May 31, 2006
Norfolk & Western is long-running project of Adam Selzer and Rachel Blumberg, who have been known to play behind such talented artists as The Decemberists, M Ward, and Laura Veirs, but that doesn't mean they sound like any of those artists. Their latest release, A Gilded Age, is out now on Hush, and it's a wonderfully. The record begins with a charming and gentle string section, leading into the downcast and slightly bluesy "Porch Destruction." Oh, and there's a banjo in there, too. Homespun as it might feel, it's neither hokey nor ironic--two common maladies of hipster musicians these days. It's to Norfolk & Western's credit that they don't ground themselves in one particular style, either; their music transitions smoothly from morose, weepy folk ballads to more upbeat (dare I say "rock?") fare. The better moments include the disturbing murder-ballad waltz-swing of "Clyde and New Orleans," which features a haunting trumpets (courtesy Desert City Soundtrack's Cory Gray), the accordion-and-banjo driven title track and the wonderfully upbeat "We Were All Saints," which has a fast-tempo, a great guitar lick, and a wonderful vocal interplay between Selzer and Blumberg. In a way, the duo reminds me of a more urbane, less twisted version of The Handsome Family.
Regardless of whether the songs are fast or slow, they're almost consistently beautiful, and that's the most important thing, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. For eight songs on such a great record, A Gilded Age feels somewhat skimpy, but that's a minor quibble. Folk-rock that isn't necessarily folky and doesn't quite qualify as rock? Could be a disaster. But not if it's Norfolk & Western. Great stuff!
There are a number of songs on this album that rank with the band's best work. On the ominous intro to “Everyone Knows That Jesus Wore a Chain,” Brooks' fat synthesized bass line overpowers drummer Chris Calvert's busy shuffle. During the bridge, Brooks switches to his trademark jangling guitar and kicks the music into high gear. The song then reaches a distortion-drenched crescendo, during which he sings the album's strongest hook: “Sickeningly, sickeningly, sickeningly, sickeningly sweet.” You got that right, brother! “I Was at Johnny's and He Played Phil Ochs” is a funny two-chord ballad in which Brooks chides gutter punks who don't tip when dining out. “Let It Ride” is a countrified love song in which Brooks does his best David Berman impression, right down to the concise imagery (“My left arm's darker than my right”) and sardonic gender politics (“Do you need me, baby?/'No, I'm fine'/What exactly does that mean?”). “(To Edit) Quickfingerz” is a bouncy ditty about anger's role in the creative process that morphs into a long, albeit exciting, instrumental jam.
Unfortunately, “Quickfingerz” isn't the only song on Le Grand Essor that goes on a tangent, which brings me to my main qualm with the album. At least a third of its songs run out of ideas at around the three-minute mark, only to overstay their welcome with long stretches of pointless repetition. If you're going to begin your album with a nine-and-a-half minute song, you'd better make it interesting. Unfortunately, the last six minutes of “Cold Room, So. Pacific” find the band hammering away at the same chord, with no variation to keep listeners from dozing off. Brooks spends the second halves of the six-minute “Zero Sum” and the eight-minute “Winking Lass” doing little more than abusing his effects pedals. Even his earliest recordings stopped short of such wanton self-indulgence, which makes these songs even more disappointing. It's good to know that after years of playing together, Brooks and his rhythm section are finally comfortable enough to start jamming, but that still doesn't keep Le Grand Essor from being a 55-minute-long album that should have only lasted for 40.
Artist Website: www.minmae.com
Label Website: www.greydayrecords.com
May 30, 2006
Lost, Picking Flowers in the Woods boasts some of the group’s most upbeat material yet. The title track begins with an ascending melody played on a Rhodes piano, which is then drowned out by booming drum programming straight out of a Chemical Brothers record. A hissing synthesizer line swoops in during the second half, and the song ends with the brash sound of gongs being struck. Before the song can come to a full stop, it is interrupted by second track “Caterpillar House,” which sounds like an even faster version of the title track. Every song segues right into the next, giving the EP a suite-like flow; the brief, minimal ditties gain more purpose when book-ended by longer, more developed tracks. By itself, the 90-second “Chinese Witch Guy with an Ax” is merely a low-fi loop experiment that happens to have an awesome title. It sounds better, though, when placed between the wistful Mellotron fugue “Drippy Eye” and the live-band funk of “Flowers Grow Here.”
As with BMSR’s previous work, listening to this EP makes me feel as if I’m being serenaded in the sunshine by the universe’s most benevolent aliens. I can’t understand what they’re singing, but that’s what they get for using Vocoders! This group’s music comes from a parallel universe that I wouldn’t mind getting Lost in more often.
Artist Website: www.blackmothsuperrainbow.com
Label Website: www.graveface.com
May 27, 2006
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Chris’ newest project, Vague Angels, will raise his profile that much. Their sophomore album Let’s Duke It Out at Kilkenny Katz’ makes a clean break from his previous work in two major ways. The first is that it abandons the power-trio setup that gave his songs with the Lapse (and the best songs from the Angels’ debut album) such rousing bombast. Bass and drums only appear on two songs; the rest of Kilkenny is built around acoustic guitar, keyboards and hand percussion. There’s nothing on this album that will make you thrash around your room; the atmosphere is more “campfire sing-along” than “rock concert.” If you’re one of the people who enjoyed Chris’ previous music in spite of his vocals and lyrics, you’re not going to like Kilkenny. The second way in which Kilkenny diverges from his previous work is that it focuses on a subject you’d think he would be too cerebral to approach: love.
Despite the perpetually clever wordplay (“Evidence of absence/Is not evidence of absinthe”), there’s no getting around it: Kilkenny is a concept album about a breakup. Every song that isn’t instrumental is about a relationship, and the same woman’s name appears on three songs in different forms. Chris tries to look on the bright side on opening track “The Hollowed (Unhallowed) Whole Note,” only to end up feeling numb: “Her absence renders cleft the counting of the good times that were spent.” On the next song, “The Princess and the Newt,” he expresses frustration over his ex’s daily guilt trips. On “The Vague Angels of Vagary,” Chris seeks solace in the company of a woman he knows his ex hates. He finally breaks down at the end of “Just Blow, Don Quixote! Blow!.” While reading a book by the lakeshore, the depression kicks in, and Chris starts “pulling up grass/and pounding the earth.” The final song, “Too-Rai-Skippery-Dappery Day,” uses the interaction between sparrows and blue jays as a metaphor for the trickiness of romantic relationships.
Despite the gorgeous guitar playing and lovelorn lyrical outlook, Kilkenny may be Chris’ least accessible work yet. The songs move at a very slow pace, content to drone on for minutes before Chris starts talking. Once he does, he draws his words out and leaves long gaps of silence between them, stripping his sentences of the flow that they possess when read on paper. The CD doesn’t come with a lyric sheet, so unless you’re paying close attention to the music, all you’re going to hear is a guy listlessly moaning about nothing. Sometimes, the music unravels as quickly as the words do. “Just Blow, Don Quixote! Blow!,” for instance, sounds like the worst coffeehouse jam session ever, with a bassist who never got around to rehearsing the chord changes before walking on stage. Overall, this album’s a hard sell, but I still recommend it for anyone who is a fan of Chris’ previous bands, and anyone whose favorite Velvet Underground songs are “The Gift” and “The Murder Mystery.”
