Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Thin men panicking about the atom bomb

You know how hard it is to come up with titles for these things?

My City - The Thin Man
The Thin Man is here to ruin your country club wedding. Instead of playing "YMCA" and "Louie Louie," Chicago-based ex-pat Brit Kennedy Greenrod and his scrappy band of socialist muckrakers (members of Smog and We Raggazi) rock the pavilion with the bourgeoisie's dirty little secrets. Oh, you know, the undocumented nanny and well-below-minimum-wage yard man. But hey, with those merry horns and jaunty beat it all goes down way easier than salmonella tainted salmon puff canapes. And you were thinking of expanding your musical horizons beyond Death Cab, anyway, right?

Kid You're a Dreamer - The Panics
Listening to The Panics makes me think The Dandy Warhols are way more influential in Australia than in their own country. Which isn't criticism. Psychedelic pop, I daresay, will almost never fall on deaf ears around here. I've got one leg over the fence on singer Joe Laffer's voice and the production's a bit over the top (well, naturally). But the rest of it--a memorable melody banged out on the piano, confident acoustic strum and electric guitar bursts and an absolutely killer trebly keyboard riff--work beautifully. I'd like to say The Panics will one day break America, but I doubt it. I mean, Courtney Taylor had to make an ass of himself on film for even the smallest domestic attention.

Velocipedes - You & The Atom Bomb
Before I looked it up, I assumed velocipedes were some sort of prehistoric bird. Proving once and for all that year I spent taking Latin was a complete waste, velocipede refers to "any of several early bicycles with pedals on the front wheels" (speed + foot, duh). I'm not sure it's an actual, documented rule that when a song mentions bicycles, it must be an indie pop song--preferably a precious one. But that's not quite true of this track. You & The Atom Bomb subvert expectations with ragged, angular guitar sounds and brainy lyrics about, oh, you know, Cartesian centaurs and such. It's an exhilarating ride.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Train songs update

A Meeting At Dusk - David A. Oram (Custom)
Artist: David A. Oram

Oh, wow. I owe an enormous thank you to all the nice people who sent train songs my way since I put out the appeal earlier this week. I have 80 tracks at this point. My dad's going to be thrilled (and a little overwhelmed). If you're curious to see what I've collected, here's the list. And if you're one of the people who contributed songs, feel free to email me for a track or two.

They're all fantastic, but these are a couple favorites from my collection and reader's contributions:

I Hate That Train They Call the M&O - Lucille Bogan

Devils Train - Crooked Fingers

Yonder Comes a Freight Train - Laura Cantrell

Train Ride in G - Mason Williams

Truck Train Tractor - The Pastels

Waiting On a Train - Steve Forbert

Betting On Trains - Hem

This Train - The Staple Singers

Train to Rainbow City - The Pyramids

I was so intrigued by that Pyramids song, I did a little digging on the band. Didn't find a lot, except that they were a British ska act of the late 60s that once played back-up to Prince Buster. Eddy Grant produced " Train to Rainbow City," which was apparently The Pyramids' only (UK) charting song. There's a little more information at this blog.

Also check out the train songs currently hosted by other mp3 blogs (but hustle--not sure how long they'll be up):

The Caboose of Train Songs - Dave Lang's Big Mountain Indian Plain at Songs: Illinois
Seat On This Train - Tom Freund at Puddlegum
The Train Song - Elsie & Gene Jaggers at The Record Robot
The Train Singer's Song - The Band of Blacky Ranchette at Big Rock Candy Mountain
Two from Norman Blake at Old Blue Bus

Saturday, January 28, 2006

You don't own me

Lesley Gore

You Don't Own Me - Lesley Gore

Then He Kissed Me - The Crystals

There's some talk among women I know (and also, obviously, among social theorists, feminist scholars and journalists of a left-leaning persuasion) about the kinds of choices American women today have. Earlier this week, a friend emailed me this piece from The American Prospect. The author Linda Hirshman asserts--girded by convincing stats--that too few American women are succeeding at the highest levels of business and government. That the best educated are instead "choosing" to raise children and pursue less rigorous, less lucrative career paths. So the real failure of feminism, she says, isn't in the workplace, but in domestic life, where the fundamental inequality of marriage means women settle for changing diapers when they could be issuing federal appeals court rulings.

My friend's reaction to this article almost exactly matches my initial take and is powerfully expressed--so I'm going to quote her.

