The Lonely Minotaur

Music & Concert Reviews

The Music of Quentin Tarantino — August 6, 2019

The Music of Quentin Tarantino

And away we go….

Every Quentin Tarantino movie is a grand adventure and spectacle. Few directors command the respect, attention and globally admiration that Tarantino does. When he releases a film it’s appointment viewing. I can’t really say that about too many other current directors. Maybe Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan or Paul Thomas Anderson. Needless to say it is a short list of prime movie directors. This is no different than Tarantino’s 9th feature film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fading tv star named Rick Dalton. Best Pitt plays his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth. Together they toy around 1969 Hollywood trying to resurrect Rick’s struggling movie career while the Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski and Manson Family looms large in the periphery. It’s a new tone for a Tarantino movie and often very melancholy. It’s more Jackie Brown than say Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. This is very much a love letter to Los Angeles and the Hollywood Tarantino fell head over heels with as a young boy growing up in the city of Angeles. It’s also an excellent film worth repeated viewings for all the snappy dialogue, subtle LA references and Tarantino Easter eggs. 

With each new Tarantino film comes an eclectic soundtrack packed full with killer songs from yesteryear. Tarantino doesn’t just rescue fading Hollywood stars like John Travolta or Pam Grier or even David Carradine. He also exhumes lost musical nuggets that the hands of time have forgotten about. He’s done this over and over beginning with his very first film Reservoir Dogs going straight through to Hateful Eight. Songs like the George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag”, Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You”, Urge Overkill’s cover of “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”, Dick Dale’s cover of “Miserlou”, The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time”, Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” and The 5.6.7.8’s cover of “Woo-Hoo”. Each one of these songs re-entered the pop lexicon to tremendous success and lasting impact. Whenever you hear these songs they automatically transport you right back to his films in which they appear. Often times creating a perfect marriage of sound and cinema. That is part of the gift that is Quentin. 

The soundtrack to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood continues this time honored tradition. As the story goes Tarantino had two rules for the soundtrack. First, no songs could be included past the year 1969 and second the songs needed to be played on Los Angeles’ KHJ radio (AKA Boss Radio) in the summer of 1969.  He accomplished the latter by contacting tape trader communities who made it a hobby of recording popular DJs on KHJ throughout the 60s. He ended up with over 14 hours of material to comb through. Anything he heard on those tapes were in play to appear in the film. Tarantino zeroed in Paul Revere & the Raiders who in their own time were quite popular in the late 60s but have since been lost in the infinite shuffle of popular culture. Three of their songs feature in the movie including the extremely catchy “Good Thing” with its sunny day Beach Boys vibes. Also unearthed were Neil Diamonds’s gospel preacher anthem “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” and Los Bravos absolutely rollicking “Bring a Little Lovin’”. Those three tracks in essence make up the backbone of the film musically. I don’t think I have ever heard any of them prior to this film being released. Now I’m happy to have them living and breathing on my iPhone at all times. As an encore, Tarantino deploys Vanilla Fudges’ psychedelic freakout “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” during the film’s dramatic conclusion on Cielo Drive. Few do it better than Tarantino on a continual basis and this article doesn’t even touch on all the brilliant movie scores he’s borrowed and mixed in over the last two decades from old spaghetti westerns, vintage war films, defunct tv shows and forgotten Ennio Morricone compositions. That is a story for another time. For now enjoy Tarantino’s new film effort and the music he painstakingly selected for your listening pleasure.

 

All songs that appear in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood….

