Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Name time

I've always loved the cross-band, cross-time destiny of one Mitchell (first names only among this crowd).

We first meet him in 1982 and he, like his fellows Larry and Suzy, is twisted in a way that Elliott Smith went to great lengths to describe. In fact, Mitchell's case seems to be the most serious of the three, if only because "Get Away," the most poppy of all Flipper songs, begins to befoul itself in a discordant, disorganized way typical of the band soon after he leaves the stage. It seems, by all rights, that the song's narrator is pleading with people who will never do any getting whatsoever.

Much to my surprise then, the urchin resurfaces in 1995, having successfully remade himself into, according to Mudhoney, something far, far worse. I'll let the song speak to Mitchell's particular fate, but know this: there's good reason to believe that Ms. Love is at least a tangential target of Into Your Shtik.

Perhaps this linkage exists sheerly in my overtaxed mind, but there's at least a little bit of circumstantial evidence if you want to press it a bit. Mark Arm is definitely a Flipper fan as wrote the liner notes of their comp Sex Bomb Baby and Cobain wears Flipper's X-aced fish logo in an In Utero photo. Effectively, Arm lets a Cobain favorite do some of his work for him.

Get Away - Flipper

Into Your Shtik - Mudhoney

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Chill insomniac mornings

The Airfields

If You Don't Believe - The Airfields

City-State - The Airfields

The Turning of the Leaves - The Airfields

Dream pop. What an inaccurate name for a genre of music. More like dreamless pop. Because if you're an insomniac, you know this is the sound of utter exhaustion, a semi-hallucinatory fugue state. The contradiction of perfect clarity and blurred edges. Toronto's The Airfields put it this way:

Because we are without sleep, we are well-acquainted with the mysterious feeling the city leaves you with when you walk out to the empty streets at 6 am with the first few cars quietly puffing along. At this hour, the most comforting thing is a bubbling kettle for tea, or perhaps the little tunes that simmer up inside as you scurry down a chilly sidewalk; both offer a much needed warmth, for which we are equally thankful and dependent upon.

The band recently opened for The Clientele when they played Toronto, which seems very appropriate.

Alison - Slowdive

Dream pop extraordinaire Slowdive's masterpiece Souvlaki (US, UK) has just been rereleased.

Monday, November 28, 2005

No Hits 11.28.05

The Velvet Cell - Gravenhurst

"The Velvet Cell" is a great single--probably one of the catchiest, most powerful of the year. But it sure feels like an accident. Before you assume that's a dis, lemme explain. Until Bristol, England-based Gravenhurst's latest album Fires in Distant Buildings (US, UK), the band was better known for its sprawling pastoral folk rock, which it occasionally intertwined with shoegazy noise. And the band was better known as one guy, songwriter Nick Talbot. Talbot's since picked up a few colleagues, including crack drummer Dave Collingwood (Azalea City Penis Club), and since moved from a morbid fascination with murder ballads to . . . ok, so he's still consumed with tales of tragic death. Which is one of the other odd things about Velvet Cell. Its insistent beats, beefy power chords and choirboy-pretty vocals don't quite prepare you for this:

To understand the killer
I must become the killer.
And I don't need this violence anymore
But now I've tasted hatred I want more.

And did I mention the song's coda? Just when you think you've heard a perfect three-minute pop gem, Gravenhurst reminds you that as capable as they are of crafting hooks, they're also making art. The song's long post-rocker winddown irked me the first listen or two, but eventually took on a kind of logic. Then there's the fact that Velvet Cell is the most "upbeat" track on its album (there's also a reprise of the tune that's sufficiently interesting on its own merits--it doesn't actually feel like gratuitous filler).

But even if the song is something of an anomaly and you download the above, Fires is worth buying for its many other treasures. Songs like "Animals" and "Cities Beneath the Sea" are achingly beautiful, if not distressingly melancholic. Which is to say, don't listen to this album if you're already depressed--I can't be held responsible for the result--but if you're in a good place, by all means wallow in misery just a little.