I take issue with the presupposition that all people clearly want to achieve those positions as a marker of success.. . .There is something missing in a definition of "women's flourishing" if it only looks at seats in the board room or congress. The fact is, both men and women have their own definitions of personal success and I think those should be respected. So her dismissal of "choice" is unfair...And I personally think a bigger part of the challenge-solution equation is not only redefining gender roles for women, but gender roles for men. Would men like to take time off from work or put themselves on a slower career track to raise a family? Perhaps. But it is not socially acceptable.

Her retort, I think, marks a significant generational divide. Welcome to third (fourth? fifth?) generation feminism.

If the issues--agency, autonomy and the awkward power dance between men and women--were fundamentally the same when Lesley Gore sang a startling proto-feminist statement, they were also less complicated:

Just let me be myself
That's all I ask of you

I love to be free to live my life the way I want
to say and do whatever I please

Like most popular female singers of that era, Gore's work was orchestrated by male producers (in this case, Quincy Jones) and she sang words written by others (John Madara and Dave White Tricker). So maybe that undermines the message. But even today the lyrics of "You Don't Own Me," drawled by such a nice girl seem rather bold, even a bit strident. It's amazing, therefore, that the song went to #2 in 1964.

If my peers have benefited from the blunt message of first-wave feminism, it doesn't stop them from being seduced, if only temporarily, by that older romantic fantasy. I've been in groups of highly accomplished young women who cheered and cooed when "Then He Kissed Me" came on an oldies radio station. I count it one of my favorite songs and yes, prefer it to "You Don't Own Me." Sure, there's incalculable magic in a Phil Spector production. But we're talking more than sonic fairy dust; it's also this:

One day he took me home
to meet his mom and his dad
Then he asked me to be his bride
and always be right by his side
I felt so happy I almost cried,
and then he kissed me.

What resonates? Is it just that every girl loves a love story? Or is it the pretty simplicity, the absolutes, rightnesses and wrongnesses, certainties and forevers offered by such a denouement?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This female is better than Mann


Barry: I wanna date a musician.
Rob: I wanna live with a musician. She'd write songs at home and ask me what I thought of them, and maybe even include one of our little private jokes in the liner notes.
Barry: Maybe a little picture of me in the liner notes.
Dick: Just in the background somewhere.
-High Fidelity

I'll admit that I'm a sucker for female singer/songwriters. Maybe not as obsessed as those music snobs in Nick Hornby's story, but I like them all the same. Or maybe it's the idea of the female singer/songwriter. Truth be told I rarely like the whole singer/songwriter genre, male or female--it typically seems uninspired and recycled.

A few months ago a friend introduced me to
Petracovich. The musical expression of Jessica Peters from San Francisco, Petracovich is about as close to my female singer/songwriter fantasy as I've heard. Her silky and dreamy vocals are hypnotic and enrapturing. I rarely agree with Pitchfork, but they called her a "subdued songbird." The instrumention is foundationally organic--lots of piano and strummed acoustic--augmented by gorgeous keyboards and muffled beats and textures. The songs are fragile and airy, but not wimpy by any means. She's been compared to Aimee Mann, which I can understand, but don't connect with. Yes, there are Jon Brion-like production decisions, but the music itself--the chord structures and progressions--is much more sophisticated than Mann's four-chord habits.

She's virtually perfect--though the lyrics themselves are often a bit shallow, seeming to be an excuse for her vocals rather than an avenue for communicating. All the same, Petrocovich's low-fi recordings are incredibly pleasing. The first record, Blue Cotton Skin, was beautiful and impressive. But the newer record, We Are Wyoming, has been a consistent iPod choice for months now. (You can steam both records on her website.)

If you're on the left coast, check out Peters whenever you can. The live experience, revolving around her dual-keyboards and laptop, is truly breathtaking.

Driving Home - Petracovich

Nighttime - Petracovich

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cat scratch fever

Just for fun, go to Hype Machine and type "Cat Power" into the search box. Okay, now try "Arctic Monkeys." Now "Test Icicles" You see where I'm going with this?

Shake Your Fist didn't start out as an mp3 blog. Originally, it was a bunch of old friends who wanted to write about film, books, music, television, technology, politics, etc. That lasted about a day. Because I was the one with the time and tendency to adopt hobbies that assume gargantuan proportions and take over my life, and because I felt like writing about music, it became an mp3 blog. Jon gamely stuck around (bless his heart), Joe's still on board as artistic director/tech troubleshooter, and we were fortunate to pick up Troy along the way. But as many things that grow organically, SYF has never adopted a theme or mission. I'm not saying I can articulate one now. But I can tell you what this blog is not. It's not a hype machine or a P.R. mouthpiece. We talk about music we genuinely like, and most of that music is either newer stuff that's so under the radar, it's barely left the ground (and, needless to say, doesn't have major marketing muscle behind it) or older music that probably once got some notice, but could hardly be considered trendy now.

