Monday, August 06, 2007

Happy Birthday to Elliott Smith

Today, Elliott Smith would have turned 38. Were he still around, he might be readying the follow-up to From a Basement on the Hill. Or perhaps he'd be more focused on running the New Monkey studio, helping out L.A. musicians get their albums recorded in the highest quality while paying next to nothing. He might have married his girlfriend Jennifer Chiba by this time, and maybe they'd feel comfortable enough at this point to really start thinking about a family. Certainly, he'd still be focused on the charitable causes that meant so much to him, such as helping abused children find their voices through art.

Elliott made some great mistakes in his life, but what made up for that was the wellspring of compassion that he showed, to his family and friends, even to complete strangers, and to those who only knew of him from album covers and that voice on the headphones and that tiny guy sitting on a chair up on stage, not always getting every note right, but always getting the sentiment across perfectly.

When it comes down to it, were he still around, it wouldn't matter to some people, even those who love his music most, whether he was still recording new songs. We would just want to know that he's okay, because at this point he deserved it.

We miss you, Elliott. We're always going to miss you, and we still hope you're okay.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Lavender Diamond - Imagine Our Love review

Lavender Diamond - Imagine Our Love (2007, Matador Records)

Instantly, when I first heard the Lavender Diamond song "You Broke My Heart" I fell in love with it. That song just feels like the swelling of a heart until it bursts. After posting it on several message boards, I found that other people's reactions were either the same, or they vehemently hated it. Several gave stories about how terrible Lavender Diamond was as an opening act, I think for the Decemberists. Who knows which side you might come down on. In fact, I'm not even sure where Boone stands on them yet.

That song is not on this, their first full-length album, but Imagine Our Love does begin with quite a similar heart-thumper of a tune, "Oh No." This music is etheral, gorgeous and entirely heartfelt... and if for some reason or another, that doesn't translate to their live show, then fuck it. Just spin this album again, because it's a thing of beauty.

Handsome Furs - Plague Park review

Handsome Furs - Plague Park (2007, Sub Pop Records)

With Spencer Krug getting his kicks in with Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake, the other frontman of Wolf Parade, Dan Boeckner, had some time on his has, and thus we get Handsome Furs, his new project with his fiancée Alexei Perry. The result is nearly as strong as Boeckner's efforts on Wolf Parades Apologies to the Queen Mary. "Handsome Furs Hates This City," for instance, comes across only slightly less catchy than "Same Ghost Every Night." Perhaps there's nothing on par with "Shine a Light" on this record, but it's still worth grabbing if you like the Wolf Parade songs that sound like they were being sung by Beck.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mixtapes & Cellmates - A Retrospective review

Mixtapes & Cellmates - A Retrospective (2007, No Method Records)

Boone and I have both had an insatiable love for Sweden's the Radio Dept. for months now, so it's no surprise that I'm instantly head over heels for another Swedish synth-heavy pop band. It's in true spirit of bands like Joy Division that M&C can manage to create songs that are at once so reflectively mournful and dancibly catchy.

Here, their first two EPs have been collected on one album, so now's the perfect time to catch up!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cut the Chord’s Top Twenty Albums of 2006

As opposed to previous years where one of us posted a top ten and the other posted ten alternates, we decided to combine forces to create a top twenty list this year based on combining our individual long lists of favorites (which we might post later if you ask real nicely). The resulting list surprised us in a few places, but is a solid list through and through of CDs you need to buy right now.

So let's get to it...

1. The Long WintersPutting the Days to Bed (Barsuk Records)

John Roderick, interviewed here just recently, has created the Long Winters most masterful album to date, both in terms of its energy and its intimacy. "Ultimatum" is a scorching rock song that blasts off from the very beginning, but is also a tempered complex letter to a girl in which Roderick sings "I hope I can keep seeing you as long as you don't say you're falling in love." Roderick knows how to get across a lot of subtext in a few short lines, such as how he sets the scene in the opening to "Seven" where he sings "your new haircut is so unfamiliar, but they only know you that way" or creates a perfectly calibrated metaphor to describe a failing relationship in "Hindsight" with "I’m bailing water and bailing water because I like the shape of the boat." Sure, the lyrics sound depressing, but Roderick keeps the music upbeat, from the soaring horns on “Teaspoon” to the plucking banjo behind the acoustic “Clouds.” It’s the combination of the catchiest hooks and the nimblest lyrics we’ve heard this year that makes this our top album of 2006.

