23 December 2006

ATSS on Hiatus

ATSS will be on hiatus while the Queen of Sheba is in Ghana learning Dagomba drumming. We will return to our regularly scheduled program 18 January; in the meantime, check out these cool people.

Bradley's Almanac
:: clicky clicky ::
The Giant Panther
Hello Gina
On The Download @ Boston Phoenix
Onward Charles

21 December 2006

Non-Favorites of 2006

There're musicians much beloved in the blogosphere, that I just don't get. Why is there such massive swooning over Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Destroyer, and Joanna Newsom? I couldn't say. Most of them do have the occasional nice song--but aside from that, I don't want to listen to them!

Can we please get over Joanna Newsom (Cosmia), collectively? It's interesting, I'll grant that; but it's music-major music, and not in a good way: it reminds me of atonal music in its unevenness and occasional beautiful phrasing. Her voice is so pinched out of shape, and her sense of meter is so odd--it's like Björk without the power or compelling sweep.

Yes, it is amazing that Zach Conden of Beirut (The Gulag Orkester) is only twenty; but does that mean that a full CD of Eastern European brass is amazing music? It does not. And yet I've heard "amazing" so much about this CD that you'd think I'd been listening to Tom Cruise.

Sufjan Stevens (All The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands): This one, I just don't get; it must be a cultural phenomenon, but I am so tired of twee and sensitive and sluggish. Sufjan more than the others has the occasional successful song, and I understand that his shows are Flaming Lips-esque in their theatricality, but really, can we be done now?

It's not that I hate Destroyer (Your Blood) exactly; it's enjoyable in a jangly, raffish-hobo kinda way, but . . . why is it on everyone's list of bests? There's shrieking and howling, and guitar strings that sound like cats; it's not brilliant.

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18 December 2006

Best Songs of 2006

Okay! Finally, somebody did a best-of that I could emulate. Best songs is just so much easier than best albums; the tricky question of whether to assess the album as an artistic whole, or based on the quality of the individual songs therein, doesn't arise. At first this makes the task seem more manageable than a best albums list, which it isn't, since technically the possible entries have just been multiplied by--how many tracks do albums have these days?--somewhere between one and fifty-six.

In no particular order, because I can't possibly do that. . .

Regina Spektor - On the Radio: The contrast between its flowing verses and staccato chorus is well done; and try as I might to convince myself that the verses are trite and hackneyed, they still sound wise and lovely in a refreshingly simple way.

Amy Millan - Baby I: You knew her voice was going to be a pleasure; what you didn't know is that her songwriting was going to be so strong. Or maybe that's just me. It's the perfect breakup song, swinging between bravado and clear-eyed melancholy.

Final Fantasy - Song Song Song: Who would have thought one violin and one dude would be so layered and dynamic?

KT Tunstall - Under the Weather: It's not her breakout hit "Cherry Tree," but in some ways it's better: what Norah Jones might have been with a little more creativity and energy.

Gothic Archies - Scream and Run Away: Okay, so it's a bit of a gimmick; it's still brilliantly addictive electropop.

Emily Haines - Nothing & Nowhere: Emily Haines as part of Metric does some of the sharpest, most elegant rock around, so it's a bit of a surprise to hear such deep sentiment; but it never crosses the line into saccharide.

Neko Case - Margaret vs Pauline: This one is practically obligatory--although the album as a whole is no weaker than this song. That's remarkable.

The Never - Cavity: The lyrics and the desperate catchiness of the song give it depth and persistence; what else could you want?

Casey Dienel - Everything: Tough call between this and Doctor Monroe for Casey; but Everything won out for its sweetly-toned jumpiness--which, come to think of it, reminds me of Regina Spektor.

Up Next: Music Conspicuously Not Featured--Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Destroyer, Joanna Newsom.

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R.E.M. Bootleg

There's a very impressive R.E.M. bootleg from 1981 at rbally--it's a nice opportunity to hear R.E.M. from an era when Michael Stipe hadn't yet endorsed the cancer-patient look and R.E.M. hadn't yet morphed into mellow sweetrock. My favorite track's gotta be Gardening at Night, partially because of the title, and partially because of the intervals of vocal harmony, which contrast nicely with the drive of the rest of the song.

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15 December 2006


There are things I know make me more likely to enjoy music--although they don't necessarily make it better; just techniques for which I have a soft spot.

First: Vocal harmony (Kings of Convenience, say, Gold In the Air of Summer). Maybe this comes from listening to classical music and medieval antiphonal chants as a kid, but I am a dead sucker for vocal harmony.

Second: Strings in electronica (Her Space Holiday - Tech Romance). Putting strings in an electronica context just seems to make the timbre of both that much clearer, more distinct, sweeter; and since electronica is usually safe from being saccharine, it keeps the strings from going over that line, too.

Third: Cyclical instrumentation (The Low-lows-Dear Flies, Love, Spider; anything by Tool). This, I just like: it's power that doesn't need to shout to make itself compelling. It's the easiest of the three to make into a cheap trick, I think.

None of them necessarily make the music creative, but it does generally make it something I want to listen to; and it's interesting to try and think about techniques that I enjoy as separate from the quality of the music. It's sort of the opposite of Cassandra Wilson--I approve of her wholeheartedly, she's very cool: I just don't enjoy her music; these techniques are enjoyable, but alone, they don't make the music in which they feature anything other than enjoyable.

