Friday, August 31, 2012

Maga Bo's world-rattling beats

I think I might have posted something, months ago, about Maga Bo, Brazilian-based DJ linked to DJ Rupture and Filastine...I really liked his album Quilombo do Futuro (roughly, "Future by the Kilo"? I don't know.) Anyway, I reviewed the record for Blurt and forgot about it, and it just turned up on the site yesterday.

Maga Bo
Quilombo do Futuro
(Post World Industries)

Maga Bo, the American-born, Brazilian-based DJ, brings together a polyglot mash of rhythms, instruments and ethnic styles into the future, marrying samba beats to booming sub bass, gritty urban raps to hand-fashioned instrumentation. A crew of mostly Afro-Brazilian but also Caribbean-via-Brooklynite collaborators turn up the verbal heat, while Maga Bo stages a knife fight of cross-cutting, slashing rhythms.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Echo Lake

Dream pop from Slumberland...doing really well on the college charts and reviewed yesterday for Dusted.

Echo Lake
Wild Peace

Echo Lake, a duo that grew from London, first made waves with the 2011 EP Young Silence, a disc whose title track’s muscular, distortion-blurred guitars brought comparisons to My Bloody Valentine. This new full-length, Wild Peace, eases back on the drama, blurs singer Linda Jarvis’s coos into rainbow mirages and edges into dream pop, a la Mazzy Star, The Sundays and, especially, The Cocteau Twins.


One of the best things about reviewing this record was checking back in on the Cocteau Twins and, especially, reconnecting with this Felt/Elisabeth Fraser collaboration.

You've got to read this piece in the New Yorker on confidential informers

I'm going to post something musical later today, but meanwhile I urge everyone to read this shocking, nauseating article from the New Yorker about how the justice system uses confidential informants in its war on drugs. It is yet another instance of how our society eats its young.

Here's a link.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Good female-centric retro pop from a Chicago band called Hollows...reviewed Monday at Dusted.

Trouble in Mind

Hollows match the bash and clatter of DIY punk to the tough-but-sweet vulnerability of girl-group pop. They are (mostly) girls, as it happens, and they do stick primarily to the love-and-lose-and-love-again playbook of classic 1960s pop. Still, even the most devoted homage to The Shirelles or The Supremes takes on an off-kilter vibe when performed by educated, empowered, modern-day women.

Hollows (don’t add a “the” unless you’re talking about a NYC-based roots rock band) come from Chicago. The two founders -- Maria Jenkins (organ and voice) and Emma Hospelhorn (bass) -- met via Craigslist, when Jenkins wrote some songs that didn’t fit her then-current outfit Parsley Flakes. Hospelhorn had, for a time, played flute in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, but was looking for a rock outlet. Guitar player Meg Kasten got recruited by the band’s first drummer. Jason Davlantes, the current drummer and sole male in the band, came on later, as did back-up singer and percussionist Hannah Harris. There was a self-titled cassette-only debut on PlusTapes in 2011 that CoCoComa’s Bill Roe tipped in his Dusted Listed as “Equal parts girl-group melodrama mixed with goth-y garage ghoulishness.”


Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Still getting virus warnings at Blurt, so I'm just pasting the whole Antibalas review here:


The multi-instrumented, multi-ethnic, Brooklynite disciples of Fela Kuti have been off for half a decade, some of them backing Sharon Jones, others composing and performing the score for Broadway's Fela!, still others participating in funk-world-soul collaborations with, among others, Ocote Sound System. During the time off, Afro-beat has become, if anything, less of an exotic hybrid, more an accepted part of the landscape. These polyrhythmic, in-the-pocket grooves are not quite as American as tacos or pizza at this point, but they are also no longer quite so foreign. You don't have to trade Nigeria 70 on battered cassette tapes anymore. You can order it on Amazon.

So let's set aside, at least for the moment, the worthy role that Antibalas played in popularizing some of the world's funkiest, most searing grooves, the way the band has relentlessly, show-by-show, town-by-town, built up awareness and appreciation of Nigerian funk. How good is Antibalas the album, the band's fourth, on its own merits? The answer is: pretty good, but not as great as its inspiration.

