Saturday, December 31, 2005

More clearance

Still digging though my mp3 post folder. Today, some traditional folk sounds--authentic and revival:

Big Bed Bug (Bed Bug Blues) - Tommy Settlers and His Blues Moaner
This wonderfully weird artifact is from Revenant Records' recent American Primitive, Vol 2 collection of folk and blues recordings from the 1920s and 30s. A good song asks more questions than it answers. For example, Settlers' one-man band creates sounds I can't quite work out (the field recording production doesn't help any). He's almost certainly banging on a pot, but is that a kazoo? And how does Settlers produce that inhumanly high wail? And is this song literally about bed bugs (vermin which are, incidentally, making a big comeback in the U.S.) or is it a not-too-subtle double entendre?

Coal Black Crepe - Micah Blue Smaldone
Black crepe was mourning garp in the 19th Century and while "Coal Black Crepe" doesn't sound that old, this ballad belongs more to the era of Tommy Settlers than 2005. Micah Blue Smaldone uses the old-timey aesthetic to good effect, though (go to his Web site, for swell design too). He's a former punk musician, but you'd never know it from his patient, deliberate, finger-picking playing and yearning voice. And have you ever heard a room sound so empty?

Harbor - The Big Huge
I came to The Big Huge via Micah Blue Smaldone. They've played on the same stage, and as strict interpreters of genres not much heard today, they're oddly complementary. Though this Baltimore band is influenced (I can imagine some thinking, too strongly influenced) by traditional English folk music--its name from an Incredible String Band album. "Harbor" is a sweet wisp of a song, all posies and verdant hollows. I may haul it out again when I'm ready to make summer mix CDs. The band offers another free download on its site.

I was also going to mention Samara Lubelski's fluid "Fleeting Skies," but it looks like Motel de Moka recently posted it here (other good stuff, too!).

Also, Indie For Dummies just posted the results of their 2005 album survey of mp3 blogs. We were very happy to participate!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

End-of-year clearance

End of the year means I'm clearing out the cache of music I've meant to blog about, but somehow haven't. Expect more like this in days to come. Not chaff. Not dregs. Not slag. Good stuff! Promise.

Funeral - Band of Horses
I adore this song, reluctantly. It has the kind of earnest dirge-like pacing, "emo" singing too prominent in the mix and frequent crescendo/decrescendo dynamics that make me feel manipulated. (Not surprisingly, these guys are being hyped as Sub Pop's next big thing.) But I've listened to "Funeral" maybe 25-30 times now and it hasn't stopped thrilling me yet. See the band's Web site for more downloads.

Lesley Parlafitt - Bromheads Jacket
Have I ever mentioned how much I love short songs, really, really short songs? "Leslie Parlafitt" comes in at 1:24, but in that brief time unleashes a breathless burst of garage-punk energy, tells a familiar story about a girl, a boy and a pub in a small town in a fresh way. Oh, and it somehow squeezes in a singalong chorus of sha-la-las. An extremely promising band from Sheffield, England, you can download another Bromheads Jacket track here. I'll be watching these kids in 2006.

Barstools and Landmines (live) - Hubcap
Listen before a roaring winter fire on the coldest night. The magic's in the storytelling and sad "Here Comes A Regular" resignation. And this: Love of language and a gentle swaying tune can assuage other hurts. At least you won't be bored. More good roots rock downloads at the upstate New York band's Web site.

Asleep In The Already Known - Horns of Happiness
At first it's a familiar sound--the drum roll and heavily fuzzed vocals a la Aeroplane Over The Sea. Then abruptly, a change of direction: A jagged acoustic interlude. Again a left turn: An electronic jam. Finally, guitar squall and toms. This dream courtesy of yet another member of the Impossible Shapes talent factory (See: John Wilkes Booze, Normanoak, Magnolia Electric Co., Coke Dares).

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Galactic Heroes

Every Sidewalk

Ricky and Mike, the two main Galactic Heroes live about as geographically distant as is possible from one another--Oregon and South Carolina--and still call the continental U.S. home. That may explain why they sound like they're having so much fun when they actually get together (none of those familiarity breeding contempt issues to contend with). I know I often refer to music as catchy. This time I really mean it. Insanely catchy, infectious as the nasty bugs those blasted little brats (I mean, precious children) sneezed and coughed throughout my airplane cabin yesterday.

"George Washington" is a little treat for all the grade school and American history teachers out there. Bring it into class and the kids will think you're completely cool . . . or the biggest geek. One or the other. Hell, even non-Americans will get behind the chorus:

G, G, G, G, G, G, General Washington,
We'd like for you to be our first president!

