Sunday, April 30, 2006

Five questions

Half Machine Lip Moves : Alien Soundtracks

I've let a little time pass since Moistworks posted a Chrome tune a few months ago. Since then Beware of the Blog has stepped in as well. While both pieces are excellent writing and I encourage you heartily to visit, neither touch on some of the things about Half Machine Lip Moves that got me thinking. Thinking, as in for a period of about 6 months, all other music was boring because it wasn't Chrome. Yes, I had a problem, but I suspect it's a problem you want as well.

I've always thought Jim DeRogatis paid Los Lobos the highest of all possible compliments when he reviewed Kiko on a previous incarnation of Sound Opinions. He said, essentially, that while it was recognizable as a Los Lobos album, something set it apart not only from their previous work but from other works in general: in listening, you are taken to Kikoworld, a place with ancestors but no real possibility of direct descendants. Half Machine belongs in the same class; it's damaged and barely parse-able, but it has its own internal logic that's transporting and infinitely fascinating. Naturally, when looking at a platypus of an album, you're left with a few questions:

1) Why in the hell hasn't indie hip-hop jumped all over sampling Chrome? The rhythms have the perfect space and timing for rap and you just can't fake the end-of-the-world drum sound.

2) How exactly does one come up with the idea to start a song called "Abstract Nympho" where a human voice is warped to sound like a cow lowing? Can such a choice be blamed entirely on drugs or studio experimentation? Something tells me that while they may have made a contribution, there is highly conscious direction at work and I'm desperate to get at that thought process. Someone will have to think a little bit like that to cure cancer.

Abstract Nympho - Chrome

3) Speaking of "Abstract Nympho," the riff at the center of that song is good enough to ride for an album, let alone a five minute song, but, like so many of the best moments on Half Machine, it's leaving as it's arriving, lasting less than a minute. And then there's the moan in "Chromosome Damage" (which is actually from Alien Soundtracks but is grouped on the same release by Touch and Go) that's as good a vocal hook as you'll hear in any well-ironed pop tune. However, it shows up only once in the tune proper, and, even more powerfully, as the song fades out. Ridiculous. It's an album that shits brilliance. Should Chrome be tried for lack of musical conservation? Isn't such behavior wasteful?

Chromosome Damage - Chrome

4) And, at the same time the album's coming as it's going in bits and flashes, there are stretches of pure, repetitive kraut-rock-style groove worthy of the finest psychedelia or metal. Is whiplash the point?

5) If you throw a protest song in the midst of this dementia, does it diminish the power of the protest or add coherence to the rest of the thing? In other words, what the hell is "March of the Chrome Police (A Cold Clammy Bombing)" doing in here? I mean, it's got great things to say about ditching paranoia, but the next song's "You've Been Duplicated," which is all about how people are gonna be recreated and replaced.

March of the Chrome Police (A Cold Clammy Bombing) - Chrome

Having said all this, Half Machine Lip Moves is not cerebral in the least; it doesn't pose any of this stuff directly. It just keeps moving irrevocably, delightfully, toward nowhere in particular.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


This post bears the heading above for two reasons: 1) A Shake Your Fist post that clocks in at less than 500 words; 2) Someone actually, in the history of time, pulled off a decent cover of a PiL song. It's none other than Scrawl. I've threatened to post something extensive on them, but, like in life, they're given short-shrift. However, know that this cover is just the tip of the iceberg. Like another fave, filmmaker Richard Linklater, they're capable of spinning gold from things you know well--states like hesitancy, reticence and plain old lethargy. And, just to establish cred beyond all shadow of a doubt, Marcy Mays has fronted an AC/DC cover band.

That should do it. I can't recommend Columbus, OH's finest enough.

Public Image - Scrawl

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A confession

Zeroes and Ones - Eleventh Dream Day

I can't claim to be the type of guy who could lose my big toe without flinching, but I'm on the stoic side. A good Midwesterner, I keep my business pretty close and in this context "business" means just about every aspect of everything. Generally, the less said, the less shown, the better.

However, I'm not ashamed to admit that I've fogged up a bit at a number of Eleventh Dream Day shows. Why do they make me break character? That's a complex question (and there's an obscenely long screenplay in my closet that fails to answer it), but I've got a couple ideas.

