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June 20th, 2008

04:41 pm
London Update....back after 32 weeks off

According to my profile page, I haven't updated in 32 weeks. Well what can happen in 32 weeks that's that big anyway?

So I now live in London, and moved here at the start of the year, so that's big I guess. Thus complaints and harangues about Vancouver have been quenched from my mind. This is not a temporary fling with the old world, i'm here for good, so it's time to start fresh.

My 32 weeks have been taken up with preparing to move, moving, settling in to East London, finding a job, and adjusting to living in a city that can actually handle (and not give a shit) hosting the Olympics. My last month has generally been devoted to the genius that is Sparks and their 21 albums in 21 shows. I will devote an entire post to this because the shows deserve it.

No longer working at a record store means I'm listening to and discovering music the old fashion way. After selling my entire CD collection before I moved and taking great strains to move much of my records, I swore i'd never buy a CD again. Taking that with my unwillingness to buy music online, and it's basically down to buying records when I can afford it. Here are a few releases i've listened to a lot on my hour long commute to work...

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges 2LP (Rough Trade / ATO)

  • Of course I'm going to start with MMJ, i've been waiting on this for a couple years now. I had the pleasure of seeing Jim James perform these songs at the St. James Church a couple weeks prior to the release and was generally excited about how they'd translate with the entire band on the record. Reviews of this record have been luke warm to down right harsh (but how serious can you take a website that labels stories heckling bands like Mogwai, Wolf Parade et al for their new album artwork as "News" ?). For me, the album is definitely a mixed bag, and when compared to their other releases, it's a bit weak. After the title track, the next two songs "Touch Me....Pt. 1" and "Highly Suspicious" are very poor and should have stayed b-sides. The singles tracks (based on their SNL and other promo stuff) are a bit too straight-forward, however "Evil Urges" is a great Mayfield-esque soul tinged track with a great guitar breakdown and opening riff. At times James really alters his voice we're used to, and his cameo on I'm Not There must have rubbed off, as at times he clearly evoked Dylan's vocal style on Nashville Skyline. The second half of the record is solid throughout and that's where to find the best tracks on the record.
Times New Viking - Rip It Off  (Matador)
  • I was of two minds with their first release, but with their first release on Matador I was floored out how good it is. I was lucky enough to see them on a triple bill with Jay Reatard and No Age at Barden's Budoir in Dalston (see review), and they were great live too. There are so many great songs on this record, and while Matador and Vice appear to be buying up everything remotely cool and punky at the moment, it was a smart move by them to release this. My fav of the year so far.
No Age - Nouns (Sub Pop)
  • Pretty much a follow up to my thoughts on TNV, as this record is great too. Yet I wonder if my nostalgia for mild obsession with late '80s early '90s Northwest punk at the moment is tinting how I listen to this as it's very early '90s sounding. Oh well, that's not a bad comparison. Speaking of which, the new Mudhoney record isn't half bad. It's the same old Mudhoney, still kicking it from the basement, but it's a fun little record.
Cheap Time - S/T (In the Red)
  • Way too many dirty garage punk bands out there right now but this record is a gas. A little glammy Iggy/NY Dolls esque, the songs evoke the band's name with every song clocking in at a couple minutes, with tight and well crafted pop hooks.
Upcoming shows I'm excited about: MMJ in three weeks,  reunited original lineup of the Butthole Surfers in Camden, ATP Halloween with Om, Wooden Shjips and Shellac, ATP in Dec. curated by the Melvins, Sun Kil Moon next month, and the return of No Age! How to pay for all this.... I have no idea.

05:39 pm
Sparks 21 x 21

For the last month, Sparks played 21 shows in London, each show a complete run through of one of their albums, in chronological order. They began with their first album, originally released in 1971, Half Nelson on May 16th, and finished last weekend with their new record Exotic Creatures from the Deep. Twenty of the shows took place at the intimate Carling Academy in Islington, and the final show was at the Shepard's Bush Empire, debuting the new record and ending with a set requested by the fans. This adventure might seem crazy, grandiose, or silly but this is Sparks we're talking about; a band who has constantly changed it up and changed the rules as they went. Every record is different, and every one deserves attention.

Unlike some, I didn't buy a gold ticket and attend all 21 shows. I'm not sure how people could afford to do it or have the time. For my obsessiveness, I attended six shows: Kimono My House, Propaganda, Big Beat, Angst in my Pants, Hello Young Lovers, and Exotic Creatures from the Deep. I had no idea what to expect, and going in I slightly feared that the shows could be a bust as 21 shows in a month could take its toll on a pair of oldies like Ron and Russel Mael. However...In short, it was amazing!

Kimono was packed to the brim, you could hardly move. What a way to start a show with their biggest song "This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us." Any worries that Russel couldn't hit the high notes anymore were eased immediately. It was good to get the big hit everyone knows over with in a way and move on to the other great tracks; a chance to hears songs you'll only get one opportunity to hear. By night four, with Propaganda, the band really hit their stride, and the place went nuts from start to finish. "Reinforcements" was everything I wanted and they nailed the tough songs like "Bon Voyage." With a back up band of veterans like Steve McDonald from Redd Kross the band never missed a step (I only saw them screw up once, on a tough/rare b-side on Big Beat, which had crazy time changes) and that's saying something considering how many chord changes, lyrics and notes they had to remember. over 21 shows of never playing the same song twice.

Big Beat was great and under-appreciated in the Sparks cannon. Containing such classics as "Throw Her Away (And get a new one)" and "Big Boy," it was classic from start to finish. Angst in my Pants was a last minute decision for me to attend and i'm glad I did. "the Rise and Fall of Me" was probably my favorite performance of all the shows along with a couple others, and while they said they'd do it again on the final night, they didn't end up doing it, proving how unique each night was. With the final night in Islington, with Hello Young Lovers, the band received an ovation that easily lasted 10 minutes. People were so grateful that something like this could have taken place and knew it wouldn't happen again. Young Lovers was perfect evidence that little had changed in over thirty years. Easily one of their best records, Young Lovers was a treat to hear live with songs like "Dick Around" and "Waterproof" charging the room.

The final show was crammed with a few thousand fans. I was a little iffy on the new record because I felt it dragged a lot in places and lacked tempo, but seeing it live put that all to bed. "Lighten Up Morrissey" was amazing, and the dance moves for "She Got Me Pregnant" were unforgettable. The second set contained tracks throughout the spectrum of albums, with a horn section making "Get in the Swing" stand out and the amazing "Goofin' Off" making for the highlight of the show. Russel stated at one point that no other band would be dumb enough to try this, and he's right. I'm just glad I was there to witness it.