Monday, February 27, 2006

No Hits 2.27.06

X's & O's, Laura Leiden
X's & O's, Laura Leiden

Exs and Ohs - Matson Jones

Punk cello. There are precedents for replacing the traditional twin guitars and bass combo with hard-sawing classical strings. But most, like Rasputina and Apocalyptica, have a slight novelty air about them. Matson Jones is a real band that simply employs the tools at hand--two cellos, an upright bass and drums--to create tuneful, frequently menacing art rock.

"Exes and Ohs" appears on their new EP (take a breath) Albatross Mates for Life, But Only After a Lengthy Courtship That Can Take Up to Four Years (US, UK). It's an anxious, jittery number that doesn't lose any of its bite for lack of electric guitars. Almost a dance song, "Exes" throbs and pulses, though you pay less attention to its murky, jerky rhythm than its disturbing, wailing-infant-in-a-closet vocals. Cellists Martina Gbrac and Anna Mascorella share the band's vocal duties and I don't know who takes the lead here, but her voice conveys both juvenile petulance and adult despair.

If this is your cup of tea, visit Matson Jones' Web site for several downloads from their first, self-titled LP (US, UK).

Matson Jones is one of the bands that appears on their label Sympathy For the Record Industry's compilation, Alright, This Time Just the Girls, Vol. 2 (US, UK), that predictably, given its origin, features a lot of pop-punk acts. But I was taken by a couple off-the-beaten tracks. The first from The Lisa Marr Experiment, project of former Cub vocalist Lisa Marr, now based in L.A. It's a simple alt-countryish song that I'm having a hard time pushing out of my head.

Little Red Bird - The Lisa Marr Experiment

The other...well, with a band named Candypants and song called "Nerdy Boys," I think you know what to expect: new-wavy SoCal ironi-pop (a la "Johnny Are You Queer?") I think most cool girls can relate to an occasional infatuation with a sweet, kinda clueless geek. (Not, I should clarify, the creepy, lurking kind. I think you ladies know exactly what I'm talking about.)

Nerdy Boys - Candypants

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Monkeys, Bromheads, Stoney


Pretty much the worst way to prove you're indifferent to something is to keep talking about it. So yeah, a self-defeating little follow-up to
Jon's post of Friday.

Perhaps part of my problem with the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon (if you want to call it that--I also believe this is a smaller story than the mainstream and alternative media would have you believe) is that my interest in post-punk has reached critical mass. Now you can define that any way you want,
but when most people toss 'post-punk" around, they mean guitar bands playing loud, fast, short songs influenced by late-70s, early-80s bands from Britain like The Buzzcocks, Wire and Gang of Four. I love The Buzzcocks and Wire--Pink Flag is easily one of my favorite albums--and I like Gang of Four just fine. But most of the retreads don't interest me at all. Oh, perhaps I just hear too much new music on a daily basis to be impressed. But I also think it's the same story over and over. Around this time last year, the usual suspects were huffing and puffing over Bloc Party, a year before that, Franz Ferdinand, bands that, like Arctic Monkeys, acquit themselves respectably within the limits of a genre, but groundbreaking? Engineers of a new rock movement? Um, not to these ears...

But since I'm all about the positive (ha), I at least want to point out that in my travels I occasionally come across musicians doing the post-punk thing in a highly entertaining way. As I mentioned
in December, I'm really impressed by another Sheffield band, the snotty, sarcastic and above all, unpretentious, Bromheads Jacket. I recommend you head over to their Web site for several brilliant downloads. Their singles appear to be sold out, but Bromheads are currently touring Europe and will appear at South By Southwest in March. So check local dates, show up and buy a t-shirt or something.

Sharing the Sheffield scene with Bromheads is Stoney, the project of multi-instrumentalist Mark Stoney (who adds a few band members for live performances). Live performances that have included supporting the Arctic Monkeys (aha!), the Futureheads, Athlete and the Magic Numbers. I've read comparisons to David Bowie, solo Paul McCartney and Beck--all of which make as much sense as anything. Because Stoney is primarily a good songwriter, with strong melodic instincts and a tendency to spike his tunes with electronic riffs and the occasional sound effect (see "Jailbird").

