Monday, February 26, 2007

Into the woods

Jill in Woods
Image: Amy Blakemore

Lost In Forests - Boduf Songs

Two Across the Mouth - Boduf Songs

Mat Sweet, who is Boduf Songs, plays and sings thresholds, the certain heres before the indefinite theres, the doorframes against which we slump in suspension against action. In "Lost In Forests," from his first album, he slow-plucks chords, lingers in long, almost uncomfortable pauses and thoughtful, drawn-out whispers. He deep-breathes inventories of the public sphere (the courthouse, the cemetery) and the private, erotic (touching skin on skin on skin on skin). He toes the spongy meadow floor before plunging headfirst into the woods. In "Two Across the Mouth," from Boduf Songs' second record, Sweet worries strings raw and may never act; he's imprisoned in a house built of mistakes, a house built by his own hands. As prisons almost always are.

From Boduf Songs (iTunes, eMusic) and Lion Devours the Sun (iTunes, eMusic)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Here we go again

Hold It Up - The Shaky Hands

Another day, another good band from Portland. Another itchy, anxious, mad-strumming, hyperactive pack of winningly whiny boys jumping the springs out of the mattress. Not that I'm complaining. Shaky Hands' (Myspace) self-titled debut album is as stylistically inconsistent as you'd probably expect from guys plowing adjacent fields to zeitgeisty digital download faves (note I didn't say "blog bands") Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Tap Tap. It's a tangled magpie nest of spiky guitar lines, bubbling bass, jittery drums, screechy violins and oh, pretty much everything else. But focus is overrated; all you need to know is that the record is packed tight with terrific songs. I've long held, and will continue to argue, that the provenance of this 00s sound -- whether the artists know or acknowledge it -- is the bouncy, endearingly amateurish Dunedin, NZ scene of the 80s. Singer Nick Delffs even cracks his voice on the high notes like David Kilgour. You'll hear your own influences. Whatever. This is great, great, great.

The increasingly blog-like Pitchfork posted a different Shaky Hands song earlier today. Holocene Music releases The Shaky Hands in April. As we used to say in my pep club days, get psyched, guys!


Sean of Said the Gramophone wrote a very moving piece about a recent car accident and posted two beautiful songs from Iceland with it.

If you have a Sirius radio subscription, tune in to Dodge's (of My Old Kentucky Blog) Left of Center show on Thursday nights (tonight). Some friends and I were lounging about last Friday night and caught it accidentally (think it was a rebroadcast) and we were utterly charmed by his funny between-song ramblings.

The Morning News listed The Top Albums of 1980. If you've been following this series, you already know that Andrew Womack is (perhaps excessively?) fond of Joy Division and Brian Eno.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yes is the answer

A funeral for proper argument
Image: PCP

Seward Park - Grand Hallway

On its Myspace page, Grand Hallway compares its sound to "echoes in a grand hallway," which you could read as brand reinforcement. And if you're a music blogging geek who spends too much time thinking about such things, you could also pause to consider if the name or the description came first -- if the band set out with that vague, romantic notion of making music that sounds like echoes in grand hallways. Or if in early rehearsals, as Tomo Nakayama's eerily sonorous, gender indeterminate vocals and alternately diffident and grandiose keys, and the band's stately plucked bass, rippling guitar textures and labyrinthine rhythms pointed irretrievably to something so old-fashioned and dignified, that they merely capitulated to the name. Either way, it's a snug fit. "Seward Park's" nostalgic lyrics evoke winding drives and grassy reclines, but its instrumentation infers the structure and formality of doors and floors and walls -- of massive, high-ceilinged, elaborately decorated structures that might hold both austere marble halls and a great gilt and trompe l'oeil-frescoed Palladian-style domed space. Beautiful rooms, spacious and solid enough to house a big, glorious crescendo of string quartet, dauntless, lapping piano and keening, frayed-rope voice, and not reduce to rubble.

The band will release its album Yes Is The Answer in Japan in April, but is currently seeking a US label. Hey, US labels, ya listening? You can stream another very good song called "Napoleon's Left Shoe" on Grand Hallway's Myspace.

