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Album Review: Counting Crows – Somewhere Under Wonderland

 
By on Monday, 29th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

American alt-rock band Counting Crows have re-emerged onto the music scene with their seventh studio album, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, released on the 15th of September. This album is the band’s first release of original material since 2008’s ‘Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings’, but lead singer Adam Duritz mentioned in my interview with him the day after the album release that the new songs were predominantly inspired and informed by the band’s 2012 cover project, ‘Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)’. Duritz credits those cover versions for the revitalized energy and focus on musicianship that he and his band display to full advantage on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’. (You can read more of Duritz’s thoughts in the full interview here.)

Rather than being a simple rehash of the introspective mood rock that made Counting Crows a staple of the ’90s, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is a streamlined exhibition of the band’s talents. There isn’t a wasted moment on the entire album, as each track makes its own unique and interesting statement. The variety of moods and styles among the 9 tracks is refreshing, even when Duritz’s familiar stream-of-consciousness lyrical pattern turns toward the morose.

The album’s opening track ‘Palisades Park’ is a strong declaration of the band’s musical intent. The extended brass introduction tells us straight away that something new is happening here, and the rest of the song doesn’t disappoint. Laced with Duritz’s imaginative characters and geographical references as well as several broadly unrestrained instrumental sections, it conjures a sense of adventure both in its lyrics and its music.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-tFkOBU1BQ[/youtube]

A handful of catchy, high-energy tracks punctuate ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, including the curiously named ‘Earthquake Driver’ and current American radio single ‘Scarecrow’. ‘Earthquake Driver’ explores the “skipping and diving” thoughts of a man trying to find motivation and purpose to his life. Its opening lyric “I was born again a little north of Disneyland / somewhere under Wonderland and Hollywood” is so engaging that it even found its way into the album’s title. ‘Scarecrow’ is similarly spirited, with an infectious “do-do-do” chorus breaking up the surreal, purposefully absurd quality of the verses. Nearly 5 minutes in length, it may be more prolonged than the average radio single, but the instrumental bridge and guitar solo are undoubtedly worth the extra time.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01yIgOLUuns[/youtube]

‘Dislocation’ is a frenetic, guitar-driven address of Duritz’s struggle with depersonalization disorder, but also with the often bizarre nature of life in the public eye. Its chorus is deceptively upbeat despite the unnerving lyrics, “I am written in the radio / I dream on my TV / I’m fading out in stereo / I don’t remember me”. ‘Elvis Went to Hollywood’ is another briskly rhythmic track with a metaphysical lyrical theme, trying to pinpoint the moment in time where pop culture went astray. In spite of that somewhat discouraging sentiment, the vigourous instrumental riffs following each chorus will renew your faith in guitar rock.

‘Cover Up the Sun’ takes a decidedly country rock turn, its upbeat rhythm and acoustic twang again belying its dark lyrics, while ‘John Appleseed’s Lament’ delves deeply into the blues. The slower paced ‘God of Ocean Tides’ provides a welcome moment of calm introspection in the middle of the album, and the album’s final song, piano ballad ‘Possibility Days’, is an elegant, ethereal contrast to the frenetic energy of the tracks immediately preceding it.

Despite the typically pessimistic feeling of the lyrics, the music on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is remarkably robust and inspired. Fans of Duritz’s signature introspective songwriting style won’t be disappointed by what he’s offered here, while new listeners will be drawn in by the singable choruses, upbeat rhythms and full-bodied guitar lines.

8.5/10

‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is available now on Virgin EMI Records. Counting Crows will tour the UK this November; you can find a listing of tour dates right here.

 

Interview: Adam Duritz of Counting Crows

 
By on Friday, 19th September 2014 at 11:00 am
 

American alt-rock band Counting Crows have made a strong re-emergence onto the music scene with a new album, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, released this past Monday on Virgin/EMI Records. Lead singer Adam Duritz had already done a fair bit of promo when I caught up with him on Tuesday, but he was gracious enough to give me some insight into the new record, which features a surprisingly spirited reiteration of Counting Crows’ signature musical style.

