Sunday, December 27, 2009

RIP Vic Chesnutt

Vic's songs are among my very favorites to sing and bang out on guitar, and his music has always been life-affirming in the truest, least sentimental sense. Hope he finds peace.

Coming soon maybe: posts not involving death.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

RIP Odetta

Very sad news.
Odetta, the singer whose deep voice wove together the strongest songs of American folk music and the civil rights movement, died on Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She was 77.

The cause was heart disease, said her manager, Doug Yeager. He added that she had been hoping to sing at Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Odetta sang at coffeehouses and at Carnegie Hall, made highly influential recordings of blues and ballads, and became one of the most widely known folk-music artists of the 1950s and ’60s. She was a formative influence on dozens of artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Folk legend Odetta hospitalized

Say a prayer for Odetta, who hopes to sing at Barack Obama's inaugural. Her Odetta Sings Dylan album has long been a favorite. Via Pollstar, a letter from her manager:
Dear Friends of Odetta,

On behalf of Odetta's adopted daughter Michelle Esrick and her niece Jan Ford (in California), I would like to share with you - Odetta's large extended family of brothers and sisters - the current health crisis in her life. On Saturday, she went into Lenox Hill Hospital for a check-up and IV nourishment. However, on Sunday evening she went into kidney failure, and we were told that the next 24 hours would determine if she would survive.

Miraculously, she made it through that emergency, but is still listed in critical condition. I was on the road when she went in the hospital and rushed back on Sunday. Jan and I are thankful that Michelle was here and has been by Odetta's side every moment of this ordeal.

Odetta believes she is going to sing at Obama's Inauguration, and I believe that is the reason she is still alive. She has a big poster of Barack Obama taped on the wall across from her bed. Her old heart has already outperformed and lasted far beyond the expectations of the heart specialists who treated her in January-March 2007 when she had her last health crisis while touring out West. Now compounded with the kidney failure, the doctors at the hospital are trying to do everything possible to stabilize her system and prevent the weakening of her other organs. They have her on dialysis now to rid the body of the toxic poisons that have built up, and it seems to be slowly working. She is sleeping a lot, but after a dialysis treatment and some food, she is coherent and talking. She is not in pain. We are told that she will be in the ICU Unit for at least another week, and that we'll just have to wait and see after that.

All of you are well aware of Odetta's indomitable spirit. Accordingly, I wouldn't bet against her singing for Barack in January!

If you would like to send a card, I know that she would love to hear from you (address of the hospital is below).

Ms. Odetta Gordon
Room # 719, 7th Floor ICU Unit
100 East 77th Street
New York, NY 10021

Warmest regards,
Doug Yeager

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ballboy: Living in my own wee world

This late in the game - their fifth record, and a lineup whittled down to two members, nominally - Scotland's Ballboy have issued their best record yet in I Worked On The Ships.

It's quieter than their last, 2004's The Royal Theatre, and from the admittedly far-off vantage point of America, the band seems to be all but dormant. Their website lists no tour, and if not for an eMusic new-release RSS feed, I wouldn't have known this record existed. Things might seem to be winding down for Ballboy, but from the sound of Ships they're finally hitting their stride.

Take the album's centerpiece, "Songs for Kylie":
A love affair

You loved me then, I was almost sure
And now I write it down
Put it on a TDK in a jiffy bag
And seal it up
And send it off
Mark on it in thick pen

Songs for Kylie

Before the desert there’s a moment
You can change your mind.

Anchored with a rolling, hypnotic piano line, this little paen to musical and romantic obsession and wistful paralysis is one of those tunes you can accidentally listen to for hours, unconciously hitting replay time after time. Go listen on MySpace.

"A Famous Victory" is more queasily dead-on confessional, managing to find that magic songwriting space where irony meets sheepish honesty, where hazy delusions of grandeur don't quite obscure sad reality: "We drink ourselves stupid/On the tennis court/That’s overgrown/In the private grounds of the crumbling house/Your parents own".

Get the record at their site, or download from eMusic.

MP3: Ballboy - Let's Fall In Love and Run Away From Here (Peel Session)
MP3: Ballboy - I Lost You But I Found Country Music

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weekend Shorts

The Guardian surveys a raft of new folk (Loudon Wainwright III, Noah and the Whale) and issues a general "meh", but they like the new Joan Baez the best. The album, "Day After Tomorrow", carries the name of its Tom Waits cover.

Trolling the Live Music Archive, scrolling through page after page of Disco Biscuits concert upload, has its benefits. I unearthed a few new show uploads with some interesting covers. Spoon's recent show at the Prospect Park Bandshell saw them cover Paul Simon's "Peace Like a River" and close the set with the Stones' "Rocks Off".

MP3: Spoon - Rocks Off (Rolling Stones)

Meanwhile, a Quasi show from 1998 at San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill sees Elliott Smith apparently guesting on a straight, rousing cover of the Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year".

MP3: Quasi - This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)

Flemish Eye, Chad VanGaalen's Canadian label, has some teasers about the super-deluxe vinyl for his upcoming third album, Soft Airplane. If you haven't already, start get excited with lead track "Willow Tree". The page also lists a handful up upcoming dates in Canada and NYC.

