Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bandwidth bash

Thanks to my conservation efforts, we've managed not to exceed our August bandwidth limit as I feared we would. In fact, we've got a nice little cushion right now. So, what the hell--I'll post some fairly random stuff that'll be popular. Back to bands you've never heard of on the first of the month. (A joke.)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if you don't own The Stone Roses' self-titled album, you don't deserve to call yourself a rock fan. (Don't make me come to your home.) But what about the Roses' other stuff? Honestly, unless you're a die-hard, you can live without Second Coming--surely one of the biggest disappointments in the history of recorded music.

However, the band loosed a number of worthy singles on the world before and after their masterful debut. Originally released in 1985, "Tell Me" is actually the B-side to "So Young," and, in my opinion, a better song. "Sally Cinnamon," originally came out in 1987. Both are collected on The Complete Stone Roses (the album may not be for purists since some of the tracks are edited for space). And then I've added a fab 808 State remix of "Made of Stone." (With a little effort, you can find that remix album floating around the Web.)

Tell Me (mp3) - The Stone Roses

Sally Cinnamon (mp3) - The Stone Roses

Made of Stone (808 State remix) (mp3) - The Stone Roses

Normally I can't get behind Conor Oberst (the exception might be "Lover I Don't Have To Love"). But Oberst plus Britt Daniel? I'd listen with rapt attention if Daniel decided to release an album of nursery rhymes. So yes, of course the duo's split CD for Post-Parlo Records interests me. Especially this tune, which I estimate is 90% Daniel/10% Oberst.

Let The Distance Bring Us Together (mp3) - Bright Eyes and Britt Daniel

Caribou is one of those subjects that's borderline overblogged, and therefore something I'd normally avoid. But I don't want to surprise you when The Milk of Human Kindness ends up in my year-end top 10 (possibly top 20--we'll see what else comes out in the remaining four months of the year). This may be the best cut, though the record is a goldmine.

Yeti (mp3) - Caribou

Monday, August 29, 2005

No Hits 8.29.05

Prairie Fire (mp3) - Dying Californian

Sometimes you just need a musical catharsis. Something big, sloppy, boozy and bombastic that you can sing along to. Rough harmonies are good, as are noisy, fuzzed-out guitars and no-nonsense beats that barely keep the whole thing from slipping into chaos.

Dying Californian--a band that is, in fact, from California (Santa Cruz)--might remind you of REM, Pavement's Nashville experiments, Phosphorescent and Grandaddy (they've toured with the last). Their music is a nice mix of indie rock and Americana, though probably a little more road house than rock club.

The beautiful mess that is "Prairie Fire" appears on We Are The Birds That Stay on Turn Records. These are also recommended:

My Heaven Knows No Reign (mp3) - Dying Californian

Live tracks:

Scene Of The Crime (mp3) - Dying Californian

Phobos & Deimos (mp3) - Dying Californian

From an untitled, forthcoming LP:

The Martyrdom of Perpetua (mp3) - Dying Californian

What'll I Do (mp3) - Dying Californian

Sunday, August 28, 2005


I had a whole other post planned for today. But last night I couldn't sleep and was trolling the Web when I came upon this extraordinary singer named Elisabeth Wood. Wood's canny enough to know that a forgettable name won't get you very far in the music biz, so she operates under the name Fancie (not to be confused with New Pornographer Todd Fancey's solo project, Fancey). And she makes music that's ideal Sunday listening.

FancieFor convenience's sake many people would probably slip this in the alt-country/roots slot. But I think Fancie's music's a lot more complicated than that: extremely personal and intimate, informed by blues, jazz and folk. Her voice reminds me at different times of vocalists like Dolly Pardon, Chan Marshall, Nina Simone and Jolie Holland--a disparate bunch for sure.

In a song like "Happy Birthday," she's a melancholy torch singer, in "A Wish," your best friend casually telling a familiar story. Most of the arrangements are simple--acoustic guitar and piano that never threaten to overwhelm Fancie's hushed voice (she sounds like she's singing at the low end of her natural range). Though "Stranger To None," the best of these three songs, surprises with a gorgeous backing choir and an unexpected piano flourish.