On listening to ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, I was instantly struck by the energy and expansiveness of the sound, and I asked Duritz what had inspired that size and scope. He explained that the band were galvanized by their previous release, 2012’s ‘Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)’, which featured covers of songs by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star and Bob Dylan, to name just a few. “There was something really good happening with the band when we made ‘Underwater Sunshine’ a few years ago now. Playing all those songs by other people, I think it did a really good thing for the band. Maybe they took more ownership of it, or maybe it’s just the variety of playing songs by people other than me. We immediately noticed as soon as we got on tour that we were just way better. We’d always been a pretty good live band, but we got great after that. And you know, it was the best year and a half of touring of our lives, and when it was over, we just really wanted to record. I think there’s a lot of that, the guys in the band really being a lot more daring. I think they’ve played fantastic on these last couple of albums. The contributions, the collaborations with everyone. They just really, really did a great job.”

The opening track on the new album, called ‘Palisades Park’, makes an immediate statement about Counting Crows’ newly revitalized musicianship. Duritz says that he knew it would be the first song on the album as soon as they finished writing it. “I’m really proud of it, I mean I really love that piece. For years we’ve been taking our songs apart in concert and kind of exploding them, you know, like taking a left turn in the middle of ‘Round Here’ and going somewhere for 5 minutes, then going back to ‘Round Here’. We’ve been doing that with a lot of our songs for years and years, but we’ve never been able to write it into a song and therefore capture it on a record, and I think with ‘Palisades’ we really did that. We got a lot of what we’ve been doing live and put it the composition of a song. I think it was really cool, it’s a really unique piece of music.”

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtZ3ACkTGC8[/youtube]

Starting with the extended musical journey of ‘Palisades Park’, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ shows a variety of musical styles in its track list, including the more radio-friendly songs ‘Earthquake Driver’ and ‘Scarecrow’. Though ‘Scarecrow’ is the current radio single here in America, Duritz says the band didn’t write it with that intention. “It’s still probably 5 minutes long. They wanted us to cut it, but I said no, we’re not cutting anything. They wanted to remove all the guitars at the front and the back to make it shorter, but (we’re) just not really interested in doing that. It’s nothing we ever think about when we’re working on records, but it is how records are promoted, so it’s good to have songs on the radio. It’s not something we ever put a lot of thought into. It might be better if we did, but I wouldn’t even know how to do it anyways. Other than to clip everything shorter.”

Like previous Counting Crows records, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is filled with specific characters and geographical references. When I ask Duritz about the mysterious title to ‘Earthquake Driver’, which also contains the lyric that became the album’s title, he gives a vivid description of the character in the song as “a guy who can’t figure out whether he wants to be in a small pond or a big pond. He wants to make a difference, he wants his life to mean something, but he can’t decide whether it’s okay to do that.”

Talking about the very specific references that pepper his lyrics, Duritz remarks, “I’ve always been big on details. I think it’s just something I do when I write. It’s funny, when we were first signed to make a record, there were a lot of people who told me that I should stop doing that, to stop using proper names and place names, because they said it made it too personal and people couldn’t relate to it. Which might be true, but it still seems stupid to me. I like writing in details. I think that communicating things that really are meaningful to you will communicate something that’s meaningful to other people. But either way, I didn’t really care. I mean, the truth is, you write the songs that you’re moved to write, and in my case, details make a big difference.”

I suggest that those details might actually make the songs more relatable to a listener, and he continues, “oh, I think they probably do. But I had people telling me the opposite back in the day. But you’re not writing songs to relate to other people. You’re writing songs because they’re important to you. Hopefully people do relate to that, but I don’t have a plan for that, really. For me, I don’t think you need to tell people how you feel. I think if you tell them what’s on the shelves in the room that you’re in, how you feel comes through in that. I mean saying “I love you”, it can mean a lot when you’re saying it to another person, but in a song? It’s just like everybody (says) over and over and over again, it doesn’t really communicate anything anymore. But if you tell someone how it feels to look at someone, (for example) the line from ‘A Long December’: ‘All at once you look across a crowded room and see the way that light attaches to a girl’. That tells something about how the guy felt. I think the details make it meaningful.”

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D5PtyrewSs[/youtube]

Duritz says that his songwriting has always been informed by his struggle with mental illness, specifically depersonalization disorder, and I comment that he seems to have addressed it directly in the songs on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, particularly one called ‘Dislocation’. His reply is candidly straightforward. “Well, I mean I think you could go all the way back to most of the tracks on most of our records. They’re all sort of addressing me being a crazy fucker. There’s plenty of my nonsense all over our catalogue. Certainly ‘Dislocation’, but all the other ones too. I mean, ‘God of Ocean Tides’, the last line of it, ‘I can’t remember yesterday, I tried, if I said I could I lied’. That’s a part of the dissociative thing, not being able to register the meaning of anything that happened to you, remember who the people you know are. I mean, it’s all over all these songs.”

