Friday, September 25, 2009

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head and the Sky

I think it is fair to say no person in the history of popular music has taken more shit than Yoko Ono. I am here to say it has been totally unfair in my view. And guess what? I don’t have to say it- her startling new album says it loud and clear. Artsy as fuck, noisy as hell, and full of brainy, modern music she kicks back against the pricks by not giving an inch (that’s four curse words in one paragraph). This album is not a huge departure from her other recent work; in other words it is informed by dance beats and incorporates lots of avant tape loop sound effects. It is thoroughly modern and utterly hypnotic. If you are among those who feel that "she broke up the Beatles, and all she does is moan anyway" then stay away- this tiger has not changed her stripes. Ono is totally uncompromising in her artistic vision. Just as she made recordings with John Cage and Ornette Coleman before the Beatles even existed, she surrounds herself with the cream of American and Japanese avant musicians and sounds completely relevant, and way ahead of the curve all at the same time. This is perfect music to listen to in an oxygen bar in Tokyo 50 years from now. It would fit in perfectly in Ridley Scott's chilling Blade Runner city-scape. Listen to it if you don't care what anyone else thinks about your taste.
Paul Epstein

Manassas - Pieces

When I saw this was coming out I was worried that it might be just a cash-in best-of masquerading as something special. Well, it is something special. Pieces is a collection of all the little bits of Manassas that somehow never made it onto the two records they did release in their short, legendary career. Riding high on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's incredible success and the platinum sales of his first two solo albums, Stephen Stills was looking for a less pressurized outlet for his prodigious talent. He found it in former Byrd/Burrito Brother Chris Hillman who acted as a non-threatening yang to his fiery yin. Forging a sound that would be predictor of all country-rock to follow, they beautifully melded Country, Rock, Latin and Soul into great vehicles for Stills' vocals and songwriting. There are songs that were left off their groundbreaking first album, "Witching Hour" and "Like A Fox" (with a vocal by Bonnie Raitt), a bunch of songs left off their second album (which might have changed the way it was received), some loose studio jamming (the instrumental "Tan Sola Y Triste" or Stills' fun "Sugar Babe",) a few gorgeous Stills solo rarities ("My Love Is A Gentle Thing," "Word Game" and "I Am My Brother,") and most significantly a session from the birth of Manassas, when Burrito Brothers including fiddle master Byron Berline run through a series of classic bluegrass songs that totally shows off another side of Stills. To hear them barnstorming their way through tunes like "Uncle Pen" and "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and loud loud music)" is really an eye-opening joy. This is sort of the Holy Grail of great 70’s rock. It may not be as amazing as their debut, but there is lots of very substantive stuff to dig into here.
Paul Epstein

Monsters Of Folk

Oh the dreaded supergroup. How many of the sums did not live up to the promise of the parts? It is often the case that what seems like a good idea on paper, just doesn’t come together in practice. These Monsters Of Folk put the lie to that notion and dish up one of the tastiest albums of the year. Each of the principles: Jim James Of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and M.Ward brings what makes them unique as individual performers to the party but at the same time the songs all sound like collaborations. Opening with Jim James’ falsetto, the band doesn’t sound like a group of guys backing each other, they really sound like they all participated and gave it their all. The real sign of success to me is that after a song or two, I stopped trying to figure out who did what or wrote which, it was just a pleasure to listen to such a beautifully crafted album. And craft is exactly what it is. The sound of songs like "Whole Lot Of Losin'" (M.Ward vocal) or "The Right Place" (Jim with a country twang in his voice) "Losin' To Head" (Jim with a straight ahead vocal this time) or Conor Obersts' magnificent "Map Of The World" is most reminiscent of the more pastoral inclinations of the Beach Boys or The Beatles.
Stylistically, they live up to the billing and, for the most part keep things pretty acoustic. Of course with the sonic genius of Mike Mogis on board there are sweeps and swoops and squeals here and there. The album closer shows them all off perfectly. It is beautiful and melodic with Jim's voice in his perfect range, and everyone fully engaged in making it soar with musical invention. This really is an exhilarating record.
Paul Epstein

