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Showing posts from July, 2006

An Open Letter Regarding Hidden Bonus Tracks

To All Musicians:

I'm fired up!

Recently, Soul Asylum, Boy Kill Boy and The Rewinds have chosen to raise my ire by tacking hidden "bonus" tracks onto the end of their respective albums. You know what I'm talking about? The last listed song ends, but then there's a period of silence - sometimes as short as a minute, sometimes as long as 30 - followed by an additional song.

I hate this practice absolutely. In the past, artists have tested my patience by tacking on a ridiculous amount of dead air only to be broken by studio chatter, a bit of acoustic strumming or some symphonic bullshit (The Rewinds, Robbie Williams, Ok Go and Jars Of Clay should all be guiltily avoiding eye contact right now).

Other artists give us real songs after our wait, artists like Atmosphere, Counting Crows and the above-mentioned Soul Asylum and Boy Kill Boy. I use these as examples because the bonus songs are actually somewhat worthwhile in each case. But let me make this clear: It has…

124. David Mead - Tangerine (2006)

Why on Earth did I buy a David Mead album?! I first heard of him in 2001 via a kind review of his second CD, Mine And Yours. I intended to buy that record and even listened to it at a listening station a couple of times, but never pulled the trigger.

Then I saw him in concert, as an opener for Hem. It was just him and a guitar and I was unimpressed with both his songs and his attitude. He seemed miffed that the audience was more interested in talking to one another than listening to him. And rather than getting over it, he just kept sniping. Okay, I get annoyed at indifferent concert audiences too, but he was the opener, for goodness' sake!

So why did I buy his new album, Tangerine? Maybe it was more good reviews, or the whimisical cover art or the low introductory price. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I did. It's an unassuming gem of a pop album.

The opening title track is a piano-driven instrumental with lush harmonies. It's a nice little intro, in more ways th…

123. Robbie Williams - Intensive Care (2005)

One can't really blame U.K. pop star Robbie Williams (or his label) for giving up on an American breakthrough. His first American release, The Ego Has Landed was actually a combination of the best songs from his first two U.K. albums. It arrived with high praise and a couple of ready-made hit singles: Angels and Millennium. There was minor success, but not as much as expected.

His next effort, Sing When You're Winning, was even stronger, just as critically adored, and performed even worse. His unfortunate final attempt to make an American splash was 2003's Escapology, a passable album that was clearly not strong enough to grab the ears and wallets of U.S. buyers.

So his latest record, Intensive Care, will not even be released stateside. And that's a shame, because it's his best one yet. Perhaps that has something to do with who he's working with. He has left behind longtime collaborator Guy Chambers (like an inverse version of pop star he's most often …

122. Dashboard Confessional - Dusk And Summer (2006)

Dashboard Confessional are a polarizing group. Their fans worship them. In concert, the audience shouts along to every word Chris Carrabba utters, verse to chorus and back. To their detractors, they embody the worst of emo's whiny, self-absorbed tendencies.

I've always been on the more positive side of the pole, mostly because I could relate to Carrabba's tales of fucked-up girls. The band's 2003 album, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, contained a satisfying number of pissed-off odes and ruthless condemnations, such as Rapid Hope Loss, So Beautiful and Hey Girl. In the latter Carrabba used his anger to display a clear worldview, "Where I'm from we live like it's the latest attraction."

Unfortunately he's gone fuzzy on the band's new album, Dusk And Summer. Strange to say, but it seems that as Carrabba's love life has improved, his songwriting has suffered. A full half of the album consists of over-dramatic odes to the power of love…

121. Kubla Kahn - Lowertown (2006)

A sense of humor is not valued in rock 'n' roll. Spinal Tap aside, I understand why. As a kid I worshiped "Weird Al" Yankovic; I wore out his tapes in my Walkman. However, as an adult, I can only take him in small doses. Repetition isn't what it used to be, and the jokes tend to wear thin.

The best way for bands to get around this institutionalized stoicism is to be "quirky." It's as though the rock establishment has said, "Be clever or weird or surprising, but don't TRY to make us laugh. We want to laugh on our own terms."

Bands like They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies have mastered this by balancing their cheek with serious sentiment. And Twin Cities natives Kubla Kahn follow that path nicely on their new CD Lowertown. Of the seven songs, at least four are pretty damn funny, in unexpected ways.

In the opener, Memory, the singer is having trouble remembering a girl's name, despite meeting her a few times. As the song p…

120. Ronnie Milsap - My Life (2006)

I'll admit Ronnie Milsap is one of the odder musical obsessions of my life. It all started when I sat two rows behind him on an airplane that was en route to Nashville. I wasn't impressed; I didn't even know who he was. And my thoughts were elsewhere anyway, since I was headed to my grandfather's funeral.

Later, I decided to check out Ronnie's music. It spoke to me immediately. Which is strange, since I'm not much of a country fan, and Ronnie's popularity seems to have peaked in 1983. But there was something about the soulfulness of his voice, and the way the songs were so earnest, simple and straightforward. I became an immediate fan, and Ronnie rocketed into my top 10 favorite artists, an ascent rarely seen before or since.

That's why I was a bit more nervous than excited about his new CD - the first country album he's done since 1993 - especially after hearing the Jimmy Buffet-lite lead single Local Girls. I was afraid the album would be an…

119. Guster - Ganging Up On The Sun (2006)

Expectation can be a bitch. I tend to believe the events, moments and experiences we truly enjoy in life are the ones that take us by surprise. The ones we count down to and anticipate and build up in our minds often manage to bring us joy, but at a higher cost. Those events, moments or experiences have to live up to the high expectations our mind has created.

This goes for CDs too. Every month there are CDs I anticipate, mostly by artists whose work I've enjoyed in the past. Sometimes I read reviews or articles in advance, and depending on what they say, that can stoke my fire even more. And then there are those unexpected gems. Something I heard on the radio, or read about, or discovered on a listening station or had recommended by a friend. These are the CDs that have a better chance of taking hold, because they carry no expectations. And to complete the circle, those artists that really impress me usually get a free pass for their next release.

In 2003, Guster released K…

118. Jon Auer - Songs From The Year Of Our Demise (2006)

Paul Simon once sang, "Losing love is like a window in your heart / everybody sees you're blown apart." This is especially true for singer/songwriters. Those of us who can't express our sorrow ourselves turn to song. The musicians have to create them for us. I'm forever fascinated with the transformation of pain into art. When a songwriter can synthsize their heartbreak into something that others can relate to and take comfort in, that's special.

Jon Auer has done that on his new solo album, Songs From The Year Of Our Demise. Auer has been making clever power pop since 1990, first with The Posies, and also as part of the new line-up of Big Star, but never has he been as personal and engaging as he is here.

On the surface, Songs From The Year Of Our Demise seems to be a morbid break-up album. Opener Six Feet Under serves as a thematic overview of what's to come. The narrator mournfully accepts that a relationship is over: "There's no time ma…