2. Tap TapLanzafame (Stolen Recordings/Catbird Records)

On the trail of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, British band Tap Tap is primed to be one of the true grassroots break-out bands of the year, given how Catbird Records having quickly sold out of their initial run of US copies of the CD with virtually no paid publicity. Their brand of rock is messy, raucous and wholly addicting, as exemplified by “100,000 Thoughts.” Furthermore, the spinning energy of “On My Way” makes for what by all means should be a radio hit if the word gets around enough. Also of note was the frontman Tommy Sanders’ other band, Pete and the Pirates, who released a comparably excellent EP this year called Wait Stop Begin.

3. SnowdenAnti-Anti (Jade Tree Records)

There were probably few others anticipating the August release as much and for as long as we were here at Cut the Chord, and the pay-off was great. When you hear the title track, you get it right away; the flurry of drums, the intense bass lines, the post-hipster lyricism. Snowden's hybrid of dance rock with shoegazer soundscapes makes them one of the most interesting new bands that you still have the chance to pick up on before your friends start recommending it to you instead. Be sure also to catch their intense live show if they come to your town.

4. The Sleepy Jackson Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird) (Astralwerks Records)

Luke Steele, the Brian Wilson-channeling genius behind Australia's the Sleepy Jackson, fulfills the promise of his debut album Lovers with this monumental pop masterpiece. Steele's melodies, brightly colored and soaring to heavenly heights, are unparalled in their inventiveness. Steele places the ups and downs of love in the fairy tale universe of gods, devils, witches and dragons but still manages to come down from the clouds for the gorgeous “Miles Away.” An impressive work of imagination.

5. The MindersIt’s a Bright Guilty World (Future Farmer Records)

Some indie bands just turn out pop rock record after record with catchy melodies, but not many give a sense of history and personality like the Minders do. Here's a husband and wife team struggling to keep recording, setting up their own home studio to keep plugging away, as frontman Martyn Leaper talked about in a recent interview with us, and creating albums that are timeless and ready to be spun over and over, from the rollicking "365" to the terrific solo on "Red Admiral's (Gonna Catch Me)" to the quiet acoustic "Saturday Morning" which captures the spirit of Elliott Smith both in the songwriting and the way it was recorded. Here’s looking forward to future albums.

6. The Radio Dept.Pet Grief (Labrador Records)

This Swedish dream pop band saw some much-deserved commercial success this year when several of their songs were featured on the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette. Pet Grief is the follow up to their masterful Lesser Matters and while is the sound is markedly different, synths and drum machines having replaced the fuzzy guitars featured so prominently on Lesser Matters, but the brokenhearted sentiment remains the same.

7. The RaconteursBroken Boy Soldiers (V2 Records)

Jack White of the White Stripes and CTC favorite Brendan Benson combined forces with two members of the Greenhornes to create a supergroup that brings out the best in all of them. The album's songs feel immediately familiar and reflect some of the best rock of the 70's (especially when Jack White hits Robert Plant's howl dead-on on the Zeppelin-ish title track). White and Benson trade vocals perfectly, never giving the listener a reason to question who is singing what. Even more impressively, their live shows have transformed these razor sharp pop songs into mammoth rock anthems worthy of the Who's Live at Leeds. You can snatch up the official bootlegs of their UK tour at to get the big picture.

8. Jenny Lewis with the Watson TwinsRabbit Fur Coat (Team Love Records)

Jenny Lewis has absorbed the spirit of country mainstays like Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton as she finds her true voice in her debut solo album. The album doesn’t so much contemporize the traditional country sound as it reminds us how contemporary that sound still is. Lewis is at her most fragile and revealing here, especially on a track like “Melt Your Heart.” Anyone who loved “I Never” from Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous will fall in love with this Mike Mogis/M. Ward-produced album.

9. TV on the RadioReturn to Cookie Mountain (Interscope Records)

We’ve been praising TV on the Radio since their first EP and this is just a continuation of their greatness. Despite signing with the major label Interscope, TV on the Radio hasn’t done a thing to water-down what’s the most unique multi-cultural sound on the current rock scene. Only TV on the Radio can create songs both as ethereal and erotic as the opener “I Was a Lover” or mix David Bowie seamlessly into the vocal mix on the track “Province.” This is at once one of the year's most challenging and ultimately satisfying albums.

10. Bound StemsAppreciation Night (Flameshovel Records)

For fans of the lush layered rock of bands like Broken Social Scene and the Wrens, this is your album of the year. This album combines many of the best elements of the current indie rock scene, from its Decemberists-esqe hyper-literacy to the Stars-like boy-girl trade-offs on songs like “Excellent News, Colonel.” The highlight is “Wake Up, Ma and Pa Are Gone” which builds to one of the most cathartic climaxes we’ve heard lately. Turn it up, shout along.

