Monday, October 31, 2005

No Hits 10.31.05

Skinny Women Shaking - Big Buildings

Think of Big Buildings as a palette cleanser, a tall, cool glass of water to chase all those rich, flashy new wave bands out of your system. These Chicago boys sound like they were born in a bar and never leave except to run out for cigarettes or when the Old Style tap runs dry. Their country/blues-based rock n' roll has a slight punk kick--reminiscent of The Replacements or perhaps how Wilco might sound if they weren't trying to make art.

"Skinny Women Shaking" comes from their record Hang Together For All Time. I'm in awe of this song. However lazy it seems, know that it takes effort to sound this effortless, talent to sound this ramshackle, guts to sound this fucked up.

Trash Out - Big Buildings

Video for "PDR" High, Low (Quicktime)

Buy Hang Together For All Time from CD Baby or iTunes.

Little Mascara - The Replacements

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Murder ballads/songs of premature death

Halloween comes a day early. A collection of murder ballads, death laments and otherwise eerie songs.

The Butcher's Boy - Buell Kazee

Caleb Meyer - Gillian Welch

Frankie & Albert - Leadbelly

The Ballad o Hollis Brown - Bob Dylan

Oh Death - The New Lost City Ramblers

Rickity Tickity Tin - Barbara Manning

Pretty Polly - The Byrds

Ghost Waltz - Jolie Holland

Some of these are adaptations of traditional folk songs. However, Bob Dylan composed "The Ballad of Hollis Brown," Jolie Holland is the author of "Ghost Waltz" and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings wrote "Caleb Meyer" (although the last of these really sounds like a standard, doesn't it?). "Rickity Tickity Tin" was composed in the 1950s by Harvard math professor and song parodist Tom Lehrer, who called his version "An Irish Ballad." Lehrer's original is comedic; Manning's version is decidedly more creepy. While a relatively contemporary song, "Irish Ballad" has lent itself to fresher lyrical interpretations, including this one for computer geeks. That little discovery led me, in turn, to this. Now that's scary.

Buy: Anthology of American Folk Music (US, UK), Hell Among The Yearlings - Gillian Welch (US, UK), Midnight Special - Leadbelly (US, UK), The Times They Are A-Changin - Bob Dylan (US, UK), Old Time Music - The New Lost City Ramblers (US, UK), 1212 - Barbara Manning (US, UK) , Sweetheart Of the Rodeo - The Byrds (US, UK), Catalpa - Jolie Holland (US, UK)

Note: We're trying a new file-hosting plan, so leave a comment or email if you have trouble downloading anything.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Considering its aesthetic similarities to mainstream pop successes like The Shins and Death Cab For Cutie, and considering it's on Death Cab's old record label Barsuk, Aveo doesn't seem to get much attention. To date, the Seattle trio has released two long players--the most recent, Battery (US, UK) was produced by Phil Ek.

I downloaded these tracks from the label's Web site, and to me they sound as catchy and radio-ready (depending, of course, on your radio station) as anything by The Shins or this month's blogger buzz band, Rogue Wave. And hey, good song titles! But you can decide for yourself:

The Idiot On The Bike - Aveo

Dust That Dreams of Brooms - Aveo

Check Barsuk's site for an additional song off Battery.

And speaking of Phil Ek, aren't we due a new Built To Spill record? The band's Web site says the next one's going to be released in Fall 2005. Which is like . . . now. Plus, they're currently touring in support of, what, Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001)? If there are release-related snafus, someone please enlighten me.

I was listening to Ancient Melodies again this afternoon and all I can say is: What a good record. Like all of them, actually. According to my calculations, BTS should be the most popular band in the universe. You've got pop chops for melodicists like me, guitar wankery galore for your classic rock fans, noise and fuzz for traditional indie rockers and oft-brilliant lyrics for the poets.

In Your Mind - Built To Spill

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fleeting thing of beauty


If You Believe In Christmas Trees (mp3) - Cardinal

If You Believe In Christmas Trees (demo) (mp3) - Cardinal

Cardinal was the short-lived collaboration of Australian indie rocker Richard Davies and American music conservatory dropout Eric Matthews. Introduced in Boston in 1992 by Matthews' neighbor Bob Fay (who had just started drumming for Sebadoh), the unlikely pair hit it off almost immediately and produced their self-titled album (US, UK) in 1994, falling out soon thereafter. Which may be just as well. The album draws its strength, at least in part, from the joy of serendipity, the sense of "I can't believe I found you and we're making this." As Davies puts it, "It's easy for the right people to make good music."