Stranger To None (mp3) - Fancie

Happy Birthday (mp3) - Fancie

A Wish (mp3) - Fancie

You can--and should--order Fancie's second album Stranger To None through Hush Records. I already have.

Unfortunately, most of us in the states have missed Fancie on her summer tour. But if you live in Portland, you can still catch her September 4 at Dunes. Though she grew up in Northern California, Fancie currently resides in Berlin and plays club dates there regularly.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Shameless boosterism

I don't know if you've noticed, but I've been talking more about Chicago music lately (this week alone Red Eyed Legends, Eva Destruction and Her Big Band and producer Brad Wood). It's intentional. A few weeks ago I decided that I'm not paying enough attention to the local scene and need to do something about it. That thing about thinking globally, acting locally--it applies to indie rock too. And it's not like I lack bands to write about. We've got a vast, rich, eclectic city of music here. But, you know, I'm not expecting Mayor Daley to show up on my doorstep with a key to the city or anything . . .

WildernessOne of the best albums released by a Chicago artist this year--Wilderness from Archer Prewitt--seems to have been somewhat neglected by the mp3 blogging community. Neglected despite an 8.5 from Pitchfork, an A from Stylus and acclaim from plenty of other professional critics. Neglected despite Prewitt's prodigious talent for writing complex, intricate, yet engaging songs, his fine musicianship, warm, seductive voice, and a pedigree formed by stints in such legendary Chicago bands as The Coctails and The Sea and Cake.

This is a record full of surprises, none as great as "O, KY," a tribute to the state of Prewitt's birth and a meditation on his father's death. As it lyrically wends itself through rough emotional terrain, tempos shift, piano lines fade in and out, Prewitt's acoustic strumming is contemplative, then tense, then joyful. It's a mature song on a mature album--in the best possible sense of that word. This kind of musical sophistication and mood is hard-won, built on lived, not fabricated, experience and would be unimaginable coming from one of the "emo" horde's more callow singer-songwriters.

O, KY (mp3) - Archer Prewitt

We Go Alone (mp3) - Archer Prewitt

Final Season (mp3) - Archer Prewitt

"We Go Alone" is from a Thrill Jockey Records compilation and was also, I believe, released as a b-side. "Final Season" appears on Prewitt's 1999 album White Sky.

Prewitt's not just a fine musician, he's also a respected illustrator (see the Wilderness cover) and comic artist. He's produced three issues of Sof' Boy, featuring a strangely unsettling character that resembles Caspar the Ghost and the Pillsbury Doughboy and whose adventures refer to some of the vicissitudes--some violent--of Prewitt's own life.

Sof' Boy

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lazy day post

When music bloggers do a lazy day post, it's usually something along the lines of "list of the last five tracks on my iPod." I'm not gonna be that transparent (though I reserve the right to do that iPod post sometime in the future), but these are a couple things I've been listening to/ thinking about over the last few days:

I came upon the Red Eyed Legends because they're one of the bands to appear in the second installment of Brendan Canty (Fugazi) and Christoph Green's Burn To Shine project about bands performing in derelict buildings before they're burned to the ground. Now, I haven't seen either installment (the first filmed in D.C., the second in Chicago), but I want to. Because while conceptually this idea doesn't interest me that much, I can see how it could be visually--not to mention aurally--thrilling (fire! rock n' roll!). Other bands appearing on the Chicago film include Wilco, Shellac, Freakwater, The Ponys--basically Windy City standard bearers.

Anyway, what I love about the sinister new-wave dance party known as Red Eyed Legends can be summed up in one word: farfisa (courtesy of ex-Dishes member Kiki Yablon). Okay, I also really dig the Pete Shelley-channeled vocals of Chris Thomson (ex-Circus Lupus). The band's latest is the EP Mutual Insignificance.

Cold In The Sun (mp3) - Red Eyed Legends

Conquest (mp3) - Red Eyed Legends

Red Eyed Legends

Sometimes I forget that not everyone regularly reads 50 mp3 blogs like I do. So it may come as news to you that Alec Ounsworth (yes, lead guy of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) has a bunch of solo demos over on his Web site. Most are pretty good. One--a carpe diem, be-true-to-yourself cautionary tale--is excellent.