Pearl Jam- Backspacer

Making this available to independent stores was a really good first step in my loving this album, but ultimately it is strictly for artistic reasons that I recommend it. After a long period of casting about with a torrent of live releases and best of's, the band refocused a couple of years ago when Eddie Vedder seemed to have a songwriting epihany on the soundtrack to Into The Wild. This success was followed by their most overtly political and musically satisfying album in years, Pearl Jam and now the band drops what could be their best album ever, Backspacer. Brendan O’Brien again proves to be the perfect producer, showing all the band’s muscular strengths in full bloom - the guitarists have never sounded better or more in control of their sound - and rhythm section of Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron (talk about having some serious shoes to fill and exceeding everyone's expectations) sound world class. In fact the entire album reminds me of hearing a Who album from the 70's for the first time, you just want to soak it up over and over. Every song is strong, but I'll pick out a few highlights: "Johnny Guitar" has a great hook and it encompasses all of Eddie’s best vocal tricks. It is followed by one of his best and most tender ballads, "Just Breathe", which extols the virtue of holding those you love close by and recognizing what you have in them. It is in the category of the stuff he did for Into The Wild. "Unthought Known" is classic Pearl Jam, creating a slow boil that showcases the band's control and Eddie's rough-hewn vocals. Amazingly, he has developed an even more expressive and character-filled voice than he had in the early days. "Supersonic" sounds like an obvious single with a mid-song backward guitar breakdown and a propulsive groove that screams hit. There are two more great ballads on the album, "Speed of Sound" which has Vedder reflecting on his own career and success and takes the audience successfully into his mind to answer that burning question "what would it be like to be Eddie Vedder?" and the album closer “The End” again sees the singer in a reflective mood, exposing his insecurities. That, after all, has always been Pearl Jam’s greatest strength; like their heroes Neil Young or Pete Townshend they put up a good front as the heroic rock star, but we keep coming back to them because we can also see that they are flawed, needy humans just like us.
Paul Epstein

Friday, September 18, 2009


Even though it was a rainy and cold Saturday, I still had to see the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s headline at Monolith. I got there a little late in the day, hoping the sky would clear up, but it was such a great line-up I had to stick it out when the weather didn't cooperate. I caught M. Ward’s soulful singing, MF Doom’s amazing Hip-hop show, Girl Talk's fun mash-up of eighties tunes & dance music that had tons of people on stage dancing, and Of Montréal put on such a great visual display that we were dancing and grooving to the beat despite the fact it was getting cold. The Yeah Yeahs Yeah’s played to a thinning crowd, but those hearty enough to stay til the end had a blast!

Sunday the weather was so much better and the people watching was in full force, just as much fun as Saturday, but without the chilly breeze. It turned into a beautiful day filled with lots of familiar faces, and Monolith was a great place to not only connect with the people I knew but also a fun place to meet new people. I caught the Dandy Warhol’s spacey set, The Thermals rocked me, Glitch Mob put the beeps and clicks out there like none other, and Passion Pit was slammed with hipsters and put on a high-energy show. Method Man and Redman brought us back to old school hip-hop days with a reminiscent homage to the 80s and 90s. Phoenix was moved to the main stage which was much more appropriate seeing that they are the next big thing with their great fusion of pop and euro rock. Chromeo pumped the bass to a big crowd of dancing folks. Then the evening ended with another great headliner Mars Volta, who simply rocked the asses off the crowd. All in all I had a great time at this festival and look forward to seeing who the line up will be for 2010! - Natasha

Where’s The Heart?

Growing up, my understanding of “The Great Depression” was extremely diffuse. I heard my parents and grandparents tell me about proud men selling apples on street corners in a vain attempt to provide for their families. I heard vague tales of businessmen jumping off rooftops because they lost it all on Wall Street. I had images in my mind, largely created by Hollywood, of the common man (Henry Fonda) struggling through the dust to find dignity and work. But it remained abstract to me. The last year has brought the concept into focus. No longer a bunch of random images or movie-fueled feelings, I have seen a lot of people I personally know and care about lose jobs or lose all their money. It’s hard to get your arms around the enormity of it all. Car dealerships going out of business overnight, neighbor’s houses quietly going up for sale and, unfortunately not selling. The chain of consequences leaves the ether and starts to become very concrete. I talk to everyone, and it is the same in all businesses (liquor and guns might be the two exceptions). Everyone feels that the public is kind of hanging back, waiting either for a “happy days are here again” moment, or for the other shoe to drop. I think it won’t happen that way. Instead I believe it will slowly creep back to a new understanding of “normal” and that old cliché “no matter where you go, there you are” will work its magic. I feel it already. Our business has changed, but through the changes we have made, and because of the public’s enduring love of, and need for music, we will continue to do what we do.