Artist Website: www.vagueangels.com
Label Website: www.prettyactivity.com
May 25, 2006
One of the more peculiar hits of the early 1980s was Captain Sensible's "Happy Talk." Captain Sensible, as you may recall, was a founding member of The Damned. Though the band experienced break-ups and lineup changes, the good Captain always stayed the course, and would occasionally release solo records. Much to the surprise to everyone, in June of 1982, his single "Happy Talk" went to number one in the British charts. It's easy to understand why; it's a fun, happy song—and totally incongruous with the music scene of the day. A cover of a Rogers & Hammerstein show tune by a wacky punk and featuring backing vocals by Dolly Mixture---how could that be anything but a hit? It's a great song, and I hope you dig it! (Oh, and if you're sharp, then you'll recognize that this song was sampled by Dizzee Rascal.)
Listen To: "Happy Talk"
May 24, 2006
Opener “The Breakup” has all of the necessary elements: guitars that are smothered in distortion and reverb, and bend themselves slightly in and out of tune; coed vocal harmonies that rise and sigh just as effortlessly as the guitars; ethereal Vangelis keyboards; and simple, yet meaty, bass lines. It even ends with a between-song segue, a la Loveless’ “Only Shallow”! On the next track, “Lovely Crawl,” the guitars quickly swoop downward at the end of each bar like vultures diving toward a carcass. When the Fleeting Joys speed up the tempo (on songs like “Satellite” and “Patron Saint”), they sound less like MBV and more like early Swirlies. When they dispense with the whammy-bar histrionics on “Where Do I End,” they sound less like either band and more like Swervedriver.
Despondent Transponder isn’t entirely devoid of distinction, though. On “Magnificent Oblivion,” orchestral samples are cut up and rearranged for rhythmic effect, suggesting what MBV would’ve sounded like if they had recorded for Mille Plateaux. The group’s secret weapon, though, is drummer Matt McCord. Sturdy yet flexible, McCord’s rhythms make the Fleeting Joys’ mellower songs float and their harder songs swing, which already puts the band in a class above many similar Shields disciples — raise your hand if you remember Study of the Lifeless!
It’s obvious that the Fleeting Joys are targeting a specific niche audience (read: me and everyone else who loves MBV as much as I do). Thus, when I say that Despondent Transponder rules, it would be wise to take my recommendation with a grain of salt. Then again, have I ever steered you wrong before? :-)
Artist Website: www.fleetingjoys.com
Label Website: www.onlyforeverrecordings.com
Wowie, this is such a great record! It's a collaboration between LA-based trippy hip-hop producer Nobody and San Francisco-based psych-popsters Mystic Chords of Memory, and though the collaboration might not seem that obvious, it takes all of about one listen to their debut Tree Colored See to realize that they've created a wonderfully magical record. When beats are added to the Mystic Chords' home-spun rootsy psych-country, the results are…spectacularly wonderful. Even more surprising is how natural the collaboration sounds. Chris Gunst's delicate singing voice takes on an extra strength with Nobody's accompaniment, and Nobody's vaguely psychedelic hip-hop style is made even more potent with Gunst and Cohen's assistance. Tree Colored See's sound runs from upbeat pop ("Feet Upon the Sand," "Softer Sail") to mellow grooves ("Decisions, Decisions"), with an occasional offbeat stop along the way ("Klaw Prints"). If this is the sound of new psychedelic rock, then I welcome it wholeheartedly.
Listen To: "Coyote's Song (When You Hear It Too)"
Label Website: http://www.mushrecords.com
May 23, 2006
Fort Recovery moves at a mid-tempo lope that avoids both the torpor of the band’s quieter material (see 1999's South San Gabriel Songs/Music) and the rousing crescendos of their louder material (see 1996's Redo the Stacks). Because of such, it takes a bit longer than usual for the songs to sink in. However, multiple listens forced me to pay attention to the lyrics, which contain some of Johnson’s most lucid writing yet. Many of the album’s songs are warnings to people who are about to receive a brutal comeuppance: a factory owner who stubbornly adheres to environmentally unsound practices (“Covered Up in Mines”), a scientist who betrays the trust of his comrades (“Calling Thermatico”), a corrupt corporate crony (“Patience for the Ride”) and a fair-weather friend (“For New Starts”). “Triggers and Trash Heaps” boasts the album’s best dis: “Your parameters and your reasons alike/Had the strength of mache/Or some Hollywood wedlock.” Every song on Fort Recovery oozes the wistfulness that characterizes Centro-matic’s best work, but the most heartrending is “Nothin’ I Ever Seen,” on which Johnson pays tribute to a friend who is about to die.
The lyrics aside, what keeps Fort Recovery so engaging despite its understated nature is the band’s infallible arranging and production skills. The best part of “Calling Thermatico” is its ending, in which all of the instruments drop out except for the falsetto vocal harmonies and tick-tock drumming. On the introduction to “I See Through You,” Johnson’s voice is run through a filter and drowned in a sea of reversed keyboards. When he launches into the second line, the keys and effects are permanently removed from the mix, producing a tension that carries itself through the remainder of the song. “Take the Maps and Run” sounds like a Spoon demo recorded in an apartment at midnight, with none of the instruments — hand percussion, acoustic guitar and Johnson’s croon — played at a level loud enough to wake the neighbors. Shambling songs like “Patience for the Ride” and “Take a Rake” come across as big-budget cousins of Pavement’s “Range Life,” placed right at the crossroads where indie-rock and alt-country shake hands.
Fort Recovery is a grower, the kind of album that won’t be recognized as one of the year’s best until long after the critics have compiled and published their year-end lists. Knowing Centro-matic, though, they’ll have an even better album in the can by that point anyway.
Artist Website: www.centro-matic.com
Label Website: www.misrarecords.com
May 22, 2006
There are changes, there are changes, and then there are changes. Accelera Deck’s latest album, A Landslide of Stars, marks the debut of Accelera Deck’s new format: rock band. For those familiar with the band’s oeuvre, you’ll know that AD has always hovered somewhere between electronica, noise, and experimental, but the word “rock” was never part of the equation…until now. Accelera Deck mastermind Chris Jeely decided to shift the focus of his music, and now, the ominous instrumental landscapes have been augmented with guitars, drums, and lyrics. You can't mistake him for a Kranky artist anymore! The sound is reminiscent of a rough Sonic Youth, or, more correctly, Unwound. The songs are loud; the songs are long; the songs are scary—and, frankly, it's an impressive feat. A Landslide of Stars is Jeely's rawest and roughest recording to date and it's also his best. Just take a listen:
Listen To: "A Landslide of Stars"
For more from this great record, check out his Myspace page.
We recently asked Jeely to explain himself...
After years of making music by yourself, what prompted your decision to form a band?
Well, it sort of evolved that way. I spent 2005 recording a solo rock record under the name 'Skulllike' and playing live often with my band The Trust Riots. So when I started working on Accelera Deck material my mindset was already there. The music on the album started from drones created by me manipulating my own guitar playing. Then, when I hooked up with drummer Zach Evans (who played on the record) things just kind of fell into place. Zach has since left the band and been replaced by Brad Davis. I definitely wanted to draw a clear line to separate the solo material from the band material which is why I released the triple CDR
live recordings of solo work.
The sound is a bit more "rock" in nature. Were there any particular bands or records that inspired this more traditional sound?