Cecil Stick With The Story (mp3) - Alec Ounsworth

I'm watching the kids in my neighborhood sullenly trundle back to school and can't help but suppress my glee. I'm so happy I'm no longer a student! It's so great being an adult! Sorry--I'll try to control myself for those of you whose movements are still controlled by bells. Trust me, it'll be over before you know it and you'll wonder how you ever got so old.

Fast Computers2In celebration of the start of a new school year, I give you, " I Want To Be Your Professor," a pop tune that's just as sweet and geeky as you hope it will be. (Gotta love truth in advertising.) Make sure you visit The Fast Computers' Web site, where this boy-girl duo share their succinct mission statement: "melody + harmony = happiness." Awww.

I Want To Be Your Professor (mp3) - The Fast Computers

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cabaret punk

Eva Destruction & Her Big Band

We've all heard unfortunate covers of punk classics and at least a few decent ones. (I once saw a long-forgotten Chicago band play a slow, acoustic version of pop-punk anthem "Slack Motherfucker" that was sheer genius. Think about it for a second.) But when's the last time you heard oh, I don't know, Black Flag or the Sex Pistols interpreted cabaret style? Chicago artists Eva Destruction and Her Big Band are here to remedy that.

Eva and her "band"--musical partner Gary Indiana--reinvent the punk canon with surprisingly enjoyable results. Eva's voice sounds trained, but not so much that these tunes come off as parody or camp. And Indiana's instrumentation, favoring the banjo, is understated. So finally you'll hear the once-inscrutable lyrics of songs you thought you knew so well.

Submission (Sex Pistols) (mp3) - Eva Destruction and Her Big Band

Die Die My Darling (The Misfits) (mp3) - Eva Destruction and Her Big Band

Bloodstains (Agent Orange) (mp3) - Eva Destruction and Her Big Band

Monday, August 22, 2005

No Hits 8.22.05

Brad Wood (mp3) - Hartley Goldstein

Ha ha novelty song or sincere tribute? Hard to say, but "Brad Wood" by New Yorker Hartley Goldstein has a certain charm. And it's an excuse for me to walk down memory lane, all the way back to the mid-90s when Mr. Wood was the "it" indie rock producer. When Goldstein sings "I want whiny vocals, distortion and hooks galore," we all know exactly what watershed album he's referring to.

But as great as Exile in Guyville was (and I try very hard not to let Liz Phair's subsequent artistic meltdown ruin the record for me), my favorite Wood production's gotta be Ben Lee's Grandpaw Would--one of the best pop albums of that decade. If you like catchy tunes, if you appreciate most of the stuff I post, you'll love it. Promise. Incredibly, Lee was like 15 when these gems were recorded. He flew from Sydney to Chicago on his school break and stayed at Wood's place for two weeks, going to shows and hanging with the likes of Phair and Rebecca Gates of The Spinanes. Heady stuff for a kid, but obviously, a massively talented one. To increase the length of the recording so it qualified as a full-length LP, Lee later recorded several additional tracks in Australia with Wood collaborator Casey Rice.

Away With The Pixies (with Liz Phair) (mp3) - Ben Lee

Green Hearts (mp3) - Ben Lee

And to tie this post up in a nice little knot, I'm sharing what's probably my favorite novelty/indie rock hero tribute song by none other than the Spinanes:

Jad Fair Drives Women Wild (mp3) - The Spinanes

From International Pop Underground Convention. "Brad Wood" comes from Hartley Goldstein's first EP, Songs In the Key of Zoloft.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Killing you gently

As a band name, Popstar Assassins is a little disingenuous. Because these Seattle guys certainly have popstar potential (in the indie sense, naturally), yet aren't gonna slay anyone with their unthreatening, ear-friendly sound. The obvious corollary is The Shins, though Popstar Assassins' song structures are probably a little more traditional (strictly verse-chorus-verse) and they rock harder and noisier. I also hear The Smiths, particularly in those affected--sincerely affected--vocals. (It's like that line from Breakfast at Tiffany's, "She's a phony, but she's a real phony.") I can't find specifics on who the Popstar Assassins players are, leading me to believe this is a one-man DIY band with friends who play backup when required.