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14 December 2006

Kaki King @ Club Passim

Bora Yoon opened up last night, with a performance-arty, loop-heavy set; her use of found sound was creative, but didn't always work--cell phones yes, windchimes no. There were some very lovely and meticulously layered constructions, and some unsuccessful theatricality; but overall she was a good opener, as they often are at Passim.

Kaki King was an interesting show. Her vocal style is one I can't often take happily song after song: whispery, silky and wispy as babyhair. Given the amount of cooing and fluting in indie music right now, I wouldn't be surprised if she did well despite that; it doesn't hurt that her stage presence is effortless, wry, offbeat, and charming, either. In this show at least, she wisely focused more on instrumental numbers. An Elliot Smith cover seemed a logical choice, as they're whispery kin; the vocals on Yellowcake (off of the new Until We Felt Red) somehow work, too, maybe because the rolling, lush guitar contrasts to the wispy vocals. She's an interesting and compelling guitarist, particularly on the dobero, although some instrumental numbers seem like they'd be lackluster recorded, when the counterintuitive technical tricks are invisible. Overall it seems like thinking music--not pensive, but showing practical creativity, an inventive mind working with dextrous hands.

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10 December 2006

Sonya Kitchell & Ben Taylor @ Paradise

Sonya Kitchell was second opener for Ben Taylor at Paradise last night, and an unfortunate opener she was. Something about her vocal style is flat--maybe her vocal dynamics, maybe her hesitancy to enter into a melodic phrase--and she has neither the stage presence nor the musical chops to handle the classical stylings she takes on.

This is particularly unfortunate juxtaposed with Taylor, who has the songwriting skill as well as the pipes to go up against nearly anyone. Even when he doesn't write the songs, he chooses well; a cover of Mos Def's Favorite Nitemarewas one of his most effective songs, with its lovely, unsettling flow complementing Taylor's smooth, reedy voice. Enjoyable live tricks like singing harmony to his own, ellipsized melody make it clear that he's a comfortable, mature vocalist, and his stage presence is remarkable--one of the few performers I've seen able to induce quiet in the club crowd for a sweeter, unrollicking tune, and effortlessly no less.

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09 December 2006

Flotsam & Jetsam

There's an interview with Richard Edwards of Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So's over at Things I'd Rather Be Doing; like most interviews about music or with musicians, it suffers from the dancing about architecture problem, and solves this by talking about things peripheral to the actual music: the band's living arrangements, the band's name, and "scarf rock." It's certainly not a bad interview, but I'm not sure it's about music.

Explosions in the Sky is touring later this winter--tickets for the March Boston show went on sale three days ago. Am I wrong, or is that an unusually long lead time for the Middle East Down?

Largehearted Boy has a list of lists: the best-of-2006 from everywhere. I'm no good at remembering the difference between the music that happened to me this year, and the music that happened this year; if I get inspired maybe I'll make a best-of for that.

It seems that Stephen Colbert has counter-challenged the Decemberists? I may have to make an effort and watch that.

Not music-related, but the on-beyond-superlative comic Preacher is finally to be made into an HBO series; I don't know if I'm ecstatic, or terrified. Both, I suppose; if it's bad, I'll have to hunt down and kill Mark Steven Johnson--or get in line to, anyway.

Imogen Heap has done a bit about what she's listening to now on NYT.

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Earworm: Emily Haines - Our Hell

Devastating, gentle, heartsick, graceful, equivocal, regretful: Our Hell is a blow to the chest, disguised as the first track on Knives Don't Have Your Back. How does she manage to sound so sad without being sentimental?

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07 December 2006

Virtuoso Performance: Regina Spektor

Okay, I give up entirely; I'm going to have to retitle this blog All Regina All the Damn Time; I find her such a compelling, versatile, expressive performer, at once sweet and acidic, vintage and sharply new, that, well, let's just say I'm running out of new images to use. Recently found a live performance from The Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh, on Good Weather for Airstrikes, and Consequence of Sound from the unfortunately unfindable Songs has just bowled me over. It's a virtuoso performance: angular and graceful by turns, syncopated and strange as Bjork contrasting with interludes of velvety flowing piano phrases, dexterous and funny. She'd best hang around and give us some more--and somebody had best bring out another run of Songs.

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Earworm: Primus - My Name is Mud

I'm not the Primus fanatic several of my friends are. I don't declare Les Claypool a god--but I will declare him a remarkably talented bassist. Most of Primus is not too my taste, but My Name is Mud, with its wooden baseline, gets Earworm status pretty regularly.

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04 December 2006

Daytrotter Free Song Set: William Elliot Whitmore

William Elliot Whitmore is one of those (numerous) artists I keep meaning to keep up with, and now Daytrotter's done it for me with one of their free sets.

Maybe it was the number of names, or the names themselves, or their oddly mellifluous quality, but I expected something quite different--subdued colors and gleaming whites like a Whistler painting, but what I found was dust, stubble, and banjo strings. Once I got used to what I found, I liked it--Dry is unquestionably my favorite, both musically and because of his comment about it:

I’m really proud of this song too. I wrote this when I first started working on my cabin. I was cold and disoriented every morning in my freaky, silver trailer. There were these blackbirds that have this real unorthodox song. It started penetrating my dreams. It’s a crazy song, but it’s beautiful too. The bluebird can sing, but the crow’s got the soul.

His new CD is Song of the Blackbird, and Chariot is my favorite there--an odd mixture of the grisly darkness of sound that Tom Waits has traded on, and the swaying, uplifting vibe of a revival chorus. It's nice to find somebody that uses the traditions of Southern music intelligently and clearly, instead of jumping on the (admittedly appealing!) alt-country bandwagon.

