The Breeders – Live in Atlanta

the breeders rock out live in atlanta

I just pulled in from midtown Atlanta, The Loft, specifically, where The Breeders just put on a hell of a show. I’ve been a big Breeders fan since the Last Splash days (14 years ago). Yet due to the band’s somewhat sporadic history, tonight was my first opportunity to see them play live. And what a great performance they put on.

The band was in good form and in good spirits, clearly having a good time.

This was the last show of the tour (or as Kim Deal said at one point “the last tour of the show”). Maybe it was just road exhaustion, but the band was positively loopy. Or maybe everyone was just in a good mood. Jokes were told, funny faces were made and anecdotes were shared. At one point, Kim introduced the band’s third guitar player Cheryl, mentioning that she was from Florida and asking who else in the audience was from there as well. In response to a number of “whooops” that erupted from the crowd, Kim said “We’re from Dayton Ohio, so we got you there” and merriment ensued.

The show itself covered the gamut of Deal-related material, including songs from The Amps side project. In fact, the show opened with Tipp City, which happens to be one of my favorite Amps songs. Last Splash got some good treatment, with renditions of New Year, No Aloha, I Just Wanna Get Along, Divine Hammer, a sublime version of Drivin on 9 and of course Cannonball. A house-collapsing performance of Saints closed the first encore.

The Breeders latest album, Mountain Battles, was also well represented. Bang On, We’re Gonna Rise, Here No More, Night of Joy, German Studies, Walk it Off and No Way all made appearances.

Noticeably absent though was much of the material from Title TK. Huffer was brilliant, but other than that I don’t remember the band playing any other song from that album. Similar story with the songs from The Breeders’ debut album, Pod. Only a handful from there as well: Iris, Happiness is a Warm Gun (Beatles cover) and one of my most favoritest songs ever Fortunately Gone, which closed out the second encore, the show and the tour.

A perfecting end note for a wonderful experience.

Given just how great a band The Breeders are, the sporadicness of its output can be quite frustrating. But going to bed now on a natural musical buzz, I can say that after seeing the band perform live, I have accomplished a life goal that’s been with me for nearly one and half decades.

I leave you with Bang On, from Mountain Battles, performed Live in Atlanta, June 13, 2008:


Nine Inch Nails – The Slip: Familiar Territory

nine inch nails: halo 27: the slip

I’m beginning to think that being stuck in a soul-crushing contract with a major corporate record label was a good thing for Trent Reznor. Sure, his new-found freedom is allowing him to push new boundaries in promotion, product, distribution and sales. But maybe all the frustration and suffering that came with having to deal with “record industry types” was just the fuel he needed to produce his compelling brand of angst-n-rage.

About a month ago, nine inch nails continued on its untethered course and released Halo 27: The Slip as a completely free, no-strings-attached download. True to the example set with Ghosts, the album is available in multiple formats, from the lowly mp3 to ridiculously high quality 24bit/96khz wav. Also, like Ghosts, each track has individualized album art. Unlike Ghosts, since the songs on The Slip actually have words, lyrics have thoughtfully been embedded in the files as well.

And while I’m glad to see the evolution of the online model, a part of me wishes Trent had spent a little more time on the music itself.

The Slip clocks in at a standard 43 minutes and largely follows With Teeth’s straightforward rock stylings. And it’s good, but it seems to lack that spark of greatness that I generally associate with nails’ releases. After listening to it several times now, there’s nothing on The Slip that strikes me as exceptional.

Which is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed it, it’s just I’ve heard a lot of this before. 999,999, the opening track, is Pinion for the new millennium, while 1,000,000 echoes the catchy poprock sensibility of The Hand That Feeds. Demon Seed, perhaps the catchiest song on the album, feels a lot like a rehash of Starfuckers, Inc.

All great artists are entitled to recycle their ideas occasionally. Let’s hope Trent has gotten it out of his system this time around. If not, someone get him a record contract to be pissed off about.

You can grab The Slip for yourself at theslip.nin.com.

Nirvana: In Bloom [unmixed]

Was doing some web-sleuthing this afternoon and ran across this video excerpt from the Classic Albums documentary series episode about Nirvana’s Nevermind. The short clip features producer Butch Vig demonstrating the individual mixing tracks from In Bloom, commenting on its various parts and pieces, from the awesome groove of the isolated drums and bass (which they got on the first take), to Dave’s harmonizing on the chorus.

