Beck – The Information

beckinfo.jpgIf nothing else, Beck’s latest release could provide a nice shot in the arm for retail outlets trying to compete with iTunes and illegal file trading. “The Information” comes standard with a CD and a DVD featuring videos of the album’s 15 tracks. It also contains a sheet of stickers that fans can use to design their own cover.

Try downloading that.

Sure, the videos seem like an afterthought, with the sensibility of “Starsky and Hutch” and “Shaft” melded to the production values of a Hezbollah hostage tape. But their homemade roughness endearingly complements the record’s loose, inventive nature. The DVD also provides a cleaner, shinier sound on the right equipment, and all for the price of a regular CD.

“The Information” continues in the vein of “Guero,” a project that took on a life of its own last year, spawning a coffee table book box set, companion DVD (with a 5:1 mix that’s so far missing from “The Information”) and a remix album, “Guerilito.” Fans will appreciate the punchier sound of tracks like “Nausea” and the throwback anti-folk of “No Complaints”.

A playful mood infuses “The Information.” “Elevator Music,” which evokes Beck’s biggest hit (“Loser”), opens the record with laconic, nonsensical rhyming (“I got a silicon Bible song/paranoid Jumbotron”). There is no better practitioner of white boy angst rap, and Beck shines again on “Cellphone’s Dead,” with the longing, “it’s been a long time/since a federal dime/made a jukebox sound/like a mirror in my mind.”

It’s all framed by an array of keyboard noodling and found sounds; the instrumental credits list Gameboy, Speak n’ Spell and Tote a Tune among the many aural effects in Beck’s musical junktique.

Highlights include some very danceable tracks. “Think I’m In Love” fuses rhythm machines, atonal piano plinking and pristine six-string guitar. “Soldier Jane” features a sinister bass line, phased vocals, a steady beat – and lyrics that make absolutely no sense at all. “Taking heart out of the shell/throw it away” – what the hell does that mean?

It’s of a piece with most of the album. A welcome exception is “Strange Apparition,” a spiritual child of Beggar’s Banquet–era Stones, and one of the more self-aware songs Beck’s ever penned:

“When the Lord rings my front door
and asks me what I got to show
besides the dust in my pockets
and the things that just eat away my soul?”

That’s not deep for someone like Dylan, but for Beck, it’s practically “Stairway to Heaven.” Best of all, it’s got a kickin’ groove.

The Killers – Sam’s Town

killerssamstown.jpgAlong with bands like Kasabian, Keane and the Kaiser Chiefs, the Killers wed post-glam rock Bowie to the strained alienation of bands like New Order and the Cure.  So thorough was their desire to mine the mid-80’s, MTV poses and all, that they even took their name from the fictional house band in a New Order video.

The Killers’ first release, “Hot Fuss,” yielded the hits “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside,” and earned the band four Grammies.  “Sam’s Town” is a bit of a style change – lead singer Brandon Flowers’ grew a mustache, and the rest of the band looks like a late version of REO Speedwagon.  The musical shift is less jarring, however, than the casting off of shiny suit jackets for plaid shirts and facial hair.

The new record owes its spirit to mid-70’s touchstones like “Born to Run” and “Bat Out of Hell.”  But on “Sam’s Town,” the Killers sound more like Queen than the King or the Boss; Flowers’ falsetto-vocal flourishes won’t draw many Springsteen comparisons.  Still, the nostalgic longing of songs like the title cut and “When You Were Young” do evoke a mid-70’s feel.

It most closely hews to this sensibility on “Bones,” which, despite dimwitted lyrics (“don’t you want to feel my bones/on your bones/it’s only natural”), is a decent homage to “Thunder Road.”  The horn section adds a nice touch as well.  It flies off into space eventually, with glittery synth-pop swamping the heartland feel of the song’s intro.

The disc’s lead track, “Sam’s Town,” mimics the E Street Band’s wall of sound at the outset, and then melds Roxy Music’s insouciance to its construction.  “Running through my veins, an American masquerade,” trills Flowers.  It’s the biggest, and best, moment of the record.

But a few spins of this disk will find most listeners thinking more about platform shoes then beat up Converse All-Stars.   That’s not a complaint, actually.  The Killers nimble feat – a Las Vegas band aping British pop from across the ocean – is a sort of “Muswell Hillbillies” in reverse.  It works almost as well as the Kinks’ far-away take on Americana did 30 years ago.

“For Reasons Unknown” employs the piano-slapping blues-rock of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way From Memphis.”  In “Bling (Confessions of a King),” Flowers imagines himself “running with the Devil” and getting “my glory in the desert rain” as he heads for the horizon in search of adventure.  But despite the windswept tableau, much of the ride and the view seem to be from the back of a limousine, not the shiny bike Flowers was likely imagining.

Local Rhythms – What a Weekend!

moondance.jpgForget Memorial Day – Columbus Day is the biggest three-day weekend around these parts.  It’s times like these I wish I was that Michael Keaton character in “Multiplicity,” able to clone myself and be several places at once.

Every community, it seems, has something scheduled.   On Friday, Windsor has its 7th annual “Moondance” celebration scheduled from 5-10 PM.  Apart from being named after the coolest Van Morrison song ever, the gala has great music.

Claremont’s Fall Festival combines the hugely successful Chili Cook-Off with an apple pie baking contest and music by the Flames.  Later in the evening, the raucous music of “Accordion Warrior” Gary Sredzienski will enliven Opera House patrons. Hexerei also hosts a multi-band show at the Moose.

For those who can’t get enough of chicken dancing, there’s the annual Oktoberfest, held Saturday and Sunday at Windsor’s Harpoon Brewery.  The fest features a wide range of German food, oompah band the Jolly Kopperschmidts, and plenty of beer.  You can bring the kids, though, as Harpoon offers some of the best root beer, cream and orange soda around – along with a chance to win some at the keg bowling game.