"Dirty Money" starts in a fractured friction of multilayered drums, an organ line (that's longtime Antibalian Victor Axelrod on keys) strutting and slinking amid flash-lightning illuminations of brass and saxophone. The song balances on a knife edge between laid-back ease and propulsive motion. It leads with the hips, all physical insistence, yet remains rather cool and contemplative at its core. "The Ratcatcher," up next, also melds traditional drum kit with the syncopated tonalities of cowbell, claves, bongos and horn bursts (the horns are just as percussive as the drums). Seventies American soul twitches to life in the Shaft-era guitar work of Marcos Garcia, the space-age funk of the keyboards, but there's fusion jazz, too, in the wild keening and blaring of Stuart Bogie's saxophone. "Sare Kon Kon" (or "We Are Running") is, perhaps the most furiously heated of these tracks, skittering forward on a staccato rhythm of hand drums and overlayed with vocal howls, moans and exclamations.

Like Fela himself, Antibalas engages whole-heartedly in politics, making the common man's struggles a center of its syncopated, body-moving art. The video for "Dirty Money" is explicitly tied to the Occupy Movement, making abstract lyrics about a man drowning and falling off buildings concrete and economically determined. (Though doing so, in a fairly lighthearted way, and with Muppets.) "Sáré Kon Kon" is less of a narrative, more a direct channeling of post-global meltdown anxieties. Its motion is ceaseless and, oddly, circular, as rhythms hurry this way and that, as saxophones blare, as people shout and groan...without anyone getting much of anywhere. Afro-beat has always been protest music, but it's also an escape hatch, a physically enveloping, mildly hallucinatory experience that puts harsh realities on hold.

I still sense a bit of remove, of holding back, of loving tribute rather than full-body engagement in Antibalas' work. Heard next to actual Fela, it sounds ever so slightly scholarly and dry. Yet there's so much positive in this band's work - in its devotion to an intricate aesthetic, its commitment to justice, its sensual, hip-shifting appeal - that it hardly seems fair to grade it against the source.

DOWNLOAD: "Dirty Money" "The Ratcatcher" "Sáré Kon Kon" JENNIFER KELLY

Here's that Muppet video

Monday, August 27, 2012

I have mixed feelings about the Stevie Jackson solo

I equivocate about Belle and Sebastian veteran Stevie Jackson's arch and jokey new album...also in Blurt, also last week.

Stevie Jackson
(I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson

Slip off the sensible cardigan, and try on a feather boa. Forget rainy afternoons and think decadent, neon-lit nights. (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson, the first solo album from Belle & Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson, is more giddy music hall than waifish indie pop. It's a high kicking, cake walking collection of songs about film directors ("Just, Just So to the Point" and "Kurosawa"), 1970s soul icons ("Man of God") and email etiquette ("Press Send").


Kendra Morris

I had a little feature piece on the nouveau soul singer Kendra Morris in Blurt on Friday, but I kept getting virus warnings every time I tried to go there.

Here's the link, but proceed at your own peril.

Here she is covering Johnny Mathis.

Okay, so we've been dog sitting for a little more than a week, and while I like dogs, I cannot wait for it to be over. I mean, you don't really mind getting up early to take your dog out when it's YOUR DOG, but when it's somebody else's (and when she whines and cries whenever you are temporarily not in the same room with her or barks the whole time when you have to go out to get groceries), it's different. I think a week is too long, don't you? I mean, as a favor to someone? I mean, like "I'm going to have a fabulous week in NYC, could you watch my dog?" And, "really, it's like I'm doing you a favor, since I know you love dogs and don't have one any more." Oh and also, "She only whines at night when the bedroom door is closed." (So obviously it's our fault, for not wanting the dog wandering in and out all night long.)

Sean's senior year starts tomorrow, too. Christ, I have a photo of him catching the bus on his first day of first grade...of us walking to the bus stop with our old dog, Paddy. (RIP, having another dog really makes me realize how much I miss him.) Time is slipping away.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Crazy Spirit

Taking a little break from review CDs this a.m. I stumbled onto this super loud, super tight HC band from NYC, whose first full-length CD is out now on the Toxic State label.