I was actually quite surprised to learn about Dave’s singing contributions. I’ve been listening to In Bloom for 17 years now and I had no idea that Dave Grohl had performed any vocals for the song. I can clearly hear it now that its been pointed out, but for nearly two decades I thought it was just studio effects. Amazingly, after all this time, I’m still learning Nevermind’s tricks.

In Bloom has always been a favorite of mine, so I particularly enjoyed this fascinating look at its skeleton.

In Bloom deconstructed:

Here’s a Google Video of what appears to be the entire documentary. It starts with a similar deconstruction of Drain You, perhaps the most complex song on Nevermind (squeaky toys and five overlayed guitar tracks!), then continues with anecdotes by Dave, Krist and Butch recounting how the record was made.

hat tip to MixMyMusic.net

Grunge flashback: alternate video for Nirvana’s In Bloom

In Bloom was the fourth and final single released from Nirvana’s Nevermind. The familiar and famous video debuted in 1992 featured the band parodying 1960’s style television musical performances (think the Ed Sullivan show). It’s a tounge-in-cheek humorous production showing a somewhat more playful side of a band whose image (and the social movement it tipified) was generally sullen and full of, you guessed it, angst.

But behold! the original video for the song. Shot in 1991, the so-called “Subpop” version is dripping with aspects of early 90s grunge zeitgeist, including the city of Seattle, flannel shirts, rockers with unkemped long hair, titled-camera angles and cheesey video effects.

Check it out, marvel at the cultural time capsule, and be glad it was scrapped in favor of a better concept.

The Breeders – Mountain Battles: Slow burn to perfection

Sorry for the relative quiet around here lately. I’ve been on a bit of a holiday. Here’s a review posted from a small island ~10,000 miles from home.

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After nearly six years in the musical wilderness, alt-rock godfathers The Breeders are back with a disc called Mountain Battles. And boy is it a good one, but its quality may not be readily apparent on the first few listens. The record, only the group’s fourth in its twenty-year career, slowly reveals itself after repeated exposure, its melodies and rhythms becoming lodged in one’s subconsciousness.

While the Breeders have never been known for precision production quality, Mountain Battles feels especially lo-fiā€“almost like a follow-up to Kim Deal’s 1995 side-project The Amps. (though The Amps might as well have been a Breeders project, given the personnel involved and Kim’s control). In true Breeders fashion, however, that low-key, basement fuzz brings with it an inviting warmth.

It’s a borderline tragedy then, particularly given the long span since Title TK, that Battles runs quite short, clocking in at just more than 36 minutes. Spread out over thirteen songs, the music barely gets started before it ends. Then again, that is also true Breeders fashion: always leaving you wanting more. Hopefully we won’t have to wait so long before the next album.

Free Listen: Bang On:

Breeders Digest.

Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts: First Fruits of the Label-less Era

nine inch Nails ghosts i-iv

Jump to Review

Halo 26, Ghosts I-IV has just been announced at the nine inch nails website. It’s a collection of 36 instrumental tracks created with no clear agenda, with the entire process being driven by impulse and improvisation.

Of it, Trent says:

We began improvising and let the music decide the direction. Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five song EP became much more. I invited some friends over to join in and we all enjoyed the process of collaborating on this.

Nine Inch Nails takes the Radiohead gambit a step further with this release, offering multiple formats and ordering options. All songs are available immediately for download from Amazon MP3 and nin.com:

  1. Ghosts volume I (9 tracks) is a completely free download.
  2. All 36 tracks can be downloaded for $5. Provided formats: 320kbps mp3, FLAC lossless and Apple Lossless. Also comes with a 40-page pdf. Paypal is an option for payment, if you want to avoid using credit/debit cards.
  3. For $10, you can get 2 physical cds shipped on April 8 as well as immediate access to the downloads.
  4. $75 gets you the 2 audio cds, a data dvd with multi-track files for remixing, 2 Blu-Ray disc with high-definition 96/24 stereo tracks and visual slide show all bound in a hard-bound slipcase. Also comes with 48-page photographic accompaniment book. You also get access to all the downloadable materials. Ships May 1.
  5. And for the true nin spendthrift, there’s the $300 Limited Edition (limited to 2500 numbered copies). You get everything in the $75 package, plus four vinyl LPs, Glicee prints, and Trent Reznor’s signature. Ships May1, but of course, you get the downloads now.

