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.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Weekend Shorts

I've long felt that Kevin Kinney's 2002 album Broken Hearts and Auto Parts is one of the more overlooked singer-songwriter albums of the decade, a more authentic and heartfelt turn on the sort of thing Ryan Adams gets overpraised for. Kinney is formerly of Drivin' N' Cryin' (you maybe remember early-90s AOR staple "Fly Me Courageous" ) and an show from around that album's release has shown up on the Live Music Archive. The epic "A Good Country Mile" is probably my favorite from the disc.

In tour news, Fionn Regan's first substanial US jaunt is underway; it began last night in Boston and continues at the XPoNential festival in Camden, NJ tonight. Iron & Wine have announced some fall US and UK dates, as has Bill Callahan. Dave Bazan is also touring it up this fall across America.

Stereogum has a video of Iron & Wine covering Radiohead's "No Surprises" at the Pitchfork Festival.

The Village Voice looks at the UK antifolk scene and goes a bit overboard in comparative bluster:
[i]t should not be confused with its far more refined, stylised and effete American and Continental counterpart, anti-folk, which is basically people who are folk singers by any other name (albeit with a smidgen of punk attitude thrown in, whatever the hell that is supposed to be in 2007) singing with acoustic guitars and a semblance of melody. Sure, it’s a relation of the other genre. . . the sort of relation you only ever talk about in subdued murmurs and scandalised whispers at weddings when your mother’s back is turned.
Said the Gramophone has a few tracks from the upcoming Vic Chesnutt album North Star Deserter, due on Constellation Records September 11th. Chesnutt is backed by a host of Montreal musicians, including members of Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

There's a wonderful feature at Billboard by Susan Visakowitz in which she talks to Amy Annelle and Fionn Regan about the nature and definition of folk music in the post-Dylan/Mitchell landscape. Let's just say that Susan has impeccable taste.

Aquarium Drunkard talks to Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay about Nashville.

Aaron Ross - Shapeshifter

As far as I know I've never heard a note of Aaron Ross' band Hella, and I purposely approached his first solo album, Shapeshifter, without paying Hella a MySpace visit. I was treated to a great, sprawling beast of a record, full of catchy pop songs banging around inside invigorating, epic folk jam sessions.

The first thing you'll latch on to is Ross' voice, a powerful yelp not unlike that of Destroyer and New Pornographer Dan Bejar or even Okay's Marty Anderson, a little intimidating but ultimately, through these spiritual tunes, uplifting. Many of the record's most powerful moments come when the mighty din of the great collective of local musicians present here fades and Ross' voice is left alone with only acoustic guitar to bellow out another timeless-sounding refrain, one the listener will be hard-pressed not to join in on after hearing once or twice.

The songs have a free, loose-limbed quality to them, with shades of classic rock and blues; I'm reminded of Led Zeppelin III at times. They may ramble too long for some - no track clocks in at less than five minutes, and several break seven - but to these ears Ross and company have found a happy medium between tight songwriting and improvisational expanse.

Shapeshifter is one of the first releases on the Nevada City, CA-based Grass Roots Record Co. and makes the label one to watch. Ross plays tonight in Chico, CA and on the 26th in Nevada City; see the tour page for details.

Buy Shapeshifter

MP3: Aaron Ross - Elevator Blues

Monday, July 16, 2007

New Release Tuesday: The Truly Me Club

The Truly Me Club is a one-man band out of PDX, the kind of bedroom tinkerer I'm prone to love irrationally. "When the Cops Use Their Guns" is dreamy, ambient indie-pop with undercurrents of unease, the sort of thing Her Space Holiday used to do so well before he became bizarrely self-referential. Best heard at dusk on a lazy day. His first record Pop Star on the Lam (buy it) is out on Sonic Boom Records.

MP3: The Truly Me Club - When the Cops Use Their Guns
MP3: The Truly Me Club - We All Agree, It's a Wasteland
MP3: The Truly Me Club - Cal-ifor-ni-ay

Wounded Bird completes the David Blue reissue project: 1968's These 23 Days in September (buy it), 1970's Me, S. David Cohen (buy it), and 1975's Com'n Back for More (buy it).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Megan Hamilton - How We Think About Light

I haven't been posting as much lately, but rest assured that what I do post about is something I really like.

