Friday, September 30, 2005

My pain your gain

I had a conversation recently with someone (and Michelle, I could've sworn it was you!) about which is less stressful and easier to endure--moving or having surgery. Now, assuming we're not talking about something extremely painful and complicated or life-threatening, like open-heart surgery or some sort of organ transplant, I'd take an operation any day. In fact, I'd probably submit to the knife twice if I could avoid the weeks of anxiety and labor associated with moving. After all, surgery comes with some pleasant fringe benefits: prescription painkillers and mandatory bed rest. But no. Rather unexpectedly and against my wishes, I'm moving this weekend.

So, a couple associated songs--or at least ones with "move" in the title:

Moving Furniture Around (mp3) - Handsome Family

Movin' On Up (mp3) - Primal Scream

Movement (mp3) - LCD Soundsystem

You Gotta Move (mp3) - Heatmiser

Theme to The Jeffersons (wav)

Odessa, Handsome Family
Screamadelica, Primal Scream
LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem
Mic City Sons, Heatmiser

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Playwrights

The Playwrights

Maybe because Gang of Four has no particular place in my personal pantheon of rock gods, I've been less than excited by the recent surge of GOF influenced bands coming out of Britain. This past weekend, I listened again to the Maximo Park and Hard-Fi records. All I can say is, eh? But while I'd be lying if I didn't admit "Why We've Become Invisible" by The Playwrights reminds me a lot of "Natural's Not In It," I'm very excited about this interesting and challenging band.

I included a couple of their songs in a literary music mix back in June and have since learned a little more about them. For starters, they're from lovely Bristol, England (birthplace of trip hop and home to the Clifton Suspension Bridge--across which I once trekked as part of what will forever be known in my mind as the Bristol Death March), where the Playwrights' guitarist, Benjamin Shillabeer, also runs Sink and Stove Records. The band is set to release a mini-album in the UK in January titled English Self Storage. Usually I find the concept of mini-album questionable. Either cut a few tracks and release an EP or wait til you've got enough material to fill a long player. But English Self Storage is solid and satisfying, so I won't quibble this time.

When I originally posted some Playwrights tracks, I cited Mission of Burma as a corollary, and I'll stand by that. Other influences the band cops to that I'd probably second are XTC and The Fall and angular, improvisational-oriented American acts Fugazi, Les Savy Fav, The Sea and Cake and Tortoise. You'll also hear elements of musical theater in songs like "Movements Towards a Paperless Office," that remind me a little of the Futureheads.

Lyrically, the Playwrights are all English. It's impossible to miss the tension between sadness and anger for a disappearing England and frustration and boredom with what may seem like a relatively sleepy burg in songs like "Invisible" and "Fear of Open Spaces." The band also indulgences in the literary and historical in tunes like "21st Century Kaspar Hauser" and their earlier single "Guy Debord Is Really Dead." Here, they walk a fine line between intellectual engagement and pretension, but as long as the Playwrights don't go on to release an ode to say, Jean Baudrillard, I'll give em a pass.

From English Self Storage:

Why We've Become Invisible (mp3) - The Playwrights

Two earlier releases:

Guy Debord Is Really Dead (mp3) - The Playwrights

Welcome To The Middle Ages (mp3) - The Playwrights

The band plays several gigs in Britain in October, so check for dates.

Monday, September 26, 2005

No Hits 9.26.05

Vehicles And Animals (mp3) - Athlete

I remember a couple years ago when my friend AN played this new band he "found"--some British outfit he had fallen for. Since that day, I have gladly broken copyright laws and burnt massive copies of their debut album for anyone who might possibly like them. I got to see them this past Wednesday in Chicago and decided it was finally time to post about them.