From Flashlight Seasons (US, UK):

Hopechapel Hill - Gravenhurst

From Black Holes in the Sand (US, UK):

Still Water - Gravenhurst

And since we're already exploring Bristol's musical landscape, I should mention SJ Esau. Essentially the project of one Sam Wisternoff, the SJ Esau output is a highly original melange of sound experiments, cacophony, chaos and oh yeah, pretty great little tunes. Wisternoff has a long list of influences on his Web site. Often, these kinds of lists come off as a combination of obvious admissions of guilt and tragically wishful thinking. But in his case, I think you can work through Wisternoff's songs and hear a lot of these artists . . . and not in a bad, pilfering kind of way. When's the last time you heard the likes of Low, Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth, Movietone, Silver Jews and Husker Du synthesized into something listenable, even really good. That's what I thought.

Cat Track - SJ Esau

Wears the Control - SJ Esau

Note - SJ Esau

Epiphany Coming Through the Wall - SJ Esau

Friday, November 25, 2005

Electric white boy blues

Viva la indie rock!

Whatever that is, right? Whether you want to formulate an aesthetic or ideological definition of the stuff you--at the very least--probably think you know it when you hear it. And I hear it in Chicago's The Narrator, a band that's a virtual map of the American indie rock landscape of the last 15-20 years: from Dinosaur Jr, to Sebadoh, Slint, In On the Kill Taker-era Fugazi, Archers of Loaf circa All the Nation's Airports, Polvo, early Modest Mouse to Les Savy Fav . . . Which isn't to say you should dismiss The Narrator as dated or derivative. Their take on loud, angular, riff-driven post punk is so sincere and intense and high energy it's impossible not to get caught up in the bone-shaking, mind-addling thrill of it all. I've been listening to the band's new LP, Such Triumph (US, UK) for two days straight and have no intention of removing it from my player anytime soon.

New Blood/New Weather - The Narrator

This Party's Over - The Narrator

From earlier releases:

The Cavaliers - The Narrator (strongly recommended)

All Are Assassins - The Narrator

And Sebadoh's classic goof/tribute:

Gimme Indie Rock - Sebadoh

You've probably already guessed that The Narrator begs to be heard live, and the band does in fact have a rep as a brilliant live act. Fortunately for Chicago residents they're playing around town this coming month--December 3 at The Hideout and December 13 at The Abbey Pub.

Such Triumph

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sisters and city girls

The Roches

It's New York, 1979. Punk is petering out, disco's dying, hip hop's an inchoate art, new wave's ascendant. And The Roches . . . The Roches, where the hell did they come from? So far out of left field, it turns out, they might as well be in another ballpark.

Sisters Maggie and Terre Roche had existed as musical vagabonds in the city for a decade--singing backup for Paul Simon and releasing an all-but-ignored album--when baby sis Suzzy dropped out of college to join them. The power of three, blood ties and raw talent worked a strange alchemy, yielding something quite original and extraordinary. The Roches' debut self-titled album (US, UK) is a weird, wonderful artifact--like nothing you've ever heard. I suppose you could call it an urban folk record, but that doesn't get at those odd doo-wop and vaudeville touches or Robert Fripp's elastic guitar accompaniment.

Not to the mention the lyrics. Jesus, the lyrics. From the conversational, way-too-literal statement of solidarity "We" that opens the album to its closer, "Pretty and High," an exhilarating fable of independence and ambivalence, this stuff is special. Sandwiched between you've got anecdotes about love and heartbreak, work and money, family and escaping family--all just a little bent. You may, for example, think you know what a song called "The Troubles" and starts "We're going away to Ireland soon" is going to be about. Nope:

I hope they have health food in Dublin
And strawberry apricot pie
If they don't have those things in Dublin
We'll probably die.

"The Married Men" is more conventional, but in its timid bravado, poignant:

When they look into my eyes
I know what to do
I make sure the words I say are true
When they send me off at dawn
Pay the driver my fare
They know I am going down somewhere.

But really, I should mention the main reason music geeks revere the Roches: the singing, three-part harmonies that coalesce so expertly they sound like a single voice. Later records would be "prettier," as the girls' skills improved, and more ordinary as the shock of the new was lost. A lot of people seem to get worked up over The Roches' version of the Hallelujah Chorus (off their third record, Keep on Doing). Sounds like standard Christmas fare to me. But that debut record . . . a view of the world so idiosyncratic and effective that we might as well call it timeless.

The Married Men - The Roches

Pretty and High - The Roches

Hallelujah Chorus - The Roches

The Owls seem like an appropriate coda here. I came across this band last weekend while researching my post on Work of Saws (like that group, they're from the Twin Cities). And like The Roches, they've got a family thing going; multi-instrumentalists Brian Tighe and Allison LaBonne are married. LaBonne trades lines with another singer Maria May and Tighe provides backing harmonies on these tentative, beguiling tunes.