If we know our rock history, we also know it's an unsustainable romance. But while it lasted, it was beautiful. Davies wrote the songs and Matthews did the arrangements. Both sang, their voices coalescing in heartbreaking harmonies. And if you think Matthews played the lesser part, think again. The remastered reissue of Cardinal features 11 bonus tracks, including several demos of songs that made it to the album. Hearing the demo and album version of "If You Believe In Christmas Trees" for the first time, you'll probably prefer the demo. Listen again. Listen several times until you shake your punk rock prejudices and understand why two self-professed Bee Gees fans ultimately embraced vocal melodrama, silky strings and magisterial horns. Because it was right for the song.

Before Davies was in Cardinal, he was leader of the massively underrated Sydney band The Moles. They aren't easy to pigeonhole--which may be why The Moles don't get the recognition they deserve today. A song like the bouncy "Rebecca," for example could be a page torn from The Chills' or another one of the better New Zealand pop band's songbooks. However, immediately preceding that track on their 1992 release Untune The Sky (US, UK), is "The Crown Souls" a dark, enigmatic track that probably wouldn't be out of place on a Pink Floyd record.

The Crown Souls (mp3) - The Moles

Rebecca (mp3) - The Moles

Monday, October 24, 2005

No Hits 10.24.05

Sister In Love (mp3) - Envelopes

Demon, a newish record by Envelopes, is what happens when a French chanteuse and a bunch of Swedes plant themselves in rural Yorkshire, England to subsist on a steady diet of Belle & Sebastian and The Pixies. Or at least that's what I imagine they're lapping up. What exactly is this motley bunch doing in Yorkshire exactly? It's kind of a mystery. (Ah, the joys of holding an EU passport!) But the giddy, catchy music they've produced is clear as day.

"Sister In Love" is the standout track on the album. Unless you're a heartless bastard, you can't hate it. And it's more than possible you'll adore the ditty. When singer Henrik Orrling intones with mock seriousness,

If I were you, I'd watch out for that guy, over there

He is, he is, he is not that fair!

then the rest of the gang barges in for an enthusiastic chorus of,

Is your sister in love, is your sister in love, is your sister in love?

you're transported to a world of ice cream cones, bike rides in country lanes and staying up well past bedtime. You know, all the stuff K and Kindercore and Sarah Records used to be about, but with stronger production values and even better hooks. So yeah, this isn't exactly twee-pop. For one thing, crunchy guitar lines and a well-placed scream put some muscle behind the message. And while Envelopes sound like amateurs, my guess is that's just a political stance, wink wink.

Isabel and Leonard (mp3) - Envelopes

Sister In Love video (Quicktime)

Demon is already available to buy in the UK and Europe. Right now it's import-only in the U.S. The band has also just released "Sister in Love" as a single, which includes remixes by Test Icicles and Clor. Stream them here.

Also, if you don't normally check in with this blog on the weekends be sure to backtrack a little. Yesterday, I posted some excellent stuff from a new singer/songwriter, The Inconsolable.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


The Inconsolable

Listening to 4-track demos requires imagination. Usually vocals get buried in the mix or are claustrophobic, guitars inevitably sound muffled and muddy and there's always some weird production element--an errant effects pedal or the like--that the artist seems to think is a good idea but gets in your way. So it's up to you to imagine what a song might sound like with better recording equipment, a little engineering assistance and, most importantly, feedback from people other than his/her closest friends.

But imagination can be its own reward when you find something as promising as The Inconsolable. Professional handle (and a lovely one at that) of English singer/songwriter Robin Allender, The Inconsolable has some beautiful, albeit rough, folk-pop jewels. I don't normally compare guys with guitars to Elliott Smith because a) it's lazy and b) it's rarely accurate--Smith was a once-in-a-generation proposition. But Allender takes a very similar tack with distinctive syncopation, shifting time signatures and finger-picked melodies. (Unlike a lot of singer/songwriters these days, he actually sounds like he can play the guitar.) He's also obviously influenced by trad English folk revivalists like Martin Carthy and Fairport Convention. Probably even Simon and Garfunkel. But that's the kind of uncool thing no one seems to want to admit these days. . .