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01 December 2006

Earworm: Rogue Wave - Publish My Love

I remember that my brother, as a small boy, got his head stuck between porch railings; I think my mother used butter to get him out.

This song is stuck like that.

Rogue Wave - Publish My Love from Descended Like Vultures

Rogue Wave has a particularly pressing claim on your money, too: Pat Spurgeon needs a new kidney. Hear it direct from the kidney in an interview with Lemony Snickett/Daniel Handler, and then donate.

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Trend: Sharp Girlrock

I'm sure it's my selection bias, but I keep running into sharp, elegant girlrock these days. It started out with Metric, but now Roh Delikat is joining up, and I can only approve--and wish they'd tour together.

Roh Delikat's 10 Brand is every bit as stylish, bombastic and addictive, with echoing, cyclic interludes that sound almost like Tool; Laudanum is hazier, less focused, less aggressive, gathering momentum as it goes and then starts releasing suddenly and sweetly. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go buy Sunny . . .

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30 November 2006

The Trekky Yuletide Orchestra

Well, see, this isn't fair. I'm going to get a reputation as an Ebenezer for doing bad reviews of Christmas CDs--I don't mind Christmas, really!

But it does seem that I can't stand the music. Trekky Records has done a New Old-Fashioned Christmas with their various bands (The Never, Lost in the Trees, formerly The Beauregards). I'm big on The Never's latest release Antarctica, so I was really wanting to like this'n.

But of the songs I can get my hands on, I really, really don't. Baby, It's Cold Out There features deplorably Bright Eyes-style scratchy, breaking vocals; It Came Upon the Midnight Clear is a pile of fey, faux-Sufjan sweetness, complete with wind section and dainty bells, and I can't stand either one. It's the dark side of indie these days: sentimental, floppy, and sprinting after the bandwagon.

But! Trekky let The Never produced Antarctica, so they can't be all bad. See?

Sharpest Place in the World

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27 November 2006

Memphis' a little place in the wilderness

I've reviewed Memphis before, but now that I've assimilated the whole CD more thoroughly, I thought I'd revisit. Which is maybe unnecessary, since my opinion hasn't really changed--I still think Memphis is sweet but too consistently dreamy--but, possibly due to familiarity effects, I like it better. It's good music for a melancholy mood, but it's irritating outside of one; they're good songs individually, but as an album it's overkill. Sweet and dreamy like Iron & Wine, but poppier, and without the jump and beauty of the Iron & Wine/Calexico collaboration.

I find spoken word hard to take, but oddly, I like In the Highest Room nearly best--maybe because it's one of the least whispery tracks, and whispering is even worse than spoken word. It's disappointing; I was hoping for better from Torquil-not-Stars.

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a'tris show @ Tommy Doyle's

This is old news by now, but a'tris played a show at Tommy Doyle's last Friday. It's a'tris mark II, since they've replaced the drummer and the bassist, but the sharp, stylish electro-rock sound from their first CD appeal is still there. They've got a new single Orion coming out on Shut Eye Records, and the creative team of Kreher (producer/writer)and Taylor (vocalist/writer) is clearly intact. It's an exploratory song for the band: incongruously materialistic lyrics, sandwiched by meticulous musical skill and Mason's carefully constructed vocal act, topped off with a wistful, ironic zinger. It brings together the dream of champagne--the sparkling, incisive clarity of opulence--with the need for the dream of champagne. I think the lyrics (all about stardom and bling) come off as aspirational where they're meant to be ironic, but it's got all the hallmarks of the a'tris music I like so much.

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16 November 2006

Live: Amy Millan @ Paradise

Went to the Amy Millan show at Paradise last night--man was it undersold. One of the consequences of living in the blogosphere is that I have no idea what the average music listener knows about. Stars is pretty big, so Amy'll probably get a lot of that, right? Not s'much--Paradise was maybe a quarter full. Which is too bad, because she's sharp.

Eric Bachmann opened, and I gotta say I was not impressed. Irritatingly unexceptional is the best I can say--a skillful guitar, but immature vocals notable more for their odd, jarring flourishes than anything else. There was a startlingly clear recorder-like tone that I'm surprised any human can make unedited, but there was also a very out-of-place bluegrass nasal vibrato at the end of some phrases, which contrasted pretty unpleasantly with the overall vocal style. Most of his songs slipped by without making much of an impression; the only one that caught my attention was a Crooked Fingers track A New Drink for an Old Drunk, which had more energy than most.

And then Amy came on, and it was all better. She's playing with a band she called Tumbleweed, on which I can find precisely nothing; a country-bluegrass sorta deal with a bass, mandolin, banjo, plus among other things, a trombone and a saw. They only really got to rock on Headsfull, but that song was tight and joyous--you could see the band having fun.

Amy is still an odd bird (her stiff gestures remind me of a few friends, and they're all odd birds too), but her voice has a ribbony charm that's more than enough to satisfy me. The country material on Honey from the Tombs is a departure from Stars-style power pop, but the whiskey-drenched lyrics suit her; she also did a cover of Death Cab's "I'll Follow You Into the Dark" that was well-chosen and well-done.

Live mp3s of her solo are few and far between, but a live set she did at MPR is streamable here.