George Washington - The Galactic Heroes

Then there's the band's Monster Song Project, an, um, interesting album devoted to monsters and other scary individuals (Big Foot, Dracula, Headless Horseman) that sounds like it was written and recorded in an afternoon. You can download songs like this from their Web site (look under Releases):

King Kong - The Galactic Heroes

Lest you think The Galactic Heroes are just a They-Might-Be-Giants-meets-Schoolhouse-Rock novelty act, they also have some low(er) key songs. "Cherokee" and "Wonderful" remind me what a happy instrument the banjo can be. "Save It For A Rainy Day" is good in the way brief, simple, unpretentious indie pop songs can be.

Cherokee - The Galactic Heroes (highly recommended)

Wonderful - The Galactic Heroes

Save It For A Rainy Day - The Galactic Heroes

The band's latest album is Every Sidewalk (US, UK) on Magic Marker.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Handel is more traditional, but I always associate Bach's Brandenburg Concertos with Christmas day. I hope it is a very happy one for you!

Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, III Allegro - Johann Sebastian Bach: Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, Karl Munchinger

Thursday, December 22, 2005

40 favorite 2005 songs

Less chit-chat, blah, blah today. If you haven't already read it, my 2005 album list is here and Troy's is here. I was going to do some bitching about the worst of 2005 too, but frankly, I'm too exhausted to generate bile at the moment. Maybe later.

These are the tunes that stuck with me in 2005--my personal top 40 radio station. Songs I blogged about, built mixes with, listened to til my ears ached. My number one pick makes me supremely uncool, I think. I don't care.

Some of the links are actual mp3s, others link to sites where you can download or stream. Unfortunately, hosting space and bandwidth constraints make it impossible to just hand everything over. I suggest you check out Hype Machine and search for some of the other songs.

Trivia: # 4 is the track that lent its name to our Monday heavy-rotation song feature. Good thing I still love it these eight months later.

1. It's All In My Mind - Teenage Fanclub
2. O, KY - Archer Prewitt

3. Sister In Love - Envelopes
4. No Hits - Black Mountain
5. The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
6. Stranger to None - Fancie

7. The Bleeding Heart Show - The New Pornographers
8. Blame the English - The Lovekevins
9. Drug Song - The White Foliage
10. The Entryway - Foreign Born
11. Since K Got Over Me - The Clientele
12. Shine a Light - Wolf Parade
13. NE Winter - Mazarin
14. I Am A Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass) - Phosphorescent
15. C-C (You Set the Fire in Me) - Tom Vek
16. For Real - Okkervil River
17. Models - Girls Aloud
18. Friend of Mine - The National
19. Gideon - My Morning Jacket
20. Is It Any Wonder - The Shortwave Set
21. Over the Ocean - Nine Black Alps
22. Everyday I Love You Less and Less - Kaiser Chiefs
23. Rachel's Underground - Autumn Thieves
24. Testify - Common
25. Stay in the Shade - Jose Gonzalez
25. The Velvet Cell - Gravenhurst
26. Black Cab - Jens Lekman
27. 18 - The Shocking Pinks
28. A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left - Andrew Bird
29. My So-Called Celibate Life - The Pernice Brothers
30. In Between the Days - The Coral Sea
31. The Banquet - The Deadly Snakes
32. Ring A Ding Ding - Brakes
33. Was It You? - Spoon
34. Feel Good Inc. - Gorrillaz
35. Dear Mr. Bush, There Are Over 100 Words For Shit & Only One For Music. Fuck You, Out Hud - Out Hud
36. The Well - Smog
37. Glass Conversation - The Ponys
38. Baby C'mon - Stephen Malkmus
39. Gold Digger - Kayne West
40. The Ghost That Haunts Your World Will Disappear - Doleful Lions

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Amy's favorite albums of 2005

Let's just get this out of the way: I'm not really an album person. I'm too critical and my attention span's too short. I know hundreds of what I would consider perfect songs. I could count the number of rock records I consider flawless on one hand, two tops. So . . . these are what came closest to meeting my unreasonable standards in 2005. Number one is a classic for sure. The others--we'll see how time treats them.

The Yellow Light10. The Yellow Light, Saw (download)

The album on this list you almost certainly haven't heard of, unless you read SYF regularly. A serendipitous late-in-the-year, low key discovery for me, I'll let my recent post speak for itself.

