Ryan Adams Gets New Band, Serenades Loaf Of Bread

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Earlier this week, Ryan Adams played London’s Royal Albert Hall with a full band. It was his first time fronting a backup group since 2009, and Adams made the most of the opportunity, tapping Don Was to play bass and Benmont Tench to handle keys. Both of those musicians are also rumored to be joining Adams on his new album, a Glyn Johns production with “more orchestral flourishes” than 2011’s understated Ashes & Fire.

Adams and company played two new songs at the show, including an uptempo rocker called “In the Shadows.” We’ve a live footage of Please don’t let me go at the Royal Albert show. It’s not a new song, and is serious, of course — Ryan sings “If the walls in the room could talk, I wonder to myself would they lie, It’s like some kind of jail” — but it’s still a gorgeous song. With a new record on the way, it’s nice to know that our boy is still firing on all cylinders.

 

Rob Sheffield’s Bizarre Review of The Strokes New Album

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Rob Sheffield (also known as the wanksta of Rock Journalism)
Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone Magazine

Good Day Mr. Sheffield,

I’ve read your infamous two paragraphs review of The Strokes’ album ‘Comedown Machine,’  published by Rolling Stone on March 18, 2013.   Here are just a few tips on how to avoid writing  a Curmudgeonly Review, and having your name added to category #3  (your name already appears in category #4 for Hack Reviews)  of the Rolling Stone’s 500 Worst Reviews of All Time (work in progress)

If you want critics worth their salt to take you seriously, then you can’t rely on the ad hominem tropes to justify your frustration over something being successful that you don’t like. I love vitriol, and when it is practiced by folks like The Onion, it can elevate our discourse. But you are quite literally denigrating a beloved American rock band based on fallacious claims.

You ask:  “It’s not totally clear why the Strokes make albums, is it?” and surmise that  ” They don’t seem to enjoy it much, and they aren’t exactly bursting with innovative musical ideas that demand to be let loose”  although you do not know for certain.  You use offensive claims to validate your specious critique of the band’s album in two shameful paragraphs.

If you had done your homework, Mr. Sheffield, you would know that the band’s melodic garage rock sound of their first album Is This It “received universal acclaim from both mainstream and independent publications, including 4 stars from Rolling Stone, and a 9.1 from Pitchfork Media; it made many critics’ top 10 lists, and was named the best album of the year by Entertainment Weekly and TIME.  In 2009, NME named Is This It the greatest album of the decade (2000s).  The album placed second on a similar list compiled by Rolling Stone. The same issue featured a list of the ‘100 Best Songs of the 00’s’, in which songs “Hard to Explain” and “Last Nite” charted at No. 59 and No. 16, respectively.  In January 2011, Rolling Stone conducted a survey among their Facebook fans to determine the top ten debut albums of all time. Is This It came in at number ten and was also the most recent behind Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut.    Nice, huh?

The Strokes burst onto the scene in 2001 with an effortlessly distinct sound: Julian Casablancas’ audible distant scowl, Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.’s clashing double-guitar attack and an air-tight rhythm section. The band’s first two albums, 2001′s Is This It and 2003′s Room on Fire, “wrapped the youthful decadence and dive-bar realism of lower Manhattan life into contagious hooks recalling the Velvet Underground. The combination was monumental enough to open doors for a generation of rock & roll bands – including Kings of Leon, the Black Keys and many more.”

Their second album Room on Fire (October 2003) received praise from critics but was less commercially successful, although it still went Gold.

The third album, First Impressions of Earth, was released January 2006 to mixed reviews and debuted at number four in the US and number one in the UK, a first for the band. In Japan it went Gold within the first week of release. It was also the most downloaded album for two weeks on iTunes.

The fourth album Angles was due to be released in late 2009, but disagreements about the songs’ readiness forced The Strokes to scale back this date. Not long after recording began, however, the band became frustrated with Joe Chiccarelli‘s reserved production style. The Strokes decided to experiment with various production techniques, and recorded the rest of the album’s material at Albert Hammond, Jr.’s home studio in upstate New York with award-winning engineer Gus Oberg.