A contemporaneous point of comparison might be Great Lake Swimmers, though I'm liking these songs more than anything in the Tony Dekker ouevre. For all their prettiness, Dekker's tunes rarely offer a hook to hang your hat on. But after a listen or two to a memorable Inconsolable track like "The School Field," I think you, like me, will find yourself humming it while brushing your teeth or waiting for the bus.

Allender is working on an EP, which his label, Dreamboat Records anticipates releasing early in the new year. I look forward to hearing how these intriguing demos develop into fully realized songs.

Twilightsleep Idea - The Inconsolable

The School Field - The Inconsolable

The Bird and The Word - The Inconsolable

Allender is also a member of the band Azalea City Penis Club. I'm not exactly a post-rock girl and am therefore probably the wrong audience for this sort of thing. But you may like it.

Thunder and Wonder - Azalea City Penis Club

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Straight outta Indiana

Impossible Shapes
I'm working on something really good--and longish--to be posted next week. (And now I've totally set myself up.) In the meantime, there's this.

Bombs (mp3) - The Impossible Shapes

Putrefaction (mp3) - The Impossible Shapes

The Impossible Shapes have been knocking around for awhile--their latest, Horus (US, UK), is their fifth full-length. The Bloomington, Indiana band raid the psychedelic and blues-rock bins of the record store and can sound like they'd really rather be jamming with the Black Crowes. But then they hand in some thorny, anxious indie rock. And that's when I'm into them.

A couple members of Impossible Shapes also belong to deranged bar band John Wilkes Booze. And lead Shape Chris Barth has a solo project NormanOak. I'm sure lo-fi NormanOak gets accused of being a freak folk (an awful, awful term) act. Decidedly--even defiantly--simplistic, Barth's songs aren't very freaky, but they may seem too facile to deserve actual studio time. As far as two-chord sketches go though, they're quite nice. I'd rather hear this than a coffeehouse bursting with Devendras and Joannas, anyway.

War Drums (mp3) - John Wilkes Booze

It Is Impossible (mp3) - NormanOak

Slow Explosion (mp3) - NormanOak

From Telescopic Eyes Glance The Future Sick (US, UK) and Born A Black Diamond (US, UK).

And unrelated. Like everyone, I bitch about the Fork. (Although some people complain way more than I do.) These days, I read it as a matter of professional (hah! like I get paid for this) obligation. And I'm always thrilled when those boys--and they're almost all boys--do something to justify my growing malaise. This lovely bit of smug, self-referentiality does the trick. Why, you could spend hours peeling the layers of meta-smarm--an entire afternoon of family fun!

But then you read something like this and the whole enterprise doesn't seem so pointless after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Random musings

About a month ago I talked up San Francisco band Scissors For Lefty. I finally got my hands on a copy of their self-released album Bruno. Fabulous. Imagine if you will, some of those Brooklyn dance acts if they took themselves less seriously. The Unicorns if they weren't so out there. Grandaddy if they didn't sound so medicated. That starts getting at Scissors For Lefty, but it's really just the beginning. Buy the record and hear for yourself. Here's some incentive--probably the most straightforward rocker of the set:

Jump On It (mp3) - Scissors For Lefty

Get Bruno from CD Baby (I received mine three days after placing the order--and that's accounting for Chicago's impossible mail delivery) or at iTunes. Visit the band's Web site.

When I first heard Sam Champion, they annoyed the shit out of me. I mean, how much can you sound like Pavement before just admitting you're a Pavement tribute band. But this particular song has grown and grown on me. I think because it isn't slavishly imitative. For one thing, it has horns . . . er wait, they're not trying to sound like Neutral Milk Hotel, are they?

You Can't See The Stars In This Town (mp3) - Sam Champion

From Slow Rewind (US, UK).

And to prove a mid-90s indie rock revival is indeed afoot in New York, there's The Diggs. Hey, they cop to it on their MySpace page. So if I compared them to Seam or something, I think they'd be cool with it.