I have nothing against Cat Power. Whenever I hear "Maybe Not," I'm incredibly moved, when I listen to "Nude As the News," I'm frightened...in a good way. But it's safe to assume we won't be posting any tracks from the new Cat Power album. Nor from Arctic Monkeys, Test Icicles or, good God, Morningwood. That's not to say we shun everything that's popular or ignore what's sent us. I listen to it all. Most of it just doesn't interest me and I have nothing to gain by pretending it does (nor do you).

Polysics (Custom)However (you knew a "but" was coming), one of the few recent "represented" bands I do admire are these spazzy Japanese kids who call themselves Polysics. With their matching retro-futurist factory uniforms and pogo-punk hyperactive rock, they're fixin to spearhead a major Devo revival. Their new album, Now Is The Time! will be released in March and you should check them out.

Mr. Psycho Psycho - Polysics

Speaking of Devo, WFMU's Beware of the Blog, has some fun Devo-related news today. And totally unrelated: I think I've found the bitterest, most bile-soaked breakup song that ever arrived swathed in gossamer and lace (from Manchester, England's Anna Kashfi).

Ash Ballad - Anna Kashfi

In case you didn't catch all the words, they go:

On the bed we lay last night, let's fuck it til it dies,
Let's watch it turning blue,
Let's watch it turning blue.

They're talking about killing their love. But still. Anna Kashfi cover an original by folk musician Matt Hill, which I haven't heard. But could it possibly be more chilling? The band has a couple more excellent downloads on their Web site.

Anna Kashfi

I don't know what's going on over at Stylus. First an ELO tribute, now, the definitive ABBA. ABBA is the first band I really got into. In fact, I think Arrival (US, UK) was the first record I ever bought. And I recall a slumber party where I forced my poor friends to watch an ABBA concert my parents had taped. (The other girls wanted to watch Grease again, go figure.) So we're talking mad, deep, unironic love.

When I Kissed The Teacher - ABBA

Finally, I need your help. My father is collecting train songs--songs about trains, songs that prominently feature trains or train sounds--for a train song playlist. It's not just for personal enjoyment, he volunteers at a children's group home where he and some other train buffs are building a model railroad with the kids. He also regularly visits a recent stroke victim living in a V.A. hospital who loves trains. So he's planning to put some mix CDs together. If you have something to contribute (my dad especially likes old-timey folk, but rock, blues, country, whatever is welcome), please email in mp3 format to shakeyourfist@gmail.com. Thanks!

Lehigh Valley train

Monday, January 23, 2006

No Hits 1.23.06

Little Wonder - Augie March

If Augie March's 2002 album Strange Bird (US, UK) had been released by a North American or British band, it would have been hailed an underground rock masterpiece on the order of OK Computer, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea or Funeral. Critics would have melted in puddles of praise, hipsters would have adopted "strange bird" as their tribal password, record company scouts would have suffered bad opening acts in the hope of spotting "the next Augie March." As it is, the band is virtually unknown outside its native Australia (I had to get the tip from an actual Australian--thanks, Josh!). And while some critics took notice in 2004 when SpinART released the record stateside, this phantasmagorical rock symphony ranked a measly 298 on Pazz and Jop at year-end, because most people never heard it.

I've been living with Bird for a couple weeks and feel I've only scratched the surface of a record whose references to pop, rock and even jazz and blues history come fast and hard, yet never, amazingly, overwhelm it. As I always do with new records--even with these thematically cohesive things known as "concept albums"--I've parsed it into pieces I can wrap my arms around and study affectionately until I feel I understand it at least a little. In other words, I've listened to one track over and over. "Little Wonder" is my favorite cut at the moment, but it may not be so two weeks, two months or two years down the road. Right now, though, the mournful tom, followed by lullaby soft vocals, arpeggiated guitar and gentle piano accompaniment that minutes later breaks down into a trumpet-led jazz tangent, unruly clapping beats and a swelling reprise of the chorus is...simply swoonworthy. Then there are the hyper-literate lyrics that in their love of dense language and storytelling are calculated to charm poetry and prose lovers alike (songwriter Glenn Richards clearly knows his T.S. Eliot):

O brother don't clean out your ears and you might be amazed
to find the secrets of the city in its alley ways,
In the bins behind the swill cafes,
amid the clean-picked chicken bones and cartilage
a spirit groans, a small heart beats and a red beak groans
"Oh pity, where's my little body gone?"