Mosurock, who tends to be first on this sort of thing, caught the debut S-T single a year or ago in his Still Single column, and said: "This one is empirically the best single on top of the recent punk pile over here, and might win out the year. Young rawpunx from NYC trudge away across six songs of wild, septic HC and drawn-out underage boozehound stomp, with lyrical content leaning towards the gory, fleshy rot of death metal. Speeds up, slows down, but the fury never wavers" You can read the whole review here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On the Pitchfork People's list

so, okay, i started a ballot and stopped in the middle, not because I felt oppressed by the patriarchy or offended by all the Radiohead or any crap like that, but because it was boring and taking too much time and I had to make dinner.

But really, how surprising is it that Pitchfork readers overwhelmingly pick Pitchfork-ish records as their favorites?

I do love In An Aeroplane By the Sea for what it's worth.

Janka Nabay

So this is weird...I'm getting huge (for'd be pathetic anywhere else) numbers of hits for no reason at all. (Except maybe a post on the always popular Ty Segall.)

Hell, let's make hay while the sun shines. Here's a review of the new one from Sierra Leone-via-Brooklyn's Janka Nabay and members of Skeletons, Chairlift and Starring.

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang
En Yay Sah
(Luaka Bop)

Janka Nabay is the Bubu King, perhaps the world's leading popularizer of a music created for Sierra Leonian witchcraft rituals and adapted, as the country became Islamic, for Ramadan processions. The music is fascinating, a multi-layered, multi-rhythmed texture of percussion, chant, guitar, bass and keyboards, but the story behind it is even more compelling. Nabay got his first break at a Freetown music contest when the judges grew tired of imported reggae and asked if anyone could perform in the local tradition. Nabay could and did and soon became the country's best known interpreter of Bubu, selling tens of thousands of cassette tapes in his native Sierra Leone. He became a big star just as civil war broke out in the 1990s and came under protection of one of Sierra Leone's most vicious warlords, Sam Bockarie. His music became an instrument of war, performed against a background of AK-47s and blood diamonds and mutilation. Soldiers would blast Bubu to draw people out of their homes in captured villages, then kill or take them prisoner.


Cleaners from Venus' "Time in Vain"

Wow, falling in love with this soundcloud track from the lost 1980s lo-fi cassette only Cleaners from Venus.

Captured Tracks, which reissued three Cleaners from Venus full-lengths last March -- Blow Away Your Troubles (1981), On Any Normal Monday (1982), and Midnight Cleaners (1982) -- says this:

Lol Elliott and Martin Newell, who together formed the legendary lo-fi band Cleaners from Venus met in the small town of Wivenhoe, southeast England at the turn of 1980s. Newell, a rock singer and part-time kitchen porter who’d left his band the previous summer, and Elliott, a drummer and former hippy traveller, had much in common. They shared a love of sunny 1960s pop music, punk rock and musical comedy. Neither Elliott nor Newell cared much for any kind of musical rule book, both were dismayed by the new right -wing politics which had now taken over their country. Both , were in their twenties, had time on their hands and were keen to create something new.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nice little obituary for the Occupy Movement

Too bad it's over.

It's Wednesday so there's new Ty Segall

I've been keeping a lid on this new Ty Segall record, Twins, because the publicist said it was super, super secret, even the names of the songs are on a need-to-know basis...but today, Drag City is letting loose with the first single, so from me to you, another good one from the incredibly productive Mr. Segall, his third full-length of 2012.

Here's "The Hill"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Kind of loving this new S-T from Canada's Metz, which will be out pretty soon on Sub Pop. It sounds a good bit like early material from another Sub Pop band (the Sub Pop band, IMHO...and I don't mean the Postal Service), abrasive, crazed, aggressive...and loud. They have, apparently, been dubbed "Toronto's loudest band", and you know, Fucked Up lives there, too.

Anyway, here's an MP3

And a video

I really like this piece "METZ are worth a temporary loss of hearing."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tim Cohen on two great songs

I just finished writing a piece on the Fresh & Onlys for Blurt, and I couldn't figure out how to incorporate this bit from the end when I asked him what makes a great song a great song. (I ask everyone this.) So I thought I'd use it for a blog post.

It's kind of cool because Cohen has this two-sided background in hip hop and psychedelic pop...and he picked two songs, one psych folk and one hip hop.


JK: So I want to ask you a question that I ask all songwriters. What, to you, makes a great song a great song? And if it’s hard to answer in the abstract, you can talk about a specific song.

