Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mind Spiders

Mind Spiders

The Mind Spiders started spinning a couple of years ago, when Mark Ryan's Marked Men compadre Jeff Burke left for Japan, effectively ending one of Texas' best garage rock bands. Ryan had plenty to do, with at least part time duties in a slew of other outfits - Wax Museums, Bad Sports, High Tension Wires, etc. - but he started Mind Spiders as an outlet for his more personal, four-tracked material. The self-titled debut was more or less a solo effort, dragging in band mates from Wax Museums and Bad Sports in for cameos, but largely conceived in solitude. With Meltdown, Ryan expands on his tuneful, new-wave-into-bubblegum aesthetic with a full band, a killer band, in fact, with two drummers (Mike Throneberry from the Marked Men and Greg Rutherford from The High Tension Wires) and a wonderfully wandering, psychedelic keyboard.


Not easy posting from an iPod.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm going to be gone for a few days

My uncle died over the weekend and I'm driving to Toronto tomorrow for the funeral. He was a really lovely man, very polite and kind and sweet...I hadn't seen him in about five years. He'd been sick for a while, but still died suddenly.

I'm not sure whether I'll be online or not, but let's just assume not. I should be back home late Friday.

Emily Wells

Emily Wells has one of those fascinating, cracked voices, pitched somewhere between country and blues, mostly grounded but with this crazy, otherworldly upper register, not angelic or witchy or any of the usual adjectives, but absolutely skewed from conventional reality. She's also a very accomplished violin player and, here's the kicker, has a real interest in electronic music (she's working with Dan the Automator on her next project). All of which means that her new album Mama is extremely hard to pin down, with its gap-toothed, country-girl vocals, its sleek, classically tinged strings and its eerie electro-beats and tone-washes. It's out on Partisan (also the home of Deertick and the Avett Brothers), and there's certainly some traditional music in there, but shot through time from the past to the future without ever really touching down on the present. I like it a lot.

You can check out Passenger" if you want a taste.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mux Mool

Not really in sync with last night's festivities at Hampshire College, went to see Shigeto whose album Lineage I am liking a lot, but a bit flummoxed by the youth and informality of the gathering. (I'm used to being the oldest one in the room, no so much being the only one over 20, and I do mean way, way over 20.)

I believe Shigeto was playing when we got there (it looked like him from the photo), though with some other guys who might have been in Mux Mool and it didn't sound anything like the record (or, indeed, very focused or good). Second act(no one announcing anything, BTW, so they might have been Mux Mool, see if you can tell from the photo) included 2-3 guys from the first set, and was much better sounding...big booming beats that shiver through your clothing and altered soul-type vocals, a bizarre mix of viscerality and technology, but good. Also all hail the paper glasses, which looked like 3D specs, but shattered all the lights into rainbow shards and made things look pretty cool.

We left early, no idea which of the three (Shigeto, Mux Mool or Expensive Looks) we missed. Wow, college was a really long time ago.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Probably no one expected Sub Pop to put out one of last year's best hip hop albums, Shabazz Palaces' Black Up, but they did. (and while it's true that my opinion is worth nothing on this, plenty of other people who know better agreed.) Possibly even fewer would have anticipated a repeat performance from the Fortress of Grunge, but god-damned here it comes with the all-female, jazz-influenced, intricate and cerebral TheeSatisfaction, whose album awE naturalE is out in March on (you guessed it) SubPop.

TheeSatisfaction is comprised of two very capable and self-confident young women -- Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White -- who met in college at the University of Washington. I am not really sure how they do what they do, whether one of them is primarily concerned with the chilled contrapuntal arrangements, the other with the dressed-up soul vocals that slither over them. Or maybe they switch off. Or maybe they both do a little of each. In either case, makes no difference, this is sophisticated, multi-layered stuff, touched with fusion jazz and piano bar torch and consciousness rap, cool but not at all unemotional.

I believe in supporting women artists, but I don't think it has to mean pretending to like Whitney Houston or to find deep meaning in Madonna's half-time show...why not celebrate something female-powered that's aimed at your heart and brain, rather than your wallet?


Friday, February 24, 2012

Yair Yona

It's interesting how the genre of "American primitive" has become so in point, Yair Yona, who follows Fahey, Basho, Kottke in many ways, but interjects interesting elements of his own Middle Eastern background. I reviewed his latest in Dusted today.

