Category : Eclectic
[Treble Hook Sounds]
The year is still mighty young, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the new Albumen record is one of the best of its “type” that I’ve listened to this year. “Type” is going to be difficult to pin down accurately, however, for their new album Lake Desolation. The songs are all over the map and underneath it, ranging from fine folk ramblings to disturbing electronic offerings to straightforward rock. Sort of like Earlimart lost somewhere in The Appalachians but with more keyboards.
I’m not gonna lie and say this won’t be a challenging album for many who are used to more straightforward neu-folk like Iron and Wine. This is folk that is RIPPED completely open. Often bathed in deep-well reverb and loads of strange blips and beeps, the songs refuse to sit still and play nice. I think this is why I dug the album so much.
Casual alternative listeners may be content to say that the singing often sounds remarkably like Michael Stipe with less of the whine (and more of the hair). However, for indie folks more in-the-know, let’s go with an initial impression of Bill Callahan (Smog) and David Berman (Silver Jews) with just the barest, barest inkling of Calvin Johnston’s (Beat Happening) bassoon-like mutterings at times.
Many of the songs are dynamic, containing quieter porch folk and that leads to forceful overdriven choruses and endings. “Circle Down” is a good example of that double-sided nature. “Silent Sunrise” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, a midtempo rocker with really infectious chords and melodies.
Continue reading “Albumen – Lake Desolation” …
I guess the first thing that struck me when hearing “Sunday Bell” from the band Audible was how much lead singer Mike Kennedy sounds like Blake Sennet (Rilo Kiley, The Elected). Now, I don’t put that much store in any powers of musical deduction, but after i got over the Sennet similarity I was thinking, man this sure sounds like good old school Matt Pond PA.
And sure enough, reading the bio for Audible we see that both Mike and bandmate Jim Kehoe were indeed in Matt Pond’s original lineup. Along with Mike’s girlfriend Kris Muller on bass and Mazarin’s Sean Byrne on drums, Audible continues that deliciously layered but wisely compact Philadelphia indie poprock sound blazed by MPPA, Bill Ricchini, and Mazarin.
Continue reading “Audible – Sunday Bell” …
Beltline is a Portland area band that offer up a heady mix of a number of styles including eclectic indie rock and more sparsely populated alt country music. They have succeeded in combing the cameradrie mindset of big band porch rockers like Lambchop with an edgier rock attitude that shines forth in their songs. Instruments like cello and vibraphone make a frequent appearance and add a lot of personality to the tracks. The band centers around the nice vocals of Rob Jones but includes a revolving crew of indie stalwarts from bands like The Decemberists.
Between The Pines
I’ve run across the music from this band quite a few times already over the past couple months, so I finally decided to make a proper post about them. Between the Pine actually has a free EP available at the 80H Records site, so there’s no excuse to give them a listen. If you like mopy lo-fi acoustic songs, you’ll be glad you downloaded the 3 songs. They also have a full length available on Itunes and CDBaby and I believe they’re currently working on a new album.
The three songs are beautiful, sparsely populated, somewhat folksy tunes that seem informed from such diverse musical sources as Sea and Cake, Tarnation, Norfolk and Western, Birddog and Ponies In The Surf (and other Asaurus bands).
I’m making all this stuff up out of my ass again – rather than reading my lame attempts to compare them to various bands, why not just go and download these amazing songs yourself and see?
weird song, sequenced to an old Casper the Friendly Ghost film
Between The Pine website
I have been really digging this disc of covers by Blanket Music lately. The band is the project of Hush Record’s Chad Crouch and though I’ve never really heard his stuff before, I’m really glad I scored a copy of disc 2 of their latest double CD release.
The Portland, OR band decided to make their 4th release a double CD with a slight catch. The first disc is called “The Love” and consists of an original “collection of love songs rooted wholly in earnestness.” However, the 2nd disc is called “Love Translation” and features the band covering different artists that are friends of the band.
This is a pretty neat idea, because they’ve covered some pretty familiar indie names… two of the most prominent being The Decemberists and M. Ward.
Continue reading “Blanket Music – Love Translation” …
Hush Records is well known for releasing indie artists who march to a completely different drummer, with a tendency toward more mellow and sparse artists. Their latest release comes from Casey Dienel, a singer-songwriter who packs a double punch of astute lyrics with slightly loungey, staccato piano riffs. The general feel of the music is jazzy, but comes with an indie sensibility. Think Mirah playing quieter Ben Folds. Or Tori Amos without all the erotic fluff and flutter.
A recent transplant to New York from Boston (via a “small seaside village”), Dienel released “Wind-Up Canary” after a long history of penning bedroom songs that no one got to hear. One of the amazing things is that this is her FIRST recording ever. It sure doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like she’s been recording most of her life.
The music is pretty different, which is expected being on Hush. It’ll never be confused with teenage rock anthems and will remain on the “quiet-time music” backburner for a majority of folks. But the music is nearly instantly likeable. And intimately friendly, which is becoming somewhat of a lost art these days with all the aloof indie musicians running amuck.
Albums available on Itunes:
You know what? I’m going to have to apologize in advance to Dappled Cities for getting up on the rant-box within their review. Sorry guys, the album IS very good – and unique sounding. Ironically, what I wanted to say is that I do read quite a few music mp3 blogs around the net and it seems like more and more you read a review where the content has almost nothing to do with the actual music and more to do what the author had for lunch, or what shirt his girlfriend was wearing that day which reminded him so poignantly about the band he’s talking about. I say ironic, because I guess that’s what I’m actually doing in this review!
Many Mp3 blogs have those short Seinfeldish reviews, and then they end with 1 or 2 sentences saying, “nice album, they’re playing at BlahBlah Bar, check it out HERE (linking to many online MP3s). For that pittance of actual music coverage, they get a reamload of CDs in the mail from the major indies for free. Uh, not that I don’t get a few CDs for free myself.
Every so often, I go through this existential, fatalistic, gloom-n-doom reasoning about the site – wherein I say, why do I even bother talking about these bands? (Have you guessed yet that today is one of those days?) Surely, everyone is just going to go to read the insightful reviews at Bitchfork or StereoDum if they really want to know about a band. And if they just want links or free music, all they need to do is look at any of the more popular indie blogs out there. No one needs indie blogs that actually try to write more than a piddling few sentences about a band, right?