"Little Wonder" is just the tip of a vast, unexplored continent. Without spreading itself too thin, Bird offers something for everyone--sprawling psychedelic guitar epics, stark banjo-driven ballads, jazzy interludes, even a haunting hymn. To give you an idea of its diversity, listen to "This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers," a swaggering barnburner that marks the most energizing moment on the album.

This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers - Augie March

If my praise sounds uncharacteristically effusive and oddly unreserved (I admit, I usually hedge a bit), it's because Augie March deserves it. The only thing that confuses me is why an Australian band would name itself after Saul Bellow's "great American novel." I put that in quotes because I find Bellow to be rather dreary myself. Just this weekend I was discussing with a friend how I've never been able to get more than 100 pages into any of Bellow's books--The Adventures of Augie March (US, UK) included. And that's despite the fact that that novel inspired one of my favorites, Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes (US, UK).

Anyway. I don't know what's on your buy list right now, but put Strange Bird at the top. And if you're a fiction reader, check out the underappreciated classic A Fan's Notes.

Strange Bird - Augie March

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Saturday night sounds good to me

Sting Ray Reflections - Dana Forrester
Artist: Dana Forrester

I'm in a power pop mood. Fortunate, because it's a genre that just screams Saturday night. As hokey and over-the-top as some of these songs can sound, they're never out of place blasting from car speakers when you're cruising along with the whole night and a luxurious work-free Sunday ahead of you.

Since I'm not feeling particularly verbose, check this power pop Wiki entry. I don't buy the Everly Brothers angle, but it's otherwise pretty decent.

Go All The Way - The Raspberries

Neverland - The dB's

Underwhelmed - Sloan

Survival Car - Fountains of Wayne

Town Halo - A.C. Newman

Thursday, January 19, 2006

High and low

Someone mentioned to me the other day that he doesn't listen to much rock any more, that he'd had the ecstatic experiences offered by the beat combo and had moved on to other forms of musical experience. A little bit sad for me to hear, as he's one of the more engaged listeners I've known and he's describing the typical dinosaur (and I say that with some affection) rock critic trope.

Nick Tosches has a fine riff on how rock is essentially trash for our consumption and that calling the ephemeral experience of rock art, preserving it, elevates the music beyond what it can stand. Lester Bangs keeps butting into the same problem throughout his later work (am I pushing too hard to say that this is the subtext of the great
Peter Laughner?) and Richard Meltzer's collection is titled A Whore Just Like The Rest so we've got a pretty good idea where he's coming from.

But the most eloquent discussion of this subject is a rock song itself. It's the ultimate closer, even if it's sequenced second on the record.

Club Mekon
- The Mekons

I saw a world where the dead are worshipped
This world belongs to them
Now they can keep it

Maybe I push too hard on the allegory of the "world" of the song as rock itself, but the way Sally Timms sings the above as the song closes is a pretty strong indictment of the rock death love. Definitely a strange sort of referential whiplash the song accomplishes, enhancing its power even as it obliterates itself. So much so that I find it hard to get through the rest of the album. In fact, there aren't too many songs that can withstand "Club Mekon," even among my favorites.

But High on Fire can. No shame, no irony, no pretensions toward art. Maybe this purity is the trick, or maybe living squarely in a genre, and metal in particular, adds an element of deflection. Or maybe it's because the songs are actually about death worship. That's a joke. From
Matt Pike: "My imagery comes from everyday life, even though it’s masked in some way to seem like fantasy or sci-fi." The lack of magic there seems about right to me. That and my vivid memory of him stalking the stage at the Double Door like a wounded panther after his guitar broke; I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone on stage as moved about anything, and that includes trips to the Goodman and Steppenwolf.