MP3: Chad VanGaalen - Willow Tree

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month

It took three or four listens, but the charms of Donovan Quinn's new record grew each time. The melodies are strong in composition but doggedly low-key in delivery, hiding in rich, aching, sweater-warm arrangements. They require close listening, at least until you've got yourself familiar, but the payoff feels especially sweet in the age of music oversaturation, when dozens of songs whiz by a day, and too often the shallow pleasures of the flashiest hooks get all the attention.

For the indie-folk enthusiast, Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month serves as a fine antidote to the overpraised new Conor Oberst album: while Oberst bends over backwards to craft a mellow, post-adolescent pose for a now-huge audience he's only too aware of, Quinn delivers the roots-folk shamble and cryptic confessionals with subtlely and grace to spare. He's got the help of Papercuts' Jason Quever, whose piano and organ playing fills in all the right spaces; Quever also produced.

An all-too-obvious touchstone here is Dylan, but there's a serious Robyn Hitchcock influence as well, particularly on "Quarantine", which could almost be an outtake from I Often Dream of Trains - complete with that psych-folk-down-the-rabbit-hole vibe that's so completely transporting. Like Hitchcock, Quinn writes downbeat, introspective songs that explore sadness and confusion while steering completely clear of typical diary-entry confessionals. Elsewhere, the simple love song "Hollowed Candles" delivers a chorus so sneakily good it should make most songwriters madly jealous. On this and other tracks, the use of strings and the thick, half-sarcastic melancholy air almost achieves the magic of Big Star's 3rd/Sister Lovers.

Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month is out September 13th on Soft Abuse - don't miss this one.

MP3: Donovan Quinn - Holy Agent

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Karl Blau's Nature's Got Away

If indie rock was baseball, Karl Blau would be the best journeyman utility player around - the Jamey Carroll of the underground. Blau hustles, turning out several albums a year to subscribers of Kelp Lunacy, his audio zine. With infectious zeal, he incorporates increasingly disparate influences into his music, the way Carroll might do time at every infield position, and act as your emergency third catcher, with a smile. He's not flashy, and will never be a superstar, but once in a while he'll get the big hit.

On Blau's new album, Nature's Got Away, that hit for me is "Two Becomes One", a slow-building masterpiece of tension and release. Channeling Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, Blau lulls you with clipped, wry asides, carefully carries you away on narcotic guitar lines to make Dean Wareham proud, and when he closes things with the line "all the hardships fade away", you're not sure whether to feel comforted or bereft. Without question, one of the best songs I've heard this year.

Elsewhere, on "Ghostly Appearance", Blau turns out bent garage psych straight out of a bizarro-world Nuggets. "Mockingbird Diet", which K is making available for download, is a good example of why Blau has been getting Bill Callahan comparisons. Beyond the similar dry baritone, he manages to mash up the prickly lofi tension of Julius Caesar-era arrangements with the more relaxed, organic sentiments of Callahan's last two records.

Stream the whole wonderful album here. It's available September 23rd on K.

MP3: Karl Blau - Mockingbird Diet

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Come Back to the Five & Dime, Joel R.L. Phelps

Where has Joel R.L. Phelps gone? His music, with Silkworm and especially the solo albums recorded with the Downer Trio, has always carried a remarkable, almost offhand intensity. It's a bit baffling how Phelps has not managed to maintain a following and profile along the lines of, say, Mark Eitzel or Vic Chesnutt, because he's every bit as talented and singular. Nowhere is this more apparent than what is sadly his most obscure release, the Inland Empires EP, a mostly-covers affair from 1999.

Phelps delivers stunning, simple versions of songs by Townes Van Zandt, Fleetwood Mac, Iris Dement, and Steve Earle, as well as a driving cover of the Go-Betweens' "Apology Accepted". His original, "Now You Are Found", has been celebrated by practically everyone who's written a word about this EP; the lone reviewer on the EP's Amazon UK page does a creditable job:
'Now That You Are Found' is a eulogy to his sister who died in 1999. Phelps leads the listener through various points in their relationship from childhood to the point of her death; finally he captures the emotions he experiences after her death. "And I'm stuck here now with the living, with my mother and my Dad, I remember about the past and it's meaning and what we might have had." At points it sounds as if he's going to breakdown, and the emotion in the song almost brought this listener to tears. The track does not trivialize death, rather it expresses issues and feelings in a painfully honest way not often dealt with in contemporary music. One can only hope that it acts as some form of catharsis for Phelps himself. This may all sound thoroughly downbeat and best avoided, but there's joy to be found in these songs. Thumbnail sketches of everyday life, each one a tiny epiphany.
Honestly, that Amazon UK page might be the only place on earth one can order the EP. There's not even a page for it on Amazon US or Insound, nothing on eMusic or iTunes. Its UK label, 12XU - which I believe was founded explicitly to release this record! - will only sell it to non-US addresses. Fortunately, the label does make a few downloads available.

