Friday, October 26, 2007

The quiet turmoil of Brown Bird

I went to see Tunng last night and they were great and as soon as I've had more than three hours of sleep and something to eat, I'm going to write about them in more detail. (My son gets up for seventh grade every morning at 6:30, whether I've gotten home from Boston at 3 a.m. or not.) The main thing to remember, meanwhile, is this: go see this band. They are way, way, way more fun than their albums would suggest, even though the albums are lovely and delicate and charming. Their live show is one huge stomping party, from one end to the other, with syncopated handclaps and mechanical birdsong and three, count 'em three, guitar players. I'd wait to tell you about all this until I get my review up at Harp, but then it'd be too late. Here are the remaining dates.

Oct 26 Portland, ME SPACE
Oct 27 Montreal, QC Main Hall
Oct 28 Toronto, ON Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
Oct 29 Chicago, IL Empty Bottle
Oct 30 Minneapolis, MN 7th Street Entry
Nov 2 Seattle, WA Nectar Lounge
Nov 3 Portland, OR Someday Lounge
Nov 5 San Francisco, CA Bottom of the Hill
Nov 6 Los Angeles, CA Echo

All you Canada, Chicago, West Coast people get on will not regret a thing.

Now, here's the point. Tunng had a band called Brown Bird opening for them, a sort of local Boston/Portland threesome, whose dark, minimalist folk was truly gorgeous. They are led by mostly guitarist David Lamb (he also plays drums and tambourine and woodblock with his feet, which I found vastly entertaining), whose voice and guitar playing may remind you, a bit, of Damien Jurado, but his lyrics are weirder. Okay, Lamb's got two other people in the band, whom I'm assuming are married to each other. Jerusha Robinson plays cello, giving the band's sparse folk sound a kind of baroque lushness, along the lines of Margie Wienk's Fern Knight, if you want a reference. Her husband Jeremy Robinson is the wildcard, switching among banjo and accordion and toy piano and, at one point, grabbing Lamb's mallets and pounding a drum with his left hand. (The right was clutching an accordion.) They have very kindly shared their first album with me, the self-released Such Unrest which you obtain from iTunes or CD Baby or through their website at

Meanwhile, a couple of MP3s
"Such Unrest"

"Run the Wire"

A more coherent, professional write-up will follow, I hope, in a week or so.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The lo-fi splendor of the Capstan Shafts

I completely fell for Environ Maiden, a 29-song agglomeration of the last year or so of Dean Wells' lo-fi output. It sounds like he's sort of a mad genius, holed up somewhere in Northern Vermont, recording six or seven new songs a day, little hooks and shards of melody buzzing around his head like black flies. But damn, this is the good stuff. Here's my review which ran today at Dusted.
"Dean Wells, the reclusive songwriter known as the Capstan Shafts, spends his days in northern Vermont, 4-track running, headphones on, laying down sweet shards of fuzzy melody and abruptly revelatory turns of imagery. From this Northeast Kingdom stronghold, he has been sending out homemade cassettes and CD-Rs since 1999. By one count, his discography now extends to 10 EPs and seven full-lengths, each packed to the gills with one and two minute songs, the music on all of them lo-fi to the point of primitivism, the parts overdubbed in a cacophonous parfait, as Wells plays guitar, drums, bass and keyboards. Up to this year, he had never played live and never assembled a band. (He finally performed at CMJ.) The whole shebang would be sort of a freak show…except that the music is so good. Environ Maiden, which collects songs from three self-released EPs from 2007 alone, is the aughties answer to Bee Thousand. It's a pure blast of eccentric creativity and discontinuous inspiration, a rocket launch of songwriting ideas that trails clouds of distortion in its wake."
More here:
Here is a video of the guy playing his first ever show earlier this year (he's been recording since 1999):

You can buy the album from Rainbow Quartz ( a fine, underrated label which bills itself as "your source for perfect guitar pop."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Siberian's big doomy guitars

This one didn't wear very well over repeat seemed to get more emo-y every time I put it on.