The Face of Oblivion - High on Fire

The Mekons Rock n' Roll
Blessed Black Wings

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I'll come running

Another Green World

I'll Come Running - Brian Eno

I resisted Brian Eno for ages. I'd heard enough of his more experimental stuff to think interesting, but not interested. I also knew him as a producer of big budget projects, which for a long time damned anyone in my cred obsessed little brain. On the other hand, there was Eno's involvement in Roxy Music, which should have been enough for me. I discovered Roxy Music pretty young, 11, 12, but latched on to that seductive crooner Bryan Ferry instead (isn't the glamorous lead man what glam was about anyway?) not what seemed to me the weird, disgruntled second fiddle. Then I missed another chance to discover Eno in the 90s when so many indie rock tastemakers I respected named albums like Another Green World (US, UK) and Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy (US, UK) iconic recordings. So if wasn't until last year that I finally picked up Green World, and, inevitably, regretted not discovering it sooner.

The album isn't without experimental ambient passages--lots of em, actually--and some, like "Golden Hours," bloom into lovely tunes. But the record also boasts several straight-up glorious pop numbers. A lot of people prefer "St. Elmo's Fire," but for me, "I'll Come Running" is the best track for its charm and simplicity. Leaving the music alone for a minute to concentrate on the lyrical content, can you think of a more loving and profound expression than I'll come running to tie your shoes? Any greater mundane gesture? Imagine a child coming in from the rain, nose red and running, sodden shoes untied, a mother rushing from the stove where a pot of soup simmers to bend down and tie his/her laces.

Of course, the song is literally about someone patiently waiting in a quiet corner for a lover to return from a long journey--a poetic premise economically realized with two verses, a couple choruses and Robert Fripp's expert guitar interlude. There are also several welcome surprises, like an easy cabaret piano and castanet guitars. Who knows what a castanet guitar is? But it makes the sweet, fluttering Mediterranean sound that gives I'll Come Running its breezy warmth. My favorite detail, though, is in that final extended chorus--the whoa, whoa, whoa, whoas. It's a classic pop strategy that never wears out its welcome.

Monday, January 16, 2006

No Hits 1.16.06

Days Fall Away - Tompaulin

Summer was fading before it began
Those storm clouds are growing, they know who I am
Lock all your windows, try to stay in
There's thunder and lightning all over my skin.

If Tompaulin began life as a twee pop band that drew comparisons to Belle & Sebastian, it isn't any longer. The opening track of their appropriately titled 2005 album Into The Black (US, UK) is a dark and sensuous slow burner about a dying relationship that owes more to American roots music than the C86 scene. The first part of the song is little more than Stacey McKenna's bare, hypnotic voice backed by banjo, guitar and simple percussion. Then at approximately the halfway mark, it unfurls like some deep red, autumnal flower, the banjo quickens to a gallop, the guitars explode in fuzz and feedback, McKenna opens up with intensity and emotion as she intones, On your skin, on your skin.

McKenna's voice bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, and interestingly enough, she duets with Jesus and Mary Chain's Jim Reid (as Sandoval once did) on one of the album's tracks, "Seams," a woozy, country dirge. The rest of the album is as good or better, as she trades vocal duties with guitarist Jim Holman and the band explores various shades of romantic failure and ordinary despair with textured instrumentation (just to give you an idea, The Clientele's Alasdair McLean shows up on one track playing lapsteel). Optimistic it ain't. But as far as heartbreak, bruises and things falling apart go, Into The Black is gorgeous.

Seams - Tompaulin

Sometimes Always - The Jesus and Mary Chain (with Hope Sandoval)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Do you see what I see?

The Sun

You can be confident of at least one thing during January in Michigan, or virtually any other Midwestern location: the sun will disappear for months at a time. It might peek out a couple of minutes every few weeks, but that's just to tease and torment anyone with a slightly melancholy disposition.

However, there are light lines on my living room wall right now, the residue of the sun slicing through the blinds. It's actually happened: the sun has come out!

Ain't No Sunshine -- Bill Withers
This is one of my favorite songs of all time. Learned early to play this on guitar. There is so much soul and emotion in this song. I love how clean this recording is--besides the heavy reverb on the vocals, you can hear how naked the song really is. Before the strings enter, you can hear the acoustic fret buzz and then the flat and punchy kick drum throughout the rest of the song. Incredible recording!

Your Fucking Sunny Day -- Lambchop
Lambchop creates a sound all their own. For fans of Lambchop's more down-tempo music, this might seem out of place. The music is still enchanting, even if light-hearted, and Kurt Wagner shows an ability to be clever and yet convincing at the same time. The jangly electric and lush horn arrangement is a really pleasing combination. And how can you not love this title?!

