29 March 2007

Earworm: Sting - Ghost Story

Sting's Ghost Story (from Brand New Day) is the song sitting in my ear today, after Ray LaMontagne's Be Here Now (from Until the Sun Turns Black) reminded me of it: the guitar lines are very similar in the beginning, and both songs have similarly hushed vocals and hesitant, upward-flowing melodic phrases.

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Myspace Rundown: Greg Schuler, Shrinking Islands, Austin Newcomers, Roy Davis

Greg Schuler is . . . can boys sing bubble gum pop? Can there be a one-member boy band? That's the sound he seems to be going for, with maybe a little more old-school instrumentation than most: I can almost see the instrument-boogie the horn chorus is doing.

Shrinking Islands has a nice though unexceptional sound--guitars, drum set, male tenor (when did we decide all male vocalists have to be tenors?)--but their vocalists need better mikes.

Austin Newcomers's first track Kamikaze is firmly in the frenetic party pop category, but On the Roof and You Must Try are more meditative. They do sound like a band that would do well live in Austin, too.

Roy Davis sounds a bit like Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, but not so bloody over-the-top. It can be a nice sound, when it isn't overdone, but there isn't anything else striking enough about these tracks to recommend them.

Overall, a disappointing, unexceptional bunch of MySpace denizens. Dammit.

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Top o' the Inbox: Plushgun - Impolite

Just Impolite starts out sounding a whole lot like Postal Service, with luminous, upbeat electronica and a thin tenor; the vocals become less Gibbardly as the song goes on, although I couldn't say what they do become. Sadly, that's the only Plushgun song; it'd be nice to hear an EP's worth of this and get a feel for the range of the band.

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27 March 2007

New Laura Veirs!

New Laura Veirs is very welcome; Carbon Glacier and Year of Meteors are regulars on my rotation, and given her unusual voice and sense of phrase, I'm always curious to hear what she'll be doing next.

Saltbreakers comes out 10 April in North America; "Pink Light" is streamable on her Myspace, and Don't Lose Yourself (Saltbreaker) is floating around on several blogs. The sound is more polished, but still features her unique phrasing and tempo. It does raise the question, though: once Carbon Glacier, Year of Meteors and Saltbreakers are all equally familiar, which sound will win out?

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22 March 2007

Earworm: Lily Allen - Knock 'Em Out

This is a bit of a mystery. Normally I have an allergy to slick pop (it's pretty bad, I should carry an epipen but I don't)--but I am finding Lily Allen's Alright, Still very, very addictive. I'm not sure how that happened, but I'm enjoying it; her lyrics are nimble and sharp, and delivered with a fluid, easy creativity that makes them better still. It seems all of the tracks on the CD have been earworms, but at the moment it's Knock 'Em Out.

Can't knock em out, can't walk away,
Try desperately to think of the politest way to say,
Just get out my face, just leave me alone,
And no you can't have my number,
"Why?" Cause I've lost my phone.

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Sia - Little Black Sandals

I am puzzled by Sia. I enjoy Zero 7 for the most part, but seeing her live was a sore disappointment: the songs sounded pretty much the same as on the CD, and a bloody annoying stage manner meant that I should've just stayed home and listened to Healing Is Difficult. (Her website, unfortunately, is as annoying as her stage manner, with far too much space wasted on big graphics and tiny, tiny frames with frustrating scrolling mechanisms.)

So she's got a new live CD coming out, Lady Croissant, and the nice people over at Astralwerks have sent out a demo from the recording sessions, Little Black Sandals--and even after listening to it for an hour, I can't tell: do I like it? Her vocal style starts out in a creaky tone that's supposed to be heartfelt, I think, but is mostly just creaky. After that, though, it smooths out and takes on the a more familiar chillout flow, although there is the occasional excessive vocal flourish. So I like it, but not the beginning?

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21 March 2007

Lost in the Trees

So, yes, I have a soft spot for Trekky Records because of The Never; I like to think that it's also because they choose music I enjoy. Lost in the Trees is another example of this; it's a hard-to-categorize project of Ari Picker, frontman for The Never (several more points in its favor). I believe their Myspace declares them to be "classical/hip-hop/folk." Be that as it may, the vocals are the usual sensitive-indie-tenor sound, but it's the instrumentals that really caught my attention. Tall Trees starts out with a fairly standard piping, but the quick addition of a wooden-sounding beat that's almost Bollywood, cello loops, and then a chorus of violins put together an intriguing sound that stops just short of florid. The instrumental I've Always Loved the Fall is notable for its occasional urgent passages on the organ, which sets up a nice tension with the mellow, sweeter cello. So I'm liking their very recent EP Time Taunts Me, and may try to check out their March 29 show at P.A.'s Lounge (which gets all the good, under-the-radar acts in town, it would seem).

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20 March 2007

A Jesuit Likes Tom Waits

Well now, this is interesting. Times Online has an article about a Catholic priest, Father Antonio Spadero, writing in a Jesuit journal that Tom Waits represents "the marginalised and misunderstood," and that rock music "has great expressive power which reaches peoples’ souls." Tom Waits's beliefs aren't public as far as I know--which makes the statement just that much more surprising--though he gets into God territory every now and then, such as in Road to Peace or God's Away on Business.