But anyway, here's my review. I gave it a six, but it reads higher. It ran last week in PM.

"Siberian emerged in Seattle about three years ago, on the strength of a samizdat cassette demo, four songs long, and followed early this year by a more polished six song EP, Hey Celestial. 'Paper Birds', the strongest song from With Me, the debut full-length, also appeared on the EP, but the rest is entirely new material, indicating a band that has, at a fairly early stage of their development, found a cohesive, consistent, compelling sound.

"That sound is heavily influenced by the shoe-gazers’ love of layered, pedal-altered guitars, as well as the emotional directness and dynamic variety of American emo. You can hear little bits of U2 anthemic-ness, Smiths-ish mope lyrics and post-rock-ish tempo and time signature shifts. And yet, it’s also rather distinctive, relying on chiming, shivering walls of distortion, plaintive vocals and pounding drum beats. They sound a great deal like the Scottish band the Twilight Sad, though perhaps without the scathing self-scrutiny that tempers their grandiosity. This is guitar music that aspires to large scale and—even on a small budget—mostly achieves it, without any concessions to self-doubt or irony. "

More here:

There's a media player with multiple tracks at the label site:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vashti Bunyan...really has been "Here Before"

As you'll recall, Vashti Bunyan was being groomed for pop stardom when she took off for Donovan's commune in the late 1960s. She had, in fact, recorded a single with Andrew Loog Oldham before becoming disenchanted with the whole process and returning to the land. The pristine, lovely result of her turning away was, of course, Just Another Diamond Day...lately rescued from obscurity by the tireless talking-up of Devendra Banhart and a reissue on DiCristina/Stairbuilders.

But what about the early, pop star recordings? What ever happened to them? Funny you should ask. Because DiCristina/Stairbuilders is now pulling together another reissue called Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind which includes all the Oldham sessions plus 11 demos and unreleased tracks. The Oldham tracks are really sort of astonishing...encased in huge, orchestral arrangements that nearly dwarf Bunyan's fragile voice. Here's a video of that song performed live. It's sadly bereft of its Phil Spector-esque bombast, but still, it's Vashti Bunyan, one of the nicest, most appealing and deserving late-life successes of the 21st century.

I interviewed Ms. Bunyan for Neumu a couple of years ago, and she was totally charming. You can read it here if you want:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Young Marble Giants...everything they've ever done on three discs

Young Marble Giants had an instantly recognizable sound...the flicker and thwack of muted drum machine beats (no drummer), twitchy, trebly guitar, bass and the ice-pure, uninflected voice of Allison Statton. There's a fantastic reissue out now of substantially everything that the era's quietest post-punkers ever produced, their only full length Colossal Youth, twenty-six singles and b-sides and five Peel Sessions. It's been out on Domino since September 11, and it includes some really excellent liner notes by Simon Reynolds.

Here are some videos:

And the reunion show from this May

Friday, October 19, 2007

Like a rainbow...the new album from Carlsonics guitar player's Donny Hue & the Colors

Donny Hue & the Colors
US release date: 28 August 2007
UK release date: Available as import
by Jennifer Kelly

Skewed psych pop ...with autoharp!

Folkmote is a hodgepodge, joyfully diverse, but connective threads elusive, as it winds through caffeinated piano-banging pop ("Real Long Time"), tambourine jangling, Elephant 6-ish head-trips ("Humming with the Flowerbirds"), Panda Bear-like wordless reveries ("For the Last Time Beatrice, It's Toast"), and even a straight up, four-thudding rock song ("Peter and his Puzzle"). Maybe that's to be expected, since it collects a loosely organized group of Washington-area musicians into one-off collaborations and casual cameo appearances. Donny Hue -- or Ed Donahue to his mom -- is the common link. The one-time keyboardist for delicate Meredith Bragg and the Terminals and ex-guitarist for hard-rocking Carlsonics is, perhaps, all over the map, but in an endearing way. Every song is a surprise, but a pleasant one. He brings it all together in wonderful "Mountain Piece" twinkling pianos and fragile pop melodies gradually thickened with rustic guitar and back-rocking drums. It builds momentum, turns almost into a rock song, then dissolves into psychedelic ribbons of dreamy singing. So many kinds of music, so little time... Donny Hue paints with the brightest sorts of colors.