EXACTLY RIGHT. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can’t beat them, then join them. So I’ve been sort of cutting down on the length of the reviews. But you know what? I just can’t bring myself to completely suck out like the majority of review blogs out there. Every now and again I feel like spouting. Hence, the split focus of this blog between reviews and personal “issues”.
If you’ve been any kind of reader of this blog, you’ll remember that I’ve had this sort of conversation with myself many times (working from home has the unfortunate consequence of encouraging discussions with either the cat or the washing machine). I feel like that Al Franken character that talks into a mirror to reassure himself that everything is hunky-dory. He’s talking into the mirror and going “It’s OK to write short reviews. The bands AREN’T going to contact you with hate mail. The readers aren’t going to go over to read Bitchfork instead – and you know why? Because people LIKE me.”
I think it’s just that every so often, I need to physically remind myself by writing it down in the blog that there’s no need to feel bad about writing 1 or 2 piddling sentences about a band and calling a review. I’m sure the majority of the college kids writing blogs are more concerned about the next after-show boozer party than that. More power to ‘em I guess, it sure helps keep you writing post after post.
Did I also mention I have been having extreme shoulder issues from a non-ergonomic work environment, and that writing for Palebear is often to blame? Yeah – suffer for your great work…
Keeping this reviews site semi-personal has been helpful, especially on those days when anything is liable to set me off in a spiral of musical depression. I keep saying I’ll try to make more personal posts more often, but I keep getting caught up with the number of CDs coming in.
Anyhow, back to Dappled Cities. This must be the longest review they’ve ever received that isn’t directly about their music – or not. Their release “Granddance” on Dangerbird is positively Arcade Fire-ish, especially on tracks like “Colour Coding” and “Watercourse”. Over tracks like the great “Work It Out” are sort of like Danielson’s Trumpet song – they have that sort of ringmaster showmanship vibe. The instrumentation is great, as are the overall dynamics. Er, are they from Australia or are they just touring there?
Dappled Cities website
Death To Anders
I’ve been trying to figure out this CD from Death to Anders. From the opening track, I thought at first it was going to be standard indie pop /rock with vocals that reminded me of Sugarplastic, Silver Scooter or maybe Oranger. But then “Ghost Rock” comes smashing in with distortion and strange chords – kinda Sonic Youth meets Possum Dixon and Weezer. The sound is alternately quirky, anthemic and then slightly atonal. The style is all over the map – hoedown countryish to shoegazer ballads to noisy freakouts. There’s another indie band that I can’t remember that sounds very close to this Silverlake band. This is their second album, it’s quite good. Or at least interesting. But I have to admit it’s going to take a few listens…
[Kill Rock Stars]
There’s a cool new song up on the KRS website from quirk-popsters Deerhoof. This is off their upcoming Friend Opportunity, called Deerhoof – +81. Actually, I don’t know too much about Deerhoof myself, but I thought I saw that this song had already been released as part of a +81 EP.
In any case, I’ve been meaning to at least make an attempt to buy into the Deerhoof hype for awhile now. First impressions – Blonde Redhead meets MBV, Sonic Youth and Stereolab, plus the obligatory Yoko Ono comparison. They’re more poppy to me than SY, but occasionally go off the deep end. In a challenging but good way.
Other MP3s and Movies:
Wrong Time Capsule Video
MP3 EP of Live and Cover Tracks (including the Beatles’ The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Herman’s Hermits’ There’s A Kind Of Hush and My Bloody Valentine’s Lose My Breath)
[Swim Slowly Records]
In beautiful hushed tones, the band Doveman leads us on a trail that’s been blazed somewhat by Earlimart and Lambchop before. But the vocal pathos in Doveman’s singer Thomas Bartlett on their song “Honey” is really awesome in it’s sad whispery ways. A side note: it’s weird, but when I said “Doveman” to myself a couple of times I kept hearing the word “Duffman”, the beer spokesman from the Simpsons. Boy, is this a light year and a half away from that.
The song moves along slowly with a simple highhat step keeping time. This could easily be part of the soundtrack for the ending credits of a indie detective movie where the hero is walking off into the blackness without the girl. Halfway through the song a really touching muted trumpet burps along with a bit of tinkling ivories in the background.
Continue reading “Doveman – Honey” …
Wow. This is going to go right up there with “world music that I really think I should be interested in but it’s just over my head.” I have neither the musical knowledge to talk about the band, nor the will at this point in time – suffice to say that Beirut’s Gulag Orkester was enough to put my poor Americanindie-centric brain through the wringer. Eastern Blok is right up there. Apparently, they’ve made a name for themselves, appearing on NPR and having their music in an Angelina Jolie film (Wanted). How about just have a listen for yourself:
Eastern Blok website
I heard this really nice, mellow track on SomaFM the other day by a band called Ellery. I guess what made me remember their name was that there is an Ellery Lake that I’ve visited many times near Yosemite and I have a lot of good memories from that place. So when it came time to write a post, that little random thing stuck in my head.
Tasha and Justin Golden continue the popular husband-and-wife team trend (Low, The Handsome Family, Viva Voce) as the band Ellery (previously known as Dividing The Plunder). The track I heard is called Arizona and is from their EP release “Make Your Troubles Mine” which swims sweetly along at a speed that’s not going to start any hearts racing. But this is what they do best. They play gentle pop songs that might qualify for alternative adult radio, which is sort of interesting because I normally don’t gravitate toward these type of songs. But there were some really good tunes on the EP. Know Better Now which is the last track is particularly beautiful.
Continue reading “Ellery – Arizona” …
Man, amazing. I’m back reviewing. What happened? I don’t know. Got bored. Decided to write in short sentences. Well.
At least some review packages have gotten through the post office blockade, so for now I’m keeping the address the same. Please let me know if you’re getting them returned.
Ok, so this is supposed to be a review. Here it is: the more I listen to Eux Autres the better they sound. How’s that for a major cliche-o-matic. Yay! The Portland band’s newest CD is Cold City and I have to admit I nearly put it aside until I heard a few tracks on SOMA and looked to see who it was. Shamefaced, I retrieved the CD from the “discard” pile.