Until You Leave - Stoney

Jailbird - Stoney

Best Laid Plans - Stoney

Be sure to visit
Stoney's Web site for an additional download and live date information.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A little bit of (primate) spleen

One as Many
Thanks to James Lileks for the Fritz Lang Fury image

I know, I know, I KNOW I'm a fool for pausing even a moment over an NPR review of anything even remotely pop cultural, but the triumphant "Arctic Monkeys album arrives in America" segment absolutely got my goat.

Most aggravating to me was the deployment of the standard highbrow-goes-lowbrow critic crutches. I like to call these assembled techniques PAP: Poetry, Authenticity and the Popular as Art News.

1) Poetry: As in: the song has lyrics that might actually stand on their own as good poetry. I'll gladly plead guilty to this one. However, I'd be willing to bet on Cathy Irwin in a line-for-line cage-match with John Ashbery. More than likely I'd lose my money, but The Lady from Louisville could go stanza-to-stanza with the Big Man from Bard for a round or two.

2) Authenticity: Working-class boys from Sheffield use local slang, recombine familiar musical elements and "swagger" it up, revitalizing rock for their young, "hedonistic weekend" fans. Oh for Pete's sake.

3) the Popular as Art News: I'm being just a tiny bit disingenuous here as I'll cop to one's place on the charts as half-cash/half-tradewind-driving-the-zeitgeist-current and while I can't lay out the record review golden ratio of commerce to band to songs myself, the piece largely feels like an economic history with smidge of stock-market style speculation thrown in ("Can those plucky Monkeys make it in the US? With this sort of musical P/E ratio, no fuckin' problem!"). There is a story there, but it's a business story. That's cool, I can handle business writing about art, but if the primary thrust of what you've got to say among the billion things you can try (and fail with the best of intentions) to get at in writing about music has to do with the potential for reaping cash, then something is off either with you or your subject.

I have my suspicions as to what's going on. More than anything else, the piece has a deadline-racing quality to it. I don't envy the task to which the reviewer is set: Make this pop band feel relevant next to war and pestilence and global warming during drive time for the jazz after eight crowd; you've got less than five minutes; go. I'm not sure anyone could do wonderful work under those circumstances. Though, NPR-wise, I have to say that (full discloure: a former classmate of mine) Neda Ulaby tends to fill the same space as the average story but seems to preserve some delicacy (her Pinter piece in particular was excellent and that is coming from a devotee). I'd also rather listen to Alix Spiegel end a sentence than anyone else on the planet. And, just in case you don't already, start listening to On the Media immediately. Invaluable. Oh, and Sound Opinions merits a mention too.

Or are the subject, these Monkeys, the problem? While she didn't throw any stones, a mention by Amy in what I think will be the SYF post of the year didn't motivate me to check them out (see Cat Scratch Fever here) so the first I'd ever heard them was in the review itself and I thought: Eh, they're fine. I know Sheffield isn't Belfast (or Leeds or Queens or Detroit) but "working class" and the foregrounding of local slang and diction brought to mind one possible forefather:

Barbed Wire Love - Stiff Little Fingers

"Alternative Ulster" or "Suspect Device" likely would drive my point home more forcefully in terms of their relation to the Monkeys, but I love that the Fingers wrestle pop, doo-wop and punk to the ground in the space of 3:33. That, to me, is swagger.

Wait, did I just spend nine-tenths of this post talking meta about why we need to be less meta? Lemme check...Crap.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

3 songs

Mi and L'au

Rather vague and impressionistic today, I'm afraid. Better to just download the songs and let them explain themselves.

Older - Mi and L'au
Mi and L'au live in an isolated cabin in the Finnish woods. You can hear it. "Older" is an aging wooden structure that settles and expands with the wind and weight of snow, but never splinters or cracks. Layered atop this foundation is a montage of half-awake hallucinations--sands and babies, bellies and bones. Narrative held aloft, dangling.

Homes and Hugs - Lylas
Another sad song about heartbreak to reinforce my cynical view of the world. So achingly told, with naked, quavering pleas for home, hugs, holiday songs and spoonfuls of sleep. And that lugubrious horn serenade! But then I think this boy Kyle, why, he loves his misery more than his lover, his despair is a beloved parasite that gnaws at his guts goading him to pen pretty couplets like,

Some nights she breaks into shivers and shakes
she inspects her reflection for all your mistakes.

And heartbreak doesn't sound so bad after all. Lylas is from Nashville.