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15 November 2006

NPR Streaming Ecce Cor Meum

I don't know what I think of Paul McCartney these days; the Ecce Cor Meum project seems over the top and not even very original, given that the late Ben Britten and the live John Tavener (among others) have been doing this kind of thing for, oh, round about fifty years now between them.

Be that as it may, NPR is streaming last night's performance. Maybe that will help me make up my mind.

(Sample Tavener and Britten mp3s'll go up once YouSendIt is back on its feet.)

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09 November 2006

Unwed Sailor Tour Dates

Unwed Sailor is one of those bands I keep meaning to catch up with, in fact I was just thinking about it the other day; turns out I might get a chance to do that live, since he's announced new tour dates. Johnathon Ford has a hell of a resume: Pedro the Lion, Damien Jurado, Roadside Monument, Rosie Thomas, Seldom, Early Day Miners, and Decahedron. Unwed Sailor has Mogwai's wandering, cyclical vibe without the epic sweep or the predilection for noise; sometimes it sounds more like typical guitar-driven rock, but those songs aren't its strongest, lacking the focal line of a voice part. It'd be interesting to see live, I think; that's where these wandering, instrumental things either come sharp or fall apart.

Ruby's Wishes from the Firecracker EP
Cuckoo Clock from The Marionette and the Music Box

16 November - O´leavers - Omaha NE
17 November - The Belmonte - Springfield MO
18 November - The Vaudeville Mews - Des Moines IA
19 November - Schuba's w/ Early Day Miners - Chicago IL
20 November - The Ballroom @ Ball State University - Muncie IN
21 November - The DAAC - Grand Rapids MI
22 November - The Nite Owl - Dayton OH
23 November - Southgate House - Newport KY
24 November - Jacob's Well - Traverse City MI
25 November - Brillobox - Pittsburgh PA
26 November - Champion Ship - Lemoyne PA
27 November - The Middle East - Cambridge MA
28 November - Johnny Brendas, w/ Parts & Labor - Philadelphia PA
29 November - Pianos - N.Y.C
01 December - Emmaus - Gettysburg PA
02 December - Relative Theory Records - Norfolk VA
03 December - The Flat Iron - Greensboro NC
04 December - New Brookland Tavern - West Columbia SC
05 December - Soapbox Laundro-Lounge - Wilmington, North Carolina
06 December - Gypsy G's Roadhouse, w/ The Dark Romantics - Greenville SC
07 December - The Backbooth, w/ The Dark Romantics - Orlando FL
08 December - Jackrabbits, w/ The Dark Romantics - Jacksonville FL
09 December - Transitions Art Gallery/Skatepark Of Tampa, w/ The Dark Romantics - Tampa FL
10 December - Lillian's, w/ The Dark Romantics - Lakeland FL
11 December - The Beta Bar, w/ The Dark Romantics - Tallahassee FL
12 December - Drunken Unicorn - Atlanta GA
13 December - The End - Nashville TN
14 December - Hi-Tone - Memphis TN
15 December - The Cavern, w/ Shapes & Sizes, Oh No! Oh My! - Dallas TX
16 Dec - The Conservatory - Oklahoma City OK

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08 November 2006

Spit on a Stranger

Well, this is a surprise. I haven't been listening to Pavement as long as the rest of the world--my exposure to current pop culture started in, oh, '99 or so--and I've only just now realized that Nickel Creek's Spit on a Stranger from This Side is in fact a Pavement cover. Now that is strange.

Not surprising, though--this was the CD that made it clear that Nickel Creek was bored with being the most popular bluegrass band in decades.

Pavement - Spit on a Stranger from Terror Twilight

Nickel Creek - Spit on a Stranger from This Side

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07 November 2006

Top Five Britrock Bands to Watch/Avoid

According to the Boston Herald, anyway--mainstream media writing about music that is "hip" (please to translate those actual quotation marks into air-quotes) always makes me suspicious. I'm not sure if that's snobbery or experience speaking, but I surely am curious to see how much credibility the BH retains on this one.

So what are the Britrock bands to watch-slash-avoid? Badly Drawn Boy, Babyshambles, The Ordinary Boys, The Fratellis, and Kasabian. Babyshambles I'll go along with, because as far as I can tell it's one of those publicity stunts diguised as a band dealies; Kasabian as well, since I don't hear anything interesting there. The Ordinary Boys and The Fratellis I'm not familiar with, but it's the comments on Badly Drawn Boy that really get my attention.

While he hits pay dirt on occasion - fans of the movie “About a Boy” will remember the gorgeous “Silent Sigh” - tunes with melody are the exception rather than the rule.

See that? Tunes with melody are the exception rather than the rule--so they are. (Although the ones there are, like Walking Out of Stride, from the About a Boy soundtrack, are very, very nice.)

I'll be damned: s/he got it quite right. One point to the mainstream, at least.

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John Vanderslice - Charles Rennie Mackintosh Numbered Lithograph (live)

New track from Vanderslice, which is aimed to be on the next album. My attempt at the lyrics is below; I like the song, but I think the lyrics are uneven. The repeated "I've never been lonelier"s are self-pitying and annoying, but I like the images in between the mawkish interludes, and the abrupt end makes the ambiguous last image very powerful.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Numbered Lithograph, from his set in Karlsruhe on Hallowe'en

when you left me at the table
to go to the ATM
I've never been lonelier
and your cell phone it shuddered and blinked
it was your boyfriend again
I've never been lonelier
I've never been lonelier
I've never been lonelier
I've never been lonelier
a light-skinned black held up a
Charles Rennie Mackintosh numbered lithograph
I moved to the edge of the suburbs
and lost most of my friends
I've never been lonelier
I've never been lonelier
bird crashed through my window
and he panicked and thrashed
up against the window glass
he crashed and crashed
I've never been lonelier
I've never been lonelier
I've never been lonelier
the boy recoiled as he
got out of the heated pool
it was midnight

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G'bye, Rainer Maria

Well now, this is an unwelcome bit of news. It seems Rainer Maria has thrown in the towel, and although it is a shame to lose them, I guess they've had their innings, since they've been around for a decade and change.