Janet Weiss (a heroine of many) had a hand in the recording of their album. Not surprising there might be a few Sleater-esque moments starting with “Gratte-Ciel” and “When I’m Up.” But hey, before we even get into that I have to say that the initial 2 songs of the CD tread a different indie line: think Tullycraft plays Pants Yell! plays Masters of the Hemisphere for “The Deadball Era.” And for “Molly” let’s go That Dog plays with Slumber Party.
Whew, ok I used up all my references in one fell swoop. Oh what the hell, one more try: for “Anne Boleyn” let’s go Life Pursuit era Belle and Sebastian meets Field Mice. Regardless, the indie pop rings true on this album. I have to say that again that Masters of the Hemisphere RIYL really comes out on one of my favorite tracks, “Collision Theory.” Interesting Frenchiness also occurs occasionally. Overall: tres delicious.
When I’m Up
Eux Autres website
Silver Plated 606
I heard a track from Francine off of SOMA FM and instantly needed to find out more about the band. Wow, I really liked the two songs available for download off their most recent album 28 Plastic Blue Versions of Ending Without You. These guys are masters of the unexpected (but nevertheless delicious) left-turn chord change.
The first track is called Silver Plated 606 and the chorus really showcases their talent at this. I mean the chord changes are super interesting, but are so natural that it doesn’t feel like they’re “trying” to be complex or anything. If I could point to any one band that they remind me of on this song it would have to be Heatmiser (Elliott Smith and Sam Coomes of Quasi got their start from this band). The loping tub drums and the aforementioned chord changes really remind me of “The Fix Is In” off of Mic City Sons. Their use of slightly twangy guitar with that engaging drawl led me to think of some of the Dandy Warhols’ slower songs.
Continue reading “Francine – Silver Plated 606″ …
Hearts and Unicorns
It was instant-like with Giant Drag for me. I’ve got a softy spot for bands with just a guy and a girl in the lineup. What always surprises me is the amount and power of the noise that is possible with a imple drums and guitar lineup. Oh sure, there’s overdubs. But still there’s a pretty powerful presence on their album “Hearts and Unicorns”.
The band is sort of like a reverse Quasi lineup; there’s Micah on drums and Annie on guitar and vocals. But they’re definitely more dreamy and less playful and self effacing than Quasi. Other duos that they resemble are Viva Voce, who are similar in hellraisin’ style but definitely more electronic, and Elk City who share a similar atmospheric vibe but tend toward more folkier moments.
There’s going to be some comparisons to shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine of course, what with the powerfully distorted guitars that swim throughout most of the songs. The song “Cordial Invitation” totally has those guitar bends and fogbank cloud of noise hovering underneath the music. But they mostly avoid MBV’s mid-treble emphasis and crackling broken distortion which is probably a good thing as far as radio play goes. The distortion is often more like, er, grungey. There, I said it… whew.
Continue reading “Giant Drag – Hearts and Unicorns” …
Easy Not Easy
I got a chance to preview the new Graves album, Easy Not Easy. Graves is basically just Greg Olin playing understated, mopey folk. It’s the kind you put on the stereo just when all but your favorite stragglers who don’t have work tomorrow have left the raucous house party thrown by your indie rock neighbor’s friends’ friend. It’s 2 am clean-up music, to be shared by just a few people who’ve got the time to linger and pick up those empties strewn on the floor.
Olin’s folksy approach reminds me seriously of Lambchop’s songs though the momentum doesn’t build as much. I also get an Eels / Vic Chestnutt / Chad Vangaalen / Townes Van Zandt approach to the songs. Though the focus is the singer-songwriter, Olin is able to parlay that into something slightly more grand, much like Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner who uses layers of additional instruments like horns, vibraphone and strings to create a soundscape backdrop for his songs. I would say that Graves is much more stripped down, but the idea is the same: Some kind of wonderful folk.
The CD is out on the once-again amazing Hush label.
Greg Olin – guitar, vocals and everything else
Selected Albums on Itunes:
Keep Your Eyes Ahead
These guys know how to snack. Look at the photo below: doughnuts, cookies and milk perfectly and strategically placed. Does that ordered and harmonious tablesetting signify anything about their newest album Keep Your Eyes Ahead. Surely, and deliciously.
That’s not to say that The Helio Sequence’s music is wooden and fixed in any way. But I think that their songs have benefitted a bit from structure and order. The former album I heard, Love and Distance, had moments of brilliant pop and rock embedded in occasionally meandering electronic forays. The songs on this album just seem more concentrated and focused. If you think that I ripped that idea off from the official bio, you’re wrong – but it’s nice that we’re all on the same page there. Apparently, that is exactly the conclusion that Brandon Summers, who is one half of the duo that also includes Benjamin Weikel, came to after nearly losing his singing voice permanently. He opted to do some soul-searching, and I think the music benefits from it.
They sometimes kinda like fellow Subpop labelmates Rogue Wave, but Helio Sequence’s sound is a bit more ethereal and dreamy. Not cavernous reverb, but quite a bit. The synthesizer stuff is still there, but it’s very controlled. Instead of a distraction, it’s tasty flavoring – like the sprinkles on that doughnut. My favorite track on the album comes in past the halfway mark and is the title track. Bouncy, driving and melodic, “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” is sure to win over new fans with its power pop and slightly disco driven beat.
As a complete changeup, “Shed Your Love” is a lovely acoustic ballad, and is sure to get some face-time on teen angst OC type shows. Reminds me a bit of James for some reason. The plaintive country folk-singer song “Broken Afternoon” and the hoe-down of “No Regrets” is even more of a departure – dare I say it sounds like they’re taking a try at sounding like Dylan? Or maybe M. Ward? I know they’re no stranger to shades of country (the previous album had that”Harmonica Song”), but this is quite different – and I really like the new avenues they’re exploring..
On first impression, you’d be damn tempted to label the group I’m From Barcelona as a Swedish Polyphonic Spree – just because of how many members there are. Then you’d be tempted to say, well they only made it because of all the latest interest in all things musically Swede. Whatever the case, these dudes and dudettes create goofy ensemble pop songs sung in an entertaining orchestral twee style.