Yair Yona
World Behind Curtains
Strange Attractors Audio House

Two years ago, reviewing Yair Yona’s first album of Takoma-style finger picking with Middle Eastern elements, Bill Meyer said that he hoped that the young Israeli guitarist would someday “get further past his influences and, like Basho-Junghans, into a sound that is completely his own.” With World Behind Curtains, Yona is still wearing his influences on his sleeve (literally: the sleeve notes reference Bert Jansch, Glenn Jones, Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho and Kelly Joe Phelps), yet he has indeed moved along. His sound on this second album shows a deep affection for, and knowledge of, the American Primitive tradition, yet it is less confined by this tradition — less confined, even, by its instrument. World Without Curtains is, in some ways, like James Blackshaw’s last couple of albums, a document of a skilled guitar player in the process of turning himself into a composer, conductor and arranger.

Only the first track of World Behind Curtains showcases Yona alone. The very Blackshaw-esque “Expatriates” is a stirring exploration of the 12-string, its plaintive melody surrounded by shimmering curtains of overtones. A howl of feedback erupts halfway through the piece, shattering its placidity and injecting an unexpected violence into the exercise. “Bella,” at the album’s end, adds a piano to Yona’s restrained acoustic picking, the two instruments intersecting and answering each other, but most of all leaving space. The quiet between chords and picked melodies speaks in this piece almost as much as the notes themselves.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wooden Dinosaur

I'm pretty sure I've seen these guys in Wooden Dinosaur, who play a very slightly "alt" version of alt-folk on traditional instruments. They're from Burlington VT...I think maybe they played Thing in the Spring in Peterborough one year. Anyway, they've got a new album out called Spaces, which songwriter Michael Roberts describes on the Wooden Dinosaur blog:

It was sometime in the warm months of 2010. I was driving through Somerville, Massachusetts, and I was listening to a CD that Katie Trautz, WD’s fiddle player, had given me, called “Homegrown Yodel.” Katie went to W. Virginia for a fiddling festival and took a yodeling workshop and they gave her this CD. It is a remarkable compilation that someone made. If you want it, email me and I’ll give you a download link.

Anyway, there is a Bob Wills track, a version of a classic called “I Ain’t Got Nobody” on this homegrown yodel CD. It changed my life. I listened to it probably 1,000 times that day driving around in Somerville, Massachusetts. If you listen close to our album, you’ll realize that the yodel line from “Talkin’ About Death” is very similar to Tommy’s yodel in this track. Also that “Pistol” has the same joyous feel. Also yodeling.

But basically it was this: country music, with horns. Jazz with banjos. Rock with an upright bass. Our band is just a crappy, contemporary version of the Texas Playboys. We throw it all in there together and see what happens. It’s not always perfect, but we like to think it is always real.

More here

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kevn Kinney feature

I've also got a feature up at Blurt about Kevn Kinney's new collaboration with Anton Fier, called a good country mile...


Drivin N Cryin's Kinney and Golden Palominos' Anton Fier make the album the way they've always wanted... and nearly go broke in the process.


"Nobody knows who I am in New York," admits Kevn Kinney, the longtime frontman for Atlanta alt-rockers Drivin N Cryin.' "To me, a good country mile is all about selling my songs in a bar on a Monday night on the Lower East Side to people who never heard them before."

Sure, Kinney's band might have signed with Island Records in the mid-1980s, notched a gold record with Fly Me Courageous in 1991, and shared bills with the Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young, but in the late ‘00s, he was starting over again. He was working with one-time Drivin N Cryin' producer (and chief Golden Palomino) Anton Fier to reshape old songs in new ways, to rethink beloved covers and to write new material.

The process culminated in a good country mile, Kinney's first solo album in many years and the first CD to bear the Golden Palominos name since 1996. But it began very casually, with two musicians who first hooked up in a race for commercial success, reconnecting over good songs and mutual respect.


Stream the whole album here.

Porcelain Raft

The glass is half empty, or maybe half full...but either way, it's milk

Porcelain Raft
Strange Weekend
Secretly Canadian

The video for “Put Me To Sleep” shows Porcelain Raft’s Mauro Remiddi submerged in a bath of milk, sharply dressed and unshaven (he is Italian), and either freaked out or enjoying the whole experience depending on the frame you focus on. It’s a pretty good metaphor for Strange Weekend as a whole, an album whose stylish beats and melodies are drenched in chilly, pearlescent, milk-white atmospheres and whose indefinite charms comfort, rather than challenge, the listener.


