Friday, June 30, 2006

Interview with The 1900s

The 1900s

They've only released a single EP, Plume Delivery (Parasol Records), but The 1900s are one of the most talked-about young bands in Chicago. Fusing various pop and rock strains of the past 50 years, The 1900s deliver a delectable brew of infectious melodies, wistful lyrics and lush orchestration. Recently, bassist Charlie Ransford was kind enough to answer a few questions about the band's enigmatic name, myriad influences and plans for a full-length album.

There's a lot of local buzz surrounding The 1900s. In the last couple weeks I've seen features in The Reader, Time Out and the Chicago Sun-Times and you recently sold out a show at The Hideout. Were you expecting all the attention?

I think we knew we had something good when we were finished recording the EP and that people would notice it. We recorded the album ourselves and really put a lot into that recording and were very happy with how it turned out and thrilled with the job Graeme Gibson did mixing it, so we expected something. But the amount of attention that we ended up getting has been really unexpected. From the start the support that bands like Bobby Conn, The M's and The Changes gave us was unexpected, and then when the local press and blogs started writing about us ... well, I mean we were hoping and planning for things to work out like this, but that it actually did is quite surprising to all of us.

I understand you've only been performing live as a band since last fall. When and how did the band come together?

Our first show was in September of 2005, so it's been just about a year that we've been playing together. Ed [Anderson], Tim [Minnick], and Mike [Jasinski] all went to high school together and have been playing in various musical projects on and off together for years. I hooked up with them because we've all been playing in the Chicago music scene for years and knew each other through our various bands. We've all been talking about playing in a band together for years, so when the timing was right, we started getting together. The girls were reportedly recruited after performing a little impromptu dance routine to an Ike and Tina Turner song at some party that Ed was at, which if you've seen us live you know we have managed to work that into our live show quite a bit.

I think you currently have 8 members. Is bigger better? And I wonder, is this a Chicago thing? Because a couple other local bands, namely Head of Femur and Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, are also bursting at the seams.

Bigger isn't necessarily better. I mean, some of the best stuff out there is just one person singing and playing guitar like Dylan or Townes or Willie Nelson. But to do what we want to do, you need bigger. You need backup singers and string players and an occasional horn player and before you know it, you can barely fit on stage. I'd bet other bands with similar lineups have done it for similar reasons, and we probably have some similar influences that drive us to form big bands--Belle and Sebastian, Beach Boys, Sufjan Stevens, Flaming Lips, Motown, tropicalia. Why there are so many in Chicago is anyone's guess.

Where did your name come from? Because listening to your music, it seems like you might more appropriately be called The 1960s (and I'm guessing I'm not the first person to say that).

No you're not the first to say that, a lot of people pick up on the 1960s influences in our music. I think that 60s sound really comes out because of the vintage keyboards that are featured pretty prominently in our music. But if you dig into the songs a bit more there are definitely some things in there that are reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac from the 70s or Buddy Holly from the 50s or Tom Petty from the 80s. So the name "The 1900s" works on that level, but we weren't really trying to suggest anything about the music with the name of the band. I like to think of the name as more of a nostalgic nod to a century recently passed.

Plume Delivery sounds like a mix of so many different influences--60s psychedelia and garage rock, 70s country-rock, more recent indie pop. Is this a refection of individual band member's tastes?

Yeah that's definitely a reflection of our tastes. We all listen to a large variety of music. One of the reasons I think this bands works is that we all come together and agree on such a diverse set of influences, and you hit on four of the biggest influences, 60s psychedelic, 60s garage rock, 70s country rock, and recent indie rock.

What are your plans for a full-length album?

We've been writing the songs for a full-length album over the past couple months, so we've started the process already. The plan is to start recording demos of our songs to work out what we want to do with them over the summer and then sometime this fall we will be going into a studio and recording the album. We hope the album will come out sometime next spring.

What are some of the local bands that inspire you?
Chicago right now has so many great bands and such a great music scene, its really exciting to be a part of it. Andrew Bird is one of the most talented people out there and our music has definitely been inspired by what he has done. Generally what has been most inspiring has been just being around so many great musicians. I've already mentioned The M's, The Changes and Bobby Conn, but they deserve a second mention. Bands like Devin Davis, The Eternals, Paliard, Singleman Affair, Office and Manishevitz are all making great music. Chicago is really a great place to making music right now.

Visit The 1900s' Web site and Myspace page.

See The 1900s live:
July 1, Double Door, Chicago
July 15, Cowboy Monkey, Champaign, IL

Listen to The 1900s:

Bring The Good Boys Home - The 1900s

A Coming Age (live) - The 1900s

Oh No (live) - The 1900s

The live tracks--including one of the band's new songs, "Oh No"--come from a May 31, 2006 Chicago Public Radio in studio performance.