Twice Upon A Time - Zinedines
Apologies in advance; once you hear this song from Spanish popsters The Zinedines it will reside in your head the remainder of the day. So feel free to disregard. Of course if you do, you'll miss out on sun-dappled harmonies, warm Byrds-like string configurations and the brightest, most sparkling pop melody this side of Teenage Fanclub. Your choice, really.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I'm not French, but I kiss that way

I'm not the most cultured of men.

I was talking to a girl this past weekend at a wedding reception who reminded me of this. She waxed arrogantly about her European travels and knowledge of foreign wines and dishes.

"Oh you've never been to Paris? That's sad. So have you never had authentic blanquette de veau?"

When I told her that I'm kind of indifferent about most things French, I didn't realize I had done more than state my opinion. I had drawn a line in the proverbial international sand. She not only disagreed, but was offended.

"Well, I'm more interested in other regions of the world I guess. I'd rather eat sushi or Thai."

She responded with the kind of defensiveness usually saved for topics like abortion or Radiohead's best record. It was one of those moments when "a personal judgment is universalized and made applicable to one's girlfriend or boyfriend [or all the citizens of a country], the moment when I think this is good becomes I think this is good for you too." (Alain de Botton,
On Love)

But the truth is I do like some French people:
Audrey Tautou, that French exchange student from Better Off Dead and the writers Proust and de Botton. Fondue is a good time and I'm masculine enough to admit I've eaten quiche. I read some Deschamps and Rousseau in a college poetry course. And other than Gérard Depardieu, I guess I don't really know much about French film, though I do enjoy subtitles.

But I love the sound of the language when it's sung. So, for the most recent girl who got away, les chansons en français:

Belleville Rendez-Vous (French version) - Les Triplettes De Belleville

La Vie En Rose - Mia Doi Todd

Salamandre - Sarah Harmer

Tout Doucement - Feist

Vonal Declosion - Stereolab

Les Triplettes de Belleville Official Soundtrack
The Unaccompanied Voice: An A Capella Compliation, Various Artists (featuring Mia Doi Todd)
I'm a Mountain, Sarah Harmer
Let It Die, Feist
Margerine Eclipse, Stereolab

Monday, February 20, 2006

No Hits 2.20.06

Dead Edge of Town - Blood On The Wall

Blood On The Wall may be the most derivative band I've heard since The Soundtrack of Our Lives (and at least TSOOL had the decency to cop to its thievery up front). But you give them a pass because there aren't too many new ideas in rock, and hey, they're pretty good at what they do. Still, I find parts of Awesomer (US, UK) hard to swallow. Specifically, "Mary Susan," a mannered tune you can't believe isn't a Jack White composition as interpreted by The Pixies.

BOTW is best when they forget about the hero-worshipping tributes, let loose and rock out. "Dead Edge of Town" is a rabid animal, a sleazy bottom-dweller possessed by a frenzied but tight bass n' drums combo and cacophonous feedback (the guitar parts lifted, it needs to be said, from Psychocandy). Courtney Shanks is a good vocalist. Not perhaps as cool as Kim Gordon or as feral as PJ Harvey, but edgy and menacing all the same. You wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley, but it might be fun to see her on stage.


BOTW calls The Social Registry--one of the more interesting independent labels--home. In fact, the band is probably the "safest" act on a roster that includes freak-folkers Gang Gang Dance and freak-funkers Artanker Convoy. One of the best up-and-coming bands on Social Registry is Psychic Ills, who paint vast entrancing dronescapes.

4 AM - Psychic Ills

Psychic Ills are currently touring with Arial Pink and play Toronto tonight if you live there and don't already have plans. Blood On The Wall open for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Friday in New York (but the show is sold out).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Out of the office


Bar Yellow - Office

A sultry rock piano tune for your Sunday morning pleasure. Clatter and bang, shoulder swaying and easy-going la-di-das. In short, a little of everything.

I'm pleased to say Office is a Chicago band--reviving hope in my heart that this town will spawn an exciting indie pop scene similar to what's going on in some West Coast cities. In their promotional materials, the band members work their name (pun absolutely intended) by posing in white collar uniforms and office scenarios. It's not a bad attention-getting device. (Though after years in surgical scrubs, I bet the guys in Clinic could offer a word to the wise.)

Office has an album available to order through their temporary Web site and are scheduled to play South by Southwest in March. Hopefully their time down in Austin will land them a label and some good distribution.

