The Simpsons – Songs in the Key of Springfield

Released in the spring of 1997, Songs in the Key of Springfield is the first album to feature music that appeared on The Simpsons. The songs span from seasons 2 through 7, with the earliest song being Tony Bennett’s Capitol City from Danicin’ Homer and the latest being In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida sung by church-goers from Bart Sells His Soul.

(Though technically a version of the Itchy & Scratchy theme appeared in the first season episode Krusty Gets Busted, the recording included on the CD is from 2nd season’s Itchy & Scratchy & Marge. Similarly, the Treehouse of Horror theme used on the CD is from season 5, but a version of it was used in season 2.)

At nearly an hour long, the album distills some of the best and funniest music of the franchise’s history. Classics such as the Stonecutters’ song, the Monorail Song, the Oh, Streetcar! and Stop the Planet of the Apes musicals, and Tito Puente’s tale of uptempo retribution: Señor Burns never fail to get me singing along.

The highlights for me however, are the nine excellent renditions of the Simpsons’ theme sprinkled throughout the album like toppings on a donut. These versions take their inspiration from the topic of an episode and rework, sometimes radically, the show’s familiar exit music into various styles and tributes. My favorites, just for their sheer creativity, are the Big Band, Afro-Cuban and Australian versions, as well as the “Dragnet” homage. Big kudos to show composer Alf Clausen for those.

There’s not a bad song on this record (though Lisa’s ‘Round Springfield jazz eulogy to Bleeding Gums Murphy can be grating). While listen to Songs in the Key of Springfield, long-time fans will wax nostalgic for the show’s finest days, from when The Simpsons truely was the best thing on T.V. This music goes a long way to cementing that reputation.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Tunequest rating: 8.8

Surprisingly though, the album appears to be out of print and not available for digital download. Amazon offers the CD via third party sellers as well as bundled with Go Simpsonic (the sequel album). iTunes doesn’t offer it at all.

The Stonecutters’ Song, which explains all of history’s great mysteries:

Ratatat – LP3: Expansive and diverse sounds

In the past, I’ve taken issue with the tendency in some circles to lump Ratatat’s music in with that of the 8-bit crowd. I can understand the temptation, what with the band’s programmed, electronic beats, screaming guitars and ample keyboarding. But while their tones may sometimes sound similar to those produced by the Nintendo Entertainment System, their origins are much more organic.

So it surprised me to see that Ratatat appears to be overtly embracing the 8-bit sound while simultaneously diversifiying its non-electronic sound on its latest record, the straight-forwardly titled LP3. This record is a virtual homage to the keyboard. Indeed, the album cover features three of them. The effect is that just about any sound that can be produced by playing the keys finds its way onto this record somewhere. Indeed, one of the lead tracks, Mirando, mixes the bright and clean upper register of a grand piano with the laser beam-like sounds of an 8-bit system near its crescendo.

Don’t fret though, the duo haven’t thrown their guitars away. In fact, Ratatat seems to be well on their way to finding world peace and ultimate truth, the wailing guitar, Wyld Stallyns way. But even there, the stringed instruments shows some surprising variety. Again, the cacophonous Mirando mixes Ratatat’s thrashing riffs and slide guitars with the interjection of a banjo.

Other standout tracks include the disc’s opener, Shiller, which spends most of its time as a contemplative, baroque-style dirge before exploding into a high-flying spaced-out waltz. From there, LP3 hits overdrive with Falcon Jab further demonstrating the band’s new-found commitment to diversity. The guitars talk Peter Frampton style, the percussion is accented by shakers, and the keys of a harpsichord and baby grand trade expressions.

Mi Viejo has a distinct world-music flare, like a caravan moving up and down over the crests of sand dunes. Likewise, Mumtaz Khan shows a distinct Middle Eastern flavor, like what you might expect to find in a Turkish nightclub. Meanwhile Shempi, another highlight, is a wurlitzer-powered merry-go-round spinning through hyperspace. Gypsy Threat takes on the atmosphere of a Scooby Doo chase through an abandoned carnival.

Of the thirteen songs presented here, there’s only one that could arguably be referred to as a “typical” Ratatat song. With its mid-tempo beats and harpsichord melodies, Dura would almost feel at home as the backing track for one of Ratatat’s infamous remixes if it weren’t such a compelling track on its own.

With three albums under their belt, Ratatat has consistently shown themselves to be on the top of their game. But that game keeps expanding, with each successive album adding a new layers of complexity and textures to the band’s modus operandi. LP3 shows that whatever sights they set for themselves, they’ll reach them with gusto.


Note, the Amazon MP3 store offers a exclusive bonus track: Shempi [E*Rock Remix].


Mirando video:

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

Cat Power – Jukebox

Jukebox is the second record in Cat Power’s career that mostly features her renditions of songs written by “noted elder statesmen” of the rock/pop music pantheon, including Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and James Brown, among others. Not being all that familiar with large portions of the source material, I can’t say how well it compares to the originals, but as a stand-alone work, Jukebox is largely a sultry success.

The Good
Roughly an hour’s worth of inventive reinterpretations and intriguing recastings that stand on their own. Cat Power is smooth and confident, presenting and album full of class and soul. Her soft, rough-textured voice, ever wispy, commands a presence, despite sounding conjured from the ether. New York, New York, perhaps the most well-known song on Jukebox opens the album with forged bombastic drums that never let up before ending as abruptly as they began. From there, her take on Ramblin’ (Wo)Man one-ups Hank Williams, reaching like a spectre from the ghost town in your brain.