Toronto singer-songwriter Megan Hamilton has a new EP out, How We Think About Light, her second release following debut full-length Feudal Ladies Club. It's a slow builder, intriguing at first listen and fully addicting after the third or fourth. I've been playing it on repeat for a few days running.

Her distinctive voice has great twists, yelps and mewls, always genuine and unaffected; on expressionistic opener "Are the Birds Caught in the Trees?" she sings "On his pant leg the cat leaves a trail of her fur/hear the room buzz with purrs and the lingering words," the last word of each line differently punctuated to great effect. The strongest song here might be "Saint Francis", with its sing-along chorus and big, warm burbles of country guitar.

The tunes here blend lonesome country/folk with dream pop; Mojave 3 and Edith Frost fans will likely swoon. Producer Mark Vogelsang deserves credit for building the rich sonic textures that never seem showy or overdone, stamping each song with a certain atmosphere. His songwriting contribution, closer "Trees Leave Shadows in the Park", positively aches. As good as the EP is, I can't help but think Hamilton has better yet to come, and look forward to hearing more soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New Release Tuesday

60s Greenwich Village scenesters Bunky & Jake - not, in fact, Mighty Wind extras - see reissue of their 1967 eponymous debut on UK label Fallout (buy it). The only music I've heard from them are the two songs streaming on the B&J MySpace, including the downloadable almost-classic oldie "I Was a Champion". Not quite Fred Neil nor Buffy Saint Marie, the duo have a retro-groovy sound all their own.

Fallout is also reissuing Val Stoecklein's 1968 solo album Grey Life (buy it), which is paid tribute in a 2004 Baltimore City Paper piece: "It’s the kind of record you might buy for 50 cents because the cover—a guy dressed entirely in black, sitting in the corner of what appears to be a padded room, playing his guitar—has an elegant simplicity that suggests something worth hearing. Turns out it contains something even more unlikely: 11 achingly sad acoustic songs accompanied by immaculate, over-the-top orchestral arrangements, like an extremely depressed Neil Diamond or Burt Bacharach arranging Smog." That description aside, All Music says it's all-out terrible; I haven't heard it, but will seek it out to add to the saddoe collection nonetheless.

Rounding out the reissue parade is M. Ward's debut Duet for Guitars #2 on Merge (buy it), which features three new tracks and the iff favorite "He Asked Me to Be a Snake and Live Underground"; and Fionn Regan's teriffic debut album The End of History (buy it), now out domestically and affordably on Lost Highway.

Also out is the pre-album teaser single from Iron & Wine, "Boy with the Coin" (buy it).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Morning Shorts

No new releases grab me this week, so on with the shorts...

A while back I tried to predict the soundtrack to Noah Baumbach's sure-to-be-brilliant new film, Margot at the Wedding. So far my picks haven't panned out, but the trailer reveals two songs, a track by Blondie that maybe a bigger Blondie fan than I can identify; and Phantom Planet's cover of CSNY's "Our House", which, playing over Black-Kidman-Jason Leigh family drama, is surprisingly effective in its 60s folk-rock melancholy.

Bradley's Almanac brings you the Sebadoh reunion gig from Boston.

David Bazan's gone and done a Daytrotter session. In addition to "Bands with Managers" and "Cold Beer and Cigarettes", Bazan treats us to two new songs, "Harmless Sparks" and "Shit Talker".

I'm very much looking forward to Boat's second album, Let's Drag Our Feet. Somehow, it's already available to order at Magic Marker's site. They're also kindly providing a taste.

MP3: Boat - I'm a Donkey For Your Love

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Superman Revenge Squad

Superman Revenge Squad presents himself like a lucky accident. The first entry in his MySpace blog includes the line, "I'm then going to try to purchase an acoustic guitar and learn to play it." It's from last November 24th, and since then he's begun to make appearances at open-mic nights and recorded a group of songs that are practically iconic.

"Idiot Food" is a tour-de-force of vocals perfectly pitched between rant and low-key melody, honest malaise mingled with tossed-off New Order analogies. "Kendo Nagasaki" has the gift of a chorus vocal harmony as only mumbly, half-serious Brits can deliver it: "I guess everything leads to lonliness/Weatherspoon's meals are cheaper when there's two/we're gonna gather all the lonely people, let them enjoy the two for one/let them go back to being strangers when they're through".