Their latest album, Moderne, is available at Insound.

Symbols/Shelter (mp3) - Popstar Assassins

Goodbye (mp3) - Popstar Assassins

Transcontinental (mp3) - Popstar Assassins

Panic (mp3) - The Smiths

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A little moonlight

Leave town for four days and everything goes to hell at home and work. I'll be picking up the pieces over the next few days, so bear with me. And the next two months will also be rocky as I prepare to move. Just thinking about it gives me heart palpatations . . .

But enough about my petty concerns, let's talk about a woman who had real problems. You don't have to have read or seen Lady Sings The Blues (though both the book and film are worth your time) to be familiar with the Billie Holiday mythology: Although her childhood was unpromising--she was abandoned by her father, neglected by her mother and arrested for prostitution while still a teenager--Holiday found salvation through her voice. Gigs in small Harlem clubs led to her being "discovered" by producer John Hammond in 1933. Soon, she was recording with Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Lester Young and she later performed with such luminaries as Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. By the time she died in 1959, Holiday was America's preeminent female jazz singer--despite having a range of only a little more than an octave. Like so many great musicians, she had a weakness for heroin and booze, which led to several arrests and a jail stint and sent her to an early grave at 44 from cirrhosis of the liver.

Billie Holiday

Liner notes by Ashley Kahn that accompany the excellent Billie Holiday box set The Ultimate Collection describe the uncanny power of her voice more eloquently than I ever could:

She is intimacy and isolation in a twin orbit, singing as if to everyone while sighing only to herself. She innocently pulls and plays with time as if it were salt-water taffy, starting her lines waaay behind the beat, imbuing her performance with that heavy eye-lid feel. She evokes a brooding sense of loneliness that became her currency alone.

I've always preferred the earlier Holiday recordings from the 1930s, to the later ones in which her voice sounds thick and weary. If you haven't heard the 1939 Commodore recording of "Strange Fruit"--the first and best take on her signature song--it will be a revelation. The light, tripping "What A Little Moonlight Can Do," is also early (1935). "Love Me Or Leave Me," is from Holiday's 1950s Verve period, but it's a swinging beaut.

Strange Fruit (mp3) - Billie Holiday

What A Little Moonlight Can Do (mp3) - Billie Holiday

Love Me or Leave Me (mp3) - Billie Holiday

Monday, August 15, 2005

No Hits 8.15.05

Burning House of Love (mp3) - The Knitters

In Amy's absence (happy birthday, Toots!) I've been given the reins for this week's No Hits entry. Power Pop be damned! You'll be hearin' none of that, friends.

I think I might have hit the jackpot with this week's heavy-rotation track, given all the chit-chat 'round here lately. It's got 80s "roots rock" pedigree, it's a cover (of sorts), and it's too good to ignore (though given recent airplay and TV appearances it may be at risk of immediate "No Hits" disqualification). I'll take the heat.

First, let me take a step back, though — 20 years back. While Geldof, Bono, and the gang were saving Africa, bands like X and Jason and the Scorchers were reworking country music conventions and paving the way for the alt-country watershed of the 90s. In Music City, U.S.A., Jason and others — including Webb Wilder (still working, last I checked), local hopefuls like Raging Fire and In Pursuit, and L.A. import and cross-over breakthrough Dwight Yoakam — were concocting strong medicine to remedy new wave excess and the then-bankrupt and cliched country sound epitomized by the likes of Kenny Rogers.

Which brings us back to Burning. The original 1985 X composition might betray the era a bit with keyboards sparking at the edges, but the rich vocals and no nonsense guitars left an indelible and influential mark. The Knitters — comprised of X bandmates John Doe, Exene Cervenka, and D.J. Bonebrak joined by Dave Alvin and Jonny Ray Bartel — deliver a sparse, jangly update with the clickity-clack shudder of a dark train puffing across the high plains. It's a much more haunting (and haunted) telling this time around, tinged by dread and bitter memory.