So, what can we, as individuals, do to move the process along? I have found that one of the most meaningful things I can do as a business owner and a private citizen is to hone my understanding of place. Living in Colorado, we are always confronted with stunning natural beauty, ideal weather, and a cultural scene that is the envy of any other state. I try to never forget what a great place I call home. But I also try to make sure my dollars and efforts go to helping the state as well. It may be old news to some, but the forces of corporate greed do not have our best interests in mind. I just read in the The Denver Post that a new Wal-Mart is opening in the charming little town of Elizabeth. I love Elizabeth. I drive down there a couple of times a year to see my dentist. It’s worth it to me to drive an hour to get that little hit of small town charm. In the article it said many small businesspeople in the area were worried that this opening would affect their livelihoods. They are right to do so. It will. Not only will it take customers out of their stores, but more importantly it will take the money spent there out of the community as well.

With that in mind, I try to focus all my purchases locally. Some things are very hard to accomplish. Buying gas for your car or some grocery staples are almost impossible to do locally, yet the awareness is growing in me, and I think in others. The more I keep my money here, the more I feel like I might be helping out that neighbor who is losing their house, or encouraging another local business owner to rehire a few employees, so they can pay their rent, and their landlord can then go to a local restaurant and have a meal, and then they can buy some more locally grown peaches, and so it goes. These small acts add up to big changes. In answer to the question posed in the title: HOME, that’s where the heart is. – Paul Epstein (aka Sporkmeister)

**For more reasons to shop local, and to search a local business directory, go here

Friday, September 11, 2009

Living Artists, part deux

You know, this Michael Jackson thing got us to thinking. Why don’t we ever pay tribute to our heroes when they are alive? I mean, why do these great people have to die before we wax poetic about them? Well, here’s your chance. Pick an living artist that you love and answer the following questions about them.

Joel Boyles – T&S staff
Artist: Beck Hansen

1) How did you get turned on to this artist?
MTV aired the "Loser" video.

2) What was the first record you got by this artist?
CD? The "Loser" CD single. LP? "It's All In Your Mind" 7" (rare transparent brown vinyl!)

3) Have you seen the artist live? What was the best show?
Yes- 3 or 4 times. Favorite was when The Flaming Lips opened for Beck, then were his touring band! I love the Lips too so it was a wonderful concept and performance! I believe Beck covered "Do You Realize?" and the Lips did "Cold Brains"! Magical.

5) Have you ever met this artist?  What would you tell them if you were to have dinner with them?
Never have. Beck became popular quickly and thus the security was always a problem. I would tell him how tingly his voice makes me, whilst gazing into his eyes... no I would ask him to make me a one of a kind fingerpainting to go with my A Western Harvest Field by Moonlight 10" that should have come with the fingerpainting but did not! I didn't return it since the place didn't have another one. It has bothered me ever since. Also I would suggest another slow and low album.

6) What makes this artist different than others?
Originality! Beck always took a different approach to lyrics and song writing. He also did things his own way professionally: When he signed to Geffen, he made sure his contract let him release albums through different labels as well (One Foot in the Grave & Stereopathetic Soulmanure released in 1994 with Mellow Gold) a real 1st in the music industry.

5) Why do you think this artist strikes a chord with you? This is a question about you, not the artist.
I like originality and seek it out in music. Loser was like nothing else out there and I strive to be the same (by not being 'the same').

Alan Hague - guitar, vocals for Prayers For Atheists
Artist: Operation Ivy

1) How did you get turned on to this artist?
When my friends and I were first getting into punk rock and obsessively looking into as many punk bands as we possibly could, Operation Ivy was one of the first names we discovered.