Yes, it’s definitely rock, Brad and I aren't afraid of that! He and I have been playing music for such a long time now that I’m not sure any influences are really conscious anymore. Other folks are much better at saying 'it sounds like this or that' than we are. I played in bands and wrote 'songs' long before I picked up computer music so to me there isn't much of a difference, because the inspiration to create still comes from the same place inside. I think we are more influenced by the attitude certain bands and labels have or partial elements of certain records rather than what they sound like. Like the wall of sound on "Loveless", the uncompromising attitude of Dischord Records, the steady pulse of Lungfish, the downstroke guitar attack of Johnny Ramone, stuff like that is what the
Tell me a little bit about the rest of your band. What's their background?
Brad Davis is the drummer. Brad and I have known each other since we were really, really young. We both got our instruments the same year and
played and wrote our own songs from the start (they were awful, but we were sincere) Brad and I are both big music fans and we will talk for hours about all kinds of stuff; he turns me onto some great music and vice versa. He is also the drummer for the group Plate Six, who are an astounding group.
Are you happy with this new direction? Will Accelera Deck become a more traditional band, or will it also encompass the solo electronic sounds of before?
Very happy! It feels great to be playing an unaffected guitar and singing as well. The background drones are still created the same way as before so it’s like an expansion to me rather than a new direction.
May 19, 2006
Eugene Mirman irks me. He has this self-congratulatory grin, this content smirk that just demands to be slapped. He reminds you of the kid in your fifth period class who sits in the middle of the row. He's not smart enough to sit at the front of the class with the smart kids, but he's not stupid enough to sit in the back with the losers/cool kids. So he sits in the middle of the row, and because he falls between the smart kids and the dumb-ass kids, he's usually just a smart-ass. Sure, the kid might know his stuff, but he's also prone to saying really dumb things, too; for every thing that he says that makes you laugh, he'll say something that makes you think, "what a dumb-ass.”
Which, of course, is just the feeling you'll get when you listen to his Sub Pop debut, En Garde, Society!, his second collection of live performance and homemade movies. The first disc, recorded last fall in New York, is, what one would assume, is a rather straightforward Mirman set. It’s packed full of non-stop jokes, many of which fall firmly into the category of “funny, but not ‘ha-ha’ funny.” His set is packed full of jabs and jokes about religion, society, animals, dudes who say “tube-steaks” and Edinburgh, Scotland. He is so rapid-fire in his approach, that it’s inevitable that he will occasionally fail miserably. But does he let it stop him? Nope, he just moves forward, soldiering on, and without looking at him, it’s hard to tell if he’s sincere or if he’s intentionally throwing in cheesy material designed to fall flat. Not that he’s a Neil Hamburger, though; Mirman’s routine is funny, and there’s no “bad comedian” shtick to be found here. Of course, most comedy recordings suffer from losing the visual element, so it’s really nothing to fault Mirman for. Still, if you can’t see him live, then this isn’t a bad substitute.
Oddly enough, the DVD portion of En Garde, Society! is much funnier than his stand-up routine> The disc features eight Mirman films and a parody of one of Mirman’s films. Here, in brief three to five minute sketches, he’s more focused, and given that Mirman has that smart-ass look, watching him emote makes his comedy even funnier. I mean, really, the sly grin seen during “Sexpert,” the in-your-face attitude of “Punk,” and the utter hilarity that is the back-in-time “Sir Eugene” prove to be just as funny as his night-club act.
Mirman will make you laugh. Maybe not every time, but he’ll make you laugh enough.
Check out "Scotch and Soda":
May 18, 2006
One of our favorite bands, His Name is Alive, is going out on their first full-length headlining tour in ten years! Isn’t that exciting? Yes, it is, even if you don’t know any better!! Trust us. So, what better time to check in on Mr. Warn Defever? He released a great record, Detrola, earlier this year, and he’s put together a red-hot live band, too!!! And, for your listening pleasure, we’ve included a number of some pretty good rarities from the past few years!!!!
"Every Rock, Every Stone, Every Body, Every Bone"(from The Emergency LP)
"Monday" (from Michigan's Finest cassette)
"Imperial (cover of Unrest song, featuring Mark and Bridget from Unrest!!! Found on The Emergency LP)
"Place" (from Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most)
"Moon Dance" (Van Morrison cover, found on When the Stars Refused to Shine)
(Also, you might want to check out the band's website, as there's a whole free CeeDee of experimental His Name is Alive goodness!)
When last we spoke, we closed with a discussion about Elvis Hitler reuniting—and then it happened! How was it?
Elvis Hitler was the band I joined when I was 16, the other guys in the band were older dudes. This was 1986. Twenty years later I talked everyone into doing a reunion concert!!! It was great!! I’d never seen so many motorcycles and hotrods outside a bar in Detroit before!!! it was a lot of fun, except when my brother (Elvis Hitler lead guitarist) kicked me in the stomach and I couldn't breathe for about five minutes during the song, "crush kill destroy" because I had unplugged his amp during his guitar solo!!! Really it was a lot of fun, oh yeah, and except for the mosh pit and the six people that got kicked out during the first song for starting fights.
It seems as if HNIA circa 2006 is much more of a live machine than ever before. Why is this? Is it because you've fallen in love with performing live and going on the road, or because you've formed a really excellent backing band?
I've been in the studio for five years nonstop without a breath of fresh air and its important to get out of the house sometimes. This is a lesson I've only recently learned in life.
You've also set up a new company, Silver Mountain. Considering that you've been on well-established labels for most of your career, does this company finally make you feel as if you have total control of His Name Is Alive and your destiny?
Having Sony/BMG as a distributor, you really wouldn't think it would be such a do-it-yourself type operation, but it really is. We've been working with little or no supervision for months now!!! Detrola is totally homemade. The front cover photo is a picture I took of the peak of Mount Everest in the Himalayas from a chartered aeroplane. I took the photo in 1999 when mini Polaroids first came out. I suspect that its the first ever mini Polaroid taken of Mount Everest, but I haven't contacted the Guinness book of world records yet.
Tell us a little bit about your live band.
On the DREAMS REALLY DO COME TRUE tour, Elliott is playing saxophone and piano, Andy FM is singing, Erik Hall is playing bass and bass mbira, and regular Dan is playing drums. Me and Andy are traveling by car with an electric thumb piano and an amp. Elliott, Erik and Dan play in a groop called NOMO, who is opening up us for every night, and they are traveling by van. We've had one rehearsal so far and I think there'll be many surprises this summer!!!!
One of the things I've noticed in recent photographs of you performing live is that your demeanor exudes happiness. I haven't seen a shot of you without you having less than a big, shining soul-warming smile. Considering the stress and the headaches of the past few years, do you feel a lot happier with life?
Enduring years of stress and economic hardships as professional musician has finally taken its toll on my mind and body, so I've turned to alcohol as a source of comfort.
As always, I'm sure you're very busy with different musical projects and experiments. What's cooking in your musical laboratory these days that we can look forward to?
I’ve still been recording other groups; recently I did some recordings with Michael Hurley and I made a kids album for Folkways with Liz and Dan from Ida.
Another reunion prediction: any chance of an ESP Summer reunion?
I put together a disc recently of all the songs from the CD, the EP, the 7", a couple outtakes and a couple live tracks and it sounded pretty sweet!!! ESP SUMMER COMPLETE RECORDINGS COMING SOON!!!
Wow! I can’t wait to hear that! Thanks, Warn!!!