Other interviews in our Chicago series:
Nora O'Connor
Pinetop Seven

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Here comes another one

St. Patricks Grave

I'm pleased to introduce another guest post, this time from Bristol, England's experimental folk-rock musician Robin Allender. Robin (formerly known as The Inconsolable, but only professionally, thank God) is one of my favorite musicians and certainly my favorite musician without an actual release to his name. That will change later this year when he puts out his first solo record, and also appears on the debut Azalea City Penis Club album--so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can visit Robin at Dreamboat Records (where you can order the label's summer sampler) and his Myspace page, and, if you live in the Bristol area, see him perform live (check dates on his Myspace). The rest of us will just have to be satisfied with a couple of his fantastic demos.

A Case of Leaves - Robin Allender

The Frith - Robin Allender

There are few things more pleasurable than introducing people to music you love. Whether it be one of those drunken evenings in which you force a roomful of party-goers to endure your ten favourite drum fills, or a mix-tape about which you spend so much time fretting over sequencing and thematic fluency that you feel disappointed if the recipient doesn't write a complimentary thesis in response. So I've decided to post five songs that I'd play if you were to come round to my house for a bottle of gin or two. And tonic.

I've chosen songs that either have immense personal significance for me, or have one of those magical "spots in time"--moments which you insist on playing to people, saying, "You have to hear this bit! No wait, this bit coming up! Here it comes! This bit here!"

Uncle Pat - Ash

Ash were one of the first bands (post-Nirvana) that really meant a lot to me, and it's important not to be ashamed of these early infatuations. Indeed, I still think Ash are underestimated. They were generally grouped with the Britpop movement, but their first record, Trailer (US, UK), had a sophistication that their older contemporaries lacked.

”Uncle Pat” is about a young lad who traipses through the countryside to visit the grave of his eponymous uncle. The lyrics seem a little trite now, but as a naïve fourteen year old I was really struck by them as a kind of perfect poem. I thought this was what poetry was all about and I wanted more like it. I started scouring my dad’s anthologies of poetry, trying to find something else that would give me as direct a hit. Along the way I discovered Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley. But nothing matched Ash’s song somehow. Everything that these poets wrote seemed so cryptic, as if they didn't want to just let you have a clear view of something "beautiful," they had to make you work for it.

I still listen to this song on occasion (if I'm feeling particularly nostalgic), but I suppose I've since learned that the devil is in the detail, the beauty is in the complication.

In London So Fair - Eliza Carthy

... as in this song, for example. And this is where we go from faux Irish folk to the real thing. After a peculiar shift from first to third person in the second verse, “In London So Fair” (from Anglicana, US, UK) appears to retell the Odyssean story of a sailor being reunited with his long-lost love, but from the heroine's perspective. The unnamed "fair maid" in this song is anything but a placid Penelope figure, and is therefore well suited to Eliza Carthy's gutsy delivery. The sailor goes to sea and she disguises herself as a man to get on board (and, as in Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedies, the song boasts a hint of homoeroticism, as the sailor and his lover in disguise lie in the cabin together). The heroine reveals herself to him through the very refrain of the song: She quotes the sailor's promise back to him ("For as long as I'm a sailor on the sea") and the scales fall from his eyes.

Aside from the narrative cleverness of the song, what makes this version so special is Carthy's piano playing which, rather than simply underpinning the melody, actually mirrors the vocals, phrase for phrase. Every slight nuance, hesitated rhythm, grace note or stress is reflected in the dark piano. The effect is to bring the melody to the foreground, to almost give it the feel of an a capella performance.

As striking as it is, you can't help but want to hear a more straightforward version of the song, where the rhythm isn't so stilted by the piano. But then that's the beauty of folk music: There doesn't have to be a definitive version of anything.

One Voice - Nigel Kennedy and the Kroke Band

The Kroke Band are a klezmer band that recorded this track with the classical cockney (or mockney) violinist Nigel Kennedy. I’m not an expert on what is and is not klezmer, but this track (appearing on East Meets East, US, UK) has the hugely expressive instrumental performances, imitative of vocal phrasing, that are associated with that genre. It's just an unbelievably beautiful melody. I’ve included it because it has one of those genuine wait-until-you-hear-this moments: Just under four minutes in, Kennedy lets out an involuntary, "Yeah!" It's a little flaw that makes the whole thing complete.

Owed T'Alex - Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

Captain Beefheart's songs are made up entirely of transcendent moments, those "spots in time." As supposedly challenging, you wouldn't expect Beefheart to provoke the same aesthetic reactions you get from more straightforward rock. I remember the night someone first played me Captain Beefheart. As it happens, the person's name is Alex, and he's one of those people who can play you something and open it up for you in a way you hadn't thought possible. Alex played all of Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (US, UK) and, far from being difficult and exclusive, it was the most joyous, interesting and funny music I'd ever heard. I think we actually spent most of the evening in hysterics -- the absolutely ridiculous howling in "You Know You're a Man," the entirety of "Tropical Hot Dog Night" ("like two flamingoes in a fruuuiiiit fight!"), the fact that there was a song called "When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy."

But while the impact of some of the songs was immediate, I had to live in the album for a while to "solve" it. The intensities are so unexpected, the music so detailed and complex that, like the poetry I'd discovered via "Uncle Pat," I had to work hard and pay close attention to make it come alive.

Despite sounding strange and inscrutable on first listen, "Owed T'Alex" actually pushes the same buttons as the most obvious, unashamed-of-rock songs. To put it simply, I don't like this song because it's "experimental," I like it because it's fucking brilliant. It begins with a series of tense, endlessly shifting riffs (that I think are spread over some weird 6 time metre) that build to that one wonderfully climactic moment at 1.24, that "spot in time," when, preceded by a tantalising hint of feedback, the slide guitar kicks in and the song releases its pent up energy. It's such a magnificent and unexpected change in tone! And then, when the verse comes back in, with yet another brilliant 6 time riff (played on the trombone?), and Beefheart is singing as if he's still on the chorus ("Glad I'm not home tonight! / Five miles back I took a spill!"), you find yourself thinking, "That's just not fair! That's just ridiculously good!"

There's nothing else like this. And I haven't even got on to how good the lyrics are. Or how fantastically maniacal the Captain's laughter is at the end. Or how you suddenly realise you're been sitting on the edge of your seat by the time the song has finished ...

Sod it, just listen.

Here Comes Another One - Monty Python's Flying Circus

I'll end with this because the first time someone played it to me I laughed so much I couldn't breathe, and it's a real pleasure to think that people might be hearing it for the first time. Enjoy! You've been very kind.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Bear with me for a few hundred words as I try to say five words about Shellac.

Buried my grandmother last week. She was, like so many here in Chicago, an on-and-off Catholic who shaded toward the off side. Heavily. Or that's my take. My pious mother would likely provide a different reading, but I think we'd agree that she was a cultural Catholic, a South Sider who sent her five children to religious schools for the sake of what we now call "values." If she wasn't a to-the-letter religious person, she saw something in the church that suited her.

Under these auspices, I went to mass for the first time in a long time. There's no doubt a funeral service has a difficult job to do. In the space of an hour, it's got to resolve the great ambiguity underlying everything to a here-and-now audience of sad people. No picnic. In my experience, you've got three possible avenues here: comedy, poetry and music.

Mass, by nature, is not funny. If you've got a good officiant, they can slip some humor into the post-gospel speech, but, mostly, it's all transubstantiation and, let me tell you, miracles, while fantastic, are a real comedy killer.

My grandmother had a very, very dry sense of humor, modern Manhattan dry I'd say, so it makes sense that, if you cared to, you could laugh at her funeral. The altar people, all of which were girls barely in junior high, were performing their first service and had a very old and soon-to-retire priest, miked up, giving directions as if he were the foreman for a set of movers. "No, no, over there!" Again, this is a moment where all involved are supposed to be reflecting on the mystery of mortality, and, instead, I felt like I was witness to the emergency room in a teaching hospital. I don't want to go heavy on the altar girls though. Perhaps the brightest moment of my day: the bright red pajama-style pants and clogs peeking out below one of the girls' robes. That's why you go to funerals. You might be hurting, but, don't forget, brightness lives elsewhere.

On the poetic notion front, it's a powerful idea, meeting one's loved ones in the afterlife, especially when it's not scorched by hellfire talk. The language in the typical Word and Song isn't Wallace Stevens, but the message got across. Whether or not I think this message is relevant isn't the issue, 'cause I know what my grandmother thought. (Warning: the next line gets maudlin. Skip to the next paragraph right away if I've nearly lost you.) Watching her over the years, it seemed to me that, though she enjoyed the heck out of her life, what she wanted most was to embrace her daughter, dead for many years now, and that hug was going to last for a long, long time. As someone who has to provide a narrative for everything, including this Shellac intro, I'll admit to hoping for the truth of that notion for her sake too.

Finally, here at Shake Your Fist, we're about music and we're not bashful about kicking the dog when it's been bad so let me say that the songs I've had to endure at mass since childhood are TERRIBLE! I knew it then and I know it even better now. The organ and voice lines follow each other *exactly* and there's no embellishment, no humanity, no nothing. Yes, I know everyone is supposed to be able to sing them, but that's no excuse. As Amy would say: I want my hooks! What I really wanted was some music, some words, some anything that had something to say about the moment everyone in that church was living through, anything about my grandma, anything about the world in which she actually lived.

And my brain started singing me some Mama Gina:

And if there is a heaven
Though I think that there's probably no heaven
She's probably dancing with you
She liked to dance
She would have liked you

Yeah, that wistfulness, that looking back, that hope curdled by rationality and resettled by love, the arm's-length acknowledgment of the afterlife. All of it, spot on. All of it, in some way, describing what I suspect is the religion of my grandma, if not most. Not what you'd expect from Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer, but it's easy not to give them the credit they deserve. Thank you, boys, for being there, again.