If I were a Catholic, I'd be very sad at how surprising a statement like that is--regardless of how self-evident it sounds to the rest of the world. Can we have this guy for pope next? A world with fewer public figures saying stupid things would be so nice. . .

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19 March 2007

Left Out: Peter Bjorn and John

Seems like there's always gotta be one artist or group that every blogger in the world is hailing as the up-and-coming next thing--that leaves me completely cold. Last year it was Joanna Newsom, whose jumpy, feathery concoctions make me want to, well, turn them off; right now, it's Peter Bjorn and John. They're not bad; but they don't give me any reason to listen to them. Like most bands that come with strong recommendations from good sources, I'll keep listening until I get to the same point I did with Cassandra Wilson, Joanna Newsom, and all the others who didn't convert me: when I realize that I know the music fairly well, and still don't particularly want to hear it. I even think I have a fair sample--their KEXP performance at SxSW. I've heard them called power-pop, or the Swedish Spoon; but although Stars and Magic Numbers are major contributors to Earworms both written-up and otherwise, and Spoon has been a favorite for years, nothing about PB&J is interesting to me. Except maybe the abbreviation--d'you suppose they did that on purpose?

Peter Bjorn & John for KEXP in Austin, TX
File Paris 2004
File Amsterdam
File Young Folks
File Let's Call It Off
File Object Of My Affection

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17 March 2007

Earworm: Psapp - Hi

Psapp is one of my most charming recent acquaintainces, and only partially because of toytronica, the lovely word invented for the music they make; although both The Only Thing I Ever Wanted and their earlier Tiger, My Friend have some of the tinkly, comforting sound you'd expect from such a name (like Velvet Pony)--an indie music box in the toy world--there are also surprisingly jaunty pieces like Hi, so full of angular, stylized motion it would have to be a clockwork tango doll.

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15 March 2007

Myspace Spotlight: Mumpsy

One of the lovely things about a post office box for review goodies is that you never know what's in it; sometimes it's a curious, interesting gem you'd never have found otherwise, and sometimes it's a sad thing that you're embarrased to listen to. Mumpsy is the former. Frontman Jeff Ilgenfritz has a reedy voice that works well within the twee, boppy arena of each song--think Belle & Sebastian, or The Kinks by way of The Shins. It's a less saccharine sound than Belle & Sebastian, and less faithfully lo-fi than The Shins, but it's just as infectious. (N.B.: As far as I can tell, Ilgenfritz really is his name. This is just too cool for words.)

64 Colors is as instantly appealing as the big box of crayons in the title; the lyrics only filter through the bright colors after listening several times, and then the colors get a little bit darker. 3 People stays a careening romp no matter how many times you listen to it--sort of the musical equivalent of pretending to be an airplane in the front yard. These songs're from the EP 3 People--not out yet, but on April 10 it'll be here.

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14 March 2007

Milquetoast @ Lizard Lounge

Tuesday night saw Hazel Levy and Milquetoast playing at the Lizard Lounge. Hazel started off the night with her square, easy, unadorned stage presence and flowing songs that don't leave much impression after they end--like a musical palate cleanser; it's a challenge to stand out as a singer-songwriter, with so many around. She did say one thing I remembered: "It's hard to sound rock'n'roll by yourself." Which is true, and might partially explain one really awful show.

Milquetoast started out with Jimmy McAndrew solo for a couple of songs, then joined by cellist Robin Ryczek (Jethro Tull's cellist, no less), and then finally by bassist Joe Mageary and drummer Panama Quinn. With each new addition the sound of the band made more sense, and by the time the full arrangement was reached, it was a dynamic, nimble, driving sound. Cellos are beginning to pop up in indie music (Zoe Keating, Hilary Hahn with And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead), and it's easy to see why: they can (and in this case, did) take a band's sound from driving and intelligent to layered and interesting.

Tess of Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade guest-harmonized on Static Cleanse, and that was my favorite song of the night; the extra harmony balanced the song nicely between graceful and strong. Million Ways was another standout, with the clockwork energy in its repetitive chords.

Although it's clear live that it's a young band--not always prepared to start or end together, uncertain about banter--their material, stage presence, and performance were strong enough to make it a night well spent.

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13 March 2007

Earworm: Frou Frou - Hear Me Out

It's been two years since I first heard Frou Frou, and I still think Imogen Heap is one of the best vocalists out there: her voice is powerful and versatile, and either she isn't inclined to melismatic overkill like many vocalists, or she's got a smart listener giving her feedback.

Today it's Hear Me Out from Details that's on repeat; it's got a nice, steady tempo that doesn't quite hint at what the words are describing, but as that's all in Imogen's voice, it makes a nice contrast.

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12 March 2007

Myspace Find: Mason Proper

MySpace find Mason Proper is a bit of an odd band: they go from startlingly metallic in My My Bad Fruit, to meandering Explosions in the Sky-style intro to Chemical Dress Eliza, to more usual vocalist-driven rock that reminds me of OK Go--within three songs. It's a little challenging imaging all this melding into a coherent show, but overall the songs have a enjoyable, smart vibe to them.

Fortunately for me, they've got a show at the MidEast Upstairs on March 30; I may have to see if I can't get to that--and it may even work, since Birdmonster will be taking the stage as well!

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