Review of Paul McCartney: Ram Reissue (2 Disc Set)

Key Tracks: “Too Many People”, “Ram On”, “Dear Boy”, “Another Day” (Bonus Disc)

Paul McCartney created some kind of fascinating world with the oddly homespun DIY sound of Ram, and it’s the sort of place he should have stayed for the rest of his career. Sure, Wings and Band on the Run are pretty solid musical ventures – but nothing that McCartney released after 1971 even approaches the bizarre beauty of his second album.

Songs like “Heart of the Country” and “Long Haired Lady” sound a bit like they escaped off of The Beatles (aka The White Album). Not that similarity to McCartney’s collaborative work is exactly what we are looking for when we are examining Ram for signs of greatness.

The highlights of the album come in the frank way that the album understands that it is merely a collection of silly love songs. With quirky, nonsensical lyrics (listen to “3 Legs” one time; those three-or-so minutes is really all you need,) and endearing lo-fi melodies (“Ram On”) it becomes clear quickly that McCartney is not trying to be anyone but the music-obsessed goofball he is.

But, like any good rock n roll album, the release has its punky, anti-establishment moments. “Too Many People” is an anthem for anyone itching to emote some discontent with society; and with “Eat at Home”, McCartney seems pretty adamant about only needing his partner to get by.

Some of the songs on the album show characteristic signs of McCartney’s general style, although it is pretty safe to say that nothing he has made since truly resembles Ram.

“Admiral Halsey/Uncle Albert” is a dip into the kind of epic pop piece that McCartney experimented with throughout his career, but perhaps received the most recognition for concerning “Band on the Run”.

The revamped original, on its own, is definitely worth the investment, but the true gem for fans lies in the bonus disc. The unreleased material – and the material is pretty hefty at eight tracks running almost as long as the original album. “Hey Diddle” and “Little Woman Love” retain the goofiness factor of the released album, while sounding different enough to really be worth listening to.

The second disc is a bit like a look into the kind of music that McCartney could have made, and could still be making. The opening track, “Another Day” is a slice of the life of some everywoman; McCartney’s songwriting turns everyday despair into something breath-taking. Breath-taking and still shoe-tapable.

Looking at the barren liner notes, made up largely of domestic bliss-style photographs of McCartney and his young family around the time of the album’s recording, it’s pretty clear what kind of album Ram is. This is a young album, but not young enough to be completely free of melancholy or maybe even a bit of guilt (“Smile Away”, “Dear Boy”).

Maybe part of what makes Ram so remarkable is that it is so one of a kind; not saying that it wouldn’t have been pretty cool if McCartney had kept on making albums just a little more like Ram.


10/10 Badly Drawn Boy: Have You Fed the Fish?

Artist: Badly Drawn Boy

Label: ArtistDirect

Key Tracks: “40 Days, 40 Fights”, “What Is It Now?”, “You Were Right”, “Coming Into Land”

Release Date: November 5, 2002

Rating: 10/10

Maybe I think this album is beautiful because it arrived in my life at just the right time. It’s shocking when I read the mediocre reviews it received when it was released a decade ago. Songs like “40 Days, 40 Fights” and “What Is It Now?” are classics to me, songs that described larger themes of life and loss, yet somehow provided the perfect sonic background for a second grader dealing with issues like classmates who poked fun at my mismatched wardrobe.

Have You Fed the Fish? is sort-of a concept album, or at least there are a couple reoccurring themes. Sure, the themes are a bit oblique, and occasionally, if you weren’t tuned into to the emotional playing field that Damon Gough is playing with, they might even seem a little overbearing. The themes: the things you need, the fear of what is “now”, lifelong love, and the necessity of detail.

Sure, the album starts out with an audio clip, one that sounds like it is being recorded on a  commercial air flight – and instead of seeming saccharin and overbearing, Gough manages to come off as perfectly charming. Sure, the clip mentions Badly Drawn Boy, and Gough does name drop. But you’ve got to understand – he probably recorded this after writing the slew of excellent songs on the album. And if he was a little full of himself after penning “Imaginary Lines” and “All Possibilities”, reality is the only thing to blame.

Sometimes I need your body next to mine
I could draw us an imaginary line, i’m
Just don’t breath, I don’t need your allergies
I am falling out of bed not out of love, love

Then Gough has to get all breath-taking when he sighs:

I know you’ll understand…

Cooing it in the self-assured way that only someone who knew so well that you never, never would.