In their twenty year history, they've continually released solid to great albums featuring settings, characters and images recognizable to anyone who's spent time in a place where you're never far from both an idle warehouse and a stubble field of corn. I'm not the first to say that Prarie School Freakout is an classic Chicago album and when I hear "Among the Pines", I know the exact color of the "dawn of nothin' and nobody" (mid-October sky the hue of a bad grey suit from Cohn and Stern).

Among the Pines - Eleventh Dream Day

They're also living Chicago rock history, having played out at places like Batteries Not Included and Lounge Ax while rubbing shoulders with some of the finest bands from the finest era of rock this city ever produced. While no one would confuse them with Naked Raygun or the Effigies, they're rising up out of the same slime. That they are still playing the same tunes, and that the new ones sound as good, this makes me misty happy.

This is not to say they are some sort of nostalgia act. EDD is actually something of a rare breed; even during their early, fiery years, they never sounded exactly youthful. They rocked like hell, but to these ears, they seemed mature with a rare focus. Absolute brilliance in rock comes from mere babes more often than not, but they's something absolutely fresh about a band that can be scorching and controlled.

Finally, there's also Rick Rizzo and Janet Bean singing together. Their interplay is even less conventional than Janet and Cathy Irwin in Freakwater and it doesn't appear on every song, but man, when it shows up there's an unforced beauty that just gets me right here. Amy's got "Sugar, Sugar" in her DNA; I didn't fully express my genotype until I'd heard "Makin' Like a Rug" from the out-of-print El Moodio.

Makin' Like a Rug - Eleventh Dream Day

They've got a new album, Zeros and Ones, out today from Thrill Jockey, who are streaming samples. The new one finds them in great form and I'm sure they'll display the same at the Empty Bottle May 18.

Monday, April 24, 2006

No Hits 4.24.06

Solitary Man - Crooked Fingers

No Hits was designed to highlight a newish song on heavy rotation. But often as not, the track that's got me in its grip is a back catalogue number. Lately, I've been playing catch-up with Eric Bachmann, former frontman of Archers of Loaf and, since the late 90s, Crooked Fingers. Like a lot of Archers fans, I was thrown off by his sharp left turn into Latin-inflected gothic Americana. Overnight, Bachmann seemed to age 20 years, becoming this gruff old man spinning hopeless narratives about lost women and broken drunks. When you've come to expect high-strung angularity and diatribes against the record industry, this takes some getting used to. But once you do, you realize Bachmann's always-idiosyncratic songwriting has probably found its home. Dignity and Shame (US, UK) is especially worth the time.

What's captured my affection this week, though, isn't an original but a cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" off Crooked Fingers' 2002 Reservoir Songs EP (US, UK). As soon as Bachmann's grizzled baritone delivers that great opening passage "Melinda was mine/Til the time that I found her/Holding Jim/Loving Him," you think, now here's a man born to sing Neil Diamond! It's not that Bachmann's voice bears a similar timber or that it assumes Diamond's phrasing--though it does--but that these vocals fall so neatly in step with the sad, resigned declaration of independence of the original. The covers' instrumentation, on the other hand, is anything but imitative. Crooked Fingers trades the original's full brass section, backing chorus and busy guitar lines for an austere banjo, bleating organ and oomph-pahing euphonium. The euphonium, in particular, transforms a merely melancholy song into a funereal one--a song to dig a plot to or accompany a slow, solemn death march into the hills. "Solitary Man" is a cover that wrestles with competing impulses--pop song/folk song, lush/spare, celebration/dirge--and as it draws you into its agon, it is profoundly unnerving.

Andalucia - Crooked Fingers

Red Devil Dawn (live) - Crooked Fingers

Wrong - Archers of Loaf

Elsewhere, around the Web:

The House of Leaf and Lime has a fantastic track from San Francisco band, The Herms.

Eric from CYSTSFTS releases his first podcast, "From punk to parenthood."

Field Music makes Write Your Own History available exclusively on iTunes (US, UK & Canada) and Field Music's label Memphis Industries offers for free the It Came From Memphis sampler on eMusic (good stuff!).

