Saturday, April 16, 2005

One-Hit Features

Artist: The Features

photo courtesy of

Album: don't bother with the album

I learned about it...: on MTV2's Subterranean, which is how they resurrected 120 Minutes., but in 60 min. form.

Comments: Maybe you're a Pepsi drinker, and you have a prize winning cap laying around that earns you just one song at the iTunes music store. If so, then I have the song for you. It's called "The Way It's Meant To Be" by The Features. They also have a video shown at least once on MTV2, and the visuals live up to the sound. The song has everything you could want: a little punk, a nice droney guitar riff and pounding drums, organ, cool vocals, and the always lively tiered/layered rock-out structure. So, I was excited to check out the EP released in 2003, and then again a full length in 2004. But, then there's the sad part. Nothing else they've recorded comes close to this one song. I normally wouldn't recommend just buying one song by an artist, but i just can't recommend the rest of their material. Maybe you'll disagree, so at least give it a listen. But I've found that after a few listens of their other material, their debut single hits harder than anything that follows. Too bad.

Sound clip: The Way It's Meant To Be

Friday, April 15, 2005


Artist: Mastodon

Album: Leviathan

I learned about it...: from Satan

Comments: I can't remember the last time
I was this excited about a metal band.
You may have to dust off the 'ol air drums for this sloppy joe.

P.S. It's a concept album about Moby Dick.

Sound clip: Iron Tusk

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Want

Artist: The Want
Album: Greatest Hits Vol. 5

I learned about it...: One of the guys from Rye Coalition sent a cd of this to a friend of mine, and i immediately fell in love with it.

Comments: Sadly, this band doesn't exist anymore, but they left some great songs behind, which were released by Southern Lord. Super 70's sounding, reminds me of zeppelin, sabbath, etc... really badass in all respects, but the singing is what really makes it for me. there's tons of bands doing the stoner, heavy, 70's rock thing, but i think this is exceptional. Not really sure why this is called Greatest Hits Vol. 5, because I think this is the only thing this band ever released, supposedly this is a collection of songs from 2 demos they recorded, which I want if anyone has any clues.

Sound clip: Yeah-Yeah
Sound clip: Goodbye

Black Mountain s/t

Artist: Black Mountain

Album: Black Mountain

I learned about it...: some hipster rag - can't remember which.

Comments: I like Black Sabbath a whole lot!
This band reminds me of Black Sabbath.
Hey, what's so great about NEW anyway?
You know what you get when you try to be new? Rap metal, that's what.

Craig adds: although Paul's comments read like poetry, I wanted to put in my 2 cents. I was just about to post this review myself, so trust us that there's something to it. They're from Vancouver, the coolest city on the continent, and there's nothing more I can say about them that isn't told by their label.

Sound clip: Druganaut

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Alexi "Nick Drake" Murdoch

Artist: Alexi Murdoch

photo courtesy of

Album: Four Songs EP

I learned about it...: I was curious whether the dude in the Honda commercial was blatantly ripping off Nick Drake, or what, so I did some internet research. The answer isn't as straightforward as that...

Comments: Alexi Murdoch is a native of Scotland and a folk musician who played coffee houses in obscurity in L.A. until his big break playing live on KROQ. Since then, Orange Sky has been in that Honda commercial, and he's been heard on the O.C., Dawson's Creek, and Ladder 49, and thus has what you might call buzz. This always makes me skeptical, with all that we know about major labels and the smarminess of the whole business. But since this buzz of his has been somewhat slow to grow, he seems to have the integrity of Jesus himself, and he has a philosophy degree from Duke (which is just around the corner from my hometown), I'd like to see him succeed. Unfortunately, his recorded output is still only the aforementioned EP. But all signs point to a full length in the very near future. Stay tuned.

Sound clip: Song For You

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Concert Review: The Shins

Photo courtesy of

Artist: The Shins

Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Venue: First Avenue Mainroom

Location: Minneapolis, MN USA

Review: I was slightly worried Tuesday afternoon that the experience of Planetdan would be relived at the all-ages show that I was attending. Apparently, there was a severe audio problem the previous night, but overall I figured that these First Avenue old salts were professionals, and whatever ruined Monday's concert wouldn't be repeated. And I was right not to worry. What I experienced was a fantastic, always-reliable, Shins-in-Minneapolis concert.