Meaning there’s a choral element and a whole lot of instruments thrown into the mix. Originally created by Emanuel Lundgren as a gag type of collective where he just invited all of his friends to participate. Twenty eight of them or so took up the challenge, many who had no musical experience at all. Then the band started to get airplay and web word of mouth spread them wide. It’s a story you hear told a lot nowadays. Sometimes it’s all hype but in their case, it’s deserving – the songs are really good. I just would hate to figure out how to split royalties among 28 people…
And yes… they are not actually from Barcelona – I don’t think Lundgren had even BEEN to Barcelona before naming the band.
I’m From Barcelona website
Static On The Radio
I found out about Jim White through the Sixeyes site. I’d never heard of him before but apparently he’s been releasing stuff for awhile.
This isn’t your normal everyday alt-country… the music is infused with a sort of strange, almost film-noir quality. It’s like the songs could be friendly porch tunes but refuse to sit still quietly, choosing instead to roam around under the moonlight. The track I heard was called “Static On The Radio” off of Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See and features White’s careful lurking whisper occasionally being backed up by his own falsetto. Sometimes I almost feel like this is a less quirky 6ths (Stephen Merritt) song. It has that playful but dreamy quality to it.
Continue reading “Jim White – Static On The Radio” …
“KR” is going to get abbreviated in that fashion heretoforth because of his keyboard-tripping name that ties up my fingers whenever I try to type that. Besides the name, the eclectic Swede has been turning my ear upside down with his trippy songs that ride on classic 70s melodies and sounds (Stones, T Rex, Late Beatles, etc.). I’ve also heard him being referred to as a “Beck of Swedes” but that’s not exactly accurate.
So what is accurate? No idea. The songs on Sweet Bills are definitely more straight rock at times but there is just an overall weirdness that permeates all the songs. He’ll throw in weird samples every so often and mixes in electronic stuff and over-distorted drums. Lots of funky horns thrown in the mix. I think you just have to hear KR and decide for yourself.
Do You Want A Piece Of Me EP
Kristoffer Ragnstam website
Father I See
People who try to combine any sort of traditionalism and piano work will often get lumped either into the New Age category a la George Winston or stand-up Jerry Lee Lewis revivalists like Ben Folds Five. Not Liam Singer. I dug his track “Father I See” because it’s soft minimal tones often seem to be inspired from great modern classical masters but never copy them overtly. This is modern sounding enough, and certainly not piano bar room brawl stuff. There is some beautiful and haunting keyboard work here.
I know some people are going to say P. Glass but I don’t really see that so much. I think he has more in common with some of the newer Earlimart piano songs and his vocal on “Father I See” is very good. I’m almost reminded of Elliott Smith sometimes.
Continue reading “Liam Singer – Father I See” …
Very rarely, I get sent albums that leave me pretty speechless. Where the music is so good that it seems pointless to trundle out your review superlatives. I have had this problem with the new Loney, Dear album called “Loney, Noir” which has been on constant playback for a month or so now.
Interestingly, this came in a Subpop package along with the new Shins which I’d been eagerly awaiting. Yeah, “Wincing” is pretty great… but Loney, Dear completely took over my CD player with his amazing one man band recordings. Granted, I’ve got a soft spot for the Swedes (and yes, I was a fan before the current influx of Swedish indies) but Emil Svanängen has really turned on the charm in his pop music.
It’s hard to describe except to say that it is so beautifully natural and organic sounding. It’s not shoegaze, but I’m going to call it “Stargaze” music because it’s filled with the same childlike wonder I once felt when watching the Leonid shooting stars up near Mount Wilson. And I don’t mean that ill-fated kind of childlike wonder that often transforms Peter Griffin on Family guy into a gibbnering 7-year old idiot. I mean true wonder.
The first three songs, “Sinister In A State of Hope”, “I Am John” and “Saturday Waits” are reason enough to get the album. But I was already completely sold by the end of the first track. For reference, the actual setup of the music is similar to either Badly Drawn Boy or Sufjan Stevens or Polyphonic Spree where simple pop and folk melodies are framed by a larger amount of instruments than might otherwise be orchestrated. The instrumentation is quirky which adds to the sense of wonder. Vocally, Emil channels Brian Wilson, Jeff Hanson, or Paul Simon when he sings in a higher voice (which is most of the time), or Jason Lytle when he sings lower. There’s a slight nod to the Elephant 6 type of sound of Beulah or The Apples, but it’s just slight.
Though the recordings are done on his own in somewhat modest settings (apartment or basement of parent’s house), I’ve heard that when he plays live he adds on a full band. I would really like to see them play a show, but I don’t believe they’re coming around to California. They’re playing SXSW, though. I’ve heard they did shows with Peter, Bjorn and John in Sweden – what a bill that would be.
Basically, I am just going to call this the best album I’ve gotten this year so far. And I would be super surprised if it didn’t make top 5 at year’s end. I know it’s early, but Loney, Dear is just too good.
I Am John
Love as Laughter
Highly irreverent indie rock from Sam Jayne of Love as Laughter makes for some interesting listening. I’m usually not such a big fan of 70s or 80s classic rock influenced modern bands, and there have been quite a few to come out on Subpop in the last year. But I actually took a fancy to a few of the later tracks on the album such as Neil Young influenced “Every Midnight Song”. That song really got off the ground and started to rock out near the end.
Continue reading “Love as Laughter- Laughter’s Fifth” …
Found this artist through the ever reliable Sixeyes. A former Australian turned Londoner, M. (Martin) Craft plays a mishmash of mellow melodic folk tunes mixed with a slight groove at times. A side note first: What’s with all the folks/bands wanting to abbreviate their first names as “M”. I speak of M. Ward, M. Coast, etc. Oh, M. Night Shyamalan, hehe.
His debut album Silver & Fire was released this past summer, and while he gets hit with that “psychadelic folk tag” I just don’t hear that as much. Although, there is different sort of disco and waltz tempo to what might just be standard folksy stuff in other musicians’ hands. From the tracks I heard, it could be a semi-combination of Bill Callahan, Jose Gonzalez, Hayden, Radar Bros. and Pedro the Lion. I did get to watch the video for “You Are The Music” and OK, maybe that’s more on the psychadelic side. Looks a bit like Max Headroom.
One interesting thing is that in addition to streaming the album, you can also download the entire thing in MP3, but with the tracks as instrumentals only. Never heard of that technique before, but it sounds like a great way to get a feel for what the tracks will sound like.