Busy With Other Things - Office

Download another track at SXSW's site and listen to additional streams on Office's MySpace page.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Something a little different

Puerto Muerto

Wondering - Puerto Muerto
Don't let the demure pose fool you. Christa Meyer's sweet-as-sugarbeets voice may seem composed. Husband Tim Kelley's dusty border town guitar n' fiddle waltz may sound tender. But if the Chicago duo's name doesn't suggest something sinister is underway, the nature of their discography should. "Wondering" appears on a "lost" soundtrack to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (US, UK), which Puerto Muerto has performed live to screenings of the film. There is also the matter of their 2001 debut LP, Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore, and their second album, See You In Hell. So you sort of have to wonder if the long-suffering protagonist of "Wondering" waits for her errant husband with wifely forgiveness or a butcher knife held behind the back.

The Nosebleed Section - Hilltop Hoods
Australian hip-hop? I was as skeptical as you when I heard this on a great mix CD I received. I don't know how this goes down with the hardcore gangsta rap crowd, but as a pop song, it's perfect. Killer beats, a coy flute loop that weaves in and out, sampling from an obscure Melanie (yes, hippie dippy flower child, Melanie) song that should be disastrous but just works somehow. And above all, witty words delivered with precision and finesse. The 2003 album on which "Nosebleed Section" appears, The Calling, went gold in its home country (so this is very old news for you Australians), but the record's import-only and still virtually unknown in the US and UK. Pity.

Radio Operator - Rosanne Cash
On the largely mournful Black Cadillac (US, UK)--written in the wake of the death of Rosanne Cash's father, mother and stepmother--"Radio Operator" is a rare buoyant rockabilly number. But it has its shadows. There's the eerie staccato "radio signal" opening and the way Cash's voice drops to sing, to the girl in San Antoine, as if that girl is forever lost. Some songs are best heard lying in the dark in the deep night, a low radio the only sound to cut the lonely silence.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Going to Lincoln

Lincoln NE

At some point in the mid-90s I actually thought it was a good idea for someone as clumsy and careless as me to collect 7" singles on vinyl. I'd bought records as a kid (which I'd managed to scratch, crack, break and melt with alarming alacrity). But cassettes and then CDs were what enabled me to become a music appreciater of any merit. Still, I couldn't resist the siren's call of cool packaging, limited availability and ooh, the sheer neatness of little records forever. (Incidentally, this is the same unreined impulse that got me into trouble with expensive makeup that rots in drawers as we speak.)

Recently, I had a bunch of these records transferred to CD (Summer, too nice of you...) so I can share. Which I'll probably do in future weeks and months.

Raja Vocative - The Mountain Goats and Alastair Galbraith

Hatha Hill - The Mountain Goats and Alastair Galbraith

[Orange Raja, Blood Royal, Walt Records, 1995]

I can't remember where I was when I heard most things for the first time. But I do recall the wheres and whens of The Mountain Goats. September, 1994, I-80, Lincoln, Nebraska. I'd been driving several days through Wyoming and Western Nebraska towards Chicago. If you've done the drive you know there's not a whole lot going on visually. Even less when it comes to radio signals. I'd been surviving on a diet of mix tapes for days, but as I approached the city limits, I decided to try my antenna and must have picked up the University of Nebraska's station. And I caught maybe the last minute of this weird, intense, laughably low-fi but insanely tuneful song sung by a guy who had no business imposing his nasal yelp on the world. But there it was in all its glory. And in less than a minute, I was infatuated. I pulled off the highway so I wouldn't lose the signal before the DJ returned to tell me what I wanted to hear. The Mountain Goats. Words I repeated many times over the remainder of my drive through the heat and boredom and that speeding ticket in Iowa so I wouldn't forget before I found a record store and could purchase Zopilote Machine (US, UK). I played that CD to death.

When Orange Raja was released in 1995 The Mountain Goats were John Darnielle and Rachel Ware. They were joined, so to speak, by Alastair Galbraith. The Mountain Goats taped their bits in the U.S. on the primitive equipment characteristic of those early recordings (often a boombox) and Galbraith recorded his violin parts in New Zealand, which were later overdubbed. Ineptly, of course. These tracks eventually found their way onto the Ghana (US, UK) compilation, but not without losing the gentle clicks and pops of the record. I'm posting the b-sides, which I think are better than the two songs on side one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Screw Cupid

As my junk email box fills with Valentine's suggestions, I'm reminded of the party that I will, sadly, miss again this year. When I lived in the Chicago area, a few friends and I got together on February 14th for our annual Screw Cupid Party--a night we mocked romantic comedies, music and people. An all-black-attire affair, I've unfortunately missed this sentimental gathering the past two years since I moved.