Duritz cites another creative project as influential to the songwriting on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ as well. He has spent several years working on and off with Broadway playwright Stephen Belber on a play called ‘Black Sun’. While the project has been stalled by Duritz and Belber’s conflicting professional schedules, Duritz says it has been “the first time in my life I ever wrote for people other than myself. Writing different characters, different voices, you know, and discovering that it was possible to invest a lot of meaning in things that weren’t necessarily the pot of my own life. And that gave me a much larger palette to paint on.”

He is enthusiastic about the project, but unsure about when it might be completed. “It’s a really cool play, and it was really well-received when we did it at a playwright conference a few years ago. The other writers, the directors that were there, flipped over it. The crowd that saw the reading of it flipped out. I thought it was really cool sitting in the audience watching people sing my songs. But Stephen and I have two totally different careers, and it is just really hard to find time to do this. I don’t know, I’d love to finish it. I think it’s a spectacular piece. I pulled one song from the play for the record. Just one.”

That song is the final track on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, called ‘Possibility Days’. Duritz clarifies his statement, saying “It was written right before we started to work on the play anyway, so it wasn’t really for the play, but it was a big part of the play. And I pulled it for this. It’s the only one I took, though. I don’t think it was the best song in the play by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a really good song, which should give you an idea of the quality level of the play. It was really beautiful at the end of the record.”

For the moment, the ‘Black Sun’ project has taken a backseat to the busy promotion schedule leading into Counting Crows’ November UK tour dates. I ask Duritz how the constant promotion and performing affect his singing, as his vocals are a hallmark of Counting Crows’ overall sound. He says that he does end up doing interviews and promotion even during tours, but he keeps it to a minimum. “I try and limit it, because, I mean, we’re playing like 2+ hour shows nowadays, so they’re pretty long, and I sing really hard. I just have to be careful about it because you really do need to rest your voice. When we started out, I had trouble getting from gig to gig when we were playing half hour shows. Now we’re playing 2-hour shows and we’re 20 years older. And you know, it’s not easy, but I also never miss a show anymore. ” While he has learned to pace himself between performances, he says he doesn’t hold back when he’s on stage. “I get completely lost on stage during the shows. It’s only afterwards, I just go in a room and sit by myself for the next day.”

Looking beyond the upcoming UK tour dates, it’s easy to see why Duritz might need some time to himself. The band spent this past summer touring in America, and their autumn schedule is similarly busy. Duritz notes, “I haven’t had a day off in a long time. But we have some weeks off in October, and then Outlaw Roadshow comes to town again, so we have 30 musicians staying at my house and 30 or 40 bands playing in the Outlaw Roadshow in New York during CMJ. And then, when that’s over, we leave for England to start that tour.” For 2015, Counting Crows are looking at shows in Australia, South America and South Africa in the spring before returning to Europe for the summer festivals, followed by more touring in America. And after all that? “I don’t know, make another record or something. I’ve never really planned any of it out.”

Counting Crows’ new album ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is available now on Virgin/EMI. Keep an eye here on TGTF for a full review of the album coming soon. Counting Crows will spend the first part of November playing tour dates in the UK, including two already sold out shows at the London Roundhouse.

Thank you to Adam Duritz for taking the time to talk with me, and to Kat and Michelle for arranging the interview.

 

Counting Crows / November 2014 UK Tour

 
By on Wednesday, 17th September 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Header photo by Danny Clinch

Following on their recent North American tour, Counting Crows have announced a string of shows in the UK for this November, including two already sold out dates at the London Roundhouse. Their latest album ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is out now on Capitol Records/Virgin EMI. You can get a sneak preview by viewing the lyric video for ‘Earthquake Driver’ below the tour date listing.

It’s been several years since we’ve heard from Counting Crows, but our previous coverage can all be found here. Additionally, a full listing of upcoming European tour dates can be found at Counting Crows’ official Web site. Tickets for the following UK shows are available now.

Saturday 1st November 2014 – Birmingham Academy
Sunday 2nd November 2014 – Glasgow Academy
Tuesday 4th November 2014 – Newcastle Academy
Wednesday 5th November 2014 – Leeds Academy
Friday 7th November 2014 – Manchester Apollo
Saturday 8th November 2014 – Leicester De Montfort Hall
Monday 10th November 2014 – London Roundhouse (sold out)
Tuesday 11th November 2014 – London Roundhouse (sold out)

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMuVUZuY9v8[/youtube]

 

Preview: SXSW 2012 – General Ticket Information and the Headliners

 
By on Wednesday, 29th February 2012 at 9:00 am
 

So you’re probably wondering why it’s taken me so long to write a preview of this year’s South by Southwest festival (now to be described as SXSW from this point forward), held annually in Austin, Texas. And yes, your faithful editor will be there to catch as much of the action as humanly possible (read: I’m putting my body to the test on this).