There is something gorgeous about the Sergeant-Pepper-esque way that the album slide into itself. Short, sweet numbers, like the fourteenth track on the record “What Is It Now?” effortlessly fall out of the preceding number, in this case the melancholy “Tickets To What You Need”.

And the album’s make up isn’t the only thing that pays homage to the Late Great Beatles. “You Were Right”:

I remember doing nothing on the night Sinatra died
And the night Jeff Buckley died
And the night Kurt Cobain died
And the night John Lennon died
I remember I stayed up to watch the news with everyone
And that was a lot of nights
And that was a lot of lives
Who lost the tickets to what they need?

By the end of that track, Gough hits home the entirety of the album in one line when he mutters

And songs are never quite the answer
Just a soundtrack to a life
That is over all too soon
Helps to turn the days to night
While I was wrong and you were right

Making the following eight tracks an study in the potential beauty of a pointless endeavor.

Guided By Voices “Class Clown Spots a UFO” Review

Guided By Voices

Class Clown Spots a UFO

Label: Guided by Voices Inc.

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Class Clown Spots a UFO”, “Keep It in Motion”, “All of This Will Go”

Guided by Voices have churned out more lo-fi pop gems than any other band over the span of the past twenty years – even if you take that brief six year hiatus period between 2004 to 2010 when the band wasn’t making anything at all into account. Besides, during those couple of years front man and song-writing-probably-part-robot Robert Pollard managed to release a couple of incredible solo albums that sounded remarkably like the best GBV material. (2006’s dazzling Normal Happiness and 2008’s well-constructed Zoom (It Happens All Over the World) EP)

That being said, it’s important to acknowledge that the band has released its fair share of clunkers, as well. Thankfully, it is pretty hard to honestly isolate any given GBV record and declare it to be the stinking one of the lot, as the weakest of the band’s material typically co-exists alongside its shoddiest. For a lot of folks, Do the Collapse was the ultimate disparity in the band’s discography. But those folks seem to forget that that album starred a couple of fantastic tracks, including “Wrecking Now” and “Teenage FBI”.

When the original line-up of GBV dissipated sometime around 1997 and Robert Pollard enlisted the help of Cleveland’s Cobra Verde the albums that followed (especially Universal Truths and Cycles and Do the Collapse) were just as rocked out as Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, but in an entirely different, decidedly more rock-poppy way. Cleaned-up and occasionally longer than three minutes, this new material was just not as fleeting or as vital as “Gold Star for Robot Boy” and “Blimps Go 90”. But there’s something charming about oddball pop songs with surreal lyrics, like “Everywhere with Helicopter” and “Back to the Lake”, so this newer stuff can’t be totally discounted.

When GBV reunited in 2010 with the original line-up (Tobin Sprout, Kevin Fennel, Mitch Mitchell, and Greg Demos) they played exclusively the material that they recorded together, so that goofy stuff that Rick Ocasek produced in the late 1990s was out. However, with the release of the band’s newest material (Let’s Go Eat the Factory in January of this year) the sound that Pollard and co. are working with now is a sort of mash-up of pre- and post-Cobra Verde GBV.

Let’s Go Eat the Factory was a tad bit disappointing for anyone looking for a great album, but it sure was comforting for any GBV fan, eager for new material. Class Clown Spots a UFO is decidedly more accessible and more refined than Factory, and, frankly, a finer recording.

When GBV played the Nelsonville Music Festival last month, Pollard prefaced the band’s rendition of “Class Clown Spots a UFO” with the remark along the lines of “Isn’t it great when you get to hear the best one?”

And he has a point.

“Class Clown Spots a UFO” is the finest track on the new album, with that trademark, inexplicable melancholy that accompanies all the best GBV material. Heck, there are even horns. And drumming so fine from Kevin Fennel that the tune moves along seamlessly. You feel pretty bad for the class clown – no one is going to ever believe he saw a UFO!

Some tracks on the album abandon the typical GBV format, like “Keep it in Motion”, which trades Pollard’s custom wordiness for simplicity in the lyrics department that perfectly accompanies a steady drum beat – one to which you can practically see Pollard swinging his mic chord to.

Sure, there are some really terrible songs on this record that you will probably skip over even on repeated listens – like “Worm with 7 Broken Hearts” and “Jon the Croc” (although the latter does have an appealing title that is oh-so-reminiscent of GBV before Pollard had fluffy white locks.

Class Clown Spots a UFO is up there with the best, most highly regarded lo-fi rock, even if it doesn’t have the pops and skitters that made Alien Lanes and Vampire on Titus some of the most remarkable music to come out of the past three decades.

tUnE-yArDs at the Wexner Center for the Arts

What kind of people congregate to see wonky-pop/Afro-beat/sound looping expert Merril Garbus (aka tune-yards) perform on a Monday night in Columbus?