Joel last surfaced in late 2006 to open a benefit show in Seattle. His web page has since disappeared. Come back, wherever you are.

MP3: Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio - Apology Accepted
MP3: Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio - Now You Are Found

Friday, July 25, 2008

Motel Blues

Loudon Wainwright has gotten a burst of late-career exposure through the good graces of the Judd Apatow comedy juggernaut, culminating in the soundtrack to Knocked Up (whose best song is written by Peter Blegvaad, of all people). Now Wainwright is going the rerecord route with the Joe Henry-produced Recovery, which will feature new versions of some of his earliest songs. The first 250 pre-orders at the Yep Roc store get their copy autographed. Tracklist:

Black Uncle Remus
Saw Your Name In The Paper
School Days
The Drinking Song
Motel Blues
Muse Blues
New Paint
Be Careful There's A Baby In The House
Needless To Say
Movie Are A Mother To Me
Say That You Love Me
Old Friend
Man Who Couldn't Cry

The ones that stick out to me are "Motel Blues" and "The Man Who Couldn't Cry", since I first heard them as covers, by Alex Chilton and Johnny Cash, respectively. Chilton's version, from the Big Star Live album, is especially effective, telegraphing the direction things would go in Third/Sister Lovers and making twentysomething world-weariness not only bearable but almost unbearably stark and sad.

Here's Loudon performing it recently:

For the download-inclined, here's a pretty good version from the Live Music Archive, performed by Reed Foehl.

MP3: Reed Foehl - Motel Blues (Loudon Wainwright III)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Liz Durrett looked for your bones in the woods

Eric Bachmann, well established as a singer-songwriter in indie circles, should be getting more calls to produce and arrange. He does wonders with the work of Liz Durrett, whose alluring voice and sturdy songwriting has gotten a bit lost amid similar post-Cat Power sadcore female folkies like Alela Diane and Jana Hunter. Durrett's work is a bit less freaky and desolate than those two, and her ability to hit familiar buttons while barely skirting MOR convention is a nice trick, even transporting on songs like "We Build Bridges".

The orchestration on Durrett's new Outside Our Gates (due 9/9 on original Crooked Fingers home WARM) always plays to the songs' strengths, drawing out groove and lament from lyrical stanzas that are built to last. On lead-download "Wild as Them", the folk-song-standard, AABA lines are enervated by bursts of horns that never rise too much in the mix. Durrett's perhaps best known for being Vic Chesnutt's niece, but it might be the Bachmann connection that ends up being the real coup.

MP3: Liz Durrett - Wild as Them
MP3: Liz Durrett - All of Them All

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mother's Milk: Who Loves Ron Paul?

During my exile, when I wasn't in crisis over the death of the maxi-single and liner note shout-outs, I often found solace in the mostimportantelectionofourlifetimes, campaigning for Mr. November and refreshing a few thousand times on certain early mornings.

Now that the thrill of watching demographic groups fight it out has died down a little, it's as good a time as any to have some fun with the Huffington Post's Fundrace database and see which music industry folks of note have ponied up for the various campaigns this cycle. The list is long and includes everyone from Herb Alpert to Jimmy Thackery, Jon Bon Jovi to that guy from Fall Out Boy. There's even the iff Obama dream team:

Awesome musician/donation to Obama
Phil Spector: $3422
Conor Oberst: $2300
Kim Gordon: $1750
Joe Henry: $500
Joanna Newsom: $279
Bruce Kaphan (ex-American Music Club): $250
John Prine: $250
Elvis Perkins $250
Britta Phillips: $250
Then you have the ambiguous entries...musician J.W. Oldham from Louisville? Where is Bonnie Billy living these days? Or the make out/fake out of Mr. Matthew Kahane...

The database also lets you search by other occupations, so you can find out where the welders of America stand this election season. Get to it.

Heading out tonight with a copy of the new Liz Durrett to absorb. More on that soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this lovely, hypnotic cover of Cat Stevens' "How Can I Tell You".

Mp3: Liz Durrett - How Can I Tell You (Cat Stevens)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A boatload of free songs from Hush

I have two Hush t-shirts, the simple "cross" logo and the hush-bulance special, which are well-worn with pride. Back when small labels were harder to pull off, the Hush folks persevered, from humble CD-R beginnings to the beloved Portland institution they are today. Pure indie folk integrity, folks, now made available in a bulk buffet of free and (mostly) previously-unreleased goodies to celebrate their hard-earned 10th anniversary. Check Hush Records on Tuesday, July 15th for the feast, DECA: A HUSH 10th Anniversary Compilation.