City Girl - The Owls

Air - The Owls

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

On not succeeding brilliantly

This culture puts too much emphasis on follow-through, finishing things, accomplishment, success. What's wrong with just being? So you have this pretty tune in your head and a handful of nonsensical lyrics, and you want to get them out, but you haven't yet worked through the ending. The world says, make it complete, create something whole. Work of Saws ignores these voices, recording tracks that struggle to reach the 2-minute mark, that yearn for meaning, but don't quite get there. And they're marvelous.

Inspired by 60s and 80s pop, 90s low-fi indie rock and certain folk and country traditions, songwriter Brock Davis and his troop of Minneapolis musicians produce sweet singalongs accented by squeaking frets and swathed in tape hiss. At last count (a year ago) they were working on completing a third album. Hope it gets made. If not, this is enough.

Baritone Astronaut Quartet - Work of Saws (highest recommendation)

Bloodflow, I Know You - Work of Saws

Return Of The Return Queen - Work of Saws

Sweetness Follows - Work of Saws

Mt. Vernon - Work of Saws

Visit the band's site for many, many more mp3s

Buy (Amazon appears to have a few used copies):
The Pious Flats
Motivation and Watertower Grammar

Work of Saws

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Odds and ends

So thanks for reading SYF's week-long tribute to our fair city of Chicago. Obviously, we had way more material than we could possibly use, but we remain committed to exposing the greater world to the music in our backyard.

Before things officially end, I want to mention a band that's gotten some attention, but not as much as it deserves. Imagine a fusion of post-rock and dance-punk--say if Tortoise jammed with !!!. That's Chin Up Chin Up. And despite their silly name (seriously, wouldn't one "Chin Up" suffice?), these guys produce smart, fresh, challenging tunes. My favorite's "We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers"--a song you probably know if you know anything from this band (
download from their Web site). I like this one an awful lot too:

I Hope For Tumbleweeds - Chin Up Chin Up

We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers (
Chin Up Chin Up EP (

Also, I shouldn't leave without directing you to the Chicago
blues club and festival photographs of sometime SYF contributor Joe Carey. Joe photographed this series for our friend David Grazian's 2003 book Blue Chicago: The Search For Authenticity In Urban Blues Clubs. Both photos and book are very cool and totally worth seeking out.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hitmakers of the 60s, Chicago style

Last Time AroundOne of the best tracks from that most essential of box sets, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The Original Psychedelic Era, comes from a Chicago band almost no one's heard of today. In 1966, The Del-Vetts released their one hit single, "Last Time Around" --an incredible slab of fuzz guitars and neanderthal stomp that prefigures punk and metal by at least a decade. I just can't help but wonder what the clean-cut kids of the day were thinking when they put this grungy, sexed-up slice of vinyl on their turntables.

Last Time Around - The Del-Vetts

Shadows of KnightThe Del-Vetts record was released by local label Dunwich, and while Dunwich didn't make a fortune off that band, it had more success with a bunch of Arlington Heights teenagers who called themselves The Shadows of Knight. A better-known group today, thanks to the enduring popularity of their "clean" version of "Gloria" (Van Morrison composition), Shadows had a string of regional and national hits, including a cover of Bo Diddley's "Oh Yeah" and their version of blues standard "I Got My Mojo Working." So what if they borrowed liberally from The Yardbirds and the Stones? As a Chicago band, they were also first-hand witnesses to the blues artists musicians on the other side of the Atlantic were themselves pilfering.

Gloria - The Shadows of Knight

I Got My Mojo Working - The Shadows of Knight

I'm Gonna Make You Mine - The Shadows of Knight

Another Chicago act, The Cryan' Shames were more pop oriented in the vein of contemporaries the Beatles and Beach Boys. Their big hit of almost 40 years ago, "Sugar and Spice" isn't especially distinguished...something about that limp tambourine. But the band could kick out the jams, as evidenced by the schizophrenic "Ben Franklin's Almanac." It's a track that tosses in a little of everything--Byrds-like jangle and harmonies, Chuck Berry rhythm, Beatles melodicism and some psychedelic guitar work. A pretty good emblem, therefore, for a transitional period of rock n' roll.

