Tuesday, April 12, 2011


  Accept the bitter truth:
  Radiohead, whether your a Kid Rock-style detractor or alterna-fan, have been the future of rock for going on nineteen years. Not hard rock, not metal, or punk, but the slow fusion over those two decades of all rock sub-genres, including the so-called Alternative-Rock movement and Electronica. They may have started off as your typical alt-rockers in the key of Sponge, loved and worshipped by we followers of 89X. But a uncommon willingness to experiment with the "traditional roles" of each member of the group, has allowed these Abingdon musicians to effortlessly transcend the traditional limitations of the modern recording era.
  Think about it. Giving the songs and album art for 'In Rainbows' away online for whatever amount fans were WILLING to pay ?  Effectively letting 92% of us ungrateful downloading criminals have it for free ! Fusing Maxinqyuae loops and 'Blue Lines' beats with diffused guitars and chronic drums, that have us breathlessly searching for the next sonic fix? How many bands can embrace a monumental change in sound with that level of comfort, and still create a record that doesnt sound forced ?
  Radiohead chose to let their sound evolve naturally instead of clutching desperately to the clever hooks and depressing lyrics that made 'Creep' such a disturbingly fun listen.
'King of Limbs', their newest and possibly most epic musical jewel yet, finds Radiohead happily easing out of the Alternative Music stalwart mode. Yet, they are still fearlessly pushing the boundaries closer to the next evolutionary leap in music: the human Ipod. They've recognized we're all but a breath away from the end of music purchase and ownership in any format, but digital computerized files. And, these files will eventually be downloaded into our nervous systems as we become the 'record player'. The only choice for a band who wishes to stay relevant is no choice at all: evolve.
  Yes, Limbs is clearly the '1984' of 2011 rock albums, with far more in common with Daft Punk's Tron:Legacy soundtrack than 'The Bends'. (Yes, my dear readers, that is a literary reference, not a Van Halen acknowledgement) Yorke and company have long since declared 'Rock Is Dead', and were smart enough to embrace change, unlike most of us nostalgic types, who hold records in our arms like estranged children. You witness the fulfillment of this creed, on songs like 'Little By Little', where traditional British pissing and moaning is successfully filtered until it becomes as easy to swallow as Bell's Winter White in the middle of a Royal Oak Blizzard.
  For all you shut-ins typing furiously in Mom's basement, I get it. Calling a new Radiohead album 'experimental' and 'a mesmerizing work of unsane genius' in light of all their years of critical acclaim, would normally sound like oblivious jackassery. But, on 'Limbs', Radiohead have clearly drank ALL the kool-aid, and signed up for Amway. They've left 'Knives Out' and (incredibly!) 'There, There' so far behind in their career rear view mirror, it's hard to believe this is the same group of musicians. Examine the track 'Feral', which is as much Zero 7, as it is Oasis. Even on their landmark 'OK Computer' record, firm degree of 'rock music' were visible within each track. Subtly buried, under layer after layer of keyboard and studio-created gimmickry, but present. Now the anger and fury, the spit and grit, is barely discernible on tracks like 'Give Up The Ghost' which sounds like as the Aeon Flux woman abandoned the revolution to stay home smoking cannabis. Sure, distant shades of 'Fake Plastic Trees' and 'Talk Show Host' emanate, but they are across the river.
  Still, this is the real world. And I cannot ignore one glaringly obvious point. Radiohead's success remains their downfall. 'Limbs' maybe be a near-perfect example of Thom Yorke's dream world genius, but it's also an excellent case for why the band has so many critics. 'Limbs' is even less accessible than 'In Rainbows', which was less accessible than Hail To The Thief, which was light years away from it's cousin 'Kid A', and so forth and so on. I'm not going to pretend this record is a Bob Seger fan's lesbian fantasy album, nor will I anoint it the second coming of 'Raw Power'. In fact, Limbs took about six complete listens before it FINALLY began to sink in at all, via 'Give Up The Ghost'. But when it does gets a foot hold, it spreads like Captain Trips through your immune system. You find yourself pushing repeat, as these tracks are more daydreams than songs, allow your mind to travel places few of us ever visit. It's a deeper, rich, and altogether more vivid listening experience. So, what will you take away from it ?
  For my brothers and sisters of music who consider Journey to be the pinnacle, . . nothing. And there's isn't a single thing wrong with that. Radiohead, as a band, simply isn't everyone's cup of tea.
  But, if you're the type to spend three hours wandering the DIA, in search of inspiration, 'The King of Limbs is the equivalent of listening to Van Gogh's 'self-portrait'.

