Thursday, December 31, 2009


Been catching up on promos the last couple of days…good new stuff from Pit Er Pat, Retribution Gospel Choir, Citay and (possibly my favorite) a London post-punk trio called Wetdog, which sounds like a skuzzier, low-fi-er take on Delta 5 or the Raincoats.

Here’s a video of the first single “Lower Leg”. The album – looks like their second – is called Fraushaus and it’s coming January 12 on Captured Tracks.

Off for a run and then First Night in Northampton. Have a happy, safe new year’s eve!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Retribution Gospel Choir

I don't know if you remember how I went apeshit a couple of years ago for Alan Sparhawk's turn-up-the-amps side project Retribution Gospel Choir?

Well, okay, he's back and this time on Sub Pop, with an album called 2. Catchy title, eh? I've listened to it once, all the way through, and my initial read is that it's a little cleaner and more anthemic than the first, but just as good.

Sub Pop is giving away the opening track, which is called "Hide it Away." Go ahead, have a taste. The rest will be out on January 26th.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I’ve got a review of OOIOO’s last album Arminco Hewa up now at Blurt.
Fourteen years and six albums on from the day that Yoshimi P-We pulled together a fictional all-female band for a magazine article, OOIOO continues its euphoric, drum-pounding, girl-chanting adventures. Arminico Hewa enlists the same quartet of wild celebrants as 2006's Taiga: guitarist Kayan, bassist Aya and the double-drumming duo of Yoshimi and Ai. However, this latest album seems a hair more melodic and fluid than the last. In amongst tribal chants and ululations, you can pick up the occasional thread of conventional singing, sometimes even in English.



Monday, December 28, 2009

Bear in Heaven

Last week, while I wasn’t really paying attention, Blurt ran my review of Bear In Heaven, out since November on the (really great) Home Tapes label.
Here’s a bit:
John Philpot's second full length as Bear in Heaven is an inchoate monster of an album, weighted with ritual percussive clangor and slow blossoming modal melodies. It's also a good deal more pop than you might expect, given Philpot's current association with experimental Home Tapes and his history (via previous band Presocratics) with avant gard Table of Elements. Not that he's headed for the Top 40 anytime soon -- elements of chaos and experiment lurk in nearly every cut of Beast Rest Forth Mouth. Still, they are unexpectedly leavened by dance-floor jitters of synthesizer, buoyant pop hooks and the slush of disco cymbals. You can hear Yes and Tears for Fears, Human League and Soft Cell side by side in these compositions, a weird, effortful, compelling mix of prog, new wave, rock, pop and even blue-eyed soul..


“Wholehearted Mess”

Also, if you haven’t yet, go see It Might Get Loud, the documentary that brings together Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, but only if you really, really like guitars.

Friday, December 25, 2009

No, really, go back to whatever you were doing...

I know it's christmas and I hope you have something better to do than to read my ridiculous blog, but if you don't, here's something kind of fun...Wooden Shjips covering "Oh Tannenbaum".

Happy happy...we're having a nice really quiet day, big breakfast, presents, long-ish runs or walks, and lots of new books to curl up with (well, that's me and Bill, Sean has been transfixed by Assassins Creed II).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone…(or happy whatever you celebrate)

Hey, look, it’s here, and I am still way behind, but I believe I’ve bought all my presents and finally gotten the Christmas card situation under control and, best of all, I don’t have to go anywhere this Christmas, so no huddling in a plastic chair in Detroit or Chicago waiting for a golf-cart-sized prop plane to make its way through a snowstorm so that I can board.

But okay, what do you care about that? What’s going on in the fascinating world of music criticism. So glad you asked. Blurt has posted its year-end wrap-ups. You can peruse the aggregate top 50 here (yay, Sharon van Etten!), and (much more interesting, I think) the individual rankings here.

Oh and in another instance of the vast power of the internet, Steve Murphy from Gods Gift has just become one of my friends…weird world, isn’t it? Still waiting on Johnny Depp and Ralph Fiennes.