Media response to Angles (March 2011) was generally favorable; aggregating website Metacritic reports a normalized rating of 71%, based on 41 reviews.

In his four-star review,  David Fricke of Rolling Stone explained that the record was “worth the wait”, and summed it up as “the first step away from the sound of their instant-classic debut. Instead of the rigid purity of ‘Is This It,’ the new album nods to the more expansive sound of The Velvet Underground’s 1970 record, Loaded.”

Other critics praised Angles as a welcome reinvention for the band, with NME noting that it “lives up to its name by coming at you from some very obtuse places.” Claire Suddath, of TIME called the album “a 10 song exercise in rock precision,” and Mikael Wood of SPIN magazine proclaimed that it “reminds you why they were so irresistible in the first place”.  Amanda Petrusich of Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B-, describing it as “accordingly fractured and often inscrutable, but (with) returns to form.”

Is it clear to you now, Mr. Sheffield, why the Strokes make albums?

The Strokes’ shows, in 2006, had the band playing 18 sold-out shows during their UK tour. In March, the band returned to the US with their longest tour yet.

During the summer of 2006, The Strokes played several festival dates in Europe, including the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the Oxegen Festival in Ireland, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the FIB (Festival Internacional de Benicàssim), Fuji Rock Festival and headlined the Pentaport Rock Festival in South Korea.

They then toured Australia and Mexico in late August and early September, followed by the second leg of the United States tour. While in the US, The Strokes opened for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for five shows during their Highway Companion tour.

The Strokes went on to complete another US tour. During this final tour Casablancas stated to fans that the band would be taking an extensive break after it finished. An e-mail was sent out soon afterwards by Strokes manager Ryan Gentles, confirming that “much needed break”.

Comedown Machine  is the fifth studio album by the band, scheduled to be released on March 26, 2013 in the U.S., and on March 25 in the UK. This will be the final release in fulfilling the band’s contract agreement with long time label RCA.

Discussing the recording process with Zane Lowe, bassist Nikolai Fraiture said: “We got off tour and we had these songs, some left over and some new. We rehearsed in Electric Lady and it was working so we went with it. It was touch-and-go for a while but we…hashed it out all together like the good old days. It’s a legendary studio and it is not far away from us all, apart from Nick who lives in Los Angeles, but he made the trip out to record.”

Julian Casablancas recorded his parts together with the rest of the band, a change from his deliberate self-removal during recording sessions for Angles.

Fraiture recently told Pitchfork: “It’s kind of funny that new music doesn’t feel as natural as it used to but for us, posting it when it is done feels like that is the way it should be done. When you make music you go up down, sometimes you feel strong and sometimes you feel scared. Right now, we just finished the album and I feel good about it and the atmosphere in the band. Hopefully it continues.”

Media response to Comedown Machine is mixed; aggregating website Metacritic reports a normalized rating of 68%, based on 15 reviews.”Whether you’re in an Is This It vortex or not, this is The Strokes and they’ve returned with their most thought-provoking, strange and sexiest record yet,” said Kieran Mayall of Clash Magazine.  James Skinner of BBC Music added, “Although plenty of the group’s signature sounds are present and correct, they form the backdrop to an unexpectedly wide range of styles and approaches.” In  contrast, you Mr. Sheffield, questioned why the album was “an official Strokes album instead of another Casablancas solo album.

Here’s the thing you don’t understand: there are plenty of valid and salient ways to criticize The Strokes or any other band.  But I fail to see how someone who claims to enjoy music would want to communicate about music with all the substance of Snooki.

If you want me and other critics as well as Rolling Stone’s readers (you have plenty of them complaining about your latest piece) to take anything you have to say about music seriously, then first and foremost take a class in logic, and then do your homework before you review an album. Not everything we say or do has to be logical, but if you are going to shit on something then you can’t rely on fallacious arguments. Second, read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Third: read this and this. Fourth: grow up. Part of being an adult is understanding the difference between you and others. Others are different from you, and they don’t like the same shit as you do.