Ghosts I-IV limited edition
Ghosts I-IV Limited Edition

I’m actively reducing the amount of physical clutter in my house. So as a devotee of digital formats, I’ll probably opt for the $5 version. Apple Lossless is a pretty nice format. Though I expect the NIN online store to be crushed by the demand for the next day or so. If mp3s are your thing, Amazon might be the way to go. You still get all 36 tracks for $5.

UPDATE: store.nin.com is pretty much DOA right now. I’ve actually managed to make a transaction, but the download failed after 100kB. So I’ll have to talk to customer service, since the store is providing “one-time download links.”

UPDATE II: Trent writes at nin.com from Hong Kong:

The response to this album has been overwhelming, causing our website to slow to a crawl. We THOUGHT we were ready, but… We’ve been adding more servers to accommodate the unexpected demand and we expect to be running smoothly in the next few hours. In the meantime, if you’ve had any problems with downloads from the Ghosts site, don’t worry – you’ll be able to use your download link again when the site is more stable.

Good to know the early adopters won’t be left in the proverbial cold.

UPDATE III: 24 hours later and the site is humming along nicely. Either the added servers are handling the crush well or demand has slowed or both. I had no trouble using my original download link to retreive the Apple Lossless + bonus files (more than 600 MB), which transfered without any hang ups.

Review

The 36 songs range in length from 1:53 to 5:52 and total a running time of 1 hour 50 minutes. For comparison’s sake, both discs from The Fragile run 1 hour 46 minutes.

My initial impression after a couple listens is that Ghosts I-IV is a series of tone poems that don’t necessarily have any connection to each other. Nine Inch Nails records tend to have a certain “flow” to them that’s largely missing here. Instead, we have, as the album name would suggest, is borderless apparitions of sound and space. Many tracks stop suddenly, like a figment seen in the corner of one’s view that disappears when looked at directly, while others fade away or into the next track.

Stylistically the sound is unmistakeably Nine Inch Nails and the overall feel has more in common with the dark ambient tendrils of Trent’s soundtrack for the Quake computer game and The Fragile (think The Frail) than the apocalyptic paranoia of Year Zero. There is, however, some new ground here. I Ghosts 6 is borderline playful in its demeanor, a quality not usually associated with Nine Inch Nails’ music.

Ghosts has all the qualities of great instrumental music. It works well as background, as white noise with which to block out the world or drift away, but upon close inspection reveals remarkable textures and attention to detail.

But in typical fashion, Ghosts is more than just a listening experience. Each of the 36 songs has its own unique album art, snapshots to accompany the music.

Ghosts is Nine Inch Nails’ first release since the band was freed from its recording contract with Universal last October and its good to see that it is wasting very little time taking advantage of the new-found freedom and utilizing new media and techologies to promote, sell and circulate the music. There’s absolutely no way a record company would have released a double-disc set of what is a essentially musical diversions. And certainly not for a $5 download.

But Trent’s free agent status allows him to do whatever he wants. He can give this thing away, which he actually did: All 36 tracks are released under a Creative Commons license: Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike, meaning that anyone can give away the albums or use the songs as part of any non-commercial project so long as they credit NIN.

Trent says that there will likely be further editions in the Ghosts series. I, for one, will be looking forward to the music and future releases using the model.

Nine Inch Nails[remixed]

young trent reznor presents a remix

For nearly as long as there’s been an Internet, fans have been contributing to the nine inch nails experience. There’s something about the music that seems to inspire a devotional following (probably has to do with expressions of angst, contempt and alienation wrapped appealing pop sensibilities). Youthful rebelliousness and antiestablishmentism runs deep through both camps.

Indeed, the rise of nin and the net seems to have coincided perfectly with each other. There were discussions on Usenet about Pretty Hate Machine being one of the best albums of the year in 1989 and the earliest mention of a nine inch nails web site that I could find is dated Nov 1, 1994, shortly after the net was opened to the public.

1994, of course, was the year the The Downward Spiral took the world by storm, reaching #2 on the Billboard Charts and exposing nin to the mainstream. Long story short: Reznor took five years to release another album and while lost in the wilderness, the steadfast fanbase incubated around the Internet. Fansites came and went, trading bootlegs and rumors and tracking the handful of singles and soundtrack songs released in the interim.

By the time 1999’s The Fragile release cycle began, Internet culture had matured quiet a bit. MP3’s and broadband were just starting to be mentioned in mainstream, but the leading-edge nails fans had already adopted them. I downloaded my first fan remixes sometime in the 99-00 winter and some of them were really good (like The Day The World Went Away (peppy by ignorantLOSER). download it). On the official front, Trent made several remixes and exclusive tracks available at the nine inch nails website. There was even a remix contest held for the song The Big Come Down (the winner can be found here).

