Category: music

Wednesday Web: Sound Opinions Podcast

Greg Kot (left) and Jim DeRogatis (right) with Booker T Jones
Greg Kot (left) and Jim DeRogatis (right) with Booker T Jones

Ok, not really a website. Sound Opinions is a podcast to most of the world and a radio show in America. They call themselves “the world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show”, and for us, it’s a mandatory weekly listen. Based in Chicago and hosted by music writers Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, they comment and review an amazing amount of material, interview some huge names, fascinating characters, and seem to have a lot of fun the whole time.

Both Kot and DeRogatis are music critics at Chicago papers. Both are published authors on music, whether it be band biographies or anthologies (like the wonderful Kill Your Idols). They are rock nerds and a league of new music writers. They have a great knowledge of music history, yet a passion for new music. They have also been friends for years and fight a lot on air.

Now that we checked the CV, why we like this show is because it’s needed. They don’t play full songs – it’s talk. But it’s talk that covers the changing trends in music (the ground we hope to cover in our blog), playful reviews, studies of classic albums and genres, and exclusive live performances. Highlights from the show’s history for us are many:

– live sets from Wilco and Neko Case
– studies on Disco and the relationship between music and food (including a fascinating conversation with cooks about the music they listen to)
– classic album dissections, especially Johnny Cash‘s At Folsom Prison
– interview with a reformed Feelies!
– roundtable with America’s top indie retailers.
– desert island songs
– and more…

The show is powered by American Public Radio, and is a community supported radio network. No big corporate radio dollars here. You can download the podcasts anywhere in the world for free, and you can donate to support the show and the health of US radio.

Kot and DeRogatis are building quite a profile for themselves. They even appeared once on Conan. Of course, you cannot agree with everything they say, but at least they are throwing informed opinions out there, and there’s plenty of listener interactions to get a wide range of views. Yes, it’s occasionally indie and swarmy, but it’s the most informative and entertaining music podcast out there. In a sea of blogged judgements, it’s great to hear good music journalism on the iPod.

Sound Opinion website with all the links you need –

Tuesday Tunes: Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine

Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine - out 20th Jul.
Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine - out 20th Jul.

Magnolia Electric Co., is the working name for Jason Molina. Molina battles it out with Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis on our heads as which musician today loves Neil Young more. We think Molina does most days – and that’s no bad thing or cheap shot. Molina is blessed with one of the great voices – too brittle for radio, but too passionate to be ignored. He also knows how to work an electric guitar.

Molina once went under the name Songs:Ohia, and it was at that time we first discovered him, and we have followed his brand of indie folk ever since. The new Magnolia Electric Co. record is called Jospehine on July 20th through Secretly Canadian, his long time label.

Most excellently, you can now download the title track from the MEC site. It’s a great little track – it doesn’t give away much if you’re an old fan – but it sounds like another solid outing.

BUT, more excitingly is Molina offers some mp3s from his older albums as well. Imagine that! We love when bands do this. And we love it even more when they put up one of our favourite tracks ever, and we can now recommend that track to you.

The song is called Farewell Transmission, and when we first heard it, we knew we would be following Molina around for a few more albums. We call him Molina because this was in his Songs: Ohia phase – and to make it more confusing, it’s taken from an album called The Magnolia Electric Co. Don’t think about it too much. (Yes it’s over 7 minutes long but very much worth it).

And surprise, we downloaded a couple of other tracks from the MEC site and are loving them too. What a great way to get into a band – by listening to their music.

Get both ‘Josephine’ and ‘Farewell Transmission’ from Magnolia Electric Co.’s media page –

The official site is of course at –

Join the Club – Beck’s Classic Records Project

Beck - reaching for new things
Beck - reaching for new things

Beck is one of the coolest artists in the last 20 years. Constantly evolving and trying new things, and charming til the end, it’s easy to love the guy even if you don’t warm to his music. He’s now wrapped up his contract with Geffen records and a free agent, and has announced a new project that is just as ambitious, clever and whack as you expect. Every so often, Beck (and select friends) will cover a classic album in it’s entirety, and put it on his website. The first track is up at now, as part of a new thing he’s calling Record Club.