"Put Me To Sleep"

Monday, February 20, 2012

John Talabot

Well, here I am expressing enthusiasm for a record (and genre) that I know very little about, sure to embarrass myself, but unable to stop...I'm talking about this really wonderful album by Barcelona DJ John Talabot called ƒin. Most of the electronic music I've been listening to lately has been fairly dark and claustrophobic, but this one is totally celebratory, uplifting, dionysian. But as I said, what do I know? I'm just going to quote the Guardian on this and slap up a video and be done with it.

Says Alex McPherson of the Guardian, "Barcelona house producer John Talabot has a knack for capturing the very specific kind of bliss associated with dancing on Mediterranean beaches at the height of summer. A penchant for rising chords means that all his melodies make you feel like raising your arms and face to the sun."

Good stuff...check it out.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lanterns on the Lake

Lanterns on the Lake is another quietly powerful band, more or less in the same category as Still Corners and Gem Club, but with a bit more of a folk underpinning. A six-person outfit, Lanterns underscores a slo-core reticence with really lush, beautiful strings (violin and bass mostly, but played with bows).

The band has had two EPs, out in England on Bella Union, plus late last year's Gracious Tide, Take Me Home. Hazel Wilde plays guitar and whispers those dreamy, swirling Cocteau-Twins-ish vocals. Paul Gregory plays guitar, too, and also layers on the electronics, which brings on the inevitable Tunng comparison -- Lanterns is far quieter, slower and more ethereal.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ulrich Schnauss, Mark Peters and the Doozer

Time to catch up on some stuff that's run this week...have to say that being severely underemployed is scary and may not end well, bu t I sure am writing a lot of music stuff.

Anyway, Blurt has my review of the latest from Ulrich Schnauss and Mark Peters

Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters
Underrated Silence
(Bureau B)

Composer Ulrich Schnauss once set himself the artistic goal of translating a shoe-gazers' aesthetics into electronic context, that is, taking the gauzy indefinite-ness of, say, My Bloody Valentine and filtering it through a synthetic palette. Here with Engineers bandmate Mark Peters, he veers further into miasmas of diffuse sound. Together, they build atmospheres so light and airy they might float away, except that they are tethered gently to earth with jangling, clicking, shushing rhythms.

Some of these songs verge on new age-y crystal-gazing, with their translucent synth washes and angelically altered voices. There's too much shimmer and not enough friction, for instance in "Long Distance Call." Yet where a bit of minor-keyed darkness is allowed in, as in "Forgotten," or where the rhythms turn more definite, as in prickly "Rosen Im Asphalt", Schnauss and Peters hit a gorgeous stride. Best of all, "Ekaterina," gets its mix of twitch and billow right, setting bright, twittery cadences atop chilly basso undercurrents. About halfway through the piece, the two musicians seem to gather all the melodic threads together, all the shiny sounds coalescing into one triumphant melody. Later, in "Gift Horse's Mouth," the mood turns almost funky as a syncopated keyboard line skips and hops over dusty layers of altered tone. There's a sense of play as well as daydream here, a lightness in the textured sound.


All I can offer you is 30 second snippets from Soundcloud

Also, I had a review up of a new album on the Woodsist label by a band (and individual) called the Doozer at Dusted earlier in the week. It went like this:

The Doozer
Keep It Together

A fine, long tradition of British psychedelia finds its weirdness in domestic scenarios. Robyn Hitchcock suns at the beach with his wife and his dead wife. Syd prattles on about his rickety bike to a likely lady. There are teacups on the tables and knitted scarves looped around the doorknobs. Surreality comes as familiar, cozy scenarios warp slightly off expectations.

The Doozer, whose name denotes both the songwriter and his 11-person band, partakes mostly of the comfortable side of this dichotomy. His jaunty, music-hall-through-a-cracked-mirror tunes, his glad-handing, all-together-now arrangements and wobbly voice instantly evoke Barrett and Hitchcock’s whimsical pop. Yet, there’s very little magic in Keep It Together‘s eight compositions, which seem, instead, to take perverse pleasure in the mundane. “There’s nothing much there, there’s nothing much there,” he sings in “Fen Drayton,” amid tipsy piano chords and a slapping, shuffle of snare brushes, and though he’s singing about a rural holiday, he could be talking about his album. A cut later, in “Frank’s Song,” we hear that “Frank has got his milk, it’s a normal day, won’t you say?” Yes, well, perhaps a little too normal?


I'm interviewing Stanley Clarke today who is maybe not the world's most famous bass player (ahem, Paul McCartney), but who is probably the person most famous right now for playing the bass. Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Damien Jurado

Another of my early year favorites, reviewed today at Dusted...