Here's the tracklist (brilliant, but where's Mr. Barnett? Kind of like curious omission...); listen now to the incomparable "Broke Down" from Amy Annelle, originally on the must-have School of Secret Dangers album.

mp3: Amy Annelle - Broke Down


"Hollow Notes" - Novi Split
"Refining" - Peter Broderick
"Come By Storm" - Laura Gibson
"The Afterlife Pt. I" - Run On Sentence
"Winding Sheet" - Nick Jaina
"Coo Coo Bird" - Shelley Short
"Hiding Home" - Norfolk & Western
"Spring Bird" - Rauelsson
"Space And All Dead Things" - Corrina Repp
"Elephants & Little Girls" - Loch Lomond
"Sharra" - Kaitlyn Ni Donovan
"Wii Oui" - Podington Bear
"Broke Down" - Amy Annelle
"The Wagoner's Lad" - Colin Meloy


"Song # 4" - Fun With Friends
"Petting Zoo" - Graves
"Your Smile" - Fancie
"Ridin' For A Fall" (Young Dub) - Bobby Birdman
"These Blues" - Super XX Man
"Egg Hunt" - Reclinerland
"Asleep At The Wheel" - Casey Dienel
"The Bane Of Progress" - Jeff London
"Flight Cub" - Velella Velella
"Oh Darlin" - Blanket Music
"Big Eye City" - Operacycle
"Elysian Fields (We're Dead, We're Dead)" - Parks & Recreation
"Humm-na" - Dat'r
"Sleep At Last!" (Live) - Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ron Sexsmith fades into you

Ron Sexsmith albums used to be mini-events, and I still remember driving back from Baltimore after snagging a pre-release copy of Cobblestone Runway at the venerable Soundgarden, letting "Former Glory" flow over me. It's a certain kind of genius that can turn such simple lyrics, so many cliches, into songs that so wholly comfort and envelop you, take you inside Ron's little world, where the ghost of Tim Hardin is drug-free and Canadian and everything will be just as you remember, things won't be as bad as they seem. This wonder reaches what must be its logical conclusion on Cobblestone's "God Loves Everyone", a seemingly surefire clunker taken way beyond listenable in Ron's wistful, knowing hands. My relationship with the Sexsmith catalog has been gradually fraying ever since, with subsequent albums getting less and less spins before being relegated to the shelf, but the new Exit Strategy for the Soul is sadly the sign of a whole new stage.

The super voice is still there, of course, but the alchemy falls apart without just the right phrasing, and tune after tune on Soul seems to expose the seams with labored line readings. And the lack of a killer tune is only underlined by muted, dinner-party arrangements. In short, nothing really works for me, and some even rankles, in the way of especially inoffensive music looped at Starbucks or a particularly tame afternoon block on a genteel non-com AAA.

That said, the disc came with a download code redeemable for a "Here Comes My Baby" cover that is pretty nice. Ron, I love you, but you're bringing me down.

MP3: Ron Sexsmith - Brandy Alexander

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back in the saddle

So it's been a while, and a (small) number of folks have perhaps wondered if this blog is gone, but how could I let such a name brand expire? What's been happening is that I've been coming to terms with digital music, the end of liner notes as we know it, and life after Tuesday trips to the record store.

See, for the longest time I was the rare bird: a blogger stubbornly clinging to the physical media standard of my youth. I still wanted pretty much everything on CD, and had a sense of my physical collection as distinct from my digital one, and more important. I had a clunky old RCA mp3 player for walks or the car, but didn't manage my digital music using any sort of program, long a point of pride but eventually a recipe for chaos. Digital bonus tracks or live gems from online sat in this fuzzy, tenuous, other world from the real collection.

It's tough for a collector like me to give in. As much as I love music, I always loved the act of collecting music almost as much. The bin-digging, the new releases every week, the score of the out-of-print record you'd been looking for for years, the nabbing of the tour-only rarity. The sheer joy of the physicality, the sense that you owned something that was not unlimited, that took effort to obtain. The memory of where you got every disc. I still buy CDs and vinyl, but as soon as you regard a single digital album as a legitimate ownership of that album, the mystique falls apart all at once.

Record collecting has always been fetishistic, but it was legitimized by its utility. You needed those pieces of plastic to listen to the music, or at least to claim legitimate ownership of them. That first digital album you regard as your copy of that album instantly makes every CD you own, and every future purchase you consider, purely a different, and far less practical, means of owning the music. And that's just sad. But after many months of huddling down with iTunes, and looking long and hard at piles of plastic encroaching around me, I'm ready to deal with the new world order. Even one that, somehow, seems happy to abandon liner notes altogether.

So, very soon: thoughts on the new Ron Sexsmith, and playing catch-up on some of my favorites this year. Hayden, Okay, being regaled by Peter Hammill in person! Oh man.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Terrordactyls: Contrast and Compare

It's true that the presence of Kimya Dawson was the main impetus behind me inserting the Terrordactyls' new self-titled disc into the laptop right away when it arrived. Her duet with one of the 'dactyls on track 7, "Devices," is surely one of the best in class since Paul and Michael laid down "Say Say Say", but then Kimya's voice gets me choked up every single time I see the Juno trailer in the theater, if only due to the staggering emotional whiplash of the Bucket List-to-Kimya juxtaposition.

I've listened to the whole thing several times through, though, and keep smiling at their ability to keep me engaged with songs that are this kazoo-heavy. At first blush, the album plays like Kindercore-era Of Montreal, exuberant lo-fi whimsy held together with enough scotch tape to stay intact for two minutes, maybe. But pay more attention, and there's a steady sense that Michael Cadiz and Tyrel Stendahl aren't always kidding. "Hang me from the rafters and I’ll hang you from the lamp post/We’ll see which one of us wants to end everything the most," they sing on "Fall", before some crazy fun verses of chant-sing.