  1. Treat Her Right – Roy Head & The Traits (1965)
  2. The Green Door – Jim Lowe (1956), performed by Leonardo DiCaprio
  3. I’ll Never Say Never To Always – Charles Manson (1970)
  4. Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel (1968)
  5. The Letter – Joe Cocker (1970)
  6. Summertime – Billy Stewart (1966)
  7. Funky Fanfare – Keith Manfield (1969)
  8. Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – The Bob Seger System (1968)
  9. The House That Jack Built – Aretha Franklin (1968)
  10. MacArthur Park – Robert Goulet (1970)
  11. Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course – Chad & Jeremy (1968)
  12. Hush – Deep Purple (1968)
  13. Son of a Lovin’ Man – Buchanan Brothers (1969)
  14. Choo Choo Train – The Box Tops (1968)
  15. Kentucky Woman – Deep Purple (1968)
  16. Good Thing – Paul Revere & The Raiders (1966)
  17. Time for Livin’ – The Association (1968)
  18. Hungry – Paul Revere & the Raiders (1966)
  19. The Circle Game – Buffy Sainte-Marie (1967)
  20. Jenny Take a Ride – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (1965)
  21. Can’t Turn You Lose – Otis Redding (1967)
  22. Soul Serenade – Willie Mitchell (1968)
  23. Bring a Little Lovin’ – Los Bravos (1966)
  24. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show – Neil Diamond (1969)
  25. Hey Little Girl – Dee Clark (1959)
  26. Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon – Paul Revere & the Raiders feat. Mark Lindsay (1969)
  27. Don’t Chase Me Around – Robert Corff (1970)
  28. California Dreamin’ – Jose Feliciano (1968)
  29. Dinamite Jim (English Version) – I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni (1966)
  30. Out of Time – The Rolling Stones (1966)
  31. Straight Shooter – The Mamas & The Papas (1966)
  32. Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon) – The Mamas & The Papas (1968)
  33. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron – The Royal Guardsman (1966)
  34. You Keep Me Hangin’ On – Vanilla Fudge (1967)
  35. Miss Lily Langtry – Maurice Jarre (1972)
  36. Judge Roy Bean’s Theme – Maurice Jarre (1972)
  37. Batman Theme – Neal Hefti (1966)
Thom Yorke’s ANIMA: A Track-By-Track Breakdown — June 30, 2019

Thom Yorke’s ANIMA: A Track-By-Track Breakdown

This album was a solid four years in the making with a handful of mini tours previewing future material. Once again Thom teams up with producer Nigel Godrich as bandmate and creative partner. I feel fortunate that we are now in a phase when so many Radiohead projects are seeing the light of day. Between Thom’s new solo record ANIMA, last year’s film soundtrack to Suspiria, Jonny Greenwood’s film scores to Phantom Thread and You Were Never Really Here, to Phil Selway’s solo albums/movie soundtrack and Ed O’Brien’s upcoming solo debut due this fall. That is not to mention the Ok Computer mini disc leaks of early June and a heavily teased 20th anniversary Kid A/Amnesiac boxset reissue for October 2020. These are very happy times. Before you know it Radiohead will be gearing up for LP10. 

Traffic – ANIMA picks up where Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes seemingly left off. Very similar DNA on this track to many of those tunes and is also featured as the middle section of the ANIMA one reeler by Paul Thomas Anderson on Netflix. 

Last I Heard (…He was circling the drain) – Sonically feels like another version of “Interference” from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. A good thing in my opinion as that was a stand out song. Thom describes a dystopia of human sized rats and swimming through the gutters. 

Twist – One of the crown jewels of this record. A long time live favorite which exceeded all expectations on the record. There is even a call back to “15 Step” with children shouting “YAY!”. The real treat of this song is the three minute coda which was previously known as “Saturdays”. Definitively one of the best passages of music Thom has cooked up as a solo artist.

Dawn Chorus – A long time rumored Radiohead song with a mixed bag of fact and fiction surrounding it. Believed to be many other songs (“Open The Flood Gates”, “Wake Me Before They Come”) Thom performed live over the last decade but it ended up being none of those. A devastating beautiful spoken word track that looks back on a life worth living twice despite any hardships. One of the best keyboard melodies the man has ever committed to tape. Sounds like the older brother to “Glass Eyes”. Looking forward to this one live. “Dawn Chorus” is also the final song in the ANIMA one reeler which ends in a surprisingly romantic way for a Radiohead related project. A visually stunning finale to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 15 minute short. 

I Am A Very Rude Person – The most Radiohead like sounding song on ANIMA. Could easily have been on A Moon Shaped Pool. The first guitar notes of the album are heard here. Very heavy on the bass which translates into some fantastic grooves. The ending choir effects are a nice touch. “I have to destroy to create”. 

Not The News – A song that just makes you want to dance and give way to whatever impulses you might have. I consider this the lead single for the record despite not officially having one. An IDM banger. The orchestra swell mid song is truly hair raising stuff and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Jonny Greenwood was a part of that moment. This is also the opening montage to the ANIMA film project. 

The Axe – If the Black Mirror TV show had a theme song this would be it. Humanity vs. technology. Thom wanting to take an axe to our over reliance on technology reminds me of Pink Floyd’s warnings that “one of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces”. A real album highlight for sure. Nigel Godrich with some of his best production work.

Impossible Knots – On first listen this track sounds like Thom’s other side project Atoms For Peace. Great pulsating bass lines and cameo drumming by Phil Selway. Likely to be a favorite of many who listen to this record. 

Runwayaway – Beginning with guitar noodling that sounds like an outtake of Radiohead’s “These Are My Twisted Words” before morphing into its own unique creation. Thom even revisits his Quasimoto style vocals not heard since the Amnesiac days. The final moments of our journey through Thom’s dreamscape subconscious. Time to wake up….