11. Joseph ArthurNuclear Daydream (Lonely Astronaut Records)

After a disappointing follow-up album, Joseph Arthur finally recaptures the haunting beauty of the best moments of 2001's Redemption’s Son on this album. Having gone through a lot in the last few years, from living in New York City when the tower came down to transplanting to New Orleans just to see that town decimated, Arthur knows heartache and his music captures every last bit of that, as he searches for beauty while hanging on the edge of oblivion.

12. The WalkmenA Hundred Miles Off (Record Collection)

Some have called this record a disappointment, though you can just throw that out the window. Bows + Arrows may contain several of the band’s best songs, but its herky-jerky loud-quiet-loud-quiet dynamic kept it from ever transcending the power of those individual songs. Here we have the Walkmen’s most solid, assured and consistent album to date, from the pulsating energy of tracks like “Lost in Boston” to the woozy delight of “Another One Goes By,” which only pales to us at Cut the Chord slightly because we were already so in love with the original version of the song by Marazin.

13. The Hold SteadyBoys and Girls in America (Vagrant Records)

Lead singer/songwriter Craig Finn has turned the everyday lives of youngsters and their drug and alcohol-fueled romances into something epic and universal. No band has sounded this good since Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, which tackled similar themes with the same wide eyed grandeur. The entire essence of this album is captured in the ballad "First Night" when Finn sings achingly about a girl named Holly who was "golden with barlight and beer" and the boys who "spit white noise" when they kiss. Characters bet on horse races to score drug money, have habits that start "recreational" and end "kinda medical," and have "massive nights" at "all ages hardcore matinee shows." Finn's narrative flows together like a Robert Altman film directed by Larry Clarke. It's one hell of an album.

14. The ElectedSun, Sun, Sun (Sub Pop Records)

Following up 2004's much more experimental Me First, Rilo Kiley's Blake Sennett has gone for a much more traditional Americana sound on this album, so much so that you can almost believe that it was recorded on the old mill pictured on the front cover. Think of it as his I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. The sound here is entirely authentic and somber from start to finish, with Sennett cooing lines of heartbreak like “I didn’t get what I want, so I just took what wanted me” on “Would You Come With Me.”

15. Band of HorsesEverything All the Time (Sub Pop Records)

Sub Pop caught singer/songwriter Ben Bridwell playing some dates with pal Sam Beam, the man behind Iron & Wine, and agreed to put out an album with him. The resulting debut album from Seattle's Band of Horses is both intimate and epic, projecting cinematic stories of mortality and heartbreak into listener's ears. Bridwell and Matt Brooke (formerly of Carissa's Wierd) sound like the Shins injected with a heavy alt-country rock dose of My Morning Jacket. “The Funeral” could very well be this year's indie rock anthem.

16. BeirutGulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing! Records)

Sometimes it's great to have a CD that sounds like nothing else among your shelves and shelves of indie rock, but that you still love. Somehow, a 19 year old kid from Albuquerque created a CD of what sounds like authentic Greek folk gypsy music, but infused it with just enough modern sensibilities to appeal to those of us that still spin Neutral Milk Hotel's two albums to no end. It's safe to say too that "Postcards from Italy" was the song of the year when it came to sending your friend that really great MP3 link you came across on your favorite music blog.

17. Arctic MonkeysWhatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not (Domino Recording Company)

Along with Lily Allen, the Arctic Monkeys received a monumental amount of press before their US debut. When a band manages to live up to the hype the UK press often heaps on new acts prematurely, it’s always a pleasant surprise. Singer/songwriter Alex Turner tells sordid tales of working class kids in London, their fights, nightlife and flings. Turner’s lyrics are sharp and witty (“there’s only new music so that there’s new ringtones”), moving from anger to amusement to sadness in a matter of seconds. Oh, and the band rocks. There’s nothing else to say about them. Buy the album.

18. Film SchoolFilm School (Beggars Banquet Records)

Following up their terrific Alwaysnever EP, Film School continues to create dense soundscapes that will reach every corner of whatever room you play this CD in. Mmm… and that’s all we have to say about this one. We’re a bit puzzled after doing the math that this made it onto our Top 20, but we do like it a lot. We’re just at a loss as to what to say about it.

19. JudeRedemption (Naïve Records, available on

If there's anything I could say negative about Jude's triumphant return with 2004's Sarah, it's that it just wasn't enough at about 30 minutes to sate those of us who were thrilled to see him finally return to the kind music he had been crafting before he got put through the major label grinder. Well thankfully, Jude is back again with an album that stretches to almost an hour, recorded entirely independently with friends. Here he's found his feet, able to record music as commercial as ever but still as honest and penetrating as his early work. You've hardly ever heard a song so intimate and personal as when Jude starts out "End of My Rainbow" singing "I wrote this song to keep from killing myself." Try to find something that starkly honest on any other pop record this catchy.