The evening started off slow because I had one ticket that I hoped to sell. Gratefully, I convinced my wife who is 38 weeks pregnant that she really didn't want to go. I tried convincing her of this the day we bought the tickets, but there's only so far you'll push your opinions on an 8 month pregnant woman. We should admire her spririt to get out. But as I said, I had better success last night. My friends were disappointed I hadn't invited them earlier, because they already made plans. So, I was left with the shameful tactic of peddling the ticket out on the corner of First Ave. and 7th St. As I walked up to the venue, there was the usual crowd of all-ages smokers catching their breath after the opening band. This crowd was larger than in the past because of our city-wide indoor smoking ban. Fooled into thinking there may be some desperate fans who were turned away from the sold-out show, I cleared my throat and began my pitch. After one round of, "Shins ticket! Who needs a Shins ticket?! Sold-out show! I can make change!" my shame got to me and I stuffed it back in my pocket and ducked inside. I learned later that in Australia in February, scalped Shins tickets were going for $100! But Minneapolis is far too experienced and savvy a music town to fall for that kind of inflation.

Arriving in time to miss The Brunettes (who I'll check out via the comfort of my computer some other time) I found an unheralded spot on the floor by the right-hand stack of speakers. Otherwise, the sold-out crowd was packed up against every square foot of floor that had good sight lines, with the First Avenue staff patiently kicking people off the stairs. Yet there was this nice hole in front of the speakers. Maybe people thought that the volume would be excessive, but I wasn't expecting Aphex Twin and was sure it would be fine. The picture above (from a different venue) captures my vantage point and distance from James almost perfectly. Eventually a few teeny-boppers piled in around me. I put my hands in my pockets and patiently waited.

When the lights dimmed, the only ear-pain that I would experience that night happened, and it wasn't from the band but from the screeching girls. I had no idea the Shins had become sex symbols. Keyboardist/guitarist/crowd-pleaser Marty played to this phenomenon expertly, repeatedly teasing the crowd that pants would be removed as the show progressed.

Musically, they were spot on, playing their brilliantly written selections from both albums. They were well-rehearsed and energetic and I have nothing negative to say. I know that they played one new song, and it's possible there was a second but I'm not trusting my memory too well on that. They also covered Magnetic Fields' Strange Powers, which I read that they've been doing live for a while. For me, a highlight was when Marty announced at the end of a fine encore that they would be back, hopefully soon, playing songs off of a new album. In interviews, they've promised to have that out by the end of 2005. But I hope they don't rush it for our sake. I see the Shins as our best hope of putting out a truly great classic album sometime within the next five years, on par with Loveless or Joshua Tree. I want from them an album that they obsessed over in the studio and that could make or break the band - "make" in its brilliance, or "break" in it's psychological toll it took on the band. Wish them luck.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Concert Review: Joseph Arthur

Artist: Joseph Arthur

Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Venue: Ascot Room at the Quest

Location: Minneapolis, MN USA

Review: First of all, a few caveats related to this review:

  1. I was 8 months pregnant when we went to this show.

  2. We made the rookie mistake (not enough concerts lately for the Ramsay-Sherwin household?) of arriving way too early for the show and therefore sat through two opening acts, one of which had some of the worst singing (and lyrics) I have ever experienced. So bad, in fact, that Craig wanted to yell “You suck!” from the crowd. He restrained himself, though, mostly because we left the Ascot Room to hang out in the seating area on the balcony overlooking the main floor of the Quest (which was closed during the show). I’ve blocked the name of the act from my mind (if I ever knew it), but it wasn’t Polly Paulusma. She was pretty good, although I have to admit I wasn’t paying that much attention.

  3. Due mostly to the aforementioned two factors, we left the show early.

So what you’re getting in this review is an impatient (some might say cranky) pregnant woman’s perspective of part of a show. Hey, no one’s paying me for this gig.

Joseph Arthur is a one-man band, appearing on stage alone with his guitar. While this might lead you to think that his sound would be spare and acoustic, you would be dead wrong. Described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “the moody singer-guitarist who loves electronics and loops,” JA uses technology to augment his onstage vocal and electric guitar work with pre-recorded/looped backing vocals and harmonies, drums, more guitars, bass lines, etc. Someone with a lot more technical know-how than I have could explain how that all works, but the end result is a very full sound that seems like it should have been produced by having about 4 more people on stage.

The other effect of JA’s use of technology is that the live show is, how shall I put this, very faithful to the album. In fact, I found myself thinking, “I could be listening to this at home on our stereo without the smoke, crowd, or inconvenience of wearing shoes.” For me, the appeal of going to a live show is that you see a different side of the artist, flaws and all. I want to hear something that sets the experience apart from listening to the CD at home.

I think of seeing Ben Harper at First Avenue years ago in college and how he held a packed house enthralled and silent (no mean feat at crowded club) just by the power of his voice and stage presence. More recently (also while pregnant) I saw the Pixies in St. Paul and at least once during the show they aborted a song a few bars in and restarted it sheepishly. Wilco's extended drum and bass break (another show our boy experienced in utereo) wasn't caused by a desire to jam for the audience, but rather by Jeff Tweedy's problems with his guitar pick-up. These moments are what bring a live show to, well, life for me. While some might consider them flaws, I relish these unrehearsed, spontaneous phenomena.

If you want your live shows to be faithful reproductions of the album versions of the artist's work, this Joseph Arthur show would have satisfied you. If you, like me, want spontaneity and personality in a live show, this concert might have left you like it left me; lukewarm and glad I didn’t pay too much for the tickets.

Craig's Ten Essential prog rock albums

I was honored recently to be asked by The Shuffle Brothers to write a series of guest columns. They wanted to know what my Ten Essential Prog Rock albums were. I was happy to share, and will share them with you as well. In fact, I shall reveal the #1 here a few hours before it will appear at The Shuffle Brothers. Be sure to hang around their site and learn all about the Shuffle Brothers rules for living - don't question their wisdom, just assimilate their message and live your life.

Without further ado, Prog Rock Craig gives you Prog Rock's Ten Essential Albums (click to learn about each):

One of Robert Fripp’s many great choices was to bring a little respect to this interesting group of musicians who had previously been flailing about just a bit. VDGG had a hard time sticking together and putting out good albums. Earlier noble efforts include Aerosol Grey Machine and H to He Who am The Only One (huh?). But on Pawn Hearts, Fripp agreed to lend his talents. The creative inspiration that he provided to this energetic and oddball group of musicians helped to congeal their ideas into a masterpiece.

Let’s run down the prog rock checklist I've already outlined above: A poor attempt at an artsy cover, a thematic album, sci-fi or fantasy imagery in the lyrics, excessive song length, roman-numeraled subtitles, unusual instrumentation, classical elements, self-indulgent, weird, kicks ass? Check. Pawn Hearts was also #1 in Italy for 12 weeks. Only on Pawn Hearts do you get a band that can kick out the jams while singing operatically about Lemmings and Lighthouse Keepers. It’s a rather heavy sound with organ, mellotron, and Frippertronics, and a great use of distorted sax; plus it’s obscure enough to impress/disgust all of your friends.

There’s one last facet of these prog picks that prog rock Malcolm and I agree on, and I’ve saved it until now because it fits best here with Van Der Graaf Generator. These albums can clear a dance floor like nobody’s business. Kraftwerk? Can? Not prog – too groovy. There can’t be any sustained passage that anyone would want to dance to, whether it be pogo, freak-out, shag, or even the all-purpose hippy dance. I dare you to try to dance to Pawn Hearts. Better yet, the next time you’re hosting a party where people are enjoying a cold beer, exchanging quips, meeting each other and generally having a good time, I dare you to put the needle down on “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers - part G: The Clot Thickens.” You might as well just scrape a needle across a record or dropkick a puppy from the stairway. How can this album do that to a crowd and yet still sound so good and rock so hard? Don’t try to explain it - it’s the work of genius.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Random Records: Led Zeppelin

Craig randomly grabs a record from his shelf and shares his deepest thoughts and feelings.

Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

The gods of randomization have struck again. Of all the records I own, what should pop up on my second grab but one of the greatest all-time classics known by all rock fans everywhere. Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP is sometimes known as Runes due to the runic characters that are part of the cover art, but it should perhaps most accurately be labeled as Untitled. In case you’re not a big fan of these lads, this album is the one with "Stairway To Heaven." It has not only one of the most celebrated songs ever penned in the rock and roll era, but it also has the band’s best deep cuts. Despite the Zeppelin drive-time classic rock power hours heard Monday through Friday all over the country, you will rarely hear some of these great tracks on the radio. For example, can anyone give me a good reason why DJs can’t manage to cut a groove into "Four Sticks?" Besides the aforementioned, we also have "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," and "Going to California" as the staid and played hits. Additionally, there are the quasi-familiar "Misty Mountain Hop" and "When The Levee Breaks." Pulling up the familiarity caboose is "Battle of Evermore."

Where I bought it: I was somebody who thought that I never actually needed to own the album because weren’t these songs always on the radio somewhere at any given moment? Plus, I had some of them on mix tapes. But wisely, one day at Cheapo Records in St. Paul, I decided that rather than go home empty handed I should finally drop $4 for this one.

Would I buy it again?: Anybody who calls themselves a rock and roll fan and does NOT have this in their collection, well, they must have a pretty big stick up their arse. There’s no reason this album can’t sit cordially alongside The Mommyheads or Joy Division in anyone’s collection. Relax and enjoy the jam.

Sound sample: Four Sticks