Four Stars out of Five
Listen to: 'Codex' 'Give Up The Ghost'

for the DRB

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Strokes 'ANGLES' Review: Parts 1 and 2

Part 1:  The Strokes perform a Christmas miracle.

  The Strokes really had their work cut out for them. It isn't very often a 'first' album ushers in a entire change of musical culture, but 'Is This It?', was literally a force of nature. A musical monument to cities, skinny ties, rock and roll, drugs, and women in push up bras with low self esteem. Unfortunately, what fell to The Strokes at the end of two years of awards, fame, constant adulation, was the unenviable task of trying to follow up a masterpiece with anything that remotely resembled original brilliance. For a decade, we've been watching The Strokes flailing about, furiously trying to write and record 'Is This It: Part 2'. For the first time in a decade it feels like the The Strokes have been able to let go of the yoke that 'Is This It?' became. More importantly, it sound like they've finally stopped trying to top themselves and refocused back on simply writing a decent collection of songs. There's absolutely no doubt, this was a make or break record. If 'Angles' proved to be a failure, another 'Juicebox', it was time to quit. Don't get me wrong, 'Juicebox' is a decent track. But, it's a step-brother of a song, consistently wishing mom and step-dad would love it as much as they love the older brother 'Hard To Explain'.
  Fortunately for both the band and fans, 'Angles' is a thorough and solid success. Every track is a unique thrill, selfishly requiring you absorb each song like your children: equally, but differently.
  But 'Angles' is also a work of art deeply inspiring and curious, much like the monolith from 2001:A Space Odyssey. It's a Midwest cityscape, capturing a era where, amidst a billion tons of concrete, you were a human can of Red Bull. It's a 1982 new wave dream, where Squeeze and the Thompson Twins sold their souls to Satan and joined forces for one truly great album.
  So much so, have I been impressed with 'Angles', that I've devoted part 2 of this review to a dream I had regarding the album.

  Part 2: The Stroke's 'Angles' as several fleeting moments from a vivid windy city Friday night, that to this day, lingers pleasantly in your memory. .

  Upon tearing the cellophane off the cover and brutishly thrusting the CD into the tray, you clumsily press play. The first sweet notes confirm the wild rumors published in The Herald: 'Angles' is indeed a time machine. You close your eyes from the first notes of 'Machu Picchu' (with it's chorus so chocolaty addictive, it's like a musical Kit Kat) and when they reopen, it's July of 2001. Like Marty McFly, you've been transported back to naive glory days where the phrase 'anything is possible' had just barely began to sound like total nonsense. Square toe black lugs are in vogue again. Arthur Andersen seems like a promising company to be employed at, and George Bush, Jr, just became president of the United States.