And that right there, Mr. Sheffield, is what bothers you so much about The Strokes. The band became wildly successful, and received six awards from 16 nominations, and you don’t like them. But instead of dealing with the fact, you whine like a toddler who has dropped his ice cream. Instead of getting on with your life, you broadcast your personal frustrations by insulting people you don’t know. Surely, you’re joking. Surely, you are trolling for hits. You can’t expect us to take you seriously, can you sir?

Comedown Machine is The Strokes charged, adventurous and with their heads on straight. They have returned with a romantic, fun and above all honest album.

Sources: Alternative media, Wikipedia, Time, NME, Spin, Rolling Stone

Galley photos: Google

Julian Casablancas of The Strokes – Interview

Julian Casablanca of The Strokes

Julian Casablancas of The Strokes

Skip Matheny— currently a songwriter in the band Roman Candle and former bartender in a retirement community — caught up with Julian Casablancas before his show at the Cannery in Nashville, Tennessee. This is one of the more insightful interviews he’s ever given about his craft. Topics discussed include: The need for isolation while working on music, the mutual love between Julian and Arctic Monkeys and which band would be the most popular in Julian’s utopia.

Nashville Tennessee – Interview

What’s your favorite drink?

[Looks over at the green room hospitality table] Gasoline, No, absinthe… No. My favorite drink? I don’t know — I drink a lot of water. (laughs)

I know you can play a lot of instruments and you played a lot of different things on Phrazes For The Young. Is there some particular thing you find yourself picking up more often to write with — a guitar, a piano, a sampler?

I pick up whatever’s near, I guess. The thing I use a lot now [reaches in pocket and pulls out a matching digital recorder to the one I am using to record the interview ] –- cheers, ding -– is this digital recorder thing. I used to do everything by memory back in the day. I don’t know, some fascination with the Greek poets, you know they just memorized everything. So I’d be working between one and three parts, or songs, at a time. But when I started a few years ago recording stuff, I realized listening back, the things I thought were great were sometimes mediocre -– and the things I forgot about, that I thought were nothing, were great. And it kind of freaked me out. So now I record everything, and I have thousands of [recordings]- so I just play all the time and if I feel like I’m doing something that could be cool I just record it. Give work for future Julian. That’s what I do.

Do you enjoy that compressed air sound that these digital recorders capture, along with whatever you are recording? or is that trouble?

That can be a bad thing. Because you record something that feels so cool. And then you just have that demo-itis thing. It’s impossible to copy it. It has the right compression, or you know, it sounds so cool. So that sometimes is a bad thing.

Are there any specific books or authors you were reading while you were making the record, or maybe you’re reading at the moment?

No. I mean I read a bunch of stuff before Phrazes For The Young like The Analects [Confucious], quotations of people and stuff. No I haven’t really read any new things. Siddhartha and translations of the Bible on the bus right now that I’m trying to get through. It’s hard to read on the road. I think I’ve only read two books like front page to last page in my entire life.

Which two?

The Odyssey and Crime And Punishment.

Wow. If you had to pick two…

It’s hard, well, the thing about The Odyssey is, every chapter is like a book. Every thing’s is like a poem, every line is like this deep quote on life. It’s really amazing. That’s probably why it lasted 5000 years (laughs). But the translation I read is really good too. I feel like translations are super important. I always go to the book store and check out different translations before you buy a book because — its night and day. I mean like the first line of Crime and Punishment, you read the first line of any book, and I mean, its insane. One is , you know, “Todd walked down the street and saw his friend.” And one’s like “Todd on the second of the ides crossed passed with his sister’s other sibling.” or you know what I mean…

Do you find yourself writing much, when you are on the road?

More than ever before on this tour actually. Its been pretty great.  I’ve been relatively productive, way more than ever before on the road.

The lyrics on this record seem to use a method of describing things through collections of statements. Some are proper aphorisms and some seem like off-hand thoughts, and a bunch kind of fall in between. In “11th Dimension,” for example, there are these oddly paired thoughts or statements, some remark as casual and internal as a personal greeting, “I’ll just nod. I’ve never been that good at shaking hands” — with something as spartan and abstract as a zoomed-out photo of earth – “I live on the frozen surface of a fireball” – but when you hear them all together as the record progressses, they start create a more over-arching description of scenes or characters. Were you just writing what came out naturally , or were you sitting down sweating these lyrics out, working with a line at a time?