Grade: A    (Thom’s best solo work by a wide margin)

The National Are Easy To Find — May 20, 2019

The National Are Easy To Find

As the story goes The National Had no intentions of a quick follow up to 2017’s Sleep Well Beast. Instead the band planned to take a year long break to rest up, spend time with their families and explore outside endeavors. That all changed with an innocent email from director Mike Mills shortly before the release of Sleep Well Beast. The email was an inquiry to see if The National would be open to work together on “something”. Be it a film soundtrack or more likely a music video. As fortune would have it the band was intrigued with the idea and loved the previous film work done by Mike Mills, specifically “20th Century Woman” from 2016. It wasn’t long before lead singer Matt Berninger sent Mills a Dropbox folder containing a dozen “in progress” National songs to get his feedback on any future potential between the director and the band’s unused material. Mills was moved and inspired by what he had heard. 

Out of this was born I Am Easy To Find in two very different mediums. One being a short 24-minute film of the same name directed by Matt Mills, staring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and backed by new music of The National. The second was a full fledged National album, their 8th overall, which was an emotional response to the film that Mills had created. Mills described the project as a “symbiotic relationship” where neither art form would exist without the other. Mills was even invited by the band to join them in the studio and serve as the album’s producer which terrified but also excited the film director as he had never been involved with music production prior. Mill’s biggest contribution to the sound of the new record was his ability to successfully mediate inner band politics on certain tracks, offering alternate arrangements and removing key guitar parts that might have seemed preposterous a decade before. However, the biggest changes and surprises were still yet to come.

The album opens with “You Had Your Soul With You” which immediately feels like a call back to the Sleep Well Beast until the 2 minute mark when something extraordinary occurs within The National universe. Gail Ann Dorsey of David Bowie fame enters the picture as a guest vocalist, sharing verses with Matt until the song’s rousing conclusion. Dorsey is the first of many guest female singers on I Am Easy To Find. She is further joined by Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Mina Tindle, Eve Owen (Actor Clive Owen’s daughter), Kate Stables, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus throughout the course of this 16 track Odyssey. In an almost unthinkable fashion, Matt Berninger and his powerful baritone vocals, take a backseat letting the beauty of his female collaborators voices take over and help transform the band into an almost unrecognizable state of existence. The results are positively breathtaking in scope as Matt never sings any songs completely on his own and many times he is merely harmonizing. In addition there are two instrumental pieces, a choir led track and even a free form spoken word passage called “Not In Kansas”. These are uncharted waters for a 20 year old band to fool around in but at the same time it is an exhilarating listening experience proving it was well worth the swim in the first place. 

Deep down all the National’s hallmarks still remain. The brutally honest lyrics by Matt Berninger and wife Carin Besser, the identical twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on dueling guitars, the steady bass lines of Scott Devendorf and the brilliant percussion work by his brother Bryan Devendorf. All of it coming together to create some of the best material the band has cooked up yet: “Quiet Life”, “Oblivions”, “I Am Easy To Find”, “Where Is Her Head”, “Lights Years” and the beloved live classic “Rylan” are all stellar. For years National fans clamored for its release dating back to the High Violet days but with each subsequent album and passing year it did not appear. It is pretty safe to say this song had become The National’s own version of Radiohead’s “True Love Waits” which also began its life as a live favorite in 1995 before finally appearing on A Moon Shaped Pool in 2016. It merely took the right project, at the right time, with the right person (Mike Mills) pushing for it to become a reality. 

Where The National go from here is anyone’s guess? We do know that the band now consider themselves a collective hive of different artists coming together, from family to friends to even Hollywood directors, to create beautiful pieces of music that aim to transcend just musical boundaries. The National have said they are not done with Mike Mills and Mike Mills said he is not done with the band. They even consider him a 6th member of the group at the moment. It is invigorating to see the band inject this much life into its system after almost 20 years together and that has resulted in a very rewarding ride for its fans. If you are new to the band go and buy I Am Easy To Find. You won’t regret it.