And from Slate, if you're in the mood to be disgusted (a tour of London's sewers).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Butterglory reconsidered

Crumble - Butterglory

Round about 2000, I sold off my Butterglory "collection" of a couple CDs in a motley pile of 90s indie rock (including, if I remember correctly, music from bands like Creeper Lagoon and Lotion). Compared to the dense, intricate, multi-multi-tracked stuff I was listening to at the time like the Beta Band, Butterglory's low-fi indie pop sounded limp and played-out. Even as I return to Butterglory with renewed interest, my exhaustion then seems excusable. Naive pop depends on a kind of suspended disbelief: That surely this is the first time it occurred to anyone to "make it real," to sing off-key into a boombox recorder, use whatever hollow object comes to hand as a percussion instrument or let the feedback wail unchecked.

I was thinking about this as I was listening to Figurines' album Skeleton (US, UK) this week. Because even as I'm pressing repeat on songs like "The Wonder" and "Rivalry," and enjoying the band for its infectious enthusiasm, undeniable hooks and surprising polish, the music's borders bleed with the sounds of thousands of similar-minded predecessors. And I can't help think that eventually I'm gonna get bored with this. If the songs are really as good as they seem, I'll come back. If they aren't, well...

Butterglory's songs, I've decided, are that good. They hold up. The band was guitarist Matt Suggs and drummer Debby Vander Wall, first from Visalia, California, then from Lawrence, Kansas. They lasted from approximately 1992, when they released the Alexander Bends EP, to about 1997. They were fortunate to find a home on Merge Records because the label has kept their albums in print and now also offers them on iTunes and eMusic. Six years after selling them off, I'm buying Butterglory back.

Tip: If you download nothing else, make it "Alexander Bends." One of the finest under-two-minute songs I've ever known.

Alexander Bends - Butterglory

Waiting On The Guns - Butterglory

Better Gardens, Better Homes - Butterglory

She's Got The Aksun! - Butterglory

For Figurines, try Hype Machine--there's no need for me to post the stuff.

And just to show "old" indie rockers never die, Matt Suggs is back with a new band, White Whale. Their album isn't due for release until August, but you can stream some extremely promising tracks on the band's MySpace.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Mangrove Roots 1, Xavier Cortada
Mangrove Roots 1, Xavier Cortada

Origins - Blood Feathers
As in blood. Forebears, progenitors, kin, kith, clan, the folks who'd never be your friends if they weren't your family. Musical origins? Say the Kinks emigrated to Philly, lived down the block from the Lilys and asked Quentin Stoltzfus (Mazarin) to produce their first album (that last bit--and the part about Philadelphia--is true). This duo's excellent new LP Curse & Praise (Insound) is on heavy rotation round these parts.

Other Days - Big Buildings
As in rock. Tavern ambiance (is that a big screen in the background?), ragged harmonies, a loping bassline and a heartbreaker, a gutwrencher, a good-bawl-in-your-beer of a melody. Reliable Chicago Reader scribe Monica Kendrick calls Big Buildings' second full-length Water Everywhere her favorite local album of 2006. I'll raise Kendrick one and name it my favorite album of the year so far, period. When I posted the band's minimalist "Skinny Women Shaking" last October, I thought they were cool, but I really wasn't expecting this. Let's just say, Band of Horses, watch yr hindquarters.

The album's in limited release right now, but available at the best independent record store in Chicago, Laurie's Planet of Sound, and in wider release this coming Tuesday--likely at CD Baby, where Big Buildings' other recordings are for sale. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Live music I've missed

I'm coming out of one of the busiest seasons of work I've ever experienced. I shouldn't complain much–plenty of other people have harder jobs than mine. Besides, most of what has kept me busy the past two months has been making music. However, during the past couple of months I have missed a handful of concerts.

All Is A GameNada Surf

Since You've Been AroundRosie Thomas

Leaders Of The Free WorldElbow

Lost MyselfJason Falkner

I'm heading on vacation tomorrow morning and will be celebrating my birthday this weekend by breaking my concert fast in the most obvious of ways:

Mr. RobotoStyx

Saturday night. Charleston, South Carolina. My sister, Dennis DeYoung and me.

The Weight Is A Gift, Nada Surf
If Songs Could Be Held, Rosie Thomas
Leaders Of The Free World, Elbow
Bliss Descending, Jason Falkner
Greatest Hits, Styx

Monday, April 17, 2006

No Hits 4.17.06

Field Music

Tell Me Keep Me - Field Music

Trying To Sit Out - Field Music

I have no excuse for why it took me so long to investigate Field Music. Was it the name implying so much sonic wallpaper? Their high Modernist album cover? The Maximo Park connection (overlooking the more auspicious Futureheads angle)?