Sugar and Spice - The Cryan' Shames

Ben Franklin's Almanac - The Cryan' Shames

The Cryan' Shames

Friday, November 18, 2005

Like a velvet glove cast in more velvet

Supersonic Storybook

I never understood Urge Overkill, the phenomenon. They released their breakout, that Neil Diamond cover on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack of which I'd guess 99% of you reading this could sing at least a few lines, on the Stull EP a while before the movie came out and I thought it was OK. I say this not as one of those poo-poo'ing quasi-tastemakers, but as a total devotee of Supersonic Storybook, the preceding phenomenal sounding album with a bunch of great songs. That album is also topical this week, as it features a really nice Chicago cultural trifecta of the early 90s.

The front cover has the three guys, King, Nash and Blackie, mugging fish-eye style with their lounge-thing-cum-70s-novelty-act-cum-god,-whatever-the hell-they-were-doing act in full effect. By contrast, back cover is a drawing by Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. The art is pretty average for him, a surrealistic landscape scene with the band popping out in Dali style. The faces of UO always seemed like a perfect match for Clowes droopy-eyed style to me, but, in all honesty, the image is pedestrian. That it's a non-descript and unremarkable piece of art from one of our finest cartoonists isn't that surprising; Clowes' loathing of most of his time in Chicago is pretty well documented and from what I know most of his album work was mercenary rather than for the love of the band. (For that, I'm relying on my dim memory of a few Comics Journal interviews here... feel free to skewer me if I've played too fast and loose with the facts.) So, why get Clowes at all? I actually had the chance to pose the question to the band at a post-college show party in '92, but I didn't get much of an answer. There were, after all, treats in another room far more interesting than me, the comics dork. Perhaps the best thing to say is that even mediocre Clowes has style and style is a primary UO concern.

The album itself features some fantastic guitar sound (no, not warm and punchy). Though it's basically a pop-rock record in the Cheap Trick mold, the distortion on Storybook achieves a roar unequalled by bands attempting to be three times as fierce. This production is courtesy of SYF quiz star Steve Albini, who, I hope, needs no introduction. (I've always secretly suspected that the Shellac guitar sound was three parts Rapeman plus one part Storybook.) Though originally from Montana and really a international figure, Albini has produced an incredible number of local bands and his Electrical Studios is one of those places that keeps the Chicago music scene vital. He's also played all ages shows and alternative venues in a city where these things are more and more difficult to do. Finally, he's an eloquent spokesman for DIY (aka self reliance, aka Learn How) as a life principle. Actually, he's just plain eloquent. I really hope someone is gathering up his writings for posterity, because there is a lot more out there equal to
The Problem With Music.

Finally, Urge themselves. I'll let "(Today Is) Blackie's Birthday" make my case for them and Storybook with one note: Good birthday songs are tough to come by period, but a well-done one that's got suicide as a subtext and isn't smarmy? Unheard of.

(Today Is) Blackie's Birthday - Urge Overkill

Note from Amy: Nobody answered our Chicago Week contest question correctly. A refresher: At what Chicago establishment (bar and/or music venue) did Shellac play its first show? To be fair, it was a really hard question. The answer: The Augenblick. Any of you remember the place (on Damen at Byron)? It used to be a semi-regular haunt of mine--probably best known for it's Irish music nights. Anyway, I'll be contacting one of you lucky losers later to let you know that thanks to collective ignorance, you've won a CD.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Chicago Week continues...M.O.T.O.

When he heard SYF was devoting a week exclusively to Chicago music, my friend David suggested we cover M.O.T.O. I didn't know much about the band, so I asked him if he'd write something up. David very generously agreed. (I love guest posters!) So enjoy, and be sure to check out David's delightful Chicago band, The Layaways. The band's site hosts several mp3s for your indie-pop lovin' pleasure!

Also, you have until midnight tonight to enter our contest to win The M's CD (still no correct answer). Check Monday's post for details.

I've always thought of Paul Caporino, the man behind M.O.T.O., as Chicago's version of Robert Pollard. Both began releasing their ragged, low-fi recordings in the late 1980s. And like the Guided By Voices founder, Caporino has a savant-like ability to craft songs with instantly catchy hooks.