TC: Well, the thing that makes Bill Fay’s “The Garden,” which is one of my favorite songs, and actually, it’s the demo version that I love the most. A great song. It’s the pureness of the melody in the song. The lyrics are awesome as well. It doesn’t matter what instruments are playing. It’s so honest and pure.

JK: Is that one of the ones that got reissued by Secretly Canadian this year?

TC: ]It’s not. It’s on the first Bill Fay record, the self-titled Bill Fay record. It’s on the demo collection, which is called From the Bottom of an Old Grandfather Clock. The melody is so immediate and so sweet and the sentiment is so sweet and to me, it just arouses all these emotions in me.

JK: So it’s all about the melody for you?

TC: Well, the melody, for this song in particular, it’s the melody and the lyrics both. The melody grabs you and then you start realizing what he’s saying. His timing…the way you can hear them both at the same time is what makes it great. He’s attacking you from all sides in a way. It’s a very unassuming quiet plaintive song. That’s the first example of a great song that I can think of.

Another example is “Today Was a Good Day,” by Ice Cube. The song is about, “Today was a good day. Today I didn’t have to shoot anyone. Today I didn’t get hassled by the police. My mom cooked me breakfast with no bacon.” It’s just all these things like…the great thing about it is that the music is both happy and sad. You can’t tell. And he’s talking about how this is such a great day. And why is this a great day. Because I didn’t have to shoot anyone, because I didn’t get robbed, because all these horrible things in my life didn’t happen today. That’s the only reason it’s a great day. And then the music is like (he sings) It’s super summery, but it’s also got this minor key affectation to it. It’s really sad and it’s really happy, and that’s like a perfect…that’s what I would hope to achieve through songwriting, to have someone be able to feel something during it, whether it’s good or bad or both, or one day it’s this and the next it’s that. That’s one of the few examples of a song in which electronic elements are used that I’m able to still feel, because Ice Cube is such a lyrical genius and whoever produced the song, I think it was [it was DJ Pooh]. They really knew what they were doing. I think they knew that they were reaching people on multiple levels. And it was a big hit. It was a huge hit and they had a video and everything. And that’s really unusual. Nowadays when I hear big hits on the radio…you know the “Grenade” song [Bruno mars], it’s really put on. They don’t really cut to the core. That’s just a symptom of modern music. It’s really less about writing great songs. It’s more about just writing the hook.

Mark Fosson's long-lost 12-string demo

Another good one from Tompkins Square....reviewed last week for Blurt.

Mark Fosson
Digging in the Dust: Home Recordings 1976
(Tompkins Square)

As a young man in the mid-1970s, Mark Fosson was fascinated by American primitive guitar playing pioneered by John Fahey. On a whim, in 1976, he recorded a series of solo 12-string guitar demos in his living room and mailed the cassette to Fahey himself. Almost immediately, Fahey asked him out to LA to record the songs professionally, and Fosson did, but Takoma ran into financial troubles and the project was shelved. Not until 2006, some 30 years later, were Fosson's Lost Takoma Sessions released by Drag City. Meanwhile, Fosson had carved out a career in Americana-flavored songwriting and more or less put his 12-string picking experiment on hold.

If you're a guitar aficionado, you might wonder, hearing this story, exactly what it was that caught Fahey's ear, what qualities he could make out on this home-made demo that attested to Fosson's talent. Fortunately, you won't have to wonder any longer. Digging in the Dust is that demo tape, offering the songs from the Lost Takoma Sessions in their original one-mic, one-take purity, with no reverb at all, only the natural overtone haze of a 12-string.


BTW, Dusted is taking the week off, so I will probably be free-styling some this week. Maybe I'll rework the top ten, who knows?

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I have been extremely taken with Crystal Anis, the new album by French garage-ye-ye trio the Liminanas, which has the spiky, knowing archness of, say, Stereo Total, the vocal prettiness of the Dum Dum Girls and some sinuous guitar lines that sound, to me, like Brian Jonestown Massacre. (Have you seen Boardwalk Empire? Does it not have the most perfect opening credits sequence ever?) Anyway, the new album is out on Hozac, it's really good and there's even a John Wesley Coleman cover (this guy is everywhere lately).