Well, I'm here now with two feet firmly planted in Field Music's sparkly, fractured art pop camp. Their self-titled album explodes with barbed hooks, delectable (rarely fey) falsetto harmonies and exceptionally detailed arrangements that deploy guitars, keys, strings, horns and beats that range from the martial to the electronic with great intelligence. Fifteen tracks and nary a dud. I don't need to tell you what that means.

Buy: Field Music (US, UK) and just released, You're Not Supposed To limited edition single (US, UK)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Littlest birds sing the prettiest songs

Little birds

The Littlest Birds - The Be Good Tanyas

Mad Tom of Bedlam - Jolie Holland

Last weekend I was talking to a friend, and I'm not sure how it came up, but he said he didn't think Sasha Frere-Jones was a very good writer. I'm not one of those rabid SFJ fans--I wander over to his blog maybe twice a month and I read his longer New Yorker pieces--but I still felt compelled to defend the guy. Good writing, of course, is subjective. I'm swayed by clarity and elegance, another reader might prefer poetry or pyrotechnics. If the popularity of Pitchfork and Stylus is any indication, there are at least several hundred thousand who like their rock crit with a heavy shot of baroque obfuscation. Whatever. My response to my SFJ-disliking friend was this: Anyone who can get me to read 1,500 words on Mariah Carey and enjoy it is doing something.

The article in question appears in the April 3 New Yorker. In it, SFJ makes a persuasive argument for Carey's economic potency (at 17 number one hits, she's tied with Elvis), cultural significance (she has almost single-handedly "established R&B and hip-hop as the sounds of pop") and "freakish vocal ability" (arguably has hit a G-sharp three and a half octaves above middle C). Does this mean I want to listen to even 30 seconds of a Carey song or care in any way about her career or personal struggles? Uh, no. But I'm intrigued by this rich and complex Mariah Carey trope, this Mariah Carey subject as mediated by Sasha Frere-Jones.

Carey's most notable vocal trait, and one SFJ goes to great lengths to elucidate, is melisma--a technique that makes me want to saw my own ears off. Melisma has kept me from participating in the great communal exercise known as American Idol (even when a coworker's niece made the semifinal rounds) and has been known to drive me to drop potential purchases and rush from clothing stores that pipe in top 40 hits. If these are the olympic athletes of popular music, please, hand over the kids ditching gym class--I'll take em.

I'm being facetious of course. As much as I love indie pop, I'm also growing weary of the shy and inept singing that passes for DIY authenticity. What does attract me are rather ordinary singers with something special--unusual phrasing, palpable enthusiasm--or vocalists with extraordinary natural talent that hasn't been stretched and polished. In a way, The Be Good Tanyas, as captured on the bright, bubbling song "The Littlest Birds" offer all of these.

By the time they recorded their first album, Blue Horse (US, UK), on which Birds is the lead track, founder Jolie Holland had officially left the Vancouver-based band for San Francisco, but she appears on several numbers, including Birds. Her voice is an odd and wonderful thing, honeyed, husky and earthy, but also bearing an otherworldly resonance. Not a few have compared her, accurately I'd say, to Billie Holiday. While Holland lends herself with equal facility and authority to blues, jazz and bluegrass compositions, Samantha Parton, acting as charming counterpoint to Holland on Birds, is more of a country gal. Her breezy, affable soprano carries the spirit of the song, its carefree wanderlust. Lines borrowed from Syd Barrett's "Jugband Blues" suggest graver things might be going on, and there's the fact that both the song's shuffling beat and a line about "soles of your traveling shoes" are reminiscent of Paul Simon's "Diamonds On The Souls of Her Shoes." Intriguing reference points for a lil alt-country song. The overall effect, though, is an off-the-cuff sunniness and you can imagine the Tanyas smiling and nodding and swinging their legs on wooden fold-out chairs on some dusty stage, perfection and professionalism the last things on their minds.

