August 26, 2006

The Weird Weeds "Weird Feelings"

When the Weird Weeds released their debut album Hold Me last year, it was easy to focus on the titular weirdness of the band's sound. I heard Nick Hennies play drums with sticks, bows and ratchets, using his kit as both timekeeper and sound effects generator; I heard guitarist Sandy Ewen eke noises and drones from her strings with bows, nails and chalk; I heard guitarist Aaron Russell stabilize the music with his light, intricate fingerpicking. Their songs went on odd, abrupt detours, ended way before I thought they would, and often blurred into one another. After repeatedly seeing them live, I realized that the sounds in their songs that I initially thought were random were in fact intentional and precisely choreographed. Their music breathed new life into the cliché “everything happens for a reason.” I knew that the band was doing something new --- or, at least, something rare. I latched onto their music quickly, and they became my favorite band in Austin.

Whereas the thrill of listening to Hold Me came primarily from the newness of the Weird Weeds' instrumental setup and compositional approach, the band takes things one step further on their follow-up Weird Feelings by using their intuitive editing and sonic trickery to elicit an emotional response from the listener. The title track is the album's most obvious example. During the first half of the song, Hennies stomps on a prepared kick drum without any regard for meter, while Sandy and Aaron use chalk slides and behind-the-bridge picking to make their guitars glide in and fade out around him. For its first two minutes, “Weird Feelings” bears little resemblance to even the average Weird Weeds song, let alone a conventional rock song; therefore, it would make most listeners to scratch their heads on first listen. When the song's sole lyric (“You feel so alive”) is sung, the band's point is made clear. It is moments like the song's first two minutes, when we're forced to step out of our comfort zone, that we really do feel the most alive.

This album really is about “weird feelings”: love, loss, guilt, regret and disorientation all make subtle appearances on the lyric sheet. At three chords, two sentences and one minute, opener “Bad Dreams” is a marvel of economy. However, it is also a heartfelt plea for reconciliation, in which Nick and Sandy sing in thin, shaky voices that exude humility and unease. It is one of three songs on the album that use sleep as a metaphor for peace. On “Alley,” Nick sings of being tormented by guilt over an unnamed transgression: “Airplanes and trash collectors/They disturbed our sleep/but not as much as I did.” Closing track “Cold Medicine” ends with the words “go to sleep,” sung four times by Nick and Sandy in placid harmony. Each verse of “In Your Arms” begins with the words “what I remember,” and runs through a series of disconnected details that form an incomplete yet sordid narrative: “A bloody floor/A monkey boy/Cocaine in my chin.” On “Tupper,” Nick sings earnestly about the companionship of his dogs (“We'll scratch our faces against the floor/I'll fill your home with love”), while bowing his kit to imitate the sound of their whimpering.

Weird Feelings' wordless moments are just as powerful. The band still has a startling approach to dynamics: they will play so quietly that you'll have to place your ears next to the speakers to hear the notes, only to lunge into a loud, jarring chord that will make you recoil in fright. On the instrumental “Nose to the Wind,” it takes Nick almost a minute and a half to use his snare drum; when he finally does, his rolls have the volume and force of gunshots. Not to be outdone, Sandy continues to find new ways to make her guitar sound like anything but itself. On the intro of “One-Eyed Cloud,” the combination of a tremolo effect and chalk sliding makes her instrument sound like hovering aircraft; on the intro of “Cold Medicine,” she imitates the sonorous pitter-patter of steel drums. Last but not least, Aaron graces “Broken Arm” with a bouncy, countrified riff that would pass muster at the Grand Ole Opry (he IS originally from Nashville, after all), and runs up his fretboard on “Cold Medicine” to play fills that flow like a waterfall in reverse.

“For you to see me,” Sandy sings on one song, “you'll have to come closer.” The title track aside, this lyric summarizes Weird Feelings most accurately. This is a subtly interactive album, one that forces us to throw away almost everything we know about conventional song structure, and to focus instead on how the music makes us feel. It is challenging, it is inspiring, and it is one of the best albums I've heard all year.

Artist Website:
Label Website:

August 24, 2006

Neil Hamburger "The World's Funnyman"

Sometimes, words fail to fully capture the essence of a great man. That's certainly the case with the awesome Neil Hamburger, comic genius extraordinaire. His fame has certainly skyrocketed over the past two years or so, and the man known as "America's Funnyman" is now referred to "The World's Funnyman," and rightly so!!! In fact, that's the name of his latest full-length DVD performance, out now on Drag City!

This wonderful document captures a recent performance in Australia, and let me tell you, the jokes just keep on coming, and the audience simply goes crazy for Mr. Hamburger's humor. And while it's said that you can never really capture the magic of a live performance on film, I'd like to say that's not the case when you're talking about Neil Hamburger. The World's Funnyman should come with a warning sticker: HUMOR SO FUNNY THAT IT WILL MAKE YOU HURT YOURSELF. I should know: my bum is sore and my knee is skinned. Why? Because I fell out of my chair at least a dozen times while watching Mr. Hamburger offer up laughs and jokes at an insane rate. I honestly thought I could keep up with him, but, you know, when you ride with the big boys, you're gonna get hurt.

If you survive the laugh riots, if you want more, then Mr. Hamburger has more! Also included is an interesting documentary from the Australian tour, with footage that shows you just how much of a professional entertainer Mr. Hamburger is. And, if that's not enough, there is a bonus section with a feature film, "Left for Dead in Malaysia," a Canadian documentary, a wonderful music video for his hit song "7-11 Are All the Same," a list of the credits, and an FBI warning that will indeed scare Hell out of you.

And, if after all that, you still want more...then you're greedy!

The World's Funnyman proves, once again, that Neil Hamburger is a national—nay, INTERNATIONAL—treasure, and will satiate your comedy sweet-tooth.

August 18, 2006

Brother Juniper

This is a nice find! I happened upon the myspace page for Brother Juniper, and I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed! I haven't found much information on the band, other than it's a guy named Travis Souza, and that he's based in England. Or maybe he's an American who is residing in England? I really can't say. Seems plausible. Regardless, his music is mellow and it's sad and it's really really pretty. It's kind of Neil Young-ish, but with a darker, more haunting vibe to it. It's worth checking out. The songs I'm posting, "Poor Mosquito" and "Peasant's Grandeur," are haunting epics that I've found myself listening to over and over again. The other songs are also ace.

Listen To: Poor Mosquito
Listen To: The Peasant's Grandeur

August 17, 2006

Interview: Gregg Kowalsky

For some, instrumental experimental music might not prove to be that exciting of a listen. To the casual ear, one instrumental drone might sound the same as the next. Considering the number of bedroom laptop Brian Eno-inspired musicians making music, such an assessment of the state of modern experimental music is, sadly, not an unfair one. That doesn't mean that all artists of this genre are to be held suspect; when you find an artist like Gregg Kowalsky, it makes you appreciate their talent all the more. His debut album, Through the Cardnial Window, was released earlier this year on Kranky, and is a collection of gentle, complex instrumental music that is as suitable for mental relaxation as it is for intellectual examination. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his music and his compositional methods.

Your compositions are dense, yet have a very distinctive cinematic quality. When you compose and create, do you mentally create a visual picture or an imaginary film to highlight or accompany what you are creating?

I don’t really have any images in mind when beginning a composition. For me, the imagery comes as a listener, after I finish the piece. I will sit and listen to it over and over again, to better understand it. That’s when I start to visualize things. It’s usually a night time scene of sorts or one scene in a frame with no camera movement. I have shot some single frame video that looks like a still shot, but has minimal movement due to wind. I am planning to score these little vignettes sometime.

When you started to write and create music, what attracted you to making ambient instrumental music?

Around the time I began composing, I was exposed to experimental electronic labels such as Ritornell and Touch and heard some amazing textures and microtones in the works of Oren Ambarchi and Stephan Mathieu. Made me realize the drone doesn’t have to be the backing track to beats or whatever. There is so much going on in these layers, they can stand alone.

I also appreciated the idea of composing pieces that contain little movement on the surface, but lots of movement hidden in the microtones. I liked the challenge of digging deeper into the textures. And, everyone in a space listening to the same piece of this kind could be having completely different auditory experiences.

You recently participated in what I have seen described as a live audio experiment with Greg Davis and others, involving "the art of intense listening." How did the experiment come off? When you wrote for this project, what kind of goal did you have in mind?

The event is part of an on-going series called LISTEN, and is cuated by Christopher Willits. He commissioned pieces by a wide range of composers to be played back in a studio with an audience. There is no performance, just a listening experience. I composed a piece using tuned sinewave oscillators, cassette tapes and loops I cut from material I was given by the group Rameses III. I wanted to create a sound environment where frequencies and tones would interact with one another to induce a psychoacoustic listening experience. I wanted to fill the space with dense textures as well.

The event was held in a yoga studio in Berkeley, California. It was as close to a New Age experience as I have ever had. Actually, it was completely New Age, and I loved it. All of the yoga instructors were there, as were some of their students and others from the Bay Area. There were lights, crystals, candles, oriental carpets, etc. You are forced to focus entirely on the music, as there is nothing to look at, no performer, no instruments. It is quite a different experience than going to a performance. There is no bar, no people talking, no beer bottles clanking. Basically, it is just ear candy. I can’t say it was much of an experiment because these types of situations have been carried out many times over the years. Tape music! I think the next installment will contain works by Willits and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

You've performed a soundtrack to a Derek Jarman film, and you're currently composing another Jarman soundtrack for performance this fall. What attracts you to Jarman's work, and do you plan on doing any further soundtrack composition?

I am a huge fan of Derek Jarman’s Super-8 short films. I am attracted to the density and textures of his work, as well as his use of light and reflection. Brian Eno, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV originally scored some of the short films, which were all done in the late 70’s/early 80’s.The event I organized using his films actually occurred last November and was a prototype for something I am hoping to try and put together in the coming year. While at Mills College I matched up 6 ensembles with 6 of the short films. The ensembles performed their scores to films which were projected on the back of the Mills Concert Hall in the Greek Theatre. It went so well and the scores were magnificent. So, I am planning on putting this together on a much bigger scale. I really want to try and expose his films to people who haven’t come across them as they have come across Brahkage’s work, for example. I am in talks to score and lend some of pieces to a documentary still in production. Right now I am just teaching post-production audio for film.

August 15, 2006

Editorial: I Stayed Up All Night Listening to Records

I was pondering writing a review today, but I felt it was more appropriate to turn my critical microscope on myself. Today is an unimportant day for the world, except for me, as today I turn thirty-three. It's a precarious age, this, especially in terms of those who choose to write about music.

In terms of my peers, I am, I must admit, "older." Most of those who are my age are either well-established with nice, quiet writing jobs at major publications, or they no longer write, because they either do not have the time to indulge themselves, they have too many obligations which demand their attention, or they simply no longer care about music as they did in their "younger" era. It's neither good nor bad, if you ask me; at times, I find myself envious of all three, while there are other occasions when I have to reassure myself that I will never go that route.

At 33, I find my own beliefs are quite…slippery. At that age, being "purist" is tantamount to admitting to being immature. I no longer see independence as the hallmark of innovation. I also no longer have a problem willfully entering into the seas of commerce. In fact, I usually fully support such actions, especially if it helps the artist nurture his or her talent.

Please note that I used the word "usually," which implies that there are some exceptions that I do not really tolerate. There's a difference between a band making a decision to share their music with the world in a commercial market and a band simply using their name as an endorsement tool, and it's that difference between artistic growth and careerism that I cannot tolerate. Sadly, it's hard not to look on the music world circa NOW as being nothing more than a long, continuous commercial, a commercial for everything except art. Why not let your art speak for itself and then let the cards fall where they may? As I get older, my toleration of music that is meaningless pap lessens, and I think less and less of bands that compromise their talent for the sake of a dollar.

Gee, that sounds awfully purist to me, doesn't it? I guess it is. But I'm into art, baby. I dig listening to music. Not soundtrack to commercials for some people's desires to 'live large.' Success is great—the talented have a way of getting the credit they deserve, but success is something that should be built on talent, not just a high-dollar marketing plan. As naïve as it may be, I still like to think that there are young bands out there who aren't simply money-hungry, and that there are some artists who would say "NO WAY" to exploitation of their name and their talent. But as I get older, I start to see that, well…money changes everything.

I'm not so idealistic, though, as to think that what I do isn't somehow related to the making of money. I'm well aware that writing about music and talking to artists is directly related to the business aspect of the music world. And I'm also not too naïve as to think that some people really care about what I say. I mean, if a label doesn't think that I'm "worthy," there's no way in hell I'm going to be allowed to talk to their artists. Such attitudes are quite ironic, as the 'protection' of the artist ultimately only hurts the artist. (Sorry, Paul Burch, I really wanted to talk to you about your record. Guess I'm not cool enough.) But I'm not going to bother you all with a dissection of the failings of some snooty press agent-types, because, hey, music exists without them, right? And let's not even get into the irony of management types who push a "we hate the media" agenda upon their artists, without failing to understand that YOU NEED THE MEDIA. Again, that's another story for another time.

Instead of bitching about these things—because, ultimately, they are unimportant to the existence of music—I decided last night that I'd spend the night listening to music. I wound up staying up all night listening to records, and that, my friends, was a wonderful experience. It was a chance for me to have an intimate experience with this thing I love the most, this love that I crave, this ART that I enjoy.

So what exactly is a 33-year old music writer listening to? Funny you should ask, because I'm going to tell you! Here's a list of records I listened to last night, in whole or in part:

Graham Lindsey Hell Under the Skullbones: I used to listen to his punk band Old Skull when I was in high school. But now he's making fascinating country music. He sounds like Bob Dylan. I mean, just like Bob Dylan, circa 1963. That's a good thing.

The Cocteau Twins Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay: Talking about these two records yesterday made me want to listen to them. If a band can put two EP's together and wind up with an album that's as strong as their regular albums, then you know you're dealing with brilliance.

Harper Lee He Holds A Flame EP: Because love is a dirty proposition for the literate. Modern day Sturm und Drang at its finest.

Christina Carter Electrice: I have a theory about her and her music that I cannot share right now. Her music is beautiful, grand, gentle experimental folk-based epics. Just don't call it folk.

Weird Weeds Weird Feelings: These weird kids are all right! They make their canines proud. G osee 'em on tour.

Alan Sparhawk Solo Guitar: Because I was too tired to listen to Yellow Swans. Beautiful. Minimal. Solo. Guitar.

Tim O'Reagan: Tim O' Reagan: Solo debut from The Jayhawks' drummer. Not a bum note to be found in this quite, unassuming release.

Montys Loco Man Overboard: This Swedish duo's music is, in a word, breathtaking. This is an amazing record that has been neglected by the fickle "music world." But it's the music world's loss. Breathy, sexy, and a little bit weird…

The Carpenters Greatest Hits: I've been in love with Karen ever since I was a little fellow. Still brings tears to my eyes, she does. She left us and I don't know where she is now and I have her records to listen to every day and I guess that makes it a little bit better.

The Bobby McGees Ivor Cutler Is Dead: Because I can't find my Vaselines CD and I needed to be reminded how good a simple song can be.

Pet Shop Boys Behavior: This is a post-midnight, post-graduate pop album, and its brilliance has yet to subside with age. Sixteen years I have loved this record.

A Girl Called Eddy A Girl Called Eddy: I'm going to bed alone, so I might as well go to bed alone with a beautiful woman singing beautiful songs about going to bed alone.

So what does this list say about me? I like a sad song, perhaps? I can't really be the judge of that. Is it reflective of what a 33-year old music-loving guy should be listen to? I can't really tell you. All I know is I had a wonderful time listening to these records, and it helped me to remember why I write in the first place: because I love music. I hate everything about how music is made and exploited, but I love music.

August 14, 2006

Robin Guthrie "Everlasting EP"

If Robin Guthrie’s Continental was one of this year’s best full-lengths, then Everlasting, is easily one of this year’s best EP’s. Okay, come on, this isn’t even something that’s open to debate! For those of us old enough to remember, The Cocteau Twins mastered the art of making brilliant EP’s; these three-and-four song releases contained some of the band's greatest work. Lullabies to Violane is a nice collection, but for those of us around in the 1980s, you’ll remember how wonderful it was listening to a Cocteau Twins EP. Sure, it might be a brief experience, but they never failed to deliver quality music; heck, Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay EP’s were considered to be of such high quality, 4ad put them together and made an album! (Personally, my favorite EP of theirs was Love’s Easy Tears.)

There’s no reason to expect any less from Everlasting. Of course, these four songs don’t fall too far from the Continental tree, as they highlight Guthrie’s natural ability to make a guitar glisten and shine like the morning dew. There’s not really that much one can say about Everlasting; it is merely a wonderfully gentle postcard from the bliss-pop Heaven Guthrie creates whenever he presses ‘record’, and, more importantly, it’s a welcome return to the format Guthrie mastered 20 years ago. Hopefully, there will be more EP’s forthcoming. Score another wonderful release for Darla Records!

Listen To: Bordertown

August 09, 2006

Flogging Molly "Whiskey on a Sunday"

A documentary about an American band playing traditional Irish music blending with punk rock, thrown in with country and folk—it can only be Flogging Molly, right? Right. Yep, this wonderfully addictive band has recently released a full-length DVD, entitled Whiskey on a Sunday, that documents the history of the band quite well. An Irish dude with ties to Motorhead and heavy metal, a guy who simply decided one day that he wanted to learn to play the accordion, an Irish immigrant who plays violin, a punk rocker dude with an extremely positive outlook on life, plus a dead-serious drummer and a few others who are just as intent? These guys are serious about their music, and it shows. This is one of those documentaries that shows the band for who they are; it highlights their history in fascinating detail, and it shows what the band is best at: playing LIVE. There's a reason these guys tour incessantly; they're one of the best live bands, ever. I know people who are extremely ADDICTED to them, and I am as well, after watching this. Though you don't really get to see all of the downsides of being in a band, or any real glimpses of the negative aspects of Flogging Molly (whatever they may be, I'm just sayin', is all…) but that's quite all right. My favorite was the "ugly American" teenager who mistook two of the band for skinheads, when he, in a fit of overt tolerance, decided "his" German bar was no place for intolerant people who hate people based upon the way they look.

Also included is a ten-song live disc, full of some really amazing tunes. For someone like me, who is rather new to Flogging Molly, this two-disc collection is a WONDERFUL introduction.

Check out some clips from the film, dealing with the band coming together and getting a record deal:

Spoon "Telephono/Soft Effects"

I hate to be one of those cynical aging indie-rocker types that you see around Austin, but I have to say that I consider Spoon's early, pre-Merge records to be their best. (Okay, that includes Girls Can Tell, but that record existed well before they signed with the esteemed Chapel Hill label). These early records captured a hungry, young band who felt they had something to prove, even though they were on well-established labels at the time. Since then, the band's sound has softened, mellowed, and, in my opinion, has grown to the point where it can grow no further.

Telephono is crunchy indie-rock, a precursor for what they would do on their major label debut/fiasco, A Series of Sneaks. The music is a blend of power-pop and punk-rock sneer, and believe me, it is magic. I've been in love with this record for nearly a decade, and for great reason. Britt Daniel sings with a wonderful, wonderful sneer; "Not Turning Off" is like unleashing hungry, rabid wolves into your ear. The guitars are scorching HOT, his voice is screamy and rough and is going to kick your ass right now. But they don't stop there; the rest of the album continues this aural assault; long-time favorites "All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed," "Nefarious," and "Idiot Driver" still sound fresh and exhilarating, a decade on. These songs have only improved with age, and I still get the same thrill whenever I crank this record up. Okay, so the later songs on the album seem to run together, and Telephono is definitely a picture of a band in its formative years, but that doesn’t detract from the record's overall brilliance.

Oh, and Soft Effects? Outside of Sneaks, which followed it less than a year later, it's easily their best record to date. What? It's only an EP, you say? Trust me, this record is one compact and thorough kick to the gut. It highlights both their mellow side and their rocking side, and the five songs are pure classics. From "Waiting For the Kid to Come Out," their loving tribute to the Electric Lounge, and the mellow "I Could See the Dude," to their stoner-rock of "Get Out The State" and "Mountain of Sound" and the somewhat sad country-rock of "Loss Leaders," I played the heck out of this record when I got it for a reason. I'm glad there's a new reissue of it, so I can promptly play the heck out of it again.

The only complaint I have with this two-disc set is…where are the bonus tracks that would fit so well with this package? The songs from All The Negatives Have Been Destroyed, the "Not Turning Off" single, the Nefarious EP, or the tons of comp tracks they released back in the day? Those tracks would have fit in perfectly here, but then again, that'd only take away from the inevitable "singles collection." Oh well, a minor grumble, and that singles comp will kick ass, so there's nothing to complain about right now...

Oh, and Travis Higdon is still the greatest Cover Star ever!

Listen To: Stream both records in their entirety at Merge's website!

August 08, 2006

The Cocker Spaniels live at Athens Popfest!

If you live in Athens, Georgia, you should totally make a trip to go see our very own Sean Padilla, AKA The Cocker Spaniels, this Saturday afternoon! He is performing as part of the Athens Popfest, which also features a healthy lineup of great indie-pop acts!

And, by the way, you can now download Sean's album Withstand the Whatnot for free!

The Brother Kite Hits Like an Atom Bomb!

Back in the day--aka 1998--Tripping Daisy released an amazingly mellow and utterly beautiful album, Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb. It's a brilliant record that was sadly lost in the shuffle of a changing music industry, a fickle music scene, and an unsympathetic record label. It's a beautiful record, one that still amazes me with each and every listen. Okay, okay, I'm not here to rant about Tripping Daisy.

I never expected a band to come along and release a record that was both just like yet better than Atom Bomb, but it's happened. It's the new album by The Brother Kite, entitled Waiting For the Time to Be Right. It's an amazing record that's hazy and sunny and catchy and moving and beautiful, and it draws you in and makes you love it. There's also a total Beach Boys influence to be found, too, but don't hold that against 'em. I'm DEFINITELY going to rant more about this record in the very near future. For now, check out three of the AWESOME songs from this twelve-track wonder.

Waiting For The Time To Be Right
Get On, Me
I'm Not the Only One

Now go and be their friend!

August 04, 2006


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