Ho ho ho!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another running diary

So, things have slowed to a crawl in most ways, though I have gotten two “are you working Christmas week?” emails from corporate clients in the last 24 hours, so not entirely. Still the music stuff is just about moribund until 2010, so I have been dabbling in review CDs and mostly listening to whatever the hell appeals to me. Last night, while playing Trivial Pursuit with my son, we happened on The Veils’ “The Letter” and Sean was like, “Who is this? Can I have it?” So I burned it for him, and we listened to it on our very early drive to school.

I know really almost nothing about the Veils, except that their singer has a very dramatic, somehow-more-than-shoegaze-y kind of voice and that they use a lot of shiny, glossy, effect kinds of things to build shivery walls of guitar sound. Here’s a video of “The Letter.” If you like it, you might see if your mom could finagle a copy of Sun Gangs for you. It works sometimes, though not always.

And, while it was still barely light, I tromped off for my run, a very chilly one so that even with my hood pulled up, the iPod earplugs kept freezing and falling out of my ears. On the upside, it was long enough for another listen through the very excellent Yeti 4 compilation, all 28 tracks of it. (Thanks Michael!) I was intrigued by the comp because it had a track by Souled American, a band about which I know jack shit, except that it merited a long digression in Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. And look here, I found a video by Souled American, though not of the song on the comp. This one is “In the Mud.” Don’t you love the internet?

Finally, as I was finishing my run and also buying Christmas dinner (hangar steak) and driving home, I listened again to The Mountain Goats We Shall All Be Healed, which I love really a lot more than the new one. The thing about Darnielle versus all the other clever songwriters (Stephin Merritt comes to mind) is that he really seems to care whether you hear him or not. There’s none of this ironic, posed detachment, and instead a kind of stridence and urgency which I would call sincere except that sincere has all kinds of zero-brained connotations and Darnielle is really, really smart. So, anyway, here’s a video of “Your Belgian Things” (there are some Shearwater folks playing back-up…whoo hoo!)

Stay warm!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas from my friend Neil Nathan

All you MOG (and ex-MOG) people may remember Neil Nathan...garage rocker, acoustic folker and habitue of famous Detroit recording venues with Bobby Harlow from the Go. He's a great guy and and he sent me a Christmas video, a really nice version of "Santa Claus" is coming to town. It's meant to raise money for the Fred Gabler Helping Hand Camp Fund, which raises money to send underprivileged kids to camp.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Really sad story

I wrote a little piece about a Philly benefit for Dave Sommer, who is the guitarist for a band named Cloud Minder which is sort of in the epic, Explosions in the Sky instrumental category and pretty good. Sommer was diagnosed late last year with brain cancer…it’s a really terrible thing. He’s only 27. They are trying all kinds of experimental therapy and he’s fighting hard but god, it’s just so sad.

Anyway, his record label Anthropic Records is offering Cloud Minder’s first CD as a donate-what-you-want download with all proceeds going to Sommer’s medical expenses. Here’s the link for that.

Also there was a benefit show last week, and you can read about it here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Like music in another language

Kandinsky Improvisation #31, Sea Battle

If you're in NYC before January 13th, go see the Kandinsky show. It's amazing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

good morning new york

I'm in New York today, going back later tonight. Had a pretty good day yesterday, mostly working, but it's good to work. I was too tired to do anything afterwards (getting to an 11 a.m. meeting in NYC entails leaving by 5 a.m.), even though Dave Halstead put me on the list for a Mountains and The For Carnation (!!!) show in Brooklyn...I just couldn't. Anyway, I'm going running now in Central Park, which is, like, my favorite thing in NYC and then having breakfast with my friend Bill and then going to the Guggenheim to see the Kandinsky show (who is one of my very, very favorite painters) and then buying some stuff and going home.

Meanwhile, I have a couple of things up over at Blurt. There's a review of Radian's Chimera. Also a short feature on King Khan.

