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)

tags: , ,

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

Grinchtags: , , ,

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.

tags: , ,

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)

tags: , , , , ,

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)

tags: , , ,

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)

tags: , , , ,

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

tags: , ,

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.

tags: , , ,

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.

tags: ,

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.

tags: , ,

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.

tags: , , , ,

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.

tags: , , ,

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

tags: , , ,

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.

tags: , ,

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".)

tags: , ,

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.

tags: , , , ,

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.

tags: , ,

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.

tags: , , ,

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.

tags: , , ,

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.

tags: , , , ,

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.

tags: , ,