Whoah. Just looking at their promo pics, dese guys know how to live it up. I thought MGMT might be some ska-metal band from their abbreviation, but thankfully they’re not. Oh, the name. It’s pronounced “Management”. I think.
The music – very, very trippy. Like David Bowie singing Mercury Rev plus Polyphonic Spree. I actually have no idea what to make of them because I was so expecting a metal band to blast at me when I put the CD in. Wacky, full orchestral production, electronica meets modern glam prog-rock. At times they even channel disco. They’re opening for Of Montreal which I guess makes a bit of sense, although MGMT are no E-6ers. That should be an interesting billing.
Songs For Ice Cream Trucks
OK, if ever there was a CD I got that screamed “gimmick” on first look, it’s got to be this one. But the problem with dismissing Michael Hearst’s Songs For Ice Cream Trucks like that is that the songs are so damn delicious while retaining their intended funny bone attitude. That attitude might be a little like Mr. Rogers meets early Magnetic Fields or something.
Michael uses a large number of different instruments (including melodica, chord organ, claviola theremin and more, all detailed on the site) but the best parts are the glockenspiel and other bells which really makes me hungry for ice cream. Some sort of primal thing, I’m sure – a deeply ingrained Pavlovian response that people have to ice cream truck sounds.
Many of the tracks aren’t really songs – they sort of remind me of the quirky music that pre-dotcom-bust tech companies used to have playing in the background of their 30 second commercial pitches. There’s a strange sort of “new but old world” sound to a lot of the tracks. I think kids would definitely dig this stuff, but adults are going to get a kick out of these instrumentals as well. I have trouble describing what genre this might fit under… ice cream twee? The only other band I can think of as a reference might be They Might Be Giants – especially in regards to their kids album “No!”
You can check out the songs and the ice cream truck attitude on the website (which is all in Flash, and someone obviously took a ton of time to design it).
Songs For Ice Cream Trucks
Mist and Mast
If I was getting paid to review music, I would characterize this album as “excellent, and only kinda crazy.” Just kidding. Well, only half kidding. Since it IS true I’m not being paid. But it isn’t true the music is crazy. It’s just that Jason Lakis, formerly of The Red Thread (who I know nothing about) has a knack for turning what might be ordinary delicious indiefolk into songs that are just a little bit off-kilter sounding.
I actually think it’s the strange and frequent chord changes that give the music that sound. I kind of like it – it certainly kept me awake slogging through the piles of CDs on the desk. The songs absolutely refuse to sit still. Without the added strangeness it might be like Jon Brion or Matthew Sweet or – just pick a popster. At times it sort of reminds me of Nyles Lannon. I suspect with further (I mean more than ONE) listens this album will get even better. Definitely on my “bands to watch” radar…
Mist and Mast website
Reason to Live
I’ve meant to post about the Mosquitos several times after hearing them on various internet radio stations but got sidetracked by other stuff. There is also the fact that there aren’t to many MP3s floating around to give links so that you can hear what they sound like.
But then I realized that there’s a video section on their site where you can watch and listen. And it so happens that one of my fave tracks “Reason To Live” off of their latest album Mosquitos III has been set to video. The Far Away Video is directed by Felipe Joffily and mostly features the combination of rather serious shots of the band along with goofier shots of a guy running around with a Chuck E Cheese mouse head on.
The actual music – it sounds like the couple part (ira and georgia) of Yo La Tengo fronting Papas Fritas plus American Analog Set. This song is a bit different than some of their other stuff which has a bit of Brazilian flavor mixed in: they’re described as “bossa nova grooves and winsome indie pop” on their website which is pretty accurate at times.
They’ve released 3 albums thus far: the aforementioned Mosquitos III, Sunshine Barato and a S/T album.
Norfolk & Western
The Gilded Age
I have to admit that I’ve needed to keep the new Norfolk & Western album The Gilded Age percolating in my Itunes “To Review” playlist for quite awhile before taking a stab at giving it a review.
You see, I’ve been a huge fan of theirs (the band revolves around Adam Seltzer and Rachel Blumberg) and have been following their work since 2003 or so. The general feel to their music is, well, it is often “hushed” and introspective (small wonder they’re on the Hush label). And I LOVE this kind of stuff, and the band has never disappointed. They take porch rock and imbue it with all sorts of instruments like banjo, pedal steel, and strings. Long before the Decemberists hit it bigger with their carnival-like atmospherics, N&W were the band who filled that niche for me.
But with their latest album they completely deconstruct the folky notions that I’ve had about their music. And not surprisingly, it ends up working due to their musicianship and songwriting capabilities. I mean, the first song is called “Porch Destruction”. What do YOU think that’s about? They’ve definitely upped the rawer and distorted side of their music, though I’d argue that they’ve had that potential all along. I always felt they were more of a band with the dynamics of say Low, Red House Painters or Lambchop than straightahead folk music anyhow.
Interestingly, the music for “Porch Destruction” really reminds me of an old Sparklehorse song. And despite its name, the real fireworks don’t start until nearly halfway into the song and it’s tempered by strings and xylophone. The title track “A Gilded Age” starts out right away with distorted and delayed guitar fighting it out with a funny little banjo line.
“Watch The Days Slowly Fade” may be the track on the album that sounded the most different to me. The chords and melody remind me of Neil Young plus Matt Pond PA. This one really rocks out at times which was cool. The sound collage “There Are No Places Left For Us” is classic Norfolk and Western … it’s an instrumental intermission that’s almost like a creepy Russian radio broadcast.
Continue reading “Norfolk and Western – The Gilded Age” …
The Opposite Side Of The Sea
I’m going to admit that I’m a little bit out of my league trying to review this Oren Lavie CD. No doubt it’s a wonderful collections of smoky, quirky, mellow tunes. And actually, there is a very good chance that you’ve already heard a song. The opening track, “Her Morning Elegance” was used in a Chevy Malibu commercial.
I know I got one reference correct immediately, even though it’s an easy one – Nick Drake‘s footprint is everywhere. Oren’s voice is hushed, even ragged sounding at times, which goes pretty well with the sparse arrangements. No pounding drums here. There are a lot of orchestral arrangements, at times a bit whimsical. Sometimes it reminds me of the strings on The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”. The other name that comes to mind is Leonard Cohen, though the songs aren’t as bleak. Also, uh, Sting? Beyond that, I’m afraid I’m going to have to let this one ride in the Ipod for a bit.
