Whew! Excuse me while I wipe my brow! I've just returned fromCalifornia's exciting Coachella rock festival--where the temperatures soared inthe 100's, scantily-clad young women paraded around in next to nothing, andtoday's most exciting pop groups performed while wearing high-security,chip-bearing wristbands!
It was the best few hours of my life!
Furthermore, it reinvigorated me! Convinced me that yes,this is the best time ever in the world of pop music, and great bands are outthere, parading around onstage in 100-degree-plus heat, wearing wristbands andwaiting to be discovered by those lucky few who could afford to pay for ticketsto the year's best-ever pop festival!
And though in retrospect I remain fully aware I could havestayed home, sat on the couch, enjoyed several drinks of my choice in gloriousair-conditioning, watched much of the event streaming live on YouTube, and evenput the action on hold while leisurely walking around my house for theoccasional bathroom break, nothing can replace the overall feel-good vibe of parading around among young, sweaty, oftenshaven-headed fellow attendees, all of us wearing wristbands, all of uswondering when on earth we would finally end up at home comfortably sleeping inour own beds, and perhaps most important of all--what Kayne West would bewearing on Sunday night!
And so it is that now, with adrenaline coursing through myveins, renewed vigor and appreciation of the exciting world of today's bestmusic, I sit in my comfortable home office and offer up a preview of thisweek's best and most exciting new releases!
Some of them probably sound great!
Glee: The Music presents The Warblers (Columbia) I think most of us were stunned by the swiftdemise of the Glee phenomenon; howmost people simply stopped watching theshow, merely because they found it dull and repetitive, and instead optedto turn off the TV, read a book or two, and perhaps drive over to the nearestconvenience store, grab a large coffee, and maybe pick up an apple turnover!Still, cottage industry that Glee is,our collective lack of interest doesn't mean more product won't beforthcoming--and this latest collection, incredibly featuring a domesticated flock of over 250 birds,is, all things considered, an unexpected delight! Including cleverly-arrangedchirping of such hits as "Bills, Bills, Bills," "Hey Soul Sister," and "Do YaThink I'm Sexy," this new album could be the start of a phenomenon even biggerthan the formerly famous TV show! That said, putting all 250 birds in tinyschool uniforms does seem ethically questionable--but hey, if it works, I say screw it!
Gorillaz: The Fall (Virgin) It would be far tooeasy to make some sort of joke here--to imply, just as I did with the Glee album, that this new album isactually the work of animals--in this case, literally apes who happened by arandom recording studio--but why bother deceiving my audience for the sake of anadmittedly lame joke? Nope--the fact is, long-lived UK punk group the Fall havenever been less than interesting, and this latest album--oddly devotedto a fictional, cartoonish cult called the "Gorillaz"--continues their streak ofeccentric, zany, and completely inimitable conceptual leaps! Lead singer MarkA. Smith's quirkiness continues to know no bounds, but Fall fans everywherewill hear tracks such as "Detroit"and "Seattle Yodel" and realize nothing's really changed but the record label!They've never been better!
Steve Miller Band:Let Your Hair Down (SpaceCowboy/Roadrunner) Speaking of Coachella, last year at this time, I spentseveral days--including time spent driving to the festival site--listening to thecomplete works of the Steve Miller Band, and a year later, I remain stunned bythe overall magnificence of theconsistency of Miller's work! This latest set, mostly well-known blues, followslast year's Bingo!--the guitarist'sfirst album in years--comparatively swiftly, and like that album, is uncannilyproduced, well-played without a single note of excess, enormous fun, and, quitesimply, better than nearly everything else currently being recorded! Featuringfour bonus tracks, an appropriately psychedelic album cover, and a wealth ofsophisticated playing and singing, LetYour Hair Down rewrites all rock history then loses it on the way toschool!