Jolie Holland is set to release a new album, Springtime Can Kill You (US, UK) on May 9. "Mad Tom of Bedlam" appears on her last LP, Escondida (US, UK).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Amateur man

Victorian English Gentlemans Club (Custom)

Amateur Man - The Victorian English Gentlemans Club

I first ran into spazzy smartypants The Victorian English Gentlemans Club towards the end of last year with their hyperactive tribute to dyslexia "My Son Spells Backwards." From time to time the song would pop up on my iPod shuffle and I'd think: Genius! Must. Follow. Up. I'm following up. Coming at you like ice water from a high-pressure hose is the Welsh girl-boy-girl trio's just-released single, "Amateur Man." It's a doozy of a tune, the kind of release that not only puts a band on the map, but buys it its own island. How can anyone resist an amalgam of the zany nonsense of the B-52s with the drollery of The Fall and delivery of the Pixies? I thought not.

You can buy the single from Amazon (US, UK), iTunes or the band's label, Fantastic Plastic. And you should--and not just so you can one day sell it for gazillions on eBay. The "second A side"--it's one of those deals--is just about as good. The band is working on a full-length that according to their record company is to be released "soon." I'm all tingly in my tummy at the thought. Also, be sure to watch the video for "Amateur Man." Super cute.

A couple days ago Some Velvet Blog did a post on one of my longtime favorite labels, spinART and namechecked Suddenly, Tammy!, a band I hadn't thought about in a long time, A sister-brother team from Lancaster, PA, Beth and Jay Sorrentino and bassist Ken Heitmuller wrote some excellent piano pop songs in the early-to-mid-90s that didn't find a huge audience, but probably should have. I admit I always approach big piano-led tunes gingerly. (And considering the piano is the only instrument I ever learned to play with any kind of competence, well, that's pathetic... I blame Billy Joel and Tori Amos.) But if you know only one thing about Suddenly, Tammy! it should be "Hard Lesson," a song that should satisfy most New Pornographers fans--in other words, everyone:

Hard Lesson - Suddenly, Tammy!

From We Get There When We Do (US, UK), currently selling for criminally low prices from Amazon sellers. Pick it up for a song and turn a friend on and maybe we can rouse a Suddenly, Tammy! revival.

What else am I listening to this week? The new Built To Spill (US, UK), of course. I'm too much of a long-time fan not to buy the record, even if it is getting meh reviews. It seems like BTS set out to make a pop record a la Keep It Like a Secret, which is fine by me. But while a song like "Liar" is up there in the band's pantheon of greats, there are a few ruts in the road. Still, BTS holds the same position Pavement occupied before Malkmus & Co. bowed out in 1999: Even when they're not playing at 100%, they still do it better than almost everyone. And for all my friends who gave me shit when I admitted publicly last week that "Sugar, Sugar" is my favorite song, "Car" is probably my second favorite. Cool enough? A bit obvious perhaps, but I think there's a general consensus on that one, right?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Contrast podcast

Contrast podcast

The new Contrast podcast, featuring an international group of mp3 bloggers, including yours truly, is up and available to download here.

Tim of The Face of Today is the mastermind behind the project--well done, Tim! The theme was "perfect three minutes" and while I think my choice is a fantastic track, I considered a couple other contenders (all older songs, oddly enough):

(I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp - The Soft Boys
An energetic classic from one of the most inventive and good-humored bands in rock history. For me, the apex of that late 70s transitional period from punk to new wave. From 1976-1981 (US, UK).

Seed Toss - Superchunk
Given my religious devotion to Superchunk in the early to mid 90s, it's funny how I never listen to most of the albums anymore. The exception is the early stuff--the manic pop-punk of the Chunk's self-titled album (US, UK) and the singles collected on Tossing Seeds (US, UK) hold up brilliantly.

Fly - Nick Drake
Sometimes I fear "Fly's" melancholy strings verge on the histrionic, but as with most of his songs, Drake uncannily draws you into his world with that feverish, whispery voice. As exquisite as that world is, it's too sad to bear for long. I find Drake's best in small doses. From Bryter Layter (US, UK).

Other perfect three minute songs:
"Sloop John B," The Beach Boys
"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," Johnny Cash
"U-Mass," The Pixies
"Sabotage," The Beastie Boys
"Accidents Will Happen," Elvis Costello
"Silence Kit," Pavement

Any three-minute masterpieces you want to add?

