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Friday, March 21, 2014

Best of March 2014- War in Drugs (pun intended)

There have been several superlatives and endless articles on America's "War on Drugs."  I can still remember those Nancy Reagan ads during morning cartoons imploring us to "Just Say No."   The "This is your brain on drugs" spot still resonates to this day.  I am curious how my 11 year old would view those commercials.  It is clear the drug problem still exists.  My affluent Northeast suburbs high school kids are very much active in the prescription pills and heroin game.  And that game is serious.  The Reagan's were talking about coke/crack and maybe a little weed back then.  And by back then I mean like 30 years ago.  This is not exactly recent history.

How is that war working out anyway?  Should we ask Philip Seymour Hoffman?

Too soon?

Fact is this country, and in particular Generation X and their offspring, might be pushing back just enough to start making a difference.   It is bad enough we are losing lives and countless billions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Do we need to be throwing more bad money on fights we are unable to win.

This is not to belittle the efforts and/or noble reasons that put us in this uneasy position to begin with.

Is it bad/dangerous/irrational to take illegal substances?  I think we can all agree that yeah, you could probably make a better decision.  But sometimes a night out smoking a couple bowls or snorting lines of coke is an easier (and way more fun) way to go then, say, a spinning class and tofu burger.  And don't judge!  Chances are you or someone very close to you had a slip up not that long ago.  Maybe even last night.  We are a flawed group of humans.  Sometimes, ok, lots of times, we need a little help getting through life's twisted sense of humor.  Shame on us.  But let's get us all help and make some sound fiscal and legal decisions based on our inability to think clearly.  And if we are only hurting ourselves and not endangering others what exactly is the issue?

Look to Colorado and Washington state, will you?  Marijuana has been legal for recreational use for several months now.   They both have not gone into disarray.  I don't remember reading about recent mass murders there.  Looting, to my knowledge, has not been occurring.  Things seem to be pretty much as they were before they became "green" states.  Except for maybe one thing.  The states are seeing enormous revenues from their decision to legalize a plant.

We are a nation of beer drinking, gun toting, football loving, meat eating, gossip hungry, miscreants.  And that is on a good day!

Why are we still arresting and incarcerating non-violent drug addicts?  It is Friday night and I am thankful.  But a part of me is thinking about all the folks buying liquor right now.  An how many more will be operating vehicles after imbibing.    

Anyway, that is it.  The ramblings of a jaded, middle aged man who thought it would be clever to rant about what he visions as an absurd cultural pattern.  Oh, and the "war" happens to share the same name as the incredible Philadelphia based rockers he saw Wednesday night at Bowery Ballroom.

"The War on Drugs," meet The War on Drugs.

The War On Drugs, 3.19.14 Bowery Ballroom, NYC
Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile were fast friends after meeting in Philadelphia a little over 10 years ago.  They shared a musical inspiration in Bob Dylan and their similar styles are evident in their recorded work.  They both love brooding guitars and mumbled, yet cogent vocals.  For a while they were in a band called The Violators.  They formed The War on Drugs soon after and right before the release of their debut record Vile departed.  You can't blame him.  His solo stuff, in particular last years Waking on a Pretty Daze, have been spectacular.  

But before you bury Granduciel as the "less successful" part of the duo...  go listen to The War on Drugs recently released 3rd record, Lost in the Dream.  Better yet, go hear them play it live.  

Wednesday night, at Bowery Ballroom,  they started a sold-out 3 night stay in NYC (3.20 at Bowery and tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg. )

As far as I am concerned there was only one thing wrong with the evening.  For an old stiff like me Wednesday evening concerts (ok, Sunday thru Wednesday concerts) require a Herculean effort.  And I might have, like 5 Herculean efforts in me for the year.  That is down from the 7-8 I had last year...  and 10 or so I had 5 years ago.

It's tougher still for my better half who worked an entire day and met up with us around 6 for dinner and drinks.  But I get it, rock and roll is a young kids game.  More than that, it's a City game.  Adam and his band are not concerned with soccer moms and PTA meetings.

Nor should they be.  But I would hope they understand they have some fans out there who would desperately like to see a full set.  Starting a set at 11:10pm on a school night is tough man.

What makes it tougher is when the act comes out and lives up to the hype that has followed their records release.

Granduliec's is not a virtuoso on guitar.  But his instruments sound evokes 80s Don Henley and the best of Mark Knopfler.  Incorporating a bass sax adds a little Tina Turner shirtless Thunderdome guy to the mix.  And let's not forget Dylan...  because the vocals share more than a passing resemblance.  Not the Rainy Day Woman Dylan either.  More like the 1987 Fiona film Hearts of Fire Dylan.

The new album is full of slow builds, and a The War on Drugs concert is a refreshing works cited page.    It took a few songs to get loose.  But around the third song the band took it out of 1st gear.  "An Ocean In Between the Waves" and "Under the Pressure" were both celebrations of controlled chaos.   With the bass sax and jazzy drum beat they run the risk of sounding like a high school talent act.    This is rock and roll though.  The kind that, even on a Wednesday night in rainy NYC, makes it all worth while.  The kind that hits you right in the gut... and makes you move around a bit.  The kind that far too many people will never hear about, let alone hear.