The first album to get the Beck-ord Club (sorry) treatment is The Velvet Underground‘s 1967 debut – The Velvet Underground & Nico. It’s one of the greatest albums of all time, and we’ve heard too many terrible cover versions of the songs to not by a bit scared walking into the Beck version. But he pulls it off on the one track that’s on the site – the elegant opener Sunday Morning. It has a modern wooziness to it, with a deeper, darker, more dramatic overtones.

So OK Beck. We’re listening.

Best part of this experiment is the entire record is recorded in a day. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged before hand. Beck’s list of collaborators include the likes of Devendra Banhart, MGMT, producer extraordinaire Nigel Godrich and Icelandic singer Thorunn Magnusdottir. Apparently Digital Underground’s rap classic Sex Packets was apparently on the cards, but maybe later. Beck has some extraordinarily great and obscure tastes. We personally would love to hear him tackle Odessey And Oracle, an album that he’s said to love.

An interesting experiment. We’re not sure if you’re going to have to one day pay for the downloads. But you can find an mp3 of Sunday Morning on the web if you know where to look. We’ll be checking back in next week to hear their take on I’m Waiting For the Man, and see if it improves on the 700 other versions we’ve heard.

That number again –

Vinyl Saturdays At Indie Retail

Green Day - Know Your Enemy 7
Green Day - Know Your Enemy 7"

2009’s Record Store Day was the most successful yet. A huge list of exclusive releases was given to Indie retail all around the world (although, mainly in America). It showed that, for at least one day a year, people can still walk into a record shop. Now let’s see if people will do it on the third Saturday of every month.

Again starting in the US but hopefully spreading further, the Record Store Day people have organised Vinyl Saturday on, as stated, the third Saturday of every month. Vinyl made up a bulk of RSD‘s exclusives this year. It’s a format that is experiencing another of it’s occasional booms. It certainly has a lot of good will at the moment.

Vinyl Saturday, a great idea that we support even if our wallets don’t, is starting off with a bang. No less than Green Day, still hot from their 800 billion selling album 21st Century Breakdown, is opening proceedings with a very limited 7″ of their latest single Know Your Enemy backed with Hearts Collide, an unreleased track. Wilco offer a 7″ of You Never Know, from their upcoming album, backed with Unlikely Japan (a demo of Impossible Germany from their last album). Modest Mouse and Scarlett Johansson/Pete Yorn offer tracks on 7″ from upcoming albums as well. All of them are limited to around 5000 copies.

Oh how we love 7″ singles and their unique artwork and 5 minutes promise of bliss. We love the unreleased b-side, the hidden treasure of a 7″. Hopefully there is a flood of cool 7″s coming out because of this initiative. And hopefully it gets out of the US. And looking at the repertoire – someone other than Warner Music Group participates.

Interestingly – what was considered the hottest exclusive of Record store Day was Beck and Sonic Youth‘s split 7″. It’s currently going for almost $50 US on eBay. So get in quick!

More info at the Record Store Day website –

Neil Young Archives: was it worth it?

Archives Guy with a prototype of Archives, holding the book
Archives Guy with a prototype of Archives, holding the book

Neil Young: Archives Vol 1 (1963-1972). 20-odd years in the making. 9 blu-ray discs. 125 tracks (plus 12 hidden tracks). What seems like a small hatchback’s worth of photos, lyrics, clippings and more. It makes that bonus CD with a few remixes seem like a kick in the teeth. Now THIS is for the fans.

Young managed to put out this £200+ package at a time when such things are in vogue. Well timed, old man. In the late 80s he might not have been able to pull this off. If you don’t normally pay that much for a single artist release, this is a good place to start (if you’re a fan).

There’s plenty of reviews out there that can tell you all about the music inside. But we want to talk about the package as a whole.