We Have Sound9. We Have Sound, Tom Vek (US, UK)

I wasn't looking for Tom Vek, but he came along just the same and my year was a little brighter for it. With his groove-y bass lines and playful drumming Vek lets rhythm drive the car--on exhilarating joyrides like "Nothing But Green Lights," slow Sunday afternoon cruises like "C-C" or the almost-out-of-gas, out-of-luck drone poem "On The Road." Vek gets my vote for most promising new artist. Also, most adorable. Also, best series of wacky, low-budget videos.

On The Road - Tom Vek

The Evens8. The Evens, The Evens (US, UK)

Ian MacKaye was a known quantity and personal hero. I have a postcard of him and his 1978 Toyota Corolla station wagon--from a photo series of D.C. musicians and their cars by Cynthia Connelly--on the board above my computer. A month doesn't go by that I don't listen to Minor Threat's Complete Discography. But I'm not shy about subjecting my heroes to serious scrutiny. And I was prepared to greet this project with drummer/D.C. hardcore scenester Amy Farina that Dischord was billing as "folk music for punks" with a basket of rotten eggs and spoiled fruit. But Goddamn if this folk-punk-whatever power duo thing doesn't work. You expect MacKaye to be able to write songs and play them, but did you know he could actually sing? And Farina's drumming is a revelation--her hand light and elegant, her gorgeous, cascading percussive patterns thrown into relief by the record's intimate production.

Around The Corner - The Evens

Black Sheep Boy7. Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River (US, UK)

A review of this album is the first thing I ever posted here on Shake Your Fist back in May. I like to think I've grown since then, become a little less stilted and self-conscious. So reading that post is kinda painful for me. And writing about music remains a constant challenge, even though there are plenty of subjects about which I can write with my eyes closed (really!). What can I say? I always take the path of greatest resistance. Anyway, I still love this hyper-literate epic. I've since decided I prefer the Shearwater configuration of these players a little better (on repetition, Will Sheff's voice can grate, Jonathan Meiberg's, on the other hand, is pure honey to these ears), but the strength of these songs and scope of the project are undeniably powerful.

A Stone - Okkervil River

The Milk Of Human Kindness6. The Milk of Human Kindness, Caribou (US, UK)

Techno for rockists, rock for techno geeks or something. Something pretty great. Dan Snaith constructs slippery, elusive melodies on a base of loops and layers, similar to what The Beta Band used to do, but lonelier and more organic. In fact, what I love about this record are those weird chirps and croaks, things that sound like broken shutters flapping and snowdrifts shifting with the wind. When Snaith changed the name from Manitoba to Caribou last year, it was for legal reasons. But it also makes sonic sense. There's a warm-blooded, cold weather animal that wanders within the loose borders of this record.

Pelican Narrows - Caribou

Strange Geometry5. Strange Geometry, The Clientele (US, UK)

Mopey, self-pitying boys haven't sounded this good since The Smiths broke up. Laser-cut, jewel-hued guitar lines don't hurt either. Nor does clinging to, and honing, the simplest verse-chorus-verse song structures. Even though it walks a very fine line between pop and twee--Alasdair MacLean's slight lisp and the song cycle's theme of lost love bait skepticism, if not ridicule--The Clientele acquit themselves very nicely indeed. A lovely record all around and one I imagine I'll play a long time, in good times and in bad.

My Own Face Inside The Trees - The Clientele

Wilderness4. Wilderness, Wilderness (US)

A couple years ago, Spoon's Britt Daniel made the most unintentionally profound statement about rock n' roll I know: "You gotta feel it." You feel Wilderness, physically feel Wilderness. This is an album to scramble your guts, cause life-threatening heart palpitations, trigger grand mal seizures. Singer James Johnson's deranged speak-holler vocals are straight from hell via the locked ward of the asylum. Lead guitar lines wander about listening to voices, the bass booms and lurches threateningly, drums are unpredictable, sometimes precise and well-behaved, then they suddenly descend into dark tribal regions. Clearly, the patients are in charge here. So let's dance the dance of maniacs. Turn the music up, turn it way up.

It's All The Same - Wilderness

Twin Cinema3. Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers (US, UK)

Normally, I'm a first album kind of girl. I like bands best when they're young and starving and desperate. But I can't think of the first two New Pornos records as anything other than stellar collections of songs. Twin Cinema, on the other hand . . . now here's an album! In which Carl writes his best tunes yet, in which Dan matches Carl chord for chord, in which Neko sings the slow songs and expresses emotion instead of simply emoting. In which, rumors to the contrary, they all come together and sound like one big happy family.

Star Bodies - The New Pornographers

We're Already There2. We're Already There, Mazarin (US, UK)

Mazarin wrote We're Already There for me. No really, they did! Quentin Stoltzfus called me up and said, "Amy, we want to make a rock album with all the sounds you really love. Tell us, what do you want to hear?" This kind of offer doesn't come along very often, so I had to think about it for a bit. "Well," I said "I guess, you could start by being influenced by my favorite bands--you know, the Beatles, obviously, the Beach Boys, I like a lot of the Kinks, the Stone Roses, of course, Ride, the E6 Holy Trinity of Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control. . . and Pavement--I guess I'd have to say Pavement's my favorite band of all time. But try not to sound too derivative. Sound like you're making a 2005 record. And you could do worse than writing in major keys and using a lot of rhythm guitar and fucking things up a bit with a little My Bloody Valentine chainsaw buzz. Oh, and a good beat--but not, you know, too dancy." There was a pause on the line and Quentin finally said, "Yeah, I think we can do that, except for one thing. You won't hear any Pavement." "That's alright," I said, "No one does Pavement well these days. Not even Steve Malkmus."

I'm With You and Constellations - Mazarin

The National/Alligator1. Alligator, The National (US, UK)

Forget about this year's most critically-hyped album ostensibly about the Midwest (Indiana? Iowa?), this is the real thing--even if these former Cincinnati residents picked up and moved to Brooklyn. Someone, somewhere called it "Northern Gothic," and I think that's an apt description of its lyrical ingredients--suburban paranoia, big-city addiction, boredom, regret and the best way to gracefully disappear in a room. In "Abel" Matt Berninger yells "My mind's not right" repeatedly, consciously or unconsciously echoing "Skunk Hour," Robert Lowell's great American poem about a dark night of the soul: My mind's not right/ I hear my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell/as if my hand were at its throat. This isn't (just) a gratuitous literary reference. The Lowell poem ends well, with a family of skunks, some trash cans and an averted suicide. And The National's lyrics prove something of a red herring. As Troy rightfully pointed out yesterday, their music is optimistic, with its chiming guitars and one of the most energizing, propulsive rhythm sections around. Sad, but surviving. Mournful, but moving on.

Secret Meeting - The National

Other good listening:

LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
The World and Everything in It - The Oranges Band
Wilderness - Archer Prewitt
Lookaftering - Vashti Bunyan
Set Yourself on Fire - Stars
The Mysterious Production of Eggs - Andrew Bird
Oh You're So Silent Jens - Jens Lekman
Such Triumph - The Narrator
Veneer - Jose Gonzalez
Volcano and Heart - The Coral Sea
Apologies To The Queen Mary - Wolf Parade

Next up: Favorite songs, biggest disappointments.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Troy's favorite fifteen albums of '05

In a year that showcased new recordings from musical juggernauts like Nickelback, Ashlee Simpson and Scott "Hey-Remember-Me-From-Creed?" Stapp, I had a hard time choosing my favorite records. I just couldn't narrow it down to only 10. And since I was a B-Team All-Star in all things sports in my high school career, I'll begin with my 5 Honorable Mentions before giving the records I liked most this year. (Sorry Mr. Stapp that you didn't make it "Higher" on my list...)

The 2005 Album B-Team

Feist --
Let It Die

LCD Soundsystem --
LCD Soundsystem

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah --
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Brendan Benson --
The Alternative To Love

British Sea Power --
Open Season

Top Ten

Wilderness10. Archer Prewitt --

This is a richly textured record attempting to change the adjectives associated with "folk." It works--it's off-kilter at times, exploring unique chord structures and instrument combinations, but the songs are never lost. It's an emotional album that I've played all year long since it came out in January.

Judy, Judy (mp3) - Archer Prewitt

Ferocious Mopes9. Say Hi To Your Mom --
Ferocious Mopes

A boy named Eric records these songs from his bedroom in Brooklyn. No one is writing songs about robots and ghosts and space travel like SHTYM. The lyrics are geeky and the sounds are quirky and the melodies are crazy catchy. I don't know quite anything else like this.

Recurring Motifs In Historical Flirtings (mp3) - Say Hi To Your Mom

Fisherman's Woman8. Emiliana Torrini --
Fisherman's Woman

My favorite Icelandic recording of the year! Instead of the trip-hop direction of her last record, Torrini gives some of the prettiest singing and most organic sounds I've heard in a long time. Romantic and yet dark lyrics don't end up coming across as a downer here--the songs are pleasing and smart and refreshingly uncomplicated.