2) What was the first record you got by this artist?
The Energy album on cassette, which also had the Hectic EP and a couple compilation tracks on it.  Cost me $3!

3) Have you seen the artist live? What was the best show?
Never.  : (

5) Have you ever met this artist?  What would you tell them if you
were to have dinner with them?
In my nerdiest punk rock dreams.  If I could have dinner with them, I would tell them how much I respect that they broke up at the height of their popularity, due to worries of being commodified by the music industry.  I'd also ask Matt Freeman if he's actually a wizard or a demi-god, because he can play so fast!

6) What makes this artist different than others?
That I drastically improved my vocabulary by paying attention to the lyrics; that they combined punk and ska in a way that wasn't forced or goofy; and that their songs are all effortlessly anthemic.

5) Why do you think this artist strikes a chord with you? This is a question about you, not the artist.
They were openly intelligent and compassionate.  They made apathy and stupidity sound not only uncool, but also dangerous.  They cast a critical eye to the world and suggested that we can all make a positive change, if we so desire.  Hearing that message, as a young and impressionable 12 year-old, was definitely a formative experience for me and has shaped my outlook ever since.

B. Dolan – Recording Artist, Strange Famous Records
Bruce Springsteen.  Say word.  I'm takin it there.

1) How did you get turned on to this artist?
I was turned on to Bruce Springsteen twice in life.  First when I was about 10, by my Uncle Jack.  That's not a metaphor for Jack Daniels.  I really have an uncle named Jack.  And anyhow I didn't meet Jack Daniels til I was 12.

The second time I found the Boss was almost 20 years later, on tour with Buck 65.  He hipped me to the Nebraska album, which I'd never really heard, and I fell instantly in love with it.   These days it's never far from my side, and I might even rank it among the greatest albums ever made.

2) What was the first record you got by this artist?
Uncle Jack gave me a dubbed copy of a concert recording that I've never been able to track down since.  I used to fast forward through almost all of it, occasionally stopping to listen to the audience lose their minds when "Born in the U.S.A." happened.  Come to think of it this may have been the first real recording of a concert I ever had.  I used to lay in bed with headphones and imagine being onstage.  All the girls I had crushes on from school were in the crowd.  Aye.
Anyhow, I would fast forward through almost all of this tape except for "Born in the U.S.A." and "The River," and the latter was the song I really wanted to hear.  I used to just rewind that song and play it over and over until I fell asleep.  Even at 10 it crushed me.  Without having any real adult experiences, I understood what that song was about on some level.

3) Have you seen the artist live? What was the best show?
I've never seen Springsteen live, but I do highly recommend the DVD of his VH1 Storytellers performance.  My favorite Springsteen is acoustic, and the Storytellers performance offers some really great insight into Springsteen's songwriting process.  I can say that I've learned things from that DVD that I've applied directly to the music I'm making now, and that it's made me a better songwriter for sure.  

For real. Check this DVD out.  

5) Have you ever met this artist?  What would you tell them if you
were to have dinner with them?
Nah.  I met Huey Lewis recently though.  Unrelated.

I dunno man.  I feel like me and Bruce wouldn't need to say anything.  We'd just sit at the end of the bar and watch the 40 year old woman sway to the jukebox.  Every once in awhile we'd look up from our beers at each other and go "Yep."

6) What makes this artist different than others?
For me, Springsteen epitomizes a certain kind of American experience better than anyone else.  If you're interested in music about white blue collar life then I don't think anyone is fucking with him.  At best, he understands and communicates the poetry of that world without ever mucking it up or making it overwrought.  

There's obvious overlap with people like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, but I feel like those two are taking the mundane to somewhere else a lot of the time.  Many of the go-to Johnny Cash songs are taking that same experience and turning it into something mythic or archetypal, and a lot of the go-to Dylan songs are dazzling me with language and living very much in the mind, if that makes sense.

Not to take anything away from Cash and Dylan, but  I think Springsteen has this very zen way of just leaving it all be, by comparison.  I'm generalizing a lot here, but I think that's the distinction, for me.

