Culturespill » Paul McCartney

The Grammies Get it Right! (Wait, say WHAT??!)

4th December

gibson_les_paul_studio_electric_guitar.jpg

Just when you think the Grammies are so full of crap that you can barely stand the stink any longer, they toss some nods in the direction of folks like Arcade Fire, Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, Neil Young, Richard Thompson, Bela FleckBroken Bells, Florence & The Machine and other groups that can never be mistaken for anything other than actual, you know, recording artists. Even ol’ Willie has something to distract him from his 78th pot bust last week, scoring a nod for his rootsy album Country Music, a stripped-bare dose of country music the way it sounded before Nashville strapped it to a post and paddled it until it agreed to become the foul and unlistenable bastardization of the genre that it is today.

Of course, this is the Grammies, and so the 53rd annual awards show will feature, as usual, one of the most bizarre crossroads the music industry can possibly assemble. Grizzled warhorses like Neil Young will share the same billing as Drake and Jay-Z and the utterly insufferable Jewel will inhabit the same edifice as Win Butler. But that’s how it is at the Grammy Awards, where Lady Gaga lavishes Elton John in a rain of adoration from across her piano, Brittney Spears locks tongues with Madonna, and Soy Bomb gets more pub than Dylan the day after the latter brings home the first Album of the Year award of his life at the tender young age of 56 (an incident remembered fondly in the sublime Eels track, “Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb?”).

Top40-charts.com reports that the Grammies honored no less than 273 indie artists with nominations this year–more than half of all nominations. The story then goes on to completely discredit itself with a quote alleging that Taylor Swift is an indie artist. But given the embarrassing legacy that the Grammies have developed over the years, mere tastelessness is better than the baffling indifference afforded The Strokes and The White Stripes back in 2002, when both White Blood Cells and Is This It? earned a combined total of zero nominations despite their standing as easily the two most interesting and superior rock albums of the year. Instead, the “Best new Artist” category that year gave the Strokes the “talk to the hand” treatment in favor of acts like Michelle Branch. Right, enough said.

The Stripes got the shaft in favor of “artists” such as Avril Lavigne (who? That skater-chick from Canada who did that teeny-bopper anthem for Dawson’s Creek, you mean?) while The Neptunes, The Vines, and The Hives also got hosed. But if getting ignored by the Grammies is a sure way to demonstrate your creative integrity (hint: It is), The Strokes, Stripes and friends are doing just fine for themselves, thank you very much. As for who should win this year and, of course, who will win instead, here are Culturespill’s picks in a handful of the major categories:

Record of the Year:
images.jpgWith a slate of nominees such as Bruno Mars, Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Jay-Z, and something called “Cee Lo Green,” which I think is a kind of environmentally friendly glass cleaner, does anyone really give a shit who wins here? With ten nods going to Eminem in total, this one is almost certain to go to Mr. Shady. The Jay-Z/Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind,” a song that basically amounts to a musical grocery list of all the neat things that the rich and famous appreciate about NYC, is a possible sleeper here–if for no other reason than to offer Alicia a baby gift in light of the recent birth of her son, Egypt Daoud Dean (Can you say “Apple Blythe Alison Martin“?).

Album of the Year:
index.jpgIt is just as obvious that Arcade Fire is by far the more deserving winner here as it is that the Grammy folks don’t have the balls to go there. The only genuinely daring winner of this category in recent memory was Steely Dan’s horrendous Two Against Nature, and maybe Dylan’s win for the brilliant and career-resurrecting Time out of Mind in 1998. Other than that, this one almost always goes to the pop trash celebrity of the moment, and that distinction, clearly, goes to Katy Perry for Teenage Dream, a sure-fire winner this year. Other nominees: Eminem, Recovery; Lady Antebellum, Need You Now; Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster. A good year for ladies named “Lady.”

Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance:
paul.jpgSurely Apple has paid off the Grammy folks by now to the tune of whatever it takes to ensure that McCartney wins for his delivery of “Helter Skelter” on Good Evening New York City, a live CD released this year on–wait for it–the Starbucks record label Hear Music. Whatever amount of payola the Grammy folks received from Apple to use this as further advertising fodder for their announcement that Beatles music is now available on iTunes will probably be enough to bring it home. It’s a crowded category this year, including used-up former gods such as Robert Plant or Eric Clapton, whose continued laurel-resting inspired perhaps the most notorious exchange in Culturespill history in the comments below our review of Clapton’s Robert Johnson covers album. If there was a true God, though, the good deity would ensure that this year’s award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance goes to its rightful winner, and that has to be Neil Young for “Angry World,” easily one of the man’s most inspired rock performances since the night he damn-near burned down the building with his terrifying performance of “Rockin’ in the Free World” on SNL in 1989. Le Noise is the most engaging record Neil has done in at least 15 years and earned him three nominations this year. Other nominees in this category: John Mayer, “Crossroads.” Yes, John Mayer. You are now free to throw up in your own mouth.

Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals:
arcade.jpgIt should come as no surprise that the track nominated in this category from the Black Keys’s brilliant new record Brothers happens to rank among the least interesting moments on the entire album. It is equally unsurprising that “Tighten Up” was also the first single that Nonesuch tagged for promos when the record hit the streets earlier this year. Had the Grammy shills bothered to actually listen to the record before choosing a track to nominate under this category, they might have considered “The Next Girl,” “Howlin’ For You” or “She’s Long Gone.” Since they failed to do so, the winner here has to be Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start.” Other nominees in this category: Jeff Beck & Joss Stone, “I Put a Spell on You“; Kings of Leon, “Radioactive“; Muse, “Resistance.”

Best Rock Album:
muse.jpgFunny how the more cluttered the scene becomes with young bands vying for a spare slice of the glory pie their forebears baked so long ago, the more those forebears remind us that they know best how to rock. Three of the five nominees in this category have roamed the earth for a combined 180+ years: Neil Young, Jeff Beck, and Tom Petty. Others, the boy-band-as-rock-‘n-rollers concept group Muse and grunge priests Pearl Jam, ought to have no chance whatsoever in winning over any of the other three. Here again, Young’s “Le Noise” is by far the ballsiest record of the five nominees, with Beck’s “Emotion & Commotion” a clear runner-up only because Petty’s Mojo turned out to be running a little lower than he realized (forgettable toss-offs like “Candy” and “No Reason to Cry” cramp the style of rock ‘n roll stunners like “I Should Have Known it” and “Running Man’s Bible“). But, as always, most likely this one will go to the shittiest of the five nominees, namely Muse.

Click here for the full list of nominees for the 53rd annual Grammy Awards. If you prefer the PDF version, go here.

Filligar: OK, So Maybe “Ivy Rock” DOESN’T Suck

22nd April

Filligar

If the first thing that a label like “Ivy Rock” brings to mind is a group of Dartmouth dorks armed with kazoos, theories of linear deconstruction, and a peculiarly intense affinity for John Cage, you need to listen to Filligar–the latest in Culturespill’s “Best Bands You’ve Never Heard Of” series. OK, so maybe they ARE from Dartmouth–well, three of them, at least (twin bros Teddy and Pete Mathias and their un-twin younger brother Johnny)–and maybe they’re named after a pet goldfish, but they’ve already cranked out six albums since 2000 even though their combined age is still younger than your grandmother, with the eldest being a wily 19. That kicks ass in any book; and with more albums in eight years than most bands put out in two decades, it’s hardly surprising that The City Tree and Succession, I Guess, two of their most recent efforts, betray a maturity reserved for the established influences their music reveals–bands like Wilco, The Flaming Lips, or even Hot Hot Heat.

Tempering the incorrigible mania of Bloc Party or The Long Winters with the quirky power-pop of Wilco’s “I Can’t Stand it,” Filligar’s work lacks only the chiseled cohesiveness those more seasoned influences offer–in other words, they’re young. Their erratic sensibilities–at once supine and spastic, mellow one minute and manic the next–occasionally tug their songs in directions that catch even the most experienced listener off guard. They deny no detour and take every foreseeable turn, and if the results are mixed at times, they almost always deliver something you haven’t quite heard before–no rare feat in a market overwhelmed by enough indie bands to invade and conquer several small nations.

Filligar!