Athlete is hard to pin down stylistically. They are an unsurprising four-piece (drums, bass, guitar and keys) who somehow create transcendant songs that are incredibly accessible. There are pretty melodies that settle naturally in these subtle loops and electronic bloops and bleeps, giving the songs a smile-enducing quirky overtone. Joel Pott's vocals are understated, with a pretty heavy South London accent that makes his singing endearing and believable. Although the songs tend to be on the mellow side on their debut album, Vehicles And Animals, the album's highlights are probably the wildly infectious grooves and head-bobbing choruses. Unlike the pretentiousness of Blur or self-indulgence of Amnesiac-era Radiohead, Athlete somehow exudes an every-band quality uncommon in most British bands, even the ones I really like. (See Amy's post referring to The Beta Band for instance.)


Athlete's sophomore record is truly more mature, even if that is the musical equivalent to saying a girl has a "nice personality." The songs are rich and honest, addressing some difficult life issues poetically and with candor. Even though I abhor the final track of Tourist, the album has continued to impress me with each listen. There is some intangible quality to the songs that make me think the songs are about something more or bigger or other....

Listen to the songs for yourself--or better yet, take in an entire album, preferrably in one sitting, and you can decide.

From Vehicles And Animals:

You Got The Style (mp3)

From Tourist:

Half Light (mp3)

Wires (mp3)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fall single

I'm mired in moving boxes, packing tape and cleaning supplies, so this will be a quickie. (And fair warning: Because I'm moving at the end of this week, things could be skimpy from this end for the next 10 or so days.)

I just got the latest issue of Magnet, which comes with a sampler disc that includes a single from The Fall's next record, Fall Heads Roll (scheduled for a November release from Narnack). I can't say I'm into this--it just doesn't sound like The Fall to me. Not dark-sounding enough . . . or something.

I Can Hear The Grass Grow (mp3) - The Fall

But then, I'm not a huge authority on The Fall. I love This Nation's Saving Grace and keep meaning to spend more time with some of the other records, but never seem to get around to it. Though I realize that if I did, I'd probably adore them. (Damn this blog and its time suckage properties!) Mostly I appreciate The Fall for their massive influence on my beloved Pavement. Slanted and Enchanted never would've happened if it hadn't have been for Mark E. Smith.

L.A. (mp3) - The Fall

No Life Singed Her (mp3) - Pavement (Live at Brixton Academy, London, 1992)

Update: An anonymous comment tells me the new Fall track is a cover of a song by 60s band The Move. At least give my ear credit for knowing it didn't sound like the usual material.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Call the cops

The Cops

So when I came across Seattle band The Cops, my first thought was, I can't believe no one's used the name before. Turns out, there's an Australian band called The Cops and they seem to enjoy a fairly high profile in their home country. I'm not a music industry lawyer (don't worry--I'm not a lawyer at all), but something tells me one or the other band is gonna have to add "US" or "AU" to their name. (Remember Charlatans UK?) Maybe we can organize a battle of the bands and let them duke it out, musically speaking.

But that's neither here nor there--the American Cops have some songs you would like. "Protection Act" and "Working The Wall" off their first EP Why Kids Go Wrong, owe an obvious debt to The Clash. "Protection" in particular has the Clash's ragged reggae rhythms, punchy guitar work and strident vocals. But I also hear SoCal hardcore like Bad Religion in the earnest melodic punk elements of "Wall" (go to to band's site to download) and "Living With A Ghost." The Cops' full-length Get Good Or Stay Bad (pre-order through Mt. Fuji Records) will be released in November.

Protection Act (mp3) - The Cops

Living With A Ghost (mp3) - The Cops

The Guns of Brixton (mp3) - The Clash

What Can You Do? (mp3) - Bad Religion

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New pastiche heroes

When The Beta Band called it quits a year ago August, the genre-hopping heroes to zeros cited perhaps the most astonishing excuse in the book: They were disappointed by record sales. You mean they were trying to be popular, gasped thousands of faithful fans who'd suffered Mason and Co's painful eccentricities ("The Beta Band Rap") for the sake of exhilarating highs like "Broken Up Adingdong" and "Inner Meet Me." Because if they were actually trying to move units, they could have taken a more direct route than mashing classic 60s pop, folk, techno, country, funk, dub (and whatever else caught their ear that particular day), applying a liberal paste of obscure samples and routinely pushing the 8-minute mark. In terms of artistic output, luck (or massive talent) was usually on their side and in their too-short history the Betas created some of the best music in any genre. But with a few exceptions ("Dry The Rain," and, yeah, that last album) their work wasn't usually very accessible.