Time Taunts Me - Lost In The Trees

So all day I'm feeling spacey and distracted, like I sometimes do when I've slept too much or taken a Sudafed. And I have no appetite for my chicken korma at lunch. I think maybe the flu is coming on, but on the way home from work, bounding the wet pavement and observing the trees dribble melting ice, I realize what it is: We are finally on the frozen-thawing cusp of spring. And I have been holding my breath all winter.

From Time Taunts Me (Preorder from Trekky Records).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

One and two and

Image: Erika Giovanna Klein

You Earn Your Enemies (Tower Song) - Un Deux Trois

Un Deux Trois is a trio of course. But "You Earn Your Enemies" is a duet of vivid clanging guitar and hissing/thumping drums -- a rough, gentle, clumsy, graceful pas de deux of faith and disappointment, praise, (but mostly) reproach. Its title is withering and just a little self-righteous. You would be too if you'd stood still and solid as a tower while your errant lover romped across the countryside quaffing whiskey and collecting bodies and other souvenirs. Yet Heather McEntire never sings cold or bitter; her tongue sustains notes like orange embers. And I nominate the backing ahs ahs in a best supporting role (not sure if that too is McEntire or Maria Albani, the band's late addition). They coax the lead with courage, courage, like some Ronette or Shangri-La or Go-Go who wandered off and into 2007, into a fun, fresh-faced Chapel Hill, NC indie pop band.

Un Deux Trois's Lovers EP will be released on March 7 on Holidays For Quince Records. The band plays multiple Carolina dates with the Rosebuds in March. And you should visit their Myspace to hear "Janice Says."

Noel, Jonah & Me - The Spinanes

I bought The Spinanes' Manos (Amazon, iTunes) the same day Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released.
I'd been waiting, waiting, waiting for CRCR, but Manos was more of an impulse buy; I'd seen the video for "Noel, Jonah and Me" on 120 Minutes (which I still, weirdly enough, feel embarrassed to admit because in 1994, indie kids with any shred of cred didn't cop to watching MTV) and I couldn't get the song out of my head. A three-and-a-half minute blast of noisy, sweet-snarling pop, the song shouldn't be as good as it. The Spinanes were a duo -- Rebecca Gates on guitar/vocals and Scott Plouf on drums -- and in my experience, most guitar/drums duos are object lessons in the indispensibility of bass guitars to rock combos' satisfying dynamic range, texture and timing. But a bass only would have held the self-taught Gates back. She somehow coaxes a wonderfully infectious melody and a wobbly, growling rhythm out of her guitar. It's confident and blustery, as if no one ever explained that she's playing it wrong (not that she would care). And Gates sings with the same sangfroid, with a kind of dreamy, worn-in alto that suddenly becomes sad-sounding and vulnerable when her vocals are double-tracked on the second verse. For some reason, "I'm a square," gets me every time. Which reminds me, I've never been quite certain of the song's lyrics until I just now searched for them. I still have no idea who Noel or Jonah are, but I will love a song with phrases like "screeching fear" and "creeping complications." Fear, at its most inhibiting, is indeed a muffled screech and complications almost always walk on the balls of their feet. So yes.

When I took my merchandise to the register that February day 13 years ago, the same unfriendly dude who, I swear to God, has and always will work in every independent record store in America offered a small sniff for the Pavement. I'm sure he'd sold 100 copies already and if you were really cool, you were over Pavement the week after Slanted and Enchanted came out. But when I handed him the Spinanes, his tight indifference cracked into a smile and he wagged his finger at the plastic box, "This, this is great," and then he started gushing about Rebecca Gates and the time he had seen the Spinanes play and what an amazing opening track "Entire" was and ... once he started talking he wasn't going to stop. I might have walked out without paying.

Ok, unrelated to either of the preceding scrappy, minimalist gems, but in honor of the Hallmark holiday tomorrow today: red paper hearts, purple eyeshadow and a handful of glitter. One of my favorite songs of last year:

Valentine - The Delays

From You See Colours (Amazon).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This is my happy face

Lemon and bird #1
Image: Matte Stephens

In the interest of not suffocating simple songs under a truckbed load of word-bricks (my typical MO) ...

I learned of both of these artists last year and was instantly enchanted. And I continue captivated.