Everyday kinda people – that’s who!

Dancing hipster girls (the polite Urban Outfitters kind), people who could-be college professors (take a gander at their glasses, and hopefully their fanny packs too) and even a couple “record store guys” (smell the judgment radiating off those plaid-shirted-Ray-Ban wearing fellas!).

“You guys are out there taking notes!” Steve Marion, frontman for opening act Delicate Steve remarked between one of the band’s crystal-clear, hyper-clean, and ultimately unsatisfying tunes. Not that Marion and co. weren’t trying, and not that the band’s vaguely world music inspired sound wasn’t, at certain moments, at least admirable. Numerous numbers involved at least one of the band members thrashing or pulsating some beat or another that was kind-of memorable.

Things turned for the decidedly less boring when Garbus took the stage after Delicate Steve’s mercifully short set. Greeted by the characteristically quiet, attentive crowd, Garbus broke into a startlingly powerful series of comical yelps and howls. Although the oh-so-hip (maybe they were even “so hip they could not take it”, like Garbus sang about on the tune “Killa”) didn’t know how to react to the her antics at first, after she broke into a smile the audience seemed to chill out a bit.

“You Yes You” opened tune-yard’s excellent Monday night set, and if the reception to that brilliantly organized song was great, imagine how the delicious thrumping of “My Country” and the painfully gorgeous rhythms of “Bizness” went.

Something about Garbus’ cool demeanor – never taking herself too seriously, although with talent like that, she actually could afford to – kept the audience and the band pretty intimate, and with the tiny curtained and divided stage in the Wexner Center auditorium, it felt a little like a private concert for seventy-some people.

Numbers like “Powa” and “Gangsta” soared, Garbus’ masterful looping and the excellent goofiness of her accompanying, highly skilled bass and saxophone players lifting the already impressive tracks off and out of Garbus’ second album, W H O K I L L. Songs as complicated and in depth as those found on the New England native’s fine 2011 release could have easily fallen into jammy territory in less talented hands, but thankfully that never happened. Each familiar track evolved out of a beat set up by the foursome onstage until it was visceral recreation of the recording.

And typically older material or new material isn’t particularly enjoyable in a live setting. Not so with tune-yards, the two older songs (off of 2009’s bird brains) and a promising new number spiraled into greatness alongside the more publicized  W H O K I L L material.

After an amazing encore, although looking awfully tired, Garbus said goodnight to the assorted Wexner crowd before disappearing behind the stage.

New Direction of the Athens Music Scene

This year’s Nelsonville Music Festival kicked off around 6:30 with Weedghost, an ambient/experimental act that hail from Athens. With a sound that verges on being industrial white noise, Weedghost depends on synthesizers and other hefty electronic equipment to achieve their brand of music.

Simply put, Weedghost is definitely not your standard four-piece rock band. With an act like that opening what is arguably the largest musical event tied to Athens, Ohio, it brings up the fundamental question: what is the Athens music scene?

“Like anywhere, Athens’ music scene is always evolving.” Troy Gregorino, the booking manager at Donkey Coffee. “One of the intriguing things about music here is the intersection of old-school Appalachian sounds in conjunction with our heavy concentration of student bands,” he commented.

And if anyone would be aware of the changes in trend concerning music in Athens, it would be Gregorino. Recently Donkey Coffee has hosted several atypical acts, including a Hip-Hop showcase in late April. At the time of the show, Gregorino noted that although Donkey does lend itself remarkably well to acoustic acts. Thanks to the very intimate setting, all types of performances seem to do quite well in the closer-quarter settings. Besides working to ensure that Athenians are getting a taste of music that isn’t solely guitar based, Gregorino is also a key member in local band The Jarts.

If anything, The Jarts are sort the prototypical Athens band, with their sound being definable, at least partially, as alternative folk with some edgier production elements that lift them out of the sea of generic sort-of rock acts that dominate the Athens music scene. Made up of four to five members, the band uses primarily guitar, bass, and drums to get their point across.

Ivars Balkit, the band’s second effort, was released in February 2011, and it showcases the kind of music that could easily accommodate itself to any number of venues in Athens. Song like “Utopia” are rocked out enough to appeal to audiences at the Union Bar and Grill and jam-band-tastic enough to suit the tastes of those who frequent Jackie O’s. They sound a little like The Jayhawks, if they were less obsessed with aging waitresses and fortunes lost; and if they didn’t mind playing their instruments a little longer than three to four minutes at a time.