Musically, Caporino has much more of a punk influence. Lyrically…let's just say that with M.O.T.O. you'll need to brace yourself for a dose of songs about genitals and various scatological topics. On Single File, a collection of M.O.T.O. songs from 1988 to 1994, the lead-off track is "Crystallize My Penis." That's followed by "It's So Big It's Fluorescent" (about…you-know-what). And the fourth song on the disc is titled "The Turd That Came to Life." You get the picture. But even if your tolerance for songs about dicks is low, there are plenty of M.O.T.O. gems to enjoy.

MOTOThe three tracks below are a good place to start. "Dick About It" (think insult, not anatomical reference) is a punky song from a 1989 EP. "The Street Where Love Lives" is an uncharacteristically sweet song from a 1994 single that reminds me a bit of They Might Be Giants, with a few chord changes from a Squeeze song for the bridge. "Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance To The Radio" from 2003--its title borrowed from Joy Division's "Transmission"--is one of my favorite tunes in recent years. A two minute, 17 second blast of hooky pop it will, just like GBV's "Teenage FBI," remain lodged in your brain after a single listen.

Dick About It - M.O.T.O.

The Street Where Love Lives - M.O.T.O.

Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance To The Radio - M.O.T.O.

Relative to Pollard, Caporino has remained somewhat under the radar--no recording contract with Matador or TVT yet, nor has Ric Ocasek called to volunteer his production skills. But with hooks like these, it doesn't seem far-fetched to imagine that M.O.T.O. will find a wider audience.

Find more mp3s at the band's Web site and at page.

--David Harrell

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Nora O'Connor

Nora O'Connor

You couldn't ask for a better poster girl for SYF's Chicago Week than Nora O'Connor. She may not be as well-known as some of her musical collaborators--Andrew Bird, Archer Prewitt, Neko Case, Jeff Tweedy, Kelly Hogan--but this South Side Irish lass is as pure a product of this city's music scene as you'll find. In fact, you could probably play one-degree--two at most--of-separation with O'Connor and hit every Chicago musician of the past 15 years.

Former member of legendary alt-country group, The Blacks, sometime participant in Andrew Bird's Big Bowl of Fire, she also has a lovely solo album, Til The Dawn (US, UK) on Chicago's premier roots/Americana label Bloodshot Records. It's an eclectic sampling of original songs and covers, highlighted by her pristine, unaffected voice. "Nightingale" may be the best cut on the record--a spicy bluegrass-inspired number featuring Bird's distinctive fiddling. "Down Here" is a poignant cover of a Lori Carson original.

Nightingale - Nora O'Connor

Down Here - Nora O'Connor

Tracks from just a few of the albums O'Connor plays/sings on:

I'll Meet You In Church Sunday Morning - The Blacks

Tables and Chairs - Andrew Bird

Two Can Play - Archer Prewitt

The Mattachine Society - The Aluminum Group

Dolly Horrowshow - The Blacks (US, UK)
The Mysterious Production of Eggs - Andrew Bird (US, UK)
Three - Archer Prewitt (US, UK)
Plano - The Aluminum Group (US, UK)

Reminder: If you haven't already, enter our contest to win The M's fabulous self-titled CD. (It doesn't hurt to guess . . .) See yesterday's post for details!

Monday, November 14, 2005

No Hits 11.14.05 + Chicago Week contest

Dirty Old Dog - The M's

2 x 2 - The M's

Growing up, I was surrounded by families with older boys--all at least four years my senior. Directly across the street lived your classic privileged suburban brat. One fine spring evening, he wrapped his father's weeks-old Porsche around a tree, emerging completely unscathed (the car was totaled). To our left was the model son--a scholar and athlete who ended up at Yale where he played football and eventually went to medical school. And on our right lived "Tommy," a kid who listened to loud rock n' roll, discovered drugs early and got his girlfriend pregnant at 17 (he may have even played the guitar). Can you guess which one was the source of my preteen obsession? One of the few cooperative gestures on Tommy's part was mowing his parent's lawn once a week or so in the summer. He'd be out there pushing the mower, shirtless, tanned, wearing cutoffs and battered sneakers, blasting the Stones or T. Rex (there you go, Jon!) or similar down n' dirty music. I'd always find some excuse to sunbathe in our yard in skimpy tops my mom assured me I'd never wear in public. As he made his rounds, Tommy might had acknowledged me with the occasional, cool nod. But I was a 12, 13-year old kid. What was I compared with his willing, 16-year old girlfriend?