We are grateful to our new listeners and especially our longtime fans for their endless support and attention. We feel incredibly fortunate to have come up during a unique time in rock music, in a community that grew with us from the Midwest to Brooklyn and beyond. Making records has always been a revelation, and walking onto stage together we found a vision we could share. For us, this transition can be nothing short of heartbreaking. But for reasons both musical and personal, the three of us have chosen this time to move on.

Alchemy, from their 2002 Ears Ring EP

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03 November 2006

Riding Paper Airplanes: Too Dreamy By Half

Riding Paper Airplanes' self-titled debut CD is kinda Postal Service: sweet melodic electronica, with smooth vocals over it. It's a nice template, but I'm not sure Riding Paper Airplanes holds up as well as Postal Service did. Homecoming Weekend in a Small Town features those smacky-sounding beats and tinkly noises recognizable from Postal Service (most recently, anyway), but John Wu's vocals are dreamier and less energetic than Gibbard's--which is saying something! The other songs on Myspace are less smooth and move a little more, but the lyrics are still painfully dreamy. We need a little more grit, a little more detail, a little more texture, I think. . .

Stream it (M3U)

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Myspace Rundown: The Electrolites, Pleasant, The Speakers, Mean Creek, Day Action Band, The Simples

Oh yes, another one! I've got far too many friend requests from bands I've never heard of, so it's time to weed through them and see if any get the stamp of approval.

The Electrolites are kinda good; very seventies-sounding vocals (they use a tambourine, too!). They're jangly and bouncy and pleasant, if you can take that seventies-style musical optimism. Togetherness: B. Creativity: B.

Pleasant is more usual guitar-driven rocky stuff; there's a tangled harmony in the guitars that's a little unusual (in a good way), but the vocals are doing that retro-mod sound I still need a name for. It's more posturing than I'm happy to hear. Togetherness: B+. Creativity: B-.

The Speakers come as a nice contrast--sweet and dreamy--although maybe equally hackneyed, since the two major types of indie vocals now seem to be the posturing retro-mod thing (think Editors) and the humble blurry sweet approach (think Iron & Wine). Togetherness: B+. Creativity: B-.

I kinda like Mean Creek; they combine brash instrumentals with the softer vocal style, and it works pretty well--the crashing and the sweetness go together rather nicely. Togetherness: A. Creativity: B+.

Day Action Band is immediately appealing: steady, harmonic guitar, fluid vocals, and lyrics with just enough subtlety catch your attention. Togetherness: A. Creativity: A-.

The Simples have a rather awful Myspace page, where the designer can't resist putting a very cool graphic in the background, despite the fact that it makes a good deal of the text illegible. Despite that, they're pleasant if unexceptional. Togetherness: A-. Creativity: A-.

Might change my grading criteria to Skill and Sound, since I think they're more accurate labels.

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01 November 2006

K. Fed Is a God. Clearly.

Girls say I'm cocky/ I think I'm humble/ Basically y'all just talk like Bryant Gumbel

Genius! I'll never mock him again. (But I'm not sure if I should tag this entry Music or not.)

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The Sea Navy

The Sea Navy is a new project with Jay Cox (The Ivory Coast) on vocals and guitar, Stuart Fletcher (The Sorts, Sea Tiger) on bass, and TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion, Headphones, The Soft Drugs) producing (and helping out with bass, for a while). Arctic Advice is their headlining song on Myspace for a reason; the initial guitarwork is sharp and ear-catching. Which seems a common theme, actually; their songs always start off with notably dapper instrumentals, but by the end, the momentum of cool seems gone or tarnished.

Jay's vocals remind me a bit of Conor Oberst when he's feeling adequately medicated, and a bit of Colin Meloy, and a bit of one of the Nada Surf vocalists--I think it's Matthew Caws. I need a name for this infusion of the London retro/mod sound; it seems to be big for up-and-coming bands. It rarely makes for distinctive music, though, unless done devastatingly well; there's so much of it that it doesn't make much of an impression. Unfortunately, in this case I think the music is much the same as the name: initially promising, but redundant on further exposure.

Stream their Myspace-available music (M3U)

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31 October 2006

Earworm: Electrelane

I've caved once again and paid for Last.fm personal radio, and I love it; but I'm not sure I understand it--songs I'd swear I've never listened to keep coming up on my personal radio, where I didn't think recommendations figured. This is hardly a bad thing, since one of them was Electrelane's Gone Darker from their live CD Axes.

Ambient instrumental semi-electronica (math-rock, is it?) like Explosions in the Sky or This is a Process of a Still Life, or Mogwai in their less dissonant moods, are good working music: there're no distracting lyrics, but they're not as shapeless as true ambient music. I'm not sure what I think of the tempo change in this track, but given how useful this kind of music is, it's just good to have another name.