God, do I miss them. Compared to the Beta Band, almost everything on the pop side of things sounds dull as drying paint, everything on the experimental end, pretentious and tiresome. I console myself with the back catalog, Steve Mason's King Biscuit Time project and fab new pastiche pop bands like The Shortwave Set.

But really, I shouldn't say "like," because no one right now sounds quite like Shortwave. On their Debt Collection LP and Slingshot EP (buy through iTunes in the U.S.), the London-based band heaps thrift-store record samples, improbable dance grooves and odd moments of sonic breakdown on a base of acoustic guitar and charming boy/girl vocals. These songs aren't as sonically complex or detailed as the Beta's work and they don't employ the same studio wizardry, but songs like "Slingshot" and "Is It Any Wonder" are intricate and imaginative. The band's two releases are some of the freshest, smartest, catchiest recordings I've heard all year. People are finally catching up to the challenges of eclectic pop, and I think (I hope) Shortwave Set's gonna get the audience they deserve.

Is It Any Wonder (mp3) - The Shortwave Set

The Free Load (mp3) - The Shortwave Set

And I know someone has sampled the Jetson's theme song (can't remember who), but wouldn't it be fun to hear more of this? (Thanks, Edison!)

Jetsons Theme Song (mp3)

Monday, September 19, 2005

No Hits 9.19.05

For those unfamiliar, Freakwater occasionally rate a mention as one of the founders of alt-country. While it's not the No Hits place to argue exact genre paternity (or it's a mission I refuse to accept), they've never really made sense anywhere. They're amateurs in the sense that they put out albums and tour on a hobbyist's schedule, punk in releasing "loose, imperfect" recordings where the mistakes are among the highlights, country in driving songs about plebian concerns with vocal harmony, and, undeservedly so, indie in record sales.

Personally, I've always thought that poetry was their problem: they actually write it. I'm not talking Westerburgian word play, Malkmus-like (the SYF spectre rises again!) Ginsberg-like riffing, or Sufjan storytelling, but actual multi-layered, lightly-carrying-and-expanding-a-metaphor-throughout songcraft. I guess doing something well-made with both words and music without starring in a movie renders you old-timey and ill-fitting.

I don't mean to make Freakwater sound like work, because Thinking of You, their new seventh album, is anything but. Cathy Irwin, Janet Bean (vocals, guitars, unparalled stage banter) and Dave Gay (bass, cigarettes) have actually talked up the arena rock choruses and I hear danceable numbers ( is streaming songs from their latest and the back catalog as well; in true Freakwater fashion, this fan site makes every attempt to be complete, is unofficial (as in not run by their wonderful label), and is mentioned prominently on the CD packaging; why can't they be uncharitable and on message like everyone else?). In the past wry wit has been the main source of levity, but ever since a cover of "Little Red Riding Hood," complete with howls, was released on a Bloodshot compilation, there's been out and out fun. I'm not sure if it's the members of Califone that play on the album or a general, further, sing-while-the-city-burns abandonment of hope, but Thinking is, god-forbid, entertaining and, as always, lovely and moving.

Little Red Riding Hood (mp3) - Freakwater

Saturday, September 17, 2005

New Orleans to Texas

Now should be a really good time for Jeff Klein. He's just released a critically well-received third album, The Hustler, and is starting to get broader recognition among fans of Ryan Adams and Wilco for his rough-hewn, world-weary voice and idiosyncratic songwriting. But if you read the bio on Klein's Web site, you know he's probably doing a lot of mourning right now:

Jeff Klein - The Hustler"Recording in New Orleans influenced everything about [The Hustler] . . .Between music and food and religion, it makes the hair on your arms stand up when you're walking down the street. You feel the electricity in the air. It just makes you feel more creative. And there's so much decadence: It's so frightening and so amazing and jaw dropping at the same time. And it's the only city in the whole world where a guy can get laid for playing the tuba."