Mama Gina (Live on WNUR) - Shellac

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Walk a thin line

Rumours - Fleetwood Mac

T. S. Eliot had something about arriving where you started and knowing the place for the first time. The actual lines come in the final stanza of "The Four Quartets," a poem I used to know but have, in practical terms, forgotten. As well as I used to know a lot of poetry I dropped and people who slipped sideways and city blocks whose storefronts molted so many times that eventually I passed not knowing them. That's time for ya. You lose things (as
Elizabeth Bishop said more eloquently), but with luck, you find new ones too. And if you're really fortunate, you make big loping, irregular circles and stumble back to original loves--even loves you didn't know you had--and meet them fresh.

I've known Fleetwood Mac forever. A succession of top 40 hits permanently grafted the band's work onto classic rock and adult contemporary radio playlists. So I know them from carpool stereos, backyard parties, pizza places after school and other scenes of comfortable suburban American youth. I know them as "California" and "summer" because they played the real or imagined soundtrack the summer my older California cousin stayed with us when her mom "shacked up" with some man. My dad threatened my aunt that he wouldn't be sending my cousin back. He did. That same summer a California boy named Dan with sun-bleached hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a drum kit in his bedroom, moved up the street. My cousin said he would be my boyfriend by the time junior high started in the fall. He wasn't.

A friend lent me a bunch of Fleetwood Mac reissues about a year ago, so I've had time to try to scrape off the memory residue and learn them on their own terms.

As a composition, Lindsay Buckingham's "Go Your Own Way" is to the pop song what Robert Towne's script of Chinatown is to film: lovely bones, assembled with almost mathematical precision that, nevertheless, fall short of explaining the emotional devastation of the final execution. From its plaintive opening bars, to those itchy shakers, to the guitar solo that takes off so smoothly at 2:38. How can something so fully formed, with such a communally delivered chorus, be about things falling apart? The center holds.

Andrew Earles, who writes a blog (and lots of other stuff) that makes me laugh so hard sometimes I rest my forehead on my desk next to my computer and take deep gulping breaths, said something
about Fleetwood Mac's "Walk A Thin Line" being better than anything released on any independent label since 1990. Earles' is a well-intentioned rhetorical gesture, even if it's ludicrous: Obviously, Pavement wrote several better songs on Slanted and Enchanted alone (though I'd entertain the argument that Matador isn't really indie). But his impulse and implications are dead-on. Fleetwood Mac were professionals making slick records within the dominant mode of music production and distribution, unapologetic rock stars living rock n' roll lifestyles, and they were really, really good.

"The Chain" is cool and measured, tight and tense, malevolent and controlled. Stop start, stop start. Damn your love, damn your lies.

Rumours sold more than 18 million copies. It is one of the best-selling albums in the history of recorded music. But all of the band's work from the mid through the late 70s is excellent. "Rhiannon" is from the self-titled album, self-titled despite the fact that Fleetwood Mac had been an entity since the late 60s and had released ten previous records. But acknowledgment that the band was quite something different in 1975. It had lost multiple members, relocated to Los Angeles and added a couple new ones, including Stevie Nicks, who wrote "Rhiannon." Fleetwood Mac was a new beginning after an end.

Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac

Walk A Thin Line - Fleetwood Mac

The Chain - Fleetwood Mac

Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac (US, UK)
Rumours (US, UK)
Tusk (US, UK)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A little is enough

Caves - Magda Wojtyra
Caves, Magda Wojtyra

Today, my favorite kind of post, the kind I don't have to write, the guest post! I'm leaving you in the extremely competent hands of David Harrell, main man behind wonderful Chicago indie pop band The Layaways and Digital Audio Insider, a thoughtful, intelligent blog devoted to online music distribution issues.

But before I go ... when you get a chance, kindly download Contrast Podcast 12 (better yet, why not just subscribe?). Seriously, how often do you get the opportunity to hear me giggle and snark my way through an intro? - Amy

As a self-released musician, I've spent a lot of time thinking (and for the past few months, blogging) about online music distribution. It's a different world today for indie musicians, compared to just five years ago. And the barrier to entry to this online world is almost nonexistent. Anyone can post mp3s on a website or a MySpace page, and the paid download sites are almost as easy. You don't even need a manufactured CD. Just send a CD-R to CD Baby, pay your $35, and sign up for digital distribution. In a couple of months you'll be on all of the online stores -- iTunes, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody. Instant worldwide distribution.

Sure, not all of this music is good. But even if the overall percentage of quality artists is low, if you're a rabid music fan, it still seems like there's an overwhelming quantity of new music to discover and digest, both free and paid. (You can even download free mp3s of early 20th century Edison cylinder recordings.) Moreover, it's not just unknown bands. The total volume of available music--old and new, from artists at all levels of success--just keeps expanding, faster than ever. Digital distribution makes it economical for record companies, from the smallest indies to the major labels, to rerelease out-of-print albums, rarities collections and outtakes. And online stores make it easy for the music fan to acquire a wider range of music than was ever available at the local record shop.