I Don't Believe In The Sun -- The Magnetic Fields
As is typical, Stephin Merritt leaves you wondering whether you should smile or frown on this track. His morose lyrics and slurred baritone delivery are convincing once you understand it's not a joke. Next to Proust, Merritt is my favorite misanthrope and one of my favorite songwriters. When the bridge wraps up with "Astronomy will have to be revised"... Well it's almost more than I can handle!

Catch The Sun -- Doves
I can't believe how much sound is produced by this British three-piece! Opening with the subdued acoustic and fuzz bass, the instrumentation perfectly fits the alternately pessimistic and uplifting lyrics. The melodic electric on the chorus is worth waiting for, helping that section feel more "epic" even though the vocal doesn't soar. It's a great charge for these all-too-infrequent winter days: "Catch the sun/Before it's gone."

"Ain't No Sunshine" from
Lean On Me-The Best of Bill Withers
"Your Fucking Sunny Day" from
"I Don't Believe In The Sun" from
69 Love Songs, Vol. 1
"Catch The Sun" from
Lost Souls

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Some jingle jangle morning

Bangles Liverpool

Several events of the last week have conspired to convince me I've been wrong, wrong, wrong about The Bangles. For too long I've dismissed Hoffs and Co. as glossy 80s three-hit wonders. For too long, I've blithely passed the evidence table, nose in the air. (To be perfectly fair, the band is responsible for some rather regrettable product: the less said about "Walk Like An Egyptian" and " Eternal Flame," the better.)

But listening to several Bangles inclusions in the recent Rhino box set Children of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976-1995 (US, UK) calls for some serious reevaluation. "Real World," dates from their Paisley Underground days (the name applied to the jangle guitar- and tambourine-worshipping scene of early-80s L.A.). It begins with a vigorous drum roll, launching into a tight, catchy-as-hell rock tune with some neat tinkley electric piano and what was to become The Bangles' trademark--Susanna Hoffs' warm alto and the band's surround-sound backing harmonies. Despite it's inclusion on a psychedelic-revival box set, "Real World" is less a 60s retread than a power pop anthem in the the best Raspberries tradition. "Getting Out Of Hand," released when the girls were known as The Bangs, isn't as good--more an amateur garage-rock effort--but still an interesting early glimpse of the band.

Real World - The Bangles

Getting Out of Hand - The Bangs

The other thing that tipped my hand, Bangles-wise, was Moistworks posting "Hazy Shade of Winter," reminding me how much I love that song and how it was probably the only bright spot in the Just Say No embarrassment that was Less Than Zero. It's a Simon and Garfunkel cover, of course, and a vast improvement over the original. (Every tepid folk-pop song could use jingle bells and zippy lead electric guitar lines, right?) Which got me to thinking about that other fabulous cover, "Going Down to Liverpool," first performed by Katrina and The Waves. It's been years since I've heard the original, but if I recall correctly, the Bangles version is better--smoothing out a lot of the edges and awkwardness and infusing what's a really solid Merseybeat tune with infectious energy.

Not all Bangles covers work, of course. Their version of "September Gurls" while pleasant enough, is mediocre. But then I always think it's a mistake to try to cover Big Star.

Going Down To Liverpool - The Bangles

September Gurls - The Bangles

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Random favorites

I've not been listening to much new these days. But the iPod has reminded me of a few songs I forgot about.

Leaving My Sorrow Behind - Ben Christophers
This song feels like an appropriate New Years resolution. The filtered vocal and dry acoustic are juxtaposed nicely against each other and finally rooted by the effected drums and very present bass. With a falsetto reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, this song helps push the "New Acoustic Movement" forward and give an appropriate edge to a fairly standard folk song.

The Art Of Driving - Black Box Recorder
I know that trip-hop isn't cool. But I can't deny how the fragile vocals of this genre get me every time. Though not squarely a trip-hop song (which might be impossible anyway with a former member of Jesus & Mary Chain in your band), there are elements here I admit sound a little dated. But I love to drive and I love the minimal instrumentation on this track. Once it gets to "who do you think you are?" I'm mesmerized.

I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire - Clem Snide
Lead singer/visionary Eef Barzelay does a fantastic version of this old Ink Spots song. It's pretty and quirky and a little haunting with the background noises. At 2:50, I usually need to listen to it twice in a row--once is just simply not long enough.