Nothing Brings Me Down (mp3) - Emiliana Torrini

Let There Be Morning7. The Perishers --
Let There Be Morning

This is the most beautiful rock record of 2005. This Scandanavian band has lush arrangements, purposeful tempos, earnest vocals, intentional instrumentation and the most somber songs. This is the perfect tea-and-a-fire-Saturday-afternoon-not-planning-to-leave-all-day recording.

Weekends (mp3) - The Perishers

Warmer Corners6. The Lucksmiths --
Warmer Corners

Album #7 for these Aussies. It's their best yet. They've added a fourth member and some strings, horns and organ alongside the effortless bass-playing and jangly electric guitars. The lyrics are as smart as ever and the singing as smile-inducing.

The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco (mp3) - The Lucksmiths

The National/Alligator5. The National --

It's emotional and dark and beautiful and mournful and appropriately optimistic. Vocals remind me of those great 80s moody crooners. The songs are diverse and yet not schizophrenic. My favorite song of the year is on this record. Probably the album that most ambushed me in '05.

Mr. November (mp3) - The National

In Case We Die4. Architecture In Helsinki --
In Case We Die

If sounds were like candy, this record would give me multiple cavities. Not since the Polyphonic Spree has a record captivated my ears like this one. Virtually every sound imaginable makes an appearance here--and somehow it all works. It's catchy and fun and insane and brave. Creative off the charts!

Maybe You Can Owe Me (mp3) - Architecture In Helsinki

Nashville3. Josh Rouse --

This record is the one most likely to be in my father's vinyl collection. It's not blazing any musical trails to be sure--it's simply fantastic AM soft rock, bringing me back to childhood. Rouse's voice and soothing guitar-playing continue here alongside his playful songwriting.

It's The Nighttime (mp3) - Josh Rouse

Lamentate 2. Arvo Pärt --

Maybe the most celebrated composer alive, Pärt's music is mesmerizing. A work for large orchestra and piano, this recording is the most calming and centering I've ever heard. As usual, his tempos are painfully slow, the instruments sustained and breathless. There are hushed lows and tingling fortes. For people who claim "classical is boring," I'd fist fight you over this record.

Pregando (mp3) - Arvo Part

Leaders of the Free World1. Elbow --
Leaders of the Free World

This is my favorite British band. Unlike the safe songs of Coldplay, there are sounds on this record that, as a musician, I simply cannot figure out how they were created. Guy Harvey's voice remains whispered and yet somehow confident and present. The songs are subtly layered and stirringly epic at times. The first six songs are the strongest off a record in a long time. There is an edge and balanced cynicism present alongside beauty and longing. Easily my favorite record of the year--maybe the last two years!

Forget Myself (mp3) - Elbow

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Next week + Richard Swift

We're working diligently on our 2005 best-ofs. Troy posts his favorite albums tomorrow, I post albums on Tuesday, songs on Wednesday, Jon may or may not do something.

In the meantime . . . Richard Swift. A relatively new artist, Secretly Canadian released his Richard Swift Collection, Vol. 1 (a compilation of two self-released albums) several months ago. But Swift sounds like he's been around for years--80 years. He was there: seducing flappers in jazz clubs with bathtub gin cocktails in 1927, organizing Hollywood cabaret shows for the war effort in 1943, smoking pot with Harry Nilsson and Jackson Browne in Topanga canyon in 1974. A man out of time.

"The Novelist" is highly recommended.

The Novelist - Richard Swift

Lovely Night - Richard Swift

As I Go - Richard Swift

Friday, December 16, 2005

California dreamin'

Nightmares - Silver Sunshine

"Nightmares" may be a perfect pop song. It's under three minutes (essential), boasts a fine verse, a killer chorus, engaging vocals and beautifully fleshed-out arrangements. Can you say harpsichord solo? Also, acoustic guitar and organ. Oh, and it may or may not involve a ghost.

I ran a quick Google and it seems San Diego-based Silver Sunshine gets compared to the Beatles an awful lot. Poor kids. What band with a strong melodic sense doesn't? I'd say Teenage Fanclub comes a lot closer. And while they're clearly in thrall to the music of the late 60s--many of Silver Sunshine's songs are by-the-history-book psychedelic fuzz n' drone-outs--I hear a whole lot of 60s California here. How about Love for starters? Maybe even The Byrds. Iron Butterfly was from San Diego. And as unhip as it is to bring up, there was that little SoCal organ-driven psych-rock act known as The Doors. Or you might want to compare the band to its neighbor 120 miles to the North, Summer At Shatter Creek, whose dreamy, haunted "Your Ever Changing Moods" came to mind the first time I heard "Nightmares."