Like Brooklyn's Jeffrey Lewis, Superman Revenge Squad is taking folk music in exciting new directions - accessible, inventive and painfully funny, taking shots at pop culture but never straying too far from endearing self-deprecation. An artist who deserves much more press.

MP3: Superman Revenge Squad - Idiot Food
MP3: Superman Revenge Squad - Kendo Nagasaki

More on MySpace

Monday, June 25, 2007

New Release Tuesday

Young God Records' reissue of Lisa Germano's Lullaby for Liquid Pig (buy it) is out today with a 56 minute bonus CD of the various and sundry. While not my favorite Germano album, Chipotle picked it up for their in-restaurant rotation, so there. It's wispy, ethereal sound is something I need to spend more time with to fully appreciate. You can listen to samples of the album at Young God's site.

Swedish band The Culture in Memoriam have a new album, Abolish History - This is Our Story (buy it), and the lead track "Fear, Faith and Friends" is glammy goth folk with double-tracked vocals worth hearing through headphones.

Welsh indie-folk vets Gorky's Zygotic Mynci see reissues of their first three albums, Bwyd Time, Patio and Tatay (buy it).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mountain Goats all-request set hits the web

John Darnielle's special all-request Sunday night set to benefit Farm Sanctuary has surfaced on the Live Music Archive, and I have to confess I'm not a big enough Mountain Goats fan to recognize most of the songs performed by title. So far, I've listened to the set's first two songs, which happen to be two of my very favorites by Darnielle, All Hail West Texas' "Jenny" and Tallahassee's "Alpha Rats Nest".

Since this is an intimate, superfan-only show, "Jenny" has a full-throated chorus singing "hi diddle-dee-dee, god damn, a pirate's life for me", which is lots of fun, though I prefer the stark, knowing absurdity of the recorded version. And "Alpha Rats Nest" is noticibly less intense, almost lopey, bringing out the sweetness more than the menace.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Liz Isenberg tours every place but DC

Not quite, but still. Those who live elsewhere should take advantage and catch Isenberg with Deertick and Diego Perez at the following dates, starting tomorrow.

6/22 - Las Vegas, NV - Jacob's House w/ Jacob Smigel
6/24 - Long Beach, CA - Alex's Bar w/ Jacob Smigel & Friendship Hurricane
6/27 - Santa Barbara, CA - Pink Mailbox
6/28 - San Francisco, CA - Hemlock Tavern
6/29 - Portland, OR - Dekum Manor
6/30 - Olympia, WA - What You Got Fest
7/01 - Seattle, WA - Jules Maes Saloon w/ Flaspar, A Crowd of Small Adventures & Morgans Orange
7/02 - Boise, ID - Pengilly's w/ Lo-fi (Starts at 7pm)
7/03 - Provo, UT - Muse Music w/ Drew Danbury
7/06 - Fort Collins, CO - SS7
7/07 - Manhattan, KS - The Dusty Bookshelf
7/09 - Des Moines, IA - Vaudville Mews
7/10 - Davenport, IA - Mondo Attic w/ Quiet Bears
7/11 - Oshkosk, WI - Reptile Palace w/ Patchwork & Expatriate
7/16 - Indianapolis, IN - Big Car Gallery
7/17 - Fort Wayne, IN - The Rejoice House
7/20 - Cleveland, OH Ð Tower 2012
7/21 - Athens, OH - Casa Cantina w/ Adam Torres
7/24 - Toronto, ON - The Tranzac

Morning Shorts: AMC redux

The Eitzelsphere is buzzing with reaction to today's press release announcing the new AMC lineup, minus Mooney and Pearson, now based in LA, with an album due on Merge in the new year, which will be "lighter":

The overall sound is lighter than on previous AMC recordings. Of course there are many reasons why. 1) AMC refutes the label of 'Emo Pioneers'. For the record they hate Emo and have never been on the soundtrack for any W.B. network show. (yet) 2) Dark music is for people who are healthy enough to take it - and AMC want to appeal to all people - including the sick. 3) Mark Eitzel comments: "What will my neighbors in my retirement community think? How will I charm the nurse that tends to me? I want to fill my mouth with sugar and spit it on everyone when I talk. I want to cover the world with chocolate cake icing."
Best pithy comment from Firefly poster Larry Holt: "I'm excited! It sounds like another classic AMC disaster!"