Friday, August 17, 2012

New Animal Collective video

I think probably everyone in the world will post this video today, because, hey, it's Animal Collective, possibly the weirdest really popular band ever, so they get both the oddball and the general hipster vote. So in perhaps the most eccentric demonstration of conformity ever, I join the crowd.

Centipede HZ is out September 4. I can't tell you anything about it, actually...advanced promos are for much bigger journalists than me. (I did interview Panda Bear once, and he was super nice.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Six Organs + Comets on Fire = Ascent

This is a really good one, maybe top ten. (I really need to redo my top ten at some point.)

Six Organs of Admittance
Drag City

Ascent picks up on a project that has been shelved for a decade, ever since Ben Chasny toured with Comets on Fire, with Ethan Miller, Ben Flashman, Noel von Harmonson and Utrillo Kushner backing him up in a wholly louder, more electrified way than most people would have expected from Six Organs of Admittance. There was talk of an album, but instead Chasny joined Comets on Fire. Over the next decade, Chasny continued his droney, dreamy, forays into tripped-out, six-stringed folk, sometimes acoustically, sometimes plugged in, but the idea of a molten, pedal-screaming, psychedelically overdriven Six Organs was put away. Comets on Fire itself went on hiatus. Miller focused on Howlin’ Rain. Von Harmonson toured with Sic Alps. Kushner put out a couple of solo records. Chasny joined Rangda, and while he played a few of his Comets/Six Organs songs on tour, but it seemed unlikely that anything else would ever happen with them.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Michael Andrews' orchestral pop

Spilling a Rainbow, the new solo album from sometime Greyboy Allstar and film composer (Donnie Darko, Bridesmaids) Michael Andrews has been growing on me. I thought, at first, that it was overstuffed and over-orchestrated...there are a ton of harp glissandos, for instance, on the first cut that remind me of the dream sequences on Gilligan's Island (though now I get it that that's intentional, since the song is called "Dentist" and there is probably some anesthesia involved). Anyway, parts of it are very beautiful, if a bit overdressed. It's out this week. Have a listen if you like.

I got sick as a dog yesterday, fever, headache, runny nose -- hell, my eyes hurt -- and I could hardly get off the couch all day. I think the fever's gone today, but still not exactly full of pep.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lawrence Arabia

Still catching up on stuff that ran last week, which was weirdly overweighted with New Zealand baroque pop...anyway here's my review of Lawrence Arabia's Sparrow from Blurt.

Lawrence Arabia
The Sparrow
(Bella Union)

James Milne, a.k.a. Lawrence Arabia, is the pale sophisticate at New Zealand's robust, outdoorsy pop camp-out, setting fey, ironically distanced lyrics amid swooning strings and syncopated tango beats. The Sparrow, his third album as Lawrence Arabia, employs an entire string quartet, as well as occasional trombone, saxophone, clarinet and piano, to back him. His warbly, often-falsetto'd voice swoops over uneasily pretty arrangements, a slicked-back vaudevillian making sharp, unexpected observations.


Also, I did go see Magic Trick (Tim Cohen's new thing) and Sonny Smith last night, and would highly highly recommend this to anyone living in these cities:

08.14.12 - Somerville, MA - Johnny D's #
08.15.12 - Hoboken, NJ - Maxwells #
08.16.12 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge #
08.17.12 - Philadelphia, PA - PhilaMOCA #
08.18.12 - Brooklyn, NY - Glasslands #

Sonny, in particular, was a crazy man, removing his pants (it was hot) during "Teenage Thugs" and hurdling over metal folding chairs. He also did a bunch (okay maybe three) of the country songs from his latest albums and required the audience to pair off and country dance, so be warned...

Magic Trick was really good, too, a lot more rhythm-driven and hard-edged (I wrote down "Green Onions" somewhere in my notes, not sure which song it refers to, but there was a lot of great bass-and-drum action) than I remembered the record being. They struggled with the Flywheel's sound system a bit at first, but towards the end sounded about as tight as anything I've heard there. Good band, shares a drummer with Fresh & Onlys and a bass player with Sonny and the Sunsets, part of that crazy SF psychedelic pop scene. I was really there to interview Tim Cohen about Fresh & Onlys.