This will fit in nicely next to your Jeffrey Lewis, Boat, and Bishop Allen records; it takes the best bits of 90s indie-pop and twee and blends it with some semi-serious melancholy and half-ironic cries for help, along with a few melodies you may be physically unable to keep from singing the second time around.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Matthew Sweet shines on Songs from the Bigtop

It's been a while since Matthew Sweet, one of my very favorite singer-songwriters, made me really smile. His last few projects - toothless folk collaboration The Thorns, the bloated, hook-deficient Living Things, his head-scratching covers album with Susanna Hoffs that did nothing for some hard-to-screw-up tunes - added up to a serious fallow period, if not the end of the line.

Yet here he is on the soundtrack to Devon Reed's upcoming film The Bigtop, and on "Wild" he sounds like good old Matthew - in fact, the especially warm, upbeat Matthew undercut with just a hint of darkness, not too evident since his early synth-based 80s records, and only occasionally showing up on b-sides and unreleased demos since. All the songs on the comp were written by Reed and supposedly assigned to his impressive list of indie friends based on who fit which song the best, and especially in this case he chose wisely. A devoted Sweet fanatic hearing this song without any other info would never guess it was a cover. (You can hear the Sweet song via Stereogum).

When I can get past "Wild" on repeat, there's plenty more to like on the album. Tullycraft's "The Girl Who's Above Us" is winsome indie-pop at its most lovable, short and sweet, anchored with warm organ lines. Lisa Germano is reliably spectral in opener "Magic", and Built to Spill's Doug Martsch gets a chance to show way more vulnerability than usual, and pulls it off with grace.

Damien Jurado, the Clientele, Howe Gelb...this Devon Reed is a friend and champion of some of the best songwriter-indie that blossomed in the 90s, and Songs from the Bigtop is a great way to reconnect with these folks, underappreciated then and now. They share a keen sense for human-scale melancholy pop that gives the disc its consistent warmth and charm.

It's available now via iTunes and on CD.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dan Bern's big breaks?

He's had his ups and downs, album-wise, but through his career Dan Bern has remained one of my real shoulda-woulda-couldas - someone with so much talent, smarts, and showmanship they just plain shouldn't be playing tiny venues to two dozen people. Yet his music has never gained much traction beyond the core faithful.

But, at this somewhat late date, the stars are coming together a little. It's pretty great to see that Dan has penned the theme to Jonathan Demme's new Jimmy Carter biopic, Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains. That's Dan at around :27 of the trailer. Dan as the bed for an Al Franken voiceover - the man has arrived.

Dan's also heavily involved in the next Judd Apatow project to take over the world, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, for which he wrote a bunch of the songs with Candy Butcher Mike Viola.

It's all onward and upward for Dan, here on out.

MP3: Dan Bern - Trudy

Sunday, October 07, 2007

New Jeffrey Lewis!

Jeffrey Lewis, leading light of the anti-folk contingent, is back with a new album 12 Crass Songs, covers of punk band Crass, of which Lewis has long been a fan. It's out in a slew of real and unreal formats; your best bet, especially if you live in the US, might be to order from Bleep; with this method you get 2 bonus tracks and individual comic book art for each track. Also available all DRM-ed up on iTunes and in select shops, if you can find it.

The only thing I've heard (from either Crass themselves or Lewis' treatments) is the track "Big A Little a" currently streaming on his MySpace. It's got an unusually defiant tone for Lewis, backed in chanting by suspiciously Claudia Gonson-like vocals.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Morning Shorts

The Onion A/V Club pays tribute to Red House Painters' eponymous "Rollercoaster".
If Mark Kozelek had formed Red House Painters recently, they'd probably be called emo—The Promise Ring even borrowed some of the band's lyrics on its debut album. But in the early '90s, they were considered slowcore or sadcore, tags that aligned them with artists like American Music Club, Low, and Idaho...But in spite of all the talk of sickness, violence, death, and things that are important at the time but mean nothing later, he never gets so lost in his melancholy that listeners can't appreciate and identify with the subject matter. It's wistful and somber, but not depressing just to be depressing. Everybody hurts, and Kozelek is just telling it like it is.

Funny to think they'd be emo; back in the 90s, they were more in danger of crossing over into Projekt territory, dreaded-classification-wise. But the Onion does a good job of explaining what separated Kozelek from incredibly amelodic sad sacks like Soulwhirlingsomewhere.

No Depression co-editor Grant Alden has the inside story on Elliott Smith liners that weren't.
Back when Peter and I were both driving $1,000 cars (his had been set on fire, but ran fine anyhow) and starting to talk about publishing a magazine together, we went to see Elliott Smith and Mary Lou Lord at RKCNDY, the short-lived post-industrial playground where Eddie Vedder revealed his penchant for climbing the rigging to a batch of suits from Epic. It was not a well-attended show, even though Mary Lou Lord had not yet chosen to extinguish the buzz surrounding her career. Smith, who I remember seeing only that once, was a diffident, closed performer, hunched over his guitar and soft at the microphone. I believe there was a bottle of cheap wine at work, or perhaps Robitussen.