So, a slice of a lost New Orleans through the mouth of a man who considered the city his second home:

Red Lantern (mp3) - Jeff Klein

Officially, Klein lives in Austin (he was raised in upstate New York) and has the kind of friends you might expect from someone who spends a lot of time in music hubs. Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) and Ani DiFranco perform backing tracks on The Hustler. Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs) produced the record. Given Klein's artistic persona as a jaded womanizer, Dulli seems like the perfect production partner. But to tell you the truth, I prefer the unadorned sound of Klein's previous record, Everybody Loves A Winner.

I'm Sorry Sweet Emily (mp3) - Jeff Klein

Another contributor to Klein's new album is Billy Harvey (you must visit his mind-blowing Web site), an artist I first heard about at I Was Stolen By The Gypsies. That blog does a bang-up job of covering Texas singer/songwriters like Harvey, Salim Nourallah and Kacy Crowley, with lots of great live performance photos. Go check it out--especially if you're a Texan!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Music for the morning after

Morning After Girls

If you've read many of my posts, you know I love pop music--pop plus noise--but still pop. (I blame my dad for playing all those Beatles and Beach Boys records when I was young. And really, if you had to choose a formative musical experience, could you choose better?) So of course I love Rainbow Quartz Records whose tag line reads "your source for perfect guitar pop." But you need more than a fine mission statement, it still takes good taste to vault a label into the leagues of say, Merge. Rainbow Quartz is getting there.

One of their latest signings is The Morning After Girls, an extremely promising Australian psychedelic pop band. "Run For Our Lives" sounds like an outtake from 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia or a more polished offering from The Brian Jonestown Massacre (same diff, really). Not coincidentally, the Girls (four guys and a girl) have or will play opening slots for both the Dandys and BJM. "Hi Skies," shows a noisier, more anarchic side to the band, reminding me a lot of Sonic Youth when they're bothering to be melodic. If you happen to be attending CMJ in New York, the band kicks off the Rainbow Quartz showcase tonight at 7:00.

Run For Our Lives (mp3) - The Morning After Girls

Hi Skies (mp3) - The Morning After Girls


Straight Thru You Windows Real

Hidden Spaces Windows Real

More videos here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The dBs' benefit download

Last night on Sound Opinions, Jim and Greg interviewed Chris Stamey of the legendary dBs (one of the best bands of the early 80s, doncha know?). They're back together and actually play in Chicago this weekend. The reason I bring this up is because The dBs have posted an unreleased track (a cover of "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted") on their Web site to solicit donations for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. Two dBs members, Peter Holsapple and Jeff Beninato, are among the many who fled New Orleans in the wake of the disaster and have suffered loss of home and possessions. But Stamey stressed that money raised from this download goes to the general fund to help all New Orleans musicians struggling to get back on their feet. The suggested donation is $5. What are you waiting for?

This has always been my favorite dBs song:

Black and White (mp3) - The dBs

And I thought I'd mention that Pitchfork gave OK Go's latest a 2.2 today. Key quote: "Frontman Damian Kulash calls most of the shots here, and not surprisingly, his frat boy spin on Elvis Costello shows marginal progress since "You're So Damn Hot". When he's not screaming "come on!" or "hey!", Kulash's razor wit tackles an array of subjects ranging from women to girls to chicks."

Ouch. Then there's Chicagoist's take on the band's downward career trajectory. I still love the amazingly geeky "Million Ways" video, though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

La la love you

The official output from Liverpool's second greatest band is paltry. Leadman Lee Mavers was (I'm guessing still is) an obsessive perfectionist who slaved over the band's debut for several years before their record company--over Mavers' protests--released it. Well after its release he maintained the album was flawed and unfinished. But if there's a flaw with that gorgeous collection of classic pop songs, I've yet to hear it. Unfortunately too many Americans, even those relatively in the know, think of The La's as "that 'there she goes' band." Yeah, "There She Goes" is a great song, and there's at least a dozen more where it came from.