This trip down memory lane has a point. The M's are from the city of Chicago proper, but boy, do they remind me of that suburban rebel--rebellious boys everywhere, really. Isn't that what 60s and 70s-worshipping garage bands are all about? Getting out of the house (even if it's only as far as the garage)--away from nagging, restrictive parents--and making some noise! The M's do the genre extremely proud: Their self-titled album released last year doesn't have a bad track on it. Several, like the two I posted above, are brilliant slices of sexy, insinuating vocals, stabbing rhythms and guitar solos that range from snaky to skronky. Full of cliches, sure. But mighty effective.

I just happen to have an extra copy (new, still wrapped in plastic) of this excellent M's album and am giving it away to the first person who can accurately answer our Chicago Week indie rock trivia question. Jon, authority on all things Shellac, came up with this puppy and assures me it's real obscure. Here goes:

At what Chicago establishment (bar and/or music venue) did Shellac play its first show?

A caveat: The band may not have been calling itself Shellac at the time. And, we reserve the right to be completely wrong (but believe we're completely right). If you think you know the answer or just wanna take a guess, email us at Please put "contest" in the subject line. Do not leave your guess in the comments section--it won't count.

As I said, the first correct answer wins. If no one answers correctly, we'll award the CD to the third wrong answerer (just cuz I like the number three). We will ship anywhere in the world. Two limitations: You can't know any of us personally (sorry, friends), and you must get your guess in by midnight, U.S. Central Time on Thursday (Nov. 17). We'll reveal the answer on Friday.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chicago Week

Credit: Christopher Trott

Hey kids! We're excited to announce Chicago Week--starting tomorrow. An entire week devoted to music from the great city we call home (ok, Troy technically lives in Grand Rapids, but he used to live down here). If you haven't already, bookmark Shake Your Fist now.

To give you a taste, let's hear something from one of Chicago's best current bands, lovable garage punks The Ponys:

Today - The Ponys

From Celebration Castle (US, UK), The Ponys' latest, Steve Albini-engineered (note I didn't use Albini's bete noire, "produced") album.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Another Friday morning mix

Hate to be a lazy blogger but I need to work on some stuff I've been neglecting, so this is a short one. Get ready though--we're preparing something Very Big for next week. Hint: It involves a theme and it just might feature a *contest*. Try to contain your excitement until then.

Meanwhile, random songs that have been floating around on my computer and in my head--kind of a mix or old and new, stuff I've loved for years and things I picked up yesterday. (BTW, you should thank me for sparing you this kind of nonsense.)

Diary of Wood - Circulatory System

Bringin Me Home - Mojave 3

North, Virginia - Timeout Drawer

I Know You've Come To Take My Toys Away - The Mountain Goats

B Line - Lamb

Wired Nights - Sunset Valley

You Say You Don't Love Me - The Buzzcocks

Wednesday, November 09, 2005



I feel like we've been laying some heavy stuff on you lately and you may be in need of some pretty pop songs. Maritime delivers. The new project of Davey Von Bohlen and Dan Didier of The Promise Ring and Eric Exelson of Dismemberment Plan, the guys in Maritime are, not surprisingly, a lot more mature sounding than younger, less seasoned indie pop players. A cleverly titled song "Sleep Around" isn't so much about sleeping around, as, you know, getting some sleep. And Maritime understands how precise and detailed arrangements, not to mention a spotless production (courtesy of Jawbox leadman turned recording engineer J. Robbins) can only reinforce strong melodic lines.

To be fair, not every fledgling band gets fronted the cash to make a nice-sounding record. Maritime was tentatively signed to major indie Anti- before that label passed on the product that became Glass Floor (US, UK). Never fear, fine little DeSoto Records came to the rescue. The band has a new record, We Are Vehicles, that's currently available in Europe, but is rather mysteriously not for sale in the states until early 2006. I can't say I'm dying to pay import prices, so I'm waiting.