Couple of MP3s
"Real Long Time"

"Humming with the Flowerbirds"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Taking a fatal flying fuck with the Guilloteens

You're not supposed to review records where you know the guitar player, much less where the guitar player decides, week-to-week, whether you get to write a $30 show preview. That was the case with the new record from the Fatal Flying Guilloteens, one of whose guitar players (he's since quit the band) is my editor at Philadelphia Weekly. Here's my ethical lapse, which I justify on the following basis.

I like the record a lot.

When I asked for it, it was on the "leftover list" which means that everyone else had passed.

It would take a lot more than $30 a week to buy my approval.

By the way, my colleagues at Dusted liked the record a lot less than I did, preferring the blues-rocking earlier material that FFG released on Estrus and other labels. They are all much smarter and more discerning than I am, so I just throw it out for what it's worth. Here's my review:

"With Quantum Fucking, Fatal Flying Guilloteens makes the leap from Estrus to Frenchkiss Records, obliterating the last trace of blues-based guitar sludge from their sound, and leaning more towards the apocalyptic spazz punk of bands like Brainiac, the Mae Shi and Ex-Models. Guitar riffs take giant, octave-wide leaps, smash headlong into walls of feedback, shake themselves off and jump again. There are brief pauses, just so you remember what silence sounded like, that lead split-second-style into brain-shredding onslaughts of chaos. You’ll find a churning, roiling bass line, answered by fractious, sweat-soaked drumbeats, at the bottom of every track. You could probably dance to this stuff, crudely at least, but you’d end up bruised and bloody."

You can read the rest here:

The label's put up an MP3 of "Reveal the Rats" here:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Espers' Greg Weeks launches new label with Orion Rigel Dommisse debut

Greg Weeks, who leads Philly's acid folk ensemble Espers, has started a new label with his wife Jessica. The label's called Language of Stone, and it's distributed through Drag City (Esper's home)...they've got two albums out already, one by Mountain Home, the other by singer/songwriter Orion Rigel Dommisse (yup, two stars already in the name alone) who may remind you, a little bit, of Joanna Newsom without the harp. I reviewed the Orion record, What I Want from You Is Sweet in Dusted:
"The first release on Greg and Jessica Weeks' Language of Stone is a baroque danse macabre, skeletal melodies waltzing tipsily over mournful parquets of cello, harp and keyboards. Singer Orion Rigel Dommisse, a cellist since childhood, crafts wavery, dark folktales that are as littered with corpses as with Jungian archetypes. Four of the 10 cuts have the word 'death' (or some variant) in the title, and all of them incorporate mortality somewhere into their delicate landscapes. Greg Weeks is credited with playing 'bones' on "A Faceless Death," and we can all hope it's only a metaphor."
More here:

Streams at the MySpace

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pearls & Brass guitarist takes things down a notch

Just reviewed the new self-titled Randall of Nazareth album (out soon on Drag City) acoustic folk-blues departure from Randall Huth's normal Pearls & Brass gig. Here's some of what I said. Follow the jump for the rest if you like:
"Huth is the guitar player from Pearls and Brass, a heavy, boogie blues rock trio most frequently compared to Blue Cheer and Cream. Here, in his first solo album, he unplugs and downshifts, trading the sludge and distortion of hard rock for delicate webs of acoustic picking, the howl of amplified arena anthems for spookily high pitched reveries. It's a move not unlike Zeppelin's transition from II to III, and yet far odder, more personal and less stage-y. There's an eccentricity to these cuts, especially rattling, percussive, Eastern-tinged 'The Way', that bespeaks lots of time alone and wide remove from any commercial considerations.
"Huth's solo album is by no means a traditional blues album; listen to it side-by-side with Delta players like Robert Johnson or Son House and you'll notice that it lacks the swaggering rhythm of old-time blues. Nor is it really straight folk, despite the pristine flurries of six-string and aching modal melancholy. Indeed, highlight cut 'Ballad of a Sorry Lonely Breaking Man' borrows a little from both traditions, employing the familiar blues progressions, the transparently simple song structures of Appalachian music. And still, the song is its own thing, as weirdly tranquil as it is mournfully intense, taking flights into high yodeling fancy. It's the sort of song that sounds, on the surface, like it might have come drifting off any porch in the hollows – and yet so strange that it never did and never will."
More here:

MP3 of "Ballad of a Sorry Lonely Breaking Man"

Monday, October 15, 2007

Baroque post-metal from Finland

Circle, a Finnish band with roots in metal but branches all over the place, has another album out, called Katapult...available in the US on the No Quarter label. I reviewed it a couple of weeks ago, and the piece just ran today in PopMatters. Here's the start, follow the jump for the rest:

If you are the sort of person who likes to know, going in, exactly what you're listening to, then Circle's latest album will present a problem. The Finnish band, now 20-something albums into its genre-baiting career, takes great delight in upsetting expectations, confounding conventions and bringing opposites into alignment. In one sense, Katapult is 39 minutes of "what the hell is this?". In another, it is a boundary-less exploration of all sorts of music, precise as clockwork, annihilating as hurricane winds.

Consider "Fish Reflection," a late album composition that balances, as well as any, the throat-punishing threat of metal with baroque complexity. It starts with a jackbooted bass riff -- that's Circle founder Jussi Lehtisalo, perhaps the lone constant factor in the band's 17-year run -- grinding out the metallic foundation. The drums are fast, precise and clattering, nailing the same succession of snare, sticks-on-rims, kick drum over and over, like some sort of wind-up contraption. Yet over this bedrock, there are big blares of synthesizer, throwing up undulating walls of new wave tone, as if the keyboardist from the Cure had come out the wrong door and ended up on Motorhead's stage. And moreover, though Lehtisalo growls and whispers in ominous metal style, he is echoed by a semi-classical falsetto chorus. And then there are the words, creepily evocative chants of "Skinless, fearless, heartless," which seem to describe not some fairytale metal monster, but an ordinary fish.

More here:

Live performance video:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reclusive folk artist Ed Askew's Little Eyes...out now after 30 years

Another CD from long-lost ESP artist, Ed Askew, whose Ask the Unicorn is now considered one of the precursors of freak folk. I just got an email saying that Askew will be performing at CMJ for the first time in ...probably forever. The show's at Cake Shop on October 18th at 6:25 p.m. He's a legend. He almost never plays live. It's free. You should go. I wish I could.

Here's my review from today's PopMatters.
Little Eyes
De Stilj (

The sound of an Ed Askew recording, once heard, is utterly unmistakeable, the singer’s high warbly tenor drifting above an intricate jangle of high staccato picked notes, the blare of harmonica occasionally surging in. Askew’s 1968 acid-folk landmark, Ask the Unicorn, introduced a whole generation of folk revivalists to his emotion-laden style when it was reissued by ESP in 1996. The follow-up Little Eyes was recorded almost immediately following Ask the Unicorn, yet because of money troubles at the label, wasn’t released for more than 30 years. DeStilj put Little Eyes out on Vinyl in 2002; now, five years later, it’s available in CD format, with four bonus cuts drawn from early 1970s radio recordings. Echoes of Dylan flit through these songs, in the sweep of harmonica and the trembly tones of Askew’s voice. Melodies are simple, blues-based, yet laid over delicate, baroque flourishes of lute-like tiple—a Latin instrument Askew mastered in the late 1960s. It’s high, harpsichord-ish tones dominate Askew’s work, adding a note of complexity and Renaissance resonance to his songs. Not exactly folk, but infused with the minor key harmonies of madrigals, his songs feel at once older and more contemporary than the 1970s folk they are. “My Love is a Red Red Rose” is timelessly bittersweet, and the lone protest song “Song for Pilots” as heartbreaking in the age of Iraq as that of Vietnam. [PopShop, Amazon , Amazon UK ]

No MP3s, but there are some tracks up at the MySpace

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bottomless Pit...just the thing if you've been missing Silkworm

During its nearly 20 years as a going concern, Missoula-Seattle-Chicago's Silkworm could annihilate you with guitars or tickle you with self-lacerating humor. Smarter, more sardonic and indefinably different than the grunge it was often compared to, Silkworm's music was loud and sometimes basic but never, in any way, simple. Silkworm came to an end in 2005 when drummer Mike Dalquist was killed in a random, senseless accident that would test anyone's belief in an orderly universe. A mentally ill woman rammed the car in a suicide attempt; she survived, while Dalquist and two others were killed.

The world seemed a bleaker place without the clangor and smirk of Silkworm, so it's good news that Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen have formed a new musical outfit. It's called Bottomless Pit, and, in addition to the two Silkworm vets, it's got Chris Manfrin of Seam and Brian Orchard of .22. Their first album, Hammer of the Gods (how can you love the guitar as much as these guys and not harbor a fondness for Jimmy Page?) will come out November 6th on the new Comedy Minus One label (

Here's a taste, "The Cardinal Movements." It's the first cut off the new album, which I'm enjoying a whole bunch:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The cadaverous charm of Slim Cessna

Part of Denver’s thriving Americana scene, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club has been cranking out riotous country jams since the early 1990s and winning the love of people not generally prone to hoe-downs. Jello Biafra, whose Alternative Tentacles label has released a Slim Cessna album or two, said, “"This is the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world."

Here’s my preview of the show in Philadelophia this week.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Mon., Oct. 15, 9pm. $10. With Jack Ohly. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684.
Tall, cadaverous Slim Cessna insists there’s nothing alt about his brand of country. His apocalyptic hoedowns may be pushed to punk rock speeds, they may have a tumultuous rock ’n’ roll intensity, but they’re not—repeat not—meant as irony. So button up your shirt right to the collar and take a rackety ride through his darkening rural landscapes. This is how we do things in the country, says Slim, which is to say: fast, hard, rollicking and haunted by the faint smell of death. (Jennifer Kelly)

This is How We Do Things in the Country

Lots more at

Here’s the rest of the tour:

@ Record Bar
Kansas City MO

@ Triple Rock Social Club
Minneapolis MN

@ The Note
Chicago IL

@ Beachland Ballroom
Cleveland OH

@ 31st Street Pub
Pittsburgh PA

@ Johnny Brenda's
Philadelphia PA

@ DC9
Washington DC

@ B&G Lounge
South Windsor CT

@ Middle East
Cambridge MA

@ Jake's Bar & Grille
Providence RI

@ The Annex
New York NY

@ Union Pool
Brooklyn NY 11211

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Midnite, crushing you like a bug

So, I don't know, maybe I went a little overboard in this review of Midnite Snake's latest...that bit about the Panzer tank seems a tiny bit excessive...but anyway, it's an extremely rocking album from a Pittsburgh trio whose drummer used to be in the Modey Lemon. Here's a bit from my review, published today at Dusted. Follow the jump for the whole thing.

"Midnite Snake makes assaulting, cathartic rock and roll, boiling out in squawks and bursts and screeching squalls of feedback, coalescing into monstrous slow riffs, then dissolving again into the heat and haze of distortion. Remember the first couple of Comets on Fire records, when you felt like you were being pummeled to death by guitars and yet you couldn't quite hear them clearly no matter how loud you turned things up? Same thing, this time from Pittsburgh, this time putting a krautish vibe in place of Comets’ amp-manipulated hippie spirit. Get ready, get earplugs. These guys will roll over you like a panzer tank and squash you like a bug. "

More here:

Here's a video: