Posts Tagged ‘Conor Oberst’

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Fancy Plans Guide to Rock and Roll Vol. 11 – All Requests Version

October 24, 2009

After a slight delay, the Fancy Plans Guide to Rock and Roll has returned (slightly) with a handful of bands hot off the request line, which is located in your comment threads and ignored for long periods of time right here on this blog.

They say “All good things come to those who wait.” I really wish “they” would stop saying that. Enjoy.

CALEXICO

Calexico spy an under-tipping diner.

Calexico
As Americans channeling Mexicans and distributed by Germans, Calexico are the “domestic” auto of indie rock. While probably (perhaps even fiercely) American, Calexico are the sum of their foreign-made “domestic” parts, often raising the ire of Lou Dobbs, who normally shows no interest in recorded music, domestic or otherwise.

Following a twisted path through Giant Sand and Friends of Dean Martinez (neé Martin), Calexico gathered up its mariachi leanings and headed for the welcoming climes of Germany, where they recorded their debut album. Due to a translation error and general German good-natured obtuseness, they were listed as “Spoke.”

Having had enough of this foreign bullshit (except for the mariachi stuff), Calexico returned home and re-issued their debut under the correct name. They continued to build their reputation as an “unavoidable” live band by annoying diners throughout Arizona with their flashmob mariachi-ing, often in support of other confrontational groups like Pavement and Lambchop (the latter of which often broke building capacity codes as soon as they entered the restaurant).

They further cemented their pristine indie rep (and swelled their tip jars) by performing with such alt.rock luminaries as Lisa Germano(!), Naim Amor(?) and Nancy Sinatra(!)(indie?).

Having conquered the all-important “street cafe” scene, Calexico went on to conquer NPR’s tastemakers with their multi-cultural blend of interstitial music, which meshed well with the give-and-take of various left-wing pundits. While definitely critical successes in the US, their popularity grows exponentially overseas, which would seem to indicate it is time for Calexico to haul their big-brimmed and sequined asses across the drink and return to the glory of being “big in Germany,” which has worked for so many “fringe” artists over the years.

3rd Place - Donnie Darko Lookalike Contest

3rd Place - Donnie Darko Lookalike Contest

Bright Eyes
The brainchild of indie wünderkind Conor Oberst (whose parents mysteriously shorted him an “n”), Bright Eyes burst out of the Omaha scene much the way that anyone bursts out of Omaha: by stumbling badly right out of the gates.

Critics responded to his debut album (the redundantly titled A Collection of Songs Written, Recorded and then Burned onto Round “Compact Discs” and Perhaps Recorded to the Occasional Cassette to be Listened to By Listeners with Stereos and Walkmans and Whatnot, Maybe in Their Car, But This is 1998 So Possibly a Cassette: 1995-1997) with everything from abuse (allmusic.com: “…unintelligible babblings of a child”) to confusion (Omaha Star: “Supposedly music, but I’ll take the remaining members of Journey at the State Fair any day of the week, even without their original singer…”).

Two years down the road Bright Eyes release Fever and Mirrors which is heralded by Pitchfork as “an instant classic, which nobody but us have ever heard of.” Metacritic hails them as “Pending. Still waiting on 5 reviews.” Their “improved” sound is chalked up to a more mature sound due to the addition of instruments such as flute, accordion, clavichord, sousaphone and Ouija board.

Pretension now safely on board and loaded with multi-instrumentalists, Bright Eyes break into the mainstream as a much-heralded “new” artist, despite being in existence for nearly seven years (sort of like adopting a “starter” child). With this celebrated status (and sudden change in tense two paragraphs ago), Oberst and co. begin to reap the perkiest fruit of their labor. Called upon to provide support for a Springsteen tour, Bright Eyes were afforded the opportunity to play to a much larger indifferent crowd when not carrying luggage for the “Boss.”

Soldiering on, periodically releasing an EP or actual album every six weeks or so, Bright Eyes continued to refine their twin powers: bedroom electronica (as displayed on Digital Stems and Seeds on an Electric Ladyland Dust Jacket) and their slightly creepier bedroom acoustical work, which features Oberst sitting on the edge of your bed for hours at a time, alternating between chugging PBR, strumming softly on his guitar and quietly watching you sleep.

Hull's mobsters ranged from "pasty" to "nerdy."

Hull's mobsters ranged from "pasty" to "nerdy."

Housemartins
Straight outta Hull, the Housemartins were an English pop group with an infectious sound and a cheery outlook that combined Christianity with Karl Marx, thus ensuring complete rejection by both of their target audiences.

Formed by Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore who originally performed as a busking duo, (Ed. – Oh. My. God.) the two friends went on to add a few more members in an effort to attract an audience that preferred its musical ambushes came from the hi-fi rather than Tube platforms or duck ponds. Their most notable addition was superstar DJ Fatboy Slim, who agreed to put down the records and cocaine and play some unobtrusive bass under his given name, Beats Int’l Mighy Dub Katz Pizzaman Freakpower Quentin Cook the BPA Norman Cook.

Having ensured their place in history with the addition of their most famous member (added bonus: free remixes for life!), the Housemartins released their biggest (and only) single to date: Happy Hour. The single shot to the top of the charts, aided by a popular claymation promo video featuring the British counterpart to the California Raisins: the Hull Prunes, who spent the entirety of the video doing very British things like “trainspotting” and “bitching about the dole.”

Their next single, Caravan of Love, enjoyed exactly one week at the number 1 spot before being shoved rudely aside by Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite, which shows exactly what is both very right and very wrong with British musical tastes.

The single’s a cappella styling drew the ire of their biggest fans, prompting shouts of “Judas” during their completely unplugged gig at the Newport Folk Festival. Heaton was in turn prompted to stop the show and say, “Oh, so you’ve heard of him? Let me just take a moment of your time to give you the good news about Jesus H. Marx, who will free us from the twin oppressions of capitalism and rational thought. I would also like to address our growing trade deficit.”

The band split in 1988 but the members have remained friendly, often joining each other’s bowling/busking teams and dropping by while on holiday.

Axl often announced band firings through cleverly trimmed photos.

Axl often announced band firings through cleverly trimmed photos.

Guns N Roses
Formed by the common-law marriage of W. Axl Rose (born W. Oral Sex) and Tracii Guns (born Tracy Gunns), Guns N Roses tore apart the hard rock scene with their hard-charging riffs and dangerous behavior, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Rolling Stones still had their original guitarists and hips.

Perhaps one of the most important bands of ever (and your can drop “perhaps” if you throw “self” in front of “important”), GNR hit the fucking ground running with their debut full-length Appetite for Destruction. While the album itself was a hard-rock revelation, the album cover itself was much more memorable.

The original controversial cover, which featured the band members hanging around a stream in some sharp suits was met with complaints from record store owners, who refused to stock the “weak-ass nature bullshit” in the appropriate “Hard Rock” section.

After a hasty redesign, GNR presented Plan B, an album cover featuring them holding various doll parts whilst standing around in a butcher’s shoppe. Again resistance from record shop (or shoppe) owners was high, leading to threats of “brown bagging” the album due to its general “WTF-ness.” Various iterations were tried and rejected (naked prepubescent girl playing with a model, Slash surrounded by naked electric chicks, a naked 15-year-old hanging out at the park, someone smelling a glove, a robot rapist) before settling on the cover we all ended up with: a heavily stylized depiction of the band as a tattoo template.

As Appetite for Destruction took off, GNR toured tirelessly, inciting riots, destroying hotel rooms and, very occasionally, playing an entire set without storming off. As the band headed back into the studio for their followup, Axl decided GNR needed a new look. He issued a kilt to himself, a top hat to Slash and whiskey bottles and pink slips to the rest of the band. (Thus began the revolving door of GNR musicians, each of which Rose would herald as the band’s savior, until finally refining the group down to its only essential member: W. Axl Rose.)

In 1991, GNR released Use Your Illusion I and II, which was described as “bloated” (as double albums often are) and “mercenary” (as double albums packaged and sold as two distinct single albums often are). Both albums were chart toppers and featured several outstanding tracks, none of which I can think of off the top of my head other than November Rain, which clocked in a 8 hours and 56 seconds, often being the only video MTV had time to play between The Real World, Real World retrospectives and The Grind.

A rare shot from Rose's ill-fated foray into "faith healing."

A rare shot from Rose's ill-fated foray into "faith healing."

After the release of the now-prerequisite covers album The Spaghetti Incident?, which featured a rundown of their purported influences, none of which they sounded like, W. Axl Rose headed back into the studio with the remaining band member(s) for the next 15 years.

Although Rose appeared sporadically to announce that the album was “just around the corner” and “fucking awesome,” the LP was not released until November of 2008. Problems began when it became apparent that there were few musicians willing to work with Rose, whom the press had affectionately dubbed “an egotistical maniac.” Holing up in L.A.’s Up My Own Ass studios, Rose issued the honorable threat that he would not release any more music until there was “democracy in China.”

After a decade or so of dicking around, Chinese officials (in conjunction with the independent bottlers of Dr. Pepper) began to call his bluff, beginning with a series of trade embargoes targeted at various takeout joints and dry cleaners in the Hollywood area. As the lack of pepper steak and freshly pressed shirts began to erode Rose’s willpower, China stepped up the pressure, stating that while W. Axl Rose had a “proven track record in the music industry,” they had the “willpower of over a billion oppressed people, most of whom have been forbidden to listen to your music,” adding “not to mention a fuckload of tanks.”

To save face (and the independent bottlers of Dr. Pepper), Rose released the poorly titled Chinese Democracy to rave reviews such as “That’s hard rock, alright…” (Spin, Nov. 2008), “Sounds like Rose’s trademark vocal stylings…” (Bill’s Record Blawg, Dec. 2008) and “We’ve had this album for years…” (thepiratebay.org).

Rose announced through personal assistant Sebastian Bach that Chinese Democracy was the first in a planned trilogy, with the follow ups due to be released in 2023 (“weather permitting”) and 2038 (“…at which point I will likely be dead”).

The Pirate Bay (piratebay.org) invites you to “beat the rush” and check out these two fine albums today.

-CLT

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