Fast forward another five years. The Internet and computer technology had advanced quite a bit further. The album With Teeth was released in the spring of 2005 and a month later, Trent posted the source files to the first single The Hand That Feeds to his website in Apple’s Garageband format, officially sanctioning home-brewed remixes of the song. Websites sprang up immediately to catalog and share the fan-created materials.

Which brings me to today. One of the predominant trends on the Internet is, to be sure, social networking and inter-site integration (some call it “web 2.0”). What happens when you mix web 2.0 with the nine inch nails online ethos?

This: remix.nin.com

Taking the home remix concept a step further, Trent Reznor has put together a site where anyone can sign up, listen to, vote on, make comments about and download nine inch nails remixes, both official (as in previously-released on CD) and fan made. It’s freakin huge. The more industrious fans can download master tracks and make their own remixes for community evaluation and sharing.

The site combines the nine inch nails community and do-it-yourself artistry with a heavy dose of modern social media technology. The entire site is built in Flash and follows the graphic spirit typical of a nine inch nails presentation. Music can be selected from a playlist showing the latest top rated songs or you can search or browse for a particular piece. When browsing, you can create your own custom playlists. I started to put together a complete instrumental version of Year Zero before I realized that Trent had already done it for me. Other available playlists include Top Rated Fan Mixes, Most Commented, Newest, and Most Listened to, among others.

remix.nin.com attributes

Once a song is selected, it begins playing in the browser and the song’s curriculum vitae is displayed along with it. If you enjoy what you hear, there’s a “download mp3” button next to the rating number. Users can also assign attributes to songs based on various continua such mellow vs aggressive or dense vs sparse.

Playlists as well as individual remixes can be shared. Playlists via RSS feed so you can publish your favorite tracks or keep tails on a favorite remixer. Individual songs can be shared via URL. Here is a decent remix of The Beginning of the End. The only thing that’s missing is embedable player, a la YouTube, for putting the mixes on your own site.

There is one thing I can’t help but grumble about (but good-naturedly): all those rare and unreleased songs for the downloadin’. Being the nails fan that I am, I’ve spent more a decade keeping up with all the loose-ended ephemera of the catalog. Imports, promos, versions, bootlegs and anything else rare and obscure. After all the work and effort, to my (light-hearted) chagrin, I come to find that a lot of it is now free for the taking. It took me six and a half years to find a copy of the Aphrodite remix of The Perfect Drug, but you can have it just by clicking on this link.

But hey, the fact that it’s available at all is pretty freakin cool.

In Rainbows Diskbox shipped

in Rainbows.com Diskbox

 

No announcement on dead air space or inrainbows.com. And no rumblings on the net save for this report about one fan receiving it early. But today, Saturday Dec 1, is the last day for Radiohead to make good on its promise to ship the Diskbox version of In Rainbows “before 3rd December 2007.”

So it begs the question: Are the packages in the mail? Will legions of fans worldwide receive early holiday presents in the coming week?

Only time will tell. Let the anticipation build!

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radiohead volcano estate
Volcano Estate, an image from the In Rainbows Diskbox.

Update 12/6. The answer of course is yes, Radiohead did begin fulfilling the Diskbox orders as they said they would.

Now the ordeal is over, I’ve taken a step back and have been thinking about the whole In Rainbows experience. While the band is to be commended for its work at changing the contemporary music model, something about the method of release has left me divided. Maybe I’m just coming down from two months of Radiohead excitement, but now that’s I’ve heard the album in its entirety, I’m somewhat disappointed. To be sure, the record is good with its stretches of characteristic brilliance, even if the mood is dour and unwelcoming. It’s funny, for a product titled “In Rainbows” the principal color I associate with it is grey. For some reason though, I’m having a hard time “connecting” with it.

I also can’t seem to find any artistic reason for splitting the release into two CDs. Its total running time is 79:30, just shy of a single CD’s limit. Disc two isn’t especially different than Disc one. In fact, if you listen in iTunes, the transition from Videotape to Mk 1 is virtually seamless. It just stikes me as a bit exploitive I guess. Maybe when the “real” CD is released, all the songs will be on a single disc for those who don’t need the extravagance of the Diskbox.