Get The Modern Sounds of The Knitters, their second release in 20 years. Their first, Poor Little Critter on the Road is also a must-have.

Burning House of Love (mp3) - X

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A breather

Am going on a short vacation (if seeing family counts as vacation). Be good while I'm gone and try some new sounds.

Aluminum (mp3) - Mahjongg*

Rollerskate (mp3) - Call and Response

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (mp3) - Blue-Eyed Son

Watching Xanadu (mp3) - Mull Historical Society

All Of Me (mp3) - Benett*

Holiday Machine (mp3) - Bottom of the Hudson

*Don't even think about leaving without first hearing this.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Orange is the new . . .

Oranges Band

Three things you should know about The Oranges Band:

1. They sound like they're from California but are, in fact, from Baltimore.
Some of the best moments of the Oranges' second LP, The World & Everything In It, will remind you of The Beach Boys/Jan and Dean or Dick Dale and his surf guitar. At their more melodic-punk points, the band sounds a bit like fellow Lookout Records artists Ted Leo and Green Day.

2. Leadman Roman Kuebler played bass on Spoon's Kill The Moonlight tour.
On the Oranges' earlier releases (two EPs and a full-length), you could hear the Spoon influence. Or more to the point, a lot of Wire and Mission of Burma. Except for the first track on the new album, "Believe"--which has that skeletal, art rock thing going--the band seems to have found an original pop-punk sound. Many miles on the road have left the Oranges tight and confident and a lengthy recording session in a self-assembled studio gives the new album a relaxed, patient vibe. Case in point: "Mountain."

3. The World & Everything In It isn't getting half the attention it deserves.
Maybe it's Lookout's well-publicized financial troubles and there's no marketing budget left. But I can't understand why we're not hearing more about this outstanding record. I've been listening to it repeatedly for days--no letup in sight. Don't believe me? Believe Craig Finn (The Hold Steady).

Ride The Nuclear Wave (mp3) - The Oranges Band

Mountain (mp3) - The Oranges Band

From Five Dollars EP:

What Got You Off The Hook (mp3) - The Oranges Band

Live tracks:

All The Ghosts In Your House (mp3) - The Oranges Band

Stars Are Our Stuck (mp3) - The Oranges Band

Surf Song (mp3) - The Oranges Band

An excellent cover by Spoon of Wire's "Lowdown" from the Oranges' site:

Lowdown (mp3) - Spoon

And has anyone else noticed this trend?

Crooked In The Weird Of The Catacombs (mp3) - Oranger

I Don't Wanna Shine (mp3) - The Orange Peels

Heaven is Rising (mp3) - Orange Cake Mix

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Layaways

More Than HappyThe Layaways are a Chicago-based indie pop band who have released two albums since 2003. The band's founder, singer and guitarist, David Harrell, also happens to be a friend of mine. Wait--this isn't just a case of giving props to a pal! The Layaways are really good. Don't just take my word for it; other mp3 blogs, including Fingertips and The Catbirdseat, and media outlets like PopMatters and the Chicago Sun-Times, have all bestowed praise on The Layaways.

Their music has been described as shoegazer and garage rock and compared to that of bands we all love like Jesus and Mary Chain, Guided By Voices, Pernice Brothers and My Bloody Valentine. The first Layaways release, More Than Happy, was a solo project. But for the second album--last year's We've Been Lost--Harrell pulled a band together and began sharing songwriting and lead vocal duties with bassist Mike Porter. Nathan Burleson on drums and backing vocals rounds things out. The Layaways are currently working on their third album.

From More Than Happy:

We've Been LostYeah Yeah Yeah (mp3) - The Layaways

Let Me In (mp3) - The Layaways

From We've Been Lost:

Silence (mp3) - The Layaways

The Long Night (mp3) - The Layaways

Recently, David kindly allowed me to ask a few questions about the band, the joys and challenges of self-releasing albums and the Chicago music scene.

I love the name The Layaways--where did it come from?