20. LilysEverything Wrong Is Imaginary (Manifesto Records)

The thrilling return of Kurt Heasley's ever-changing Lilys hasn't gotten much notice in the last few years. In fact, when CTC's Patrick C. Taylor attended a Lilys show earlier this year, he found to his dismay that the band nearly outnumbered the audience. Yet, Heasley continues to turn out brilliant records that blend pop, psyche and shoegaze into something that's endlessly listenable. It’s time that you catch up.

Honorable mentions:

There was certainly no shortage of great CDs this year. Ones that didn’t quite make the list include the Decemberists, M. Ward, Loose Fur, Lily Allen, The Changes, Adem, Kelley Stoltz, Yo La Tengo, (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope, The Dears, Math and Physics Club, Sunset Rubdown and Oxford Collapse.

Also, there were always the great albums released before 2006 but that just finally reached our attention this year like Hotel Lights, B.C. Camplight, P:ano and the Boy Least Likely to.

Catch you in 2007!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Record Store Owners of the World Unite!

Geoff Cooper owned and operated "db Cooper's Music & Video" for fourteen years (1992-2006). Considered by many to be Burbank's best kept secret, the shop specialized in vinyl records. Born in Los Angeles, Geoff was a founding member of "The Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band" and worked as a sound effects engineer for fourteen years at NBC prior to opening the store. He was also the recording engineer and mixer of Tryad's 1971 self-titled psychedelic folk album which now sells for astronomical sums on Ebay. Geoff, now retired, finally has the time to play his sax and listen to his massive record collection.

Geoff is a close friend and my own personal musical guru. He's turned me on to some wonderful artists and albums and I feel it is my duty to impose his impeccable taste and expertise on you, dear reader. I've asked him, as we'll ask other record store owners in the months to come, to talk a little about himself and the albums from his collection that he considers to be "the essentials."

I'll let Geoff take it from here.

I’ve been collecting LPs since the early 1950’s. Between the “Safeway Classics” at $.99 and the then RCA Record Club, by age 12 I had amassed 50 records all enthusiastically played on my “suitcase” record player. My interest in records continues to this day and I now have over 7500 LPs in my collection. My tastes run from Gregorian Chant to Reggaetone and most points in between. Only opera and “contemporary” C&W are not represented in my collection.

My first interests were in big band jazz and general pop. It was the 1950’s and rock was just emerging. Even then, I valued artists like Ray Conniff, the Kingston Trio, Ken Nordine, Percy Faith, Belafonte and Mancini, to name a few, more so than the likes of Elvis and the 1st generation of rock. I did have keen interest in the “novelty” hits of the time – Chipmunks, Nutty Squirrels, and Freberg send-ups. I flipped over “new” and “challenging” music then as I continue to do now.

In high school, my tastes expanded to “mainstream” jazz and I was buying Brubeck, Getz, Miles, Mingus, Monk, Kenton, Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley and Kenny Dorham records. College for me was the mid-1960s and the psychedelic era. The Seeds, the Association, Electric Prunes, Vanilla Fudge, the United States Of America (Joseph Byrd), along with Cyrkle, Simon & Garfunkle, Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the whole British Invasion scene were acquired and revered.

I was pretty broke in the 1970s and purchases were few but “essential.” It wasn’t until the 1980s when I worked at NBC that I had the funds to “go wild” at local record shops. A typical purchase was easily 30-50 LPs at a time, most often selected because of a specific artist or producer or side-man or label or song. I NEVER “auditioned” any LP I’ve ever bought and, luckily, was rarely disappointed.

In 1976 I was introduced to reggae. Pretty much discounted it at the time, but the attraction was to grow as Marley, Tosh, U-Roy, Toots, et al. continued to entice me with their revolutionary sounds. I went to Jamaica for the first time in 1978 and was instantly hooked, although it would be another 4 years before I was to return there. From 1982-1989 I went to the Reggae Sunsplash festival in Montego Bay armed with a high quality cassette deck (Sony TC-D5M) and two shotgun microphones with which I dutifully recorded each four all night performances each year. I was hooked. Reggae continues to be my passion, but I feed my need for diversity with a variety of styles. After a recent trip to Belize I’ve become interested in Reggaetone.