I was sweating a little bit because I had the name first. If it’s called Phrazes For The Young the lyrics can’t just be throw away. I do a similar things with lyrics now, I tried really hard to sit down. I can do that sometimes. But ’11th dimension” did not come that way. It was more like a collection of thoughts. There’s different themes on the record and for me, “11th Dimension’ was almost like a kind of summary of the whole record a little bit — the whole thing, ‘it’s kind of like in the back of your mind whether you know it or not’ type of thing. So that was the theme. “11th Dimension” was basically just about the sub-conscious, that was the whole idea behind it. And the opening line, yeah I thought its always nice to start off like, ‘Hey how’s it going?’ (laughs). I had a lot of different lyrics that I wrote over a course of a year. Different thoughts – different lines that I would have. I went through them all, and I would collect different things ,and some things fit musically and some things fit thematically. I feel like a lot of my process now is editing. You know — the creating — I don’t sit there and think “oh you know, I gotta write,” because that can be fruitless and frustrating. But now, I’m constantly playing music and thinking about things. And then just when it comes out, I record, and then eventually I go through everything later.

Phrazes

Just reading the lyrics as text, there are a lot of details crafted into place that can get easily overlooked by a casual listener. My favorite line on the record, and maybe an actual “phrase for the young” in a modern sense, sits on the fade-out of 11th Dimension: “Don’t you dare get to the top and not know what to do.” Another kind of subtle heavyweight is on the last song on the record, “Tourist.” The listener has to hang on to the very last line to have the whole song fall into shape. “Everywhere I go, I am a tourist / But if you stay with me I’ll always be at home” is kind of out of nowhere at that point, and turns the whole song around. I would say it kind of changes the lighting on the whole record. These are some pretty artful arrangements that require a listener to lean in a bit…

It’s tough to write. I feel like I suck at writing like ‘pop’ because I get too greedy, meaning wise. Because I want it to work on two or three different levels, its really hard for me to just, you know, “I went to the door and I looked you in the eye and … that’s why I’m a happy man!” (laughs) You know what I mean? I just can’t. Its gotta be — maybe something weird or complicated, like a thriller… I don’t know, now I’m rambling. The pop lyrics, I’m bad at the simple thread. I just get greedy. Like Rumi’s my favorite kind of poet. Did you ever read him?

Yeah, I have.

That stuff is bonkers out of this world cool. And out there crazy and yeah, that’s always the dream; that the lyrics can still work like that. Cause I think he was a musician, you know? So it can feel like those poems he sang, that’s like ideal.

Yeah, that kind of goes back to the Greeks we were talking about. All those memorized poems were passed down by bards actually singing them. There wasn’t always, so to speak, a separation between music and poetry.

Although did Homer sing? Do you think?

I imagine he did, I don’t know.

Did he have like a horrible voice? Were people like “Stop singing. Just tell the story… if you could just tell us the story…” (laughs)

When you were a kid did you hear a particular song, riding in a friend’s car or something, and it kind of made a connection, where you thought you might want to start making music?

Yeah actually, my best friend kind of. His brother had a friend who got a bootleg of like – what was that B-side at the time… “Yellow Ledbetter?” It was…

Oh yeah Pearl Jam, I remember that.

But he had like a tape, it sounded terrible at the time. You could barely make out… [imitates Eddie Vedder singing momentarily] …it was very muffled. But that song was the first time I like, felt weird… that music reached deeper. Not that I never really… I mean… I liked music. But [up to that point] it was never the main thing in my life. That was the first song where I felt weirdly moved by it.

Do you work better in isolated environments?

Definitely. Totally. I need to. If I’m working on stuff [now], it’s “You know you’ve got to soundcheck… You’ve got to…” I’m looking forward to a time where, yeah [pauses] I need at least two, three weeks, with nothing, at home. And still, my mom will call (laughs) or I’ll still have stuff to do, you know, walk dogs or — I’ll still be busy somehow, other than just working on music. But that’s the funnest thing for me, is working on music. I think it has to be, if you’re gonna do that for real. It can’t feel like work. That’s the problem with touring in the past for me. You get kind of tired. You don’t do anything tiring. But somehow you’re tired and you don’t have that natural energy to pick up the guitar and play. You wanna watch TV or lay down. I don’t remember the original question now… I kind of derailed…

Oh no, it was great. I was asking if you worked better in isolated settings.