The taut and blistering rocker “Yanni Walker,” a tune that threatens to make the grade on our best of the year lists this fall, exhibits a disciplined focus that occasionally eludes 17-year-old vocalist Johnny Mathias (look, the kid’s 17–give him a break), whose initial whispers on “Purple Gum Weather” wander through an occasionally explosive series of vocal peaks and valleys carried home only by the song’s gorgeous and haunting production. Johnny Mathias finds a voice of his own when he settles down to belt a wistful wail and ask “Where are you now? Where are you now?” amid a broken-hearted crash of shuffling percussion and organ.

The ballad, truly one of the album’s most affecting and mature moments, evokes the mastered melancholy of The Eels’ “Counting Numbered Days” and delivers the poetry of a great Flaming Lips dirge, with its “blue wind sweeping away the night.” Johnny struggles just as mightily to reign in his boundless enthusiasm on tracks like “Peppermint” as he yelps his way through in a kind of restrained frenzy, but the band serves up more than the modest helping of charm that saves several songs.

Sparkling with considered melodies and deft musicianship, Filligar’s youth may manifest itself in a few overambitious flourishes at times–where the hell does that chintzy burst of synthesizer come from at the close of “Big Things”?–but, ultimately, this is a band that’s ripening into a sound of its own far earlier that any aforementioned idol. I defy anyone who fell for the Flaming Lips the first time a friend turned them on to The Soft Bulletin to try sitting through more than ten minutes of Telepathic Surgery. And if you think you’re a Pink Floyd fan because you’ve had one of 30 million copies of Dark Side of the Moon somewhere under the driver’s seat of your Jetta for a few years, try surviving the first track of Ummagumma, no less the first ten minutes–just don’t invite anyone over when you do it, and have a barf bag handy.

Plenty of bands stew in their own imaginations well into their twenties before stumbling into the fruition of their promise. But here’s a band whose lead singer can’t even vote yet, and they’re tossing off arrangements like “Fruit Fly” that rival Wilco’s “Pieholden Suite” or McCartney’s epic “Rinse the Raindrops” in their complexity and range. Both Succession, I Guess and The City Tree flash with the developing maturity of a young band that threatens to grab the world by the throat and howl in its face before long–just as soon as they register for Fall classes and submit their senior portfolios. “Right now our education is the top priority for all of us,” Teddy says, “But during our vacations we spend almost everyday writing songs, practicing, playing shows and recording–our vacation time previews what life will be like for us after graduation.” It also previews what life might be like for fans when they can do this full time–and it looks good. Very, very good.

Brian Jonestown Massacre: Bring Me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills’ Wooden Peg

14th April

Newcombe

“Everybody’s a fucking asshole. Period.” — Anton Newcombe

No, we’re not shitting you: the title of the opening track on Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album is–take a deep breath, now–“Bring us the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills’ Wooden Peg.” Anton Newcombe’s timing could not possibly be better, as Mills, who recently wished McCartney’s “three girlfriends . . . the best of luck” and explained that she merely “baptized” his lawyer when she dumped a bowl of water over the poor woman’s head in court, has joined the cemetery of drive-by celebrity at the Vegas Ms. USA pageant with the likes of Joey Fatone and Rob Schneider. Remember them? Right. Neither do we. So here’s a generous helping of “back at ya bitch!” from Mr. Anton Newcombe and friends. We couldn’t think of a more fitting messenger.

But that’s not the whole title, actually. It comes with the parenthetical “Dropping Bombs on the White House.” Yes, Mr. Newcombe’s courting many enemies, it seems–McCartney, Mills, Dubya, and, as you’ll see below, Michael Stipe, John Lennon, monkeys, and people from Iceland. But isn’t that just kind of what he does? The band’s been through enough members to fill a minor league ballpark, and Newcombe reportedly leaned into a mic at a show in Iceland recently and referred to the audience as “these fucking Albanians” when a bunch of hecklers up front pissed him off. The hecklers hoped to instigate a fight in the spirit of DIG, a documentary about BJM and The Dandy Warhols released a couple years back that has become such a bane of Newcombe’s existence that he furiously bolts interviews the second it’s mentioned. Judging from other choice titles on the album–and, for that matter, the music, which “was all recorded in one take” and includes songs sung in Icelandic–he’s out to prove once and for all that he really doesn’t give a fuck anymore–no, like, really.

