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july 2011

Well what do you know——after years of teasing, the Cool Kids have finally released their official debut album, When Fish Ride Bicycles. It isn't quite the Chinese Democracy of hip hop, but every year since their debut EP, The Bake Sale, came out in 2008, they promised a full=length (although oddly, the EP was 10 songs and the album is only 11), and while each year they would deliver new songs in the form of free mixtapes, they never got around to releasing an actual album.

But it's here now, and only available on iTunes——no physical release, and no digital release elsewhere (at least not yet).

When I bought my tickets to see the Pogues earlier this year, a big motivator was the opening band, Titus Andronicus, who are one of my favorite recent bands and who I'd never seen live. It seemed like a dream pairing, and afterwards it was clear that Titus Andronicus really stole the show. So it was a little disheartening an article about frontmant Patrick Stickles' experience on the tour, which included the following quote:

It made me furious throughout. I didn't think that we were treated at all with the respect that we deserved, not even the respect as saying "we're an important punk band," but respect that we're human beings.

I mean, I know the Pogues are just doing these tours for the money, and that some members (like singer and focal point Shane McGowan) are barely able to make it onstage every night for two weeks straight, but I've seen the band every time they've come back the US since 2006, and although the set list doesn't vary much from tour to tour, they were always a great show.

Pairing with Titus Andronicus, who have obvious musical and thematic affinities with the Pogues, seemed like a genius idea, and it actually made for the best overall show I've seen in the four times I've seen the Pogues. It's just too bad that, at least according to Stickles account, the match didn't mean much to the Pogues themselves.

"A Rushing", the final song in 50 Foot Wave's new EP, With Love from the Men's Room, has been uploaded to the band's Cash Music site, and as always, it's free. I like the aggressiveness of Kristin Hersh's 50 Foot Wave stuff, especially compared to her "solo" stuff (she's always at the center of the songwriting process for all her bands), but I'm really looking forward to the new Throwing Muses songs she's been working on for the past six months or so.

Speaking of Kristin Hersh: you must read Rat Girl. Immediately. I'll have a longer entry on this book at some point, but it doesn't matter whether you like her music or not, you will love this book. It's ostensibly a memoir about the pivotal year in her life when Throwing Muses recorded their first album, she got pregnant and gave birth to her first child, and she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But it's one of the funniest and most lively things I've read in years, and you need no familiarity with her to see the genius in this book.

This is a month old at this point, but here's a link to download "Romance", the first single from the debut album of Wild Flag, the indie girl supergroup featuring two former members of Sleater-Kinney. Looking forward to the full-length in September.

I haven't bought new CDs in a long time, but it's not because there aren't any albums out there I want. Right now, if they were available physically in the US, I would have already bought Patrick Wolf's Lupercalia, Wu Lyf's Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, and Yacht's Shangri-La. But they are only available on CD via import, even though they've been released electronically on the major services in the US.

I had a similar problem with two other releases earlier this year: the Streets' final album, Computers and Blues, and the Wave Pictures' Beer in the Breakers. They were both available electronically for under $10, and only available physically as imports for about $22 each. I decided to purchase Computers and Blues in the physical format because the other four Streets albums I own are all on CD, and it seemed right to have their final work also in the format. Beer in the Breakers, on the other hand, was my first experience with the Wave Pictures, so I was more willing to take a risk on an electronic version of the record given the severe price differential.

I'd really like to own the Patrick Wolf and the Yacht in their physical forms, since those releases will be the third from each artist that I've purchased, and the two that I already own from each are in CD format. The Wu Lyf I'm more willing to buy digitally, but for some reason I've lumped it in with the other two and I'm waiting to see if a US distributor will release it physically in this country by the time someone picks up the other two records.

If none of them get a physical release sometime in the next month or so, I'll probably pick up all of them digitally, since I really want to hear the Yacht and the Patrick Wolf, and I don't want to pay an arm and a leg for Wu Lyf. And I suppose I should get used to this happening more frequently; the new Cool Kids album ONLY got a digital release——no physical CDs available anywhere——and it seems like a strategy that both record companies and artists will want to pursue in order to maintain profit margins now that the youngsters look at CDs the same way I used to look at vinyl when I was a kid.

William Shatner's cover of Pulp's "Common People" has been my most played song in my top 100 most played songs since I created that smart playlist in iTunes, largely thanks to be stumbling upon the song and getting majorly obsessed with it for a couple of weeks. A few months ago, however, several tracks from of Montreal were gaining ground due to my obsession with that band for the past three years (right now, 26 of my top 100 are of Montreal tracks).

But then I included the Shatner track on a mix CD I made for a friend, and since a big part of my process for making a mix CD these days is to listen to the playlist over and over, and the Shatner track was always part of that mix, it got a big boost, and is now sitting more than 15 plays ahead of my second most played track, and is also now the only track in my collection with more than 100 plays.

In my defense, it really is a good song, especially the shorter, not-officially-released version that's the one I'm a fan of. Having both Joe Jackson and Ben Folds on the song (the former as a vocalist, the latter as instrumentalist and producer) sure helps it tremendously. It may even be better than the original.

The new Cool Kids, When Fish Ride Bicycles, isn't bad, but it's not as outstanding as I'd hope given the promise of The Bake Sale and the excessively long gestation period. They have an unorthodox record contract with Green Label Sound, which is a record label formed by Mountain Dew, and so it's no surprise that a song from the album appears in a recent Mountain Dew commercial and that the Mountain Dew logo appears in a storefront on the album cover.

And maybe that's the problem: not that the label was overly involved in the recording process in the hopes of creating a commercial hit, but that the band themselves were acutely aware that much of the potential revenue from this record lay in the use of their songs as background noise in marketing campaigns. Because describing the album as sounding like the entire thing was recorded for use in a commericals aimed at 18-24 year olds wouldn't be inaccurate.

I finally had my breakthrough with Radiohead's The King of Limbs. It started when my playlist of recent releases gave me the two songs they released for Record Store Day that were recorded in the same sessions as Limbs, "Supercollider" and "The Butcher", and after finding myself more open to them than I was before, I decided to go back and listen to the album proper again, and it, too, presented much more favorably.

It's still not an album I'm going to recommend to anyone, and it might still be my least favorite of all their albums, but I've come to a peace with it and no longer loathe it like I once did. With difficult albums, sometimes that happens with repeated listens, and sometimes it doesn't; I didn't need this to become the best thing they'd ever recorded, but I am glad that it's something I can justify sitting alongside the rest of the work in their catalog.

My wife of 15 years admitted to me last night that she thinks Jens Lekman's voice is kind of annoying. I am currently re-evaluating the state of our relationship.

I finally broke down and bought Yacht's Shangri-La and Patrick Wolf's Lupercalia in a digital format, because it didn't seem like they would be coming to a physical format in the US anytime soon and I was getting desperate for some new music.

Neither is quite as good as I had hoped, although Lupercalia is far brighter and less saturated with melancholy that Wolf's last release, The Bachelor. The tapestry of the songs isn't as finely woven as the intricate textures he created for The Magic Position, but all in all this record gives me some hope that he's still got his best work ahead of him.

Shangri-La is more frenetic than I was expecting, and none of it really sticks with me except the title track, which is also the closing track on the album. The whimsy and wide-eyed innocence that I loved from their last two releases is mostly absent——instead, they seem to be trying to construct some grand concept record about utopia, and it's just too forced. Still, I like this band, and I'm interested to see what they do next.

Grrr...latest version of iTunes breaks the scrobbler. I have become unnecessarily addicted to having my song plays posted to that site, and when Apple doesn't keep them in the beta loop, it's highly irritating.

Pitchfork recently released their staff list of the 60 best books about music, and the only one I had read was Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, which definitely belongs on that list (probably at the very top). But there were two books that were missing from the list that definitely deserve to be on it: Krisin Hersh's Rat Girl, a memoir about the year in her life when she recorded the first Throwing Muses album (among many other significant events), and Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, a critical work that, among other things, traces the roots of punk rock back to the cabaret/Dada movements in the early 20th century.

Both are definitely worth your time, although the Marcus book is pretty dense. Rat Girl is amazing, though: funny, insightful, and incredibly candid, and all the more incredible because most of it comes from the diary of a 19 year old.

I know it's a little late, but here are my recommendations for Amazon's monthly 100 MP3 albums for $5 special for July: the Cure's Disintegration, the Tune-Yards' whokill, Arcade Fire's Funeral (this seems to be featured almost every month), Sonic Youth's Goo, and R.E.M.'s Murmur. Two decent albums that are also included are Panda Bear's Person Pitch and Radiohead's Hail to the Thief.

I'm probably not going to buy anything myself this month, but overall there are some decent selections. Not that anyone will read this before they are gone, though, so I'll try to get my August recommendations posted sooner than the end of the month.