You are running down the street, struggling to remove your tie and desperate to catch the 6:15 Red Line after a long day of arbitrating consumer complaints for Hershey, Inc. 'Machu Picchu' has your feet moving at top speed, six blocks to the elevated train platform. On this particular Friday, everyone in your social circle of roommates, girlfriends, coworkers, and dipshits is heading to The Metro after work to see that word-of-mouth New York band with the unbearably handsome lead singer. The economy, despite some setbacks, is still humming resolutely, so there's enough money to afford tickets, dinner at the FlatTop Grille, the cab rides, a t-shirt, three beers, and a couple of condoms.
  'Under Cover of Darkness' is a beautiful woman with copper streaks in her short blonde hair, wearing a Blondie -shirt, and an arresting smile, standing nearby at the concert. You're bedazzled by her as she seems to know every song and offers the occasional glance in your direction. Like 'Darkness', she's a mystery with her enigmatic melody, her hook, and the depth of her musical knowledge. She sings along with the band's Duran Duran 'Rio' cover, and forever imprisons you with her deep brown eyes.
  'Two Kinds of Happiness' is the perfect make out song with it's changes in tempo and distilled, subtle back beat. It's playing at the after party in some asshole lawyer's overpriced Wrigleyville condo where you notice (what incredible luck!) the very same blonde. You approach her and exchange words of wit and wisdom. Ultimately, her hand glides up your neck to bristle the hairs on the back your head. The entire party is raging all around, but you're oblivious to obnoxious investment bankers, spilt beer, uninvited guests just off work from the corner 24 hour deli, and voyeuristic Baptist neighbors. All you care about is, in that moment, 'Happiness' is on repeat, and her lips are like a cherry wine picnic at lighthouse point.
  The party shows no signs of clearing out, despite certain guests passing out shamelessly in assorted bedrooms, in the cramped stairway, or right on the puke-green shag rug in the living room. The owner/lawyer is downing tequila shots, two at a time and wearing a antique lampshade. Your dream woman beckons you up to the roof, with her gaze, a cassette copy of 'Angles', and a Sanyo tape deck. Under Chicago stars you make love to 'You're So Right', with it's pulsating tempo that matches the peaks and valleys of your intoxicated passion. 'Right' is wicked indulgence, mixed with allure and two parts passion fruit. In the perfect moment, your only desire in the world is for this night and this song to last forever.
  The sun wakes you. Alone.
  She left neither a name or a number. 'Taken For A Fool' with it's appropriate title and exquisite Sunday morning 'walk of shame' ambiance, prods you up from that worn out, borrowed mattress, and you stumble downstairs to face the sidewalks.
You arrive home to the ridicule of your roommates and a phone message from your mother. You put 'Angles' back into the player, and fast forward to 'Games'. You crash land on the couch, recovering with the Cubs, and a Goose Island Lager. 'Games' is the very memory of her. The track seems to convey even the slightest details of her dress, her drink, and her expression. No one seems to know who she was, but they all noticed her.
On the red line Monday, you play 'Call Me Back' on your first edition Ipod. As the train embarks and buildings gain speed while racing by, you search the empty stares of the other passengers for her face. 'Call Me Back' respects your sadness, it enhances the romance of your chance encounter, and reinforces your hope she'll reappear.
  She never does. She was from Seattle.
  When you finally get home from a late Monday night at the office, you collapse on the couch and click on ESPN. You contemplate how one woman's smile could light up all of Wicker Park. Exhaustion overtakes you, and you descend into a dream within a dream. She's a Shark, you're a Jet, and you hip-hop dance up and down Clark Street to the slightly theatrical 'Gratisfaction'. The only track on 'Angles', where The Strokes take any chances. But, the risk pays in this version of North Side Story, so you and your Shark girlfriend hijack a yellow cab and drive to Milwaukee. There, you're married in a ceremony presided over by Arthur Fonzarelli. Upon pronounces you 'man and wife, heyyyyyyyy!', the wedding band begins to play. Of course, it's The fucking Strokes and after congratulating the newlyweds, they launch into 'Metabolism' and completely bewitch the room. The staff is utterly spellbound. They don't dance, nor do they stand still while caught in the spell of this magnificent ending track. Instead, they sway towards the precipice with a religious devotion because this track captivates and seduces and rightfully expects their attention.
  In the midst of it all, you kiss your new bride on the lips.
  Then it all goes black.
  You wake up from the dream, not in Chicago, not single. Nope, you're married, 42, your wife is overweight and loves 'One Life To Live' far more than she loves sex, and the kids are upstairs screaming for another episode of Dora the Explorer. In other words, you're dreams have been crucified. Better to just accept it, and spend your days growing dumber and fatter on that comfy couch, drowning the growing ache with bingo and sitcom revelry.
  But in the dark, when everyone else is asleep; in the car on the way to the office; anywhere there's a CD player or Ipod during infrequent moments of solitude, you have The Strokes second masterpiece. And 'Angles' will continue to resurrect the memories of what turned out to be the best time in your life with a powerful and faithful affection.


for the DRB-