Solving My Own Puzzles
[Hand to Mouth]
Got in this rather nice CD from Origami Ghosts the other day that’s been making the rounds on my Itunes. Though the band is mostly the vehicle of John Paul Scesniak from Seattle, he doesn’t drive the car all by his lonesome preferring to create some rather nice soundscapes with the help of various musical friends.
The influences listed include Modest Mouse and Pinback, which might be a good starting point. I especially here that in the vocals. But there is less rockabout and a stronger, evocative Americana /Folk type of feel injected throughout many of the songs. Part of this probably has to do with the different instrumentation (hammered dulcimer and cello?).
But it’s also inherent in the songs themselves which mostly run in the vein of moody acoustic folk dirges punctuated by occasional off-kiltre drum outbursts. The overall effect is fairly artsy, but not beyond the average listener’s reach.
A few of the artists brought to mind are Matt Pond PA (must be the cello), Built to Spill, Sam Prekop, American Music Club and Joan of Arc though Origami Ghosts don’t by any means sound exactly like any ONE of those bands. I liked at least 3/4 of this disc which is saying a lot in the new Palebear review format. Which is pretty darned picky…
Radars To The Sky
Coming at ya – a fantastico, energetic little EP by Radars To The Sky, of which ex-Avelar singer Andrew Spitser is a member. Some of us had written once about his Franklin Bruno vs. Doug Martsch vocal similarities, and a little bit of that has carried over to the new sound. But you might also want to plug yourself in some XTC, Pixies, Yatsura Urusei (listen to the 3rd and 4th song on the EP), and Neutral Milk Hotel for comparisons. Interestingly, having heard Avelar several years ago I really think that Andrew’s singing style fits much better in today’s landscape of strident folk-to-a-yelp singers… in that sense maybe it was a bit of a precursor before its time? Maybe.
The hit on the EP is definitely going to be “Long Walk Home” which should spend some well-earned time on more than a few bloggers playlists. This is where the strength of the band really comes out in the following ways: great curvy pop melodies, male/female vocal tradeoffs, driving bassline/drums and BELLS! I likes the bells. Not to downplay the other songs (“Home For The Holidays” is a understated standout track) but I think if they can leverage this particular type of track onto a full length album, they’re gonna have some real success.
It also appears they are a local L.A. band – meaning I really need to get out more.
Visit and Listen:
Radars To The Sky on Myspace
Get to the River ...
I have to keep reminding myself never to judge a band based on anything before hearing their music or seeing them play live. Sometimes it’s best to even listen to them blind. In this case, I’m talking about the amazing band Sea Wolf who I saw play the Echoplex kickoff show this past Thursday along with The Parsons Red Heads, Watson Twins and Earlimart.
I was going to the show to see Earlimart, but I’d gotten an advance of the Sea Wolf CD as well. However, I didn’t even listen to it beforehand – one of my favorite things to do back when it was actually possible to be surprised by music (early 90s) was to take a chance and buy a CD or go to a show without knowing anything about the band. Kinda like forcing yourself not to know anything about a movie before going to see it. I decided to do this with Sea Wolf and I’m so glad I did. The reason is because the band is headed up by Alex Church of Irving, and his band mate Alex Burrows is also in the lineup. The thing is – I can’t stand Irving! So, if I’d read they were in Sea Wolf maybe I would have made up my mind already about the band.
Instead, at the show we were treated to an amazing, dynamic performance by Sea Wolf (everyone else was good too, but if Earlimart didn’t come out with guns blazing, I would have said that Sea Wolf stole the show from them). At the heart of the band are Church’s quirky but extremely moody compositions that seem to swim with the tide rather than against it. Melodic acoustic guitar and beautiful string accompaniments make all the difference. The rest of the rhythm section is locked in sweetly as well.
There are only 5 songs on the EP and they played all of them at the show. They differ, with some being slower and others more forceful, but all have a really dreamy quality to them.
“You’re A Wolf” is the crowd favorite, but mine is the driving and drony “I Made A Resolution.” As far as bands they sound like, I’d say take the Decemberists plus Arcade Fire, mix in a little Dirty Three for string dynamics, some old nods to the Velvet Underground and its ilk, and then add some Great Northern for atmosphere (the latter is a gimme, since members of that band are in the live lineup).
This band completely blew me away with their performance. Hopefully, I’ll get to see them again soon. They’re actually touring with Silversun Pickups. I already missed Sea Wolf playing with Sloan at the Troubadour, and apparently they are playing one date with Elk City! What a show that would be. (On a side note: I gotta say there is a very incestuous Silverlake scene thingy going on… or maybe I just haven’t really noticed it until now since I’ve been so out of it. But it’s all good – I like nearly all the related bands.)
You’re A Wolf – Video
Sea Wolf website
A few weeks ago I was absolutely flabbergasted while typing something on the computer to hear the opening words of a Stephen Malkmus song on the TV that was on in the background. “Wake up early in Karakatu, Alaska / We put our masks on to welcome the dawn” isn’t the sort of lyrics that the average commercial will contain so I looked up immediately to watch it.
It was a commercial for a 13 hour sale at Sears that was playing on ESPN2 of all places. I can’t believe that they would choose the second song “Phantasies” out of all of them from his older self-titled album. Way to go Sears. Since then, I’ve seen the commercial about 4 or 5 times on other stations like CBS and Food Network.
Continue reading “Stephen Malkmus – Sears Commercial” …
The Album Leaf
Into The Blue Again
The Album Leaf continue their winning semi-instrumental ways with their latest offering “Into The Blue Again”. Well, we should really say that Jimmy LaValle continues the winning ways, since he’s the only member. And a busy one at that… he’s had his hand in the following other pies: Tristeza, Black Heart Procession and Iceland’s Sigur Ros. Good company he’s keeping there.
I like to describe Album Leaf as instrumental electronic music that doesn’t suck. It neatly avoids heavy beat-driven drivel while remaining musically coherent enough to stay out of the deep space Flying Saucer Attack end. A lot of people are going to say, “hmm… Chicago post-rock instrumental?” I don’t really hear that though.