Since I won't be part of the celebration, here are a few songs for the soundtrack.

Everyday I Love You Less And Less - Kaiser Chiefs
It's so much fun! I love the panning synth at the beginning that gives a "fuzzy" undertone to the whole song and the nonsense "na na na's" and silly rhymes that lend it a leering sophomoric tone. And how many of us have wanted our whole "crew" backing us up when it was time to tell someone it's over?! I just picture the rest of the band peeking around thumbing their noses and sticking their tongues out.

I Can't Fall In Love - Irving
One of the reasons to hate this mythical winged cherub is ourselves. It's not always a faulty partner! I appreciate the level of self-awareness this tune represents.

I Don't Really Love You Anymore - The Magnetic Fields
Quintessential Stephin Merritt. The way the song begins makes it difficult to see where he's going. But once you've reached the second section, there's no more guessing:

I don't have to love you now if I don't wish to
I won't see you anyhow if that's an issue.

One Hundred Things You Should Have Done In Bed - Snow Patrol
V-Day is a great chance to remember those failed attempts at love. One of my favorite song titles of all time and a singular "if only" kind of thought.

I Love You 'Cause I Have To - Dogs Die In Hot Cars
The ska-like electric and accent make me smile, but the lyrics hit a little close to home...

And now I spend most of my time playing computer games (or blogging maybe?)
And wishing I was loving like most of my friends, oh I am so ashamed.

What The Hell Is Love - K's Choice
Inevitably, a Screw Cupid party has a moping drunk ending, a point when everyone sits around wondering why they are single or love-less, bringing on the philosophical meanderings. This is the song to play on repeat during those conversations.

Employment, The Kaiser Chiefs
I Hope You're Feeling Better Now, Irving
i, The Magnetic Fields
Songs For Polar Bears, Snow Patrol
Please Describe Yourself, Dogs Die In Hot Cars
Great Subconscious Club, K's Choice

Monday, February 13, 2006

No Hits 2.13.06

She'll Break Your Heart - The Loves

And you think that you love her
right from the very start.
But you know and I know
she'll break your heart.

Senior PromSomewhere I have a photo of my mother on the night of her senior prom. She leans against her parents' tiled fireplace wearing a white lace and tulle dress, her raven hair upswept, a half smile on her cherry red lips. She looks young (so young) and nervous. But at the same time, confident.

As much as I subscribe to the revisionist position that the mid-20th Century of our collective imagination--happy, intact families, widespread economic prosperity, safe neighborhoods--is a myth perpetrated for various ideological purposes (well argued, incidentally, in Stephanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap), I'm intimately familiar with the truth at the root of that myth. My mother grew up in a small midwestern town, the beloved only daughter of parents who were, as the cliche goes, pillars of the community. She walked home at night from the library or choir practice without fear. She went on dates without the complications of binge drinking and early sex.

Ok, so maybe that's how we really were. Or not. I'm confused. We all are when it comes to borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 50s (to paraphase James Murphy). It's not surprising if a song like "She'll Break Your Heart," which fetishizes the sonic milieu of teen dances of that era, sounds a little half-hearted about love. Pop songs of the late 50s, early 60s were lousy with hopeless crushes and adolescent heartache. But that didn't stop the fools populating their lyrics from rushing in, again and again. No one suggested you don't bother, or, at the very least, seriously lower your romantic expectations.

The Loves are a Welsh band on the uniformly excellent British label Track and Field. If you're in the UK, you can buy their singles collection Love there. In the US, purchase from Darla.

Fools Rush In - Frank Sinatra

"Fools Rush In" appears on Sinatra's 1960, Nelson Riddle-arranged, album Nice 'N' Easy (US, UK).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Backwards, forwards

Dimanche A Bamako

So, second week in February. It's just about time to start rolling out the 2005 Albums That Would Have Made My Best-of List If I'd Actually Heard Them In 2005. First among them, Amadou & Mariam's Dimanche a Bamako (US, UK). The record has received love from bloggers and mainstream media critics (and made a respectable showing on Pazz & Jop), so I probably don't need to say a lot about this blind married couple from Mali. Just that they make joyful noises that belie their sometimes melancholy lyrics (translated from the French here). Amadou & Mariam are heavily influenced by Western popular music (especially rock), so even if, like me, you're not too familiar with the sounds of West Africa, the record will seem instantly recognizable. And wonderful.