May 17, 2006
Thu May 18th Hattiesburg, MS Thirsty Hippo
Fri May 19th Atlanta, GA The Earl
Sat May 20th Tampa, FL Cuban Club (as part of WMNF'S Tropical Heatwave festival)
May 15, 2006
Why? gave us a brilliant set, especially considering the circumstances behind it. They were recently whittled down to a trio after a member moved to a remote island (not kidding). Vocalist Yoni Wolf now does double duty on keyboards and auxiliary percussion; his brother Josiah, in an insane display of coordination, plays a rearranged drum kit and vibraphone simultaneously; Doug McDiarmid handles all the guitar duties. This new lineup has forced the band to slightly tweak the arrangements to their songs. They’re not as rhythmically dexterous as they used to be — Josiah can’t solo like a madman now that he has more than one instrument to play — but, by the same token, they’re actually more faithful to the homespun textures that made last year’s Elephant Eyelash album so endearing. I didn’t think they’d be able to pull off the prog-pop madness of “Fall Saddles” with just three people, but they did!
I then walked back to the inside stage to see Wilderness. This was the band that I was most excited to see, and their set exceeded all of my expectations. Initially, their music sounds like an extrapolation of Interpol’s slower moments — ethereal guitars, booming bass lines and martial, tom-heavy drumming. As soon as vocalist James Johnson opens his mouth, though, he gives the band its singular identity. Johnson whoops and wails with the drama and pretension of a Shakespearean actor delivering the soliloquy of his life. Most of his lyrics consist of four or five sentences, which are repeated and rearranged until the syntax is destroyed and the sound of his voice is all that is left to convey meaning. This approach has garnered comparisons to the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Public Image Limited’s John Lydon, although Johnson is more expressive than either of them. When he sings against the music or veers off key, it’s an intentional choice, not just a consequence of his vocal limitations. Because of this, I’d put him closer to someone like Daniel Higgs of Lungfish. When Johnson wasn’t singing, his hands were chopping the air to the beat of the music. During Wilderness’ set, a man and a woman started doing strange interpretive dances to the music, bending their bodies in positions that I’d never seen outside of a yoga class (or a copy of the Kama Sutra). Other people in the audience started swaying back and forth to the music like they were in a trance! It felt like half of the audience was having a religious experience, while the other half were simply wondering what the hell was going on. Wilderness’ set exceeded all of my expectations.
After Wilderness’ set, I walked back to the outside stage to see Islands. Despite their pedigree — both singer Nick Diamonds and drummer Jaime Tambour were members of the Unicorns — I wasn’t that excited about seeing them. I’d listened to their album Return to the Sea before, and it felt like a Unicorns album with twice the polish and half the inspiration. Many of the songs were simply too long, and not even the unexpected genre clashes (calypso detours, Busdriver cameos, etc.) could keep my attention from wandering when I listened to them. “I know they’re not going to be as good as Wilderness,” I told a friend, “but as long as they don’t royally suck, I’ll be satisfied.”
I will say that Islands had a great sense of showmanship. Nick Diamonds occasionally delivered his vocals while hanging off of the ceiling, or straddled atop the shoulders of other band members. There were freestyle cameos from Cadence Weapon and two members of Why? There were lots of instrument changes, unexpected starts and false endings. Despite all of this, I still couldn’t remember any of their songs after I left the venue. It also didn’t help that Nick Diamonds’ stage banter was often insufferable. “I was going to thank the bands that played on the inside stage,” he said between songs, “but I figured that it would be phony because I don’t know who they are.” Shut up, then, and play the next song! The only thing that Islands’ set really did for me was remind me how sloppy and catchy the Unicorns were. The Unicorns may have spent more time goofing off between songs than actually playing them, but the few songs they did play were always better than this.
With all of the aforementioned changes in perception and acceptability, it's quite stunning, then, to discover that Charalambides' newest work, A Vintage Burden, is easily their most accessable release to date. With the recent departure of Heather Murray, the band apparently decided to use that opportunity to venture into a different sonic direction. Gone are the cold, chilling, slow ambient drones and quietly beautiful hour-long epic compositions. In its place are warm, organic and beautifully lush ballads that could quite easily be labelled 'folk'. The duo's new direction is, at first, somewhat of a shock, but it doesn't take long for that initial shock to be replaced by admiration and love for their new-found sound. Hearing the quiver in Christina's voice on "Two Birds" and "Spring" is a touching experience, making their already beautiful melodies even more gorgeous.
The most amazing aspect of this seemingly new direction? Even though the music is now stripped down and stylistically different than previous records, ultimately, Charalambides' fundamental principles are the same. It's only a minor shift in perspective, really; take away Christina's hauntingly beautiful singing from "There Is No End," "Spring," or "Two Birds," and the instrumentals could easily fit on any of the band's previous releases. Tom's gorgeous 17-minute instrumental "Black Bed Blues" proves this point; it's a warm number that sounds quite gorgeous and new, yet it's pretty much the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on a Charalambides record. Only on the distinctively acoustic "Dormant Love" does the band actually achieve a truly "folk" sound.
A Vintage Burden is an impressive record, because it takes a lot of skill to make a record that's true to your well-established formula, yet sounds radically different than anything that preceeds it. Then again, there are those who would say that is one of Charalambides' greatest strengths. Either way, the beauty of A Vintage Burden cannot be denied; it is easily one of the duo's finest records.
Listen To: "Spring"
Label Website: Kranky
May 14, 2006
If you've asked yourself, "Whatever happened to the Jesus & Mary Chain's Jim Reid," then your question is about to be answered. His new project, Freeheat, is set to release their debut album, Back on the Water, on June 6th, via Planting Seeds. This album contains both studio and live recordings, and if the first single "Down" (penned by Ben Lurie, also a JaMC alum) is any indication, then this record's going to be an amazing return to form. Personally, I can't wait to hear it.
Listen To: "Down"
Also, the Jesus & Mary Chain back catalog is soon to be reissued in DualDisc format, all packaged with remastered albums and videos. Wowie!
May 12, 2006
The most common criticism that I’ve seen leveled against In Great Shape is that it doesn’t bring the noise like previous Beatnik Filmstars records did. I don’t have a problem with that, but I could see why others would. If you are one of those people, though, you definitely need to pick up Welcome to the Mid-West, as it is the most massive-sounding record any Filmstar has been involved with since 1993's Laid-Back and English. Every instrument is liberally coated in distortion and reverb. Between Tim’s layered guitars and bassist Ruth Cochrane’s busy playing, many of the songs sound like they’re being played by 10 people instead of four. However, Mid-West has none of the arty tomfoolery that disrupts the average Filmstars album. The Forest Giants state on their website that “the idea behind the album was to make an old-fashioned 10-song record with all proper-length songs, no weirdo fillers, [and] one overall sound.” They definitely succeeded. This album boasts a concision and consistency that can go toe-to-toe against similar noise-pop juggernauts like the Wedding Present’s Seamonsters and Yo La Tengo’s Painful.
Like those two albums, many of Welcome to the Mid-West’s songs explore relationship woes with plainspoken reserve. The rhyme schemes are facile (“Everything is on fire/Falling apart at the seams/Everyone is a liar/Nothing is quite what it seems”), but the hooks do most of the talking anyway. “So You Think You’re Unhappy?” is the album’s first standout, a slice of heavenly electro-pop in which Tim mocks an ex for not having moved on yet from their breakup. “Why Wait” is the kind of song that Boyracer could knock out in their sleep, which is a compliment. Three verses and 100 seconds is all the band needs to get the song stuck in your head. The mosh-worthy three-chord grind of “Planes Fly Overhead”’s lives up to its name by sounding like it was recorded in an airplane hangar. The album isn’t all strum und drang, though. On the “Dear John” ballad “The Message,” Paula Knight’s cheesy organs and sweet voice are placed front and center. A few tracks later, Tim and Paula sing the love song “Stars” together: “Let’s go to live in where the stars shine, darling...I know you can’t stand it anymore.” His unsteady croon and her pitch-perfect sigh sound great together, and I’d like to hear them harmonize more on future Forest Giants material.