Also of note, Metal Heart, a piano-powered Cat Power original continues the space-filled and resonant balladry found on 2006’s The Greatest. And the somber, bittersweet guitar strains of Silver Stallion provide the album’s highlight.

The not-as-good
Front-loading. The first four tracks are delightfully splendid, attention-grabbing standouts. Beyond that, while pleasant, Cat Power’s style is so singular that the album struggles to make a lasting impression. Which is all the more excuse to spend more time with it.

Ramblin’ (Wo)Man AOL Session performance. The sound isn’t synced for some reason, but the song works.

Further Reading:

Booka Shade – Movements: Decent Dark Ambient

I don’t know much about Booka Shade, other than that the duo hails from Frankfurt and that they create electronic music. But I do know that their electronic music is pretty good electronic music. I’m going to be honest though and say that while, overall, it’s good, it just can’t quite hit the spot.

Movements, the group’s second full-length album, was generally well received in electronic circles in 2006, appearing on a number of top lists. It’s easy to see why. The electro-meets-dark-ambient-beats here is cleanly produced and presented well, with a knack for precision and detail. I’m reminded a lot of Esem’s grinding gloominess, but less sinister and more relaxing. However, after listening to the record a handful of times, I just can’t get satisfied. I can’t help but feel there’s something missing.

The main point of contention I have is that it tries to walk a line between stripped-down minimalism and foot-tapping house beats. While Movements walks that line with reasonable success, the music feels like its trying to pull itself in opposite directions, toward more abstractness or more danceability. The effect is to leave a gaping hole in the center that makes you wish would Booka Shade to fill it with something, anything.

Movements does succeed on a handful of tracks where one end of the dichotomy is clearly favored. In White Rooms is almost typical club music, but with the volume turned down. The song possesses a subtle forcefulness and scale that would have been nice to hear on more of the album. By contrast, the closer, Lost High, is almost depressing in its sparseness.

All in all an enjoyable record that reaches toward greatness, but just doesn’t pull it off.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆
7.25 / 10 Stars

Further Reading:
The Music Re-View

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.


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-fi–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.

Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling: A cool and special place that is good for thinking

Before the beginning of this year, I had barely heard of Kelley Polar or his music. Toward the end of ’07, I ran across one of his songs and checked out his debut album, Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens. I was hooked in short order. Color me exultant when I learned a new album would be coming out just as I was really getting into Polar’s music.

And that anticipation and excitement probably affected my initial reactions to Kelley Polar’s follow up record, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling, released earlier this month. Whereas I’ve only just begun listening to Polar’s music and at the most basic level had merely been wanting more, he’s had nearly three years to grow and change as an artist.

I must admit that I’ve been listening to this record for several weeks now and it’s taken a little longer than Gardens did to grow on me. Yes, the peculiar combination of classical, spacey electronics, disco and catchy pop gratuity that made the first album so compelling is present. I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a very good follow up record, but in its first few moments, it becomes clear that while it is largely the same, it is also different, closer and more intimate.

Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens struck me with its expansiveness, by how much room there seems to be between its sounds. Falling, for the most part, feels like its standing right next to you. It’s also much more vocal. Kelley Polar has said in interviews that he’s spent some time actually trying to sing on this one and for the most part it works, though there are a handful of moments where it could have been toned-down a notch.

Appropriately for an album premised on the sky falling, the music feels much more serious and less carefree than an album of interstellar love songs. Chrysanthemum is downright foreboding and grim, talking about people being killed in bed.

It’s not all dour though. Entropy Reigns (in the Celestial City) is the most straight-ahead pop in the entire repertoire, while Sea of Sine Waves continues that early-career Michael Jackson danceitude that hooked me the first time.

All in all, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a worthy and eminently listenable sophomore opus.

Chrysanthemum video:

eMusic interviews Kelley Polar and they discuss the numorous classical influences on Falling.

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

  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: 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 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.


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.

Kelley Polar – Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens: Disco auteurship

Is that not a magnificent album cover? It’s almost worth picking up Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens just to have that, especially if were available on vinyl, which sadly it is not. The image is a generally well-regarded photo of the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It’s a striking visual, but more notably, its use here is a near perfect metaphor for the immense space between the sounds of Kelley Polar’s 2005 full-length debut album.

Polar (aka Mike Kelley) is a bit of musical prodigy, having picked up the violin at age 3 and become an award-winning viola player by 18. He studied at, and was expelled from Julliard, but not for lack of ability.

He has a self-confessed obsession with 1970s-era disco orchestral music, particularly, for obvious reasons, their string sections. So it’s no surprise that this record has a heavy disco feel to it. Though you’re not likely to think Love Songs is a throwback or “homage” to polyester suits. Disco is very much present, but more as a foundation to be built upon, holding together tendrils of pop and house.

Make no mistake, at first listen, Love Songs feels like a classic “bedroom auteur” boy-and-his-keyboard style electronic album. But within the first ten seconds, it’s clear that its spiritual home is closer to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall than The Postal Service.

That is to say the music is quite catchy; it pulls at you with pulsing with heady rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and a surprisingly high level of singability. The aspect that strikes me the most however, is how the music simultaneously seems to sound sparsely populated yet vast and teeming with activity. A bit like the seeming emptiness the heavens above, which when looked at closely is full of magnificent detail.

This is one album that is sure to be on heavy rotation for a long time.