It was a replacement for my original idea, The Paperbacks, but another Chicago band turned up in 2003 using it. The Layaways just sort of popped into my head one day and I was amazed to find out that it wasn't already used. And I thought it related well to some of the lyrical themes--delayed gratification and that sort of thing.

Both of your albums are self-released. What is the process and what are the challenges of doing it yourself?

Footing the bill for the recording and equipment and then getting distribution for the actual release. With the first disc I was a completely unknown quantity and I really didn't want to spend time trying to persuade a label to release it. It seemed easier to just press some discs and send them out for reviews and college radio. We were able to secure distribution for both discs via Carrot Top here in Chicago and Tonevendor, a distributor in California.

We are contacting indie labels about releasing our third disc. I think a self-released artist eventually hits a wall in terms of press coverage and radio play, that in most cases you need to be on a real label to be taken seriously. Or at least to get reviewed by Pitchfork.

Are any of the bands you get compared to actual influences? Who are your favorite artists?

[Of the named influences] I guess I listen to Guided By Voices the most. A lot of reviewers mention Jesus and Mary Chain, but I'd argue that it's actually a case of common influences, though I definitely like them. As for favorite artists, I'm still a fan of the big "B" bands--Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star. When I was first learning guitar, it was songs like the Cars' "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girl," so I guess there's an underlying tendency toward eighth-note rhythms in my stuff. And I'm a pretty big Yo La Tengo fan. Recent faves include Iron and Wine, Bloc Party, Spoon, The Wrens and Pedro The Lion.

How would you characterize the Chicago music scene and who are some of your favorite local bands?

I'm not sure there is a scene in the sense that a particular club has a built-in audience for a type of music. Chicago's great in that there are a lot of clubs and it's relatively easy for an unknown artist to book a show. But then you're pretty much on your own as far as bringing in an audience for that show.

As for Chicago bands, it's probably more songs as opposed to artists. There's a great Clyde Federal song called "Cleared A Little Space." I'm also digging "Iron Woman" by Devin Davis [download from Davis' Web site].

You can buy The Layaways' albums at Amazon, Insound and iTunes.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The last taboo

I'm reeling from reading this interview with David Berman of Silver Jews. I mean, have you ever, ever heard any musician talk so openly and in such detail about money? Forget the drug problem--everyone's got an addiction story these days (though to give credit where credit is due, Berman managed to concoct a pretty novel blend of poisons). And I think we're all weary from hearing about other people's political views, religious beliefs and sex lives. Granted, I'm speaking as a relatively jaded, urban-dwelling American. But where I come from, money's the last taboo--making this shocking stuff indeed.

Berman sounds like someone who's reached a point in his life where's he's not interested in bullshitting anymore and wants to lay it on the table. I like the way he slags "Everybody Hurts," too. (Just this weekend I was trying to convince a friend that it's the most embarrassing song ever written by once-credible artists.) Anyway, the advance word on the Silver Jews' Tanglewood Numbers--due in October on Drag City--is that it's excellent. I'm sure the album has leaked somewhere, but I don't know where and probably wouldn't tell if I did (but feel free to email me if you do).

This song has always killed me, especially because it shape-shifts halfway through:

New Orleans (mp3) - Silver Jews

See also a live performance (wmv) of "New Orleans." And more mp3s on the band's Web site.

Last week I posted a Teenage Fanclub cover of Madonna's "Like A Virgin" that people seemed to like (or like to download). Without even trying, I just came across another good Madonna cover, this time of my--probably everyone's--favorite Madonna tune:

Like A Prayer (mp3) - The Rondelles

The Rondelles appear to have broken up (reading through the lines on the Teenbeat Records site), but were a D.C. 60s girl group-inspired punk band. You can find more fun mp3s on the band's site, including this hand-clapping singalong.

Safety In Numbers (mp3) - The Rondelles

Monday, August 08, 2005

No Hits 8.7.05

Trouble (mp3) - Summer Hymns

One of the less-heralded acts on the excellent Misra Records roster is Summer Hymns (apropos, no?). As we slog through another hot, sticky month (at least it is here in Chicago) this earthy, melodic song can accompany you.