Sleep Around - Maritime

If All My Days Go By - Maritime

I Used To Be A Singer - Maritime

There's an abundance of perfectly unpretentious, super-catchy pop going around these days (putting me in a very good mood indeed). Like a lot of people, I fell head over heels in love with The Clientele's single "Since K Got Over Me" a couple months ago. I've since picked up the band's earlier Suburban Light (US, UK) and now have this short, sweet, delicate, gauzy, achingly lovely gem on heavy rotation:

Rain - The Clientele

Monday, November 07, 2005

No Hits 11.7.05

Nothing But God - Diane Cluck

"But the thing is, the marvelous thing is, when you first start doing it, you don't even have to have faith in what you're doing. I mean even if you're terribly embarrassed about the whole thing, it's perfectly all right. I mean you're not insulting anybody or anything. In other words, nobody asks you to believe a single thing when you first start out. You don't even have to think about what you're saying, the starets said. All you have to have in the beginning is quantity. Then, later on, it becomes quality by itself."
-J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

I don't know if you read Franny and Zooey when you were an impressionable teenager and will automatically think of Franny Glass' obsession with the concept of prayer without ceasing--generally translated in Christianity as repetition of the Jesus Prayer--when you first hear Diane Cluck's "Nothing But God." But I did. I was one of those kids for whom Franny's quest, or mental breakdown (depending on your perspective), resonated, growing up as I did in a nice, but passionless kind of progressive Protestant church. An mp3 blog isn't exactly the place to explore questions of theology, but I think we all, at some point, wish for that place of absolute self-negation, freedom from pain and self-consciousness (or even consciousness). Some people look for it literally, in religion--they attempt to become one with God or the universe--I've known plenty to seek it in drugs and booze and, of course, there's music . . .

Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Cluck expresses that seeking brilliantly in this sketch. I say sketch, because "Nothing" appears on The Enlightened Family (US, UK) compilation on Voodoo-EROS (run by Coco Rosie's Bianca Casady). The story behind this project is that various members of the New York neo-folk scene contributed unfinished or "lost" songs, songs that would otherwise remain private. And Cluck's "Nothing" sounds like a private prayer, a solitary meditation or mantra that could be holy or blasphemous. As her intense, lucid voice repeats,

We are lord, nothing but God, nothing but God in the way of itself

accompanied by stark, simple piano chords, each slight alteration in phrasing comes closer and closer . . . to something. But with a running time of only 1:49, we don't know if she gets there. No resolution, just the abrupt click of the tape stopping.

Diane Cluck

Real Good Time - Diane Cluck

"Real Good Time" is also off Enlightened Family and is probably more representative of Cluck's work, betraying her professed admiration of Kate Bush. Tomorrow, Cluck releases a new album, Countless Times (US, UK).

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Rough Trade covers

Rough Trade 25th Anniversary CompilationI hit the record store this weekend (Reckless in Wicker Park) and picked up some new releases that I'll probably talk about soon. And got some good used buys as well, including Rough Trade's 25th anniversary Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before (US, UK) covers compilation.

It's an unusually rich comp--featuring new Rough Trade bands covering old Rough Trade bands--so I'll share a bunch of tracks. Normally I limit downloads from any one album, but I figure the whole point of this kind of record is to turn you on to featured artists.

Dunes - Hidden Cameras (The Clean)

Tell Me - The Tyde (Galaxie 500)

Last Nite - The Detroit Cobras (The Strokes)

Lions After Slumber - The Veils (Scritti Politti)

Winter - The Fiery Furnaces (The Fall)

Final Day - Belle & Sebastian (Young Marble Giants)

I wasn't familiar with The Tyde and had to learn more about any band that chose to cover one of my all-time favorite songs. The Tyde's Southern California-based, and led by Darren Rademaker, who used to front 90s underground act Further with brother Brent. Brent also plays in The Tyde and leads Beechwood Sparks. Rademaker and Co. play pretty much what you'd expect from surfer boys (and one girl)--sunny, laid back pop with country and blues touches. The band's finishing up a third LP with an expected release date of early 2006.

Go Ask Yer Dad - The Tyde

All My Bastard Children - The Tyde

Blood Brothers - The Tyde

The Tyde

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pleasure and pain, mostly pleasure

WildernessI know I'm coming late to this party, but damn, if Wilderness' self-titled debut album isn't brilliant. It sat on my iPod for a couple months, but when I finally listened to it all the way through, I had to do it over and over obsessively. This is a slightly masochistic act on my part, because Wilderness makes suffocating music--dense and crushing, almost airless--but intensely pleasurable at the same time. To get the full effect, you have to turn the volume way, way up . . . and just submit.

PopMatters explains it very well here.

Marginal Over - Wilderness

Karamelo Santo

Sylvie from Baby Borderline emailed me about Karamelo Santo, an Argentinean band she works with. I'm sorry to say I don't know the first thing about South American rock, so contextualizing this is a challenge and, of course, I don't understand the lyrics cuz I don't speak Spanish. But considering certain events now occurring in Argentina, it seems like a timely thing to post.