Get to know Wand — April 24, 2019

Get to know Wand

Truth be told 5 days ago I hadn’t heard a single note played by this band. Seen the name written many many times over the last 4-5 years but never took the time to click play on any of their music. That all changed with Laughing Matter. It’s been said that Laughing Matter is nothing like the roads previously walked by Wand. They have slowly evolved out of their psyche folk rock skin into meatier guitar licks and a new found art rock direction. I will still go back and check out their earlier material because like this album, they’ve all gotten pretty solid thumbs ups across the board but I’ll save that for another time. This album has been compared to mid 90s Radiohead so often in the last week that it now feels extremely cliche to write about that angle. Let’s just get it out of the way. Wand are not Radiohead. Not even close. Are they inspired and influenced by them? Sure. I think that is a safe bet. Does anything actually sound like The Bends or Ok Computer? No. Not really and that is ok. Wand are making smart, dark sophisticated rock music (hence the Radiohead allusions) in a world that is seemingly losing that kind of magic on a daily basis. Does anyone remember guitar solos anymore?

To my ears the only track that remotely sounds like Radiohead is the arpeggio guitars running throughout “Thin Air”. Outside of that I think many listens are reaching and looking to fill that Radiohead void as the band is in the middle of a lengthy hiatus. Laughing Matter is a double LP that is all over the map in the best ways possible. You have the harder hitting rockers in “Scarecrow”, “XOXO”, “Walkie Talkie”, “Wonder”, “Lucky’s Sight” that are supported by a handful of gentle and lush compositions in “High Planes Drifter”, “Rio Grande”, “Wonder (II)” and the sprawling 9 minute epic “Airplane” that features one of the best guitar ending meltdowns of the last few years. Reminds me of some of the guitar work done by Jeff Tweedy on Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. Mixed in throughout this record are some relaxing instrumental passages called “Bubble”, “Hare” and “Tortoise” giving the listener a bit of a reprieve before lead singer Cory Hanson and company continue with their onslaught of “music from the ashes of a world that can no longer suffer its human abusers, to inspire us to hold the spirit close and do what’s next” as their record label describes this LP’s mission statement. 

Interestingly the album comes to a close with a song titled “Jennifer’s Gone” that completely pays homage to the spirit of Lou Reed in his Velvet Underground days. Definitely not the type of song I would have been expected to pop up on this record after an hour of solid alt rock offerings. Not that it is bad in anyway, its actually very excellent. This song feels like it could have easily been on last year’s album I’m Bad Now by Nap Eyes. I guess the band wanted to give some sort of tribute to the late great Lou Reed. All in all Laughing Matter is offering up a lot of well written material that covers a ton of ground and makes you really appreciate the lost art of the album format. In a musical landscape that is constantly embracing and pushing solo artists, Wand make it cool to be in a band again. Go pickup, download or stream Wand’s Laughing Matter. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll probably even tell your friends about them. 

Happy 20th to Blur’s 13 — March 7, 2019

Happy 20th to Blur’s 13

In the late 90s, lead singer Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon both were struggling to exorcise their demons. Albarn was going through an awful breakup with girlfriend Justine Frischmann of Elastica fame meanwhile Coxon was battling alcoholism. Deeper down however, the relationship between Damon and Graham was also beginning to fall apart permanently. Both men would channel their primal screams into one of the best albums that Blur ever recorded and also one of the last great albums of that decade. Blur began to dismantle their BritPop sound on their previous self titled release in 1997. That album featured many lo-fi tracks, dirty guitar licks and a fascination with the Pavement sound circa Slanted & Enchanted. On 13, Blur went even deeper down into the rabbit hole of creation taking all of us loyal listeners for a wild ride.

This was the first Blur album to not have producer Stephen Street at the helm. Street had been the point man on the previous five albums. Instead the band elected to have renowned electronic producer/musician William Orbit handle the control desk to help push the group to even more cerebral palettes. The album opens with what might very well be the crowning achievement of Blur’s career, an acoustic driven gospel stomper called “Tender”. The song just keeps on building momentum until becoming a giant and joyous singalong with both Damon and Graham sharing vocal duties. I have long considered it the “Hey Jude” of the 90s. Blur have a real knack for starting their records with killer tunes (“For Tomorrow”, “Girls and Boys”, “Beetlebum”) and 13 is no exception.

Prior to 13, Graham Coxon had only sung lead vocals one time on the heart breaking “You’re So Great” from 1997’s blur. He delivers another one of Blur’s all-time knockout tracks “Coffee & TV”. Coxon sings of his mundane lifestyle while trying to beat alcoholism and find a peaceful balance in his life. It is truly one of the few bright sunny spots on the album musically. The track features one of Graham’s best distorted guitar solos reminding us all that he could slay with the best of them regardless of his physical or mental state of being.

Blur’s sixth album very much feels like a testing ground for Damon’s upcoming experimental adventures with Gorillaz the following year. Songs like “B.L.U.R.E.M.I.”, “Battle”, “Trailer Park” and “Trimm Trabb” drift in electronic directions previously unseen by the band. This was a band no longer content on being a modern day Kinks. They wanted something more, something different, something better even as inner band tensions remained high. Granted Blur didn’t completely abandon their guitar identity, Graham’s mighty thrashing is all over the record like on “Bugman”, “Swamp Song” and “1992”.

Blur were basically attempting what Radiohead would later accomplish in grand fashion one year later on Kid A, A complete tear down of everything that came prior. Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave were shapeshifting sonically but they were also destroying the BritPop image the group had become synonymous with ever since Parklife in 1994. We all know Damon was singing about Justine on “No Distance Left To Run” but he might as well been singing about the entire Blur mission statement up until that point. This was an album about letting go of the past, coping with the present and trying to find new ways to forge ahead both musically but also on a personal level between band members, friends and lovers.

I’ve recently tried to buy 13 on vinyl but was very surprised to learn that it is almost impossible to find! It’s out of stock on Blur’s official website. It isn’t available on Amazon and the prices on eBay hover in the $200-300 range. You can locate it on Discogs for $30 plus another $30 in shipping fees! Total madness. Every other Blur album is so easy to come by. I’m not sure why 13 is the difficult album to get a hold of. It was reissued in 2012 like all the other records. Perhaps it just has that big of a cult following 20 years later as people now realize what a masterpiece that album really is. For me this is where the Blur that I grew up with in high school during the 90s officially ended despite releasing Think Tank in 2003 minus Graham and eventually reuniting a decade after that. The great Blur swan song is actually 13 and a damn fine way to cap off an amazing artistic run. Now if I could only just find a vinyl copy….

Why I Hate Bruce Springsteen…………fans. — March 2, 2019

Why I Hate Bruce Springsteen…………fans.

Allow me to go on a rant for a moment or two. I’ve reached the point of my adult life where other people’s Bruce Springsteen fandom has started to drive me up the wall. Be it co-workers, friends, family members or strangers in a coffee shop, his legion of die hard fanatics are imbedded throughout what seems like the fabric of America. I am not really sure why either. Springsteen has not released a proper studio album in over five years. It has probably been a solid two plus decades since he made anything truly relevant creatively or culturally. I blame a lot of this “in your face fandom” on his recent Broadway show run. I know a lot of people who have attended (for vast sums of money) and let you know over and over how magical the experience was. I’m sure it was a good time. I personally am not spending that type of money (upwards of $500+ a ticket) to hear songs from 30-40 years ago. An acoustic guitar, piano and some rehearsed storytelling won’t change my mind either on that front.

It is not just the Broadway residency. His fans are constantly promoting and telling you how extraordinary of an artist and performer he is. I’ve seen him live once back in 2012. It was a 3 hour plus show. He played a bunch of hits. I had a good time. Nothing more, nothing less. He ended the night with a cover of “Twist & Shout” which I thought was not necessary when he has a very deep catalogue of his own to pull from. Be that as it may, I wouldn’t go around fawning over a guy in his mid 60s playing to a stadium full of retiring baby boomers. Perhaps I am missing something? I do like a handful of his albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Born in the U.S.A. and my personal favorite of the bunch, Nebraska. Those are some damn fine albums. Sprinkle in some other standout tracks in his career like “Badlands”, “Hungry Heart” and “Born To Run” and you can see why people are so passionate about him. A lot of that ended in the 1980s though as Bruce has slowly drifted into legacy act status. Oh sure he’s pounded out a good tune here and there, songs like “Streets of Philadelphia”, “Missing”, “The Fuse” and “The Wrestler” spring to mind. I’d even say I like the poppy “Radio Nowhere”. Yet so many of his legions of fans think and believe his recent album output ranks up there with his late 70s to early 80s run. That simply isn’t the case, at least in my eyes. It has been very uneven and basically Dad Rock.

Springsteen fans remind me of that classic Onion article from 2001. The one with the teenage kid “discovering” Led Zeppelin and has to let everyone know how amazing and cool they are throughout every facet of his day to day life. That to me is the type of Bruce Springsteen fan I’ve been running into more and more over the last decade or so. Springsteen is a classic American rock God. No one would ever dispute that claim but do I need to hear it all the time as if he is still 28 years old pumping out legendary albums on a continuous basis? I think not. Maybe dial back the outward enthusiasm by 20 to 30 percent. I say this as a man who was born in Freehold, New Jersey, Bruce’s hometown. Hey, maybe that is the reason for this rant. I just run into too many of his disciples growing up in his backyard. Whatever the reason, enough is enough. It is almost Billy Joel fan annoying but that is another story all together….