Is Radiohead invincible?

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, March 30, 2011 2:12 PM

Or, asked another way, is it possible for Radiohead to make a bad album?

Stereogum's senior writer Brandon Stosuy posted a very interesting article today on Radiohead's The King of Limbs, in which he asserts that this is the first time he's noticed fans disgruntled over one of the band's albums.  He notes that the press tends to wear "kid gloves" whenever it comes to talking about Radiohead ("Basically, people are very polite when it comes to Thom Yorke & Co") and wonders if this will be the album that breaks the trend.

I've been wondering about the latter point since The King of Limbs was announced.  As you may remember, I was disappointed with the pay structure of the release, notably over the high price of the vinyl, seemingly to offset the cost of all the non-music filler like 625 pieces of "artwork" and the inexplicable decision to release it as a double-10" (considering that, clocking in at only 37 minutes, the album would have easily fit on a single 12" vinyl).  It seemed like the band was focusing on packaging instead of their own music.  I also objected to the self-aggrandizing way the announcement was written (e.g. the "purpose-built record sleeve" or the "full-colour piece of oxo-degradeable plastic").  Buy our record; it even comes with its own sleeve!  Then, coinciding with the date of the album's physical release, the band also released a companion "newspaper" The Universal Sigh, filled with poetry and other random stories.  Great.  More "stuff."  Promotion is great, and even necessary, but it seemed like Radiohead had jumped the shark.

So it was interesting that my preview about the King of Limbs got more comments than any other post I've written.  Admittedly, my blog doesn't get a lot of comments.  Most don't, including much more well-established and higher-visited blogs than mine.  But it was notable that this post earned me my first negative comments, seemingly for no other reason than I had dared criticize Radiohead.

Thus, my perspective is a little different than Brandon's.  Where he sees the first signs that Radiohead can-do-no-wrong status is eroding (at least in the press), I see more evidence that the band's fans are unwilling to accept that Radiohead can possibly make a bad album.  Even in the comments of Stereogum's articles about the album, fans generally insisted that they hadn't listened to it enough times.  That's the recurring theme when it comes to Radiohead, and The King of Limbs in particular: "I just need to listen to it more."

Indeed, Radiohead's music is generally more complex that of a run-of-the-mill pop band.  The band is known for subverting traditional song structures and subtly overlapping several layers of instrumentation.  So it's not entirely surprising that one would benefit from repeated listenings of their music.

But it seems many of Radiohead's fans have convinced themselves that it is outside the realm of possibility for the band to craft a bad album.  If you don't like it, you don't "get" it.  It's not Radiohead, it's you.

Sure, every good band has a set of hardcore fans who will support everything they do.  I'm not pretending that level of fandom doesn't exist.  But somehow Radiohead has gotten a higher share of its fanbase to join its Unwavering Support Club.  And I don't know, something about that is perplexing to me.

Death Cab for Cutie, "You are a Tourist"

Posted by Greg , Monday, March 28, 2011 5:47 PM

"You are a Tourist" is the first single from Death Cab for Cutie's upcoming album Codes and Key, due on May 31.  It's just flat-out excellent.  The band has been saying that the new album focuses less on guitar and more on piano/keyboards and vocals, so maybe this isn't representative of the rest (given the prominent guitar line).  But keep your fingers crossed that it's just as good.

Stream via Seattle radio station 107.7 The End, or here:


J Mascis, "Not Enough" [video]

Posted by Greg , Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:25 AM

City Reign, "Daybreak"

Posted by Greg , Friday, March 25, 2011 9:00 PM

The guys from City Reign are back with a new single, "Daybreak," and it's pretty great.  The song is a reworked version of the closing track of the band's Daybreak EP, released earlier in the year and available here.  This new version is about two minutes shorter, trimming the instrumental intro and outro in order to focus on the song's power pop essence.  "Daybreak" features prominent drumming, layered guitars, and Chris Bull's wistful vocals ("Another chance comes and goes / Another one you'll never know").  As shown by their previous singles, City Reign have a knack for writing hooks that stick in your head, and "Daybreak" is a great addition to their very promising young career.

"Daybreak" will be released on May 9 via Car Boot Records, but you can stream/download it here right now:

The band has also released a fun video from classic film footage:

The Strokes, Angles [2011]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, March 22, 2011 9:48 PM

I was cautiously optimistic for Angles, the first new album from The Strokes in over five years.  "Under Cover of Darkness" is a great first single, and possibly the catchiest song penned by the band since their debut Is This It (2001).

However, "Under Cover of Darkness" does not represent the rest of the album.  The songs that comprise Angles can be grouped into three sections: 1) Two fun, upbeat opening tracks, 2) three songs that sound like they belong on Julian Casablancas' solo album, and 3) a mixed bag in the album's latter half.

And then, all of a sudden, it's over. The whole experience left me wondering what the fuck just happened.  The album is only 34 minutes long, and while that's normally a good thing for a Strokes record (First Impressions of Earth was weighed down by its length), it feels like it never really got started.

The reggae-influenced "Machu Picchu" gets things off to a good start.  It takes about a minute to really get into a groove, but the chorus is extremely strong.

