ultraviolet)

Another solo with Pridesqe sounds including the arena sing along anthem.

Adam winding down.

6. Get On Your Boots

Syncronous bass/guitar…bass pulls through

Ah, "The Fly" of 2009.

You don’t know how beautiful you are (You don’t know octave)

Reminds me of CoBL "Oh you look so beautiful tonight, in the city of blinding lights"

1988 sound

Larry working it.

Let me in the Sound…awesome!

Get on your boots, not get your boots on or put on your boots…interesting

7. Stand Up Comedy

DMB rhythm

Two towers

Fall down, stand up

Lyrics had to have come last

Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady

Historical some research

Small man with big ideas, ha!

Humming into the bridge

Solo in the bridge

They think it’s hardcore, with a few changes it would be.

8. FEZ - Being Born

FEZ- great contrast – Let me in the sound…sounds like Great Expectations sndtrk song…look that up. [edit: "Siren" Tori Amos]

Being Born- driving intro…we’re gonna go somewhere in this song.

Layer 2- Holy… elevated (who’s playing piano?)

Verse – brought it back down, but Larry’s still driving us

Adam – nice

African sun

Chorus? Is this a chorus or a bridge? Is there a chorus? Well crafted structured. Here’s a bridge.

10 bucks says Bono wanted to have some anthemic chorus at one point but simplified it.

How would this look live?

Transistions to drop down for next song.

9. White As Snow

This takes me to Ireland or Sarajevo.

Sounds like Sinead could sing this

Good bridge (?) Lanois on steel string?

There’s Bono’s voice.

10. Breathe

Rhythm intro…

Edge + piano

Rough scratch

John Lennon sounding

3 things 3

These days are better than that

Loose electricity

Strong chorus

Can see this being incredible live


Solo pulls us into a bridge

Chorus is the simple U2 chords we’re used to.

11. Cedars of Lebanon

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s "Love is Blindness"

Intro dissolves

Great percussion

It’s a talkie

Interesting little chorus with the harmony

Return the call to home

Very Eno/Lanois sounding with strings and keys

Abrupt end, brilliant

Feels like "Promenade", but much darker

February 3, 2009

Josh Ritter and Dawn Landes in Anchorage

I spent the week leading up to 1/31 trying to convince everyone I know to show up at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Saturday night for Josh Ritter’s show (mostly through Twitter). This was the third time I’ve seen Josh Ritter live. Once in a solo capacity like Saturday’s show and once with his band; so I knew to expect an intimacy between him and the audience.
I also spent some time leading up to the show getting familiar with Dawn Landes, who was opening the night. Her albums are rather eclectic mixing some blue grass, folk and even some rock. In her performance she immediately won the crowd over with her charm and anecdotes about her Alaska experience. She seemed to thrive in the solo acoustic format, and really seemed to be enjoying herself. Her music is great and I added her catalog to my library via AmazonMP3 and emusic.
Back in October of 2007, I saw Josh Ritter play in Seattle. I’ve blogged this story before, but it’s relevant… ReckenRoll and I were eating across the street from the venue and while I was juggling excitement to see Josh Ritter and excitement that the Red Sox were winning game 7 of the ALCS against the Indians (after trailing 3-1; they went on to win the World Series). I looked up at one point, probably in angst for a server to deliver food, and saw Josh Ritter wandering through the restaurant with a pitcher of beer looking for someone. I flagged him down, mentioned seeing him in San Francisco and being from Alaska. He mentioned that Alaska is on his short list of places he was dying to get back to. I told him, Anchorage supports musicians who are willing to make the trip and it would be a perfect opportunity for a solo show. I’m not saying he followed my advice, but Anchorage did show up and packed the auditorium. He looked happy to have made the trip and led the audience through a trip that only an Idahoan singer songwriter could pull off. There are plenty of Idahoans in Alaska, and they were very excitable at any reference he made to the potato mafia or Miss Junior Idaho. Fittingly he started the show with the song titled “Idaho.” He played a few new songs, one that he said was the first time he played it. The audience was very forgiving of him stopping mid song and starting over, because after all his charm and energy it seemed to work for him. I had a great time, my friends had a great time, people on Twitter had a great time. For all his talent, Josh Ritter is very down to earth and his stage presence (which really seems to just be his presence) gives the audience the idea that he’s a friend of theirs. After an encore that included a duet with Dawn Landes, he closed the show with an accapella version of “The Parting Glass.”
After the show both Josh and Dawn hung around in the lobby of the theater signing autographs and posing for pictures. I walked over to get my picture taken with Josh, and noticed a group of people giving me dirty looks as I sauntered over to him. Turns out there was a line and I was cutting. I walked towards the back of the line, and then decided against standing in line. I regretted it the second I got home (especially since Dawn Landes has quickly become a favorite in iTunes and she didn’t have a line), but not as much regret as those people who didn’t get to experience the show.

