These days I listen mostly to Seattle’s fabulous radio station KEXP and if you are endlessly curious about music like I am, you run into absolute gems on this listener powered commercial free slice of musical heaven. It’s what radio should sound like. Their main DJs; John Richards, Cheryl Waters and Kevin Cole respectively, are what DJs should sound like. Sharp, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, understated and normal. Not a fake DJ voice in the bunch. I envy the hell out of them to be honest. I know they aren’t making a killing working at KEXP, but it’s not exactly breaking the rocks on the chain gang either. They can play whatever they want as far as I can tell. I think I have the most in common with the morning man, John Richards, as far as musical tastes go, but I love Cheryl and Kevin as well. You know how you really only learn from folks who are smarter and more experienced than you? That’s how I feel with these guys. Normal programming at a Classic Rock station or an “Alternative” Rock station bores me these days. Not because the music isn’t good; it’s more because I have to hear the same songs over and over. I have zero patience for that. I feel like I know about 99% of all the music played on those stations. I can’t learn anything there. It’s gotten so bad on one of the local Classic Rock stations that I can usually pick two out of the three songs in a given “Rock Block” before they even come on the air. That is just plain sad. No chance of that on KEXP. I might know 40% of what they play. That number might be a bit low, but it’s not that far off. I absolutely adore KEXP as a result. I grew up listening to New York’s WNEW-FM (102.7 Where Rock Lives) in the 70′s. I worshipped that station. There were plenty of good stations in the New York, Philadelphia, Connecticut market at that time; WPLJ in New York, WMMR in Philadelphia, WYSP in Philadelphia and WCCC in Hartford, CT were all great stations at one time or another. Those days are over.
I know I talk about this a lot, but it has a direct impact on my listening habits. Here in Boston, I listened to (1978-1987) and worked at (1982-1986) WBCN for about nine years straight. It had it’s flaws, but it was still the best game in town. WCOZ, the forerunner (although we didn’t really know it at the time) to Classic Rocker WZLX, had a unique thing going back in the early 80′s for a short time trying to combat the then free form WBCN. It branded itself “Kick Ass Rock & Roll” as I remember. But really what they did was boil the most popular songs of the 70′s down to 450 songs and sprinkle in some contemporary (gulp) music like Pat Benatar and Adam Ant. Today it would sound tired, but back then it had its charm believe me. WBCN made its bones by making sure it trumpeted the local music scene and that really served them well. Within a couple of years WCOZ was gone and WBCN began a serious reign that lasted more than a decade. I jumped off the bandwagon in 1987 when I discovered WFNX and so called “Alternative” Rock. I was mad for bands like The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, The The and Big Audio Dynamite (going to see them August 2nd…can’t wait). I dropped WBCN, whom I stopped working for in 1986, like a hot potato. I know I’m repeating myself a bit here, but I thought I was on top of the musical curve when I started listening to WFNX in 1987. I rode the wave from The Manchester Sound through Grunge and, for a while there, even Industrial Rap Metal until I got so sick of it. I’m a melody guy. You could sing Blah, Blah, Blah (hello Iggy) and if the bed of music has me tapping my feet I’m sold. With the exception of Nine Inch Nails and a handful of other bands, I don’t like unnecessary shout singing and distortion. Distortion probably isn’t the right word because I’m a big Sonic Youth fan, love Neil Young and grew up on Jimi Hendrix. In fact, I was listening to a band called Gravity Kills just last night. They had an X Games driven hit called “Guilty” around 1996 if memory serves. That sort of encapsulates what I mean when I talk about Industrial Rap Metal. Great song, but back then I got very sick of it.
I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that, even as a middle aged man, I still love my new music. I have SO many friends who barely listen to music anymore it sickens me. And if they do, they’ll throw a potentially great party and the music is the very last thing on their agenda. I have a friend who owns a hotel that has a bar in it. It’s an upscale setting, but it’s mainly a bar and function room, not a restaurant. There is no kitchen on the premises. It’s in the heart of Boston with mega foot traffic. I think the place is kind of soul-less myself, but I’m not the one with money at risk. The hotel is constantly booked, but it’s the bar that fascinates me. The place is wildly successful for a number of reasons; location, patio, open air in good weather, foot traffic, function room, bar staff and on and on. The thing is the sound is awful in the place. If the bar is full and the music isn’t on 11 you can’t hear anything. And I won’t even go into what kind of music they insist on playing there. If I had built the place I would have filled it with people first and then had someone do the sound. It’s very thin, distant and muffled in the bar in my opinion. Good for my friend; it hasn’t deterred his regulars one iota. The place does just fine without my two cents, but it’s indicative of what I call sound apathy. Even though I’d love a forum to play only what I wanted to play, that’s not really it; the sound in some of these places is just plain neglected. OK, I’m clearly rambling…
To refresh; my insatiable thirst for great music I’ve never been exposed to has me focused squarely on the UK’s The Kills. This two man (sorry, person) band consists of American Singer Alison Mosshart (nicknamed VV for some reason, but it sounds sexy) and Jamie “Hotel” Hince. Mosshart was from Florida, at least before she moved to London, where Hince was, so they could begin a working relationship. Because they are a two person band they are compared to The White Stripes in some circles, but The White Stripes at least had a drummer in Meg White. The Kills have a drum machine. Still, I’ve spent the last two days listening to all four of their records in full. I have to say, I’m impressed. I usually take my sweet time absorbing records and bands. I might not figure out just how good a band is until many years later. Now this might qualify as their first record was released in 2003, but believe me, I just found out about them maybe three days ago. Now I’m hooked. The White Stripes comparison is not where I’d go first. I liken them to The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. I’m a huge fan of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I absolutely loved 2003′s Fever To Tell. It has to rank in my top ten or twenty records from the oughts. Alison Mosshart sounds a lot like Karen O of The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs to me. I hope she doesn’t mind the comparison. I love Karen O. The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs are listing a bit these days, but I loved them for a good while there. They even played on the common in Government Center several years back…for free…and I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. That never stops me, but it does amaze me sometimes.
I’ve listened to 2003′s Keep On Your Mean Side, 2005′s Now Wow, 2008′s Midnight Boom and 2011′s Blood Pressures twice each over the last ten hours. I’m really impressed. I don’t think there is an awful song in the bunch. In fact, they are remarkably consistent over these four CDs. They are a touch Garage, a touch Punk, a touch PJ Harvey and, in my opinion, a nice blend of The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and The Velvet Underground. Not a straight ballad in their whole catalogue. My kind of band. I’m definitely a big fan. Check out, in particular, the song “Future Starts Slow” from their most recent release Blood Pressures. It’s one of the best new tracks I’ve heard in months. Just fantastic. Thanks to KEXP’s Cheryl Waters for playing it the other day or I’d be blissfully unaware of The Kills. The name of the band is not exactly one that makes it stand out, but it’s too late to worry about that now. The Kills makes me think of a Punk band from the late 70′s. That is not what they sound like. I’m definitely going to go see them if they come around these parts any time soon. I’m hip to them now. You should be too.