It’s insane. Even in the heady days of extravagant box sets from labels like Rhino and Bear Factory, this takes the cake. The box is huge, a little bigger than it needs to be, and it comes with 10 discs, a fantastic book, a poster and a little notepad. It’s sturdy too. We only cut the plastic wrapping at the top so it’s now nicely protected as well. Not sure where the hell we are going to store this. And really, the box could have been 50% smaller. Does no one remember the Longbox?

What kills is the book. A leather bound wonder full of memorabilia. Clippings, old photos we’ve never seen before. Drafts and drafts of old lyrics. Annoyingly, some of the lyrics in the booklet are for songs that are not on the box set. Wasn’t this supposed to be complete? That fact it’s not is one of our biggest gripes with Archives. Where is the Losing End? Wasn’t Winterlong from this era? 3 versions of Tell Me Why, yet the exclusion of one of Young’s best tracks – Out On the Weekend – the opening track to Harvest – is almost unforgivable. We could have done with a few more annotations about what the photos and clipping are, and when they were taken etc. But the whole thing is so darn pretty we can forgive. The cover alone – a leather print of a sunrise, knocks out LA hippie sandals right off.

Oddly, our blu-ray box came with a separately packaged copy of Sugar Mountain. Which is part of the Archives story, and it baffled us why it was not to be included. It baffles us now why it was included but not advertised. It really bugs us that we already owned this and two other live discs on the set. But not in blu-ray, so that’s something.

The poster and the notebook are nice. We took them out. Looked at them one. Put them away. don’t see ourselves doing that again for some time – if ever. Not to say we don’t appreciate this kind of stuff, but we don’t love it, and it’s a bonus, not a feature.

The discs are all packaged in it’s own sleeve with fantastic different covers. We love that. So many box sets don’t do that. A bit hard to get out but with so many discs, it will always be the case. And thank you for the free mp3s, redeemable with a code that comes with a credit card sized card, included in the package. It took a few days after release to became available, but it’s great for a casual listen.

But we didn’t just get Archives. We joined the Archives club. On the day of release, Young himself wrote the first of many notes about the box, under the title Archives Post Informer – on the official Archives site – The site also has a handy interactive tutorial on how to use the menus on the discs and a nifty Q&A. You can also send Young your own memorabilia from the era for him to send to others and include in future releases.

If that wasn’t enough, there is always Archives Guy. Over at Thrasher’s Wheat, (THE Neil Young website), a man called Archives Guy has popped up and will occasionally answer question for the fans about this package. It’s amazing support for a release of any sort. And it makes you feel better about forking out the big bucks. (We assume Archives Guy is the guy written about in Shakey, but we can’t remember his name right now).

All in all – great job. The music that is on there is fantastic. A new, expensive bar has been set. We are still getting to know this mammoth collection and we look froward to doing it for a while longer. 20 years in the making and it was worth the wait. The next period in Young‘s career is our favourite. We hope it doesn’t take 20 years for Volume 2. Please give us more sporadic live albums til then.

We first wrote about Archives here – The gold rush: Neil Young’s Archives

This is the next century where the universal’s free: Virgin Media’s new service

Rachel Stevens, Virgin Media launch - can their new service put her music career back on track?
Rachel Stevens, Virgin Media launch - can their new service put her music career back on track?

Virgin Media and Universal music have gotten a LOT of press today after announcing they are giving the shop away – unlimited, unprotected mp3 downloads for a paid subscription service. If you are a Virgin Media customer (it’s a broadband service, non UK-ers), you can pay for this yet unnamed service like a subscription and keep all you download. No word on what this will cost.

Headlines are good – they create great anticipation for a new service. But this story promises much and doesn’t deliver very much in the ways of ‘how?’. More importantly – this is nothing new.

Universal Music has planted it’s flag here before. In 2006 they became the first high profile label to sign with Spiral Frog, an ad-supported download service. That is – you listen to or watch ads and in return you can download stuff. (Old story from 2006)

Spiral Frog struggled from day one. It’s self belief was not supported by the labels and it failed to secure the other major labels or the indies. It failed to find the advertising money and was by all accounts clunky and difficult. I wish we could point you to the service and see it yourself but two years after front page headlines, Spiral Frog spiraled to it’s doom in March of this year.

