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.