Since I received Welcome to the Mid-West in the mail, I’ve listened to it at least twice a day. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who reads this, whether you’re a Beatnik Filmstars or not. I wouldn’t have been as dismayed about the Filmstars’ hiatus as I was if I had known that I’d get TWO great bands out of it in the long run. This foot doesn’t taste too good in my mouth, but the Forest Giants certainly sound good to my ears!
Artist Website: www.forestgiants.co.uk
Label Website: www.cherryademusic.co.uk
May 11, 2006
It's sad, knowing that Grandaddy has brought its storied career to an end. Yeah, I know, bands break up, artists decide not to make art any more, and life goes on, but Jason Lytle's always been…he's always been a little special. Ya know? Many people (me included) fell in love with the 'daddy when they heard The Sophtware Slump, and rightfully so. Mellow prog-lite songs about robots and lakes and falling in and out of love sung by a dude with a falsetto that sounded angelic and innocent—it all seemed so otherworldly, so beautiful, and so, so right. It was a perfect album. The follow-up, Sumday, was a bit different, a little bit more upbeat; some didn't quite warm up to it, but it was a grower. (It finally became 'awesome' in my book after I put it on my stereo during a day-long road trip. The album's more rocking nature makes it the perfect soundtrack for a road trip.
But Mr. Lytle has decided that the sun has set on Grandaddy. Sad as the decision may be, it's hard not to respect a guy who decides that making music is no longer an enjoyable experience and decides to quit before mediocrity sets in. So, Just Like the Fambly Cat is Grandaddy's fare-thee-well to the world. To keep with the computer technology theme of his music, I will now demonstrate how I feel about this development in the 21st Century's best way to demonstrate my feelings:
Just Like The Fambly Cat isn't a heady, mellow trip like The Sophtware Slump, and it's not the rock record that Sumday was, either. It's definitely a Grandaddy record, but it's easily their most upbeat, most rockin' record to date, yet it's enough like the previous two records to retain the qualities that made Grandaddy so well-loved. In fact, Just Like the Fambly Cat is pretty damn catchy and poppy and most accessible record to date. The album starts off with a loop of a child saying "What happened to the family cat?" while Lytle concocts a brooding electronic atmosphere below the child's voice. Then, of course, after two minutes, he and the band decide to let it rip and unleashes "Jeez Louise," one of the band's hardest, loudest songs ever.
The rest of the record follows the formula of: mellow prog-pop followed by some loud, driving rock, followed by some electronic silliness. That might be a recipe for disaster, but this is GRANDADDY we are talking about, so, you know, it's quite all right. The highlights include: the lovely "Rear View Mirror" (think 70s LA country-rock); "Where I'm Anymore" and its chorus that consists of Lytle singing "meow" over and over; the thrashy punky "50%"; and, of course, let's not overlook the telling "Elevate Myself," which is probably the most explicit description of why Lytle ain't wanting to make Grandaddy music any more. And check out the hidden fare-thee-well to the fans at the end of the record.
Lytle could have easily slacked off; he could have really jerked around his fans by releasing a half-assed record that merely retreads old concepts. He could have not even tried to make a good record. But he didn't do that. Instead, he put his time and effort into the record, and came up with one of the best records of 2006. Just Like the Fambly Cat is a dignified high note to end a career.
Listen to the new album here!
Last Secrets might be the angriest power-pop record you’ll hear all year. Even without a glance at the lyric sheet, guitarist Joe Ziemba’s snot-nosed sneer sounds as if he’s just two seconds away from spitting in your face – except for when he switches to a gorgeous falsetto. This IS power-pop we’re talking about, after all. Read the lyrics, though, and you’ll discover the Like Young’s knack for writing vivid yet concise portraits of antisocial behavior, failed relationships and abuses of power. On “For Love or Money,” Joe sings of punching doors in public; two songs later he leaves a party early, repulsed by the false congeniality of those around him. On “Some Closure,” drummer Amanda Ziemba sings cherubically about a breakup: “It took a bed, with brief talking/A simple end to what was dragging.” On “All the Wrong Reasons,” Joe chastises an old man who pursues a woman 30 years younger than him. On “Dead Eyes,” he rails against gender inequality and sexual exploitation (“She can’t reach your wages, but she can visit hotel rooms/She can’t share your stages, but she can service your back room”). Not since Boyracer’s A Punch Up the Bracket have I heard such focused attacks sugarcoated in song.
The Like Young knows how to flesh out its sound out in the studio without going overboard. Some songs are book-ended by ambient interludes, and every once in a while an over-dubbed synthesizer will provide counterpoint. Otherwise, Joe and Amanda use only the instruments they play on stage: guitar, drums and voice. Joe de-tunes and double-tracks his guitars to compensate for the absence of bass, but that’s as close as the band comes to glossing up their sound. I’m not saying that every band should rigidly adhere to its live setup in the studio, but it’s good to know that the Like Young can do so without sounding incomplete or monotonous, especially over the course of a 13-track album. Of course, this is also due to the improvements that Joe and Amanda have made as musicians and writers. Up to this point, the sameness of Amanda’s drumming has been the band’s stumbling block. Last Secrets, though, finds her finally taking chances with her rhythms. She’s still no Sheila E, but she’s way better than Meg White. Last but not least, no song on Last Secrets passes without the band throwing a monster hook our way.
The Like Young gives us both “power” and “pop” in equal measure. Their distorted guitars, brash rhythms and angry lyrics make their music easy to thrash around to when you’re in a bad mood; their note-perfect harmonies and catchy choruses make it easy to sing along to when you’re in a good mood. They’ve been on a winning streak for four years and counting, and Last Secrets shows no signs of letting up. Stop reading this and buy the album already!
Artist Website: www.thelikeyoung.com
Label Website: www.polyvinylrecords.com
May 09, 2006
Guitarists Brian Hacker and Jacob Kart are masters of labyrinthine interplay. They let jazzy chords clash against each other at the oddest moments, and scatter “wrong” notes all over their arpeggios like shards of glass on concrete. Bassist Toby Summerfield and drummer Chris Salmon are a flexible yet steady rhythm section. They make even the trickiest meters swing, and hold the songs together when Hacker and Kart go on long instrumental tangents...and with an average song length of six-and-a-half minutes, there are a LOT of tangents!
Metric Midnight’s 12-minute centerpiece “Is the New Black” is the biggest offender. It begins with Hacker and Kart hammering away at the same distorted chord for 90 seconds, slowing down and speeding up without any regard for what the rhythm section is doing. They strum so hard that their guitars fall out of tune with each other. When they remove the cloud of distortion from the guitars, the beat frequencies generated from the strings produce a sense of unease that lingers for the rest of the song. Three minutes into the song, the bass line is doubled on a gurgling synthesizer, and the guitars are stripped of their attack, which enables them to slowly produce soothing drones. This gives Summerfield ample opportunity to show off his skills with some fleet-fingered improvisation. When the song reaches the eight-minute mark, Hacker and Kart take back the spotlight by gradually layering arpeggios on top of each other. By the end of the song, I feel like I’m stranded in a factory full of malfunctioning grandfather clocks!