Having a risky and ambitious idea is one thing. Having no plan to execute it is another. Spiral Frog is one example – another is Qtrax.

Qtrax made it’s big launch at the music industry conference Midem in 2008. It’s a wonderfully wacky idea – a p2p program that is ad supported. That p2p activity is tracked, and what gets traded, artists and labels get a cut of the pie. Days after the huge launch, it turns out that they were only talking to the labels about a deal, no agreements were in place. A year and a half later, Qtrax is no-one going nowhere.

These two services contrast starkly with Spotify. This Swedish service with is launched in the UK made no big song and dance. It was in beta-testing for months and months – well after the time it started getting hot exclusives. They quietly did deals with the majors and the indie labels, and are slowly launching around the world.

What we like best about Spotify is that they don’t see themselves as a game changer – something that is going to rock the market. They want to be part of people’s internet entertainment experience. They don’t sell tracks – but they will point you to a service that will sell it to you if you want. That’s not what Spotify is about. No social networking add-ons. It’s just a streaming site. And a bloody good one.

A similar service exists and does pretty well. has been going for years and is the biggest subscription service in music. Various plans from 25 songs for £10 to 75 for £25 a month – emusic has struggled to get major label stuff, but has a firm footing on the indies. You can get the new Sonic Youth and Placebo albums from there. It would cost you £10 for both together. It’s one of the biggest players in the indie digital world.

We don’t need a game changer. We need sensible alternatives. Not wishy-washy claims, which is what this new Virgin/Universal deal amounts to right now. No names. No dates. No price. No word on how this works in terms of paying artists. What the ads look like. What artists will be on there.

We will go into our take how this Virgin/Universal deal might work, or might not work, later. Right now, the CMU website has the best analysis of the deal we can find – – and a great deal of quotes and views from across the board.

we could not resist that headline, no matter how long and cumbersome it is

Tuesday Tunes: The Lemonheads – Waiting Around To Die

The Lemonheads - Varshons
The Lemonheads - Varshons

The Lemonheads took ten years off there, but came back with a solid self titled effort in 2006. Now comes the follow-up, a mish mash of disparate covers, under the name Varshons. Not sure where the name comes from, anyone know?

We almost missed this one – so many tracks being given away, and only one Tuesday a week. The album is out this week, and it’s where you can find this track, and other tracks almost completely unlike it. Like we said, the record runs all over the shop. There’s even Liv Tyler singing on a track.

Evan Dando is a loose cannon, but his music taste is flawless. Although there are detours into the catalogue of GG Allin (a great crazy man), Varshons features great songs from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Gram Parsons and the late great Townes Van Zandt.

Van Zandt‘s elegant Waiting Around To Die is the track you can get for free today. Van Zandt is enjoying a bit of a revival, with Steve Earle‘s latest album being a tribute, and the latest Sound Opinions radio show being a Townes special. We love the man around here, and this track is one of his very best.

The track is a link from the Lemonheads site, and you can just close that survey that eventually pops up after you give them your email. It’s a bit annoying to tell the truth. Get it here – – after some effort.

Tuesday Tunes Bonus: God Help the Girl – Funny Little Frog

God Help the Girl - Funny Little Frog
God Help the Girl - Funny Little Frog

When we decided to do this Tuesday Tunes column, we thought we might struggle to find one free legal download a week by established bands. Right now, we are looking at doing two a week. There is so much great music being given away for free in the world. We love it.

We can get away with calling this a bonus track because we’ve already posted a free track from God Help the Girl. It’s the new music/film project by Belle And Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch.

Their self titled album is fast becoming our favourite album of the year. This track is a particular highlight, having already been a favourite of ours from the last B&S record, the Life Pursuit. This version is slower, sexier and more dangerous.