The venues that are available for live shows definitely have a lot to do with what kind of music truly defines the Athens music scene. In a recent interview, Jesse Remnant, a major player in several area musical acts, as well as one of the co-founders of regional darlings Southeast Engine noted that all of Athens venues seem pretty accessible to most acts.

Remnant mentioned that he had played almost every venue in Athens, despite his decidedly alt-folk take on all of his tunes. Like Gregorino, Remnant commented on the constantly changing atmosphere of the Athens music scene.

“There’s definitely is a lot of variety – I mean, we have that singer-songwriter contingent, but we’ve also got jam bands, and a couple of really great rock bands.” Remnant commented. “The thing about the scene here is that it is always changing. And that is great, but at the same time, it’s always sad to stop hearing about one band or another after awhile.”

Maybe it is that constantly changing climate that really defines the type of music that thrives in Athens, rather than a particular genre or even a particular set of artists.

Outside of performing and writing with the Jarts, Gregorino is also a key player in The Lesser Egrets, a similar but slightly less produced band that debuted their first 3-song EP earlier this month, Marla May. “To Begin With”, the aptly entitled first track off of the EP, is a dusty, slinky acoustic tune that is punctuated by ringy percussion and a wilting harmonica.

The Lesser Egrets are decidedly more traditional, sounding more acoustic and folky in a lot of the music they make, at least judging from their first released effort. Listeners can expect to hear the Appalachian twang that is so commonly associated with the Athens area anyway.

According to the Athens County website, Athens has been a popular spot for live music since the 1960s, when the university was a hot bed for student activism.

Many of the artists who are currently playing a lot of gigs in uptown Athens and surrounding areas say that somewhat of an electronic demographic has come into the mix in the past couple of years. In fact, this was something that Jesse Remnant briefly noted on in a recent interview.

Among the acts that Remnant noted he enjoys the most, he mentioned Brothertiger, an excellent chillwave act that also has its roots in Athens. Brothertiger is, in fact, only one man, and that man is John Jagos. Chillwave and noise collage are a growing part of what it means to be a part of the Athens music scene, as shown by the popularity of other acts, like Blithe Field.

According to Brothertiger’s website, he recently returned to Athens from a month-long tour in Europe with Teen Daze, a group that hails from British Columbia. And Southeast Engine recently played at the South By Southeast Festival in Austin Texas alongside numerous upcoming national and international acts, according to the festival’s website.

Numerous big-name acts will be played alongside Weedghost at the Nelsonville Music Festival. Guided By Voices, Andrew Bird, and Lee “Scratch” Perry all took the stage throughout the weekend.

Athens’ music scene isn’t ambient, isn’t folky, isn’t a couple of four-piece bands banging out rock n roll – it is what it is, and whatever it is, it’s kind of beautiful.

Interview with Hex Net

Seth Riddlebarger and Tim Peacock are two of the most accomplished musicians on the Athens music scene. Both have played in a myriad of musical acts over the past ten plus years, and recently started playing music together under the name Hex Net.

“Hex Net is basically made up of Tim and I, and a few other rotating characters.” Riddlebarger said with a laugh in a recent interview. He serves as the band’s front man and guitarist; two skills he is awfully accomplished at.

“I’ve been playing in bands since I was probably around 15 years old,” Riddlebarger explained, going on to say that playing solely covers in a garage band has never been quite his thing. “For me it has always been important to play songs that the band actually wrote; and not depend on so many covers.”

That sense of originality is profoundly evident in Hex Net’s debut album, Future Holds. Despite the sunny name the album is full of sound-scaped guitar rock, and many of the tunes have pretty ominous titles. “Graverobbers” and “Miss Quarter’s Rotating Head” are not only great examples of spooky titles; they are also among the most rocked out tunes on the album. And everything about the record – from its collection of songs to the seemingly juxtaposed title, is all about balance.

“I think that the record has a lot of dark scenes, and the title is sort of a comment on a more optimistic view of the future.” Riddlebarger said, commenting on that tricky maneuver to make an album that is satisfactory for the band. Judging from conversations with the band, it sounds like Hex Net has managed to make an album that they are truly proud of.

“We have been working on trying to get this record finished for quite a while,” said Tim Peacock, the bassist for the band, noting on the long and hard process that resulted in Future Holds.

“I really like a lot of the stuff we’ve recorded. Seth is just a great songwriter.” Peacock continued, going on to say that his preference for particular songs changes on a day-to-day basis.