Alright (mp3) - The La's, Dutch Radio 1991

Follow Me Down (mp3) - The La's, live in London, 1991

Timeless Melody (mp3) - The La's, original single, 1987

There She Goes (mp3) - The La's, Liz Kershaw's BBC show, 1988

Since I was in full La's mode, I thought I'd poke around and try to find any "There She Goes " covers. I came across this artifact:

There She Goes (mp3) - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

It comes from The Alternative Classic Chillout Album (I kid you not) which also features orchestral interpretations of Oasis ("Champagne Supernova"), REM ("Everybody Hurts"), U2 ("Beautiful Day") and the most obvious choice of all, The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." Then there's this cover of, um, the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

Under The Bridge (mp3) - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Yes, that's right. Two odes to heroin on one classical record. (See more songs about smack.) Americans can buy this must-own RPO album on iTunes. You lucky Brits can nab the actual disc on Amazon UK.

Monday, September 12, 2005

No Hits 9.12.05

Over My Shoulder (mp3) - I Am Kloot

I love songs. I appreciate good production, but I love songs. I'm constantly looking for artists that have recordings that are filled with more than riffs or studio tricks.

In '01, I found I Am Kloot. They have songs!!

I'm a sucker for just about every musical expression from Manchester (Badly Drawn Boy, Doves, Elbow, Starsailor... the list is long enough to warrant its own post) and Kloot is no exception. Their roomy recordings highlight the simple yet appropriate interplay of the three-piece that supports Bramwell's vocals. As a frontman, Bramwell's beat-up romanticism is endearing, but also self-depricating and, at times, shockingly confessional. Peter Jobson (bass) and Andy Hargreaves (drums), along with Bramwell's guitar, provide a spacious foundation that rarely intrudes on the universally-shared experiences the listener is being reminded of.

The newest record, Gods & Monsters, reveals a more expansive and fuller sound from the boys. There are more atmospheric keyboard textures present, but the the efficiency of their two previous records still rules. "We spend more time taking things out of our music than adding to it and that way you get the lyrics that I'm interested in….fate, love and becoming recklessly abandoned," Bramwell has said. Still, there's a confident swagger on this recording. Songs like "
Over My Shoulder" demonstrates this understated yet confident swing. The record has a folk vibe, but is mixed with some atmospheric teasing and moments of meandering. At the end of the day (or record I suppose...), the strong songs of Bramwell are the most impressive and exciting aspects.

("No Fear Of Falling" is the first Kloot song I ever heard and "To You", with its Thom Yorke-like vocals on the chorus, remains one of my favorites)

No Fear of Falling (mp3) - I Am Kloot

To You (mp3) - I Am Kloot

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Under the radar

With so many good, under-the-radar independent bands out there I'm kind of astonished by the number of mp3 bloggers who write post after post on Sufjan Stevens, The New Pornographers and the like. I mean, they're great--we can all agree on that--but they're also way overexposed and I don't think anyone's adding new information at this point. Not to mention the fact that if between a few blogs you post every track from an album, nobody's gonna go out and actually buy it.

Scissors For Lefty

Meanwhile, exciting little bands like Scissors For Lefty get less buzz than they deserve. Hailing from San Francisco, they're an eclectic pop outfit with crisp, catchy sounds. "Marsha" transports you to retro pop heaven with ultra-cool keyboards and "aww-aww" backing vocals (just try to resist signing along). This song--with its frequent tempo shifts and loud-soft dynamics--reminds me just how rare and even complex really good pop songs can be. "Softly The Sea Swallows The Sun" is a different animal altogether. The brief bass intro recalls Roxy Music's "Love Is The Drug," before singer Bryan Garza's sexy vocals and a swaggering piano kick in. Can't you just hear this on an O.C. episode? Alexandra Patsavas, are you listening?