The seven-piece band, who've been together for 10 years, have some good tracks--full of ska rhythms and blues influences. Perfect party fodder.

Fruta Amarga - Karamelo Santo

Tu Pa Mi - Karamelo Santo

Great Chicago label Thrill Jockey just relaunched a brand spankin new Web site. Still not generous with the mp3s. But there are a few treats to be had, including a WNUR session with Mouse On Mars and videos from folks like Tortoise and Arizona Amp and Alternator. And this live track from Freakwater:

Lullaby - Freakwater

Tom Verlaine - Warm and CoolOne of Thrill Jockey's newest records is the rerelease of Tom Verlaine's 1992 instrumental album, Warm and Cool. It's an essential listen for newbie fans of post-rock, experimental and jazz-influenced rock sounds from the Television pioneer.

The Deep Dark Clouds - Tom Verlaine

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Is it wrong to like Morphine this much?


I had this strange sense of deja vu a couple minutes ago sitting on my couch, drinking a Newcastle and listening to music: "This is just like college." Well, maybe not exactly like college. The room is bigger, the couch nicer, the hair gone and the drink more expensive than cherry Kool-Aid.

But the album, Morphine's
Yes, is the same.

I got this record accidently in one of those Columbia House-300-CDs-for-a-penny deal. I was probably trying to get Soul Asylum or something and ended up with Morphine, a band I had never heard of, instead. It took a while for me to listen to the record--but it only took once.

There's not a sound like Morphine's: two-string slide bass, baritone sax, soulful drums and sardonic/spoken-word vocals combining to create both experimental and sexy sounds. An underlying eroticism to the sound is also kinda playful at times. I was hooked immediately and the record remains one of my favorites.

The addictive "Honey White" (the first single) and "Super Sex" are radio friendly, but don't sprial out into the sugary pop atmosphere, thanks in large part to Mark Sandman's provocative vocals and bass playing. There is so much space contained in these songs thanks to the efficient drumming of Billy Conway and punctuated by the sax stabs of Dana Colley. You would think the instrumentation would be restricting, but this unlikely power-trio employs it brilliantly. Two of the songs on the album were recorded on the road, including the fantastic "I Had My Chance," recorded live at KCRW. What's so stunning about that track in particular is how it doesn't sound any different from the studio tracks. This was a band at the height of their live career, playing road-tested songs with unrivaled precision.

I'll admit, the album does have a few dips. The more experimental "The Jury" doesn't have the same energy and excitement of the previous eight tracks and the more straightforward voice and acoustic guitar of "Gone For Good" is pretty but boring. Regardless, the sounds are rich and memorable and brave, especially when considered against the more fashionable guitar revolution of the mid-90s. This record is incredibly refreshing and a perfect companion to a cigar and your favorite beverage (Kool-Aid or something more potent).

Sadly, on July 3, 1999, Sandman collapsed on stage during a performance in Rome, dying of a heart attack at the age of 47. Though never breaking out of cult status, the band is a rarity, replacing potentially dated guitar riffs with a unique bass and sax combo, helping the music feel more timeless. Bluesy, bare-bones, guitar-less rock and roll.

I think I'll listen again...

Honey White (mp3) - Morphine

Scratch (mp3) - Morphine

Yes (mp3) - Morphine

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More shambles

And speaking of rough-hewn (see Monday) . . . I'm on some sort of roots kick this week. Does one crave "authenticity" when the weather turns somber and night starts falling at 5:00 pm? Maybe it's because I'm feeling very tired and overworked. Whatever it is, The Baptist Generals sound right.

No Silver No GoldThe band formed in 1998 in Denton, Texas and that's where they've stayed. AllMusic uses a lot of alluring adjectives to describe their 2003 album No Silver/No Gold (US, UK): strange, personal, threadbare, shambling, strummy, fresh, vital, ornery, uncomfortable, ugly, angry, brave, distinctive, utterly unhinged. I'd add: possessed. If a man could birth a changeling or other dubious spawn, it would probably sound like Chris Flemmons' agonized vocals.

Going Back Song - Baptist Generals

Alcohol (Turn and Fall) - Baptist Generals

Oddly enough, these guys are signed to Sub Pop. Their rudimentary (naturally) Web site reports that they're finishing up a new record.