Riddlebarger seemed to agree, noting his overall pride in the recording and his inability to really pick out a particular favorite tune.

“I like the whole record, and I’m proud of the whole record. Looking back, there might have been some things that we could have done differently, but you can always say that about anything you are working on.” Riddlebarger said.

The sound that Hex Net accomplishes on Future Holds is a complex one, one part Mother Love Bone, one part Lou Reed, and all topped off with a dash of Dream Syndicate. Some of the tracks are darkly bluesy – the meaty opening riff of “Vice Church Blues”, while others dash off into shoegazing territory.

“Playing live really effects how I feel about the songs changes everything,” Riddlebarger said, remarking on the atmosphere of a Hex Net show. “We never have a set list, so sometimes it ends up a bit chaotic. We play some sort of noise improve stuff too; it’s all reactionary to how we are feeling and how the crowd is feeling.”

Hex Net has been busily finishing up Future Holds, so they haven’t had much time for live shows, although they have been making the rounds, with a recent show at the Union. The band will be playing on the opening day of the Nelsonville Music Festival.

Even though the band will be most likely to stick to a lot of the material on Future Holds at their gig in Nelsonville, don’t expect them to be principally tied to only those songs for very long. “We’ve been writing new material, and hopefully we will be recording on a second record very soon.” Riddlebarger said.

RASCAL Magazine Fundraiser Brings Out Music and Comedy

In 2011, Cynthia Robinson and Allison Maloney found themselves with a big, slowly developing idea for an edgy magazine that would be one part social commentary, one part art, and one part sheer whit. Over the past several months the magazine, to be entitled RASCAL, has come closer to publication than ever before. However, one rather substantial roadblock stands in the way of making RASCAL a reality: funding.

Thursday night RASCAL magazine held a fundraiser in the basement of the Dragon’s Cup, featuring a handful of regional comedy and musical acts. Perhaps the donation was optional, but the entertainment was not. A half hour into the event, the thin blocky downstairs of everyone’s favorite tea and noodle establishment was already pretty packed.

“I just really want to see Blithe Field play,” said Ashley Weingard, an Ohio University communications major sophomore chilling out on one of the Dragon Cup’s many slowly disintegrating plush chairs. “I’m not even sure if he’s playing for sure, but I hope he is.”

Weingard has been involved in RASCAL since Robinson and Maloney held the first meeting, introducing the idea, several weeks ago. Ever since that first meeting the organization has been full throttle on, desperately trying to make it to publication.

Cynthia Robinson, one of the aforementioned creators of RASCAL, took the stage first, playing a series of soft acoustic numbers. She cooed through several covers and a handful of originals, startling several in-coming show-goers.

“I thought it was, like, a recording, coming from over there,” said Katie Pinter, a freshman Journalism major at OU, pointing to one of the gigantic speakers placed throughout the narrow corridor that makes up the Dragon Cup’s basement.

“Way more people showed up than I had ever imagined would,” said Sam Flynn, a freshman creative writing major. Flynn is heavily involved in RASCAL, and he is currently one of the publication’s working comedy section co-editors.

After Robinson ended her set, she took up a hefty camera and proceeded to snap photos of the event, dressed in a body-conscious black dress and floral Doc Martens. Next up was “Nasty” Nate & JT, a comedy team that actually took on the growing crowd one at a time. Although there were chuckles throughout the audience, many show-goers admitted not being able to hear the routines from the back of the basement.

Regardless of whether or not everyone could make out the entire comedy act, everyone could definitely make out the goofy beats of Ghosta Rica, a strange collaboration that really “tore it up,” in the words of Spencer Radcliffe – aka Blithe Field.

Blithe Field headlined last night’s event, with his unique blend of audio collage and gracefully edited rhythms. Earlier this month Radcliffe released Warm Blood, arguably the Athen’s based musician’s most accomplished work to date.

“Tonight I am probably going to be playing a pretty good mix of old and new stuff,” Radcliffe said, milling about the crowd accumulated before his set.

“I see a lot of friends here, so I think that I might be pulling out some old stuff.” Radcliffe said. In fact, friends are what got Blithe Field involved in playing RASCAL magazine’s first fundraiser.

“I’ve been playing with Difficult Dogs [Athens area local band] a lot recently, and a couple of the people in that band are also involved in RASCAL.” He explained.

As the event wore on into the early hours of Friday, it become clearer and clearer that RASCAL magazine is a unique undertaking by a motley group of creative people who are absolutely determined to get their magazine to print.