Sad to see Tim Mooney leave the band, in particular, but here's hoping we hear more from him via the amazing Pocket Shelley.


Kirstiecat comes through with her usual excellent show coverage, this time of The Veils, with a review, pics, and setlist. I managed to miss these guys in both DC and Vancouver, but Kirstie takes me there. I would have been sad not to have heard "Tide" anyway.

Aquarium Drunkard has news on, and songs from, a deluxe Love reissue.

Brooklyn Vegan covers the recent Mountain Goats tribute show weekend, including an amazing rarities set.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Micah P. Hinson, Arthur & Yu

Folks looking at the official start of summer with ambitions of lazy, detached nostalgia might want to check out Arthur & Yu, whose debut In Camera (buy it) is the first release on the Hardly Art label, the new home of Sub Pop founder Johnathan Poneman. Sure to unleash a flood of Hazelwood/Sinatra and VU comparisons on the world, and based on these tunes, pretty much worth it.

Micah P. Hinson's new EP Presents A Dream of Her (buy it) is on Houston Party Records; Hinson opens for Rufus Wainwright Thursday in Madrid and is playing various European festivals throughout the summer. The label is teasing this as a move in a Leonard Cohen-like direction, with an emphasis on piano over guitar. I love Micah P. Hinson, and wow, does he deserve a bigger audience. His screaming, beet-red-face encore performance before a handful of indifferent barflies at his NOVA show last year made me an official fan, and I can't wait to hear this.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Weekend Shorts

After hearing the wonderful "Calliope!" on KEXP, I finally got a listen to The Veils' Nux Vomica in full, and the results are mixed. While the album's been getting the most raves for the darker, more gothic, yowling tunes compared to Waits and Cave, I'm less excited by them than the handful of poppier, right-side-of-melodramatic songs that recall a heady, unique mixture of Bowie, Ferry, Cocker and Hannon, full of knowing sadness, humor and melodic swagger. Even better than "Calliope!" (which you can stream at their MySpace) is "Advice for Young Mothers to Be", where female backing vocals underscore the great, aching chorus. Also be sure to check out their recent French radio Black Sessions MP3s on Sixeyes, including a cover of Springsteen's "State Trooper".

MP3: The Veils - Advice for Young Mothers to Be

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (AKA Owen Ashworth) is heading out on tour with the Donkeys, who will provide him with a wall of sound. These should be great shows, as the collaboration has sounded teriffic on their Daytrotter session and live tracks from the Bobby Malone Moves Home EP.

There'll be a new split 7" for sale at the shows, and Owen has posted one of the new tunes, "White Corolla", on his MySpace. He's also kindly made available "the first CFTPA song", "Seattle Wash", from a long-lost 7".

MP3: Casiotone for the Painfully Along - Seattle Wash

It's Hard to Find a Friend talks to Centro-Matic's Will Johnston in sprawling, Big Takeover style, and gets the scoop on tour-bus stories from the Undertow Orchestra days: "Well, there's the time that Vic [Chesnutt] told his story of taking 40 hits of acid all at once, then sitting in his house, mostly motionless for five days straight...apparently he could hear the phone ringing, and people knocking at his door, but he just couldn't move to answer either one of 'em."

TW Walsh, ex of Pedro the Lion, has a new online store, which makes his two brilliant solo albums available, and features free full album streams. Especially worth it is the $7 download for Blue Laws, which includes scans of the liners, something I wish more online downloads had. Seriously, head to the store, stream the first two tracks from Blue Laws ("Kudos to the Player" and "Old Fashioned Way of Speaking"), and try to resist.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Morning Shorts

My Old Kentucky Blog has a track from the upcoming Iron & Wine full-length The Shepherd's Dog, "Boy With a Coin", which, as I listen to it at 2 AM in a hotel lobby, sounds trippier than the typical Beam, but may not in the light of day.

Pitchfork reports on next week's Young God reissue of Lisa Germano's Lullaby for Liquid Pig, with a disc of bonus tracks, including several amazing-sounding live medleys, particularly for those who think Slide is outrageously underrated.

Fine Portland singer-songwriter Jared Mees is writing a tour diary for Local Cut.

Idolator covers the new Bitter Bitter Weeks album; the one-man band has put out some slightly-guilty-pleasure sadcore in the past and I'm looking forward to hearing this more. With Ric Menck on drums!