Across the river in Springfield, the Vermont Apple Festival is in its 24th year at Riverside Middle School.  The two-day event features crafters, agricultural exhibits, and of course, lots of apple consumption.  Wellwood Orchards, one of my favorite family destinations, is the festival’s official orchard.  Some of my favorite musical performers are there as well – Spiral Farm Band, Jesse Peters and Alli Lubin, among others.

Moving indoors, there’s live music aplenty.  There’s Claremont’s polka show, of course.  At Lebanon’s Opera House, Jonathan Edwards makes an appearance Saturday night, along with the Wailin’ Jennys, a stellar Americana trio.  They have harmonies like the Dixie Chicks, and if they decide to say anything controversial, they’re in luck –they’re all Canadian.

Dartmouth welcomes Rosanne Cash to the Hopkins Center Saturday.  She recently released what many are calling the best record of her career, “Black Cadillac.”  It explores the loss of her mother, father and stepmother, and what lives on.  The show includes music from the album and other hits like “Seven Year Ache” and “What We Really Want,” along with a multimedia backdrop that explores Cash’s legendary musical family heritage.

Here are a few more upcoming choices:

Thursday:  Jason Cann, Brown’s Tavern – A naturally talented guitarist with a voice to match, Cann also fronts Wherehouse (who perform Saturday at the Anchorage.  He’s comfortable playing everything from Dave Matthews to Dave Loggins, and he occasionally pulls an original out of his hat.  Electrified or sitting down, he’ll always deliver a pleasant evening.

Friday:  Comedy Connection, Electra – Sponsored by KIXX-FM, this is billed as comedy with a country flavor.  Not Electra’s typical fare – Hexerei/Stonewall (10/27) are more representative of that.  Sheila Van Dyke’s standup routine delves into life as a “Yankabilly” on the lookout for Deer Crossing signs, which promise fresh road kill, and free dinner for a month.  Roy Johnson, another area comic, co-headlines

Saturday: The Moores, Salt Hill – Toby and Tom Moore, from Yer Mother’s Onion, are joined by their father for an acoustic-flavored version of the band’s show.  Hugh Moore is, I’m told, a woodworker who crafts his own musical instruments, so it’s likely all three will be playing “homemade” guitars.  The three part harmonies alone are worth the trip.  Expect “Acoustic YMO” in addition to their many well-played covers.  Hopefully, they’ll have their new CD for sale as well.

Sunday: The Strokes, Hampton Beach Casino – Post-punks throwbacks born in the same milieu which produced their main influences – Iggy & the Stooges, Lou Reed and Television.  They’ve moved in a few musical directions over the years – stripped down for their early releases, overstuffed for the critically scorned “ Room on Fire” and minimalist but punchy on their most recent, “First Impressions of Earth.”

Monday: Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins, Berklee Performance Center – Spun off from the enigmatic Rilo Kiley, this band is Bobbi Gentry keeping Billie Jo’s secret, Miss Peggy Lee watching her house burn in “Is That All There Is?”  Rich harmonies infuse “Rabbit Fur Coat,” one of the best alt-Americana releases of this year.   Usually, bands like this don’t rise far beyond cult status, reaching wide audiences only by opening for more established acts.  It’s nice to see this deserving group headlining a decent room.

Tuesday: Carlos Ocasio, Canoe Club – The well-regarded leader of bands like Frydaddy and Gusano stops by for his 12th Canoe Club performance.  Solo, he plays Caribbean Quattro, delta slide blues, acoustic gospel and soul. Ocasio reminds me just how cross-pollinated the local music scene is.  He’s in two bands, and his band mate Wally Wysk plays with About Gladys, and recently became one half of Have Blues Will Travel.

Zune Wireless Doesn’t Do Much – Now

zune23.jpgVia Engadget, it appears that the 802.11b functionality built into Microsoft’s Zune player, due November 14, is pretty feeble. The song-swapping feature is hobbled by DRM, which itself is burdened by its exclusivity. As noted in this space and countless others, Zune utilizes a new encryption standard, and in the process orphans Plays For Sure and alienates countless content partners.

What’s in the wireless? Here’s a breakdown:

You can:

Search for and find other Zunes nearby.

Send songs / albums for the 3 x 3 trial. Songs past the three days / listens are deleted at next sync, but catalogued on your PC for record-keeping should you want to purchase them later. No word on whether Microsoft is going to keep track of which files are traded.

Send and receive image files for “unlimited viewing.” (Oh, so copyrighted images aren’t worth DRMing?)

You can’t:

Connect to the internet.

Download songs directly from the Zune store via WiFi.

Sync to your computer via WiFi.

What’s still not clear is whether the song-swapping feature is limited to Zune DRM’d songs, or if it works regardless of format. Because of the 3×3 shutdown capability, I’d say it’s just Zune format, but I could be wrong.

The Zune’s wireless capability could be used further down the road, a move that would be consistent with Microsoft’s actions on another platform. Comments Ashley Allen:

They put a network card in every Xbox and it was pretty much useless for the first year, but then Xbox Live came round and totally changed the whole market and then if you look at where Xbox Live started and where it is today… MS gave the people what they wanted.

I wouldn’t be suprised if features like WiFi on Zune access to the Marketplace, Zune Marketplace on 360, WiFi Syncing and such come along very soon. But at least it has the possibility to do these things in the future.

Another feature I’d like to see is yet to be discussed – using WiFi to access rich content on the Internet. Obviously it’s not there, since the only WiFi thing the Zune does is talk other Zunes.

So far, nothing about the Zune impresses me, apart from a nice display.