I'm certainly not complaining about having more music to choose from, but at some point, something has to give--you can't listen to EVERYTHING, even within a fairly narrow genre of music. At this point, I'm starting to think of the whole thing in Darwinian terms, that it's a struggle among an ever-expanding number of artists, all competing for the same resources. No, not the dollars of the music buyer (though that is part of the equation). The ultimate limiting factor is time, the available listening hours of music fans. Maybe that resource is expanding (do iPods and other portable devices mean that people spend more hours each day listening to music?) but probably not as fast as the competition for those hours.

For me, it's resulted in some real changes in my listening habits. My music library has expanded considerably. But I'm a less patient listener these days; it's rare that I listen to an entire album all the way through. Besides, the fastest-growing portion of my music collection isn't full-length CDs, but single mp3 tracks that I've found online via blogs like the one you're reading right now. I listen to a greater number of artists than ever before, but fewer songs from each of them.

And sometimes it's only one song. The list below is made up of some of the tracks that have gotten the most plays on my iPod over the past couple of years. They all have two things in common:

1. I didn't pay for any of them as they're all available free on band, label or promo websites.

2. Each of these represents the ONLY song I possess by the respective artists. I love these songs, but the second and third tunes I heard by these artists didn't hook me in the same way. So that's where I stopped.

Granted, I'm no doubt missing out on a lot of great music. These bands aren't "one hit wonders" and I'm sure there are other songs I'd like if I took the time to really explore their catalogs. (BTW, I feel mildly guilty that these artists aren't seeing any dollars coming their way from me. Maybe I should just download the single tracks from eMusic as a "micropayment" to each of them.) But for now, at least, one great song from each is enough for me.

If You Fall - Azure Ray

Pulling Our Weight - The Radio Dept

When the Angels Play Their Drum Machines - Hefner

Misanthrope - Aaron Hill & The Crimson Guard

Lovin' Her Was Easier (Kris Kristofferson cover) - Richard Buckner

Your Little Hoodrat Friend - The Hold Steady

All Those Things We’ve Done
- Tobin Sprout

Monday, June 19, 2006


Shake Shake Hello?! - You & The Atom Bomb

Mudwig Bahnoff - You & The Atom Bomb

Only a few short years ago, Bristol, England quartet You & The Atom Bomb were a cover band. They admit this, unembarrassed, in a storyboarded bio on their
record company's Web site (click "bands," then "You & Atom Bomb," then "visual biography"). After all, they were just kids and still kinda are. Which makes their first proper longish release (officially a "mini album") Shake Shake Hello?! all the more impressive.

You expect a young band to master perhaps three chords and a few catchy riffs. If they're any good, that is. What you don't expect is this kind of dizzying complexity--constantly shifting times and tempos, scattershot genre references and genuine drama played out in the tension between vocalists Suzi Gage and Jean-Marc de Verteuil. All this artiness (not to mention a tendency to toss off multisyllabics) doesn't preclude fun. The record's single, "Mudwig Bahnoff" is a giddy burst of post-punk exuberance, with fluttery keys, pummeled drums and a spacey guitar solo. Which is perfect, because the song's about that first crappy post-college apartment. You know the one? With the poor plumbing, thrift shop decor and unreachable slumlord. But whee! it's yours and it's heaven!

Shake Shake Hello?! is scheduled for release July 7 on Sink and Stove.

I've posted the band's earlier single "Velocipedes" before, but it's worth putting up again:

Velocipedes - You & The Atom Bomb

The band's
Web site & Myspace.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Radio scan

Radio ad

I don't listen to Internet radio enough, but when I do--even for a few minutes--I always discover something I like. Yesterday (indoors, hiding from the midday heat), it was a Dressy Bessy song on Indie Pop Rocks!/Soma FM. I've been a little wary of the band, what with their costumey schtick and such. However, "I Saw Cinnamon" is just that perfect blend of bubblegum pop and punk growl.

I Saw Cinnamon - Dressy Bessy

From Sound Go Round (US, UK).

Then today I heard something from Deathray Davies and decided, hey, I like these guys too. But I wonder, would this song be anything without the horns?

The Fall Fashions - The Deathray Davies

From The Kick and the Snare (US, UK).

And on WOXY's June lineup of unsigned bands, The Saturday Nights (from Chicago) stand out. This hazy, rose-colored single "Stranded" comes from their Web site.

Stranded - The Saturday Nights

Speaking of Chicago music, I've been meaning to point you to an excellent free album download from Hummingbiird (yes, two i's). Formerly known as Pedal Steel Transmission, they made three records under the old name, and are offering their self-titled Hummingbiird debut free on their Web site. Often these kinds of deals are of dubious value, but the album is packed with wistful, melodic jangle and hum, rumble and roar. Highly recommended for disillusioned Wilco fans.

Lyme Disease - Hummingbiird

Whisper To Chlorine - Hummingbiird

Thursday, June 15, 2006

June mix: Tangerine days and pink champagne

Tangerine - David Mead

In the interest of getting more of the good stuff off my hard drive and into your ears, I've built a 10-track mix of songs you probably haven't heard, but should. Some rock, some roots, some dance, plenty of pop, even some tunes that are a touch tough to classify. Here's the thing: It's all super. No fluff or filler. Solid end to end or your money back. (Ok, sure, an easy guarantee to make when everything is free. But still, it's the gesture right?)