I’ve always programmed mixes of my favorite LP tracks. First on cassette, then reel to reel, and currently on CDs and DVDs. There aren’t many LPs that I play through in their entirety. Many have only 1 or 2 songs that I vibe to.

But which albums are my most essential?

At first it all seemed very obvious. But, being put on the spot to list the albums I could never live without, the process turned out to be quite daunting. I relish diversity and appreciate being teased and challenged by music. Based on a variety of criteria I therefore commit to the following:

Antol Dorati/Minneapolis Symphony Orch.1812 Overture (1958, Mercury)

This was the first LP I purchased as an 8th grader in jr. high school. I could not afford the entire $3.98 at the time so I made payments on this for 3 weeks until it was paid off. Not only the quality of the recording and the passion of the performance caught my attention, but the ensuing “documentary” on the recording of the canon and carillon were especially riveting to my young ears. It sounded so REAL! 25 years later, I became a recording engineer in NYC. This LP and others like; Sound In The Round, THE original stereo demonstration LP, complete with ping pong game; Word Jazz, Ken Nordine’s fantastic aural excursions backed by “progressive” jazz; and Zounds What Sounds, Dean Elliot’s technical triumph that blends big band with realistic and wacky sound effects – both funny and awesome. These and many others were fundamental teaching tools that led to my recording career.

Henry ManciniMr. Lucky Goes Latin (1961, RCA)

Thanks to the RCA Record Club, I was offered many Mancini titles, most of which I (that is, “Mom”) purchased. Mancini was a major force with such early hits like “The Blues and the Beat,” “Peter Gunn," “Mr. Lucky” and others. Mr. Lucky Goes Latin is my fave. Like all my picks on this list, this record was meant to be listened to from start to finish. Major players such as Shelly Mann, who leads the all-star augmented percussion section, are always present in Mancini recordings. Mancini’s arrangements are oh so very tasty! Authentic Brazilian instruments (timpanola) along with Laurindo Almeida’s brilliant guitar work combine perfectly to insure its position on my list. “The Sound of Silver” and the super-sonic “Speedy Gonzales” especially stand out.

Quincy JonesHip Hits (1963, Mercury)

Around the World and Birth of A Band precede this gem. 12 tracks of “soulful jazz hits” featuring Q’s “hip” arrangements and performances by some of the best players of the time makes this a “must." Side men represent a Who’s Who of 1963 jazz: Lalo, Milt Hinton, Ed Shaughnessy Clark Terry, Ernie Royal, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Jimmy Cleveland, Kai Winding, Melba Liston, Julius Watkins, Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Jerome Richardson, Seldon Powell, and many others. THIS was my Rosetta Stone identifying some of the finest jazzers ever! Most memorable were the presences of Major Holly (bass) and Roland (later “Rahsaan”) Kirk. Check out “Jive Samba” and “A Taste of Honey”. Better yet, like ALL on my list, play it in its entirety!

Laura NyroMore Than A New Discovery (1967, Verve/Folkways)

The lead track, “Wedding Bell Blues,” was a minor hit on both San Francisco and Los Angeles radio in the late summer of 1965 and I was drawn into Nyro's complex world and immediately fell in love with her and her approach to the “popular” song genre. The album revealed an artist who spoke directly to me on every level. Her unabashed openness and jazz infused songs have both delighted and haunted me ever since. I was lucky enough to see her on her 1st appearance in L.A. at the TROUBADOUR, 1966(?). Just her, a grand piano, and a red rose in a vase. So powerfully unassuming! Incredibly, Ms. Nyro continued on that high level until her untimely, bravely fought death. Here’s HER version of “Stoney End” along with 11 other compositions. “Lazy Susan” defies description. Haunting, lyrical, intellectual – all when she was only 19! She was a ground breaking, one-of-a-kind, humanistic genius who ruthlessly bared her soul as well as evoking sensations of tenderness and compassion. Throughout Laura’s career I was, and remain, a staunch champion of her. Only she stole my heart and only now am I a virgin, I confess.

Burning SpearMan In The Hills (1976, Island)

More so than any other reggae artist, Winston Rodney (the “Spear” in question) vibrated immediately with me. “It is good that a man can think for himself …..Exercise the thinking” – these lines literally changed my life. How could such fundamental, humanistic thoughts ever be put to song? Hypnotic rhythms and socially conscious lyrics make this mid-1970’s record an absolute “must”. Jah be praised! Spear did it! And still does! Nuff respect to brother Bob and all the reggae pioneers, but for the God’s honest TRUTH, there is none other than Burning Spear.