InRainbows.com is still taking orders for the Diskbox (made to order), but you only have until December 10 to grab the pay-what-you-want mp3s of the first disc.

Radiohead – In Raindows: Ethos and ambiance

Via this 9rules note:

HERE IS SOME INFORMATION ABOUT THE DOWNLOAD:

THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s.

I haven’t placed an order for In Rainbows yet because I was waiting to find out the quality and format of the digital files. With this news I’m a little disappointed. Sure, 160kbps is quite *acceptable* but I consider 192kbps to be my minimum bitrate for MP3 (or did before I started encoding into AAC). Still, I assume the tracks are coming straight from the masters, so they’re bound to be decent. Even so, 160kbps seems like a strangely small format in this day in age.

All in all though, what this experience amounts to is a controlled (and profitable) “leak” for the band. Whether they succeed in up-selling the Discbox or traditional CD remains to be seen. Personally, I’m still debating whether there’s a Discbox with my name on it.

In any case, I’m sure the album will be fantastic. This is Radiohead we’re talking about.

Also strangely, the mp3s don’t come with any cover art included, though they otherwise have good ID3 tags (except for genre). Two images I’ve run across so far are this one, which looks like it could be from one of the vinyl sleeves:

in rainbows cover

And this one, which looks like it’s taken from the In Rainbows website:

in rainbows cover

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Update 10/10: Having found out the format, I went ahead downloaded the album. I’m just glad I didn’t pre-pay a large amount for it. If I’m going to pay retail price for a record, I’m going to expect to be able to encode it at whatever quality I want. Having listened, the files sound fine in my ear buds and are certainly enjoyable enough for now, so I’m not going to make any further deal of it.

Albums by Radiohead always take a little while to grow on you. While they are never disappointing on the first listen, it takes some time before the gems are evident. I’m sure I won’t know quite what I think about In Rainbows for some time, but here are my first thoughts.

In Rainbows is perhaps the smallest departure in style in the band’s history, feeling like a continuation of the Hail to the Thief ethos, but with Amnesiac’s dour ambiance. Overall, the sense I get from the album is unambitious, but not staid. It is music of and for people who are weary. Of what, who knows? But true to the Radiohead mind-set, a detached alienation pervades the entire elaborated experience. To be sure, the music itself is as intricate as is to be expected, it just feels smaller and more straight-forward. There are no grand exclamations like Karma Police, mind-bending riffs like My Iron Lung or voyages into the unknown like Idioteque.

The other thing that strikes me right off the bat is that, for a rock band, this album doesn’t feature much in the way of rock. I don’t necessarily call that a bad thing. In fact, In Rainbows sounds so good as a whole that a massive rock song would feel totally out of place. It’s just unfortunate for me because Radiohead jams are some of my favorite things. I think they make up for it though with some down-right inspired percussion.

Initial song-by-song impressions:

15 Steps
A glitchy Bjork-like intro powers Thom Yorke’s trademark, though nearly unintelligible, falsetto in this up-tempo opener. The percussion here is the most interesting part, with the live drums providing body to the emphasized synth beats.

Bodysnatchers
Dirty distorted riffs, straight-end drums and wailing electronics make me want to dance on top of a haunted house.

Nude
This slow proto-waltz is mesmerizing in its stripped down simplicity.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Gloriously clean arpeggios and a galloping rhythm make this one an early contender as my favorite from the album.

All I Need
A somber piano ballad builds to brilliant crescendo.

Faust Arp
A cello accentuates more arpeggios, this time played by a Spanish guitar, on this mellow tune. It’s possibly the most tender song in all of Radiohead’s repertoire.

Reckoner
Rounds out an elegiac trio of songs. All I Need, Faust Arp and Reckoner feel like they could easily meander by, unnoticed in a dream or on a dark foggy night, if they weren’t so captivating.

House of Cards
Thom’s vocals echo through the emptiness on what could be the B-side to Knives Out (if Knives Out didn’t already have b-sides).

Jigsaw Falling Into Place
The tempo finally picks back up on what it the most direct pop song on the record. It could be Sit Down. Stand Up’s little brother.

Videotape
A boy and his piano ponder the persistence of media and the cruel march of time. A bit of a downer to end the album on.

All in all a great album to listen to, though you might want to save for a soundtrack on a rainy day or you find yourself in too good of a mood.

Here’s a fan-vid featuring Weird Fishes/Arpeggi:

Radiohead – In Rainbows – Weird Fishes_Arpeggi