For your information, tickets to the music portion of SXSW from Tuesday the 13th all the way to Sunday the 18th of March are still available; music badges are now US$750 (approximately £472 at the time of this writing) and hotel rooms are going fast, so if you are still interested, I recommend you act quickly. Please note TGTF as a music Web site does not support ticket touting of any kind and I have been advised by the SXSW folks that wristbands for the gig portion only, which can only be bought by those with an Austin credit card billing address, are not transferable. So be prudent with your purchases to avoid getting ripped off.

I make it a point for our festival previews to include headlining acts, since these are the big names you will have heard of. It’s not a surprise that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be performing, since the Boss was announced previously as the keynote speaker to the music portion of the SXSW convention. Rather disappointingly if you’re a Boss fan, Bruce and co. are only performing a small show on Thursday 15 March and the only way in is through a ticket drawing open to those with badges and certain wristbands. If you are keen, the details on entering are here.

Far more interesting to me is the return of Keane – as a four-piece including former touring musician Jesse Quin – making their first appearances here in America in over 2 years, albeit in club-sized spaces. (I’m actually sick with worry that I won’t get in to see them.) Fiona Apple, who surely you remember her ‘Criminal’ and for having an the album title so long, everyone was mocking it and she got into the Guinness Book of World Records for it, is making her first live appearance in years at SXSW, at the intimate Central Presbyterian Church on Thursday 15 March (good luck getting into that one). The list of headliners for the massive outdoor Auditorium Shores Stage is a surprise: the Shins perform on Thursday night, ’90s hitmakers Counting Crows are on Friday and the Cult are on Saturday.

Keep it here on TGTF, as I’ll be posting more in-depth previews to SXSW 2012 in the coming days. Ooh, the excitement!

 

Counting Crows / May 2009 UK Tour

 
By on Wednesday, 5th November 2008 at 7:51 pm
 

We announced earlier in the year that Counting Crows were doing a massive tour of the UK and Ireland this winter. However they’ve just announced that they’ve cancelled it “due to unexpected personal and work commitments in the USA”. So basically they don’t love us.

See Tickets are still saying that Ben Folds is playing, which will be good if he is… fingers crossed, eh?

Either way, the rescheduled dates are below. Tickets are on sale now, at £33.50 for all dates except London which is £35 a ticket.

Monday 4th May 2009 – Sheffield Academy
Tuesday 5th May 2009 – Newcastle Academy
Sunday 10th May 2009 – Glasgow SECC
Monday 11th May 2009 – Manchester MEN Arena
Wednesday 13th May 2009 – Birmingham NIA
Thursday 14th May 2009 – London Wembley Arena
Saturday 16th May 2009 – Cardiff International Arena
Monday 18th May 2009 – Bournemouth International Centre
Tuesday 19th May 2009 – Nottingham Royal Centre
Sunday 24th May 2009 – Brighton Centre

 

Ben Folds and Counting Crows / December UK Tour

 
By on Monday, 21st July 2008 at 7:09 pm
 

PLEASE NOTE: These dates have been postponed until May 2009 – full details here

Counting Crows have unfortunately announced an arena tour for December. Usually this would mean that they are hogging the arenas so decent bands can’t play there, however this time I’ll forgive them as they’re also taking the amazing Ben Folds with them. I may be going to a few of them just for the fact that Ben is a genius in my eyes, so be sure to get your tickets when they go on sale – you’ll even get an early night if you just catch Ben!

Tickets go on sale tomorrow (Tuesday 22nd July) according to See Tickets, or on Friday (25th July) according to NME. So I don’t know when they go on sale, but either way catch Counting Crows and Ben Folds at the below dates:

Tuesday 2nd December – Newcastle Arena
Thursday 4th December – Nottingham Arena
Friday 5th December – London Wembley Arena
Sunday 7th December – Manchester MEN Arena
Monday 8th December – Cardiff International Arena
Wednesday 10th December – Bournemouth BIC
Thursday 11th December – Brighton Centre
Saturday 13th December – Birmingham NEC Arena
Sunday 14th December – Sheffield Arena
Thursday 18th December – Glasgow SECC

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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