Trouble Everyday (mp3) - The Diggs

Incidentally, The Diggs contacted us, which bands do from time to time. We don't promise we'll publicize or post anything, but if we like it and it hasn't already become a cause overkill among mp3 bloggers, we just might.

Tuesday night I went to a great author reading at the Hopleaf sponsored by Bookslut. If you live in Chicago or surrounding burbs, you've gotta put Bookslut events on your calendar. The brilliant minds behind that site lined up three authors--Beth Lisick, Paula Kamen and Peter Manseau--with wildly disparate but equally entertaining sounding memoirs. A good time was had by all, especially because the cozy reading room had its own bar. If you care about those sort of things (cough). Read more about it here.

Before I forget, The House of Lime and Leaf has posted the most beautiful song I've heard this year (see October 17 post under White Foliage).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Naked pilseners

I was a big Superchunk fan in the mid-90s. So naturally, in addition to supporting the Chunk I was buying everything released on Merge. And I was pretty excited when Mac McCaughan released his first solo album as Portastatic, I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle. I picked up several subsequent Portastatic albums too, but none of them seemed to stick. Mostly, I had a hard time getting past the fact that Mac doesn't have the voice to do the singer/songwriter thing. It's thin and has very limited range--which is fine when you're yelling about package thieves and tying ropes to the back of the bus over the squall of loud electric guitars. It doesn't work so well when it's just you, your 4-track and some introspective thoughts.

Which isn't to say McCaughan hasn't produced some worthy recordings as Portastatic. A song off the first record, "Naked Pilseners" probably lands in my top 100 of all time or just a little outside. So while I resold Brittle a while back, I've hung on to the CD single, which has two other cool tracks, an experimental kind of thing, "Feel Better" and a cover of Magnetic Fields' "Josephine."

I can't really explain why I love Pilseners so much. I mean, it's just a simple, repetitive song that at over five minutes, is way too long. But it's so pretty and boasts such plain, unaffected harmonizing vocals--courtesy of Jennifer Walker (Erectus Monotone)--it never wears out its welcome. When McCaughan and Walker sing, "the sign at the fork in the road says straight on," I can't help but smile.

Naked Pilseners (mp3) - Portastatic

Josephine (mp3) - Portastatic

Josephine (mp3) - Magnetic Fields


My five favorite Superchunk songs (mind, this is off the top of my head and could change if I gave it some actual thought):

1. "Precision Auto"
2. "Sick To Move"
3. 'Slack Motherfucker"
4. "Cool"
5. "Why Do You Have To Put A Date On Everything"

Precision Auto (mp3) - Superchunk

Buy: On The Mouth, Superchunk, Tossing Seeds, Foolish

Monday, October 17, 2005

No Hits 10.17.05

If You Want (Radio Edit) (mp3) - Tom Vek

C-C (You Set The Fire In Me) (mp3) - Tom Vek

I first caught Tom Vek's video for "C-C (You Set The Fire In Me)" a couple weeks ago and my immediate, gut reaction was this guy's gonna be a star. I mean, there he is marching around with weird puppets in some sort of 18th Century get-up, dirt smeared on his face, looking so cool and sexy and unselfconscious. Yeah, I've got a crush on him.

Vek gets compared to Beck. As in "the British Beck" or "he's no Beck." I don't know that he's trying to be. But, ya know, their names rhyme, they've both got that blond, floppy-haired boyish look and they're both fond of genre hoppin', so I can see why'd you'd confuse them. Maybe if Beck didn't spend his teens smoking pot and absorbing American junk culture and and instead did fun club drugs while listening to a lot of Can, New Order, Talking Heads and hell, Suicide and DNA . . . Let's put it this way, if Vek lived in New York he'd hang with the DFA crowd, not Sonic Youth.

His debut LP, We Have Sound is already out in the UK. It's released stateside October 25. Vek recorded it in his parents' London garage, playing most of the instruments himself. (That's right, one of those heartwarming DIY stories we all lap up like thirsty kittens.) Lyrically, Vek isn't all that interesting--mostly singing about girls from a familiar everybloke perspective (think Mike Skinner with less clever wordplay). But his delivery is expressive and he lends import to words through creative phrasing and little vocal swaggers. And the music, with its bass n' drums driven funk and arty guitar and keyboard touches is fresh and fascinating.

Visit the Tom Vek video library. And his tour schedule for the rest of 2005, including U.S. dates. Also, archived performance of Vek's visit to KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Tom Vek

Mashup by Cheekyboy: We Ain't Saying Our Goodbyes (mp3) - Tom Vek vs. Cheekyboy

More Cheekyboy stuff here.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

TV tunes

I've been trying to think about a new post, but I'm really distracted by the television. So I give you my favorite songs about the television.

Coffee and TV (mp3) - Blur

TV Pro (mp3) - The Vines

TV Star (mp3) - Butthole Surfers

I have a deep and intense affection (one might even call it a love) for infomercials. This song, though not a genre I love, is a great tribute.

7 Days To Change Your Life (mp3) - Jamie Cullum

My favorite television theme song of all time:

The Greatest American Hero (mp3) - Joey Scarbury

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday morning mix

Not a lot of time at the moment. These have been in the queue for a while and they're all worthy of your attention. I've provided links to band sites so you can write your own blurbs.

Mr. Train (mp3) - The Anonmoanon

Did I Let You Down (mp3) - Folksongs For The Afterlife

We Don't Care About Your Good Times (mp3) - Turpentine Brothers

I Can't Do This By Myself (mp3) - By Divine Right

Electric Sex (mp3) - Bang! Bang!

Joji (US) - The Anonmoanon
Put Danger Back In Your Life (US, UK) - Folksongs For The Afterlife
We Don't Care About Your Good Times (US, UK) - Turpentine Brothers
Sweet Confusion (US, UK) - By Divine Right
Electric Sex (US) - Bang! Bang!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Philly's best

We're Already There(Don't) stop me if you think you've heard this one before: You have to buy We're Already There (US, UK) from Mazarin. I prefer to write about underappreciated bands and artists, but I must join the chorus of praise for the not-so-underappreciated Philadelphia band's third album. Its joyous pop shimmers, snaps, crackles and pops, hooks you when you least expect it and rides trance-like grooves when you're expecting a hook. Lots of dreamy reverb and noisy melodicism on songs like "I'm With You And Constellations" recall early-90s shoegazers (yeah, I hate that word too, but it's convenient) Ride and My Bloody Valentine. Elsewhere, on songs like "Another One Goes By," Mazarin serves up well-built radio-friendly new wave. "We're Already There" visits the murky psychedelia of Olivia Tremor Control and other E6 acts like Elf Power. I like this album best when it keeps things simple, though. "The New American Apathy," "For Energy Infinite" and "NE Winter," with their insistent beats--both man and machine-made--and uncomplicated chord progressions are clear-eyed bids at power pop greatness.

NE Winter (mp3) - Mazarin

Stream more of the album on the band's Web site.

Suddenly it seems like all kinds of cool music is coming out of Philly. On Monday I mentioned Espers and The Baird Sisters and not too long ago The Capitol Years and The A-Sides. It wasn't always that way. In the 90s, the only band (other than my cousin's various hardcore outfits) from Philadelphia I remember listening to was The Lilys--and they tended to move around. Now don't get your hackles up, Philly residents, I'm sure you've always had a scene. But it wasn't that well-known outside the city limits until recently.

AudibleAnother noteworthy newish Philadelphia name is Audible, a band that was run as a sideline by several members of Matt Pond PA for a couple years before they decided to make a full-time go of it. Audible has actually opened for Mazarin and Mazarin's drummer Sean Byrne played on Audible's debut LP Sky Signal (US, UK), which was recorded in Brian McTear's (also of Mazarin fame) Miner Street Studios. As with all indie rock scenes, this one is incestuous.

Sound Makes A Circle (mp3) - Audible

Sunday Bell (mp3) - Audible

Stay Warm (mp3) - Audible

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

True confession

They're coming to take back my indie cred and I don't care (I got tons extra stored up). I love this song, I admit it. It's arena rock. It's Radiohead. No, it's Coldplay.

Gideon (mp3) - My Morning Jacket

Buy the album Z on iTunes (the disc is one of those ridiculous copyright-protected things).

And I'm not sure what to make of the video for The Juan Maclean's "Give Me Every Little Thing". At first it seems like we're in for some gay porn, then . . . well, see for yourself. (Not safe for work.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

No Hits 10.10.05

Afraid (mp3) - Espers

This last weekend was a chilly one here in Chicago. Daytime temps hovered in the low 50s on Saturday, the wind whipped off Lake Michigan and some browning leaves began their inevitable descent. A few weeks from now, the trees will be bare and we may even see some snow. I love it. I unpacked winter blankets and went to the market for ingredients for tomato lentil soup (email if you want the recipe--it's wonderful cold-weather comfort).

Oh, and I listened to Espers. In case you don't know, they're a collective of neo-hippie kids from Philadelphia who update traditional folk music with psychedelic stylings and imaginative instrumentation. Their self-titled debut (US, UK) caused some buzz in 2004 and rightly so. Next Tuesday they'll release The Weed Tree (US, UK), a collection of standards and covers including "Afraid." I'm not familiar with the Nico original (it's on her Desertshore album if you care to track it down). But it's a pretty little song and I imagine Espers lends a warmth not found in the original. And just to clarify: When I use the word "little"--and I often do when I'm talking about songs I'm fond of--I rarely mean insignificant. More often, precious, gem-like, big things/small packages, etc.

Riding (mp3) - Espers

A member of Espers, Meg Baird, also plays and sings with her sister Laura in The Baird Sisters. I should save "Snow" for December when the snow really starts to collect, but I can't wait to share it. It's that good.

Snow (mp3) - The Baird Sisters

Lonely Town (mp3) - The Baird Sisters

Both from The Baird Sisters At Home, which you can buy through their Web site.

Note: Because we have so many UK readers, I've started adding UK as well as US record buy links (usually to Amazon) to my posts. Hope people find this useful.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The wonders of Delmore

Black swanThere's nothing intrinsically moody or morose about black swans (cygnus atratus). Like their common white brethren, these avian natives of Australia are non-migratory--which means they build their little nest and stay put. But if my experience with swans is any indication, God help you if you attempt to approach said nest. Swans are not known for their affable demeanor or forgiving nature.

The Black Swans is a great name for a band. In this case, it aptly evokes the cool elegance and mystery of the Columbus, Ohio-based group. As with so many bands I've encountered recently, they blur the genre lines--some bluegrass, pinches of folk and blues, a little lounge and, of course, indie rock. You're drawn immediately to singer Jerry DiSicca's aloof baritone (think a deeper, darker Bryan Ferry) and the eerie violin playing of Noel Sayre. Be warned: This is emotionally stark, seriously depressing stuff. My first association when I heard the song "Who Will Walk In The Darkness With You," was Roy Orbison. But Orbison's music had an element of camp--highlighted by David Lynch when he used "In Dreams" to excellent effect in Blue Velvet. Black Swans wallow in unrelieved misery. I'm not here to speculate about people's private lives, but I hope music proves their salvation.

Who Will Walk In The Darkness With You (mp3) - The Black Swans

Blue Skies (mp3) - The Black Swans

Buy Who Will Walk in The Darkness With You: US, UK

Black Swans

The Black Swans are on a little Nashville label called Delmore Recordings, which is where I found Diana Darby. The alt-country world is crowded with female singer-songwriters, but Darby's voice is special, with the haunted, naked quality of a less-urban Cat Power. She's released several albums, including the new Magdalene Diaries. Once you've heard her, it's hard to get the sound out of your head.

Diana DarbyMagdalene Laundries (mp3) - Diana Darby

Ferry (mp3) - Diana Darby

Sarah (mp3) - Diana Darby

Other Diana Darby albums:

Fantasia Ball: US, UK, Naked Time: US, UK

I assume Darby's song refers to the Magdalene Laundries where thousands of Irish Catholic women were imprisoned for decades as slave laborers for their dubious sexual "crimes." If you never saw the film The Magdalene Sisters, search it out. It's an amazing witness to abuse of power in the name of religion that you'll appreciate even if you're not Catholic or don't have an ax to grind with the Catholic Church (I'm not, I don't).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

KS + lo-fi = Minus Story

Minus StoryWe should all be thankful for Kansas. It's true! This looked-over state has given us some great entertainers: Kirstie Alley, Wilt Chamberlain, Charlie Parker, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Melissa Etheridge (is her hairstyle still resembling mine?) and Bob Dole. But my favorite Kansas band is not named after the state. It's actually Minus Story.

This quartet from Lawrence is unique and refreshing. Their self-produced sound captures the excitement and courage that is so often missing from more mainstream "safe" recordings. They call their sound the "Wall of Crap" and I couldn't disagree more. Yes, it sounds at times "messy" and you're not sure if the band is coming unglued in certain spots. But the soothing organ and rhodes beds that support most songs is even more pleasing once the band settles down and comforts the listener, giving you the feeling "Everything is ok sonically... for a minute at least."

The songs are full of great textures and optimistic vibes without being too saccharine. Though the crashing cymbals often rise above the mix higher than I'd like, the vocals swirl together with the guitars to create hypnotic and genuinely pleasing lo-fi pop songs. There are dark corners to be visited, but MS doesn't choose to live there. I appreciate this balance. They've been likened to Microphones and even Neutral Milk Hotel (there you go, Amy) and would probably be appreciated by those who like This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About-era Modest Mouse.

Their newest record, No Rest For Ghosts, will be released October 11th on

From Heaven And Hell:

Time Wastes Itself (mp3) - Minus Story

From The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance:

You Were On My Side (mp3) - Minus Story

Upcoming release No Rest For Ghosts:

Little Wet Head (mp3) - Minus Story

Knocking On Your Head (mp3) - Minus Story

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Writing on the walls

Bedroom Walls, an unassuming indie pop act from Los Angeles, is almost exactly what you think it is: a private, lo-fi world of wistful diary lyrics, muffled vocals and narcoleptic tempos. The band refers to its sound as romanticore. And if you read their description of this concept--hell, let's call it what it is, a marketing brand--you might be tempted to write off the latest group to confuse adolescent angst and ironi-sophistication for profudity. (The last paragraph of The Great Gatsby? "Trying to cry/trying not to cry?" Jacques Brel? Quel embarrassment.)

I understand your impulse. But hold on a sec. If you don't mind the tweeness, Bedroom Walls' little songs are seductive. "Do The Buildings and Cops Make You Smile," with its pretty guitar arpeggio, is a standout single. Apparently the folks at USA Network thought so too, because the song has been featured on The 4400. (As a former X-Files devotee, I've sort of been tempted to get into that show. But I already watch too much T.V. and can't afford to get hooked on another series.) The song also appears on the band's 2003 release I Saw You Coming Back to Me. "In Anticipation Of Your Suicide" is a demo from a forthcoming LP.

Do The Buildings and Cops Make You Smile (mp3) - Bedroom Walls

Winter, That's All (mp3) - Bedroom Walls

In Anticipation Of Your Suicide (mp3) - Bedroom Walls

And because everyone loves a Pixies cover:

Hey (mp3) - Bedroom Walls

Monday, October 03, 2005

No Hits 10.3.05

Bells (mp3) - The Bats

Of the great New Zealand bands that emerged in the 80s, The Bats were the pop-folk branch of the family, with probably the least complicated, most direct songs. Formed by Robert Scott in 1983 after he departed The Clean, The Bats have put out some quiet gems over the years--Daddy's Highway, The Law of Things, Silverbeet--to critical acclaim but little fanfare outside the cloistered world of New Zealand indie rock. Last month they released their first album in 10 (!) years, At the National Grid, with the same four-person lineup with which they started 22 years ago.

To the uninitiated. Scott's nasal vocal delivery may be offputting. In fact, I imagine some people can't get past it (fair enough, I've never been a Flaming Lips fan because I just can't get over Wayne Coyne's grating voice). But Bats tunes almost always reward the patient listener. The formula is simple: Gentle, melodic acoustic and electric guitar lines, simple harmonies (Kaye Woodward's backing vocals have always been a huge asset) and that bubbling, buoyant bass that's a major throughline to many Flying Nun bands. The new melancholy single "Bells" is decent, though it probably doesn't rank as one of their best. Nevertheless, it's good to have these veterans back.

These are some of The Bats' best:

Law of Things (mp3) - The Bats

Love Floats Two (mp3) - The Bats

Offside (mp3) - The Bats

If you're new to the band and want to know where to start, I strongly recommend picking up Compiletely Bats, a collection of their early EPs.