Sam Beam talks to the A/V Club about licensing: "Some people have problems with songs in commercials, but my feeling is, I've got kids to feed. My criteria comes down to, basically, "I like M&M's." It's a product I actually use. I think I did a Clorox one, too." Apparently, he's never seen most of the shows and movies that use his music, leading to amusing credfights in the comments.

So Much Silence is giving away a copy of the new Emma Pollock (ex-Delgados) 7".

MP3: Emma Pollock - Adrenaline

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Release Tuesday

The big release this week at iff is Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog (buy it), an album I'm warily looking forward to. Less on the basis of any sort of quality and more on my personal taste, Iron & Wine's releases have been getting progressively fewer spins from debut The Creek Drank the Cradle forward. The sort of intimacy Sam Beam got across on songs like "Upward Over the Mountain" has been steadily giving way to more atmospheric and band-oriented arrangements. Metacritic has a full review roundup.

On the reissue front, one of my very favorite albums of the 1990s is being reissued in a too-good-to-be-true ultra-deluxe edition. Hefner's Breaking God's Heart (buy it), packed with twitchy, sly and incredibly catchy folk-punk and now sports a crazy 30 bonus tracks spread over 2 discs. It collects all of those endless, hard-to-find singles and EPs from the early days, as well as plenty of 4-track demos.
Despite running a blog with indie and folk in the title I've never been on the Devendra Banhart bandwagon, and I actually hadn't heard his music for a long time until I checked out preview track "Seahorse" from his new Smokey Runs Down Thunder Canyon (buy it). Not as offputting as I remember, but still naggingly striking me as a bit of a put-on.

Steve Earle nods to folk with the title of his new disc Washington Square Serenade (buy it). "City of Immigrants" strikes me as the type of exuberant, mock-innocent mini-anthem Dan Bern is great at churning out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Media Notes & Morning Shorts

Today's New York Times featured a stand-alone section for the new fall television season. It reads like the first try at such a thing for the paper, although I'm not sure if it is. Beyond plenty of self-conscious apologia ("Many people in the culture department of this newspaper never watch television unless it’s an adaptation of a George Eliot novel on Masterpiece Theater. But one of the smartest editors I know once admitted, after a few drinks, to going into his study when no one else was around and watching “Reba”'), Alessandra Stanley structures her introductory essay around the notion that TV is the new music. Or rather, those who always felt bad about watching TV can now justifiably act as snobby about it as music fans.

It's not enough for television, good and bad, to stand alone as an art form worthy of an entire pull-out in the Sunday Times; it has to supplant music. "Before the Internet, iPhones and flash drives, people jousted over who was into the Pixies when they were still a garage band or who could most lengthily argue the merits of Oasis versus Blur. Now, for all but hardcore rock aficionados, one-upmanship is more likely to center around a television series". Apparently, keeping up with Lost is a lot more difficult these days than holding an informed opinion on the new Arcade Fire, or somesuch, requiring sequential viewing and deep thought. And therefore so much more relevant a cultural signifier and mark of distinciton. These are the conclusions that one draws, apparently, when assigned to write about low culture for the Times.


On a brighter note, the screenwriters of America seem to have found a new love for the record store. As the institutions disappear from the landscape on a practically daily basis, they're being repopulated in screenplays. And not just in obvious films like Music & Lyrics, where the Hugh Grant sadly notes that the same copy of his solo album still sits on the racks year after year. There's the record store in Knocked Up, a site of male bonding between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd. In I Think I Love My Wife, where Chris Rock browses the sort of chain record store that's all but extinct in Manhattan, and bumps into an old friend who's checking out the new Killers (shock). It's a big plot device in Reign Over Me, in which Adam Sandler stumbles on the Who.

And most to the point, it's even in a small Texas town in Friday Night Lights, the first season of which I'm working through on DVD. A character can't find his Nirvana CD, and insists on wheelchairing it four miles to the record store (Mom: "Can't you get it on the computer?" "No!") only to run into his ex browsing the racks, on her way to school. Dramatics ensue, in a way that, as the character said, just wasn't gonna happen on iTunes.

So here's to you, screenwriters, reminding us of the social and cultural importance of the record store just as it fades into oblivion.


Kirstiecat has some disarmingly beautiful photos, along with a setlist and review, of Bill Callahan's performance at the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago.

Local Cut has the scoop on an unbelievably cute ad by the Oregon Human Society encouraging pet adoption, scored by the incomparable Laura Gibson.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Fog, His Name is Alive

I don't automatically jump to blog when I read copy describing an artist as a "bedroom-ensconced D.I.Y. savant" but the odds are good that you'll soon see it here. Fog is based in Minneapolis and their new album Ditherer (buy it) features contributions from AndrewBird and members of Low. My first impression is that this is far more conventional music than the description might suggest, but that's not so bad a thing. A bit of classic AOR and twang with the lo fi.