Artistiya - Amadou & Mariam

I've also been listening to and am impressed with Broadcast's 2005 release Tender Buttons (US, UK). Though I think this may be one of those albums I appreciate more than love. It's adventurous and full of unexpected moments and Trish Keenan has a lovely voice, but the album doesn't give me the warm feeling I associate with music that gets me in the gut.

Goodbye Girls - Broadcast

Vessel StatesLooking forward to 2006 releases, I'm anxious for the new Wilderness LP, Vessel States. Jagjaguwar Records has announced a release date of April 11 and along with details of the album, posted a new mp3, "Emergency." The highly original Baltimore band's self-titled debut made my number four spot last year, and while I won't pretend this is for everyone, I encourage you to download the new track and "Arkless" from Wilderness' debut and give em a serious listen. Wilderness is currently touring Europe.

Also can't wait for the next Shearwater album, Palo Santo, due sometime this spring. The band's Web site has several demos and if "Turn Your Transmitters Off" is any indication, they're going in exciting new directions. In the meantime, pick up last year's Thieves EP (US, UK), if you haven't already.

There's a Mark Where You Were Breathing - Shearwater

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Two ruminations on previous SYF posts.

One: The Lumping of Singer/Songwriters
I've been mulling over something Troy posted about
a little bit ago: "Truth be told I rarely like the whole singer/songwriter genre, male or female--it typically seems uninspired and recycled."

I agree with him, but started wondering where this reflexive dismissal comes from.

For starters, there's the seventh child syndrome. I can't say exactly why previous First Name Surname stars loom so large, but if you play music with a single face as a focus, there are giants to overcome. An anecdote: I had my mother-in-law over a while ago and put on SYF and all-world fave In The Aeroplane Over the Sea during dinner. After two minutes, she said, between bites of salad, "What's this fake Dylan trying to do?" Somehow, I don't imagine that Kyuss had to endure Led Zeppelin barbs from the grandmotherly population.

Why? I wouldn't stake my life on this analysis, but a single face is much easier to parse, to like or dislike on first contact, while the cluster of a band has a much better chance of communicating its vibe, of getting an actual listen.

The other major hurdle I came up with applies specifically to band members striking out on their own. I'll admit to the reforming comic book addict's desire for completeness, so I'm usually compelled to check out any solo work by members of bands I like, but it's very hard to listen to those songs clearly without the finest moments of said band hovering. Case in point: the shambling, sometimes transcendent Rodan and band member Tara Jane O'Neil. I can safely say that many of my favorite Rodan moments are the result of her voice and phrasing among the somewhat (intentionally I think) monochromatic noise. See if you agree with me about "Tron" (here pulled from the outstanding Half-Cocked soundtrack).

Tron - Rodan

Generally loping and forceful, it's truly dramatic when Tara Jane cuts through like in the line "same as your skin" which triggers the coda.

Now, Tara Jane's project is obviously totally different on Peregrine, her quiet, first solo album, and I was prepared to weather that along as the songs carried some of the same drama in a different form. Not fair on my part, perhaps, and perhaps impossible to deliver. After all, those Rodan moments are great largely due to contrast and a solo record, with that one force up front, is about anything but contrast. I'm likely asking for too much and these songs do have some of the space and drama of Rodan's Rusty, but the singularity of voice definitely sounds like a factor in the "uninspired and recycled" lumping.

Sunday Song - Tara Jane O'Neil

Two: My Money Note
In my post
way back when, I mention the money note, a phrase defining an incredibly expensive, hyper-produced moment that makes for a memorable, popping single. For better or worse, I'm still thinking about it, or, more accurately, about how it bothers the shit out of me that the work of scientists, engineers and creative people have led us to such arid, toxic, wonderless places. I'm not surprised, but still it rankles.

However, a bunch of recent Mission of Burma news had me recall what I think a money note should be: an unexpected moment of pure brilliance. So, here's mine, the strange, tuneful turnaround in Burma's B-side, "Anti-Aircraft Warning."