The High Llamas: Talahomi Way (Drag City) The first album in some years by SeanO'Hagan's brilliant High Llamas is by no means a letdown: textured, melodic,eerily reminiscent of the Beach Boys circa Friends,at least in terms of musical arrangements, warm and personable and not of any discernable musical era, it continuesand betters the tradition of their last few albums. Like a soundtrack to amovie that was never made, like a black raspberry ice cream cone purchased foryou by your parents at a Howard Johnson's restaurant when the back seat ofyour car was filled with comics featuring Adam Strange, Green Lantern and theFlash, like a warm and cozy future you didn't yet understand but via this musicwas being laid out for you in a manner you didn't intellectually grasp butintuitively understood, this stuff is almost as good as Godsmack!
Eliza Doolittle: Eliza Doolittle (Capitol) A formerCockney flower girl who now speaks perfectly-enunciated, respectable English,young Ms. Doolittle apparently got her big break via a chance encounter withlate actor Rex Harrison--admittedly odd, since he died in 1990--and herpre-school performance of "I'm Getting Married In The Morning," during which,it is said, the sheer exuberance of her singing the passage "pull out thestopper/ and let out a whopper" brought tears to the eyes of most of theaudience. Doolittle's plan--to effectively replace the non-stop flood of young,popular British females who seem to emerge every quarter or so, since mostpeople, including this writer, can't even think of their names at the moment,sounds as plausible as anything else I've heard this year, so, like,why the heck not?
Blackfield: Welcome To My DNA (Kscope) In one of those joyous moments of raw musicalappreciation--that is to say, while sitting at my desk, preoccupied, and justgrabbing whatever random CD happened to be nearby and playing it--I came tofully enjoy Blackfield before actually realizing who it was: Steven Wilson,from England's Porcupine Tree, and Aviv Geffen, who is apparently a huge popstar in Israel. Arty, melodic, adventurous, and significantly catchythroughout, Welcome To My DNA is anifty and sophisticated rock album that you would likely enjoy were you to actuallyhear it. Apparently their third album together--have to admit I'm not sure I'veheard the previous two--it's a solid effort and further proof that PorcupineTree's Wilson is not only a musical overachiever, but a very good one. Recommended.
The Belle Brigade:The Belle Brigade (Reprise) Unexpectedly good, melodic, harmonious, well-played and sung, and released on amajor American record label for God knows what reasons--perhaps everyone wassleeping when they OK'd the deal--this debut set by siblings Barbara and EthanGruska sounds exactly like the sort of album Warner/Reprise used to releaseregularly during the mid-'70s, and that is meant as a high compliment. I wishthe pair of them the very best, hope they get a hit record and thus will beallowed to make records for a few years longer, and sit here scratching myhead. Outside, a dog is barking. Cool!
Tracy Nelson: Victim Of The Blues (Delta Groove) Ataste of reality here in that Ms. Tracy Nelson, respected bluesy singer who gother start in '60s rock band Mother Earth--who shared many a bill with the SteveMiller Band in their prime--is still around, singing well, and back with her 26th album, believe it or not. She's mostly singing well-known blues covers on Victim Of The Blues--Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins--and the earthy soulfulnessthat worked so well when she was younger has only become more refined with age.It's no wonder Ke$ha has claimed her as a major inspiration!
Kimberly Caldwell:Without Regret (Vanguard/Capitol) She'sblonde, she was on American Idol, andher debut album features songs written by Diane Warren, Kara DioGuardi andNickelback's Chad Kroeger! Were she to have a sleepover and make her own sockpuppets, she'd likely call them Winky, Blinky and Professor P! She's once,twice, three times a lady! She's every woman in the world to me! And she'sserving her country proudly! Without regret! That said...look at that hair!
Lenka: Two (Epic) As a conscientious writer, I go to greatlengths to never repeat myself! So it would be crass to merely reprint what I wrote about Lenka's last album! "Mygoal is to personally meet her," I wrote then, "ask her her name, and then reply'You're welcome!'" So I won't!