Summer Hymns was formed by Zachery Gresham in Athens, Georgia to provide an outlet for his interest in folk ballads, hymns and other American roots music. Its changing lineup has, not surprisingly considering the incestuous nature of that town's music scene, included members of Elf Power and Of Montreal. The band's newest release is Value Series Vol. 1: Fool's Gold. Trouble comes from its 2003 LP, Clemency.

Wet Mess (mp3) - Summer Hymns

What They Really Do (mp3) - Summer Hymns

And while we're on the subject of Misra, allow me to just briefly sing its praises. Though Merge Records may always be my favorite label--I've been a fan from almost the beginning--Austin-based Misra has snuck up and stolen my heart. Some of the best recent records, notably Great Lake Swimmers' debut, Phosphorescent's thrilling Aw Come Aw Wry and Shearwater's gorgeous Winged Life, come from Misra. All three of those are on frequent rotation for me. I'm also really intrigued by what I've heard of Slow Dazzle and Flotation Toy Warning. Even the label's more difficult, experimental acts, Volcano The Bear and Bablicon are worth hearing.

Many small labels document a local scene--taking the good with the not-so-good. And some of the weaker labels sound like springboards for the label owner's friends. Misra, on the other hand, displays consistent discernment and taste. While it seems to have some bias for Americana-type bands and folky singer/songwriters, it isn't constrained by those genres.

Moving Pictures, Silent Films (mp3) - Great Lake Swimmers

I Am A Full Grown Man (mp3) - Phosphorescent

St. Mary's Walk (mp3) - Shearwater (demo of stunning Winged Life track)

Fleur De Lie (mp3) - Slow Dazzle

Happy 13 (mp3) - Flotation Toy Warning

Arc Felt (mp3) - Volcano The Bear

AEther (mp3) - Bablicon

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Sound Opinions album recs

If you live in Chicago and you're into music, you probably tune in occasionally to Sound Opinions, which bills itself as the world's only rock and roll talk show. Hosted by Jim DeRogatis, who writes for the Sun-Times, and Greg Kot, the Tribune's main rock critic, it's a wide-ranging radio program on XRT with news, reviews and guests (in the recent past, members of Head of Femur, some of the Pitchfork crew, Tommy Ramone, Moby).

A lot of the music they discuss is pretty mainstream, but you get some good stuff occasionally. Tuesday night, for example, Jim and Greg spent most of the show talking about new or soon-to-be-released albums they'd been digging. I grabbed a pen and paper so I could share what I thought were their better recs:

Magic Numbers1. The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers

2. Let Us Never Speak of It Again - Out Hud

3. Citizen Cain'd - Julian Cope

4. Ocean's Apart - The Go-BetweensGo-Betweens

A couple live recordings from 2004:

Right Here (mp3) - The Go-Betweens

He Lives My Life (mp3) - The Go-Betweens

5. A forthcoming dBs record that I couldn't find any information on. But I did grab a new song:

World to Cry (mp3) - The dBs

6. I was most interested by this suggestion because they're from Chicago and I hadn't heard of them:

New BlackNew Black - New Black

From the Thick Records site: "What if the B-52's had just one night of wild sex with Q and not U? And the resulting bastard child was neither boy nor girl, new wave nor no wave? . . . Quirky and complex, yet catchy as all get-out, New Black is your new tweak. Amid the yin and yang, the tension and release of this burning boy/girl pop explosion, are danceable backbeats, howling guitars, wailing keys and growling bass lines."

Don't let the B-52's ref put you off. New Black, with its gleefully pissed-off vocals, sounds more like a first-wave punk act (think X-Ray Spex).

Booze Olympics (mp3) - New Black

You Look Good Enough To Eat Tonight (mp3) - New Black

New Black plays at Subterranean in Chicago next Friday, August 12.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mangum emerges . . . sort of

Everyone's all atizzy over this (also here and photos here). I have to admit, had I been there, tears would've been streaming down my face too. Cuz, you know, this guy's work has meant a whole lot to me since I first heard On Avery Island eight or nine years ago. And I know a lot of you feel the same. So let me say this: Jeff, if creating music makes you happy, if playing with your friends brings you such joy, if the warm welcome of the crowd means anything to you, please return to it.