Marsha (mp3) - Scissors For Lefty

Softly The Sea Swallows The Sun (mp3) - Scissors For Lefty

The Safes

Then there's Chicago's The Safes. Manned by a bunch of Irish-American brothers, they sound like your typical bar band, if your typical bar band played tight, punky, high-energy rock n' roll a la The Replacements. Not that the O'Malleys can't take the noise down a notch with a mid-tempo rollick like "Hole," or "Mystery," a moody tribute to 60s garage bands. The band's latest is the full-length, Family Jewels.

Not To Keep (mp3) - The Safes

Hole (mp3) - The Safes

Mystery (mp3) - The Safes

Dead & Gone (mp3) - The Safes

Old Time Relijun I don't expect there's much of an audience for Old Time Relijun. (Then again, a lot of people seem to like Deerhoof, so what do I know?) A bastion of toxic noise and screeching vocals, the band's not what I usually associate with K Records. Nevertheless, Old Time Relijun's an interesting listen, with hilarious, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, challenging experiments in guitar atonality and, oh yeah, a driving dance beat. I like these sounds for their purgative effects--they'll clear all those cute pop songs out of your head . . . and pretty much everything else. Fun fact: At one point, Phil Elvrun of The Microphones was Old Time Relijun's drummer.

The band just released the LP 2012

Your Mama Used to Dance (mp3) - Old Time Relijun

Vampire Sushi (mp3) - Old Time Relijun

Earthquake (mp3) - Old Time Relijun

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Capitol Years

Capitol Years

Instead of trying to tell you what The Capitol Years sound like, I'm stealing this great description from AllMusic: "a cohesive blend of intelligent '60s rock and power pop that sounds like an extension of New Pornographer A.C. Newman's Slow Wonder as played by Cheap Trick." You could add a slew of obvious influences, including the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival and of course, the Velvet Underground (the last could be said of practically everyone, except that Capitol Years covered "All Tomorrow's Parties" on their first record.)

Capitol Years started out as the solo project of Philadelphian Shai Halperin and has, by the third LP, Let Them Drink, morphed into a full-blown band. Which seems to suit it. Even though the strong songwriting is there, earlier 4-track recordings sound somewhat unrealized. But "Let Them Drink" off the latest, is an expansive soundscape of intense acoustic strumming and perfect three-part harmonies. "Watch It Not End" is a more laidback country and blues-influenced affair.

Let Them Drink (mp3) - The Capitol Years

Watch It Not End (Stones) (mp3) - The Capitol Years

And from earlier releases Pussyfootin and Meet Yr Acres (buy on the band's Web site):

Talk Walk (mp3) - The Capitol Years

Faces and Beer (mp3) - The Capitol Years

Here Comes (mp3) - The Capitol Years

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Malkmus, etc.

The TV was on in the other room yesterday when I heard the familiar strains of Stephen Malkmus', "Phantasies." Puzzled, I stumbled in to be met by a advertisement for Sears. Yes, that's right--Malkmus has joined the legions of indie rockers cashing in on commercials. I get why artists do this. It's hard to make money on little independent records and small club tours. But jeez, doesn't it seem like if anyone's in a position to make money off the back catalogue it's SM?

Phantasies (mp3) - Stephen Malkmus

Help the guy out by buying his self-titled album--on which "Phantasies" appears. Better yet, buy the entire Pavement oeuvre.

Like SM's first band, Rademacher is from one of California's relative backwaters. (How's that for a transition, eh?) And like Pavement, they're way more sophisticated than you'd expect Fresno (or Stockton) to sound. These boys and girl have got well-constructed songs with loose, confident arrangements, intelligent lyrics and ballsy vocals. I'm particularly fond of this charming carnivalesque waltz from their newest Ice Age EP:

Playing For Fun (mp3) - Rademacher

Rademacher are scheduled to grace a couple California venues in October, so look for them.