Oh yeah alone for sure. I mean before this record, we like escaped. We’d been talking about taking a vacation for a long time. And we went to Aruba. I’d never been. We went there for like a week and half, just so people would not bother me, while I was getting all the lyrics together and stuff.

In this same interview series we had the opportunity to chat with Alex and Matt from Arctic Monkeys, and during our talk, your solo record came up.

Those guys are really great. The drummer is seriously underrated. He’s got to be one of the best. Quite a team those two, I think.

Yes they really are. They were talking about how many ideas and hooks were packed into each song on your record, and how they continually reveal themselves the more you listen. I was wondering, since this is such a layered record, in your personal relationship to it, now that you’re on the other side of it, and have toured behind it for a while, does it sound like roughly the same thing to you, as when you finished mixing it, or has it changed shape at all?

Lyrically I don’t know. I’m probably too close, because I sing it every night, the words almost don’t even make sense to me anymore. You know its like saying one word too many times. But musically, just two nights ago, I heard these two Japanese dueling guys; one guy who does it, I think, it a little better… but they do these like eight-bit versions of “Phrazes For the Young.” And its like a drum machine, and it was a version of “Tourist.” This guy must have put a lot of time into it, and just hearing the song in such a weird way, I was really psyched about all the music and all the time spent kind of building it… just listening to it back in such a weird form, so it was fresh to my ears. I was pretty psyched. I was happy because I work on something to where I feel its right and then I sort of have to walk away cause I’ve heard it three million times. So its like my ears are dead to it. I would say I was presently surprised with how it felt. That’s as objective, I’d say, as I can get.

Are there any songwriters in particular you always go back to?

Probably Bob Marley is my one guy who has a body of work. That’s probably number one by far on the list. As far as bands go I’d have to say Velvet Underground is number one, but in general, probably number two under Bob Marley. I think Lou Reed too. Also again, you know the drug thing. I don’t know if that maybe made things weird, you know after the Noise Machine record or whatever but before that, he was pretty on the money. Actually, before we were starting out, I mean we had a band, but we hadn’t done anything yet. People had school, jobs whatever. We were still rehearsing. But we were at this bar, and Lou Reed was doing this book signing at a Barnes and Noble across the street. We went there and I got a book of his to sign, as he was walking out. So anyway I had no idea, until I was reading the book, how amazing his lyrics were. ‘Cause I always thought they were cool, but like, they’re amazing. He’s kind of underrated lyrically.

He is. It jumps out too when you’re reading it on a page.

I don’t feel like they get enough… I mean I feel like they should be bigger than the Rolling Stones. That would be a perfect world for me. Is that wrong for me to say? I love Loaded too. Its probably my favorite Velvet Underground record, because its them like trying to be pop. But they still cant help but be like kind of weird. So the mixture for me is kind of…its mine. I like that.

Julian, thanks. It’s been a great pleasure.

Oh, the pleasure was mine.

The Strokes ‘Comedown Machine’ – Review

Julian Casablancas - Singer and frontman of The Strokes

Julian Casablancas – Musician, lead vocalist and songwriter of The Strokes

With their fractured Angles recording sessions, the absence of any definite tour plans – and the complete media blackout surrounding their new album -, The Strokes are giving every indication that their time together is up. When you consider that Comedown Machine, the band’s new album, will be their last on release RCA, it all makes sense. So when the video for their song “All The Time” was released earlier this month, it seemed to confirm what everyone was already thinking. The video featured no new footage of the band and instead gave highlights of the group’s career. It came across as a band’s goodbye. That’s what makes Comedown Machine such a surprise.