Harry BelafonteBelafonte At Carnegie Hall (1960, RCA)

You only need to have this set to have the ultimate Belafonte collection. Arguably the best “live” recording of all time and, (un)fortunately an album plentiful at virtually every garage sale or in the cheap bins at record shops. No need for any other Belafonte album if you have this. When first released, a local AM station played “Matilda” in its twelve minute entirety one afternoon while my mother and I were driving to the market. We were so stunned by what we heard that we pulled off the road to hear it out. Needless to say, that was my next purchase. Absolute definitive performances of his many, many 1950s hits and a display of his unbelievably electric connection with the audience. Be aware that the vinyl version is the only true complete document of this event. All CD versions have been butchered to one degree or another.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of InventionFreak Out (1966, Verve)

“Are you hung up?” “Who Are The Brain Police?” These were questions to be reckoned with. The shit hit the fan with this one. At the time, the M.O.I. was a voice and a sound that, to my ears, had never been heard before - Irreverent, studied, deceptively intricate, with deeply layered sarcasm, and downright honest concern for what was coming down at the time. Wowie, zowie! You’re probably wondering what the heck is going on here? I did play this for my parents and guess what? Well, at least they heard some of it. My Zappa collection now numbers over 40 LP titles by perhaps the most underrated consummate musician, composer, and contemporary philosopher/observer of the 20th century.

Edgar Varese/Darius MilhaudAmeriques and L’homme et son desir (1966, Vanguard Everyman Classics)

Difficult to NOT include Mr. Varese after having copped to my addiction to Frank Zappa. Varese’s influence on Zappa is pervasive. Groundbreaking avant garde works by both. My God, the utter exuberance of “Ameriques”, let alone the disconcerting seminal "Organized Sound," a term Varese coined in replacement of "Musique Concrete," which he disapproved of, along with “Poem Electronique” make Varese as exciting today as he was proclaimed at the 1958 Belgium Worlds Fair. Orchestral and concrete styles in Varese’s hands are deftly dealt with by the master. Milhaud, mentor of Dave Brubeck, among others, offers intricately devised soundscapes integrating South American rhythms and 20th century bi-tonalities into subtle and dazzling orchestral gems, unlike any other composer of the time. This LP showcases the talents of these two composers spectacularly! Also included on this album is "Pacific 231" by Honegger, which expresses his (and my) love of locomotives.

Thelonious MonkCriss Cross (1963, Columbia)

If only for the album cover! And Charlie Rouse (remember, I play sax)! What can I say? You might notice my bent towards the outré, evidenced in my previous picks. Thelonious also challenged me with his outrageous stylizations, especially of old “standards” which, when played by Monk, literally transformed them into something else! “Tea for Two” highlights his insightful interpretation of “standards”, completely dissecting this ditty into a Monk tour-de-force! At first you want to laugh, but ultimately his true genius hits you like a brick. Charlie Rouse’s tenor work is awesome. This LP ranks highly on my list.

Peter Tosh – Equal Rights (1977, Columbia)

Along with the Spear, my soul brother (we were both born the same day, 2 years apart), Peter Tosh, founding member of the Wailers, remains a voice of consciousness to all of humanity. The social and world issues that he so wonderfully crafted into song and verse ring as true today as they did over 20 years ago. The words! The sound! The POWER! With Sly and Robbie backing rhythms AND Bunny Wailer on board, songs like “Equal Rights,” “African,” and the timely “Apartheid” (refer to current “Blood Diamond” flick), this is by far Tosh’s boldest and most scathingly protest album of ANY age.

The ClashLondon Calling (1979, Epic)

Ah, the turbulent early 80s! Music was still groping for “the” sound. Mr. Strummer and the boys combined reggae with their own brand of Brixtonian punk, spiced it up with politics and morality, and set the stage for a host of “other” voices to be heard. This double LP set in my mind is an indispensable document of the times, both then and, sadly, now. 18 tracks include vintage cover versions of reggae classics “Revolution Rock” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” along with the title track and the anthem "Clampdown” – all make this album quite “essential.”

Yello You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess (1983, Mercury)

Oh, yeah! THOSE guys! Boris Blank and Dieter Meir, the international gambler and the techno-freak, who combine talents to produce some of the most outlandishly edgy pseudo-Dark-Starish romps that bombards the senses into submission – all done “tongue-in-cheek”. There is mischief in their creations. Dare to take the “Great Mission” down the Amazonas near Manaus, filled with piranhas, and you’ll know what I mean. Production and recording are elegantly textured and dynamically charged with energy and wit that only YELLO can achieve. The “moody” side of Yello’s music evokes the sinister/impish side of these guys. Do not discount the importance of Yello.

The Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas BandS/T (1974, Vanguard)

Admission. I’m on it and I like it. In 1972-73 there were two L.A. street bands worthy of notice: The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and the Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band. One could see them at the La Brea Tar Pits, the Music Center, the Century City Mall and the occasional supermarket opening. It was an all horn band (plus our “portable” bass drum) consisting of 3 or 4 trombones (depending on the sobriety of the brassmen) and 3 saxophones, myself being the tenor guy. With blessings from Dr. Demento (who wrote the liner notes in exchange for the band recording over a dozen special Demento radio IDs including the Dr. Demento theme to the tune of the all time classic "Pico & Sepulveda"), the band’s avowed purpose was to set music back 1000 years and one way we could was to reduce ANY tune to a 2/4 march. No one was exempt: Beethoven, Shirley Temple, Jimi Hendrix, Star Trek, Lawrence Welk, Richard Wagner, U.S.C., the Wizard of Oz – NOBODY, NOHOW. So, when a man we knew was owed studio time we ended up in a recording studio and came up with this. Who else would have dared to put “The Good Ship Lollipop,” “Hungarian Dance #5,” “The Beer Bottle Polka” and “Purple Haze” together along with 11 others, all performed Roto-style? Peter Schickele featured our “Rite Of Spring” (yep, not even Igor was exempt from "Rooterfication") on his NPR radio show a few years ago. By the way, our name was by committee and a couple of six packs - (we formed during the Christmas season of 1972 playing carols to unsuspecting shoppers at the prestigious Century City shopping mall, and we were an all brass band, and we really enjoyed ourselves – hence the name).

Thanks to Cut the Chord for the opportunity to formulate this difficult list. I kept it to 13 out of self-defense and to be very picky in my choices. I could go on to easily list another 50 titles that I would never part with but I’ve limited it to these absolute necessities.

No, Geoff, Cut the Chord thanks YOU!

Friday, September 22, 2006

EXCLUSIVE! Interview with John Roderick of the Long Winters!

We here at Cut the Chord have been obsessed with the new Long Winters album Putting the Days to Bed (released by Barsuk Records) for the last couple months now. So, we figured we would get in contact with Roderick so that he could answer a few burning questions that we had about the band and the new album.

CTC: Putting the Days to Bed struck me as a very confessional album. I think the best albums, where the songwriter really connects with the listener, share something in common, and that's a feeling of embarrassment on the part of the listener. Maybe embarrassment isn't the perfect word. Uncomfortable may be a better word to illustrate that feeling you get when you listen to Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Tori Amos's early albums, everything Elliott Smith recorded. Those artists and albums I just mentioned, and I would include Putting the Days to Bed with them even though its more of an up tempo endeavor, are uncomfortable listens. And that's a good thing, not a bad thing. You almost feel while listening that the artist has exposed themselves perhaps more than they intended to and that really creates an intimacy with the listener. Do you ever feel that way about records, and do you feel like your new one fits this description? What albums in your collection give you that uncomfortable-but-great feeling?

JR: That close familiarity is what I want from any art. The first time I saw Francisco Goya's Maja paintings I was embarrassed for myself, at how engrossed I was and how exposed I felt. Likewise the first time I read Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, or heard Elliot Smith's Either/Or.
I'm flattered that you feel that way about the Long Winters record. It's not something you can aspire to in your own work, you know? You just have to make the records that you're here to make. But it's great to hear people respond to them the same way I respond to the things I love most.

CTC: I'm struck by the vast difference between "Ultimatum" as it was on the EP, its richly layered acoustic approach, and the intense rock version on the album. Did you plan from the beginning to record and release two version? Was the music on the Ultimatum EP recorded at the same time as the album? Was there a different stylistic approach to each?

JR: There was absolutely no plan to make two versions. It was a very whimsical decision to rerecord it. I was playing a rocked up version one day in my basement, just to amuse myself, and thought "why not?" And why not indeed? It's funny how many people take that decision very seriously, some are almost offended while others are thrilled, choosing sides, pitting the one version against the other in a grudge match to the death. Redoing it as a rock song doesn't take anything away from the EP version, it's not a declaration of war against beauty, it's just a little bit of conversation between myself and myself.

CTC: This is your first album without Sean Nelson as a regular keyboardist (although I notice he still sings back-up on some tracks). I suppose he's focusing more on the much-welcomed revival of Harvey Danger. What kind of influence has he had on the band, and did going from a four member band to a three member band change the dynamic?