Fun fact: Three of these--David Mead, The Bees, Venus Hum--are from Nashville. Nashville's not just for country anymore.

Hard To Remember - David Mead

Love or Trial? - The Hot Puppies

Never Gonna Hear From Me - Rademacher

Country Life - The Bees (U.S.)

I Know You Too Well - The Museum Pieces

Tragic Realism - LD and The New Criticism

Miles Apart - Surefire Broadcast

Pink Champagne - Venus Hum

Magic Hands - Black Fiction

Like a Song (Really) - The Sames

Coming attractions! Starting next week a series of guest posts by bloggers, musicians and friends (sometimes all three in one!). And more from our Chicago interview series. Hooray!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cool grass

AM Interstate

Feeling kinda dirty after yesterday? Hmm, me too. Let's kick off our shoes and walk bare in the cool, wet, cleansing grass with A. M. Interstate, recent signee of Turquoise Mountain Records (crunchy offshoot of my fave power pop/psychedelic label, Rainbow Quartz). You'll have no trouble believing these plain-spoke, folk-rock tunes come from a bunch of Oregonians. Is it possible to hear the influence of purple mountain peaks and rushing creek water? I think so.

Neon River - A.M. Interstate

Golden Age - A.M. Interstate

From the forthcoming A.M. Interstate (June 27).

The band's Myspace.

And since it's been like, what, a couple weeks since I posted a Will Oldham cover:

Take However Long You Want - The Lesser Birds of Paradise

In other news, Contrast Podcast 11 is up and includes the worst bunch of songs I've ever had the misfortune to hear. But then, it's supposed to. The theme: "I'm the only one who likes this song." Check that dog track.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Archie Bronson Outfit

Dart For My Sweetheart - Archie Bronson Outfit

Is it just the first blush of infatuation, or is this the bestest song ever? By bestest I mean catchiest, sexiest, most intoxicating. And by ever, I guess I mean this year. I'll always say yes to a tune with an ingenious single riff and aggressive chorus of "nah nah nahs." And, against my better judgment, yes to the reptilian man caressing lines like "nine cold crimes in the night, please forgive me," and yes to the strutting lock of percussion and rhythm guitar and finally, yes to a band that paints "shake ye hips" on its drum kit.

But then I should acknowledge that when I fall in love with a song I love it like a small child loves a small rodent: I play and play it to its premature grave. Meaning this love affair will probably be over by next Tuesday. It's too indulgent, too immediately gratifying. But right now--oooh baby.

Released as a single and appearing on Derdang Derdang (US, UK)

Archie Bronson Outfit's Web site & MySpace. They are playing parties and bars and festivals around Europe this summer.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Interview with Nora O'Connor

Nora O'Connor

In the third of our series of interviews with Chicago bands and musicians we love, I briefly chatted with singer-songwriter-musician and Bloodshot Records artist Nora O'Connor. Well-known as a member of glam-country band The Blacks and Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, and for her contributions to records by The New Pornographers and Archer Prewitt, O'Connor also released the lovely, highly recommended, solo album Til The Dawn (US, UK, eMusic) in 2004. When she isn't spending time with her new baby (congrats Nora!), Chicagoans can catch her around town performing with Kelly Hogan and Scott Ligon and, in July, in a much-anticipated Blacks reunion show.

I'm convinced you could play Six Degrees of Separation with Nora O'Connor and hit every Chicago musician in two degrees. What have been your favorite collaborations?

Well, what I'm doing right now with Kelly Hogan and Scott Ligon is blowin' my mind. I just love singing with them and I think the songs we do are great. We're starting to do more of Scott's original songs and the harmonies are really lush. And I have to say working on the last two New Pornographers records have been great projects. Oh and Archer Prewitt ... Kelly and I sang on his album Three (US, UK) and we just had a blast. Archer had some great back ups planned for that record and we loved, loved doing them.

Who haven't you worked with but are dying to?

I'd really like to sing with Neko [Case]. We were never in the studio at the same time during the New Pornographers sessions, so that doesn't count.

Your solo album has more of a traditional country and bluegrass sound compared with say, your work with The Blacks. Is this the music that's closest to your heart?

It depends what day it is. When it comes to singing I do like the pretty stuff. With The Blacks, I got to rock out and play electric guitar with pedals. That makes me feel pretty cool.

After six years apart, The Blacks just announced a reunion show at Empty Bottle. Is this a one-night deal or are you guys considering recording another album?

It may be more than a one-night deal but we haven't really thought beyond that.

What else are you currently working on?

I'm really just doing shows with Scott and Kelly and working on the Blacks stuff. I just had a baby so he's my passion right now.

You're an ordained reverend. How often do you actually perform weddings?

OK, I guess that sounded really cool in my bio, huh? I've performed one wedding. I really just did that with some of my friends so we could walk around calling each other reverend. Like nodding "Reverend, "Reverend" back n' forth ... We crazy.