Monday, April 10, 2006

No Hits 4.10.06

How We Operate - Gomez

Woman! Man! - Gomez

Let's just get this out of the way: Gomez isn't making music for people like me. Their particular brand of adolescent male longing is going to have the greatest appeal for actual adolescent males and men young enough to remember that itchy, achy, awkward period when women (apparently) are unknowable devils and angels. While it would be unfair to accuse the band of trafficking in the sort of high-gloss, self-serious Britpop of Coldplay or the toothless blues rock of The Dave Matthews Band, their sound--while retaining some individuality--could be characterized as a blend of the two highly successful formulas. And that's a sound that's pretty unlikely to divert me from my latest indie pop discovery.

That said, Gomez's soon-to-be-released LP How We Operate (US, UK) on Dave Matthews' label ATO Records isn't half bad. Despite it's satin finish, the album offers plenty of nubby texture and nuance just below the surface from, in a song like "Chasing Ghosts With Alcohol," guitars that dip so hushed and low you reach for the volume control to, in "All Too Much," eager vocals that strain so hard you're almost embarrassed for the band. And every subtlety and excess in between. "Woman! Man!"--inexplicable punctuation and all--is the track that hooked me immediately with it sunny, loose-limbed chorus. It's almost something I can imagine Neil Diamond writing and singing. No, seriously. And I think it highlights the fact that this isn't a trend-chasing band. That's where Gomez and I have lots of common ground.

Totally off the subject. But if you care about literary stuff (oh, who doesn't?), Dale Peck's "ruling" in The Morning News' latest Tournament of Books is worth checking out. Peck's best known volume of criticism is Hatchet Jobs, so you (and TMN) should know what to expect. But if Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner's commentary is any indication, some folks were actually expecting Peck to be on better behavior. Kids, kids!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunday song

Sharron Kraus and Christian Kiefer

The Blackest Crow - Christian Kiefer and Sharron Kraus

Lamentation for an impending death and meditation on enduring love, "The Blackest Crow" is more commonly heard slow-picked on banjo and fiddle. On their new album The Black Dove (US, UK) California singer-songwriter Christian Kiefer and English songstress Sharron Kraus recontextualize the traditional folk ballad as an almost-hymn, with a pump organ that seems to wend its way through stone naves and transepts, past well-worn pews, reverberating off ancient walls to hover in grey vaulted ceilings closed to the sky. In keeping with the touching lyrics' 19th Century Appalachian origin (possibly written during the Civil War period), Kraus sings plainly, modestly, her appeal made with a stately grace and somber quietude.

Tim O'Brien performs a traditional bluegrass arrangement and Justin Rutledge's version is a more contemporary, meandering affair. Also, if you missed it a few weeks back, Linda Draper's "Seven Black Crows" makes the ideal companion piece.

The Blackest Crow - Tim O'Brien

The Blackest Crow - Justin Rutledge

An Inside Bluegrass article talks about the song's history and the difficulty of arranging it for guitar.

Friday, April 07, 2006


I'm not much of a self-promoter, but I thought you might be interested in reading an interview I did with David of Digital Audio Insider. He asked some really intriguing questions about my music listening habits--including how mp3s and iPods have changed them--and about Shake Your Fist. I'm extremely flattered he thought I was worthy of an interview, so if you get a chance, please check it out.

While working on my taxes this afternoon (groan), I was listening to a wonderful little tune from Dear Nora, a band you may know from their recent work with Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. It's a song that doesn't announce it's magic right away, commencing with a skeleton crew of guitar, drum and double-tracked thrift store indie girl vocals. But about a minute in, it sort of blooms, like the chilly tulips planted in front of buildings up and down my block, waiting for the merest hint of spring warmth to unfold.

Sarah You're Not For Me - Dear Nora

This is lovely too:

Here We Come Around Again - Dear Nora

From and A House Full of Friends (US, UK) and Mountain Rock (US, UK).

I've been meaning to mention that a band I wrote up last fall, The Playwrights, have finally released their mini-album English Self Storage in the UK. As I think I've said before, I don't have a lot of patience with most of the current crop of British post-punk bands, but The Playwrights are special. I lent the disc to Jon and he pronounced it "crowded, " but that happens to be what I like about the band: They're highly literate, dense and rich, like a 12 -grain bread with honey and sunflower seeds and other crunchy, yummy goodness. No empty calories here! The US release date isn't for another couple weeks, but Brits can buy the record at your local record stores and from Sink and Stove Records.