North Carolina's Schooner often get compared to Red House Painters, which I don't really hear, but they've got a bouncy-sad feeling to their songs that keeps me looping them for a while. This track is from their upcoming record Hold On Too Tight, due in August.

MP3: Schooner - They Always Do!

And for the fond early-80s Nickelodeon memories: RIP, Mr. Wizard.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New Release Tuesday: The Choir Practice

The Choir Practice - s/t (buy it)
These folks from Vancouver have connections to the New Pornographers and P:ano, and coincidentally, I was considering their album in the new release section of the nice Vancouver record store Zulu today. It's the type of shop that has lots of staff-penned descriptions taped to the cases - they compared The Choir Practice to the Free Design, among others - and they also boast a collection of sadly turned-off vintage arcade consoles. I ended up leaving only with a Moldy Peaches comp I'd been looking for, but now, listening to their music for NRT, I kind of regret not grabbing this disc too. It hits the all the right notes of innocence, artless beauty, and muted hope. They play the Ukranian Hall in Vancouver on Friday, when I'll have vacationed on to Whistler.

Ryan Groff - People in the Midwest (buy it)
Groff is in the band Elsinore, and I think this is his first solo outing. Earnest, close-miked tales of woe, and pretty good if you go for that sort of thing. Groff does a good job keeping the production simple but interesting.

LD and the New Criticism - Amoral Certitudes (buy it)
There should be way, way more covers of songs by Lisa Germano. The revolution starts here with a take on "If I Think of Love", streaming on their MySpace. LD as in Beghtol, of Magnetic Fields fame.
My wifi connection is weak, but I hope to post more from the road soon. Veg-friendly poutine will be mine.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Morning Shorts: Barbara Manning

Writing from vacation in Seattle, and heading to Vancouver tomorrow. By utter coincidence, we ended up staying in a hotel in the Queen Anne neighborhood, where the diner food is plentiful and the wonderful Easy Street Records, with its Tower-esque painted album cover murals and rotating sign, made me remember how much I'm gonna miss record stores when they're gone. I picked up several discs I hadn't seen in DC but hadn't been devoted enough to order, including Meg Baird's Dear Companion and Jana Hunter's There's No Home, as well as last year's Kind of Like Spitting/Lemuria split and Hefner's recent live album Maida Vale. Meanwhile, I couldn't help but notice that Drag City, as if to hammer home the increasing fetishism of physical music collecting, is hawking a new Bonnie Prince Billy EP, Strange Form of Life, for a hefty $12.99, despite the fact that the EP tracks are Daytrotter Session songs, which are legally free online. But the packaging is nice...

Pitchfork reports on Jana Hunter tour dates.

Barbara Manning has a new box set reissue out, Super Scissors (buy it), which collects remastered versions of Scissors and One Perfect Green Blanket along with 24 bonus tracks and extensive liners. And for all those that wonder about the economic realities of being a beloved indie singer-songwriter, an interview with recent college grad Manning in the San Francisco Chronicle is a must-read.

MP3: Barbara Manning - Scissors (acoustic demo)

Leonard Cohen talks to Harp about lots of topics, most tantalizingly for fans of a certain age, the prospect of a tour: "Those anxious for Cohen to record his own work again should be pleased to learn that the film’s concert sequences have inspired him to consider touring in support of his next album, tentatively set for release later this year. “Yes, yes,” he confirms. “I haven’t been out since ’93. The years went by and I thought ‘I’ll never go out again.’ But every so often you do have that itch. You’ve heard that saying in rock ’n’ roll, they don’t pay you to sing, they pay you to travel. But you forget about that stuff. The actual concerts are always compelling. If you’ve got good musicians, and you’re playing, and people know the songs, and they want to hear them live, it is a wonderful thing. And so I’m drawn to that.”"

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ryan Adams covering...Alice in Chains?

It's been a while since I've paid attention to Ryan Adams; Heartbreaker was great, but the deluge of middling and/or genre-exercise releases, and that MTV Adams-in-Jamaica special, put me off. And as if to say, hey, check me out, he's gone and started covering Alice in Chains in concert. One of their better songs at that, "Down in a Hole", which is oddly not that different translated through the alt-roots Ryan Adams filter, reverb and all.