Stream it (M3U)

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30 October 2006

One More Drifter in the Snow

I generally don't like Christmas music with vocals, although there's some instrumental stuff that I'm very fond of; the lyrics rely too heavily on goodwill to men (something I'm hard pressed to believe in), nostalgia and stock images. So I s'pose it's inevitable that I'm not crazy about Aimee Mann's One More Drifter in the Snow, but it's disappointing anyway. It's full of standards I don't particularly like, and the songs that I do like are weak: most notably You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch, which is soiled by some ham reading from the book, working too hard to fail at the Boris Karloff effect. (It doesn't help that it was done so very well by Hip Heavy Lip, either.)

The instrumentations are synth-heavy, and minus the pleasure of Aimee Mann's voice, the songs sound like they're being performed in a depressing lounge somewhere, where everyone is bitterly drunk trying to forget they have nowhere else to go. The only song that breaks through this malaise is God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, which has a brisk, martial tempo that's a breath of fresh air to that particular song. One of the things I like about Aimee Mann is her lyrical approach, which mingles bitterness and loss with untempered memories of good intentions and better things, and I was hoping that she would bring that to Christmas music, either in the songs she chose or how she performed them; but there's not much sign of that. Calling on Mary is more her usual style (and it should be, given that she co-wrote it), and better than the hoary-boring classics, but not her best.

Stream all of 'em

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27 October 2006

Earworm: Metric - Empty

Not that I'm obsessive or anything, and not that my particular obsession of late has been infectious, often heartsick, acidic, girl-fronted indie coolness (see also: Spektor, Regina), but today's earworm is Metric's song Empty. (Stream it here.) Does this kind of music herald the return of the rockstar, after the thankfully temporary triumph of the Carrabba-style emo wuss? I'd be happy if it did.

Metric songs make me think of shoe boots--those weird, quintessentially-eighties boots that stop even below ankle-boot territory. Like these.

Is that a bad thing? I can't stand shoeboots, but I love Metric; it's the sharp, fearless, rockstar quality that connects them, I think.

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25 October 2006

Damien Rice's 9

I still can't accept AOL as a player in the indie music scene, because I was one of those kids whose parents had AOL dialup in the nineties, and then stuck with them far too long once other, better options came along. So blue-swirly-triangle graphics still strike an aversive chord in my spine, and their attempts to break into indie music content even more so.

But. . . on their Full CD Listening Party they're streaming Damien Rice's prerelease CD 9 (it drops 14 Nov). Since I've never been able to make up my mind about Damien Rice, AOL's gotta get credit for this; I definitely want to hear this CD before committing. Even after streaming it, I'm not sure I like it. It's too . . . dreamy. The instrumentation is lush, and there's the occasional wry line (the windows open now and the winter settles in/ we'll call it Christmas when the adverts begin), but . . . it's still too sweet by half. There's a song on O, "Rat Within the Grain," that I like best of his; it's more nimble and less dreamy (it reminds me of old-school folk in that regard), and I b'lieve I wish he'd go that road more often.

Damien Rice - Rootless Tree from 9
Damien Rice - Rat Within the Grain from O, thanks to Good Weather for Airstrikes

Stream Both (M3U)

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24 October 2006

Isobel Campbell: Milkwhite Sheets

As if there were any doubt, Isobel Campbell gets credit in the very first few sentences of her interview with Scotland's Sunday Times:

Isobel Campbell bridles a little when it’s put to her she may well be the forces’ sweetheart of indie, a Dame Vera Lynn for sensitive young men who like their music lovelorn, thoughtful and laden with chiming guitars. . . .
“No, really?” she ponders in the bar of a hotel in her native west end of Glasgow. “That’s quite patronising, though, isn’t it? It’s like the record sleeve is the thing that really matters, which is rubbish as far as I’m concerned. I put in the slog to be a worthwhile musician. I’m not a show pony.”

But quarreling with heart-throb status is a tricky thing. It's like F. Scott Fitzgerald snarling at every mention of The Great Gatsby--it's all very well to resent its shadow, but where would the artist be without that shadow? Not a question I have an answer to (to which I have an answer).

I'm curious about Milkwhite Sheets (out 6 Nov): how will Campbell fare without Lanegan's gravelly drag or Belle & Sebastian's twee space pop vibe? I'm thinking she might be like Iron & Wine--a technically accomplished artist that somehow needs depth, darkness, or spark from a collaboration to be really excellent.

Isobel Campbell - Cachel Wood from Milkwhite Sheets
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Saturday's Gone from Ballad of the Broken Seas

Stream both (M3U)

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23 October 2006

Unexpected Covers: Sun Kil Moon - Trucker's Atlas

Mark Kozelek's entire CD Tiny Cities gets the Unexpected Covers Award. Applying the well-known and -loved, mopey-gentle-indie-boy Red House Painters sound to Modest Mouse must be one of the most counterintuitive moves in music history; but it's a successful one, for the most part. Songs that are aggressively rockin' when played by the Mouse don't leave any trace of their former attitude, and become seamlessly dreamy and comforting in Kozelek's hands. It never ceases to surprise me how good, and how different, both versions are.

For the pleasures of comparison:
Modest Mouse - Trucker's Atlas (live)
Sun Kil Moon - Trucker's Atlas from The Lonesome Crowded West

Stream both (M3U)

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20 October 2006

A copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. . .

I don't like Editors because they sound like a plastic copy of Joy Division, among other things; I don't hold it against them for appropriating that sound--it's an undeniably sharp, smart sound--but because they sound like a copy, and what they're a copy of is a secondary concern.