This space will continue to tout many artists like The War on Drugs.  It was the longest winter known to man, but it's over.  With spring comes the hope that good things are coming.  Green grass, days at the beach, and Mets losses.

And music.  Sweet, sweet music.

What shows you seeing this summer?  Which album have you been playing on repeat?  Where the hell is that Malaysian Airlines plane???

Here are this months picks.  Don't forget to like us here and follow us here.

Cloud Nothings "I'm Not A Part of Me"

Cleveland, OH lo-fi, post punk kids 4th LP, Here and Nowhere Else, is scheduled for an April Fool's Day release.  But do not be fooled by their simple, but aggressive style.  Sometimes a few power chords and raspy vocals are just what the Dr ordered.  The first single is full of fury.  Dylan Baldi (vocals/guitar) does not have a unique voice.  Bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz are not re-inventing the wheel in their rhythm section.  But darn it the hooks are catchy and this song is super fun.  They hit the road to support the album this spring.  Check em out if you can:  Cloud Nothings official site

Sylvan Esso "Coffee"

It is March, so Durham, NC is always big in the news.  But this duo, not the Duke Men's Basketball program, is what has my attention.  Amelia Meath is the sultry vocalist behind this synth heavy ear worm.  Nick Sanborn is the producer/arranger/synth man.  The forced "My baby does the hanky panky" lyric is ridiculous, I admit.  But there is something here that has me wanting more.  Is it the strength of the vocal?  The easy keys that make me wish this winter would end?  The title?  Who does not like a nice cup of joe?  Whatever it is, I can root for it far easier than Coach K and his pituitary cases.

Future Islands "Seasons (Waiting on You) live on Letterman

These folks got their start in NC too...  Greenville to be exact.  They call Baltimore, MD home now.  Their new LP and recent stint at SXSW are buzz worthy, if for lead singer Samuel Herring's stage presence and antics as much as the music itself.  This clip and song from David Letterman are terrific indicators of both.  Herring's voice is reminiscent of Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals.  His moves like Tom Jones.  He is worth watching...  especially for Letterman's reaction.

Speedy Ortiz "American Horror"

Hard not to like a band who defines themselves like this:  "we play shows and eat stuff."  If Liz Phair still made music, or more specifically music with an edge, it might sound something like this track.  Massachusetts native Sadie Dupuis started this act as a solo project in 2011.  Their debut record, Major Arcana, was released late last year.  This guitar heavy, grunge inspired song has finally made my radar.  Maybe it will find yours too.

Ray LaMontagne "Supernova"

You always know when Ray LaMontagne is singing a song.  His earthy rasp is recognizable.  So too is his songwriting.  This single, from his upcoming LP (Supernova) is more light than most of his work.  There is more hope and joy than you might expect.  And that is a good thing.  For someone who has a reputation for throwing fits and having some pent up anger, perhaps he is softening a bit in his older age.  Old?  He just turned 40.  Hell I can relate.  I heard Joan Rivers tell Louis C.K. "things don't get better, but we do."  I think that might apply here- to the musician and listener.

Quilt "Tie Up the Tides"

The third New England band in a row here...  Ray LaMontagne is a Maine boy via New Hampshire.  Quilt is a Boston trio.  Not much else is known via the inter web.  They released a self titled LP in 2011.  A new record is forthcoming and this track will surely appear.  It is 60s inspired pop with more synths than guitar.

Sharon Van Etten "Taking Chances"

Ms Van Etten has a new record coming out soon, Are We There?  Perhaps I only like her because she grew up in Clinton, NJ and now calls Brooklyn home.  She got out!  And is living where I would like to and making music!!  Score.  Her voice, especially here,  has a PJ Harvey meets Thom Yorke thing- ya know, like their brilliant collaboration "The Mess We're in"  It has a grittiness, and dare I say sexiness.  Or is all because of the organ that is featured prominently here.  Did someone say organ?  Ugh, it's been a long week.

Lykke Li "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone"

Swedish songstrees Li is also releasing an LP later this year.  The word is it is power ballad heavy.  Judging by this first release I can see that.  Her concert a few years ago was an eye opener.  This girl brings it.   Good old fashioned love song here.   Somewhere a teenage girl has her Beats on listening to this and crying that Johnny Football didn't ask her to the Spring formal.  Or, in this case, a dorky middle aged man is listening on his beats in his local coffee shop.

Youngblood Hawke "Pressure"

Youngblood Hawke, the LA rockers, headlined one of my least favorite live shows in recent memory. It wasn't all their fault.  The venue sucked.  It was too cold for a spring day.  We ran into a rat colony on the street walking to our car.  Bla.  Bla.  Bla.  Perhaps I will not forever stay bad at the band for the litany of things that went against them that night.  This new single, although super derivative, has juts enough to keep you humming along.  Clearly its roots are in 80s John Hughes movies.  Approved.

Polica "I Need $//So Leave"

Synth pop Minneapolis act that leads with vocalist Channy Leaneagh (and can just stop there.)  Soft sounds not unlike Sia and Zero 7.  As elegant and lovely a song you will hear.  Please enjoy.

The War On Drugs "An Ocean Between the Waves" live from Philly 3.14.14

See above.  A highlight on an album of highlights.

Lo-Fi kids from Ohio- Cloud Nothings

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