Get the track here –
More about God Help the Girl including some great videos can be found on their site –

Tuesday Tunes: The Clean – In the Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul

The Clean - Mister Pop
The Clean - Mister Pop out Sept 8th

The very exciting news that the Clean are releasing their first album in 8 years is a nice excuse to talk about Flying Nun Records. Lets face it, no one knows who the Clean are, but those who do love them. More than that, they are one of the most culturally significant bands, thanks to their groundbreaking first single Tally Ho.

Quick history lesson: One of the greatest, most under-rated labels of the 80s was Flying Nun Records, from Dunedin, New Zealand. The label supported a small family of local bands, who created some of the greatest 80s indie songs ever – from jangle pop to post-rock. It was the New Zealand version of legendary labels like Postcard or Stiff.

The Clean released the second ever FNR release, and their first chart success, with a song called ‘Tally Ho‘. They were one of the tent pole bands for the label, and created some of the label’s most timless music. That music made a big impact in NZ and also overseas, where all the right indie kids found out about it. In fact, the easiest way to get music by some of these bands are through US compilations.

The Clean‘s Anthology – the best way to get the classic stuff, is on Merge Records. The fantastic North Carolina indie who brought the world bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon and Arcade Fire have now resigned the Clean for a brand new album.

Listening to the new track (wonderfully titled ‘In the Dreamtine You Need A Rubber Soul), they’ve lost none of their indie pop smarts. They’ve also not succumbed to new technology to clean up their lo fi sound. It sounds as groovy as their early work, mining the same space as early REM, the Go-Betweens and Orange Juice.

You can get the mp3 for ‘In the Dreamtime You Need A Rubber Soul‘ at the Merge Records site –

30 mp3s! A cover a week from Bill Janovitz

Bill Janovitz - weekly
Bill Janovitz - weekly

If you’ve not heard the name Bill Janovitz, you may know his band Buffalo Tom. Although not as big as other 90s alterna-rock giants, they were critically acclaimed and well loved for their emotional, passionate rock songs and Janovitz‘s great vocals. Although it’s been over a decade since their heyday, Janovitz has embarked on a (quietly) ambitious project to record an new cover a week, and giving them away on his blog.

Janovitz is older now, and has kids and a day job. He does a weekly residency in Boston and as a way of getting music out there, he has created this little “self-assignment”. 30 weeks in and he has yet to miss a week, although he is honest on his blog about how close he comes.

It’s one of the charms of his blogs; the stories he tells of what he has decided to cover. And what led him this week to the song. A conversation with a friend, a gig that he saw or something he read in a magazine can set him off. He also went seasonal for Christmas, New Year’s and the presidential inauguration. Reading this blog, you feel like you a peering into a man’s music diary. Which is essentially what this is.

Above all, Janovitz, a talented writer, goes on about the past. How the songs he has chosen came into his life. Stories of family, friends and poker nights that conspired to lead him to a tune, the one he’s singing for you now. It would make a great autobiography. I’m sure Nick Hornby agrees.

The range of songs Janovitz chooses is quite impressive. There’s breadth – from Hank Williams, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, Blondie and Radiohead. But there’s also depth – little known gems by the Band (Whispering Pines), Husker Du (Hardly Getting Over It) and many others that have sent us back to the originals for another listen. Of course, quite a few gems we’ve never heard of at all. We caught a show in Boston and he covered two songs yet to appear on his blog that we loved – Neil Young‘s ‘Barstool Blues‘ and Elvis Costello‘s ‘Oliver’s Army‘.

Also mentioned a few times is a new Buffalo Tom record in the works. They still tour every now and again. I’m almost going to be sad when they do, if it interrupts this down home, intimate experiment.

Check out The Life And Times Of Bill Janovitz: Part Time Man Of Rock – and get your mp3s now!

Some cool links and thoughts on Buffalo Tom after the jump. Also the fantastic videos for the Buffalo Tom classics ‘Taillights Fade‘ and ‘Wiser‘ .