Given this, it sorta concerns me that that I keep running into bands that seem to be copying Editors. The most recent is Favourite Sons; they're working on the same sound, but without the same flashes of borrowed brilliance as Editors. It's not bad music by any stretch--it's probably even likeable--but it's depressingly derivative and undistinguished. Doesn't anybody have anything better to do than make copies of a copy?

Favourite Sons - Walking Here, from Down Beside Your Beauty
Favourite Sons - Down Beside Your Beauty

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19 October 2006

Mwahaha! New Tom Waits!

Tom Waits' great big backlog-clearing triple release Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards is coming up soon, and ANTI has put up a few mp3s.

Bottom of the World is a clear favorite--slurred, husky, vivid, and dismal vocals, backed by twinkling, seaweedy instrumentals, it's vintage Waits; the lurching rhythm of Road to Peace is familiar too, but that contrasts with the subject matter: Waits' lyrics on the war in the Middle East are equivocal and keen at the same time, and their specificity, about people entangled and killed on either side, makes them even more so. You Can Never Hold Back Spring is another familiar trick--using Waits' growl to contrast with a gliding swan of a song--and it's as effective as it always has been. It's shaping up to be quite a release, even if the $45 price tag is hard to swallow.

Every time I see a picture of Tom Waits, I think: why do we not yet have a movie involving Ron Perelman as TW? It might or might not be a good movie, I couldn't say; but the physical resemblance is more than striking.

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18 October 2006


A friend mentioned a new event-tracking-cum-event-finding site called Eventful.com, which at first glance kinda sounds cool--it might be nice to have a universal event site, instead of a music-exclusive one. But at second glance, the site is no good. Its profile editing somehow eats edits (repeatedly!), and the music events listed are folk or "family appropriate" (why that includes folk I'm not sure, but apparently it does)--so the calendars for Paradise, Axis, Avalon, TT the Bear's, P.A.'s Lounge, etc, are gutted, while things like The 2nd Annual Milford High School Parents for Music Golf Tournament are listed prominently. There are a couple of incongruent listings--a'tris at Tommy Doyle's, Born Ruffians and Hot Chip at Paradise, Psychic Ills at P.A.'s Lounge--but when P.A.'s Lounge doesn't have a show listed until December, you can be pretty sure something's missing.

No. In its current state, eventful.com is no good for music; it needs a better way to get ahold of shows, instead of waiting for users to input them. Its signal difference is supposed to be the Demand feature: you can Demand a show or event in your area, and if enough people do it, somebody who can make it happen might be attracted. That's an interesting idea, but at the moment it's not doing a good enough job of cataloguing events to create the user clout it would need to really Demand events. Says me.

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Ruined Music

Reminds me a bit of Postsecret, only for music; people write in about the music that's been ruined for them by (good or bad) memories--most about exes, but some about parents, friends, or circumstances. I'm not brave enough to do my own, or selective enough--my last breakup took far too much music down with it, and every place I've lived for the last five years has music it claimed as Belonging to Here. It's a melancholic read.

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17 October 2006

Scream and Run Away

Lucky me, I got to go see Stephin Merritt and Daniel Handler play songs from The Tragic Treasury and read from--I don't know which book it was, possibly A Bad Beginning? (So unfortunate that Mr. Snicket himself couldn't make it, but he seems to have briefed Mr. Handler most thoroughly--and clearly, their shared habit of formality is catching!) It may scandalize but it can hardly surprise my audience that I have never actually read any of his books, and I went entirely to hear Stephin Merritt.

I can't imagine two more suited artists: Mr. Merritt's lugubrious, sonorous voice and dropsical face (not to mention the ukelele) compliment Mr. Handler's mournful bearing and dispassionately terrible stories very neatly--and the kids (and the grownups) lick it up. There was a bit of interactive theater that accompanied Scream and Run Away, and it was impossible to tell who enjoyed it more: the children, the parents, or Mr. Handler himself.

The Tragic Treasury is very Magnetic Fields-sounding indeed ("In the Reptile Room," for example, features that squishy percussion that will sound very familiar to Magnetic Fields listeners--and of course there's the ukelele), which reminds me to say that there's a new, actual Magnetic Fields CD being recorded and supposed to be released next spring. Mr. Merritt didn't sound very enthusiastic about touring in support of it, though, so if you haven't seen Magnetic Fields live already, you may have missed your chance. To which Mr. Handler, on behalf of Mr. Snicket, would no doubt have something very apt to say.

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16 October 2006

Scarlett Johansson sings Tom Waits

Now this is odd; Scarlett Johansson is apparently all ready to make a CD of Tom Waits covers, called (intuitively enough) Scarlett Sings Tom Waits; although I hear she can actually sing (unlike some other actresses with CDs that we all know of), I noticed when reading the article that the name of the CD makes me suspicious of its merit. Why should it? I think it's because, if the project had artistic merit, it'd have a more creative name, that seemed to capitalize less on name recognition. Funny how that kind of thing can bias you, though. I can only hope she does the Semi Suite, because a movie star covering a song about truckers would be just wonderfully bizarre and surreal.

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14 October 2006

I hear in my mind all this music

I know this is quickly turning into All Regina Spektor, All The Time, but damn, her songs are addictive. And I'm beginning to realize the lyrics equally smart: among other things, she uses rotating rhyme schemes!

