Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Moon Duo...Emerson, how do you tell them apart?

Any music review that requires me to read Emerson is a good time...

Moon Duo
Sacred Bones

Moon Duo, like its half sibling Wooden Shjips, grinds out grooves that are both tightly coiled and expansive, its repetitive measures circling in an endlessly rolling boundary which is, nonetheless, occasionally an entryway to otherworldly sensation. The idea of limits that turn into doorways and doorways that lead to more limits runs all through Moon Duo’s transcendental reveries. So, it makes sense, in a way, that Moon Duo guitarist-singer Ripley Johnson would gravitate towards one of the original Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In his essay “Circles,” Emerson posits perception as an endless series of concentric circles, the consciousness at the center constantly forced to break through what it sees as boundaries into the next realm of knowing. Says Emerson, “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.” Says Moon Duo’s Johnson on the Emerson-inspired Circles, “O is where the time seems to never end, when all the past is just present again.”


Here's "Sleepwalker"

Also, you can hear their whole set from the 2011 Primavera Sound Festival at the Free Music Archive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm interviewing Mirah and the lights go out

So, basically, everything is fine here. We had some very high winds last night and the power was out for about four hours, but that happens all the time, even without is nothing like those photos of NYC, Atlantic City, Ocean City etc. here. We were lucky.

And in fact, extra lucky, because I had been trying to get hold of Mirah for more than a week in order to do a Philadelphia Weekly feature on her, and it finally came through late yesterday afternoon (it's due tomorrow, or at least it was before the world went underwater). Weirdly, I was on the phone with Mirah talking about her upcoming tour when the lights went out here. She was telling me about the older songs that she almost has to do, every time she does a live show, or else her fans get very disappointed. One of them, appropriately enough, was "Cold Cold Water."

I hope you are all well and safe.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy...Hurricane Bill

So there's a new Big Dipper album now, for the first time in 22 years, It's called Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet and it's out on Almost Ready label November 27th.

I have to say, I think it's not quite as good as the early stuff, but still pretty good. The main principals are still involved: Gary Waleik, Bill Goffrier. the sound is very much the same, leaning heavily catchy melodies, chime-y guitars, a goofy sense of humor. There's a song called "Hurricane Bill" that I would definitely put up today, in honor of our extreme weather, but they're old-fashioned and appear not to be giving any tracks away on Soundcloud and/or Youtube, so you will have to settle for a very old video of "Faith Healer."

I did an extended feature on Big Dipper for Dusted a couple of years ago.

We are all fine so far. It hasn't even really started raining, and we are 100 miles from the storm surge. The most that could happen to us, probably, is losing power and maybe some trees down. We're on a hill, so it doesn't usually flood here. Some roads may wash out. We'll be okay, but may possibly lose internet at some point.

Anyway, if you're in Sandy's path, stay safe and do what they tell you.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

She lives in an airport

Hey look, it's new Guided By Voices! The third full-length this year!

It's pretty good!

(It's the end of October so I had to use up my exclamation point quota.)

Happy Saturday. About time for pizza, I'd say.

Friday, October 26, 2012

FAC. Dance like it's 1982

I so, so, so enjoyed this one...

Fac. Dance 02

The second in Strut's survey of Factory Records' dance-electronic side goes deeper into the well of early 1980s dub-funk-world-punk, revisiting Fac. Dance 01 favorites like A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, ESG and 52nd Street and branching out into the wilder, southern-hemisphere-sampling hybrids like Fadela and X-O-Dus.

The material comes from the first half of the 1980s, the same period during which most of Joy Division reformed as New Order and established it dark, dance-oriented new sound. Yet at the same time, lots of other loosely aligned bands were attempting the same alchemy, splicing the knotty, twitchy dissonance of post-punk to sinuous, body-moving grooves. Consider the Wake's 1983 "The Host," a knife-edge blend of shudder and sigh, dark blasts of synthesizer flaring up from a sensualist's bedrock of bass and drums (that's Bobby Gillespie, pre-Jesus & Mary Chain, on drums), and Caesar McInulty murmuring alienated phrases over. It is nearly eight minutes long, an endless, hypnotic, hip-centric groove that has just enough punk disaffection to give it bite.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

I wander into a assaulted by hair

I mentioned my Divine Fits adventure earlier in the week, and now the complete report is up at Blurt. I am an idiot. What can I say?

How Not to Review a Divine Fits Concert

I spent all of last Friday night at the wrong show.