She's The Reason - Silver Sunshine

Andmoreagain - Love

Your Ever Changing Moods - Summer At Shatter Creek

Silver Sunshine - Silver Sunshine (US, UK)
A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit - Silver Sunshine (US, UK)
Forever Changes - Love (US, UK)
All The Answers - Summer At Shatter Creek (US, UK)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pink frost

Credit: Dwyman

Want to stop the crying,
Want to stop the crying,
She's lying there dying,
How can I live when you see what I've done?

Pink Frost - The Chills

Why "Pink Frost?" Why now? Some easy answers: Reviewing 2005 releases so I can compile a best-of list makes me weary of the new. I'm seeking old comforts. The aural equivalent of my dad's worn, frayed Naval Academy sweatshirt and the broken-in flannel pajama bottoms I put on when I want to be comfortable (totally sexy, I know). Then there's the half foot of snow on the ground. And the fact that temps have risen above freezing only twice since the end of November here on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan (and then only for a couple of hours).

"Pink Frost" is an old, familiar friend then. And a troubled one. Would you know it was about an accidental murder, manslaughter, if you didn't listen to the lyrics? I think so. Celebrated for it's otherworldly sound, the guitars don't so much chime as toll. The singing is detached, cool, even mocking with those asides (bye bye bye). The rhythm section--which I've long been convinced is that elusive key to the Dunedin sound--surges forward, chugging just out of reach. It's that split second after you've done something unforgivable and your mind is still reeling with the ramifications, yet events carry on at breathtaking speed. Foiling what could have been untenably oppressive is the drums--light tap and brush work that gives the song its airy spaciousness.

Rumor has it (or maybe it's fact) that Martin Phillips wrote the song after dreaming he had killed his girlfriend. Then there's this: Chills' drummer Martyn Bull died of leukemia in 1983 at age 22, not long after the recording of the song. When it was released in 1984, the band dedicated it to his memory.

So here's the important question: Is "Pink Frost" more about the pink or the frost? The awful mistakes we make (and hopefully no one here has made one as devastating as killing someone) or the living with our mistakes. The terrible ways we hurt other people or the methods we employ to numb our own hearts.

From Kaleidoscope World (US, UK)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Giddy and experimental

The Tailors

The Tailors is an Americana band that happens to hail from one of Britain's large industrial centers (Leeds/Wakefield area). But you'd swear they're from rural Kentucky or something. The title of the band's song "Giddy & Maudlin" might as well be a statement of purpose--a little good-humored romp, a little melancholy drunk, a little country, a little rock n' roll. What the band has a lot of is debt to Jeff Tweedy, who, more than anyone recently, has made it alright for indie rock musicians to unabashedly embrace roots. I'm no Wilco fan (so shoot me), but I'm happy to come across musicians who, in their obvious admiration for Tweedy, end up making songs this pretty.

Giddy & Maudlin - The Tailors

Your Voice - The Tailors

Diamonds - The Tailors

All We Talk About - The Tailors

Visit The Tailors' Web site or MySpace page.

Hookers Green No. 1 also admits an affinity for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (is that album becoming the touchstone of a generation?), but that's where this transition ends. The Aberdeen, Scotland band has a fondness for Brian Wilson, Duke Ellington and Debussy, too. Sound unbearably pretentious? Not at all. If anything, this jazz/ rock/ electronica fusion is playful and laid back. And while I find a lot of experimental music rather cold and contrived, the band's album On How the Illustrious Captain Moon Won the War For Us, is actually a warm and organic-sounding record in which brass, woodwinds, bells, ghostly piano, voice samples and distorted vocals unfold in a sort of dream narrative.

Love Ballad For the Cold Robot - Hookers Green No. 1

There Is An Equilibrium - Hookers Green No. 1

The band is currently recording their next LP. Visit their Web site and MySpace page.

Hooker's Green No. 1

Monday, December 12, 2005

No Hits 12.12.05

Long Way Around the Sea - Low

I can't think of too many rock bands from whom I tolerate an original Christmas song, let alone like it. But Low has always been in a category of its own. I guess it's the undeniable chemistry between husband/wife vocalists Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker or their simple, but never simplistic, arrangements. In "Long Way Around the Sea," from Low's 1999 EP Christmas (US, UK), they play to their strengths with skeletal acoustic guitar and organ, perfectly dovetailing harmonies and a glacial pace that makes you walk that long, uncertain journey--step by ponderous step. This is Low at their heart-stopping best.