His Name is Alive return with their umpteenth album, Xmmer, with another seductive female vocalist to bolster Warn Defever's wandering muse. Visit their site for a free 4-song EP and some upcoming tour dates.

MP3: His Name Is Alive - Go To Hell Mountain

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Vic Chesnutt, June Panic

Today sees the release of Vic Chesnutt's North Star Deserter, recorded in Montreal with members of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion. Truth is, I've always loved stripped-down Vic the most, with Little the soundtrack to many a yelp-along, and West of Rome not far behind. But going whole hog with the indie wall of sound crew might be just what he needs -Left Hip is enthusiastic.

The brief "Rattle", streaming on Vic's MySpace, begins with doomy, stuttering feedback that quick-cuts to trademark nylon guitar and Vic's voice, a strangely satisfying way to spend 1:20.

Buy it direct from Constellation on CD or 180g vinyl, or download from Other Music.

Elsewhere, the prolific June Panic releases a 3-CD compilation of old cassette-only issues that fans of John Darnielle, Smog, and lo-fi in general might want to give a listen, if not for musical similarities than for devotion to an aesthetic. "Over 200 master tapes sat submerged under the murky Red River water for several days in his parents' basement until saved through a painstaking cleansing process that is hilariously documented in the liner notes to this collection. ". Remastered by Kramer!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Ben & Bruno

Ben and Bruno have managed to make themselves epic to me with a few lines of press. Via Parasol: "B&B is a group of songs based one character named Ben. The newest album focuses more on his life a long while after his abduction by a religious fanatic & has to do with his wife & two daughters. The album centers around those relationships & Ben's inability to shake this past impression he acquired."

Paired with indie folk that's nicely dreamy without being indistinct, and vocals that carry enough genuinely offhand sadness to intrigue, they have made themselves into a pleasant mystery for my addled late-night head. Tomorrow it may all fall apart, but for now I will have to recommend them to all readers. If you're fond of what The Robot Ate Me and Chad VanGaalen have been up to, all the more.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Morning Shorts: Laura Gibson

Daytrotter has a new session from the incomparable Laura Gibson. These four songs showcase her voice in all its sweet, paralyzing, lonely beauty, and this is especially clear on the rendition here of If You Come To Greet Me lead track "Hands in Pockets". Damn if these don't transport you way way out of your cubicle. Why she isn't bigger is really, truly beyond me.

I've still never seen Hayden live, but Europeans will get a chance when he opens some dates for The National in November. There's a new album sometime relatively soon, and in the meantime he's contributed a new song "Message From London" to the Yer Bird comp Folk Music for the End of the World. You can stream a clip of the song here (oh the tease of a few ba-da-da-das from Hayden!) and buy the record here. It's got a whole bunch of artists I keep meaning to check out - Elephant Micah, Alina Simone, and Nic Garcia included - so I'll be picking this up.

Idolator remembers underrated DC band Unrest's out-of-print Perfect Teeth.

Tiny Mix Tapes gives the new Vic Chesnutt, North Star Deserter, 4 and a half stars:

Admittedly, Chesnutt has been off my personal radar for the last number of years, after I hastily concluded his hit-and-miss albums (like 1998’s Lambchop-assisted The Salesman and Bernadette, which has since grown on me) were something I could do without. Thanks to his latest disc, North Star Deserter, I am not only pleased to be proven wrong, but also ecstatic that I’ve rekindled my on-again relationship with this truly distinctive songwriter.

Scout Niblett continues to burnish her standing as a Cat Power for those who miss 90s Cat Power, but wish she was only a little more manic. She duets with Will Oldham on "Kiss" from the forthcoming This Fool Can Die on Too Pure.

MP3: Scoutt Niblett - Kiss

Monday, August 27, 2007

Murder Mystery

It's hard not to like Murder Mystery's debut album Are You Ready for the Heartache Cause Here It Comes. Retro with a refreshing lack of pretense, the band turn out slice after slice of Yellow Pills-worthy power-pop, low on substance but high on hooks. There's nothing earth-shattering or even remotely original here, but pop-underground fans looking for a skinny tie fix will dig this.

Mostly guitar-driven, as you'd expect, the oddball is "Love Astronaut", an astoundingly catchy New Order-bubblegum mashup that proves mighty difficult to get out of your head.

MP3: Murder Mystery - Love Astronaut
MP3: Murder Mystery - Honey Come Home

Buy at Insound

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Morning Shorts

Today's the day to pick up David Dondero's Simple Love, and I promise you won't regret it.

The Voyces have hit the blogosphere big time. My Old Kentucky Blog features their charming video for "Kissing Like It's Love".

Clem Snide fans will want to check out the new flick Rocket Science. Eef Barzelay did the soundtrack, which features lots of pretty instrumentals with haunting, elliptical arpeggios, some classic Snide, and a few new tunes, including an awesome cover of "Battle Hymn of the Republic", which you can hear on Eef's MySpace. The soundtrack is available on Amazon or iTunes. The movie's pretty good, too. I never knew big-time high school debaters had to talk like Gilmore Girls.