Fear of Open Spaces - The Playwrights

Another band I posted about last year, The Black Swans, just released their excellent Sex Brain EP (buy from Insound and iTunes). Pitchfork gave it a highly complimentary review this week, a review that doesn't overstate the lurid sexuality of the record. However, don't even think about sticking it in your seduction toolkit (okay, icky choice of words). It's way too sad and shameful.

Friends - The Black Swans

And just cuz I don't want to send you off without posting a neat weekend dance tune... though if you can dance to the herky-jerky, splatter-you-in-all-directions beat of About's "Strike You As The Enemy," you're a fearless hipster indeed. Assume the snapping fingers position.

Strike You As The Enemy - About

Visit About's Web site.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006



Clock Song (Go Girl Go) - Scrawl

Trying Not To Think About Time - The Futureheads

Time or Dateline - Circulatory System

Making Time - The Creation

In My Own Time - The Three O'Clock

Daylight saving time is killing me. For a borderline--or smidge over the border--insomniac who in normal circumstances just barely negotiates that fine distinction between tired-but-functional and can't-focus-for-longer-than-10-seconds-at-a-time utter exhaustion, these tiny time adjustments that throw my finely calibrated internal clock off and deprive me of a precious hour are a bitch. So I'm watching the clock more than usual this week--three minutes til I absolutely must drag my weary self out of bed and get ready for work or I'll definitely miss my bus, 30 minutes til the end of the work day and I can officially pull the switch on my Swiss-cheesed brain. And so on.

But I've always been a clock watcher. For the longest time, I had this maddening tendency to show up early for everything because I couldn't bear to be a minute late. Apparently I would melt or spontaneously combust or morph into a small desert-dwelling rodent or something. Since the friends I was usually meeting were on the slightly late side (in other words, they were cooler than me), I wasted a lot of energy fuming and imagining scenarios in which I might, just might, forgive them (being dead was the only one that seemed reasonable) .

Growing up, my parents liked to tell the story of how "clock" was my first word. I think they wanted to impress friends and rivals with my precociousness: you know, infantile intimations of mortality or some such. Unfortunately for them, the only thing precocious about me was the cynicism. The practical reason for "clock" rather than "mama" or "daddy" is that at the time it seemed appropriate for me to start testing the English language, we were living in Germany and my dad was collecting clocks. This was in the 70s when the dollar was almighty and the Deutschmark and pound were worthless (ah yes, the long ago days of American economic imperialism!). So our apartment was crammed with five or six antique German and English clocks and one 18th century American longcase with this amazing little sepia scrawled missive from the original owner hidden within (whimsical, but true). (My brother doesn't realize it yet, but that grandfather clock is so mine.) Anyway, what could possibly be more entrancing for a little person than fancifully carved wooden objects with shiny metal faces producing mellifluous purrs and clangs. Those intrusive chimes in the Circulatory System track above? Just like that, times six, times 24 hours a day, times two times an hour.

So given my recent struggle with the clock, how perfect is it that SYF just received an email from a Toronto duo calling themselves The Invisible Clock Factory? And the fact that I actually like their music? And that they seem to celebrate the wonder of childhood, the joy of noise? Invisible Clock Factory sound like kids who received a large parcel from their mysterious Uncle Frederick. Inside the unwieldy pine crate they find all manner of odd objects that don't seem to have any practical function, but make clicky, clacky, wheezy, yelpy, tinkly, plucky, thumpy noises. And on that base, TICF layer some hammy filtered vox, sincerely strummed acoustic guitar and lyrics like "How I miss Penelope Rose/ With the sweet pink lips and the perfect nose," and "Everything is always changing/ La la la la." For fans of, oh, everything pop and low-fi and charming.

Penelope Rose - The Invisible Clock Factory

The Quantum Particles Song - The Invisible Clock Factory

Head over to TICF's Web site for a free download of Charlie Takes a Holiday, a very John Darnielle-esque sounding concept album "about a man who is driven mad by the existential pressures of mundane, middle class life, seeking reassurance in the melodies and lyrics of rock and roll." You know it.