The opening band was Baby Barnyard, a local artist named Amanda Freeman, performing last night for the first time with a trio (herself, a stand-up bass player and drummer) and really very, very striking. Freeman has a soft, ethereal kind of Mazzy Star/Sunday-ish voice, but she plays guitar like Kurt Cobain...I'd say Scout Niblett for starters, maybe Circuit Des Yeux, except for a couple of very torchy, smouldery, almost trip-hoppy pieces, where the acoustic bass was just wonderful with her voice.

Anyway, she gave me a burner of songs without the band (I don't think they've recorded anything yet together) and there's some stuff on Soundcloud which is pretty good,too, in its own way, but not that close to what she was playing live.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My first PW feature in ages

I wrote a small piece on This Is Hardcore, an annual hardcore festival. Check it out here.


I had a couple of reviews that ran last week while I was away, so I might as well start catching up with this one, Opossum's Electric Hawaii, a lo-fi pop kind of project from New Zealand.

Electric Hawaii

There's a ramshackle trippiness to Opossom's home-recorded, noise-blurred, psychedelia. Borrowing from the Black Moth Super Rainbow playbook, singer/songwriter Kody Nielson pulls bright surges of primary-colored melody out of trebly, rackety, percussion-pocked production.

Opossom is the second indie pop phenomenon to emerge from New Zealand's troublegum noise rockers the Mint Chicks. Nielson, the main instigator, also plays drums in his brother's new outfit, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This mostly solo endeavor is far dreamier, less aggressively propulsive than Mint Chicks, filtering Beach Boys harmonies and sidewinding Brian Jonestown guitar lines through a gritty, messy lens.


In other news, I'm going down to the Flywheel tonight to see Magic Trick (Tim Cohen from Fresh & Onlys) and Sonny and the Sunsets, and also to interview Cohen about the new Fresh & Onlys. I'm not sure I'm covering the show, per se, since I'll miss some of it while talking to Tim, but I might have more to say about that tomorrow.

We went to Brattleboro yesterday to see New England Youth Theater's version of Titus Andronicus, which was quite good, especially Tamora and Aaron the Moore. You might remember that my son Sean did this play earlier in the summer (he was Titus) at St. Pauls. Weirdly his usual theater was also doing it, so it was interesting to get another take on it. I liked Sean's Titus a little better -- he was quite a bit rawer and madder and, also though this may seem paradoxical, more varied and modulated in his performance. The play, though, was much better, and of course, I'm biased about Sean, so might be wrong. We also saw some friends from NYC who were up for a music festival at Bennington, VT, so that was a really fun day.

Kind of sad about the summer being over, aren't you?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We're back

A pretty cool statue in front of the admissions office at Carnegie-Mellon.

Sean outside the Cathedral of Learning, which is where we saw the Chekhov play.

A better shot of the Cathedral of Learning.

Look! They did Sweeney Todd last year. (Sean would really like to do Sweeney Todd.)

Gorgeous theater...better than most professional ones.

We took my son Sean to Pittsburgh last week to visit Carnegie-Mellon and just got back last night.

Sean is interested in the acting program at CMU, which looks to be incredible but also incredibly hard to get into. They audition 1000s and take 16 for acting and 12 for musical theater. It's a conservatory program so all acting all the time, but they do a really good job getting their graduates into actual acting jobs afterwards. Sean is thinking now that Carnegie-Mellon is his #1 choice, ahead of Northwestern, which scares me a little (Northwestern is more an academic institution with a good theater program, rather than a conservatory.) He will have to go to NYC for unified auditions in January or February...I think he might audition also for Ithaca College, maybe Emerson, possibly (on a lark) Julliard.

The trip was really successful in terms of giving Sean an idea about what CMU is all about and figuring out whether he wants to go there. Personally, it was a lot more difficult. I made all the arrangements and really made a mistake in choosing a place to stay. All the hotels were $200 a night, so I got us an Air BNB advertised as "Suburban Bliss" which turned out to be in a very desolate, all-black neighborhood, very close as the crow flies to CMU, but because of the hills and windy roads, hard to get there, and also, to walk, you would have had to go through some fairly dicey areas. (I lived in NYC for 8 years and there were several blocks at the beginning that reminded me of the South of my first freelancing gigs was for the South Bronx Community Development foundation, so I've been there.)