See ya later.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I’m not here for a long time, I’m just here for a good time

My year-end essay is up today at Dusted. I’m not thrilled about it as a piece of writing, but it does have some really good records on it.

Also, if you’re looking for a little sonic wallpaper to go with it while you read, I have made a mix out of some of my favorite songs from 2009.

You can download it here.

Or just read the track names and nod your head sagely. (Some of you have already heard most of this...back to new stuff soon.)

The Clean “Back in the Day”
Akron/Family “River”
Lotus Plaza “What Grows?”
The Fresh & Onlys, “The Mind Is Happy”
The Feelies, “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness”
The Bats, “The Guilty Office”
Sharon van Etten, “Consolation Prize”
Richard Bishop, “Solzenara”
A.C. Newman, “All of My Days and All of My Days Off”
Jack O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers, “Switchblade Comb”
Tyvek, “Hey Una”
Red Red Meat, “Carpet of Horses (Cleversly Version)”
The Obits, “Widow of My Dreams”
Gods Gift, “Discipline”
Zero Boys, “Forced Entry”
Volcano Suns, “Jak”

I’ll be in NYC tomorrow and Friday, not sure if I’ll post, but maybe…

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Emperor Machine

I’ve been slacking lately on the review CDs and listening to a big pile of stuff that various people recommended. I’m pretty unqualified to review electronic music, like Emperor Machine’s Space Beyond the Egg, but I have been enjoying it a whole bunch. It’s Andrew Meecham’s project, as he describes it “born on last day of the last century spawned from a desirous and dirty relationship between an EMS VCS3 and a Roland System 100.”

Kind of a cool video for “Kananana”

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm now accepting nominations...

for best band EVER.

I'll start.

Anyone want to raise?

Friday, December 11, 2009


Fred Mills from Blurt has been all over Wiretree, an Austin-based power pop band centered around Kevin Peroni. The band's second album, called Luck has been out for a couple of months...and it's a grower. Check them out.

"Back in Town"

Here they are doing an instore at Waterloo Records in Austin.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holopaw goes underground

I first encountered Holopaw when the debut showed up in a box of Splendid review CDs sometime late in 2002…and was immediately transfixed by its whispery intensity. (It didn’t hurt that it was a Sub Pop record in the midst of a pile of self-releases and vanity productions…this was we-review-everything Splendid, after all, and I hadn’t worked my way up the totem pole very far yet.) It was good enough that I went to see Holopaw at my first SXSW. He was holding down the 8 p.m. slot in a long series of much-louder bands. The industry types, there for much-hyped atrocity Hot Hot Heat, talked all the way through the set, which was fairly stunning even so. (This was before iPhones, etc. I’ll say one thing for texting. It’s quiet.) Holopaw’s third album is not on Sub Pop, and the self-release phenomenon (plus a mostly new, much bigger band) seems to free Orth from expectations in a couple of ways. I concluded my review, up today at Dusted, like this:

Oh Glory, Oh Wilderness pulls in two very interesting ways. The more accessible, more exciting arrangements make it more than ever a pop record. Its appeal is immediate, rather than slow burning, and you can see it pulling in fans who are less transfixed by eccentricity, more interested in tightly constructed songs. Yet at the same time, the words and images in these songs are deeply personal and self-revealing in a way that, I think, the first two albums were not. Orth has found a way to make himself more accessible and more himself at the same time with this third album…a neat trick worth repeating.

"The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jack Rose again...

I have a piece up now at Philly weekly, with some very nice recollections of Jack Rose and his music. He sounds like a wonderful man, very much loved by fans and colleagues alike...wish I'd known him.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Doh, missed another one

Hey, this new Yo La Tengo is pretty good, don't you think?

It's called Popular Songs, which I'm guessing is meant to be slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Takes forever to get through the last three songs, but worth it.

Pazz & Jop is allowing me in again...apparently I'm one of 1500 odd critics.

No idea where I fit in on the oddity scale but let's hope I'm extreme.

"Periodically Double or Triple"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jack Rose RIP

Jack Rose, one of his generation’s best acoustic guitar players, passed away this weekend of a heart attack. He was 38.

Rose contributed to both Imaginational Anthem 1 and 2, the first with the lovely “White Mule III” and second with the even more riveting and beautiful “Crossing the North Fork II.” He played on A Raga for Peter Walker, as well, and even gave me quote about Peter for a piece I wrote for Dusted.

I had the very good fortune to see Rose play a little over a year ago, opening for Michael Chapman. I met him briefly afterwards, and he seemed like a very nice, unassuming type…and also, quite young even to be playing this type of Fahey-esque primitive style. Let alone dying. You can read about it here, if you want.

Here’s Rose playing “Kensington Blues” in Sacramento a couple of years ago.

All thoughts and prayers to his family and friends. Very sad.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Goner Fest 4…damn

I got this DVD in the mail yesterday from Goner Records of Goner Fest 4 and watched most of it last night. I’m not sure I’ll be reviewing it, but if you like garage rock at all, you should check it out. It’s a total blast and includes pretty much every two-chord, distortion-crazed outfit worth caring about (circa 2007, there are some new ones since then). The production is better than you’d expect (better than some of these bands’ actual albums) with reasonably decent sound and three professionally manned cameras in continuous operation. You get about one song per band, two if you’re lucky, and some entertaining footage of spectators…you can almost smell the beer.

A partial list of bands:
Jay Reatard
Greg Cartwright
Mr. Airplane Man
Eddy Current Suppression Ring (also the Ooga Boogas)
Hank IV
Marked Men
Quintron and Miss Pussycat
The Preacher’s Kids

Hank IV was one of my favorites:

It really made me want to go sometime….but I suppose that’ll never happen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Corner Laughers…smart bubbly pop

Quite enjoyable new album from the Corner Laughers, a SF-area pop band that reminds me a little bit of Cub, a little bit of the Decemberists.
My review is up today at Blurt.

Smart, bubbly pop from two girls who have been pals since high school, The Corner Laughers' Ultraviolet Garden cuts studs its sugary hooks with quiz bowl vocabulary and surreal imagery. The tunes are airy, breezy and laced with unexpected lyrical twists as Karla Kane sings and plays ukulele here, while long-time pal, Angela Silletto slings a melodic Mersey inflected guitar. Their second album, produced by the Orange Peels' Alan Clapp, puts a 1960s sheen onto conflicted, ebullient and intricately intelligent girl pop.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wingdale Community Singers’ Spirit Duplicator

I'm not usually into actor/artist/writer-turned-musician projects, but Wingdale Community Singers (with Rick Moody) is pretty good. Here's my review in Blurt.

Wingdale Community Singers, an old time music collective made up of four decidedly post-modern artists, has always been a study in contradictions. Pristine clarity, city slicker ironies. Delicate melodies, lush counterpart and harmonies. Buttoned down tradition, wicked humor. There's a constant tug of war between the lulling simplicity of the songs and the sharpness of the words.

Perhaps this is because Wingdale draws together such divergent talents: novelist Rick Moody, folk singer Hannah Marcus, academic and musical experimenter David Grubbs and, lately, visual artist and songwriter Nina Katchadorian. The concept always sounded like a sitcom pitch ("so this famous author decides to start a bluegrass band..."), still the band has developed into a sure and accomplished musical enterprise. None of the songs on Spirit Duplicator sound like they're trying too hard, or arguing their point, or playing the devil's advocate. Instead, these compositions exist peacefully in a quiet, well-tended space, growing in eccentric and twisted ways out of the most traditional American music. They may or may not be making faces at us when we turn our backs.


Best I can do for audio is the MySpace

I've been thinking about doing some original interviews, just for my blog. I really miss talking to baby bands, and I'm not doing very many interviews anymore. What do you think? Would people do it? Is there any way to get more people to read them? (Besides, you know, being brilliant and insightful and first on something that breaks big...I'm already planning on that.)

Anyway, let me know if you have any ideas.