Comedown Machine is The Strokes’ most cohesive and consistent record since Room On Fire. It is also the most adventurous album they’ve made and their first successful step away from their signature garage-rock sound. Album opener “Tap Out” begins with distorted guitar before transitioning into a relaxed groove and some of the lightest vocals ever heard from Julian Casablancas. The song’s airy quality is unlike anything The Strokes have ever done; it’s brilliant. Next up is the aforementioned “All The Time,” the album’s first single. Unfortunately, the track sounds like the Strokes by numbers and, despite a great guitar solo, it’s the least rewarding song on the album.

However, after the minor speed bump of “All The Time,” Comedown Machine hits its stride. “One Way Trigger,” the first track released from the album, is still as weird as ever. But while the a-ha inspired synth riff and Julian Casablancas’ falsetto may send purists running, it’s still a Strokes song at heart. It’s catchy and demands repeated listens, just like the best tracks from Is This It and Room On Fire. Following “One Way Trigger” is “Welcome To Japan,” which can be best described as funky. This may not be what people expect from The Strokes, but the song is a blast, regardless. The line “What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?” is sure to go down as one of The Strokes’ most quoted lyrics.

“80s Comedown Machine” marks another departure from the band’s classic sound. The slow-moving ballad is driven mellotron, giving the song a “Strawberry Fields Forever” vibe. At just under five minutes in length, this near-title track is the longest song in The Strokes’ discography. They follow this with “50/50,” the shortest and fastest track on the album. The song contains a prominent guitar riff and distorted vocals straight out of Is This It. Casablancas hasn’t sung with this much intensity since “Reptilia.” Unlike, “All The Time,” “50/50” fits right alongside other Strokes’ classics and serves as a reminder that The Strokes haven’t lost their touch. Following this is “Slow Animals,” which sees the band in ballad mode. The song features a slow build up before a rewarding emotional payoff and multiple guitar solos.

Partners In Crime” starts with a goofy yet awesome guitar riff that points to an underlying theme of the album: fun. While Angles seemed like a laborious album to make, Comedown Machine sounds like a band cutting loose and having a good time. The next track on the album is “Chances.” This ballad is the sappiest song The Strokes have ever recorded, and it stretches Julian’s falsetto beyond his range. It’s one of the the weakest tracks on the album, but it’s far from a bad song and demonstrates that The Strokes are willing to take chances (pun intended). “Happy Ending” is one of the best examples of the band’s melding of old and new. It has interesting guitar work like you’d expect from The Strokes, but the multi-tracked vocals and poppy chorus set it apart from their older material.

The closing track on the album, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” is the eeriest song that the band has ever recorded. The verses aren’t too far off from those of “Call Me Back,” and the chorus sounds like something from a Little Joy song. Yet, the song crackles like an old record, giving it a sinister feeling. “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” demonstrates The Strokes’ growth and desire to push the envelope like they never have before. It may be the best track on the album.

After listening to Comedown Machine, it’s hard to imagine that The Strokes will break up anytime soon. The band sound more together than they have since the release of Room On Fire. Julian Casablancas seems particularly invested, and his variety of vocal styles reflects the effort he put into this record. A special moment on Comedown Machine occurs at the end of “Slow Animals.” When the song comes to a close, the band members begin to laugh. While this seems like a small detail, it’s actually huge: The Strokes sound like they’re having fun for the first time in nearly a decade. When I look back at the “All The Time” video, I no longer see a band reflecting on the end of a great career. Instead, I see a band that has rediscovered the camaraderie that brought them so much success in the past. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I just don’t buy that The Strokes are done. Comedown Machine is not the best Strokes album, but it’s the most significant step forward of their career. It seems that this album will be remembered in one of two ways, as either the end of The Strokes or the beginning of a new era for the band. Let’s hope that it’s the latter.

Track Listing:

strokes-306-1359561055

1. “Tap Out” 3:42
2. “All the Time” 3:01
3. “One Way Trigger” 4:02
4. “Welcome to Japan” 3:50
5. “80’s Comedown Machine” 4:58
6. “50/50” 2:43
7. “Slow Animals” 4:20
8. “Partners in Crime” 3:21
9. “Chances” 3:36
10. “Happy Ending” 2:52
11. “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” 3:24

Total length:  39:49