These instrumental tangents are often more interesting than the actual verses and choruses. The band seems to know this as well. Brian Hacker’s nasal snarl is the instrument you hear least on this album. When it does appear, it’s buried underneath the guitars. Not only that, but two of the last three songs on Metric Midnight are instrumentals. It’s for the best, though: if given too much air time, Hacker’s voice would quickly grate. Overall, Metric Midnight finds Crush Kill Destroy playing to their strengths. The songs are long, but the band keeps them interesting through creative musicianship and the element of surprise (dig the trumpets on closer “Walkers, Sleepers, Eaters”). The Chicago music scene seems to pump out bands like this on a daily basis, but CKD are definitely part of the cream of the crop.
Artist Website: www.crushkilldestroy.net
Label Website: www.nokarma.com
The Old Time Relijun show didn’t begin auspiciously, though. The opening act, a trio from Buffalo called Lemuria, played dramatic punk-pop that reminded me of early Rainer Maria. Every single element of their sound seemed to have something wrong with it. The drummer’s rhythms were creative, but his playing wasn’t steady. The guitarist played some interesting chords and had a pleasant voice, but her strumming was sloppy and she didn’t project. The bassist played through a distortion pedal, but his instrument actually sounded louder when he DIDN’T use it. The combination of the sound man’s bad mix and the band’s rushed playing made the (admittedly decent) songs fall short of their potential.
Thus, it was up to Houston quartet Bring Back the Guns to get the audience moving. I first saw this band live two years ago in their hometown, and I loved them then. They were much better this evening, though. Their playing was tighter, their stage presence was more intense, and their songs no longer felt like works in progress. They started with “Radio Song ‘04,” the epic centerpiece of their upcoming debut Dry’s Future, which they played almost every song from. Rhythm guitarist Matt Brownlie played the song’s opening arpeggio while standing in the audience. When he leapt on stage to deliver the opening refrain “I say the same thing over and over,” it officially became on like Donkey Kong in our lives. Their Pixies-gone-math-rock sound made room for many abrupt meter changes, squealing guitar melodies and dizzying feats of full-band syncopation. Through it all, Matt served as the band’s insane conductor. When he wasn’t yelping and thrashing away at his guitar, he was wandering around the stage, clapping to the music...and occasionally slapping himself upside the head! BBTG got a great reception from the audience, and they deserved it.
After Old Time Relijun set up their equipment, singer/guitarist Arrington de Dionyso stripped down to his underwear. The ladies who accompanied me to the show couldn’t stop staring at him; one in particular made comment after comment about his crotch. “I almost want to introduce myself and shake his hand,” she said, “just so that I can say I shook the hand of a half-naked man in public!” Immediately after she said that, Arrington checked his microphone by doing 15 seconds of Tuvan throat singing. The sounds that came out of his mouth made the ladies’ jaws hit the floor. “He must be some kind of insane genius,” my friend concluded. The rest of the band hadn’t played a single note yet.
Once Arrington played the opening riff to “Cold Water,” the show turned into the weirdest dance party I’ve seen all year. Arrington looked and sounded like he was possessed by James Chance and Pat Place simultaneously. He unleashed immeasurably intense grunts and wails, while running a slide up and down the neck of his guitar like he was caught in a violent game of tug-of-war. His drummer played simple but creative rhythms that suggested what Meg White would sound like if she knew about eighth notes and polyrhythms. A third member triple duty on percussion, saxophone and clarinet, but I couldn’t hear him no matter what instrument he played. He never stood close enough to the microphone! However, I heard the stand-up bassist very well. His funky, wandering lines kept the rest of the band tethered to the groove. NO ONE in the club stood still or sat down. Not only were the ladies getting down, but they were also taking pictures of themselves getting down. You know you’re doing a good job when that happens! Even the guys with no rhythm managed to start what might have been the most polite mosh pit I had ever seen at a show. People were running into each other, and holding hands while doing so! Old Time Relijun played almost every song I wanted to hear from their last two albums, 2012 and Lost Light. Their set was the perfect climax for my birthday! I almost wanted to buy one of the baby tees that they had for sale, but I don’t think my mother would’ve enjoyed the sight of my two-year-old foster brother wearing a tee with a crude drawing of a lizard-headed ghost on it.
In the early 1990s (was it really that long ago?), Kill Rock Stars released three compilations that captured the sounds of independent rock--though it focused on the Northwest, they did include a few artists from across the rest of the country. Let's just say that If you don't have the "Kill Rock Stars" comps in your possession, then your life is seriously lacking. They've released a few more comps since then--most notably Fieldsand Streams and Tracks and Fields--but The Song The Hare Heard is easily the first KRS comp that's as brilliant and essential as those brilliant and essential "Kill Rock Stars" collections. The guiding philosophy of these songs is "folk," but this isn't your grandma's boring-ass folk-rock. Nope, this collection contains twenty-one different artists who do a pretty damn good job of breaking that boring-ass hippie folk stereotype. Each song is killer, each song is essential, and each song will provide enough motivation for you to further investigate these artists. Here are some highlights: "Best Friends Forever," a gorgeous, Carole King-style offering by Slumber Party's Alicia BB; the gorgeous harmonies of The Moore Brothers' "Waves of Wonder;" the catchy country-rock beat of Death Vessel's "Dancers All;" Laura Veirs's "Cast a Hook in Me" is also quite gorgeous, too. But my favorite track is "Feet Asleep," by the relatively unknown Thao Nguyen. Her voice is gorgeous and pretty and the song is downright addictive. Oh, there are other songs by Sufjan Stevens and Colin Meloy, but guess what? They're actually lesser numbers, which only shows that the big names aren't necessarily the best names. The Sound the Hare Heard is, quite simply, a rather wonderful snapshot of today's independent folk scene.
Listen To: Thao Nguyen "Feet Asleep"
Mecca Normal isn't just a band, it's a long-running musical institution. For the past twenty years, Jean Smith and David Lester have released some interesting, fascinating, stimulating, and often humorous albums, and The Observer is no exception. This record is a concept album, built around Jean Smith's experiences in the world of online dating. Smith's singing is raw, the music is minimalist, but somehow, these things work. It's not an easy listen; Smith puts her heart on the line, and sometimes, things don't work out right. But that's what a good artist does—they put their emotions and feelings out for the world to see, regardless of what might happen next. Mostly, though, Smith is an excellent story-teller; her narrative style is quite compelling, and songs like "Attraction is Ephemeral" and "The Fallen Skier" aren't so much songs as they are mini-movies, and they quickly capture your attention, as she sings of her exploits and her feelings. Though some of the things she has to say are quite challenging and rather winsome--especially the harsh reality of "I'll Call You" and the painfully self-aware title track--she still manages to add a bit of humor to her work; one can't help but smile when hearing the lines "In bed he tires to put the condom on. He curses. I try to see what he's doing, but I'm pinned under him. I hear him stretching the condom like he's making a balloon animal." Her observations are fascinating, and while it might not be the easiest listen for some people, The Observer is nevertheless a complex album by a duo who have never been anything but complex.
Listen To: "I'm Not Into Being the Woman You're With While You're Looking for the Woman You Want"
Imaad Wasif is a young man who has played with some pretty good bands, and is now the 'fourth yeah' in popular rock group Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He also played in the final incarnation of Lou Barlow's Folk Implosion, and this is important to note, because, well, you'll instantly hear a Barlow influence on Wasif's self-titled solo debut. It's a sometimes downbeat, sometimes low and sad affair, but it’s also quite a quiet, beautiful affair. Though there's nothing on Imaad Wasif that will make you want to dance around the room, that doesn't mean that his music is boring. He has a way with words and arrangements, making his sad songs even more emotionally wrenching. It doesn't hurt that he has a singing voice that's pure and beautiful; it's hard not to think of Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and even Jeff Buckley—comparisons that might be a tad cliché for some folk-minded folk, but they're quite apt. The only drawback is that Wasif's style doesn't really change from song to song; the songs are soft and sad and mellow and hushed, and the lack of sonic variety can occasionally distract. But with beautiful songs like "Coil" and "Fade in Me" and "Static," it's really hard to complain that much about monotony.
A great debut record, this.
Listen To: "Out in the Black"
Dark yet danceable New Wave-pop is what makes Anna Oxygen's new record so wonderful. Ms. Oxygen sings with a husky voice reminiscent of Alison Moyet, and the music is moody, atmospheric, slightly ominous pop that's surprisingly quite catchy, and her style is quite similar to the German pop band Gina X Performance, with a hint of Yaz and early period Depeche Mode. If her intention is to make your feet move, then she's accomplished her mission quite well. Songs like "Psychic Rainbow" and "Fairy Quest" are full of groove—a groove that's somewhat haunting, thanks to Oxygen's somewhat operatic-style of singing. "This Is an Exercise" is a rather sexy, vocoder-laden song that's…an exercise number! Yeah, it could fit into any workout room's soundtrack, and no one would be the wiser. This Is An Exercise is a cool, hip treat, and a welcomed label debut. Look forward to hearing more from this really cool woman…
Listen To: "Psychic Rainbow"
A bit more complex is They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. This Vancouver-based collective suffers to some extent from obvious comparisons to the Danielson Famile. Sure, the sounds are similar--and that's certainly the description I heard in regards to them. But much like the "oh, Unwound is just ripping off Sonic Youth" debate from the 1990s, once you get past the obvious similarities to The Danielson Famile, you'll discover a pretty good, pretty fun record . Their debut for Kill Rock Stars, Boo Hoo Hoo Boo, is quirky, damaged art-rock fun, made with wonderfully offbeat singing voices, angular melodies, and a trumpet. Not at the same time, though. Though not every song is a winner--occasionally it seems like some songs are mere tangents of other tracks on the record--songs like "Hiccups," "Seeds," "Three," and "Big Dot" are quite charming, as the band goes off into various different tangents, reminiscent of label mates Need New Body and Deerhoof, though they don't sound a thing like them. Still, Boo Hoo Hoo Boo is a charming little record.
Listen To: "Hiccup"
Kill Rock Stars' newest signing is The Everyothers, and guess what? These guys rock. Their latest offering, Pink Sticky Lies, is a concise collection of five powerful, slick, radio-friendly glam-rock. Don't let the 'glam' tag fool you; The Everyothers aren’t mere imitators. No, they've got a definite sweet tooth for rock music; lead singer Owen McCarthy sings with that cocky, confident swagger that could be found in abundance in the music of Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry, and David Bowie. These five songs could (and should) be rock radio staples, especially the excellent "Too Far," "A New Inebriation," and "Dive with You." The band's press treats the band like they're the saviors of rock and roll that rock and roll has been waiting for. Guess what? That's not just PR braggadocio. You were warned.
Listen To: "Dive with You"
May 07, 2006
Okay, straight up--this record is simply amazing. I have no information to give you on Mr. Krakow. He's kind of mysterious, but like all enigmas, it's a fun kind of mystery. His debut CD Oceans in the Sun is a blast of pure fun pop. Thirty one songs in 42 minutes, and almost every one of them is a winner. That's even more amazing. And unlike other weird experimental artists who put two or three dozen minute-long songs on a record, almost every one of Krakow's compositions is a hummable ditty that's easy on the ears and is otherwise quite brilliant. (I can't send you to a website for you to learn anything more about this mystery man, but if you want to start somewhere, click here.)
But back to this brilliant record, shall we? Thirty-one pop gems, set to fun Casio-styled numbers and other lo-fi recordings, all sung in Krakow's wonderfully grunge-like voice. Seriously. Think of Daniel Johnston or Wesley Willis songs sung by Anthony Kiedis or John Frusciante or Layne Staley or Chris Cornell. Yeah. Really, people. That's what I like about this. Krakow can sing, has a great voice, and he shows it off by singing songs that are nothing more than lines like "I respect you!" and "Wish me luck, person with a hand!" and "High School is not cool/Don't go to school, at least high school." Yes, those songs are brilliant. The record only has five songs that suck, and the reason they suck is because they're instrumentals. THIS IS ALL ABOUT THE GENIUS LYRICS, my friend! You wouldn't have instrumental passages on a Sinatra or Jeff Buckley record, would you? NO HECK NO.
But there are twenty six songs with genius words about things like friends and dating via the internet and trees and school and soul and love and life and fire, and they're all fun and funny and brilliant and genius and you just can't turn away. And these songs...they're not lo-fi, they're not hi-fi, they're not indie-pop..they're something completely different. They're Krakow-pop. Jesse-pop. Something outside the limits of what you know. This is what music should be about, and Jesse Krakow is a total genius in that regard. You seriously need to seek this record now. And check out the tracks below. You MUST do that. You simply MUST. Because you need some happy smile time. And because I know what I'm talking about.
Listen To: "Tree For me"
Listen To: "Factory of Coolness"
May 05, 2006
Yea Big is the alias of 23-year-old Stefen Robinson, a Chicago laptop artist who has previously collaborated with Brad of the Mae Shi. That band’s collage-like approach to sequencing and titling is all over The Wind. Three consecutive songs are titled “Elegant as Fuck.” Together, they ebb and flow like a single seven-minute track, which makes the indexing rather superfluous. Another three-song suite boasts two tracks titled “Nice People Are Those Who Have Nasty Minds,” between which appears an interlude called “The Same Stupid Shit, Only Faster.” This interlude lives up to its name by being — you guessed it — a faster version of “Nice People...” Full-length tracks are book-ended by snippets of digital flatulence and, in the case of “Bruce, You Have to Recognize,” backwards versions of themselves. All tolled, The Wind That Blows the Robot’s Arms runs through 25 tracks in 50 minutes. Neither the good ideas nor the bad ones (and there are plenty of both) get to stick around for long.
What makes Yea Big sound like “Prefuse 73 gone retarded” is Stefen’s refusal to harness his micro-edits into anything resembling a melody. “But We Will Try Nonetheless” sounds like someone flicking a radio deal back and forth between stations to a simple rhythm. “Nice People...” begins with the queasiest acoustic guitar playing I’ve heard since Tetuzi Akiyama’s Pre-Existence; only during the song’s second half do the guitars achieve consonance. The synthesizers on “It Will Be Tasteful” start out sounding pleasant, but get louder and more dissonant as the song progresses. I can almost visualize the LED levels in the mastering room slowly turning fire red when I listen to it. Even on “Exaggeration Run Amok,” which imitates the backwards bells of Prefuse’s “Point to B,” the bass line is completely out of tune with the rest of the music, which keeps the song firmly grounded in atonality. The closest that Stefen’s music comes to being pretty is on “Increaseth Wisdom Increases Sorrow,” which is based on a simple dulcimer loop.