Anti-Aircraft Warning - Mission of Burma

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Here's where the strings come in

Yellow Cello
Artist: Jossy Lownes

La Nuit On A Toujours Tout - Delaney

For the first few measures, it's almost Pachelbel's Canon in D. Pluck, pluck. Tentative. Then, strum, strum, familiar, as it gains momentum and waltzes into pop song territory. " La Nuit On A Toujours Tout," is a pop song--an astonishing French one--that adopts the idiom of classical chamber music as deftly as many rock tunes fill that space between the second and third chorus with an electric guitar solo. Melody, counterpoint; strings swooping in and retreating. Breathtaking moments every 30 seconds or so, but a particularly moving passage begins at 4:02.

I will never buy the argument that pop music is, in the end, insignificant. Even if it has to borrow from other, more rarefied, traditions to make its magnificent point.

Eleanor Rigby - The Beatles

Trimmed and Burning - Andrew Bird


Delaney, Delaney (Perh Records, iTunes)

Revolver, The Beatles (Amazon: US, UK)

"Trimmed and Burning" is a Mississippi Fred McDowell cover played in studio on Radio France. (Thanks for that, Mike.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

No Hits 2.6.06


Bells - Electrelane

I've been listening to Electrelane's Axes (US, UK) a fair amount lately. The dramatic, layered build-ups and urgent rhythms are tapping some unmet musical or psychological need, I suppose.

Much of the record is instrumental, with long, raw droning jams. But even it you're a vocal-centric kind of person, you don't really miss them--there are so many other things going on. In "Bells," Verity Susman's half-buried voice (ah yes, Albini's thumbprint) is consigned to the first minute and a half, and is ultimately unequal to the throbbing drums, frantic piano and buzzsaw guitar that drown the track in a tsunami of noise and controlled chaos. Elsewhere the record offers morose disco for armchair dancers, plenty of knotty art rock and even a pastoral folk moment with banjos that seem as surprised as you do to find themselves there.

Axes is an interesting, challenging album that engages intellecturally and emotionally. Highly recommended.

Just so you understand the range of this Brighton, England band: "The Valleys" is from their previous LP, which owns its share of guitar squall, but more frequently rides Stereolabish electronic grooves. When it isn't busting out the choir.

The Valleys - Electrelane

Friday, February 03, 2006


Paul Gauguin, Self Portrait with Halo
Paul Gauguin, Self Portrait with Halo

Big Rock Candy Mountain - The Halo Benders

I was looking for something else when I discovered this CD I forgot I had. So here's a whimsical end to a work week that was, for me, a tad short on whimsy. This "Big Rock Candy Mountain" references, but doesn't have much to do with that other one. Just Doug and Calvin messing around.

From God Don't Make No Junk (US, UK)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pop zeus

From A Compound Eye

I'm a Strong Lion - Robert Pollard

Do Something Real - Robert Pollard with Doug Gillard

Motor Away - Guided By Voices

Lo-fi. Sloppy, shambolic, amateurish, lazy, unfinished, underarranged and underproduced. And often intentionally so. What an absurd conceptual framework for a subgenre of rock music. As much as simple economics initially drove the aesthetic, it became studied style more than anything. That said, I'm usually a sucker for this highly suspect stuff. But I never "got" Guided By Voices. My reservations are multiple: I don't like Americans who assume faux English accents, I don't like constant, unfiltered flow of product and I don't like unfinished songs--short is great, just not unfinished.

Save your lecture GBV fans. I've heard it, I took notes and I decided to toss them.

On the other hand, I've warmed to Robert Pollard compositions here and there, even fallen in love with a couple. "Motor Away," is such a fresh, unpretentious burst of sheer joy that it makes me want to steal a car, drive straight through the night and settle in the first friendly little town I hit. And I spent weeks seeking "Do Something Real" after hearing it in the Steven Soderburgh film Full Frontal. I had to buy the whole LP, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department, for that one track, but oh, so worth it.

Now Pollard's got a new solo album (US, UK). Normally this wouldn't cause a ripple in my little pond, but I heard "I'm a Strong Lion" on Sound Opinions a few weeks ago and it grabbed me. It's a bright, ringing tune that reminds me how few have the gift to peel off a melody with such expertise and nonchalance. The album cover? Early contender for ugliest of 2006.

You can find another album track and a bunch of demos on Pollard's Web site.