I'd planned to catch the Divine Fits, the new sparse, electro-funky super collaboration between Spoon's Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade's Dan Boecker, New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown and Alexi Taylor. I'd been listening all week to A Thing Called Divine Fits, in fact, and was kind of excited about seeing it in real life. But oh, terrible thing, Divine Fits was downstairs and Conspirator, a Disco Biscuits electronic dance side project, was upstairs, and I followed the crowds without thinking, up to the big room, where a big synthesized bass drum was thumping already, four on the floor loud enough to rattle your it would thump for the rest of the night. I stayed up there for roughly three hours, in the vain hope that, somehow, what I was hearing would align with what I expected to hear, and sadly, figured it out only around midnight, when Divine Fits had already finished.

How could I be so stupid? How could I not know the difference? Here are seven excuses, all pretty lame:

1. A Thing Called Divine Fits is by far the most electronically rooted thing that Britt Daniel has ever done...maybe he really likes drum ‘n bass and wanted to tour with bands like that?
2. The opening band is something called Strobe Horse, which is a mostly electronic local band...the kind of outfit that could very well use laptops and keyboards and drum machines.
3. There's a drum kit behind the mountains of speakers, which I look at hopefully throughout the evening, as one act after another relies on programmed and sampled beats. (Conspirator uses live drums.)
4. If Britt Daniel were ever to dress up in sun-glasses, a furry top-hat and feather boa, don't you think he'd look sort of like this?


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1-800 Band

No reviews running today, nothing exciting coming in the mail, so time to start trolling the WFMU heavily played list for bloggable ideas...and I find this.

The 1-800 Band is a four-piece out of Brooklyn pursuing a very catchy, keyboard-leavened variety of garage rock. Kind of basic, but super fun...

Like this one a lot.

There are a whole bunch of live tracks (which, honestly, sound about as good productinon-wise as the video) at the Free Music Archive.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Naomi Punk

Slow day, not much happening...which makes it that much harder to do even the stuff that I could be doing...

Anyway, this is a great track, almost stirred me from my torpor.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby

I was really happy with the way this one came out...up today at Dusted.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
A Working Museum
Southern Domestic

“Do You Remember That?,” the final song on this third Wreckless Eric (Goulden) and Amy Rigby album, tells the story of how the unlikely pair became a couple. It starts with Rigby covering “Whole Wide World” at a club in Hull with its author in the audience, glances over the tentative beginnings (“Everyone said I should stay away from you, but I didn’t listen”), remembers early bonding over music (“We played guitars, sang ‘Me and Bobby McGee’”) and describes a disastrous first show as a duo (“Together we were crap, do you remember that?”). The song is like a more entertaining version of listening to your parents telling you the story of how they first met, except that it rhymes and follows a melody that sticks in your head. And in a way, that’s what Goulden and Rigby do best: translate the medium-sized, particular events of their shared lives into songs. The most intricate, personal details are presented with the ends tucked in and the syllables lined up. It sounds effortless, as if they’d found the lyrics this way, as if all life happened in rhyming verse.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dum Dum Girls

I think Dum Dum Girls is my favorite of all the aughts/early teens girl groups, largely on the strength of Dee Dee's fantastic, Chrissie Hynde-ish alto, but also because of the casual strenghth of the songs she writes. her songs are never showy or fuzzy, there are no weird instrumental touches or off-beat arrangement choices, but they work really well within the punk-slanted-Spector-vaulting category that she shares with the Slumberland roster, all of the ex-Vivian Girls, Best Coast and assorted others. She's maybe my favorite female singer of her generation and getting better all the time -- witness her new EP End of Days, which has been out for a week or two, and features this single, "Lord Knows."

Had kind of an interesting weekend, starting with a really botched attempt to see Divine Fits, winding through an extremely young but rather good "Romeo and Juliet" production and ending now with all hell breaking loose on a work project.

Also, on Saturday, BIll and I had a quick beer to celebrate 22 years of marriage.

So there's that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Barbaras...finally, a record

I've got a little review of the Barbaras one-and-only album, a piece of work that very nearly never got released.

The review's up at Blurt.

The Barbaras 2006-2008

The Barbaras, out of Memphis, made goofy, rough-edged, addictively tuneful garage pop. They performed with props and costumes, putting on elaborate shows for scanty punk crowds. A fixture in the Memphis scene of the late aughts, their recorded output was, up until now, a 7" single put out by Goner in 2010. The a-side, "Summertime Road," got a fair amount of blog love, its bleary good cheer nearly drowned in distortion and bottom-of-a-deep-well sonics.