LaValle subtle use of strings, piano and other live instrument textures seems to contribute well to the overall feel. The end result is a creamy soundscape that remains chipper enough not to drown you to sleep. Along with his trademark electric piano hallmarks sprinkled throughout the tracks, we’re now treated to honest-to-god vocals. And though still a rarity in the songs, having a few words now and then fits in pretty nicely with the overall soundscape.
Selected Albums on Itunes:
The Cape May
Glass Mountain Roads
Here’s another great album that got lost in the shuffle. The Cape May gives you a moody soundtrack of not-quite-post rock that calls to mind the subdued angst in Pedro the Lion and Bedhead matched with some of the complexity of the artsy Chicago rock scene and the more complex denizens on Touch and Go. Oh, and by the way they’re yet another Canadian band – seem to see a lot of good bands from Canada that play this type of music.
The focus is on dreamy soundscapes and musical textures rather than bang-em-out 4 minute pop gems. Needless to say, it might take a few listens to get really comfortable with the album. However, their occasional Built to Spill prog-like excursions don’t leave you with the uncomfortable feeling that they’re out to try to prove some musical theory. I find that happens sometimes with bands that play this type of music.
The experimental stuff is heavily tempered by a layering of instruments like various strings, accordian, keyboard and theremin. The acoustic leanings of the band sort of remind me of Norfolk and Western at times. Vocally, I hear the aforementioned David Bazan along with something like Thom Yorke plus maybe Jason Molina. This is a solid, interesting CD that earned its place in my CD collection the hard way through repeated listening.
Glass Mountain Roads
The Dead Science
I think the one word that may sum up The Dead Science’s music may be: “creepy”. Their name is pretty descriptive of their sound. The songs seem to slither up behind you in a strange way like shambling indie zombies. Lead singer Sam Micken’s voice can be likened to Stuart Staples from the Tindersticks, except that Sam’s voice has been washed bone clean and bare of any low end. At times, he can also sound like Thom Yorke from some of the Radiohead tracks that get into the falsetto range.
As far as the music goes, it often floats by in a drugged, skeletonized waltz time. It’s like an indie rock Halloween soundtrack. The Bischoff brothers lay down the slightly schizo rhythm section, with Jherek contributing oozing on his acoustic stand-up bass and Korum tapping out quirky percussion beats, often relegating the timing to speedy snare rolls that are more jazzy than anything else.
Although many of the tracks I listened to were slower, “Drrrty Magneto” has a quicker feel to it, though nevertheless it still mutters along with a sinister feel. There is a sort of carnival darkness to the music that’s a bit like Nick Cave, though not as campy. Their label, Absolutely Kosher, is sort of known for more off-kiltre music like this as far as I can remember… Jim Yoshii Pileup and Xiu Xiu are the two bands on the label that come to mind.
This isn’t music to dance happily to, but more like stuff you might see goth kids swaying to in underground clubs. Still, it’s got a strange dark charm to it.
Jherek Bischoff – bass, voice
Korum Bischoff – drums
Sam Mickens – guitar, voice
The Crane Wife
To say that The Decemberists’ new album The Crane Wife is a departure from their previous album is an understatement of huge proportions. If Picaresque was an ambitious, carnival-driven masterpiece, just you wait until you get your ears wrapped around the latest tracks. In addition to his usual pitchman storyteling shtick it’s as if Meloy has simultaneously plugged into the mindspace of more classic rock bands like Yes and Neil Young. That’s just for starters.
These 10 songs include two “song cycles” that top the 10 minute mark: The Crane Wife and The Island. In usual Decemberists fashion, the first song cycle is based upon older literature – namely an old Japanese folk tale called The Crane Wife (see the Wikipedia entry for more info).
Though some might argue that the the transformation from musical oddity to full-fledged superstar indie rock band happened with the last album, The Crane Wife leaves no doubt that the Decemberists have truly arrived.They completely shrug off all of the Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons and the songs really seem to have matured. The initial impression is that the songs are more lush and full, and often much louder.
“The Island” cycle starts off with the total classic rock vibe intro of “Come and See” (I’m almost afraid to say – Steve Miller?) but soon morphs into Neil Young. That then leads into the prog-rock keyboard machinations of “The Landlord’s Daughter”. Whoah. But “You’ll Not Feel The Drowning” ends the cycle more thoughtfully with mellow acoustic guitar arpeggios.
Continue reading “The Decemberists – The Crane Wife” …
The Love Letter Band
Fear Not My Brothers ...
I was actually fearful that the extremely long name of this nifty little CD by The Love Letter Band would explode the Palebear database constraints, so I’ve waited until here to print it in its full glory: “Fear Not My Brothers, Fear Not My Sisters, For I Have Seen The Future…”. Woo!
There’s a weird folk/country stream of consciousness theme going on in the songs, and at times it feels like Conor Oberst is mixing it up with Bonny Prince What’sHisNameNow. I don’t usually go in for ribald emo-angster singing, but the songs were really engaging and complemented the style really well. No slap against the singing, but just something I usually pass on; if the songs weren’t so good then I definitely would have handed this CD off.
The band is a “loose nuclear family” revolving around the nucleus in question – Chris Adolf. Because many of the tracks are very short, it’s got that GBV feel to it. Devendra Banhart definitely comes to mind as well.
The title track (I’m not going to write out the name AGAIN) is a wonderful Southwestern cantina romp complete with trumpets and pedal steel with Adolf egging the rest of the band on.
The room chorus at the end of “Everybody Sings Their Own Little Song” is VERY Saddle Creek, but the fun instrumentation (recorders, melodica, accordian, etc.?) is more E6 styled. The nice guitar instrumental right after that reminds me of something off of M Ward’s latest. “Love Will Be My Home” is like a Buddhist Woody Guthrie clapping (with one hand) along in time with the music, while “I Will Be Here” is a more standard, pedal steel driven country pop tune.
You can find this one out on the ever-pleasing HHBTM label from Athens, GA…
The Polyphonic Spree
Beginning Stages Of
If your idea of a great band is about 25-30 members dressed in the same long robes playing various different orchestral and non-orchestral instruments or singing in a rousing indie pop chorus, then The Polyphonic Spree may just be for you. This band truly does have a huge cast and does perform in suspiciously “cult-like” robes, but the sound that comes out of them is pretty amazing. A soaring chorus of voices backed by a modern day orchestra type sound a la Brian Wilson’s Smile. Crazy horns, whistles, bells, strings, gongs… you get the whole works.
I haven’t gotten their newer CD/DVD Together We’re Heavy, but I can certainly vouch for the tracks off of their amazing initial album The Beginning Stages Of The Polyphonic Spree. Tracks like Have A Day feature their typical dynamic buildup of instruments around a common theme, often only a few chords. The choral blasts on “It’s The Sun” give me chills.
Continue reading “The Polyphonic Spree – The Beginning Stages of” …
Wincing The Night Away
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the post office box the other day. I got the new Shins release Wincing The Night Away in the mail… I guess it’s not such a FUNNY thing, but I’d thought that with all the lack of coverage at Palebear that I’d been booted off their promo list. It seems like every other blog (and their mom) had this release already. Good to know I’m still on the list, albeit at low priority. =)
Anyhow, too much has probably been written about the new record. I’ve surreptitiously been avoiding reading about it. You probably just want to know: is it worth picking up. The answer so far, in the 10 listens since I received it, is generally Yes. I can hear the Shinfanatics yelling at me now.
I guess it just didn’t grab me as hard as Inverted World or Chutes did right away. Sure, you’ve got your anthemic hits like “Phantom Limb” and “Turn On Me” which will always elevate them high in indie hearts. But it took a full 5 listens to get into many of the other songs. The quirkiness which has always been their strong suit is definitely still there. But in my opinion it’s often overly squandered on the louder material. “Sleeping Lessons” contains an interesting Air-like arpeggio mapped onto a double time snare-fest worthy of the Interpol or the White Stripes. “Australia” bounces along quite nicely, but “Pam Berry” is basically just a gratuitous Dick Dale Pulp Fiction surf line. “Sea Legs” sounds like a Beck outtake, while “Girl Sailor” is also an outtake but of the Belle and Sebastian variety.
Continue reading “The Shins – Wincing The Night Away” …
The Transport Assembly
If you have an aversion to atonal mathy-rock, I can guarantee that you won’t like this album by The Transport Assembly. I REALLY liked it, however. It has a trippy, twiggy, twisted feel to the songs. I’m not surprised to see a Jim Yoshii Pileup connection. Other bands brought to mind are Deerhoof, XiuXiu, etc. Maybe Sonic Youth a bit. The singing is kinda Elephant 6-ish though, which makes it even better for me. I am trying to pry it loose from my CD player but it will not come unstuck. Delicious, dangerous and dissonant fun.
Well sit me on a porch with a washboard and break out that old time jug ‘o moonshine. The Wowz certainly put you in that sort of mood with their strange Appalachian musical ways. There’s a little bit of everything in here, country folk with drunken down harmonies, kitchen sink percussion, and the requisite banjo. But there is something strange and off kilter in the mix that makes them sound more like the Silver Jews or Bill Callahan.
The singing on “Happy Today” from their Long Grain Rights CD is pretty quirky as is the rest of the instrumentation. It sounds sort of like the boys just set up shop on grandpa’s porch and started in on the hoedown.
Continue reading “The Wowz – Happy Today” …
I Made You Love Me
Boy I was thrown for a loop with Tony Penultimate which is actually the pen name for Peter Brooke Turner who plays in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the Ukulele Kings. Apparently the Ukulele Orchestra is of some reknown across the sea though I’ve never heard of them. A whole fleet of ukuleles is something I have to hear.
But this isn’t straight up ukulele music (though Tony did write most of the songs on one). This is some campy Elvisey lounge music that hiccups through various genres in a matter of two and a half minutes. The song available on his website is “I Made You Love Me”. In fact I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or cringe with this music which takes the macaroni and cheesey feel to a new level. The coolest thing is that he’s singing the song with a completely straight face. Somehow that made it just too good to be bad, if you know what I mean.
Continue reading “Tony Penultimate – I Made You Love Me” …
Alive With Pleasure
If you like the other married (or divorced) dynamic duos Arcade Fire or Quasi, there’s a pretty good chance you will dig Viva Voce. Beautiful and engaging quirk rock that sounds semi-filtered through Jason Lytle’s or Aaron Espinoza’s eyes.
On their latest LP The Heat Can Melt Your Brain Anita and Kevin Robinson carefully construct catchy melodies and inject a tipsiness into their tunes by utilizing an arsenal of musical weapons. Ranging from vibraphone and kazoo to celeste and simple handclaps, their instrumentation choices are top notch. The flavor is eccentric and edgy, aurally exciting, and liable to make you jiggle around uncontrollably in a spastic way. Yeah, that good.
Continue reading “Viva Voce – Alive With Pleasure” …
World Leader Pretend
I must say that I knew nothing of the band World Leader Pretend even before I received their most recent CD “Punches”. And the funny thing is that I feel like I know even LESS about the band after listening through it a couple times. Let me tell you that this band and their music is just completely wild. If ever there was a case of multiple personalities in a band, this is it.
Even more strange is that the CD is released on a major label -Warner to be exact. I’m not sure how that happened, but good for World Leader Pretend I guess! Their songs are just so off-kiltre and wacky at times. I don’t mean that they are totally goofing off. It’s just that the style of the songs change with a frequency that’s likely to make your head spin. I think that Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, Warner is pretty much content to just let them run with whatever ideas they have… at least for the time being.
Strangely, I find that lead singer Keith Ferguson reminds me the most of … BONO. Yes, Bono of all people. I saw a few others had noticed this similarity too. Can’t remember the last time I mentioned Bono in a review…
Continue reading “World Leader Pretend – Punches” …
Yo La Tengo
Our Way To Fall
A couple of years back you might have noticed a really cool PBS commercial “interstitial” that featured a girl waking up early in the morning and heading over to the family barn to shine a flashlight on a rooster to see if that would make it crow. The song featured in the commercial was of course, Yo La Tengo’s “Our Way To Fall” from their awesome CD And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.
This was a part of a series of PBS promotionals that aired starting around 2000 (I think it’s called the “Stay Curious” campaign.) They still show some of these spots, including “Photo Booth” in which a guy takes tons of pictures of himself in an automatic photo booth singing the words to a Caruso song and then uses them as a sort of flip-book so that he can see himself sing along to the real music. But I haven’t heard the Yo La Tengo one for awhile now.
Continue reading “Yo La Tengo – PBS Commercial” …