The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2014’s New Releases, Part One

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the general quality of fortune cookies, specifically the fortune part of the package, has deteriorated considerably, shifting from the old-fashioned vague predictions to advice reeking of platitudes cribbed out of hackneyed self-help books. I mention this because while noshing out the other day I happened to crack open a wild one.

It read as follows: “Those who take year-end best lists too seriously are destined to die miserable and alone.” And hey, on each side of this portent was a smiley face. Yeah, I’ll admit it freaked me out a little.

10. Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue

Placing a record I’m not likely to play a dozen more times in my life in the No. 10 spot? Why yes indeed. Not a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s fourth album, nor is it to my knowledge related in any way to the final film of the late Derek Jarman (the cover might lead one to this conclusion), Blue is a “note-for-note copy” of Miles Davis’ ’59 masterpiece made by an interesting and divisive group (and with this release, increasingly so).

Quotations are used in the sentence above for a fairly obvious reason; a note-for-note reproduction of such a complex work is an absurdity if not an impossibility, though MOPDTK get so close (I mean at times they get REALLY close) that accusations of plagiarism have been lobbed against Blue. Those charges are off base; but then what exactly is on target?

It’s less an elaborate prank, but as the inclusion of the typically amazing Jorge Luis Borges story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” makes clear (well, kind of), humor is part of the strategy; namely, satire concerning worship of the masters, but also a postmodern playfulness that’s proven to be like sandpaper rubbing on scores of folks’ nerves. They needn’t get so upset. Kind of Blue is indestructible and its essence will never be replaced or replicated; but of course, that’s not really the intention of the sticky can of worms that is Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Blue.

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TVD Washington, DC

TVD Live: GWAR at Baltimore Soundstage, 12/13

PHOTOS: DAVE BARNHOUSER | Mae West was once quoted as saying, “All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else.” Nowhere is this more applicable than in the world of music. Some people move on, some grow apart, and others shed this mortal coil leaving a gap that can either be mended and healed or it becomes the death knell of a band. In the case of GWAR, the wound left by the passing of Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, has been cleaned, dressed, and is healing up quite nicely.

Saturday night at Baltimore Soundstage, GWAR made a triumphant return, closing out the first tour of this new era and ensuring the outlandish legacy of the Scumdogs continues to march forth.

After sitting in hellish traffic due to the annual Army-Navy football game, I arrived about halfway through American Sharks‘ set. I quickly determined that I was none too thrilled about this, because these guys absolutely rocked my pants off. Figuratively, of course. Soundstage was already a packed house, and the high voltage punk-tinged stoner rock from the stage was the perfect way to start the night. Thick, heavy riffs with a Detroit garage rock flair, their sound was very catchy without being cliché or boring.

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The TVD Storefront

David Gray,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nobody expected White Ladder to be as big as it was. Its most iconic track, “Babylon,” became bigger even than David Gray himself. Overcoming that kind of success is nearly impossible, but Gray hasn’t relented. It’s been four years since his last album, Foundling, and nearly fifteen years since White Ladder spent over two years on the UK charts (and a year on the US charts), sold over seven million copies, and took the English singer-songwriter from obscurity to staggering fame. His tenth studio album, Mutineers, looks to bridge the gap for Gray between his popular successes and that which compelled him to write songs in the first place.

Mutineers contains Gray’s strongest songwriting of recent years, taken to another level by producer Andy Barlow (most recently of indie group Lamb), who wrenched Gray out of his comfort zone. At Gray’s explicit direction, Barlow deconstructed his songs, dismantling anything that sounded overwrought, and condensed Gray’s thoughts into powerful, driving, and spacious tracks. The result is that Mutineers is fresh-sounding, fascinating in its scope, and big in its sound. If you’ve been pining for substance in popular music, Mutineers is exactly that.

We spoke with David on the eve of his North American tour, hours before he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman debuting the aptly titled, “Back in the World.” He was candid and eloquent in our interview, talking about the process of making the new record and what it’s like to be an independent artist again. “I feel like I’m entering a rich period of making music,” he said, “as fresh as any I’ve ever made.”

The title track really leapt out at me. There’s something very powerful about your chorus, and it made me think of it as a sort of “grown-up” adventure song. What is the significance of the lyrics in “Mutineers?”

I have no idea if that’s what it means. [Laughs] It was born in a strange way. My producer tore up an existing song I had called “Sugar Rush.” What I was left with was a small chord sequence, which is what you hear now. He looped that—he said, “Stick with this, Dave,” and I was looking rather vexed. There was no verse, no chords no melody—all I was left with were these fucking lyrics and a small chord sequence. [Laughs] I thought, “there’s something good about it… let’s see what we can do.”

So, what I did is I found the chorus/melody first. [Sings] “Babe… sure feels good…” That bit. And once I realized that, I thought… this really works! I found the guitar part that goes with it—that really high guitar part; that brought that to life. And that’s a very heartfelt little bit of singing there.