Is the grunge cover hot with the key demos these days? I'll be waiting for the Sufjan Stevens take on "Hunger Strike"...

MP3: Ryan Adams - Down in a Hole (Alice in Chains cover)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Evening Shorts: I'd love to be eaten by meat bees

Ben Barnett, formerly known as Kind of Like Spitting, has a fantastic interview/performance session as part of the Local Cut Podcast Portland Lounge Series. He goes over his drug habits, love/hate of Portland, why KOLS is no more, and his favorite music these days, including the Andrew Jackson Jihad, who he covers along with Shellac, Pulp and Billy Bragg. You also get a few KOLS originals in the deal, including one of my favorites, Bridges Worth Burning's "Canaries"; the line "you know free agency pays little in the long run/but you just don't know if your legs are that tired yet" never fails to make me smile.

The Andrew Jackson Jihad, who may be touring Europe with Ben at some point, have a track on their website reminiscent of early Mountain Goats, with an acid twist.

MP3: Andrew Jackson Jihad - Powerplant

A pretty cover of Fionn Regan's "Be Good or Be Gone" is up on MySpace. Poor guy had his Regan-autographed guitar stolen along with his car, so give him a listen. Regan's The End of History gets US release on Lost Highway in July.

Pitchfork sez Spoon's new track "The Underdog" is their breakthrough bid; I don't hear a hit - the chorus is way too understated - but it's a fun track nonetheless.

MP3: Spoon - The Underdog

Friday, June 01, 2007

Phoebe Kreutz CD release show tonight w/ Don Lennon

Via the Don Lennon mailing list, I've discovered the antifolk stylings of Phoebe Kreutz. Lennon, one of my favorite songwriters and a previous Uncommon Folk contributor, is playing at Kreutz's CD release show tonight at the Sidewalk Cafe in NYC.

Her new CD, Big Ugly Moon, is unavailable for order anywhere online, as far as I can tell, but a few tracks from the album streaming on her MySpace are pretty teriffic. "Birdy in the Driveway" plays like a cross between Kimya Dawson and Sarah Silverman, equal parts pluck, humor, irony and pathos.

Tracks for download on her site, from the 2003 album Pretty. Pretty Stupid., are heavier on the novelty factor than the new songs, not as satisfying but a fun listen nonetheless.

MP3: Phoebe Kreutz - Love in the Seventh Grade
MP3: Phoebe Kreutz - Taco Bell Song

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Morning Shorts

Sam the Record Man is closing its flagship Toronto store. The huge vinyl records on the store's exterior are something of a Toronto landmark, and efforts are underway to save them. As best I can tell, this is the Canadian equivalent of Tower shutting down.

If nothing else, the Shrek media empire brings the tunes of the Eels to the greater public. My Old Kentucky Blog has a download of Mark Everett's latest, "Royal Pain", a typically jaunty bit of chin-up sad-sackery ("I'm just trying to get by with my pride a little bit intact").

It's Hard to Find a Friend features M. Ward covers.

Check out iff favorite Jana Hunter's Portuguese radio sessions, via Gorilla Vs. Bear.

Cafe Eclectica has pictures, setlist and review of the Bright Eyes NYC show featuring a surprise Lou Reed cameo.

Mix Me a Molotov has got your Dan Bern tour coverage down.

I came across Pete Green while scanning some upcoming Kimya Dawson tour dates; she'll be playing with Pete in Leeds June 26th. This track's got a sweet, fragile sound that reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock in his less loopy moments.

MP3: Pete Green - Everything's Dead Pretty When It Snows

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pocket Shelley - Small Illuminations in a Darkening Sky

In an effort to track down signs of life from Carlos Forster, lead singer for the underappreciated Bay Area indie band For Stars, I stumbled onto what would quickly become one of my favorite albums of the year so far, Pocket Shelley's Small Illuminations in a Darkening Sky, which features guest turns by Forster and Marc Cappelle, as well as production by and musical contributions from American Music Club member Tim Mooney.

Details like this virtually assured I would like the album, but my expectations were exceeded. Pockey Shelley is the singer-songwriter vehichle for Bay Area musician Michael Mullen, of the bands Glasstown, Roman Evening and the Size Queens. Putting vocals, piano and acoustic guitar front and center, Mullen has put together a stunning album of romantic but grounded songs, generous, open-hearted stories of everyday longing, regret and joy that fans of American Music Club and Mark Eitzel shouldn't miss.