Finally, as a south side girl you've got have an opinion on this: Will the Sox go all the way again this year?

I hope so. I'm annoying to watch sports with because I cheer for the guy with the ball, I don't care who he/she is. I'd love to see the Sox and Cardinals go up against each other because I know some passionate Cardinal fans and Sox fans so I'd be happy for them.

Visit Nora O'Connor's Web site.

Listen to Nora O'Connor:

My Backyard - O'Connor

Looks Like I'm Up Shit Creek Again - Nora O'Connor

Sticks n' Stones - Nora O'Connor

Previous Chicago interviews:
Pinetop Seven

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Summertime, part 4: Holiday and others

City Nights City Lights - Patt Dalbey
City Nights-City Lights, Patt Dalbey

Typing day and night's taken it's toll. I've got some nasty tendonitis in my right wrist, so words are limited for the next few days.

Summertime - Billie Holiday

Holiday recorded this in New York in July 1936. So it's the young Billie's voice that I always prefer--sultry and yearning and girlish--and she swings it about like a sparkling beaded handbag. The band's (including Artie Shaw on clarinet) martial rat-ta-tat beat and New Orleans-flavored horns give this "Summertime" a hurried street parade feel or play to a decadent afternoon tea dance of wilted flowers, damp limbs and furtive cocaine sniffing.

From The Essential George Gershwin (US, UK)

Other favorite versions:

Summertime - Sam Cooke

Summertime - Janis Joplin

Summertime - Pete Seeger

Summertime - Miles Davis

From: Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964, Sam Cooke (US, UK); The Essential Janis Joplin (US, UK); American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 5, Pete Seeger (iTunes); The Columbia Years, 1955-1985, Miles Davis (US, UK).

See also Summertime, parts 1, 2, & 3.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Summertime, part 3: Twilight Singers

1st Ave Summer Night - Andrew Kastenberg
1st Ave. Summer Night, Andrew Kastenberg

Summertime - The Twilight Singers

This ain't no lullaby. Not the way Greg Dulli sings it anyhow. Nobody does carnal sorrow, sexual scar-picking quite like the former Afghan Whig. Thank God
. Because there isn’t world enough and time for more of this sneering self-loathing. But Dulli was one of the first and best in the alt-rock universe to make these particular moves, so give him credit for that. And give him and the band credit for one of the fresher and dirtier interpretations of “Summertime” in recent years, with its swollen velvet orchestra, keening organ and bruised guitar ripples. As the outro fades, you can guess where Dulli's heading: back of the shed to get it on with mama.

From She Loves You (US, UK)

Summertime, part 1: Simone
Summertime, part 2: Fahey

Next up, Billie Holiday


The always outstanding Eric of Marathonpacks has a mix of his fave tunes of 2006.

The Chicago Reader's Bob Mehr profiles Submarine Races, Ian Adams' of the Ponys and Paul John Higgins' of Red Eyed Legends new band. I pulled this snarling, garage stomp off their MySpace:

1 Forward 3 Back - Submarine Races

The Quarterly Conversation (via Largehearted Boy) lists some of the best books since 1990. I don’t know why this depresses the hell out of me. List fatigue partly. Probably more though that I didn't feel very inspired by the books here I've read (the Ian McEwan entries excepted). And the ones that I haven’t just seem like bloated nap-inducers. I'm talking to you Pynchon and Vollman, Underworld and A Frolic of His Own. Though I do want to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (her Housekeeping is astonishing) and I fully intend to finish one of Richard Powers’ novels one of these days.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Summertime, part 2: Fahey

Summer - Tim Howe
Summer, Tim Howe

Summertime - John Fahey

Yesterday, one of my favorite “Summertimes,” today, something lesser. Don’t get me wrong, Fahey’s brilliant. But here's what I've secretly thought of him ever since I first heard Requia maybe 10 years ago. He's the smartest kid in class who just can't keep his hand down. As savvy as his deconstructions of certain canonized works, there's always this smug assertion of self, this seething John Fahey-ness. To appease the Faheyites, I'll say this: It's the mark of a magnificent risk-taker and artist, if an indifferent interpreter. In this buzzing steel-stringed transcription, Fahey affirms his finger-picking virtuosity (as if confirmation were needed). But the track’s a cool, mannered piece, a claustrophobic take that echoes off studio walls like a conversation with itself, when--recorded some 65 years and several thousand versions after the original composition, for God’s sake!--it should be engaging in dialogue with its predecessors and contemporaries. If Fahey’s interpretation is witty, with those punchy plucked strings, it also scans as a little derisive. I don’t know what to do with this.

From Red Cross (US, UK).

Tomorrow, The Twilight Singers

Elsewhere: Spoilt Victorian Child has an amazing interview with Richard Greentree, formerly of The Beta Band, presently of The General and Dutchess Collins. And some songs from the new band.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Summertime, part 1: Simone

Apple Trees - Chris Cook
Apple Trees, Chris Cook

In the spirit of summer rules, summer hours and doing something a little different, the rest of this week will be devoted to short takes on versions of George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime." An estimated 2,500 have been recorded since the Broadway premiere of Porgy and Bess in 1935. No, I'm not going to tackle all of them. And they won't necessarily be the most obvious or even the best renditions. Though I'm going to start with an awesome, adventurous reading of the standard...