Anyway, my husband was FURIOUS with me for not knowing that this place was what it was. It didn't help that there was no TV and no internet. The inside was fairly nice, actually, two bedrooms, clean, carpeted, comfortable. But we shouldn't have been there and it was my fault.

So what we did was avoid it as much as possible. We went to the Andy Warhol Museum, the Strip (which is conceptually like the Fulton Fish Market/South Street Seaport, a historic food lading terminal now turned into shops and bars and such), ate at Pamela's and Primantis, caught a really interesting production of "Ivanov", a very seldom produced Chekhov play and toured both the campus and drama department at Carnegie Mellon.

We left a day early and drove to Wilkes-Barre, where we stayed at a nondescript chain hotel that had internet and TV (and, incidentally, the Giants game), and felt enormously better, though Bill is still not very friendly to me.

So anyway, that's what I was doing instead of posting soundcloud links. I'll get back to that tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Spider Bags' Shake My Head

I did one of those short, damn-this-is-a-good-record posts about Shake My Head a few weeks ago, and now that I've had time to consider things, I like it even more. The review's up today at Dusted.

Spider Bags
Shake My Head

About six years ago, Dan McGee pulled up stakes in New Jersey and moved to North Carolina, bringing with him a dog-eared collection of songs too countrified for his main gig (at the time), the DC Snipers. Since then his Spider Bags — currently McGee plus Gregg Levy and Steve Oliva switching from bass to guitar and Rick Forbes on drums — have made three raggedly glorious albums: 2007’s A Celebration of Hunger, 2009’s Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Cruel World and now Shake My Head.

Along the way, McGee seems to have upped the punk and decreased the twang. Where Nathan Hogan compared Celebration-era Spider Bags to the Bloodshot roster, Shake My Head sounds more like Goner’s anarchic, first-generation-urban blues. There’s an instrumental track dedicated to Shawn Cripps of The Limes, a nod to John Wesley Coleman’s working-man’s poetry and blowsy psychedelia, a hint of Greg Cartwright’s hoarse romanticism here.


You can listen to the whole album at this Soundcloud page.

Monday, August 6, 2012

John Cale...and Dangermouse

John Cale's got a new album coming out in October, Shifty Adventures in the Nookie Wood, which dips pretty heavily into electronic sounds and hip hop beats. The first single, which is now available for streaming, was produced by Dangermouse.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this record, even now after listening to it a bunch of times, but it's interesting.

Anyway, a couple of things. isn't scrobbling my iPod anymore, which means that the chart on this page is not very accurate, so I think I'll take it down.

Also, we're going to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for a college visit at Carnegie-Mellon, so I might be offline for few days.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

King of Spain's "Motions"

Another great surprise, the King of Spain's upcoming All I Did Was Tell Them The Truth And They Thought It Was Hell is reminding me of Ride, Swervedriver, Swirlies, the Church...all on a very limited home budget. It's out August 28 on New Granada Records.

Songwriter Matt Slate says of "Motions," the first single and clear standout:
“It’s attempting to find meaning in life amongst the monotony and mundaneness of daily existence. We get into patterns as we are required to perform the same tasks and behaviors on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s difficult, albeit not impossible, to not get bogged down with this. The song is about these feelings, and how they are a road block, keeping us from experiencing and enjoying life.”


We went to two staged reading-ish productions last night at Dartmouth, part of NY Theater Workshop's summer theater program. The first was a very funny one-man take on Joe Papp's battle with Robert Moses to stage Shakespeare in the Park called "This Blessed Plot." The second was a kind of August Wilson-ish ensemble piece called "Paradise Blue", set in a jazz club in Detroit...both were quite good in their ways, be interesting to see whether either shows up in a larger venue. (NY Theater Workshop did early versions of "Rent" and, more recently, the musical "Once" and "Peter and the Starcatchers.")

Friday, August 3, 2012

I really wish more people knew about Mike Uva

I've been holding off on this, because it had some errors, but what the hell, Mike Uva is a really good, vastly underrated songwriter, back at it after a couple years of child-rearing, with a new album called Lady, Tell Me Straight. I reviewed it for Blurt a few weeks ago.