You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

On the Radio, from Begin to Hope

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13 October 2006

Bishop Allen's September out

Always makes my month brighter--although the critical part of me will be happy to see them take a different direction in a few months, the voracious-fan part is equally happy to get more.

But I gotta say the first track Begin to See on this EP is the weakest in a while; it sounds more like what one would expect of an EP-a-month deal--poorly recorded and uncertainly performed--and there's some harmony thing that isn't working right. The rest recovers, fortunately; and though their sample Like Castanets isn't my favorite track on the EP (that's either Fireflies or Cassandra), it's not disappointing like the first track.

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11 October 2006

Regina Spektor - Ne Me Quitte Pas

Regina Spektor's Fidelity made me a little uncertain; I liked it, but it seemed a bit flat, a little twee. Finding her (sorta) cover of Ne Me Quitte Pas has put me firmly on her side, I think; it has the same pluckedy sound as Fidelity, a little more drive to it. Sometimes her vocals edge on the precious, oddly round style of Joanna Newsom (which in turn sounds like Björk in a cuter moment), and I prefer it when they don't. (This track isn't on Begin to Hope, but from a hard-to-find 2001 CD called "Songs".)

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09 October 2006

Earworm: Schooner - Make Me Mad

The vocals on Make Me Mad remind me of Stephin Merritt, or Jens Lekman, in their ponderous levity.

They've got a show tomorrow (10 Oct) at P.A.'s Lounge in Somerville--looks like their set'll start around 9.30; I'm going.

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06 October 2006

Swearing at Motorists, Singing in the Ubahn

Swearing at Motorists has been on my eMusic queue forever, just because of the name; but now I find out that Dave Doughman has been recording in Ubahnhof stations while making a different CD in studio, which should be enough to get anybody's attention.

The echoing Ubahn adds a nice kind of melancholy, which is saved from being lugubrious by the occasional odd echo that certainly wouldn't have been added in a studio. Maybe oddly, my favorite tracks are the ones that have the sounds of the passengers in them; Time Zones and Area Codes ends with the the rebounding flat-strike sound of heeled shoes, and Ten Dollars (False Start)is interruped by train passengers--I wish he'd kept singing and just let that be the backdrop; the German chatter is an appealing counterpoint, and the way it appears gradually couldn't have been better done in a studio. Maybe it wouldn't have ended as neatly as it began--it almost certainly wouldn't have--but it's an eerie break in the solitude of the rest.

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05 October 2006

Earworm: The Features - The Idea of Growing Old

Today's earworm comes from The Features' CD Exhibit A; The Idea of Growing Old is maybe what Editors were aiming for: smart, infectious, very nearly mod--but without that empty knockoff air that makes Editors so unpalatable.

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Truth is all my possessions are somehow lost to me

Today I loaded all of the mp3s I've found on blogs into a colossal playlist and toggled the random switch; there were two that caught my ear.

The first was Toy Fight's The Soldier. It starts off with a studio-type comment in French, which is probably why it caught my ear; it turns into a delicate, fey, faraway wisp of a song.

The second was from Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton's set at Joe's Pub, a song called Nothing & Nowhere. It's the piano here that's a bit fey, and at first she goes with that--Emily's vocals are softer than with Metric, but there are still edges and power that show up later in the song.

They fit together well; I always like it when randomize produces nice pairings.

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03 October 2006

Earworm: Jon Brion's "Row"

This is an odd earworm; it's only a minute long, no lyrics, nothing catchy, just a short piano tune sitting on the fence between comforting and melancholy, cutting off nearly in the middle of a phrase, as if it lost the musician's attention.

The other pieces in this soundtrack have had their time as earworm too--except for the creepily bright Polyphonic Spree track--and most of them (the Jon Brion ones, anyway) are the same kind of earworm: the earworm that creates a distinct atmosphere, but which is much too short to support that atmosphere all by itself. If there were other pieces which created a similar atmosphere, it would make a good seed for a playlist; but as there rarely are, it's just one arresting minute.

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02 October 2006

New Music Review: Wolfmusic

My first impression of the first notes of the first song on Wolfmusic's stream is good; there's a two-part harmony, where one part is very much in the background, so it just creates an impression of depth to the sound. It's likeable music, in a very Radiohead-on-a-sane- day sort of way.

There are two versions of one song, Dry--the daylight and the moonlight version. Although it seems to contradict both their names and the comments on the webpage, I find the daylight version much more compelling: it's more uptempo and less dreamy (it has drums), more textured--maybe less emo. The moonlight version reminds me of rugs sold by the side of highway on-ramps, the kind with pictures of lone, noble wolves; the high intent isn't really matched by the material and approach.

The lyrics are unsubtle, in a way that makes me think the writer isn't a native English speaker. "These clouds are making faces/ this is their home/ scary eyes looking at the places/ they call home" . . . both the lyrics and the music over-emote for my taste, I think, but it isn't badly done overall.

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29 September 2006

Broken Social Scene: A Meditation on Supergroups

Okay, I give up. I like Broken Social Scene. I guess that was inevitable, given recent obsessions with Amy Millan and Emily Haines, and slightly longer-ago obsessions with Feist. But I don't like it as much as I like any of its various members. Is this inevitable? I don't know what I think of supergroups. They sound like an inarguably good thing in theory, but they never quite seem to work out that way--it's the opposite of synergy. Maybe you get synergy in the shows? Recorded, at least, I think they're pretty weak--the best song on You Forgot It In People is Shampoo Suicide, a laid-back, directionless jam that I'd more readily associate with something like Bonobo.

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