JR: Well, Sean was never a "regular" keyboardist, to be sure. He always asserted his influence much more in a live setting than on the records. He didn't appear at all on Ultimatum, and was by no means on every track of either of our first two records. None of that is to diminish his contributions, but only to point out that, in recording terms, he's on the new record pretty much the same amount that he's on Pretend to Fall. Sean was and continues to be a huge personal influence on me, and when he was in the touring band he absolutely transformed the experience for all of us, but he's always had tons of irons in the fire and was always careful to budget his time between many many projects. He doesn't tour with us now because of the reformed Harveys, but in most every other respect his involvement is unchanged.

CTC: It seems like the Long Winters are getting more exposure now than ever with this new album. What are your hopes with the success of this album and your long term goals in terms of your music and your career?

JR: I just want to the band's popularity to grow naturally, without any crazy or false surge of notoriety that brings a lot of doofuses into the tent. I'm afraid my "insult-comedy" style of on-stage banter isn't going to play very well to a bunch of soccer hooligans.

Lastly, we asked John to list a couple of favorites...

Albums: ZZ Top's "Eliminator"
Novels: Stendahl's "The Red and the Black"
Films: "Red Dawn"

If you want to download some Long Winters MP3s, you can visit the Long Winters website.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Things You Might Not Know About the New Elliott Smith Leaks

So, late last week, four more unreleased Elliott Smith songs turned up on the Basement Demos page of, labeled as so; “True Love,” “From a Poisoned Well,” “Let’s Turn the Record Over” and “Talking to Mary.” It should be noted that when Elliott Smith B-Sides’ site runner received these tracks, they were not labeled and the anonymous leaker did not provide song titles.

Blogs went abuzz straight away, and even Rolling Stone and Pitchfork caught on, but there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. So we’re going to tell you absolutely everything you need to know about these tracks.

First of all, we have discussed the track referred to as “From a Poisoned Well” here before. Elliott performed it live only once as “First Timer” before he updated the lyrics and recorded a more rock-oriented version. It was David McConnell who first mentioned to the unreleased track in an interview with MTV. However, despite the way he referred to it, the title is actually “From a Poison Well,” as it is sung in the song.

“True Love” was the holy grail of unreleased Elliott songs up until this point. I remember being the first person on the Sweetaddy message board to point out its surprising omission when the From a Basement on the Hill tracklist was first announced. As it turns out, those who were working on the release (Rob Schnapf and Joanna Bolme) were not able to find the finished vocal track until just soon after the Basement deadline had passed, and the family has since been unable to convince Interscope to release the song in any form.

Reportedly, this version of “True Love” is the one that Elliott recorded with Jon Brion, and given the rough mix and inconsistent lyrics of the vocal tracks on this recording, this leads us to believe that this is not the final version of “True Love” as it was completed by Rob and Joanna.

(UPDATE: Less than twenty-four hours after this article was posted, the final version of True Love leaked.)

“Let’s Turn the Record Over” had been the subject of much speculation since it was once referenced on Sweetaddy as an original song that was near completion at the time of Elliott’s passing. At the time before this leak, it was the only remaining Elliott Smith composition that fans were aware of but had not heard in any form. After the leak, one person on Sweetaddy revealed that “Let’s Turn the Record Over” has also been referred to as “Bonnie Brae.” It is unclear for now which is the final confirmed title.

Lastly, there is “Talking to Mary” which, despite being included among the Basement Demos, was not recorded during Elliott’s Basement sessions. Live performances of the song date back to 1995 when fans first began recording Elliott's shows. As you can hear on the studio track, once it ends, the first note of “Riot Coming,” also an Elliott rarity from around the era of the self-titled album, begins to play right before the track is cut off. It is possible, though there has never been any evidence or confirmation, that Elliott may have considered using this newly leaked track on From a Basement on the Hill, but it's clear that “Talking to Mary” is one of Elliott’s earliest recorded rarities.

There’s still plenty of Elliott Smith recordings that we have yet to hear, and that we hope to hear in the form of official releases rather than the result of further internet leaks. Kill Rock Stars, who released Elliott's self-titled album as well as Either/Or, is taking the cue by planning a Spring 2007 release of rarities that Elliott recorded in his years with that label. However, the bulk of his material recorded after that time is owned by Interscope, who have yet to publicly announce their intention for any further Elliott Smith releases.

We hope that Interscope will move forward with a release soon, because we are all eager to purchase a release that gathers the completed versions of songs like “True Love,” “Dancing on the Highway,” and “Stickman.” There’s still so many recordings from his last years that we have yet to hear, and we look forward to the opportunity to own them all.

Finally, for all you loyal CTC readers, here's an exclusively edited version of one of the newly leaked tracks...
MP3: Elliott Smith - Let's Turn the Record Over