And you might remember "Little Drummer Boy" from its starring role in a Gap commercial a couple years ago. (Okay, snark aside, it's a beautiful version):

Little Drummer Boy - Low

Though Sub Pop released Low's most recent record The Great Destroyer (US, UK), the band runs their own label, Chairkicker's Union. As you might expect, these folks have great taste. One of the best surprises on the roster is a roots rock outfit called The Winter Blanket (apropos for many Northern climes right now, no?). The band describes their sound as "Townes Van Zandt and Gillian Welch playing with Crazy Horse." Fair enough. But I also think they owe some debt to Low. And they contributed a fascinating cover of Low's "Drag" to tribute album We Could Live in Hope (US, UK). But for the title and lyrics, you'd never know it was the same song:

Drag - The Winter Blanket

Drag - Low

Why I Act This Way - The Winter Blanket

Darkness Failed You - The Winter Blanket

The Winter Blanket's last album is Prescription Perils (available on iTunes and by mail order at Fractured Discs). They expect to release a new LP in the spring. Also, the band has posted their version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" on their MySpace page.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The dream is over?

I don't remember the day. I don't have a romantic story about where I was when I heard the news and about how I held a vigil for the next 48 hours. I was 6. My knowledge of the world, outside of the newest GI Joe figures or the upcoming A Team episode, was pretty limited.

I remember in high school when I "found out." My sophomore English teacher knew I was increasingly obsessed with Beatles' records (I learned to play guitar by listening over and over to The White Album and mostly John's more simplistic songs: "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," "Revolution," and "I'm So Tired.") and he mentioned in passing, assuming I would know, that it was "10 years ago today." That day he lent me a copy of
The Playboy Interviews. Since then, I've done some sort of "remembrance" each December 8th, mostly by committing to listening to Mr. Lennon all day long.

This year was no exception.

These are my three favorite Lennon songs and two of my favorite covers.

"And so dear friends/You just have to carry on/The dream is over."


Mother John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Julia The Beatles (The White Album)

Across The UniverseRufus Wainwright from I Am Sam soundtrack

LoveRosie Thomas from Hear Music: Sweetheart Love Songs

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday morning dance mix

Oh, dance if you must. I'll be slumped in front of my computer, sucking down my third cup of coffee, pondering the profound inequity of this thing called morning.

Slow Hands (Britt Daniel remix) - Interpol

Tell No One About Tonight - Le Sport

Tread Water - De La Soul

10$ - M.I.A.

Mute - Dotdash

(We Don't Need This Fascist) Groove Thang - Heaven 17

The Late Great Cassiopia - The Essex Green

The Staunton Lick - Lemon Jelly

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Kid with the replaceable head

Richard Hell

There is a war on today which goes far beyond rest-of-society vs. punks; it's the war for the preservation of the heart against all those forces which conspire to murder it, which you know about because you pinned some of them in "Liars Beware." But you are not waging that war. You can call me self-righteous for saying that, and condescending for what I will finish this off with, but I don't care because it is out of nothing but love that I tell you that, in spite of being one of the greatest rock n' rollers I have ever heard, you are full of shit. So if you do choose to go down, I promise to dig up that crypt and kick your ass.

-Lester Bangs, 1978, "Richard Hell: Death Means Never Having to Say You're Incomplete"

I thought I knew everything. That was pretty comfortable. There is something attractive about that. By the same token, it is kind of one-dimensional! It's interesting to get middle aged. There's more advantages than disadvantages. The disadvantages are pretty minor. Every period or stage has its own pros and cons about it. You know what's the annoying thing? You're always a little bit behind figuring out where you are. It's like you never catch up to where you are. You're actually trying to figure out where you are now. You're never quite there but you're someplace else by the time you figure it out.

-Richard Hell, 1997, Perfect Sound Forever

Liars Beware - Richard Hell & The Voidoids

The Kid with the Replaceable Head - Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Blank Generation (live) - Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Blank Generation, Richard Hell & The Voidoids (US, UK)
Spurts: The Richard Hell Story (US, UK)
Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Lester Bangs (US, UK)
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain (US, UK)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Veni, vidi


One of the things (and when I'm in a particularly bitter mood, I'd say one of the few things) that makes mp3 blogging gratifying is coming across something that's almost totally unknown and completely wonderful.

Saw is Sam and Annak, a French duo (recently relocated to Sweden) that has self-released several albums' worth of masterful folk-pop. Their 2005 album The Yellow Light is of such uniform high quality that I struggle to comprehend why they're not as well known as say, Iron and Wine or Espers--both acts Saw stylistically resembles. Is it because they're French? They do, thankfully for me and my moldering French, sing in English. And they sound heavily influenced by the sort of new-folk thing that's going on in the U.S., Britain and, if Jose Gonzalez (who I am absolutely loving) is any indication, Sweden, right now. But there is the slightest, je ne sais quoi . . . whimsy, perhaps, that inflects these tunes. And, in the kind of statement that will never fail to warm my coal black heart, their bio says they met and formed a band "around their love for great melodies." Which is something I often find missing in the critically lauded artists of this genre.