January 7, 2009

Breaking Blog Silence: 2008 Albums

Rather than including some diatribe about why this place went silent in July or why the silence is being broken, I’m just going to jump in and start writing again.

Ten albums I couldn’t stop listening to that were released in 2008.

Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us

Smiley happy music is what I’ve gotten used to from Mates of State as I’ve written about them quite a bit since I first learned about them and saw them play in 2005. Re-Arrange Us doesn’t depart from the happy hooks but shows another level. Some have described it as a maturity, but I think it’s a depth to the indie pop. Quite a fun album!

Matthew Ryan – Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State

Despite still not getting the attention his talent deserves, Matthew Ryan quietly released a solid album. Many of the songs ring true to the times with a slumping economy and a election based on hope. While I continue to feel like Bruce Springsteen is willing to release music (Magic) that doesn’t stand up to his best material, Matthew Ryan is unintentionally willing to pick up that torch of Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad and voice those ideals in song.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Most ‘best of 2008’ lists include the Bon Iver album and for good reason. It’s a solid clean quiet album that works for driving or for background music in the office. The production is done well to capture the songs in what feels very organic or raw, which compliments the tone of the album.

She & Him – Volume One

I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel as an actress since Almost Famous, but also enjoyed her in Winter Passing, The Good Girl, Bridge to Terabithia, but you could see the star quality when she busted out in song in Elf. Fast forward a few years and she teams up with M.Ward to release an album of great songs. She has a great voice, but the rawness of the production comes across like a girl that "just loves to sing" and it’s very refreshing.

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

I’m still hooked on 2006’s Boys and Girls in America, but Stay Positive was a great follow-up. If you have any doubt that rock and roll can’t survive in today’s music world, The Hold Steady are a great piece of evidence that it’s alive and well. Both albums make me think of Springsteen circa Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Cat Power – Jukebox

Solid collection of covers from Cat Power. Any year Chan Marshall releases an album, it makes my list. But the real question is: when is an album considered a covers album and when is it simply an artist interpreting standards? I’ve read complaints that this album didn’t contain the "Space Oddity" cover that was used in a commercial, but apparently that will be on a future album.

Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

I wasn’t sure what to think of Frightened Rabbit when I first heard them…in fact, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to like them or if they kind of qualify as a guilty pleasure like Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20 or Dashboard Confessional. The album is solid and I have enjoyed letting the images surround me. Much of the angst doesn’t apply to my life today, but it definitely takes me back through times in my life.

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

This is a fun album. I’m sure there’s some substance to the songs, but I’m still enthralled by the multilayer sounds and beats. I’m not the biggest fan of electronic music, but 2008 seemed to be my year of listening to it. MGMT do it pretty uniquely.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

This is an unapologetically fun album. This album and the band got a lot of hype prior to it being officially released, but with the upbeat songs with clean production and a world music vibe, it’s a great album to get through a long day.

Blitzen Trapper – Furr

I’m a sucker for Portland music, but this album is a solid well crafted effort. A little country a little rock and roll, this album has them both covered. Plenty of sounds packed into this album to keep your ears busy.

Honorable Mentions: Or albums I listened to quite a bit, but that didn’t live up to my hopes for them.
Don't get me wrong, I liked these albums, but they didn't quite reach my expectations.

Coldplay – Viva La Vida

Counting Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings

Guns N' Roses – Chinese Democracy

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Ryan Adams - Cardinology

Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs