July 27, 2006

Interview: The Robot Ate Me

Last year, Ryland Bouchard's band The Robot Ate Me signed to 5 Rue Christine, who reissued his second album, the "I Can't Believe this Extremely Beautiful Album is a Political Record" On Vacation, and then quickly released its follow-up, Carousel Waltz, a gorgeously arranged and poetic album that dealt with love. Both records contained delicate pop songs that were accentuated by arrangements that sounded like compositions and recordings from the 1920s. Understandably, this gorgeous style gained him a good deal of well-deserved attention. But Good World, his latest release, is a challenging departure from the previous two albums. The album goes through seventeen songs in twenty minutes, with very little in the way of coherent lyrical content, and for those expecting him to tread the same ground as before could easily be disappointed.

But something happens after a few listens: the record starts to grow on you; the intricacies start to stand out, and you start to see that Bouchard really hasn't changed his style all that much. Mind you, it's not an easy concept to grasp, and it's understandable that some will be disappointed by what they hear. It's not a record to be listened to in part, as the songs only make sense when taken together as a whole. And when Bouchard says that it's a catchy record, he's not simply speaking glowingly of his own accomplishments, as the record is catchy. It's not obvious on first listen, but you'll soon find yourself wanting to listen to it again and again, and you will soon realize that Good World an extremely beautiful, moving record. Just like every other The Robot Ate Me record.

Your previous albums had a clearly-defined lyrical theme, or a series of themes. Was your initial idea for the album to experiment with instrumental ideas, or did it start life as a more "traditional" The Robot Ate Me record?

For each album I tend to do whatever is intuitive and natural at the time, as opposed to forcing myself to sound like I did on a previous album. Although there are common elements between each album I'm not really sure there is a "traditional" sound for "the robot ate me" as a project, unless it's just that most people identify with the more traditional songs and less so the more experimental ones? On Vacation (pt 1) was almost completely based on instrumental ideas - although the lyrical content was a bit more obvious...So to directly answer your question, no, I didn't really start with an idea of what the album should sound like.

My interpretation--and correct me, please, if I'm missing the point—is that for Good World, voice and lyrics are being used as a mere instrument, so that when you sing on a song like "She Owl," we, the listener should consider your singing and your words in the same way we should consider, say, the clarinet or the piano--simply an extension of the melody, and not something that lyrically makes sense. Was this what you were working for?

Well the lyrics have meaning but I sang them in a way that puts emphasis less on their meaning and more on the sound of the voice as an instrument. I think the meaning is important (even if abstract) but I didn't want the meaning to detract from the scene created by the other instruments, because in a sense the other instruments are part of the lyrics just as much as the lyrics themselves. I was "working for" a world naïve enough to not know the meaning of words but where the character is still attempting to use them with the hope that someone would somehow understand.

Do you believe it is necessary to challenge your audience's preconceived notions or expectations, or do you simply think, "I hope they stay with me!" I ask this because Good World, while holding some of the basic elements of On Vacation (pt 1) and Carousel Waltz, it's definitely a rather challenging work that's radically different than the records that preceded it.

I honestly believe that "Good World" is one of the catchiest records I've made, but in a way that isn't easily explained and something that takes a lot of time to understand. It does, however, involve having a real lack of "adult" expectations as to how music should make you feel, or how it should sound. So, no, I don't feel like I was challenging anyone with this record. If anything, I think people have grown accustomed to "brands" like "Nike" or "Radiohead" and they just want the exact same thing as the last thing they purchased even if they claim they want something new or different.

How does it feel to be both a contemporary act (Oh No! Oh My!, who take their name from a song on On Vacation, and Bouchard also mastered their debut album) and the inspiration for a young, rapidly up-and-coming band? One doesn't expect to see such a tribute or inspiration for a living, breathing 'current' band that's not dominating the mainstream?

Well, part of why I make the music I do is because I hope it will inspire new ideas and encourage young people (and bands) to do something new that isn't like anything else they've heard regardless of the commercial consequences - and if I'm even remotely successful in doing so that's the most meaningful thing I could possibly hope for.

Thanks, Ryland!

July 26, 2006

Joan of Arc "The Intelligent Design of Joan of Arc"

Joan of Arc inspires two reactions: overwhelming love and out-and-out hate. Among my friends, these two camps are clearly polarized; they think that Tim Kinsella can do no wrong and is a musical genius, or they think that he's a smug hipster doofus who needs to be slapped for thirty days. Why this reaction? It's because their records inspire such similar feelings of either brilliance or disappointment. Of course, this is strictly Joan of Arc's doing; their releases are uncompromising artistic statements, filled with postmodern lyrics, challenging (and often gorgeous) musicianship, and clever song titles. Sometimes, this method produces brilliance (witness the one-two punch of their debut, A Portable Model Of and its follow up, How Memory Works, their greatest record to date) and sometimes…well, if you ever listened to The Gap, you might be inspired to hate Joan of Arc, too.

But let's get back to the subject at hand. The band is celebrating ten years (though, of course, one might say that it's not really ten years, as they broke up in 2001, only to return two years later) this summer, and to celebrate it, they've released two records, a new album, Everything, All At Once, and The Intelligent Design of Joan of Arc, a collection of vinyl sides and other rare tracks. This is a welcome collection, as perhaps their greatest moments were, surprisingly, NOT on album. Their first two singles, Method & Sentiment and Busy Bus, Sunny Sun, were both slabs of brilliance, and that these two records are finally collected on CD is reason enough to purchase this record. But, surprisingly, some of the other moments collected here are just as strong as those early salvos: their cover of The Promise Ring's "A Picture Postcard" (taken from a split single with Jen Wood) is surprisingly delicate; the two electronic-minded songs from the Japanese version of 2001's swan song How Could Anything So Little Be Any More? are captivating, and their split 12" single with Bundini Brown is a mini-album that was a throwback to their early days and deserves to be less obscure. As with any band that releases a lot of material, there is some lesser material, too, but the high spots found here are enough to distract you from them. The only really big misstep found here comes not in the music, but in the liner notes, they list the seemingly scary "14 Points of Fascism" by "Dr." Laurence Britt, who is a real person, but who is neither a "doctor" nor a political scientist, but whose email is seemingly passed around as fact. (Just because something seems like it might be true does not mean it is.)

You may love 'em, you may hate 'em, but either way, Joan of Arc is a band that always makes challenging, interesting music—and it's a sign of a band's greatness that their more obscure releases can easily better their official ones.

Listen To: You (Single)
Listen To: Trial at Orleans

Label Website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

July 25, 2006

Mission of Burma "The Obliterati"

Two years ago, Mission of Burma staged what was arguably the greatest comeback that indie-rock has ever seen with ONoffON, their first album of original material in 22 years. Although the album often equalled the band's early 1980s work, it had its share of detractors, most of whom used the fact that some of its songs (“Hunt Again,” “Dirt,” “Playland”) were holdovers from the band's first go-round against them. Nevermind that the other 12 songs were great, or that the band's live shows were just as intense as they ever were: haters love to nitpick, and so they did. This year's follow-up The Obliterati had a much shorter gestation period than its predecessor, and the quality of the music contained therein should silence the haters once and for all.

Seriously: this album is so good that when I heard them play opening track “2wice” live last year, I thought it was one of their older songs that I hadn't studied their catalog thoroughly enough to memorize. All of the elements of Burma's titanic, physical sound --- the hiss and throb of Peter Prescott's drums, the harsh jangle of Roger Miller's guitar and Clint Conley's meaty, wandering bass lines --- are firmly in place from the song's first few seconds. However, “2wice” goes above and beyond the call of duty with a soaring chorus, delivered in falsetto harmony, that spotlights something about the band that most listeners will neither expect nor believe. These guys are making honest-to-goodness pop songs, albeit pop songs played with brute force and at deafening volume. One of the reasons why The Obliterati is even better than ONoffON is that, with the exception of the ironically titled instrumental “The Mute Speaks Out,” every song leaves at least one hook in your head before ending.

Unlike its predecessor, The Obliterati has a louder and occasionally sloppier sound that more accurately portrays the band's live show. Even the squelchy tape loops sound as if producer Bob Weston is operating his reels in the same room as the other three, as opposed to tacking the loops onto the backing tracks after the fact. The band's instrumental interplay is as fierce as ever. On “Spider's Web,” they create a rollicking three-minute song out of a mere two notes, during which Miller wrecks shop with just a slide and a distortion pedal. The band interrupts “Let Yourself Go,” “Birthday” and “Nancy Reagan's Head” with fearsome volleys of noise that would make Sonic Youth cock their eyebrows. Tasteful employment of cello and viola adds a melancholy feeling to “13,” the closest that the album comes to having a ballad, and an extra gallop to the punk scorcher “Period.” There are many moments on this album when the members shout at each other off-mike, clearly as excited about playing the music as I am about listening to it.

Last but not least, the lyrics are funnier and smarter than they've ever been. On “Spider's Web,” Miller brags about “eating dinner on Matador's dime.” On “Donna Sumeria,” he pays tribute to another music legend from his hometown of Boston by borrowing the rhythms and lyrics from some of her most well-known songs. Ever the rabble-rouser, Prescott uses the aptly named “Let Yourself Go” to chastise uptight people, and “Period” to celebrate humanity's inevitable end. “The absolute, the finite, the immovable --- they don't care what you have to say!,” he hollers in his brusque, stentorian voice. Not to be outdone, Clint Conley contributes his own share of ditties, most of which seem to be about relationships on the fritz. “Man in Decline” examines a couple separated by distance of every kind. On “Is This Where?,” he completely gives up: “Let's hang up,” he sings, “on what we're not and what we'll never be.” He changes tack on album closer “Nancy Reagan's Head,” which bemoans his counterculture's failure to overthrow the Establishment: “Roxy Music came to save the world,” he sings, “and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!”

As Conley is clearly aware, music alone can't change the world. However, The Obliterati is an album galvanizing enough to serve as a fitting soundtrack to the events that DO change the world. If any other rock band makes a better album this year, chances are they're influenced by Mission of Burma anyway!

Artist Website: www.missionofburma.com
Label Website: www.matadorrecords.com

Interview: Voot Cha Index

I don't know what prompted me to check out Dallas' Voot Cha Index, but whatever led the hand of Providence to introduce me to this bright young troupe of indie-poppers, I am forever grateful. Why? Because their music is just so darned fresh and appealing, that's why! Their songs sound like they're about to collapse, a ramshackle pop marching band led by a blind drum major. But stick with them, and something wonderful happens: you're led into a world that's sunny and bright and pretty and innocent, and it's a world you probably don't want to leave. I know that I've been addicted to the songs found on their website, and that addiction is not going to subside. This is a great young band, deserving of your time. Oh, and by the way, they're all either still in high school or recent grads!

But I'll shut up and let you listen for yourself:
Listen To:Japan

We recently had Neil Sangrizi sit down and answer a few questions about their music.

Tell us how you guys got together.

Well, back in 2004, Zach (the bassist/ multi-instrumentalist) and I started writing some songs, and after as series of trail and error coincidences we finally found a guitarist (Jan Michael) and drummer (Jon). We then started writing even more songs, and it wasn't until summer of 2005 that we got a call from Good Record's clerk C.J. Davis asking us to play an instore.

We were working on our home recorded first "album" which we pressed about 50 or so copies. Then in late September, C.J. called me back again to ask us to do a 7" for his first release on his new record label, Pancakes For Mattie. Not only that, but he introduced us to Mark Pirro (bassist for Polyphonic Spree/ Tripping Daisy). We then recorded our first song for the 7" release called The Talking House. In this time, we also recruited our violinist/ xylophone player Sasan.

With the success that the song created, we decided to continue to work with Mark. So now, we're building up a full length album of songs we've recorded over time to hopefully be released sometime next year.

Dallas seems to be an unlikely environment to produce an indie-pop band. Other than the Happy Bullets, I really can't think of any other indie-pop bands from the Metroplex. Is there a secret indie-pop scene happening up there?

We love The Happy Bullets so much, but Dallas sucks. However, all of that can be changed. I really do feel that something is happening with all these indie pop bands sprouting up--especially one of my favorites, Teenage Symphony. Not only are these guys nice as can be, but their music and live performance is amazing. Some of them also live in Plano like we do, which is incredibly weird. Another amazing band is Washing Machine. These guys are so awesome and I love them just as much, but they are unable to play shows because they have no drummer.

There is definitely something about to happen in the next few years. Maybe not in Dallas, but the indie-pop scene is going to grow immensely. The Denton pop scene is the exact same. Even with all those noise bands everyone seems to be getting into, Denton has its own little thing going.

It's really weird though, how all of the bands we're friends with are all influenced by the same Pet Sounds/ Elephant 6 stuff we are. Teenage Symphony especially! It's like we're starting some sort of Elephant 7 or something! Hah! Not really, it's just kind of awesome how we're all good friends and like the same music.

Even though one of the most obvious points of reference for VCI is Of Montreal, I also hear a major Tripping Daisy influence, too. Did you guys grow up on a healthy dose of DeLaughter?

Living in Dallas, how can you not grow up loving Tim DeLaughter? Even though it's hard to admit, Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb is one of my favorite albums ever. Probably one of the most underrated as well! You would think working with the bassist for his band and recording in his studio, we would have gotten to meet him, but nope! He's a busy, busy man!

Really, our influences come from either the 60's psych-pop nuggets bands, or Elephant 6. We're also obsessed with Pet Sounds era 1968 stuff. Of Montreal has always been a big influence, but I think it's weird how they are starting to wear off as we explore new territory in song writing. They still remain one of my favorite bands, but never more than Neutral Milk Hotel will ever be. Neutral Milk Hotel has been a huge influence in Voot Cha Index... probably more so than any other band.

What do you have planned for the future?

Our future is pretty damn out there. We really are just trying to keep moving song by song. Our best friend and guitarist, Jan Michael, is leaving for college on August 20th, so it's going to be really hard seeing him leave. We already have plans for another friend to start helping us out with guitar though. So hopefully everything works out perfectly and the world can see the bright shiny face of Voot Cha Index!

We also have plans to release a 2x7" on Pancakes For Mattie this fall. The songs are:

1. The Talking House
2. Cradle
3. The Accordion Song
4. The Accordion Song (Tunng remix)

July 24, 2006

Lisa Germano "In the Maybe World"

Violin-playing chanteuse Lisa Germano has returned from obscurity, breaking a three year silence with a new record, In the Maybe World, and on a surprisingly appropriate new label, Young God. Unlike her previous album, the overwrought Lullaby for Liquid Pig, this new collection is a concise, succinct collection that's not weighted down by tedious numbers that don't seem to differ much from the song before it. In the Maybe World doesn't differ very much from previous Lisa Germano records, which means pretty songs with complex lyrics written in an extremely simple manner. Deceptively simple music is what she's best at, and after the previous misstep, it's good to see her return to form. Unlike previous records, there's not an obvious theme connecting the songs; although there is a general theme of death and loss throughout, death and loss are not new subjects for Germano. The saddest song, of course, is "Golden Cities," which honor her beloved cat and occasional collaborator, Miamo-Tutti. Other highlights include the gorgeous title track, the sad breakup song, "Too Much Space," and the heartbreakingly simple "After Monday," which is one of this year's best weepers. But, then again, every Germano song is a weeper, whether it's a song of sadness or a song of happiness, and it's good to know that she is still making beautiful, haunting music.

If you know her work, then you already know what to expect from In the Maybe World. If you don't know her work, then this album should serve as an excellent introduction to this unique, undervalued talent.

Listen To: Too Much Space

July 22, 2006

Sub Oslo

Last night, I was stressed OUT, big-time. Ever have one of those days where the only thing that went right was the fact that nothing went right? Yeah, it was one of those days. Luckily, I'd been going through some old boxes, and I happened upon a rather relaxing CD, by Denton-based dub band Sub Oslo. Now, this isn't your typical "dub" band; their grooves are heavier and deeper and more atmospheric than most, and their style recalls Mice Parade, Durutti Column, and the esteemed Kranky label. The band formed in 1996, and has lived a rather sporadic existence ever since. They released two excellent albums, Dubs in the Key of Life, the gorgeous The Rites of Dub, and a three-song 12" EP that's impossible to find and worth the search. Last night's groove-out to The Rites of Dub only cemented my faith that this obscure band is one of the best groups to come out of Denton, Texas. There's a depth to their music that is simply lacking in most instrumental music. Sub Oslo might be obscure, but it's a secret that's well worth sharing with everyone.

Listen to a few tracks, and see for yourself:

"Control This" (awesome live recording from 2006)
Sub Oslo vs. Bookshelf Speakers" (from The Rites of Dub)
"Celestial Dub" (from Dubs in the Key of Life)

July 20, 2006

The Dark Side of the Rainbow

For years, I've heard people (primarily stoner-types, people who say 'man' a lot and/or men with hair that's way, way too long) talk about the magic of putting Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz. Some bright spark finally broke down and put it on the internet. Does it really work? Is it just bogus talk of people who were toked over the line one time too many?

Watch it and decide for yourself.

Thanks, Jimbo!

Interview: The Channel

Austin's The Channel has released an epic "double album" but you should think Speakerboxx/The Love Below and not The White Album, because this record is merely two albums combined into one package. Like Outkast's concept, this collection compiles two full-length records by each of the two principle members of The Channel. The first album, Tales from the Two-Hill Heart is a bit of a traditional, country-rock affair, written by Colby Pennington. It's mellow, pretty, and rather easy on the ears; if you like Will Oldham, Damien Jurado, or My Morning Jacket, you'll find something to enjoy here. The second album, Sibylline Machine, is the creation of Jamie Reaves. Though there's a country element to his songs, it's a tad more oblique, a bit more complex, and a bit more fanciful in nature. It's still good, mind you. The record will be released on August 8th via label C-Side Records, and if you want to hear more, check out their Myspace.

Listen To: The Deserter (from Tales from the Two-Hill Heart)
Listen To: Sibylline Machine (from Sibylline Machine)

We had a chance to ask Colby Pennington some questions about this concept.

What prompted the decision to split up your material? Obviously, it was to showcase each fellow's songwriting talents, but how did you come to that decision?

The decision, really, was to put the material together. Each record was made as a separate entity, and would stand on their own if we had a whole lot of money and very little material to work with. But we have a lot of songs and not much money. The reason these were separate is because, at the time of the recordings, the channel was really a wandering spirit, not encased in a solid body of flesh and blood. (Jamie recorded Sibylline for a school project and Colby recorded Two Hill to have something else to listen to). Even now, it is hard to recognize exactly what The Channel is, but its body and members are becoming real as we speak. As further organization occurs, we hope to congeal our direction and discover our unified goals.

When you compiled these two records, were you surprised at the results, as in, did you previously consider that one of you was more experimental-minded and the other was a bit more traditional in their songwriting skills?

The records were separate projects and had their own personalities to begin with. For instance, Two Hill Heart was meant to be a down-home dose of straightforward songs about a similar theme. We have many times considered that Jamie was a wild-child and his songs will usually be hard to predict. He has definitely spread his experimental wealth among the hardcore members of The Channel. What we look forward to is actually collaborating in our songwriting efforts, which we have done very little of so far.

After splitting the band's songwriting in two like this, do you think it's made your collaborative songwriting stronger?

We hope that each song written separately will produce a kind jealousy between each member that will result in a competitive atmosphere, and hopefully bring about songs that only get more powerful as days go by.

July 18, 2006

New Grenada "Modern Problems"

Detroit denizens New Grenada were a highlight of last year's Happy Happy Birthday to Me Popfest in Athens, GA. During their set, they unleashed a maelstrom of nervous energy that had many audience members questioning their sanity. Singer/guitarist John Nelson ran around the standing area with a road cone over his head, climbing up walls and flipping over staircase railings without regard for his own safety. The band's raucous power-pop tunes were good enough to command the audience's attention even if the members had stood stock-still while playing them. Nelson's antics, though, infused the set with the kind of danger that most bands thrice as abrasive as his can't deliver on stage. Unfortunately, their last album Parting Shots didn't possess half of the power of their live show, as many of the songs were hampered by low fidelity and synthetic arrangements.

For this year's follow-up Modern Problems, New Granada rectified that mistake in a big way by recording in a professional studio with my favorite engineer, Steve Albini. Each of its 10 songs packs the kind of instrumental wallop that only Albini can supply: distorted bass, booming drums and scratchy guitars are now the band's weapons of choice, as opposed to dinky drum machines and cheap keyboards. However welcome the increase in production values might be, though, it ends up inadvertently spotlighting another major weakness: the band may be too democratic.

New Granada has three vocalists, only one of which actually SINGS. The even-numbered tracks on Modern Problems are fronted by Nelson, whereas the odd-numbered tracks are fronted by either bassist Nicole Allie or guitarist Shawn Knight. The Nelson-fronted tracks are superior, with strong vocal melodies, dramatic tempo shifts and pointed couplets that suggest he may have a Pinkerton inside of him waiting to come out. “I can't believe I wasted all this energy on you,” he sings to an indiscreet antagonist on “El Paso.” “Why did you tell them something I told you in confidence?” “Meat Is Murder Mobile” describes the awkwardness that arises when you're wary of socializing with someone, but doen't want him to know that you're avoiding him: “Our friendship is built on a shaky foundation/We can bring Nat along, but only on special occasions.” The cheeky “Borderline Cougar” disses a girlfriend who “might have mild ADD,” because “she doesn't pay enough attention to me!”

The songs that Nelson doesn't sing on aren't as bad as they are simply awkward. Although “Parting Shots” has a few funny barbs about vain people (“He waits in long lines just to show off his shoes”), Allie's brash, repetitive Sprechtstimme quickly grates. The other song she fronts, “You Said It,” is the kind of math-rock grind I would expect from...well, from an Albini band! Then, there's “Chumps,” which is almost totally ruined by Knight's parrot-like yelping. This rotation of vocal duties makes Modern Problems half a great album, which should not be said about any album that lasts only 24 minutes. Nonetheless, I am sure that even its lesser songs will kick butt live.

Artist Website: www.newgrenada.com
Label Website: www.contraphonic.com

July 17, 2006

The Happies RULE!

I've got to say, for the sake of saying it, that this weekend was the first time I resented not having a working computer at home. Why is that? Because I simply could not WAIT to tell you about The Happies a rather young band of four brothers and a friend, who make some of the catchiest, prettiest music I've heard in a long, long time. How best to describe their music on their second record, If We Were Really Here? How's about this: The Association meets Weezer, with a hint of the Beach Boys? The kicker is that I'm reminded a bit of Jawbreaker, too. I know that invoking three of those bands is the epitome of lazy journalistic writing, but it's impossible to avoid the comparison. But what makes this band really, truly special is the harmonies. It's impossible for me to resist the sweet, sweet harmonies that you can find on this second album. I'm won over by the crunchier songs like "Everything's Fine, Cover Your Eyes" and "Learn How To Pray," but I stick around for the sunshine pop of "Sun Don't Shine" and "Newspaper Friend." Then there are pretty, softer moments like "Paw Paw," "Geraldine," and "Polarity." Oh, and to make it even more of a Mr. Joseph Dream Band, there's a small string section. The one complaint I have is that the recording at times seems to be a bit rough, and the songs don't quite shine like they should, but I have a feeling that that's more of a budget thing than a quality of the band thing. What am I saying? This band is awesome, even if they record in a crappy studio. If I could go back in time, I'd totally change my top-twenty list from last year, and these guys would be on the top.

Shocker number two: the band's first album (which is available in its entirety for free at their website) is BETTER THAN THIS RECORD, which is a near-impossible feat, as If We Were Really Here is a perfect record. That it came out last year and I just now listened to it, I hope one day to be forgiven for.

But I'll shut up and let you listen for yourself:

Sun Don't Shine (from their album If We Were Really Here)
Hey Little Buttercup! (from their debut album Meet The Happies)
The Boy Who Knows (from their debut album Meet The Happies)

Also, check out their Myspace page for four other songs from If We Were Really Here. Go and buy this record from their label, Eden's Watchtower! You won't regret it!!!!

July 15, 2006

The Submarines "Declare a New State!"

A note to all record labels that send out advanced Cd-Roms for promos: KEEP TRACK OF WHAT IT IS YOU ARE DOING! Since I started this website, I have received four burned CD's that were NOT what they were supposed to be. One was a live recording of some acoustic folk-singer type, one was a duplicate copy of another record in the same package, and one was a copy of The Chronic! Most recently, I received a white sleeve Cd-R (and no bio!) copy of the debut album by The Submarines from their label, Nettwerk. When I received it, I put it in my car stereo, and the first thing I heard was some bland, boring sub-par dance/punk ripoff of The Faint. Ugh. Toss it in the 'NO WAY' pile! Never even finished listening to the first song, that's how unappealing it was. When I received a regular copy of it about three weeks later, I simply set it aside, with no intention of ever listening to it.

A few weeks ago, I was completely shocked to discover that this band was the husband and wife duo of Blake Hazard and Jack Dragonetti. I thought, "dang, those two talents have really fallen from grace, if they're eschewing their skills in order to make such mediocre music!" It took a friendly mention in the newsletter of Hazard's former label for me to discover the truth behind this band's identity, and it was what prompted me to return to the record, just to see that this was the same band. So I pulled out Declare A New State! again, and wow.

This time, listening to a Submarines CD proved to be a delight. Sound-wise, the band is nowhere close to being the crap that I assumed it was. Instead, it's more akin to Hazard's solo debut album, Little Airplane, with hints of Jack Drag's mellower moments. The temptation to throw these guys in with other indie-pop spousal duos like Mates of State or The Like Young should be avoided, as they sound like neither. Their sound is mellower, and Hazard's songs (which make up the majority of the material here) remind me of the recent output of The Cardigans, especially the drop-dead gorgeous "Ready or Not" and "The Good Night." Dragonetti's songs are a bit more varied, with a Beatlesque tint that I like a lot, and a touch of country-rock fun, too; his "Modern Inventions" recalls The Earlies and is one of his best songs to date.

Declare a New State! is a wonderfully simple, mellow record from two masterful musicians, and its beauty more than makes up for the initial error in identity. A pleasanter record, you couldn't imagine…

July 14, 2006

Noxagt self-titled

On their first two albums, Turning It Down Since 2001 and The Iron Point, Norwegian instrumental metal band Noxagt tweaked the power-trio format by replacing the electric guitar with an amplified viola. The substitution didn't sound that significant on the surface: violist Nils Erga used his instrument as both melodic device and sound effects generator, and ran it through just as much distortion as any guitarist would've. Even if he didn't, the rhythm section supplied the music with more than enough bluster to provoke listeners to headbang themselves into whiplash. Founding member Kjetil D. Brandsdal's harsh, swooping bass playing sounded like he was thumbing loose cable wires, and drummer Jan Christian Lauritzen played both blast beats and leaden plods with equal ferocity. After those two albums, Erga was replaced by baritone guitarist Anders Hana. Noxagt's new self-titled album, while not a drastic departure from their previous work, definitely bears the earmarks of such a change.

Because the viola has a higher, narrower range than the guitar, it was easier on previous albums to tell the difference between what Erga was playing and what Brandsdal was playing, despite the distortion caked on top of both instruments. The music often sounded like each musician was playing a different songs that just happened to be in the same meter, if not the same key. On the other hand, Hana's baritone guitar is tuned even lower than a regular guitar. Because of this, his playing often blurs with Brandsdal's into a morass of low end. On certain moments of the new album (particularly the codas of “Wall's End” and the mind-blowing “Satin Vengeance”), I can't even tell if they're playing notes or not --- all I hear is the sound of strings being thrashed in perfect lockstep. Hana takes Noxagt's sound to new levels of brutality. On “Soft Sugar,” his instruments unleashes the same industrial screeches that the Ex-Models were so fond of on Chrome Panthers; on “90 Parallels Ago,” his slide playing sounds as if he's slicing gashes all over his fretboard.

Unlike the band's previous work, which often sounded through-composed, the songs on Noxagt are content to repeat a single idea, with just enough variation thrown in to keep listeners on their toes. There are key changes, tempo changes, tricky stops and starts, and experiments in syncopation, but no song ever strays too far from the core of its central riff. The only exception is the closing 12-minute epic “The Impious One,” in which three minutes of impressionistic feedback manipulation serve as a bridge between two different, yet equally titanic, riffs.

Although many critics, myself included, used Erga's viola as a selling point to persuade jaded readers into checking Noxagt out, it is clear that Hana's presence has made the band both heavier and better. The only quibble I have with it is its album cover, on which a nameless (and, frankly, assless) model wears white panties emblazoned with the band's name. An album with as much sonic bottom as this one shouldn't have a woman with no bottom to speak of on the cover. May I recommend one of the Apple Bottoms models for Noxagt's next album?

Artist Website: www.noxagt.com
Label Website: www.loadrecords.com

Mister Joseph Has A Mix For You: The Summer Edition!

It's hot outside. You need to chill out. Let's do this for you, shall we? We shall. Here is a CD's worth of quality chill-out music, and I highly suggest you check out the artists in question. It'll totally be worth your while. So relax, go fix yourself whatever it is that you like to drink, and enjoy this collection of songs that will help you keep cool during these hot summer days!

1. Don Peris: "Day Trip"
2. Loscil: "Zephyr"
3. Gregg Kowalsky: "Coral Gables (Live)"
4. Yellow6: "Mulen Morgonen Gor Ofta Klar Dag"
5. Brian McBride: "A Gathering to Lead Me Then You're Gone"
6. Robin Guthrie: "The Day Star"
7. ISAN: "First Date Jumble Sale (Live)"
8. The Lancaster Orchestra: "New-Found Friends"
9. Kammerflimmer Kollektief: "There's a Weight on You, But You Can't Feel It"
10. Ulrich Schnauss: "There's a Lie for Breakfast"
11. Signaldrift: "Missed But Hopeful"
12. Manual: "Astoria"
13. The Cocteau Twins: "Circling Girl"
14. I Am Robot And Proud: "The Electricity In Your House Wants to Sing
15. The Drift: "Invisible Cities:
16. The Montgolfier Brothers "Journey's End"

July 13, 2006

Sufjan Stevens: "Avalanche"

Have you ever read something that's so thoroughly perfect in its message that you have to say "What he said?" Take away the cop-out apology paragraph at the end of the latest editorial from Allmusic's editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, and you'll have my thoughts on why I do not care for Sufjan Steven's music.

Personally, I couldn't sit through one complete listen of Avalanche, and I never found any compelling reason to try and finish it.

July 12, 2006

Interview: The Long Winters

How quickly a love affair can happen! My introduction to The Long Winters did not come until earlier this year, but when I received their latest album, Putting the Days to Bed, I fell in love, and I fell hard. It's a record that's described as "rock" by their label, but is anything but a traditional "rock" record; front-man John Roderick...let's just say you can't spell Roderick without "rock!" We recently had the chance to get him to sit down and answer a few questions. Considering the excellence of his latest record, and the assured whirlwind that's bound to accompany the album's release, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity.

(If you can't wait until Barsuk's release date of July 25th, you can click here to listen to the album in its entirety.)

Having control of the production chair and rumored to be something of a perfectionist, what would say was the most difficult track on Putting the Days to Bed? Were there any moments that led to flagellation, either of yourself, or your band?

Where is this reputation for being a perfectionist coming from? I think we should nip that in the bud right now. The fact is that I'm way too cheap to be an actual perfectionist.

It's a good question, though. A couple of tracks were more challenging than others for different reasons. I worked on the lyrics to "Hindsight" right up until the very end, which involved some considerable hair-pulling. And we did four or five versions each of both "Sky is Open" and "Seven" before we settled down. But I could easily describe a way in which every song was a struggle, because making records is hard, but overall it was pretty painless and fun.

The Long Winters' lineup on the new record is a completely different one from the previous record. Do you recall if there was a moment during the sessions for the new record that you felt, "Yeah, these guys are IT!" What was that moment?
Well, Eric Corson has been with me on every record except the first one, and he just keeps getting better, so it wasn't a completely different line-up. The thing is, most of the guests on our records just came in for a couple of hours to play a thing or two and then left, so the majority of time in the studio it's always been just me, and maybe Eric, with the engineer. The addition of Nabil to our band has been the major change recently, and there definitely was a lightbulb moment with him where I said, "Whoa, how did we luck out and get this guy? He's a total scientist of good times."

When you contemplate Putting the Days to Bed in regards to your previous work, what do you think sets it apart from those earlier records, and do you think that this maturation has generally been in the direction that you had intended when you first started the band?

I'm hoping music journalists will do the heavy lifting in answering that question. I mean, I'm incredibly excited about the music on this album, I think it's the best we've made, and the live shows this year are going to be a holy terror. Otherwise I'm not really able to put any of our records in historical perspective. I know that many people consider our last full-length a hard act to follow, which is flattering, but I think I have a half dozen better ones in me, starting with this new one. It would be giving me far too much credit to imagine that I had ANY plan whatsoever when I started this band, let alone that I had a maturation direction in mind.

If you were to take a time machine back to the early 1990s, and you were to meet the John Roderick from 15 years ago, who do you think would be the more surprised, the younger John or the older?

You are coming from inspired-question-ville! I'll tell you first that the younger John has no secrets from the older John. Fifteen years ago I had never really tried to make anything real. I spent a ton of energy imagining all the things I would make one day and sneering at all the things other people were making, and in that way it was possible to imagine that the first thing I made would be instantly embraced by the whole world. So the John of fifteen years ago wouldn't really have the capacity to understand the life I'm leading now, making my own records, touring in a van, earning a little money here and there. He wouldn't have any comprehension of it other than that his future self was a failure. Thank god I don't have to talk to him.

July 10, 2006

Montys Loco "Man Overboard"

Wow. I received Man Overboard, the latest record from Swedish duo Montys Loco, and I have to say that it's a breathtaking experience. Encased in a black velvet sleeve, this brief album requires but one listen to make a lasting impression. Man Overboard starts off with "Borderline," which sounds a lot like a Kate Bush outtake/tribute, and just when you think that you've come to terms with the fact that the band makes ethereal pop music, they turn around and throw you a couple of curveballs; their style then delves into a more organic form, with a folky style reminiscent of recently deemed hypeworthy Swedish artists El Perro Del Mar and Jose Gonzales, but not really, as they simply refuse to sit still in one genre long enough to be deemed pigeonholed. Songs like "Accident" and "Give Me More" have a beat, but not really enough of one to be a 'dance' band, while "No Halo" and "Man Overboard" are mellow, gorgeous numbers that remind me a lot of later period Cardigans. Then there's the stripped down numbers like "Image," which are simple piano ballads. Man Overboard is a pretty, gorgeous record that is well worth seeking out, as it's simply a breathtaking work of simplistic beauty. (It's no surprise that The Cardigans recently took them on tour.)

Stream four songs at their Myspace page.

July 07, 2006

The Long Winters Put the Days To Bed

Coming soon is a new record by enigmatic rockers The Long Winters, entitled Putting the Days to Bed. Admittedly, I'm not that familiar with The Long Winters oeuvre, but I can tell you that this new album is a mixture of 70s AM rock, folk, and a little flakes of a mysterious psychedelic something-or-other. At times bouncy, at times a little melancholy, the record is overall a fun, sunshine-filled affair that makes for an enjoyable summer's evening listen. More on this wonderful record later. But in the meantime, check 'em and befriend 'em at Myspace!

Listen To: "Pushover">

July 06, 2006

Various Artists "Little Darla Has A Treat For You, v. 24: Endless Summer Edition"

There's a LOT of music on the latest installment of Darla Records's Little Darla Has a Treat For You. For the first time in the history of the series, the collection is different, in two remarkable ways. One, it's a two-CD set, and two, all but two of the songs are completely exclusive. The series began as a cheap, affordable way to promote the records that Darla released and/or distributed, but they started adding some choice unreleased tracks, which made the series both a worthwhile purchase AND a collector's item, especially for their then-flagship band, My Morning Jacket. (The exclusives that My Morning Jacket provided really justify searching high and low for the earlier volumes.) If you've ever wanted a record that covered almost every form of indie-rock, then you'll find it here. Indie-pop, electronica, indie-rock, experimental, and everything in between…it's all here! There's way too much to discuss in terms of this collection, but there are some really, really choice selections from Robin Guthrie, Boyracer, Twin Atlas, Beatnik Filmstars, Faris Nourallah, Mahogany, The Orchids, Manual, New Radiant Storm King, Yellow6, and dozens, dozens more. Here's a little taste, posted for your enjoyment!

Listen To: Beatnik Filmstars- "I Am A Soul Singer

July 05, 2006

Say Jansfield “Autumn Burrows”

Jay Stansfield, the man on whose name his new trio Say Jansfield is awkwardly based, is better known in some circles as the lead singer/guitarist of the dearly departed band tRANSELEMENt, one of the most unjustifiably overlooked British bands of the last 15 years. The band's music balanced the gratuitous dissonance and stylistic inconsistency of American indie-rock with the kind of surreal humor and irrepressible melodic smarts that could only come from a British band. After a single, two Peel Sessions and four albums, the band broke up in 2004, right when they were starting to get noticed outside of their hometown of Lancashire. In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that Jay has been a pen pal of mine for the last decade. Because of such, I have copies of almost every home recording that tRANSELEMENt made during their lifespan, many of which equal or exceed their professionally released recordings in quality, if not fidelity. Although their breakup saddened me, Say Jansfield's debut album Autumn Burrows serves as an excellent consolation prize.

If tRANSELEMENt were the Beatles, then Autumn Burrows could be seen as Jay's own McCartney. The majority of the singing and instruments are handled by Jay, with assistance from his wife Maria on vocals and his friend Rob on drums. The songs are devoid of the distorted guitars that marked his former band's work, opting instead for a “folk-tronica” sound that pits acoustic instrumentation against light, tinkling drum programming. Last but not least, the lyrics are marked by a simplicity and optimism that didn't come through often in tRANSELEMENt's music. The sentiments may be corny, but the sincerity in Jay's voice and the skill with which the music is executed make them stick. Like Paul McCartney's best work, the songs on Autumn Burrows are powered by goodwill.

On opener “That's Life!,” Jay comforts a bereaved friend with a resigned chorus about the inevitability of death: “Don't try to understand why we die/Everyone goes sometimes/People come and people go/That's life, don't you know?” “Repetitive Strain Industry” is an anthem for everyone who is stuck in a tedious clerical job like me. “There's no freedom inside a computer,” he sings. “Turn it off, and do something you really want!” On “A Sad Past,” Jay and his wife take turns singing about the futility of guilt and regret: “If your past is filled with sadness/But your days are filled with love/Then just hold the ones around you/And forget about what's gone.” Autumn Burrows isn't all sunshine and rainbows. On “Gon, Gon, Gon,” Jay tells a tale of a drunk who kills another man on the subway with an axe. The lyrics of “The Lonely Piano” personify a piano that no one wants to play anymore, but you probably could've guessed that from the title. The sad songs are few and far between, though, as if Jay felt obligated to make brief nods to the darker side of life in order to keep listeners from entering a sugar coma.

Of course, Autumn Burrows isn't a complete break away from the tRANSELEMENt sound. Jay's elfin tenor, which frequently leaps into a soaring falsetto at any moment, is the most obvious sonic link to his previous band's work. He's still got a keen ear for melody, and he isn't afraid to go on odd sonic detours: check the spaghetti-western climax of “Sugar Brown” and the white noise coda of “We're in the Countryside” for examples. However, whereas listening to tRANSELEMENt was like cruising around town with your craziest friend in search for trouble and adventure, listening to Autumn Burrows is like going to your most mild-mannered friend's house for a pick-me-up and some good advice. It's chicken soup for the indie soul --- and in crazy times like these, it's exactly what many of us need to hear.

Artist Website: www.sayjansfield.co.uk
Label Website: www.creepingbent.org

Help out Stars of the Lid

From the official Myspace site for Stars of the Lid:

FIRE! On May 23rd, 2006, a candle left burning from an upstairs neighbor destroyed our home. As the fire engulfed the apartment above ours, I quickly assembled our cat carriers and found as many cats as I could. I was able to get all the cats out except one. Luckily, the remaining cat made it outside. My music studio was not so lucky. I write this because after much thought I have decided to swallow my pride and admit that I need your help. If you are a friend of my music or a listener of Stars of the Lid and you are on the fence about purchasing an album or even downloading a song, there is no doubt that your support will aid me immensely in rebuilding. THANK YOU ALL for all the kind words and emails that I have received. You may be glad to know that the new Stars of the Lid 3LP record is still safe and should be available hopefully before 2007.

People, if you haven't heard McBride's excellent solo album, When The Detail Lost Its Freedom, there's no better reason to do so than now. I named it one of the best records of 2005, and I still stand by that claim. What better way to help out an excellent musician by purchasing one of the best records of 2005?

Weird Weeds "Weird Feelings"

Sean will be the one to deliver the obsessive, 1200-word analysis of The Weird Weeds' new album Weird Feelings, but I've got a thing or two to say about this really great record. This record is simply amazing, but it's deceptively amazing. The band has a way of making the coldest sounds feel rather warm, and the noises of the room are what make this record great. It's pretty and it's haunting and it's simply, utterly gorgeous because it is so simple and pretty and haunting. That's about all I can say, as I don't want to steal Sean's thunder. But you heard it here first...Weird Weeds rule, OK?

But don't take my word for it...listen for yourself! And go be their friend--it's hard out there for an indie, and they need all the help they can get!

Listen To: "One-Eyed Cloud"
Listen To: "For You To See Me

Weird Feelings comes out August 22nd, on Sounds Are Active.

Video: KARP live in 1996

Redneck metalheads, rejoice! Thanks to the shady but wonderful YouTube, a vintage concert by MY favorite metal band (and, ironically, one of my favorite bands on indiepop twee label K Records) of the 1990s has recently surfaced. A half-hour of IN YR FACE HARD AS BRITISH STEEL METAL LIVE AND IN EXCELLENT SOUND has recently appeared. But, seriously, people, go check it out!

July 03, 2006

Maritime Live!

The website Daytrotter has posted a live session with one of my favorite indiepop bands, Maritime. Four really good songs that are a bit different than the album versions. They're a bit rougher and a bit more raw, but they're still quite excellent! Check it out, and after you've done that, then go to their Myspace, check out the original versions, and then befriend 'em!

In other news, we've redesigned the site! Yay!

Don Peris "Go When The Morning Shineth"

Go When the Morning Shineth is the second solo album by The Innocence Mission's guitarist and vocalist, Don Peris. For someone whose reputation has been built on making sad, melancholy folk-rock, the music found here isn't that surprising; considering his pedigree, it's a bit more remarkable that the record is almost entirely instrumental. At times, the record cris-crosses between an acoustic guitar record and a moodier, atmospheric record, but the two styles come together quite well. Imagine, if you will, the sound of riding up Highway 101 in a convertible on Labor Day. That's the best description for the beautiful music found here; mellow, pretty, and scenic. Songs like "Delaware" and "Flyer" are warm and hazy and a little lackadaisical, while songs like "Day Trip" and "Jubilee" are catchy, upbeat numbers that will leave you humming—if, of course, you are inclined to hum along with instrumental numbers that wouldn't sound out of place in a lovely seaside bistro.

Listen To: "Day Trip"

Label Website: http://www.jemezmountain.com