Saw takes an enlightened view of downloading: They offer The Yellow Light and their 2004 EP The Long Wait for free on their Web site, asking only that if you like, you seek the recordings out and buy. (However, I tried the four links to US, French, British and Swedish distributors and only the British and Swedish gave you the option of buying anything.)

Can't recommend this highly enough. Listen, spread the word and help these nice, talented people get the recognition they deserve.

Controlling My Fear - Saw

Leaving Traces - Saw

Worries - Saw

Hiding In Corners - Saw

Through The Fire - Saw

Monday, December 05, 2005

No Hits 12.5.05

Pageantry - Fan Modine

I'll never understand why some bands find an audience and very similar music made by equally talented artists struggles for the smallest amount of attention. Take Fan Modine. Though the beautiful album Homeland (US, UK) traffics as expertly in theatrical orch-pop as Magnetic Fields and Jens Lekman and displays the same wit and wistfulness of Belle & Sebastian and The Lucksmiths, it got trampled in the dust by all the kids rushing to grab whatever it is they bought in 2004--The Arcade Fire or Fiery Furnaces or something. "Pageantry" is an extremely charming number in which a skipping drum machine beat corrals lush strings and horns and the slightly world weary vocals of Gordon Zacharias. It could be an outtake from 69 Love Songs (US, UK), except the singing's better and Zacharias (Fan Modine's mostly a one-man vision) tackles his material with greater sincerity, less ambivalence.

Though he's been something of a wanderer over the past decade, Zacharias recently settled in Carrboro, North Carolina, where he's assembled a band that includes Ash Bowie (Polvo). They're working on a third Fan Modine album.

Waiting In the Wings - Fan Modine

Epitaph For My Heart - Magnetic Fields

Julie - Jens Lekman

Sunlight In a Jar - The Lucksmiths

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Busy but here

A lot of things I should have gotten to before now, but haven't had the time. What with best-of-2005 list pondering (to be posted something in the third week of December), cookie baking and Christmas shopping . . . Which reminds me, if you're dying to buy me a gift, I'll gladly accept an iPod pirate costume or set of great psychologist finger puppets.

First up, Celestial, a Swedish (Gothenburg I think, but don't quote me) pop band that sure sounds English. It could be their professed devotion to The Smiths and Ride or the sweet jangly guitars, diffident, mumbling vocals or rustle of tambourine. "Dream On" is an instantly likeable tune and Celestial's MySpace page has several more engaging numbers available for download.

Dream On - Celestial

Lake Como - Celestial

B Side

Even though B Side's main (or only) player, Chris Clark, is 24, it's billed as "one of the longest running bands in Western Massachusetts history." Possible? Yes, if you've been making bedroom tapes since you were 12. Clark claims an affinity to early 90s guitar heroes Nirvana and The Pixies, but I'm addicted to this simple, low-fi acoustic stomp, "Memory." It's from B Side's Love Rehab CD, which is being offered free at

Memory - B Side

Hula may cleave a little too close to the boy-girl harmonies and catatonic pace of Low, but as these songs illustrate, the band is capable of making pleasingly pretty, well-structured and polished tunes. Grab several more tracks and buy the band's debut CD on their Web site. (Thanks for the tip, Mike!)

Over The Ground - Hula

Taking Pictures - Hula

And just cuz you can always use a couple of speaker shredders . . . Bellini is made up of members of former Italian punk band Uzeda and drummer Alexis Fleisig of Boys Against Girls. So yeah--loud, abrasive, strangely cathartic.

The Buffalo Song - Bellini

Conflict Between Fire and Wet Wood - Bellini

Bellini's latest LP is Small Stones.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Reindeer games

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

It's been kind of a miserable week, so imagine my joy when I came home last night to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV! I've seen it what, 15, 20 times in my life, but am still mystified by a few things. Like why is Mrs. Claus a Jewish mother (Santa, EAT, EAT!) and how did the gay dentist elf ever make it past the network honchos in 1964? And is Yukon Cornelius really necessary? Oh well. Suspend disbelief. Relive your childhood.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Burl Ives

Silver and Gold - Burl Ives

The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year - Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Chorus

And don't think I'd forget Frosty . . .

Frosty The Snowman - Jimmy Durante