As with Eitzel's songbook, details of California abound, particularly in the track I've posted here, "Half Moon Bay", which begins tentatively and tenderly, "Happy birthday, baby/I'll take you out to dinner/let's go to Firefly/that's up in Noe Valley" and tumbles through a series of wishes and memories that teases the listener, never really letting on as to what's real andwhat's imagined, making it all the more relatable. Mullen's ability to fuse the grand and everyday is crucial to making these songs work, as in another romantic track, "Mirror Lake", where he sings of love "in city and in country/and by the oceanside/and sometimes in your twin-size bed".

Musically, these songs move between spare, room-noise piano/vocal arrangements and squalling sadcore psychadelia, as when Cappelle's flugelhorn wails in a long coda to "New Year's Day", and in the swelling build of "Acid Orange", a nearly nine-minute celebration of natural and chemical highs that reminds me of longer tracks on Red House Painters' eponymous Rollercoaster album like "Strawberry Hill" in sheer transporting power.

In addition to ten originals, the album features a fine cover of Dylan's "Farewell Angelina" and Tony Kushner's "Duets: 'Night Mamma", from the musical Caroline, or Change.

You can buy the album at CD Baby and listen to more tracks at Pocket Shelley's MySpace.

MP3: Pocket Shelley - Half Moon Bay

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Morning Shorts

A new show is up on the Internet from Dan Bern, not from his current tour, but from the Indian Lookout Country Club "Gathering of the Vibes", in possibly scenic Mariaville, NY, in 2003. Bern's in fine voice, and the short set's got one of my favorite non-album Bern tracks, a longtime concert staple that wouldn't work nearly as well in the studio. "The Fifth Beatle" is frentic showmanship unbound, featuring Bern's Ringo Starr singing a Harrison/Ono tune, "Bansai Tree" ("Bansai tree for you/and a bansai tree for me...)".

MP3: Dan Bern - The Fifth Beatle

It's Hard to Find a Friend (a very good blog and, in my opinion, the best Pedro the Lion album) has a selection of Dave Bazan's covers, including a classic take on Radiohead's "Let Down".

The New York Times covers Daniel Johnston's recent show: "Without a guitar, Mr. Johnson’s hands trembled constantly, yet he sang with plaintive conviction. Though he looked vulnerable, he could rely on his songs."

The 46th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival has announced its initial lineup; the names so far include Doc Watson, Mavis Staples and Elvis Perkins, thought I suspect you'll see some other biggies added. Recent years have had headliners such as Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, Rogen McGuinn and Joan Baez. The orgy of 60s revivalism/family-friendly snooze-folk, punctuated by some great performers, is in August.

New Release Tuesday

Loudon Wainwright III has found an unlikely partner late in his career in Judd Apatow, who has put Wainwright in several movies and, most prominently, a TV show, Undeclared, where he got to winningly play himself as the sad divorcee dad. But now the partnership reaches new levels of synergy with Strange Weirdos: Music From and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up (buy it). You can watch Loudon perform three songs from the disc live at McCabe's Guitar Shop, at his website. I love "Daughter", which typically takes a po-faced, simple approach to a common subject in order to make it new. The chorus is catchy, too.

Espers' Meg Baird has her first solo album, Dear Companion (buy it), out on Drag City, and the brilliant, soothing track from the album that's streaming at her MySpace, "The Waltze of the Tennis Players", recalls nothing if not Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and I'm not just saying that because of LWIII on my mind. Seriously, listen to the track and tell me I'm wrong.

And of course, the low-key grandeur of The National returns with Boxer (buy it). Paste compares it, a bit unfavorably, to American Music Club.

MP3: The National - Fake Empire

Friday, May 18, 2007

White Wedding Started Again

I'm always a few weeks behind in listening to Jeremy Peterson's In House radio show podcast, but I get to them all eventually, and they're consistently teriffic. The weekday hour-long show, broadcast over the air in Pocatello, ID, features a fine mix of new releases and classics with just the right amount of commentary.