Elevation - The Open
This is my favorite song called "Elevation"--sorry Bono and the boys. The song begins pessimistically ("We're all alone in this life") but ends up being really satisfying to listen to. It's ethereal and atmospheric like Doves and even brings to mind Echo and the Bunnymen. Once it reaches the piano-led bridge, I'm swept up in the gorgeous instrumentation and evocative vocals.

Wrecking Ball - Viva Voce
I love the way Kevin and Anita's voices work together. His "baa baa" bgv's bring a playful dynamic to this song. There are layers of production here to enjoy with each listen. Anita's more "dreamy" vocals balance the distorted bass and electric textures well. I'm not sure how the bridge fits into this song, but it makes me smile each time the song hits the 3:12 mark.

Monday, January 09, 2006

No Hits 1.9.06

In This Moment's Time - The Coral Sea

The Coral Sea's record Volcano and Heart made my extended list of worthy 2005 albums (and the song "In Between The Days" my best songs list) for some pretty simple reasons. It's a cohesive collection of well-written, lovingly performed and exquisitely produced songs. And not that this factors into best-of calculations, but the album art and packaging is also pretty special.

The Coral SeaThe first time you hear Rey Villalobos' voice, you can't be certain whether you're listening to a girl or a boy. Villalobos isn't as androgynous sounding as everyone's favorite gender bender Antony, but his voice flirts with ambiguity--a high, delicate croon that in "In This Moment's Time" foils big, ringing arena rock guitars. Radiohead, Coldplay and even U2 will come to mind. Which is to say the record is moody, atmospheric, and yes, commercially viable. It's self-released, but I wouldn't expect it to remain so. Buy it now at the band's Web site or Insound.

Ancient Modern People - The Coral Sea

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Mid-90s flashback

Lounge Ax Defense and Relocation

A couple days ago I was going through some old mix tapes I'd made for the car in the mid-90s. These (rarer) tracks appeared on one I assembled, I'm estimating, somewhere in mid-to-late 1996. A good snapshot, therefore, of what I was listening to 9-10 years ago. Some names that will be familiar and a couple that have been lost to the dustbin of indie rock history.

Go - The John Huss Moderate Combo
A track that launched dozens of mix tapes/CD for friends over the years. This comes from a compilation of live performances on WHPK's long-running Pure Hype show. Sorry to say I don't know anything about these guys, but I'll hazard a guess (trust me, it's an educated guess) they were University of Chicago grad students. Check the nerdy key line: All travel's time travel anyway.

Batmobile - Liz Phair
I won't rewrite history. Liz used to speak to me. And for me. Exile in Guyville is an album that changed by life and I still consider it essential (I do so loathe "Flower," though). "Batmobile" is off the odds and sods 1995 Juvenilia EP and if you listen to the lyrics you'll know it's a song about Chicago. And not a complimentary one.

HeliumAmerican Jean - Helium
Mary Timony was the coolest woman in rock in the mid-90s. Like Liz Phair, she didn't have the best stage presence and wasn't always on pitch, but the way she tuned her guitar and her cool, ironic delivery . . . no one could doubt that, as she sings in "American Jean," I can put my own pants on. From Unnecessary Niceness, a Rough Trade compilation of American import (to the U.K.) singles.

Mark Price P.I. - Archers of Loaf
An instrumental totally unlike anything else from Archers of Loaf--who were so much better and more inventive than people seem to give them credit for these days. The band contributed this track to the Lounge Ax Defense and Relocation Fund comp. If you're a Chicago music geek, you know how the whole "defense and relocation" thing worked out.

Glowworm - The Apples in Stereo
I've posted the single version of this before (this album track appears on Fun Noise Trickmaker), but it's one of my all-time favorite tunes--top 10 for sure--and really, you can never have too much "Glowworm." I'm mildly surprised to see so many people in the mp3 blogosphere slathering over AIS these days. For a time in the early 2000s, I thought I was the only one who still carried a torch for these unrepentant popsters.

Favourite Song - Gigantaur
SpinART compatriots of Apples in Stereo, I know very little else about Gigantaur except they almost certainly weren't American. (I'm an appalling speller--spellcheck saves me on a daily basis--but even I know we Americans don't put a "u" in favorite.) Off the label's Lemon Lime Vol. 1 comp.

For The Mekons Et Al - Palace Brothers
Will Oldham's meandering tribute to The Mekons. If we drink we still think, and we wake up in the morning. Appears on the Hey Drag City compilation.

Apples in Stereo poster

Thursday, January 05, 2006

4 for Thursday

I keep intending to write new posts on old stuff--long-time personal favorites, etc. But in the last week I've tripped across a lot of good new music (new to me, anyway). It seems absurd to hold this back.