As stated above, "Under Cover of Darkness" is the catchiest Strokes song in a decade.  My only gripe is that the vocals are far too buried in the mix.  I don't know enough about the physical process of how music is recorded onto CD and mass produced, but it seems like this is a technical issue and not an artistic decision.  It's not a low-fidelity effect as on the band's first album; it's like the volume is too low.  Then again, the effect is more noticeable in my car than on home speakers, so maybe I just need a new set of wheels.

"Two Kinds of Happiness," "You're So Right," and "Taken for a Fool" feel like they could have been lifted from Casablancas' solo album Phrazes for the Young (2009).  That's not necessarily a bad thing, although it wasn't at all what I expected from a Strokes album that was supposed to be more of a collaborative effort than any of their previous work. Overall, though, they round out a very solid first half of Angles.  It's not what I thought I was going to hear, but I keep wanting to play these songs again.  This section of the album may not capture the listener's attention on a first listen, but these three songs have strong "grower" potential.

It's after this point where things begin to unravel.  "Games" and "Call Me Back" halt the momentum built in the first half of the album.  I don't begrudge the band their attempt to mix things up, but I didn't find either of these songs to be particularly interesting.

"Gratisfaction" somewhat rescues the tempo.  The track could pass for a Billy Joel cover, and I guess that's okay.

"Metabolism" sounds like it was written for First Impressions of Earth.  The guitars and drums create a menacing atmosphere, but it boggles the mind why Casablancas insists on droning on like this sometimes.  The guy is a much better singer when he's not drawing every syllable out until his self-loathing ruminations are barely decipherable:  "IIII.... waaaaant... to be... outraaaaageous / But insiiiide.... I knoooow... I'm plaaaain / Sooo plaaain."  Ugh.  Somebody give this man a hug.  This is the kind of stuff that torpedoed some of the songs on the band's last album and his solo release.

Album-closer "Life is Simple in the Moonlight" is an interesting new direction, especially for a band that generally avoids ballads, but it doesn't really end in a This-is-the-End-of-the-Album moment.  It's probably not fair to expect every Strokes record to end with a snarling rocker like Is This It's "Take it or Leave It," but Angles just feels like it's missing one last great song.  "Taken for a Fool" probably would have worked better as the album closer.

It may sound like I disliked Angles, and really that's not true.  It's just that I came into it with lowered expectations, and the band didn't really do much to prove me wrong.  When you're talking about a band as great as the Strokes, that's somewhat of a bummer.  Five years is a long time between records, though, and from various interviews the members of the band have given, it sounds like this album was tough to make.  Casablancas, the Strokes' unofficial leader, purposefully withdrew from many of the recording sessions, claiming it was meant to encourage the rest of the band to be more involved in the writing process.  In an interview with Pitchfork, guitarist Nick Valensi admitted "I feel like we have a better album in us, and it's going to come out soon."  In that light, Angles is the sound of a band dusting off the cobwebs.  I'm okay with that.  I also think Angles will be one of those albums that gets better over time.

Anyway, enough of that.  Since I know everyone likes the personal stories...
I got home from work tonight and immediately told my wife she'd like "Machu Picchu" when she asked me about the new album.  I started the song and began to dance seductively (that's right, people, seductively)...

"It sounds like the other one," she said, referring to "11th Dimension," the synth-laden lead single from Phrazes for the Young.

"Hold on!" I said as she began to walk away, "You're going to miss the good part."

She was already halfway down the stairs, though, and all I heard was a yelped "No!"

Of course, this story is completely uninteresting to anyone who hasn't met me and my wife.  (Side note: she has red hair and her name is Jenny.  That pretty much makes her an indie rock goddess.)  But I wanted to relate it for a few reasons: 1) It's the only way I can get her to read this blog, and 2) the point is that when it comes to Angles, your mileage may vary.

Angles is available in its entirety for streaming at

Bright Eyes, "Jejune Stars" [live]

Posted by Greg , Sunday, March 6, 2011 7:41 PM

Bright Eyes treated Letterman's audience to a great performance of "Jejune Stars," one of the more rocking selections from their new album The People's Key, which was released last month.

Robbers on High Street, Hey There Golden Hair [preview]

Posted by Greg 11:42 AM

There's a ton of information on the upcoming Robbers on High Street record, if you're willing to look through the dark recesses of the Internet.

The band's newly redesigned website has tour information for their three SXSW shows in Austin, TX. 

My Old Kentucky Blog is hosting a live version of "Second Chance," of which the studio version will appear on the new album.

And just happens to have the entire album available for streaming.  I'm not sure if this is the final mix or tracklisting, but it sounds extremely promising.  The band's previous album, Grand Animals, was predominantly laid back affair, and the new songs sound much more upbeat and energetic.

If you like what you hear, please do the right thing and support the band when Hey There Golden Hair is released.  Still no word on a date for that, though, which may be because the band is no longer working with its former label, New Line Records.


City Reign, "The Line" [video]

Posted by Greg , Friday, March 4, 2011 7:50 PM

Manchester indie rockers City Reign, whom I previously wrote about here, checked in and let me know they've been spending time in the studio recording new songs.  Their next single, "Daylight," will be released on May 9 via Car Boot Records.  More information (including a possible video) to follow soon.

Until then, here's a live video of the single's b-side, "The Line":

It's a slower tune than their previous singles, but I still found myself humming the chorus all day.  Let me know what you think.

The Strokes, "Under Cover of Darkness" [video]

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, March 2, 2011 8:39 PM