About the “19 videos” he says he’s made for the new album, Newcombe tells Drowned in Sound that “they don’t specifically relate to anything. We just did them in Iceland as our way of saying we can do whatever the fuck we want.” The guy’s not kidding. Take track 10, for example: “Automatic-Faggot For the People,” a not-so-sublte nod to recently un-closeted Michael Stipe, perhaps (Ya think?!)? Then there’s “We Are the Niggers of the World”–a bleak and spare piece that sounds like Newcombe took his piano to the roof of an abandoned shoe factory and played an impromptu tune amid a massive power outage brought on by some historic blizzard, a stale cigarette stuck to his lips as he exhales the smoke of his whiskey breath into the frozen sky, wiry morning-hair flailing wildly in the wind. He sounds like he’s the last man left in the perpetual night of the world. In other words, it’s a far cry from John Lennon’s bombastic “Woman is the Nigger of the World”–just another of the album’s many bizarre allusions and daggers.

“The Ballad of Jim Jones”

But just when we’re about to get clever with our theoretical interpretations of the album title itself, My Bloody Underground–is it a nod to My Bloody Valentine? Velvet Underground Tribute? Veiled reference to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “My Little Underground”–along comes Anton himself to concede in an interview that the word “Bloody” is just a substitute for “fucking.” Oh. Kind of the way Hot Tuna somehow derived their name from the original suggestion, “Hot Shit”–though we’re unaware of any language in which “tuna” is slang for “shit.” But we’re always eager to learn something, so feel free to expose our ignorance.

“Get the fucking Mary Chain out of it,” he barked at the two quivering bloggers at Drowned in Sound, who, by this point, were most certainly pissing themselves in terror, “We already had bands before they did . . . I don’t understand why you’re thinking My Bloody Valentine either.” Oh, surely not, Anton–it’s a total mystery! “You’re quoted as saying it,” the interviewers squeaked from beneath the rocks they’d crawled under while whispering desperate prayers for the good Lord to spare them.

BJM

Our personal favorite tracks here at Culturespill, though, are “Who Fucking Pissed in my Well” (track 3), “Monkey Powder” (track 12), and the golden great “Ljosmyndir.” Culturespill’s taking votes on that one, by the way. Ljosmyndir: Is it 1.) a sexually transmitted disease, 2.) an Icelandic breakfast food involving ground liver and head cheese, or 3.) A newfangled eastern European pastime that requires excessive nudity, Quervo, circus dwarfs and parasailing. Please vote now in the “comments” section below. “We just made them up as we were goin’ on,” Newcombe says of the MBU sessions, “took a bunch of drugs, went out with friends, created some more of the track, y’know.” Yeah, we know, Anton. Honest we do. Please don’t boil and eat us, sir. “Fuck you!” Newcombe roars as he’s asked if he regrets not signing to a major label, “Seriously. Fuck you! FUCK YOU . . . fuck. off. This conversation is over . . . ” (slams receiver down).

The man’s notorious instability is on full exhibition throughout My Bloody Underground, a spacey whirring of drugged guitars that wander to no rhythmic destination in particular, exploring instead the same neo-psychedelic abyss Newcombe’s made his stomping ground. This time, though, whatever cohesion or focus that prior masterpieces like “Anemone” or “Mansion in the Sky” offered is abandoned in favor of a peculiar aimlessness, a persuasive confirmation of Newcombe’s tale about taking “a bunch of drugs” in advance. A few tracks in, the album gives you the feeling that you’ve just dropped a year’s-worth of acid, stripped to your bare ass, and gone backstroking at night into the middle of the Atlantic, floating under the bone-white glow of the staring moon and wholly committed to the possibility that you might die. You don’t, of course, but man, it sure is a trip in the meantime!

But you’ve got to take it easy on a guy who titles his band’s greatest hits album Tepid Peppermint Wonderland. Judging from choice clips of the interview quoted above, Newcombe’s likely to respond to demands for further coherence by either removing your arms with a pair of beard trimmers or jumping off a bridge. In either case, we think you’ll agree that the results are wholly undesirable–so don’t push it, kid.