"Seen a man standin' over a dead dog
lyin' by the highway in a ditch
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled
pokin' that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open
he's standin' out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough
that dog'd get up and run"

-Bruce Springsteen, "Reason to Believe"

5) Why do you think this artist strikes a chord with you? This is a
question about you, not the artist.
Well, as I've said, I think Springsteen is the poet of a certain  blue collar generation, and my parents and their friends fit squarely into that.  Uncle Jack still swears by The Boss and The Stones, and still works in the same warehouse he's been working in for 20 years with my father.  

So, Springsteen is forever tied to nostalgia and sentimental feelings about the place I come from, in that way.  It's music that reminds me of the adults I grew up around, that coincidentally might as well be about the adults I grew up around.  

Also, what makes the songs last for me is the lack of romance or re-imagining.  Nothing is being smoothed over in these songs.  Springsteen gets the simple beauty of that life but he also gets the brutal, soul-emptying sadness. That sadness is something so fundamental I understood it when I was 10 years old, and it's truer now than it ever was.

"Those memories come back to haunt me 

They haunt me like a curse

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true

Or is it something worse?"

-Bruce Springsteen, "The River"

Tell em Boss.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All You Need Is Love (and about a hundred more Mono boxes)

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Why? Because the greatest rock band ever had a day all about them. And the public let us know in no uncertain terms that this was exactly what they needed. When I got to the store there was already a line of about twenty people waiting. They had that giddy appearance of 15 year olds waiting in line for their first concert. When we opened at 10:00 I stood at the front door and greeted a bunch of old and new friends who were there to make sure they would get the Mono box. We were sold out of it by 10:15. Then, throughout the day, wave after wave of true believers came in and bought and bought and bought. I honestly thought we had brought in enough for a month’s supply on some titles and we sold at least 80% of it in one day.

At 3:00 the great people from Listen Up started setting up the mammoth McIntosh and B&W system we would use to present the music. At around 5:30 a crowd started to build in the store. Lots of old faces, everyone had that glow - could it have been the free booze or the delicious cupcakes? That helped, but there was no doubt that people wanted to be part of something that the so-called online community doesn’t now or ever provide - a real connection between people - their bodies, their smiles, their Beatles memorabilia (some people brought some excellent stuff). There is also the very real factor of hearing real music played in an open room with other like-minded people. What do they call that? Oh yeah - fun!

After we listened to the comparison disc that made it clear that these new remasters were really head and shoulders above the old ones, and gave all the prizes for best memorabilia - the first place winner was a woman who brought some amazing candid shots of The Beatles in London in 1969 that she took herself on a lark while on vacation - people did not want to leave. Listen Up had set up a big screen TV and people played the new Beatles Rock Star video game, but mostly they stood around and talked about their love of the Beatles, and their experiences hearing them and living with them as part of their lives all these years. It was bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter. The Beatles music remains so vital and defining for so many of us, and this event was in many ways a lovely confirmation of that.

For Twist and Shout it was really great. In spite of the fact that we essentially gave away all our profit on this big opportunity, we came out the big winners. I was on the radio and TV in the morning and afternoon, and countless customers got to connect to something very primal. With art and culture, sometimes you gotta be there and actually put your hands on something so you know it’s real. As I suspected: it’s real.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who’s got the biggest Bowling Bawls?

In spite of the fact that our ringers from another planet were either missing in action or too drunk to bite off ears, our Team Twist did show up and had a great time. The Flobots first annual charity event -- The Bowling Ball -- was not only a wildly successful event-raising thousands for the Flobots’ own charity which uses music to help schoolkids, but one of the best times we’ve had in a good long while. It was really wild seeing all the bands (Flobots, The Fray, Flogging Molly, Meese, and Single File among others) record store people (Us, Independent (who can’t handle their liquor) and uh... Best Buy), and local celebrities like Nuggets, TV people and the like drinking heavily, bowling poorly and genuinely having a blast. There was a very atypical vibe of warmth and the desire to help others in evidence. We tend to get very wrapped up in our stupid little lives sometimes and we forget that we love music, and we love the people who make and surround it. This event was a nice reminder that there is stuff happening outside the walls of our own neurosis and that once in a while it is a good idea to forget about ourselves and have some fun helping others. Dig the pix.