Mike Uva & The Bad Eyes
Lady, Tell Me Straight
(Collectible Escalators Music)

Mike Uva makes smart, understated pop, couching wry observations in offhandedly catchy melodies. His songs stick around like old friends, their warmth, accessibility and unshowy intelligence always welcome, never overbearing. He's in the same general family as songwriters like Salim Nourallah, Brendan Benson (solo) and Rhett Miller, clever but not glib, pop-skilled but never slick. The fact that he is far less well known than these characters (who are, to a man, under-rated themselves) can be attributed to geography (he's from Cleveland), personal style (low-key), family responsibilities (he has small children) and a commitment to the DIY ethos. When he's not recording, Uva runs the small-scale but admirable Collectible Escalators Music.

Lady, Tell Me Straight is Uva's third record, the first in five years and the first built around his new band, the Bad Eyes. In it, he takes a turn away from lo-fi indie pop a la Guided by Voices and towards a warmer, acoustic, country-tinged sound.


You can listen to the whole thing here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Moebius and Tietchens review

I blogged this a week or two ago, and now there's a review up at Blurt.

When I wrote for Splendid, I once had an Asmus Tietchens record to review, and I remember I had to turn it all the way up if I wanted to hear it at all and god help me if, say, the Coachwhips came on next.


Moebius & Tietchens
Moebius & Tietchens
(Bureau B)

Two extraordinary talents in electronic music reconnect after a 37-year hiatus. Dieter Moebius, a founder of Kraut-pioneering Cluster, Kluster and Harmonia, and Asmus Tietchens, an innovator in tape manipulation and musique concrete, first worked together in the Lilenthal project with Neu! collaborator Conny Plank and Okko Beck in 1976. Over the decades, they met in passing, always promising to reconnect, but it was not until 2011 that they found time to record this twitchy, tetchy, intermittently revelatory joint project, which sculpts rhythm and refracts repetition into intricate prismatic shapes.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Lots of stuff running lately...wrote this in a rush yesterday...up today at Dusted.

Cravats in Toyland

“Gordon,” the Cravats’ first 1978 single, is a ferociously uneasy thing, brought into being by a feral, bassline, ornamented in a mad, half-cocked way by two-toned saxophone and scrabbly guitar and narrated in a staccato, psychotic deadpan by the inimitable Shend. It’s as if the raw threat of the Pop Group ran into a ska-happy dance party, disturbing, dissonant and, in its way, unstoppable.

The Cravats, who came from Redditch (about 15 miles south of Birmingham), formed in 1977 around the nucleus of guitar player Robin Dallaway, singer and bassist The Shend, and saxophone player Svor Naan. (John Yapp played drums on the first single, but the main drummer was Dave Bennett.) John Peel was an early fan, inviting the band in for the first of four Peel Sessions in July of 1979 and again in 1980, 1981 and 1982. In a 1982 interview with Smash Hits, Peel observed, “I hate Toyah records and they all go whizzing into the charts, and I love The Cravats and play all their records and nobody buys them. Whenever I start to feel important I think, ‘Well, I never did much for The Cravats and I didn’t stop Toyah’.”



Perhaps the last, tardiest review of the Japandroids, Celebration Rock...up yesterday at Dusted.

Celebration Rock

Every summer needs a record like this. Never mind the arduous backstory, that Japandroids’ guitarist Brian King nearly died between Post-Nothing and its follow-up, that the band considered breaking up in the interim, or that it took three years to come up with eight tracks. None of that is on the record. This is the kind of easy, accessible, not-quite-guilty-pleasure rock and roll that sounds best blaring from open car windows late at night. Celebration Rock bashes and clangs and manically stutters out songs about breaking old bonds and heading out for the territories. As a subject matter, it may be clichéd, but only because almost everyone feels compelled, at some point, to do it.

Musically, Japandroids fall somewhere between the Hold Steady’s fists-in-the-air drinking anthems and the scrabble and splutter of No Age. There’s something of The Replacements in their rasp-edged, sloppy romanticism, a bit of Husker Du in the way they slip sing-along hooks into abrasive sonics. Though only a two-piece (King sings and plays guitar, while Dave Prowse plays drums), Japandroids manage to fill every crevice in the sound, with long-ringing power chords, prism-splintered strumming and punch-drunk, speed-crazed, fill-scrabbled drums. There’s not a lot of dead space here.