The Electric Mess – House On Fire

The Electric MessThe Electric Mess hail from New York City and embrace the ethos of honest, in your face Rock ‘n’ Roll. This isn’t a revival – this is music that could have been recorded at any point in the last 45 years or so. The band describes lead singer Esther Crow as “androgynous and dynamic” which is an apt description for her unique affectations. The band also features Dan Crow on lead guitar, Derek Davidson on bass & vocals, Craig Rogers on drums, and Oweinama Biu on keyboards & rhythm guitar. Garage punk mixed with a bit of The Doors? Think along those lines, and you might be getting warm.

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Badfinger – Without You

badfinger

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It’s hard to discuss anything relating to the band Badfinger without discussing the myriads of woes that plagued the band during their lifetime. Misfortune, mismanagement, and plaid old bad luck meant that the band never reached the pinnacle of success that they rightfully deserved. Originally signed to Apple Records and given a song by Paul McCartney that became a hit (you can watch Sir Paul discuss this at length in the Beatles Anthology video), the band was at its strongest when tapping into raw emotion. Power pop, classic rock, balladry – all hallmarks of the Badfinger signature sound. Without You was made famous by Harry Nilsson in 1971 and again by Mariah Carey in 1994, but both versions removed a bit of the muscle that is found on the original version by Badfinger. Originally a deep album cut on their 1970 record No Dice, it is now considered a classic, being covered by over 180 artists. Guitarist / vocalist Pete Ham had the verses, but couldn’t come up with a strong chorus. He had the perfect opening line “”Well I can’t forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrow, I had you there but then I let you go…”. Vocalist / bassist Tom Evans had a perfect chorus based on events in his life, but no suitable verses. The two worked together and found that “I can’t live, if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give any more” worked really well as the chorus to the song Pete Ham had worked on. A bit of nostalgia mixed with melancholy, it is a perfect song. Both principal songwriters would commit suicide – Pete Ham in 1975 at age 27, and Tom Evans in 1983 at age 36. Both gone too soon, making the emotional resonance of this song just a little more poignant.

Favorite Records of 2014

record

Another year gone by, another year in music to review. For me personally, it was a strange year in music. I found myself listening to unsigned / self released artists more often than some of the mainstream artists that I love so much. 2 Neil Young records – the 1st was good, if not great. The 2nd was a little too lush for my tastes. Neither appear on my year-end round-up. I looked forward to the new John Mellencamp (yes, seriously) but I came away only loving about half the record. Bruce Springsteen added Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to his band and the record he released didn’t disappoint me. I managed to get out to a few shows in 2014 and was blown away by Mudhoney (twice) and First Aid Kit. Speaking of First Aid Kit, their Stay Gold record grew in stature with repeated listens and should help them become a household name. So without further rambling, here are the records that I played the most in 2014. Note: these are listed randomly and I chose to focus on full length releases that were released in 2014.

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Sun Kil Moon – The Possum

thepossum

Mark Kozelek is the most unlikely polarizing figure of 2014. A pioneer in the slowcore movement with the incredible Red House Painters in the late 80’s through early 00’s, he continued exploring that sound with Sun Kil Moon and solo releases post 2001. The use of monikers has become almost interchangeable as the years have passed, as Kozelek has increasingly turned towards acoustic sounds made primarily by the nylon string guitar. Over the last 2 years he has shown signs of mixing things up, releasing 4 records that all are stunning in their own way – Like Rats (solo), Perils From the Sea (with Jimmy LaValle), Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (featuring members of Red House Painters), and Benji (Sun Kil Moon). It might take another band 9 years to produce such a diverse body of work, but Mark Kozelek managed to deliver haunting cover versions, slowcore anthems, electronic meditations on life, and life reaffirming acoustic revelries. 2014 also saw him engage in a gangsta rap style war of words with the band The War on Drugs resulting in the song War on Drugs Suck My Cock. It launched super serious (and SEO baiting) blogs on what the song actually meant, but I viewed it as a joke gone too far – and a funny, brilliant song with more F words than I’ve ever heard in an acoustic folk based song (as far as I can remember). So what does one do for an encore?

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Sufjan Stevens – The Lord God Bird

godbird

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

2005 found Sufjan Stevens releasing his 2nd state themed record, Illinois. Stylistically similar to 2003’s Michigan, it added a depth to the indie orchestral musical stylings. Amidst all the critical acclaim and recordings, Sufjan found time to visit independent radio producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister to reveal his writing process. Carrying on with his location-based songwriting, Stevens was introduced to the town of Brinkley, Arkansas. The ivory-billed woodpecker had recently been rediscovered after a period in which it was thought to be extinct. The bird is dubbed the lord god bird due to its stunning appearance – one of the largest woodpeckers in the world with distinctive coloring around the head. Sufjan released his song The Lord God Bird as a free download on the NPR website in July of 2005. The song is an exercise in beauty – conveying hope and spiritual longing in equal measures. Acoustic in nature, the song would have fit in perfectly with Sufjan’s mid 00’s records. It’s almost hard to believe that this song was given away for free – its one of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs. It hooks you right from the opening line: “In the delta sun, down in Arkansas / It’s the great god bird with its altar call”. You can still find the free (and legal) download of the song here. You can also view a video that perfectly fits the song below. Enjoy.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Hey Joe

Hey Joe

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Born and raised in Seattle, WA. A guitar hero. Died tragically early at the age of 27. You might be thinking Kurt Cobain, but I am referring to the late, great Jimi Hendrix. The mid 60’s had found Hendrix playing with The Isley Brothers and Little Richard, while also providing session work to various artists. It was during a session with Rosa Lee Brooks that Jimi met Arthur Lee, who would go on to form the influential band Love. Frustrated with his inability to break through in the US, Jim relocated to London, England in late 1966 and put together The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Featuring Noel Redding on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and Jimi on guitar & vox, the band was met enthusiastically almost immediately. The debut single was a cover of the Billy Roberts classic Hey Joe. Jimi’s friend Arthur Lee had covered the tune on Love’s January 1966 debut album in the traditional faster tempo. The Jimi Hendrix Experience covered tune in a much slower manner, perhaps based off of the versions Tim Rose and The Creation were playing around the same time period. Jimi’s vocals are emotionally resonant, weaving a tale of tragedy and heartache. Musically, Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding, and Jimi are perfectly in sync, allowing the explosive guitar solo to hit hard when it finally lets loose. The song was a top 10 hit in the UK for The Jimi Hendrix Experience in January 1967 (released December ’66) and did not chart in the United States when it was released there in May 1967. Each version came with a different b-side – Stone Free for the UK and 51st Anniversary for the US. As an added bonus, the video of this song embedded below features Jimi playing the guitar solo with his teeth. Seattle’s original guitar hero.

Soup – Album

Soup - Album

Anyone who absorbs an ungodly amount of music will tell you – sometimes the bands and records become lifetime companions and sometimes….well, sometimes you struggle to remember what they sound like. Those initial impressions are important – don’t get me wrong – but those records that stay lodged in your brain forever, those are hard to come by. Manchester, England’s Soup have released a debut album that I am sure will stick with me forever. It’s one of my favorite records of 2014.

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Wilco – Jesus, Etc

Jesus Etc

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It is a rarity for a song to capture the zeitgeist in a meaningful manner. On the patriotic side, the songs can sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. On the rebel alliance side, the sounds can also sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. It takes a perfect storm of outside forces to produce a song that captures an era or event. Jesus, Etc by Wilco was recorded in early 2001, released in early 2002. Written by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, it uses evocative lyrical imagery married to country-ish musical backing. It is one of the more straightforward songs from the experimental tour de force, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Tweedy’s opening world-weary sigh “Jesus, don’t cry / You can rely on me honey” comes straight out of conversations couples have each and every day. The melodic string laden hook pulsates throughout the song, making it instantly memorable. Veering on the “glass is half empty” world view, Tweedy continues “You were right about the stars / Each one is a setting sun”. A pessimist’s way of imploring the listener to embrace the now? Possibly. The post 9/11 world was full of misguided nationalism, but it also left an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. Sadness permeated the air. Considering this song was written PRE 9/11 but released POST 9/11, the next verses are just a bit eerie “Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad sad songs / Voices whine / Skyscrapers are scraping together”. Metaphors for conflict in a relationship and the sadness that ensues. Tweedy resolves everything with a bit of a non resolution “Our love is all of God’s money / Everyone is a burning sun”. Another brilliant way of imploring us to embrace the now. The ancient Epicureans famously believed in the philosophy of  “Eat, drink, be merry – for tomorrow we may die”. In the post 9/11 world, Wilco captured that essence in a way that made the world take notice. I believe that is a philosophy worth embracing no matter what our religious beliefs are. Make each moment count.