There could hardly be a more anticipated album than a follow-up to Aeroplane. Which is probably exactly what scares Mangum so damn much (and who can blame him?). That and all the creepy, adoring fans (ahem).

From the early cassettes Beauty and Hype City Soundtrack:

Circle of Friends (mp3) - Neutral Milk Hotel

Wood Guitar (mp3) - Neutral Milk Hotel

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Remember the 80s

Those of you who were still learning your ABCs in the 80s may be shocked to learn that most of the cool kids weren't listening to The Fall, Mission of Burma, Galaxie 500 and the other bands that have been retrospectively claimed by a bunch of fibbing hipsters. No indeed. At my junior high/high schools, the reasonably clued-in were into "new wave"--an amorphous genre that included everything from popular hits by the Thompson Twins, Billy Idol and Simple Minds to more musically adventurous (for the time) stuff from REM, XTC, The Smiths, The Cure, Killing Joke, Elvis Costello or whatever else the local new wave station deemed broadcast-worthy (which in those pre-Clear Channel/Infinity days could in fact be a pretty interesting setlist).

Most of the bands were British--which only fuelled my desire to go to school in England (a seed that was planted in my pre-teen years by an addiction to Enid Blyton's boarding school books and a concept my parents regarded with a great deal of mirth). And a lot of them relied on that instrument that has again become in the 2000s the most fashionable accessory for smart, young bands: the synthesizer. Obviously, there were a lot of dreadful synth pop albums released in the 80s. Too many to count, really. But there were also a couple of good ones--albums that are probably too easily dismissed today because they don't fit the "post-punk" label that's made contemporary heroes out of Gang of Four and because . . . hell, they were popular. These two albums were great then, and they're still pretty amazing:

Cupid & Psyche 85 - Scritti PolittiScritti Politti

Ignore the post-structuralism informed lyrics, and pretend these are straight-up love songs (I certainly didn't know what singer/enigmatic frontman Green Gartside was talking about when I was a kid and I wish I could erase that information from my memory now). Focus on those wonderfully synthetic beats, those body-moving grooves and the way Gartside's voice is as high and as sweet as the younger Michael Jackson's (except, of course, without the subsequent icky connotations). Read more about Scritti Politti here.

Perfect Way (mp3) - Scritti Politti

Lover To Fall (mp3) - Scritti Politti

Upstairs At Eric's - YazYaz

I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record.
-Losing My Edge, LCD Soundsystem

Wise man, James Murphy. Because as artificial as Vince Clarke's instrumentation was, this Yaz record oozes humanity, thanks in no small part to Alison Moyet's rich, honeyed voice. I bet most people who lived through the 80s, and even a lot who didn't, know most of these songs pretty well--danced to them, did homework to them, made out to them . . . performed pep club routines to them (cough, cough--S, you can resume your laughing fit. D, there's the embarrassing personal revelation you wanted).

Situation (mp3) - Yaz

Only You (mp3) - Yaz

Monday, August 01, 2005

No Hits 8.1.05

Park Avenue (mp3) - The A-Sides

Copping to influences like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Shins, The A-Sides actually remind me more of faithful 60s psychedelic pop revivalists like Beulah and The Lilys. But I swear they swiped the opening riff of Park Avenue from the Stones. Whatever (I realize how boring spot-the-influence is)--these Philadelphia boys have got a great single on their hands, distinguished by an effortless-sounding melody, big power chords, plush harmonies and a confident rhythm section.They deserve attention outside their home town, so give it to them.

Wanna know more about The A-Sides? Philadelphia Weekly has a good article.

A-SidesAlso from debut LP Hello, Hello (only $10 at Amazon--and what fabulous cover art!):

Sidewalk Chalk (mp3) - The A-Sides

Here or There (mp3) - The A-Sides

And by way of comparison:

Burned By The Sun (mp3) - Beulah

A Nanny In Manhattan (mp3) - The Lilys