If possible, I'm going to make yet another Malkmus connection, because the next track comes from a band that's toured with him. (I was actually saving this for Monday's No Hits feature, but it looks like we're going to have a guest--possibly new permanent--SYF blogger taking the reins next week. Be sure to tune in!). Portland-based The Standard has also toured with Wire and Clinic and the latter makes a good point of reference. Like Clinic, The Standard's sound is kind of jittery and ominous, if slightly less creepy. In "Ghosts For Hire," a pulsing, staccato lead and melancholy keyboards create an edginess, a real sense of dread and unease. In terms of atmosphere, this also reminds me of "The Entryway"--a track I posted a couple months ago by Foreign Born. If this is what the west coast is coming to, I may have to move back.

Ghosts For Hire (mp3) - The Standard

From Wire Post to Wire.

And from the almighty Clinic:

Welcome (mp3) - Clinic

From Walking With Thee.

Finally (and there's no Malkmus connection that I know of): A couple weeks ago

I posted something about Popstar Assassins, wondering aloud whether this was a one-man band. Main man Tim Thomas was kind enough to contact me and let me know that until recently they were a fully functioning live band, but these days he's more focused on studio work. However, Thomas says that Popstar Assassins--the whole band--might consider hitting the road if the climate was right. You can help make that happen by buying their latest album Moderne. To tempt you, here's another very cool track:

Close My Eyes (mp3) - Popstar Assassins

Tuesday, September 06, 2005



I can't figure out why Uncut isn't more popular. The band's got that ultra-fashionable early 80's-inspired post-punk sound the kids love, they have some good songs and--this could be the biggie--they're from Canada (Toronto). Maybe it's because Uncut started life as a techno act before steering a more accessible indie rock route and people are still trying to catch up. . .

This stuff is totally derivative, stealing wholesale from Joy Division and New Order. (But the same can be said of Interpol, right?) And I'm not sure if Uncut knows yet whether it wants to be an arty dance-punk outfit or a riff-happy rock n' roll band. Whatever. Thanks to a crack rhythm section, these songs move. Enjoy and don't think about it too much.

Understanding The New Violence (mp3) - Uncut

Buried With Friends (mp3) - Uncut

Taken In Sleep (mp3) - Uncut

Day Breaks Red Light (mp3) - Uncut

All appear on Those Who Were Hung Hang Here.

Uncut may get some good exposure soon. They start a short tour supporting Bob Mould in late September, playing several dates in the midwestern U.S. (including Chicago's Metro September 29 and 30). Would Bob steer you wrong?

Monday, September 05, 2005

No Hits 9.5.05

You Won't Feel A Thing (mp3) - The Evens

All These Governors (follow link) - The Evens

It's hard to make overtly political music work on any kind of artistic level. For every "Masters Of War" or "A Change Is Gonna Come," there are thousands of earnest, cringe-worthy songs that have rightly been consigned to the dust heap of history.

Punk's track record is little better than that of the 60s folkies. A band like Fugazi has succeeded despite Ian MacKaye, et al's heavy-handed rants against the government, the police and corporate America. (Give me that masterpiece of irony, The Jam's "That's Entertainment," any day.) MacKaye's new musical partner in The Evens, Amy Farina, comes from the same sledgehammer-to-the head tradition. Her former band, The Warmers--a mid-90s Dischord trio that included MacKaye's brother Alec--were, if anything, worse. Just get a load of "Mad At The Man" below.

So though I knew I'd love them musically, I approached The Evens with trepidation, only picking up their debut album a week ago. Good timing. After witnessing the New Orleans debacle this past week righteous indignation seems like the only appropriate response to the criminal inaction of our federal government and local authorities. MacKaye and Farina sing "When things should work but don't work/That's the work of all these governors," or "they'll beat you with the truth so you won't feel the lies . . . until the day you wake up" it's hard not to agree.