International Pop Underground, V/A (US)
The Futureheads, The Futureheads (US, UK)
Circulatory System, Circulatory System (US, UK)
Sixteen Tambourines, The Three O'Clock (US, UK)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My MySpace

It's true--I have 100 MySpace friends. Finally!

You are probably thinking what a lot of people I know think about MySpace--what a pathetic waste of the Internet. I had the same reaction a couple years ago when I received an email from the online meet (meat?) market inviting me to try blogging on their site instead. I signed up and saw my page and sadly unsexy photos sit dormant and friendless for a long time.

Then something happened.

I'm not sure what caused the MySpace explosion, but it's a big deal now. All the cool kids do it. Slowly, my catalogue of "friends" began to grow--people I knew from high school, fellow bloggers, females who were convinced I was worth getting to know because I held a guitar in my pictures. (Either that or the glimmering bald head...) Still, I rarely signed on to the site and simply lost interest.

Then something else happened.

Bands began to seize upon MySpace as a free way to have a website--post pictures, update news and gigs, stream music, maintain a mailing list. All the things a fledgling band might want without having to pay for a domain name or design costs. It's brilliant, actually. But it wasn't just trying-to-make-it bands. Well-known mainstream artists began to use the site as a way to stream upcoming albums and smuggle label propaganda to people. Genius!

Like any place one might look for music, you have to trudge through some crap on MySpace, but I've stumbled across a couple keepers.

Laura Jansen is a perfect example of what's potentially good about MySpace for musicians--she doesn't have a real website, a fully-realized recording or even a band. There's a naive quality about her page. She asks for band members and someone to create a website on her sidebars. But don't be fooled--the songs are great. I've been emailing consistently for a couple months asking about the upcoming record. "It's coming. Can you be patient and still excited?" she wrote last time. If the song "Bells" is a glimpse into this recording, I will gladly wait. The simple instrumentation lulls me into a trance that her vocals pull me out of just barely, but because they are beautiful, not distracting. Good music for spring.

Thanks to One Tree Hill (no, I am not providing a link!) people have had the chance to hear
Strays Don't Sleep. Essentially a collaboration for two gifted songwriters, Matthew Ryan and Neilson Hubbard, this combo creates the kind of whispered organic music that demands a glass of merlot and some candles. (Yes, that's a glimpse into my typical Friday night--so what?!) On tour this spring with personal favorite Josh Rouse, this is a band I'm proud to call my "friends." (Check out the song "Love Don't Owe You Anything"--it's gorgeous.)

For Blue Skies -- Strays Don't Sleep

From Strays Don't Sleep, Strays Don't Sleep (Amazon: US, UK)

I can't post without including something British can I? Nemo are an electro-punk band, unfortunately compared to The Faint and The Killers. Yes, they look the part, complete with gaunt, seemingly never-seen-the-sun complexions. There is something infectious about these songs. I'm waiting for a CD to land in my mailbox as I've begged the band to send me their last recording. (Do I appear to be an email mooch or what?) I'm not sure how long this dance rock genre will last this time around, but I hope Nemo puts out a lot more material before the 80s vibe is no longer "cool." (Check out "Living Room" and begin to count the influences.)

Rescue The Revolution -- Nemo

Monday, April 03, 2006

No Hits 4.3.06

Chinese Burn - The Len Price 3

Amsterdam - The Len Price 3

A super slice of garage pop in the vein of the Nuggets sets. As much as "Amsterdam" sounds like a time capsule--down to the mono recording and ludicrous maniacal laughter at 1.22--this is from the English band's 2005 Chinese Burn LP (US, UK).

She's Lost Control - The Len Price 3

In the 1980's, the region The Len Price 3 call home, Kent's Medway Delta, nurtured a bunch of fine psychedelic garage revival bands, from the studiously amateurish Billy Childish-affiliates like Pop Rivets and The Milkshakes (aka Mickey and the Milkshakes and Thee Milkshakes), to the more polished and atmospheric rock of The Prisoners and my personal favorites, The Dentists. Crazy as it may seem for a band that's been gone for a good ten years, The Dentists have a MySpace page where you can download a few more tracks and, ya know, make them your friends (please do).

One Day You Die - The Milkshakes

Far Away - The Prisoners

She Dazzled Me With Basil - The Dentists