You Fall - Jason Anderson
An astonishing thing happens halfway through "You Fall": Jason Anderson (aka Wolf Colonel) reaches for a high note, kinda hits it, then decides to take a break for a while. Fixes a sandwich, enjoys a short nap, watches some T.V., then returns. It works. In fact, the whole song is so lovable in that "just hanging out at the house" kind of way, you want to wrap it in a big warm blanket and kiss it on the forehead.

Pop Song - The Mardous
Here's the secret to loving a song like this. Limit your exposure to the new breed of angular British post-punk art-rock revival bands. So, for example, consume Bloc Party only occasionally and when offered Maximo Park or whatever, say "no thank you, but I'm full from that Bloc Party track." That way, when you hear "Pop Song," you can appreciate how refreshing three chords and a bit of a dance beat sounds when it's not done to death. And you can imagine what it must've been like back when Gang of Four invented the sound.

Last Stop - The Weather Machines
Aww, how these guys packed so much hip-shakin' goodness in one song I don't know. I was listening to garage greats The Smithereens (speaking of long-time personal favorites) a couple nights ago, so The Weather Machines make me think of them a little, but also The dBs and even Fleetwood Mac. As far as I'm concerned, it's a sound that never goes out of style.

Bed of Nails - Private Eleanor
For those not ashamed to admit a weakness for Crowded House, Private Eleanor is your new favorite band. Singer/leadman Austin Stahl isn't quite Neil Finn (not yet anyway), but Stahl's sweet, hushed voice and gift for melodies that just fall into place call Finn to mind. Not to mention the keyboards that run delightfully rampant all over "Bed of Nails."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Kingdom

The Kingdom

I haven't been this enthused about a new low-fi indie pop band since I came across Envelopes a few months ago. But for a young act with only a single EP on offer, The Kingdom are remarkably assured.

You should know that their debut recording Unitas (US, UK) is an eight-track encomium to Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas. Having devoted my existence to learning as little about football as possible, I really couldn't say if Unitas deserves the tribute. But it's a pretty special EP. Packed with sonic ideas culled from 60s garage rock, neo-psychedelia and post-punk, The Kingdom rise above their influences with great, melodic songwriting and enthusiastic, even slightly unhinged, execution. I hate to raise this specter, but they remind me a bit of Arcade Fire--if Arcade Fire (or maybe their fans) took themselves less seriously.

With music like this you always have to ask the question: irony or not? I think not (or not so much). I think these Portland kids are having a blast.

I Am Constellation - The Kingdom (genius!)

Arcadia Of My Youth - The Kingdom


Die All Over Me - The Kingdom

Vampyr Holes - The Kingdom

The band expects to release a full-length record early this year on Arena Rock Recordings. I predict much-deserved hype.

Monday, January 02, 2006

No Hits 1.2.06

The Midnight Year - Hudson Bell

Hudson Bell is about wheres and whens. Towns and cities, circles and worlds, nights and days and months and years. The main "where" seems to be the home left behind and the "when," when that place is regained. "The Midnight Year" maps the returning on an epic scale. And this makes it the perfect track to start the new year. Because as much as people talk about starting anew when the clock chimes midnight, they still have to deal with those nagging old issues, too.

I first heard the band's "Atlantis Nights" when Bars & Guitars (a blog where I probably find more unfamiliar music that I end up liking than any other) posted it a month ago. And I fell so hard I went out and bought Hudson Bell's two most recent albums When the Sun Is the Moon (US, UK) and Captain of the Old Girls (US). Dense with fuzzy, psychedelic guitar interplay, vocal layers and occasional piano swells, the albums are nothing if not ambitious. But also barbed with hooks that keep you coming back.

The real attraction for me, though, is Bell's vocal style (Hudson Bell is both the lead musician/songwriter and name of the band). He can enunciate words with such fresh unfamiliarity akin to wonder, that you'd almost think he's new to English. Maybe it's a Southern thing--Bell is Baton Rouge-born and spent formative years in Kentucky and Mississippi (now living in San Francisco)--so when he stretches words like "go" and "this" into two or three syllables, it sounds natural and charming, not affected.

Atlantis Nighs - Hudson Bell

New World - Hudson Bell

A couple weeks ago, Bell contributed a list of recently covered songs to Dusted's Listed series. I'd really like to hear that cover of "White Rabbit."