Liberazione - David Thomas Broughton

But I've had mixed success making David Thomas Broughton converts. He's a little difficult, yes. He has a gift for self-sabotage, definitely. This is his easiest song. And just hear how it concludes.Yet it's as good a point of entry as any. Broughton is the cold ground and the warm rain, both lumbering, earth-tethered melancholy and sky-kissing falsetto, sin-scorched soul and magnolia-white hands.

From Anchovies EP (Rough Trade).
DT Broughton's Myspace

Little A More Strongly Grow I - Benoit Pioulard

Benoit Pioulard may be the most accessible artist Kranky has signed in years (and the poppiest entrant on this Ghostly International comp). If your idea of accessible (and poppy) is holding a glass against a wall to hear in the next room a bad dub of a bad dub on decaying magnetic tape disseminated by a cheap boombox while a bare bulb buzzes above your head and a washing machine shudders in the basement.

Benoit Pioulard's Website

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Where you gonna go to now


Sandy - Papercuts

John Brown - Papercuts

Nostalgia's a tricky bitch, a loose, yet stingy whore -- as likely to hand out Vaseline lenses on behalf of reactionary ideologues as pass a joint in the park with the neo-hippie crowd. But unlikely to serve either honestly. Jason Quever, the more-or-less sole practitioner behind Papercuts, could be accused of working in the same unreliable echo chamber as many of the new nostalgic folkies. As a working musician, Quever's semi-peripatetic, but comes closest to calling San Francisco home, and his label, Gnomonsong, belongs to Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic. Quever has played in Vetiver and Cabic returns the favor by lending vocal harmonies to a couple tracks on Papercuts' latest album, Can't Go Back (buy from Gnomonsong). One of these is a song called "Outside Looking In," and it's where (if his music, more indebted to Phil Spector than Pentangle, doesn't already communicate it clearly) Quever formally breaks with his immediate peers:

I'm always on the outside looking in
And I don't understand that poetry you read
What does it mean that you have
An existential dilemma.

If as a statement of intent the new album's title isn't musico-historically accurate (I hear everything from The Mamas and the Papas to the Byrds to the Everly Brothers, but not a lot that I'd identify as uniquely 21C), it breaks from the past in other crucial ways. Papercuts' last record, Mockingbird, had a cabin-fevered closeness, even a sickbed-sodden inertia. What pretty songs there were -- "A Fairy Tale," "Tulips," "December Morning" -- were lonely, muted, diaristic. (It should come as no surprise to anyone that Quever's pals with Owen Ashworth.) Can't Go Back isn't an open book, but it offers a greater sense of optimism, interactivity and that important byproduct of getting outside your own skull -- empathy. Most of the song's opaque narratives offer shaky assistance to souls who sound even more troubled than Quever. In the lovely sun-areoled "Sandy," he sings, Sandy baby now it's time for you to rise and see the world outside/It ain't so bad just don't try to be something you're not. Strings in "John Brown" -- one of the best songs of this young year -- shiver mournfully. However, the lead guitar stabs sharp and sure, and if Quever's intonations start foggy, four minutes in he's bleating sweet certainty to a crisp backbeat in support of this John Brown who sees things and hears voices (and who may or may not be the famed abolitionist and infamous half-deck card player). For a moment, the invisible and disenfranchised are bright hued and clarion voiced.

Quever still does all of the songwriting and most of the singing, playing and engineering (impressive, considering the textual density of the project). This time, though, he sounds like he's sharing the recording studio with other people and that occasionally he escapes the building and strolls the streets, takes the air. And that's what I hear this record soundtracking: walks on faded blocks of peeling, post-war hope -- drooping flower shops, seedy, time-warped junk outlets, diners with neon signs that lost some of their letters as long ago as the 80s. Former downtowns of cities whose centers have shifted. (If you live in an American city, you know these streets.) But blocks that still shuffle with tired feet and are papered with faces that tell stories, sometimes familiar, sometimes surprising. Nostalgic? Yes. But focused, realistic. Most of all, generous.

Papercuts' Myspace.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

We're all on drugs

Sasquatch holding a balloon
Sasquatch holding a balloon, Chloe Hilton

Tropical Yeti Song
- The Pharmacy

Turned Into Granite - The Pharmacy

The Pharmacy doesn't sound a bit like Clinic, the first thing that entered my mind when I saw the name (and making me wonder why I've put off listening to the latest Clinic album -- a question for my therapist, perhaps?). But with its skewed pop inclinations, and the fact that the execution of its songs seems secondary, even accidental, to its hyperactive pursuit of silliness, The Pharmacy reminds me a lot of The Unicorns. (And yeah, I wager these guys are probably pretty intimate with the various uses and applications of a wide range of pharmaceuticals. So sure, apt name.)

"Tropical Yeti Song" is less fun than
restless paranoia amid the faux-indigenous architecture and planned excursions of one of those hellish island resorts. Keys squelch like PVC-accoutred legs crossing/uncrossing in 95 degree heat and the drums have the dumb, relentless thud of coconuts dropping poolside. "One more hour and I'll be gone," is sung with urgency, but also a rubber-kneed queasiness that tells you the cruise ship doesn't sail for four more days and nobody's going anywhere anytime soon. "Turned Into Granite" offers heartsick, rocks-in-pockets lead vocals and a requiem mass of backing ooh ooh oohs. You too would be morose if you leaned in for a kiss and your paramour turned to stone, and not just stone, but granite -- one of the hardest, sturdiest, most unyielding igneous rocks. High school romances like, totally suck.

The Washington state band (members don't seem to want to commit to Seattle or Olympia) can be found at their Myspace or Website.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A modest calamity

The Hustle
The Hustle, Seonna Hong

Avalanche! Oh, Avalanche! - Gregory and the Hawk

Gregory and the Hawk, aka Brooklynite Meredith Godreau, plucks it from the encyclopedia. But is careful not to copy word for word, to instead, put it in her own, to substitute "number one" for "primary" and "kill" for "wipe out" and so on. And she remembers to state her own opinion: that avalanches strike for no other reason than to remind people "to be fearful." All the other kids sing songs about hurricanes, tsunamis and the Big One to come. Godreau reports on a less-trafficked natural disaster, a relatively modest calamity of suffocating snow, but one whose significance -- if you happen to be a dead Swiss skier whose limbs she gingerly steps over in her smart powder blue snowsuit -- is probably pretty great.

From The Boats & Birds EP (Artist direct, iTunes).

Website and Myspace

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Let's build a wall


Nerds - Dodo Bird (The Dodos)

Dodo Bird -- recently rechristened The Dodos -- is Meric Long and Logan Kroeber. Long sings, plays piano, guitar and even trombone. He writes the songs. Kroeber holds down the percussion job. It sounds like a lopsided distribution of duties, and in many lo-fi singer-songwriter-guitarist/drummer duos, it is: The drummer's a mere human metronome (with as much personality as a block of wood) or there only to
gussy up his buddy's tunes with inconspicuous stick work that won't shift the sightlines from the star. But even if the project began as Long's, with Kroeber a later addition, drum kit emissions on their Beware of the Maniacs LP aren't decorative scrollwork. For one thing, the drums are fucking massive -- booming, throbbing, gut-slugging, room-ripping attention hogs. They bellow. They growl. They howl. Even when they aren't massive, even when they're "just" nervous, capering beetles in a bucolic meadow picnic like "Elves," they spike your toes as they skitter over the tops of your shoes.

But wait. Here I am making The Dodos sound like Liars when they're probably closer kin to Animal Collective. Long's psych-folk-pop compositions are smart and tight and melodic and his hammer-handed, fleet-fingered acoustic attack always meets Kroeger's thumps halfway, awkward toe to toe, chin to chin, heat to intensity. And his voice is great. Warm and wobbly and familiar like a brother's or a best friend's. Except (or maybe mostly?) when he's yelling like an asylum escapee -- anguished, near-inarticulate, tonsil-baring scream-sobs -- in songs like "Nerds" and "Men" (hear on the band's Myspace). All of which is to say, I think, that The Dodos are probably a band to experience live. Though they're pretty damn good on record, too.

Buy Beware of the Maniacs
Meric Long's Web site