Summertime - Nina Simone

Simone's full-on voice is a long time coming--almost three minutes--but there before you know it, murmuring sotto voce, "um hum, bah dah dah dah" on the tail of ominous stalking bass and her own thudding low octave keys. And she rewards her audience for their patience with her magnificent presence and command--defiance even--effortlessly drawing "time," "easy," "high," "cry" over innumerable bars and underplaying what usually marks the most dramatic moment in the song's composition: the progression to a major chord at "hush." But this is Simone's song, a faithless, flirtatious smoke-and-whiskey improvisation that comes to a crisis almost immediately ("One of these mornings... take to the skies") with tense, rattling piano and shuddering cymbal.

From Trouble In Mind (eMusic), and originally on Live at Town Hall (US, UK).

Tomorrow, John Fahey.

For more summer fun, check out Berkeley Place's weeklong block party. I made a little guest contribution yesterday with my favorite three songs of the year so far.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Fuzzy summer head

There are a couple long/thoughtful/analytical posts on songs/bands I keep meaning to write (and want to write), but every time I sit down to do it my head gets fuzzy and I feel a nap coming on. Summer. What can you do? So I forsee scattered, vignette-y posts round here for the foreseeable future.

This seemed to be the week that highlighted for me the still massive musical divide between the U.S. and U.K. First there was Sasha Frere-Jones' New Yorker column and Web-only Q&A with Ben Greenman about what manages to successfully cross the Atlantic and what gets lost at sea (not much of the former, bucketloads of the latter). Then there was NME's latest readers' poll on the best 100 albums, in which two Oasis records made the top 5. Who thinks this is worth losing sleep over? Right. So the average NME reader is male, early 30-ish, middle class (but identifies with working class lad culture), white and British (obvs). Hey, at least the Stone Roses' first album nicks number seven. It doesn't even place on the Rolling Stone 500 (average poll respondent: male, white, early 50s, record company executive, American). Then a friend sent me a link to this Guardian piece on Art Brut, a band I like, even though Jon over there thinks they're an example of clever that's too clever. I was similarly surprised back in January when I read The Clientele is also ignored by their countrymen. Here's my fix. U.K. readers: Buy Bang Bang Rock & Roll and Strange Geometry. U.S. readers: Pick up Definitely Maybe and What's the Story Morning Glory?. Nah, joking. But you could start thinking about that Lily Allen record, scheduled to drop in July.

And Iknowiknowiknow every single blog has posted an Art Brut track already, but this song makes me giggle:

Formed A Band - Art Brut

K - The Clientele

I don't know what other bloggers do, but as I find mp3s of bands I might want to post on, I stick them in an iTunes playlist... then they sit there, sometimes for months. That's where I fished out Coffinberry, a good, Cleveland-based band that doesn't deserve my neglect. I hear a lot of classic indie rock--Dino Jr, Afghan Whigs, Pixies, Archers of Loaf and other purveyors of melodic noise.

7 Months Gone By - Coffinberry

Your Comeback - Coffinberry

Coffinberry's Web site and Myspace.

Well, well, look who's crawled back into the alt-indie lowlights. If you lived in Chicago 10 years ago, you almost certainly knew who Chris Holmes was. Main man behind Sabalon Glitz and Yum Yum, around-town scenester, Baffler contributor, and perhaps most famous for a certain article that appeared in Harper's. (Unfortunately, I can't find the piece online. But trust me when I say it wasn't Tom Frank's or Holmes' brightest moment.) Apparently, Holmes has been living in L.A., working as a producer and D.J., but has returned (sorta, Chicagoist has the fuller story) with an EP, Get Yer Yum Yum's Out (iTunes). Sugary pop? Definitely. Ironic? You decide. But know that this track appeared on the (shattering!) season finale of The O.C.

I Don't Care What My Friends Say - Chris Holmes

More streams on his Myspace page.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Augustus Pablo

Pablo In Red - Augustus Pablo

There's something human and vulnerable about Pablo's melodica in this track. I suspect it's that wheeziness like expanding and contracting lungs and its imprecision, the way it jumps the beat by half or limps a nudge behind. Then it suddenly does something virtuosic like offering a fluid, ascending scale or a hopscotching melodic line. The other thing is the reverb. It shudders slight and natural--characteristic of Pablo's dub--drawn out just so far, but just right.

If you were to listen to only the first 12, 15 seconds of this song, you might think you were marking the path to a funeral, but you'd be wrong. This is an ordinary stroll to the corner store for a loaf of bread and a newspaper, then on to the park for a snooze in the sun.

Originally appeared on Thriller (US, UK), but is easier to get your hands on in the form of Trojan Dub Rarities (US, UK).