The Barbaras' full-length is altogether cleaner and more pop, the group's giddy psychedelic side and penchant for melody brought out by clearer production. It was produced, as it happens, by Jay Reatard, and at about the same time that Reatard was, himself, turning towards tunefulness with Watch Me Fall.

The Barbaras album was originally slated for release on In the Red in 2010, but very nearly never got released at all. The band was closely aligned with Jay Reatard - they opened for him and two members (Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes) were in his band. Reatard was producing the album - and had the master tapes and files - when Pope and Hayes quit his band mid-tour in October 2009. Bad feelings flowed and Reatard threatened to destroy the tapes. A few months later he died, and everyone assumed that the Barbaras sessions were lost forever. But then Alicia Trout found the files on Reatard's hard drive and the project was revived.

The Barbaras have mostly moved on - three of them are in the Magic Kids, others have moved out of Memphis - but their lone full-length album makes you wish that they had continued. It's poised somewhere between the straight-up, one-two punk of bands like Tyvek and the languid pop of Real Estate. "Flow," which first appeared on the "Summertime Road" single, here expands into psychedelia, lush vocal harmonies draped over its twitchy, tetchy rhythm. "Super Ball" bounces between silly exuberance and romantic longing. Reatard was fascinated, during the last years of his life, with New Zealand lo-fi pop, and it's easy to see how that might have slipped into the Barbaras' toolbox as well. "Topsy Turvy Magic" reflects Kinks-ish musical hall through the Clean's fuzz-crusted mirror, even adding some Wilson-esque vocal flourishes on top. Yet however elaborate the arrangements can get, there's a disarming, punk-style enthusiasm behind them.

Let's not kid ourselves. If The Barbaras 2006 - 2008 had never gotten out, not much in music or life or art would have changed. But these songs go down like melted ice cream on a warm day, and you've hardly finished one when another one charms its way into view. They're fun, they're easy to love, and they're here. Isn't that enough to celebrate?

DOWNLOAD: "The Flow," "Topsy Turvy Magic" JENNIFER KELLY

Late summer, early fall tunes

I haven't done this in a while, but here are some songs I was listening to in August and September.

Ty Segall, "Love Fuzz" From his third album this year, the awesomely guitar-centric Twins
The Legs, "(Let's Do the) Legs" Rough-assed garage rock from Goner, the band (not Goner) now sadly defunct.
Chris Brokaw, "Danny Borracho" Possibly the single most under-rated player, writer, performer with another really good album out.
Royal Trux, "Liar" From a reissue of RTX's chaotic, Stones-loving Accelerator
Tamaryn, "I'm Gone" This year's best dream pop...which is kind of a crowded category.
Mark Eitzel, "Oh Mercy" Third solo album, first since his heart-attack, wonderfully pop and full of bile.
Harlan, "You're a Teenager" Bedroom electronic-pop from Louisiana.
Calexico, "Para" From the much loved Algiers, Calexico's best in a long time.
Rangda, "Idol's Eye" I've got an interview in the pipe where Bishop talks about how Chris Corsano offhandedly suggested putting the main riff into a minor key...which turned out to be almost impossible to play except he's fucking Richard Bishop, so no problem.
Firewater, "Ex-Millionaire Mambo" World's happiest, bounciest song about living in a box, keeping life savings in one's socks.
Black Swan Runners, "Ff Ff Fire" It's just indie pop, but good indie pop.
Cleaners from Venus, "Marilyn on a Train" This is probably CFV's "She's Fetching," the song that plays at proms in some alternate, preferable universe.

Get it here.

Happy Friday...I'm going to see Divine Fits tonight, if I can stay awake.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chris Brokaw's Gambler's Ectasy

Another very fine record from Chris Brokaw, this one more or less in the indie-pop vein of Incredible Love but with members of Tortoise along. The review's up now at Blurt, which is still giving me virus warnings every time I go there.

Gambler’s Ecstasy

Chris Brokaw hasn't been quiet in the six years since Incredible Love, recording a half-dozen albums in the interim. Still Gambler's Ecstasy is the first real guitar pop album for Brokaw in more than half a decade, once again threading the songwriter's sandpapery voice through thickets of rock guitar and drums. Brokaw works mostly solo, but Tortoise's Doug McCombs and John Herndon turn up to add density to the long album centerpiece, a droning, kraut-pulsing, faintly hallucinatory cut called "The Appetites." Here Brokaw's voice seldom rises above a murmur, the tone confidential but the words abstract.

Likewise, the music sounds more accessible than it is, layering indie-rock strumming with oddball melodic flourishes. Later Thalia Zedek's violist, David Michael Curry embellishes the album's lone cover ("Crooked" from Cincinnati band Wussy) with melancholy swoops of strings. Brokaw makes his best lyrical statement in "Danny Borracho," a barn-raising, tongue-biting snapshot of scenester pretense. Gambler's Ecstasy takes some risks, pursuing diverse styles and eccentric paths to tunefulness, but it mostly comes up sevens.

DOWNLOAD: "Danny Borracho," "The Appetites" -JENNIFER KELLY

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Harlan...and why I continue to check out self-releases

I've got a review up today of a really lovely, dark-wave, home-recorded album by John Harlan Norris....who goes by the name of Harlan professionally.

It's up at Blurt today. Here's a bit.

Night Loop

This third album from the Louisiana-based synth pop artist summons the sweep and drama of late new wave (Echo & the Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs, the Cure) into the bedroom. Its self-recorded intimacy cross-hatches epic climaxes with vulnerability.

Harlan began as a solo project from electronic experimenter John Harlan Norris, who built his first album The Still Beat entirely alone, relying on synthesizers, programmed drums and loops. Night Loop, by contrast, incorporates more live musicians and natural sounds, Norris' elegant, florid voice framed by guitar and piano, as well as electronic sounds.



"You're a Teenager"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A.C. Newman

It's not every week I get to review an album previewed by the Huffington Post.

AC Newman
Shut Down the Streets

A.C. Newman’s third solo album filters spiky pop through a Vaseline-smeared lens, strummy guitar lines bristling against glossy synths and made-for-TV saxophone solos. Following Dan Bejar into the gleaming corridors of 1970s radio pop (Newman claims Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” as an influence), he undercuts his strengths, the swagger, the oblique sardonic cuts, the giant pop crescendos that mark his best work.

Newman says Shut Down the Streets is about “about birth, death, happiness and sadness, chronicling a time in my life where all those things had to learn to coexist side by side,” and indeed the emotional timbre shifts weightlessly from melancholy to giddy euphoria. There are sad lines buoyed by massive, triumphant melodies, humorous asides couched in melancholy baroque string arrangements. Yet, with a few exceptions (“Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns,” “Hostages”), Newman works large themes with constricted, needlepoint-ish precision. He is, perhaps, himself the “author of small works” cited in “I’m Not Talking.” He seems unable to let the songs fly.


He also did a live show at WFMU on Saturday.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dan Friel's Valedictorian/Exoskeleton

Hey, it's Monday again. I have a review up at Dusted.

Dan Friel
Valedictorian / Exoskeleton
Thrill Jockey

Dan Friel’s solo rig is a rat’s nest of keyboard interface, knobs, samplers, pedals, wires and switches, compact enough to fit in a suitcase, and jerry-rigged and vaguely bomb-like enough to make you wonder how he ever gets through airport security. Since Parts & Labor folded — and even before — he has been coaxing an extraordinary variety of sounds from this self-designed and self-made apparatus, coarse blares of feedback, delicate patterns of synth, pummeling rhythms, and the kind of triumphant, joy-bubbling anthems that, except for the lack of vocals, sound very much like Parts & Labor. This interim EP contains four very different cuts, two originals and two remixes from like-minded noise-inflected tunesmiths, Moss of Aura (who also plays with Future Islands) and Peaking Lights.


There are also a bunch of MP3s at the Free Music Archive.

In sad weekend news, I dropped my iPod again and shattered the glass, so am trying to get it repaired via DigiExpress...let you know how that turns out. The iPod still plays fine, but it's hard to read the track titles.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Meshell Ndegeocello does Nina Simone

So, covering Nina Simone is kinda asking for trouble, isn't it? But Meshell Ndegeocello doesn't strike me as a wallflower and she does a really credible job in a new tribute album called Pour Une Ame Souverain...all covers of songs that Simone very famously sang.

Here's Ndegeocello doing "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"

And the lady herself

Ndegeocello's album, which has guest shots from Toshi Reagon and Sinead O'Connor, came out last week on the Naive label.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Calm Blue Sea

What is it about Texas and psyche? The Calm Blue Sea is a four-person band out of Austin that favors surging, crescendoing post-rock epics, along the lines of fellow Texans in Explosions in the Sky, as well as other non-Lonestar outfits like Pelican, Red Sparrowes and (especially, because of the way they use piano) Mogwai. Their second album Arrivals and Departures came out on Tuesday on the Modern Outsider label, and I like it a lot.

They're also doing a pretty interesting project with Le Blogoteque where they are filming videos for each of the new album's eight songs in a different Austin location. Baebel music has parts one and two up at their website now.

Meanwhile, here's a short, kind of haunting video

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chrome the future sounded in 1976

Morgan Z Whirledge, ex of the wildly theatrical Apes & Androids, has a new synthy, crescendo-happy project called Chrome Canyon, whose first album Elemental Themes has been getting a work-out on my stereo lately. It's futuristic, but in that cool, slightly retro way of old sci fi movies -- very likely because of all the theremin.

In an interview at Percussion Lab, actually a pretty interesting piece, Whirledge says:

I knew I was in love with this retro-futurist idea of music à la Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos, etc... but I guess until I actually got myself some analog gear I wasn't really able to find the right sound. Once I got my first analog synth (a Juno-60) and started to mess around with it I realized that I was making a lot of this spacey, cinematic sounding stuff and thought I should give it a serious shot and put some stuff out just to see what happens. I feel like it was the first time I was making the unabashed nerd music I had always kept bottled up. Hence, Chrome Canyon was born.

The new album is out this week on Stones Throw Records.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The lovely, the talented Sharon van Etten

....whose album Tramp is still holding at my #2 for the year.

She seems to be re-enacting The Scarlet Letter?

Martin Eden...pssst, it's Eluvium

I am one listen in and really liking the new Martin Eden album, Dedicate Function, a chilled out and beautiful bit of electronic music which is way more rhythmic than the artist's main project, Eluvium. The album is out RIGHT NOW on Lefse Records, and you can hear a bit even sooner than that, if you want.

I interviewed a decidedly restless, work-in-progress-ish Matthew Cooper a couple of years ago for PopMatters.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

King Dude's Burning Daylight

I've got a review of the very dark country blues of King Dude up today at Dusted, which I liked, kind of...(I'm not sure you can tell from the review.)

King Dude
Burning Daylight

T.J. Cowgill sings like an undertaker, his baritone hollowed out, echoing like it’s in a well and fraying into stutters at the very low-end. His “whoa-oh-oh” sounds more like a moan of suffering than an element of melody. Burning Daylight, the third full-length attributed to his goth country alter ego King Dude, raises ghosts and hell in equal parts, twisting the proprietries of country blues into surreal pacts with darkness


Also watched the pilot episode of Nashville last night...really liked it a lot...may have to check out the Civil Wars finally, on the strength of the song at the closing credits. (Civil Wars wrote it; Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio are shown here performing it.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Daniel Bachman's Seven Pines

I do have a weakness for acoustic blues guitar, and Tompkins Square (the label that really brought the whole genre into the sunlight with the Imaginational Anthem series) has something really special for people like me. It's a new album by Daniel Bachmann, a steel-string picker under more than a touch of influence from the late, great Jack Rose. It's called Seven Pines, it's out tomorrow, and it's really lovely stuff.

Check this out

There's a nice long interview with Bachman (who settled in Philly) at Philadelphia Weekly.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Angela Correa's dreamy, drifty, Cocteau-Twins-into-Lush album Pleiades has been out on Highline Records since late August...and seems to have slipped by without much of a mark. that's too bad, because it's a very nice, very subtle, very pretty piece of work, tinged in just the slightest way with Correa's country-folk background, but slanted in an interesting electro-ish way. She doesn't seem to have any of the actual album tracks on soundcloud, but there's a chilled, slinky remix of my favorite tracks, "Isomer" by Nice Fingers that you can check out.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Black Swan Runners

Pretty good power pop from Black Swan Runners, reviewed a day or so ago at Blurt.

Black Swan Runners
An Aside

Black Swan Runners make a spiky, bristly form of pop, one based primarily on scrubby, eighth-note strumming, hard beats and gleaming accents of synth and keyboard. Kevin Castillo, the band's leader, sings in the same gruff, worn-through timbre as Britt Daniels of Spoon, a skeptical undercurrent against the band's relentlessly upbeat tunefulness. These are catchy songs, no question, and they don't veer away from conventional sentiment so much as they puncture it with sharp rhythms and giddy dissonances.

"Ff Ff Fire" is arguably the best cut, its soft murmurous verse winding in a low-key way through bubbling bass notes. Then, clang, clang, clang, a trio of power chords intimate that something big is coming. And come it does in the buoyant nonsense of the payoff chorus, sweeping you up like a warm current to who knows where. Power shifts from keyboard to guitar on these tracks, with a pixilated arpeggio of synthesizer defining "Sooner or Later," and a saw-toothed assault of six-string shaping "Big Mistake." "West of the Ten" gives over to Cure-like castles in the air, its slow beat hazed by ghostly washes of synthetic tone. Castillo saunters in casually over all kinds of sounds, tossing his verses sideways as if he didn't care, but he does.

The all-male, tough but tender vibe palls after a while, and after the midway, tracks start sounding the same. Just when you're ready to give up (and maybe go back to "Ff Ff Fire" for one more play), the final track "Alibi" eases into view. An exception in all ways, in its soft chiming reticence, in its REM-ish jangle in the unnamed female singer whose voice twines so prettily with Castillos, this song is the second clear highlight of an intriguing album. Black Swan Runners does the one thing - the jittery-sweet, loud-soft indie pop - quite well, and maybe it can do some others.


Sera Cahoone

I have been really liking Deer Creek Canyon, the latest album from Sera Cahoone, who once played drums in Carissa's Wierd and now seems to be on Neko's tail as a modern, very empowered interpreter of country rock. She's got a wonderfully strong, unconflicted way of delivering a song, hardly any vibrato at all, big range, every note straight and emotionally honest, a voice that is strong and soft at the same time. She brought in Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Devendra, etc.) to produce and he surrounds her with characteristic warmth and clarity. Anyway, this is her third album, it seems to be getting hardly any ink at all, and that's a shame...

Here's the title track. And also "Naked".

I went to see her play with Grand Archives a couple of years ago and it was super fun. Read about it here, if you want.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sic Alps interview

My SF garage band feature continues to trickle out online at Blurt. This week: Sic Alps, whose self-titled album is, I think, their best ever and certainly the easiest to love.

Oct 02, 2012

With a new album in stores and a North American tour underway, the Bay Area garage monsters are aiming to up their game in more ways than one.


Sic Alps has long buried catchy songs under a blanket of fuzz, the SF band's lo-fi approach sometimes obscuring melody and songcraft. "When we started in 2004 or so, it was just a line-up of Matt Hartmann and me," says co-founder Mike Donovan. "He's a seriously frugal personality, and that carries over to music. So that's why we were recording with no microphones and with the same equipment that we had for 20 years. We stuck with that for a long time. For both aesthetic and financial reasons."

But not this time, says Donovan, when asked about the band's fifth and most accessible full-length, an album titled Sic Alps (Drag City).

"This time the credo was: Let's challenge ourselves, not the listener," says Donovan. "The idea was to make it easy. There are ways to make songs enjoyable that we have never pandered to. But at some point, you want to try it that way, too. "


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

PiL live in 1983

Isn't this awesome?

Firewater's lefty, polyglobal grooves

This one ran last week, too, still catching's another Firewater album from ex-Cop Shoot Cop honcho Tod A.

International Orange

Tod A. (it stands for Ashley), the frontman for Firewater (and one-time leader of Cop Shoot Cop), spent the interim between 2008’s Golden Hour and this year’s International Orange saving a rainforest in Cambodia and, later, setting up a permanent base in Istanbul. No longer living out of a backpack (as he was for Golden Hour), the peripatetic Ashley seems to have settled into a Middle Eastern-flavored groove.

His latest record, recorded against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and released on the anniversary of 9/11, plunges gleefully into a mash of influences: Anatolian zurna wails and Persian percussion, American jazz trombone slides and walking bass, Latin brass, ska-twitching upbeats and the rough-housing melodic punk of the early 1980s. Not since Strummer’s Global A Go Go have so many cultures been shoe-horned together in the service of politically-engaged pub rock.


Now this looks like fun.

Been thinking about Global A Go Go ever since...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dante Vs. Zombies

I have no idea how long this CD was sitting in my pile, though it came out, apparently, in April, so I am certainly not claiming any "there first" rights. It is one of the uglier CDs I've gotten in a while (see below), and also packaged in one of those minimal gatefold CDR cases. Looked like shit..really...and my standards are low.

So I put it on, thinking I could spin it once and recycle it (yes, I know, six months late, I've been busy). And the thing is, it's pretty crazy. It sounds just like Starlite Desperation.

There's a reason for that, actually. It's got two guys from Starlite Desperation in it: Dante White-Aliano and Jeff Ehrenberg. I'm pretty sure Dante is the "Dante" part...perhaps that makes Ehrenberg a zombie?

Anyway, it's very flashy, glammy, decadent R&R, swathed in reverb and powered by the kind of sexy bass that sounds like the string is falling off. (Which string? The low one is the only one I hear.) White-Aliano is prone to silly, nearly-Seussian lyrics, so that the singing sounds like a particularly feral, virulent attack of the rhyming dictionary. But never mind, fun stuff.

Calexico's Algiers

My favorite Calexico since Feast of Wire, reviewed late last week at Dusted.


There’s a video for “Splitter” shot at the converted church near New Orleans where Calexico made Algiers. Joey Burns stands in front of an open doorway, the Crescent City Connection bridge just visible over his shoulder as he starts the song. He twitches out a one-note riff on his guitar, crooning in a spectral, cool tenor that has always seemed at odds with Calexico’s sweaty aesthetic. (It’s like water in the desert.) In a little while, the lens widens, and you see John Convertino, seated, pounding out a hard, staccato beat, all insistence and propulsion against Burns’s hallucinatory longing.

For the record, Calexico adds to the song’s foundation with keyboards, horns, multiple vocals, the multi-ethnic overload that has become one of the band’s calling cards. Yet in a way, this spare live take encapsulates everything that’s compelling about Calexico — the dialogue between tense rhythm and florid, dream-like yearning, the exceptional musicianship delivered casually, almost under the counter, and the sense of the mythic coming out of the most prosaic settings and character studies.


Otis put up the official video for "Splitter," but I like this one better.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What kind of heaven is that, you can't take your records?

Just started reading Telegraph Avenue and loving it so far...

Dandelion War

I had a whole bunch of stuff run last week at Dusted, but the site has been down all morning so I'm going to wait another day to post links to reviews of Calexico and Firewater (enjoyed both, esp. Calexico).

In the meantime, here's another low-flier that I liked quite a lot. It's a very dreamy, trippy, heavily-reverbed second album from The Dandelion War called We Were Always Loyal to Lost Causes. (The title struck a chord with me and is probably the main reason the album made it out of the slush pile). It'll remind you a lot of some of the instrumental heavy bands like Explosions in the Sky, but it also has I'm gonna say Sigur Ros is the best point of reference, but it's warmer and more personal than that.

Here's what singer Larry Fernandez has to say about the band's name, sound and influences:

"We chose our name based on the obvious extremes...which seemed appropriate for a band that relies so much on contrasting dynamics. There was a time when we considered changing it, but we never found anything we liked better. The phrase was taken from the title of a book by World War II veteran and Oxford graduate Richard Rosenthal. Someday, we'll reach out to Mr. Rosenthal to let him know we exist" says vocalist Larry Fernandez. He continues, "Making this album was a long, slow process. We intentionally went into the studio with unanswered questions about some of the songs. We wanted to experiment with new types of sounds, non-traditional instruments and percussion. We tried things that totally failed and, every now and then, we tried something that was a homerun. The songs tend to be a little slower and quieter than those on our debut Geometries And Orchids, but they show a lot more subtlety, relying on melody, lyrics and instrumentation to convey an emotion. As for the lyrics, they tend to be about challenging situations. The title of the album is a line from Joyce's Ulysses. Showing loyalty to a lost cause means having commitment in the face of hopelessness. On one level, that's sort of a downer, but we also see something redeeming about remaining committed to a lost cause." Guitarist Jeff Kay continues, "Our sound grew out of a common interest in post rock. We love long, epic compositions and huge dynamic swings between ultra quiet and super loud. But by adding vocals and electronics, we've moved away from post rock in a traditional sense. And we don't hide from the fact that we fit into a couple specific genres (ambient, post rock, indie, shoegaze) but at the same time, we believe that we have our own unique sound."
Anyway, there's some audio on Soundcloud, check it out.

It's out on now Deep Elm Records