Idolator tipped me off to a heartbreaking feature in the Guardian on the recovering Edwyn Collins, whose "Fifty Shades of Blue" always cheers me up when it spins around on a mix CD that hasn't left my car in a while.

Pitchfork has Gram Parsons doing a really worthy version of "Long Black Limousine" from the upcoming Amoeba reissue.

MP3: Gram Parsons - Long Black Limousine

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Morning Shorts: Dept. of Corrections, Amy Annelle, et al

First of all, thanks to Adam over at RAD for setting me straight: the company is selling skateboards, not surfboards, along with the excellent new Little Wings record Soft Pow'r. Not only was this an error on my part, it throws off my whole Jack Johnson reference, and rest assured that the iff editorial staff is hanging their heads in shame...

In any case, make sure you check out Soft Pow'r; it turns out you can hear the amazing track "Free Bird" over at Spin, so get to it.


Amy Annelle, AKA The Places, is hitting the road in the next month-plus with former Bad Liver Ralph White, winding all around the greater western US and sharing a bunch of stages with the living legend Michael Hurley, among others. Drop that correspondence course in gun repair and get yerself to one of these shows. Check The Places website for updates on shows lacking full info.

8/21 Lubbock, TX, TBA
8/22, NM, TBA
8/25, Centennial, WY, Beartree Tavern (Upland Breakdown: Joe Carducci's (SST Records) mountain maverick music festival. Amy Annelle accompanying Ralph White; with Souled American, Michael Hurley, Michael Hurwitz, Stop & Listen Boys)
8/26, La Porte, CO, Swing Station (Upland Breakdown: same lineup as 8/25!)
8/28, Denver, Sliding Door Gallery (w/ Dang Head and Michael Hurley)
8/31, Salt Lake City, Burt's Tiki Lounge (w/ Michael Hurley)
9/2, Trout Lake, WA, Last Chance Barn Dance (w/ Michael Hurley and special guests)
9/3, Seattle, Tractor Tavern (w/Michael Hurley)
9/5, Astoria, OR, Fort George Pub (w/ Michael Hurley)
9/6, Portland, Laurel Thirst (w/ Michael Hurley)
9/7, Portland, house show TBA (w/ Tara Jane O'Neil)
9/8, Davis, CA, Delta of Venus (w/ Garret Pierce)
9/11, San Francisco, Hotel Utah (w/ Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Thieves)
9/27, Austin, Lovejoy's

MP3: The Places - Just a Bum (Michael Hurley cover)
MP3: The Places - Half-Right (Elliott Smith cover)

Said the Gramaphone has commentary on a Michael Hurley track, "Be Kind To Me".

Pitchfork has the latest Jana Hunter news.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Little Wings

It's not every record label that will sell you a surfboard, but new Marriage Records offshoot RAD is happy to oblige. The imprint of Little Wings mastermind Kyle Field begins with his band's new album Soft Pow'r, and while I've missed the previous discs on K, this one makes me a fan.

Woozily beautiful tunes fill Soft Pow'r, and while the surfboard might lead you to think Jack Johnson, the sound here is thankfully more along the lines of the Radar Brothers, with a bit of Lambchop or doped-up Vic Chesnutt for good measure. Lead track "Scuby" is a happy-sad lament to stick in your late night playlist; even better is "Free Bird", one of the more beautiful tunes I've heard this year, which makes sleepy slowcore almost anthemic. Through it all, Field's vocals are double-tracked and treated just enough to enhance the intimacy, and the arrangements highlight subtle percussion or simple piano to good effect.

Buy the record, and the surfboard, here.

MP3: Little Wings - Scuby


Chicago's Ezra Furman & The Harpoons take an appealingly garagey approach to Dylan/Johnathan Richman homage. Their new album Banging Down the Doors (buy it) is out on Minty Fresh. Beyond "I Wanna Be Ignored", download more songs from their MySpace.

MP3: Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - I Wanna Be Ignored

Longtime iff favorite Mirah returns with yet another tagalong troupe, Spectratone International, for Share This Place (buy it). The whole insect theme, and the pronounced jazziness of the preview cuts don't really excite me as much as a more conventional studio album might, but new Mirah is always welcome.

And for those with inclinations to doomy 90s-era sadcore, Jagjaguwar brings out new Spokane in Little Hours (buy it) and Magnolia Electric Company drop the massive Sojourner box set (buy it) through Secretly Canadian.

MP3: Spokane - Thankless Marriage

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Release Tuesday

From Bloodshot Records, we get The Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook, Volumes Two and Three (buy it), with a mix of OTS instructers and Chicagoland performers, including the Zincs and Kelly Hogan, performing the folk songbook. Add in a nice booklet with song histories by the school's folklorist and this becomes a no-brainer for me.

And in the shoulda-mentioned-last-week file, Saturday Looks Good to Me has a new EP on Polyvinyl, Cold Colors (buy it). From the sound of "Drink My Blood", which you can hear and download on their MySpace, they're moving to a more stripped-down, un-Spector-like sound, more akin to Flashpap'r than what SLGTM fans are used to.