But even if we weren't in the midst of a national crisis, The Evens offer very effective, and yes, aesthetically pleasing, music. Neither of this duo would make the cut on American Idol, but the gruff rumble of MacKaye and the brassiness of Farina actually dovetail nicely in close harmonies. They sound like they've been singing together for years. MacKaye's baritone guitar playing is--no shock here--solid. And Farina's elegant, complex-patterned drumming is arresting. In fact, I can't remember the last time I paid such close attention to drumming technique. But it's the songwriting that carries the record and has put it on constant rotation for me.

Click here to download "Red Light Runner" and "Mad At The Man" by The Warmers. (Follow the links that say "hear a song.")

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Spoiling your Saturday

I spend more time than I probably should boozing it up at my corner watering hole (yeah, I linked to it but that doesn't mean I want you showing up if you're a soulless yuppie or hipster wannabe--ok?). They usually play decent music--or at least nothing I can reasonably object to. Stuff like Bloc Party and Kasabian, and the last time I was there, The Oranges Band. But for some reason, I had this song stuck in my head all night:

Another Wasted Day (mp3) - SpoilSport

They All Want CakeInfectious as typhoid, right? SpoilSport's a co-ed Boston band that worships the Go-Go's. No kidding--check each member's profile. That'd be enough for me, but they get extra points for having adorable cover art for They All Want Cake.

Just Dance (mp3) - SpoilSport

Thrill Date (mp3) - SpoilSport

He's So Strange (mp3) - The Go-Go's

London Boys (mp3) - The Go-Go's

These rarer, early Go-Go's tracks are from Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's: "He's So Strange" was recorded during a 1980 practice session and "London Boys" in 1981 at Palos Verdes High School in L.A.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Real Louisiana

Like everyone else, New Orleans and the other Gulf areas knocked flat by Katrina are on my mind. A couple years ago I picked up a Rounder Records Cajun/zydeco compilation called The Real Louisiana that I thought I'd share.

Now, just to get this out of the way: I know very little about this genre of music, so my taste in this matter can't be considered authoritative. I just happen to like this in a completely naive kind of way. But I managed to dig up some biographical detail.

Quand J'etais Pauvre - Dewey Balfa

Dewey Balfa was one of the first zydeco artists to bring the music to a wider audience. Born in Grand Louis, Louisiana in 1927, he rose to prominence in the 1940s with a family band called the Musical Brothers (which in fact included four of his brothers). In 1964, he was invited to play at the Newport Folk Festival. Here's Balfa's account:

"I had played in house dances, family gatherings, maybe a dance hall where you might have seen as many as two hundred people at once. In fact, I doubt I had ever seen two hundred people at once. And in Newport, there were seventeen thousand. Seventeen thousand people who wouldn't let us get off stage."

This watershed performance energized the Musical Brothers and in the following decades, they performed at festivals throughout the world.

Dewey Balfa

Madeline - Zachary Richard

Another Louisiana native, Zachary Richard writes and performs a distinctive blend of Cajun, zydeco and R&B. He has recorded both in English and French and is a passionate promoter of French language culture in Louisiana. He's even co-written a children's book on the Acadians in Louisiana. (If you don't know the tragic history of the Acadians--you should.)

Go to Richard's Web site for a ton of mp3 downloads.

Allons Manger - L'il Brian and the Zydeco Travelers

L'il Brian and the Zydeco Travelers are actually from Texas, but as they describe it, "smack dab in the heart of East Texas zydeco country. The creole people in this part of the country, most with strong Louisiana roots, are as least as ardent about zydeco as their neighbors across the border."

Alright, alright--don't get defensive about being from Texas now! These guys like to refer to their brand of zydeco as Z-Funk since they draw their inspiration from funk, soul and other forms of contemporary black music. Thematically, this is perfect for your Labor Day barbeque.

L'il Brian and the Zydeco Travelers

Looking for a simple way to contribute to the hurricane relief effort? Amazon (the U.S. site) has a Red Cross donation page.

Also, the Humane Society of the United States is soliciting donations to help the organization rescue abandoned animals and support pet owners struggling to care for them in the devastated region.