An especially noteworthy show, from May 1st, was an all-covers affair, and featured several tracks from the new Bridging the Distance: A Portland Covers Compilation, a new charity comp out on Arena Rock. The Minders' cover of ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" and Britt Daniel of Spoon covering Sam Cooke are highlights of the show and the comp, which is a $10 bargain. but the real find for me was Whip's acoustic take on Billy Idol's "White Wedding". While I have a high tolerance for covers of most stripes, this one rises above; for the first minute, I honestly couldn't place the song, they've so transformed it. Check it out on their MySpace.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Morning Shorts: Jackson C. Frank

I haven't been posting much lately, and there's plenty to catch up with.

To start, both Salon and Pitchfork have been pushing Nick Drake's cover of Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Run the Game", and both spin the tale, briefly, of Frank's unbelievably unlucky life (Pitchfork: "Frank was badly burned in a deadly school fire at 11, lost his first son to Cystic Fibrosis, received a diagnosis of paranoid-schizophrenia, lived in various institutions and on the streets, was randomly shot and blinded in his left eye, and, finally, died of cardiac arrest at age 56, penniless and still mostly unknown.")

The tale, with much more detail and tragic, heartbreaking photos of Frank very late in life, is told in fine liners in the essential compilation of most everything he ever recorded, Blues Run the Game, on Castle records. In addition to the only album released during his lifetime, which contains "Blues" and was produced very cleanly by Paul Simon, are recordings from the last years of his life. Essentially rescued from the streets by a fan, Frank took to the guitar after years of drifting, and the songs that came out sound like they're from an entirely different man. Although they're all basically in the same key and use similar arpeggios, they knock me down every time.

The essential article to read, after the liner notes, is from Folk Roots magazine, "Game, Set, Blues", which tells the tale of folk music fan Jim Abbott and his efforts to track down and help Frank.
Make sure to check out the Daytrotter sessions by iff favorites Richard Swift and Alela Diane. Kirstiecat was on hand at Swift's Chicago show to capture some photos for us.

I've been missing some shows lately I shouldn't. Daniel Johnston played Baltimore the other night. Brooklyn Vegan reports on a couple of Johnston shows, and a free Roky Erickson/Alejandro Escovedo show, in NYC.

Cognitive dissonance: the Merge blog has pics and setlist from a show on the unstoppable M. Ward/Norah Jones express.

Monday, May 14, 2007

New Release Tuesday

Karl Blau put out what might well have been my #11 record of 2006, Beneath the Waves on K. (I stopped counting at 10, but let's just say). I caught him opening for Laura Veirs and his mix of loops, yelps and unabashed love of a wide range of styles, and of mixing them together in wild, surprisingly accessible ways, made me an instant fan. His follow-up to Beneath the Waves is Dance Positive (buy it), which takes songs from D+ (a project whose members are Blau, the Microphones' Phil Elvrum and Bret Lunsford) and reimagines them with beats, loops and effects. The result is a record that comes in waves; at first, the low-key melodies barely escape the rhythm that's front and center, but after several listens sneak through. Blau's sneaky playfulness is muted but always lurking.

Jeff London is a singer-songwriter who's been releasing quality albums via Hush Records for a while. Earnest but never too much, London's acoustic tunes have got a pleasingly wistful quality, and his ragged vocals cut nicely against wanly optimistic lyrics. Fans of Kind Of Like Spitting and TW Walsh should especially pay attention. You can listen to three tracks from the new album Bane of Progress (buy it) at his website. "Long Island" is from his album Col. Summers Park.
Elsewhere, Loudon Wainright III completists can rejoice at the release of a CD set compiling his two long-lost 70s albums T-Shirt and Final Exam (buy it), previously only available on dog-eared vinyl.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Release Tuesday

Kill Rock Stars brings the wider world more Elliott Smith with the release of early-period closet-cleaner New Moon (buy it), surely high on the list of most iff readers. There was a certain special wan delirium to the first records that got lost with the big production numbers. Can't wait to hear this.

MP3: Elliott Smith - High Times

On a lighter note: The Basement is positively rollicking with 60s country-rock charm and with the added bonus of an appealingly breathless lead singer, could be worth spinning this summer. Illicit Hugs and Playground Thugs (buy it) came out in the UK last year and sees stateside release via Zealous Records.

MP3: The Basement - Do You Think You're Movin' On?

Also out, and previously mentioned on iff: Shannon Wright's Let in the Light (buy it) and The Voyces' Kissing Like It's Love (buy it).

MP3: Shannon Wright - Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play
MP3: The Voyces - Kissing Like It's Love