But then, the verses are more ambiguous. It’s enigmatic; the meaning of the song is unclear. The tendency to explain there—there’s no narrative structure because it has an irresistible energy. It’s sort of mantric with its constant repetition. It has a sort of… inevitability and an unstoppable feeling. I love that track, and playing it live… it’s obviously infectious, because the whole band get really into it and the audience [does], too. I don’t know if I’d describe it as an “adventure” song, but I’m glad you found it to be an adventure. I do get what you’re saying, but I’m sorry I can’t explain the song on those terms. It’s a mystery to me. I respond to its energy and I respond to its imagery. As far as a definitive explanation of it… I’m so sorry I can’t help explain it better.

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The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
Foo Fighters, (s/t)

Dave Grohl is the Phil Collins of alt-rock. I don’t know how else to put it. Just as Collins took over the post-Peter Gabriel Genesis and continued to play a watered down version of their best music, Grohl inherited the Nirvana formula from the late Kurt Cobain and has been playing diluted variations on it since.

Grohl and the Foo Fighters can rock out like nobody’s business, but his sound has always struck me as generic, bland even. His songs strike me as genre exercises, and his reuse of Nirvana’s patented quiet-loud-quiet-loud shtick wears thin. Worst of all, Grohl’s screamed choruses and expressions of rage sound false—imitations of Cobain’s very real expressions of angst—rather than earned. Grohl isn’t tortured and he’s not enraged—he’s just a nice, normal American guy. He’s certainly not angry or self-hating enough to blow his brains out, and by pretending he is he has never done himself any favors.

In short, Dave Grohl lacks the capacity to move me. At all. Perhaps it lies in the fact that—as not one but several people put it to me—he lacks soul. Kurt Cobain had soul to spare, so much soul in fact it killed him, but Dave Grohl is just a well-adjusted boy from Washington, D.C. When I listen to him rage away I feel like Bob Dylan, who after being branded a traitor in England responded, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” Not that I think Grohl is prevaricating. Rather, I think his skill set and time with Cobain have doomed him to forever play a kind of Nirvana Mark II, which unlike the Mark I version lacks the explosive emotional power supplied by Cobain’s nausea, disgust, and self-hatred. Grohl is the Man Who Would Be Cobain, but in reality is but a shadow successor, someone who can produce the requisite noises but can’t infuse them with the pain that Cobain—who wore his nerves outside his skin and truly had a hellhound on his trail—could evoke at will.

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TVD Washington, DC

TVD Giveaway: Nicole Atkins exclusive meet and greet with signed Slow Phaser at the Rock and Roll Hotel, 12/19

Holy shit, we’re tired of ticket giveaways. I mean, let’s face it—if you’re into a band or artist, you’re not sitting around waiting for us to give some tickets away, your ass is right there when they go on sale or shortly thereafter. So, ticket giveaways? They award the lazy, if you ask me.

Which is why for a change, we’re delighted to turn the whole giveaway thing on its head and reward the converted. Enter our friend Nicole Atkins who plays the Rock and Roll Hotel this Friday night, 12/19.

We get it—you’re big fans (as are we) and you’ve purchased your tickets already. So, for you—we have something a bit special.

Nicole’s put aside 3 copies of one of our favorite releases of 2014—her latest, Slow Phaseron lovely 180 gram vinyl, don’tcha know—that she’s going to sign and personally put in the hands of 3 of you on Friday night. One thing we’ve learned about Nicole over the years is she’s a great hang (as we say in the Hills) so we’re thinking this is a cool way to simply say thank you for coming out.

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TVD UK

Springh,
The TVD First Date

“I have always been a vinyl fan since I was a small child, except for a small act of wanton destruction when at the age of 4. I apparently drew all over my stepfather’s vintage Grateful Dead collection which makes me cringe thinking about it. I sincerely hope that my future children do not do the same to me. Happily, the surviving records acted as a soundtrack throughout my childhood and I was always intrigued by the colourful sleeves that I wasn’t allowed to touch.”

“Later in life I discovered the joy of vinyl myself. I love the ritual of removing the record from its sleeve and the smell, particularly when it is new. I like watching the deck spin up and enjoy the crackle before the music starts.

It feels so far removed from the modern-day accessibility of endless Spotify and Soundcloud playlists where music can be very much a background experience to be passively enjoyed whilst doing other things. Vinyl is an active experience where you have to stay involved in listening because, if you are lucky enough to keep control of the record deck, you have to be ready to change to the next record.

Though I do love the sound, I can’t chime in on the sound fidelity—vinyl vs CD issue—as my favourite format in this respect is the cassette tapes of my youth which are particularly suited to Nirvana albums. Vinyl for me is very much about the experience of listening, it forces the listener to engage physically with the music. It is also finite so it is not possible to jump between songs as much as is possible online which makes it more likely that you will listen to that pesky b-side.

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The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2014’s Reissues, Part Two

Box sets are by their very nature a time intensive undertaking; as other year-end lists have made plain, there are quite a few from 2014 waiting to be investigated, and if the reader discovers a suggestion below leading to personal satisfaction, than all this fussing over hierarchy has been worth it.

5. Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 and When I Reach That Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936

Light in the Attic’s illuminating spotlight focuses almost entirely on artists hailing from Canada, a geographical factor making its sustained level of quality all the more impressive.

Consisting of previously released but long unavailable recordings, the three genres listed in the title frequently overlap, with country-rock well represented. The enriching presentation, including comprehensive notes, is the result of diligent, respectful research, and again, it’s consistently listenable from start to finish.

Also a reliably gripping if not necessarily breezy experience, Tompkins Square’s latest gospel collection uncovers a wealth of fervent and sometimes bluesy material, places it onto three discs (the vinyl will arrive in spring of 2015) and adds Bible verses thematically selected for each track by compiler Christopher King. Then it leaves the listener to draw their own conclusions, or at least scurry to the nearest internet connection or appropriate reference books for assistance.

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TVD Chicago

TVD Live: Wilco’s Winterlude Night 5, the Riviera Theatre, 12/11

A quick disclaimer to start: Wilco is my favorite band. I mean, I’m shocked they’re not everyone’s favorite band because they’re, you know, the best. Ever. So, as you might’ve already deduced, there will be absolutely nothing objective about this recap. I’m in too deep. My love is too strong. And, as previously mentioned, they’re the best.

The recently celebrated 20th anniversary of Wilco has been somewhat of an event for the band’s enthusiasts. First it was the release of a rarities box set (Alpha Mike Foxtrot) and an essentials album (What’s Your 20?). Then it was the announcement of their “Winterlude,” a six-night residency in Chicago, the city that they call home, over the course of eight nights. The shows, performed at The Riviera Theatre, sold out nearly immediately and for good reason. They’re amazing live. No, seriously. Even if I wasn’t a fan I’m pretty sure I’d be able to recognize Wilco’s live appeal. Their talent is literally dazzling. It’s f**king jaw-dropping.

Over their Winterlude, Wilco played 180 songs (30 each night) with few repeats. Every night had its distinguishing moments, but all offered a perfectly Wilco-esque ebb and flow. Their genre-defying catalog holds within it a lifetime of emotions and all of the shows possessed their fair share of confessional, introspective, philosophical ponderings, blended among foot-thumping sing-a-longs and straight-up jam-outs. Watching a Wilco show is kind of like taking a journey through the highs and lows of the human psyche: there’s joy, there’s tumult, and there’s a lot more than just joy and tumult. It’s powerful. And if you don’t believe me, take five minutes to watch them perform “via Chicago” (which happened to be the very first song they played at The Riv on Night 1).

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The TVD Storefront

Peter Frampton,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

When you say the phrase “live rock album,” one of the first albums on the lips of many a music fan is always Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! From his early days with Humble Pie, to recording one of the best-selling live albums of all time, Frampton has established himself as in influential icon to many guitarists around the world. Now in the third act of his career, which involves everything from writing music for ballet to a traveling jam session with other guitar luminaries, Frampton is showing no sign of slowing down.

As he gears up to make 2014 a busy year, Peter took some time to talk to us about the past and the present, and even got surprised by an old review that he had never heard. What struck me most is the fact that Frampton, while fully embracing his past, has greeted the present with open arms, always looking to try something new and finding inspiration from artists of yesterday and today. If time had permitted we could have gone on for another hour.

You’re bringing Frampton’s Guitar Circus back this summer, along with a solo tour and a tour with the Doobie Brothers. You’re definitely making this an interesting year!

Yeah, it’s a three-pronged attack. It’s a solo tour, solo dates, Doobies date, co-headlining with them, which is an honor. Then the Guitar Circus, which will be in California only, I believe, in August-September.

Your new album, Hummingbird in a Box, is described as “Inspired by the Cincinnati Ballet.” That’s not your typical inspiration for a rock guitarist.

No. It came from writing some pieces of new music to be part of this performance we did in April of past year. In Cincinnati, three performances, we did older music in the first act, and the third act, but the second act, I wrote these seven pieces of music with Gordon Kennedy, my writing partner for many years now. They wanted to do just old music, and when I suggested that I actually write a half an hour of new music, they went berserk.

That’s where this came from, that’s why it’s inspired by them, and that’s why it’s a little different. It’s not like my normal type of stuff. It’s still me, it’s still got my flavor, but it’s definitely something that was very freeing to write, because there was no format to follow, as far as songs or instrumentals.

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TVD UK

Sofia,
The TVD First Date

“My Dad has an enormous vinyl collection and I remember being old enough to understand what they were and realizing how cool it is that he still has them, and in pristine condition, I must say.”

“He’s got a really extensive collection including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woodstock Era records, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and that’s to name a few. Before he left Lebanon after the war broke out, he also had his parents’ collection, which have been lost with all the Jazz greats like Etta James, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong.

It’s a real shame that some of those were lost, but I know he remembers all of them fondly. He loves to tell me stories about how he would go to the local record shops when he was a teenager and spend hours deciding which record would be the latest addition to his collection, back then they would sometimes have as little as ten records to chose from! It’s a big difference to the infinite amount of music we can now access on the internet, with just a click of a button.

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