Whereas Herren slices and dices voices in order to exploit their tonal and melodic properties, Stefen uses the voice as a percussive instrument. In laymen’s terms, Herren focuses on vowels and Stefen focuses on consonants (see “Touch You or Touch Them” for proof). Stefen also loves speeding his voices up until they’re completely unintelligible. “My Principles Far Outweigh My Common Sense” sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks having a freestyle cipher on top of a Squarepusher track. For a laptop artist, Stefen is enamored with sound effects that are primarily associated with analog equipment. On many songs, he runs his samples through the kind of intermittent flickering that you’d usually hear on a demagnetized cassette. Other songs are interrupted by squeals and squelches that sound like reels being violently rewound.
The almost complete absence of melody or discernible vocals in Yea Big’s music makes The Wind That Blows the Robot’s Arms a hard sell for anyone who likes their glitch served in small doses. If you were one of the few people who considered Security Screenings easy listening, though, this album should satisfy you. Bring some Q-tips, though, because you’ll need them.
Artist Website: www.yeabig.com
Label Website: www.jibdoor.com
May 04, 2006
Televise is a band formed by former Slowdive guitarist Simon Scott, and it sounds like a band that was formed by a former Slowdive guitarist. That doesn't mean that Scott and his crew are merely trying to be the second coming of Slowdive, but it does mean that the music on their debut album, Songs to Sing in A & E follows a distinctive pattern. That pattern is moody, atmospheric rock that is grand in scope, loud in the quiet parts, and quiet in the loud parts. It's Britpop-flavored; if you like Coldplay and Travis, Televise won't freak you out. IF you hate Coldplay and Travis, Televise will make you say "THIS IS WHAT COLDPLAY AND TRAVIS SHOULD SOUND LIKE!"
Though there are only nine songs on the album, the band doesn't waste a single moment. From the lovely, gorgeous melancholy of "Smile" and "Radiation Sound" to the upbeat "I Don't Know Why" to the amazingly powerful epic "Never Alone," Televise creates a dark, gray atmosphere, but they don't wallow in musical self-pity or melancholy. Also, they do a pretty killer version of Ultra Vivid Scene's "The Mercy Seat." In a better world, their songs would be heard on the airwaves; their songs are definitely of that quality. Europe gets it, why can't we? Ah, but that's an entirely different rant...
If you like wonderfully composed Britpop, or you simply like music that makes you feel like moping about or relaxing, then Songs to Sing in A & E will certainly provide you with both.
Listen To: "Smile"
You can also check out three other great songs on their Myspace page.
4ad has designed an incredibly beautiful mini-site for Scott Walker's The Drift, featuring sound clips, lyrics, photos, an essay, and an unbelievably beautiful video. (By the way, the music is quite ominous.) Check it out:
Well, it took 'em a little while, but Sub Pop finally signed a South American band, as well as a straight-up dance band. CSS, which stands for Cansei de Ser Sexy, which is Portugese for "Tired of being sexy," is an amazingly good band. This sextet (ah, indie-rock irony, you didn't die in the 1990s!) makes music that's soooooo damn catchy and addictive. Though their record doesn't appear until July 12th, you can download several songs from their debut album on their Myspace page. If the rest of the record is as sexy as "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above," then...well, I really can't finish that statement.
Listen To:Three Songs from CSS's Myspace Page
May 03, 2006
Paula Kelley has always been a favorite of mine. Her first band, Drop Nineteens, was a blast of shoegaze-influenced indie-pop, and though her next two bands were good, they didn't set the stage for what would come next—a trip into delicate, grand Bacharach-styled orchestra pop. The Trouble With Success, or How You Fit Into the World was one of the best records of 2003, and we certainly wasted no time in proclaiming it so. It's a great record, and you need to seek it out ASAP.
As a result of a recent move to the West Coast, Kelley took some time and went through her recording archives, and the resulting record, Some Sucker's Life, Pt. 1, (recently released by Stop, Pop, and Roll) is just as strong as any of her previous releases. One might expect a record that compiles demos and unreleased songs from the past fifteen years to be rather chaotic and not at all cohesive in style, but that's certainly not the case. True, a good majority of the songs found here are mellow, occasionally solo acoustic affairs, there's plenty of variety. There's the excellent power-pop/pop-punk of "B.S. I Love You" and "Your Big World," the psych-rock of "High Boots" and "Talk Away" (which sounds like a long-lost Brian Jonestown Massacre jewel), and the utterly wonderful shoegaze of "Untitled" and" Born to Be a Star." The record also contains some rather nice pop moments, like "You're Up" and "Girl of the Day." Though most of these songs date from the 1990s, one song, "Goodbye September," is a new track from some recent sessions. Then there's the gorgeous cover of Blue Öyster Cult's "Burning for You," which in its stripped-down acoustic mode, is about as ominous as BoC's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." Ultimately, though, these songs prove Kelley's superior talent. After all, isn't it a sign of brilliance when an artist's "rejects" and unreleased songs are of such a high standard? I think so. These demos are excellent, and this is a wonderful collection.
Listen To: "Born to Be A Star"
Listen To: "Burnin' For You"
Paula recently told us a few things about her new record:
Were you surprised by the quality of the demos in your archives? When you started listening to your old tapes again, did you expect to find an album's worth of quality material? Were you more surprised at the number of songs in your collection, or the quality?
I certainly didn't expect to find an album's worth of material. When I decide to shelf a song, it's for good reason, at least for how I feel at the time. I wasn't surprised at the number of songs. I've been writing since I can remember so I know my back catalog, released and otherwise, is quite sizable. There were, though, lots of instances of "well, now, this isn't so bad, is it?" And when it came down to it, Aaron and I were struggling over cutting the last few songs from the album as we had too many. That was unexpected.
When you write songs, would you consider yourself more of a perfectionist, often setting aside songs that sound great in retrospect, but don't seem to work at the time, or would you consider yourself more of a pessimist, setting aside perfectly good songs because you think that they're not very good?
Whether a song is "good" or not is subjective. If I think a song is ass, I truly believe that, whereas someone else may like it. When I set aside a song it's always because I don't think it makes the grade. When I write one I consider to be great, I want to play it as soon as possible. I don't really run into the problem of a song not working at a particular time. I seem to write in stylistic cycles. I am grateful to my brain for functioning like that beyond my consciousness.
Listening to these songs, were there any songs in particular that made you think "Wow, why did I let that one slip by?" or "Gee, that one was better than I thought!"?
"Better than I thought" - yes. I have an affinity for "High Boots" which was on the first Boy Wonder demo. It never made it onto an album. I get excited by new songs as I write them so I suppose that one got overshadowed. "Why did I let that one slip by?" - no. I feel that if something's good enough, worthy enough, I'll remember it. I haven't proven myself wrong yet....
Considering how lush and expansive your songwriting is now, do you think there any musical ideas that you've developed from reviewing your old demos?
No, my writing is so different now, and I'm happy where I am musically. Reviewing the songs was more like a sometimes pleasant trip down memory lane.
What's going on with the Paula Kelley Orchestra these days?
We're playing frequently in the Los Angeles area and prepping to record my next "proper" album. We're aiming to start early this summer. Also, Aaron and I will be going on tour on both coasts in support of "Some Sucker's Life pt.1" from late June through July, so watch for dates on the web site.