Damien Jurado
Secretly Canadian

“Nothing is the News,” the first single from Damien Jurado’s 10th full-length album, is full of latent smoke and thunder, a reeling trill of organ arcing out off of blues guitar, Jurado’s spectral tenor in the foreground, occasional earthier howls and shouts coming from deep inside the sound. It is, by far, the hardest rocking cut he’s done since 2002’s I Break Chairs, and yet, its fire is chilled, distanced, overlaid with an ectoplasmic shimmer. Its spectral, watery wash of sustained synths and organ tones will sound familiar to anyone who spent time with Saint Bartlett, Jurado’s first collaboration with Richard Swift. And yet, here this otherworldly aura hovers around warmer, more substantial sounds. It’s like you’re hearing the disembodied trace of a 1960s rock song, filtered through layers of glowing, hallucinatory calm.


"Nothing Is the News"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Very excited about Shearwater's Animal Joy, the 2012 album that I have listened to the most this year and which is so far unchallenged for the #1 spot. Also very excited about my interview with Jonathan Meiburg, which is running during release week at PopMatters. Yay!

Animal Spirits: an Interview with Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg
By Jennifer Kelly

“By the end of The Golden Archipelago, I felt like I’d become the great green floating head of Oz in the sea. Even the art of the last album shows a figure looking off into the distance, and, to me, that’s what the record sounds like,” says Jonathan Meiburg, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has, for more than a decade, headed Shearwater. “For this record, I wanted to make something that was much more immediate, much more upfront, and also much more personal.”

Meiburg began to feel the onset of a new phase during a January 2011 show in Austin, Texas when he and his band played all three of the linked “Island Arc” records in a row, first Palo Santo, then Rook, then The Golden Archipelago. “I had the feeling as we were playing that was moving through time,” he explains. “When we started the first album, I felt like I was back in 2006 and as the evening went on, it progressed forward to the present moment when we finished the last note of the last song.” As the night ended, Meiburg says he sensed a resolution. “It wasn’t so much that I thought this was over, exactly. I just thought that a particular phase was finished and an approach that had gone as far as I wanted to take it,” he explains.

The rest

"You As You Were"

"Breaking the Yearlings"

I interviewed Jonathan a long time ago for Neumu, around the time of Winged life, and you can read about that here if you like. It's kind of an origin story...about back when Will Sheff was in the band and so on. There are more birds in that one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Twilight Sad's latest

Third and latest album from the Scottish band known for guitar squall, obliterating beats and fancy, Morrissey-esque review went up at Dusted today.

The Twilight Sad
No One Can Ever Know

There’s a headlong rush to “Kill It in the Morning,” the second single from the Twilight Sad’s third full-length, a dry, clattery momentum in the guitar and cymbal-slashing drums. The band that used to build shimmering, gorgeous, barely moving walls of tone is in a hurry to get on now, pushing post-punk style through dystopian, jittery landscapes of romantic disconnection.

Much is the same on No One Can Ever Know, the bludgeoning wallop of Mark Devine’s drums, the fluttery, Mozzy excesses of James Graham’s singing style. Yet now, with bass player Craig Orzel gone, guitarist and songwriter Andy MacFarlane has made significant changes to the Scottish band’s sound, cutting the guitars to terse, rhythmic elements but softening the contours with lush Cure-like synthesizers. This third album has an altogether chillier, more propulsive vibe, as if the boy lost in bedroom reveries for Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters is now striding purposefully forward, gaze focused, end in view.


Grammys, Valentine's Day, life

It occurs to me that this may be the only year, ever, that I can say that I've interviewed two of the biggest Grammy Award winners.

My piece on Adele from the late, great Venus.

My interview with Justin Vernon for PopMatters

I'm not planning on making a habit of this, and obviously, I have to get to people a long time before they even considered Grammy material if I want to talk to them (or a long time after, but that's another deal)...but still, kind of cool, yes?

Also, since it's that holiday with the hearts and the flowers, here's wishing everybody whatever variety of love they like best and also, maybe, some chocolate.

Kinda liking this new album by the Big Sleep, very slick, very pop, big whomping beats that are really fun to run to (am I wrong that Big Sleep used to be kind of a drone and nod band?)...and, as it happens, they have a song called "Valentine."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Howlin' Rain please stop

By the time Otis asked me if I'd review the new Howlin' Rain album Russian Wilds, I had already listened to it 3-4 times and pretty definitively decided that I didn't want to listen to it anymore. But I did, and it really didn't grow on me at all. It's too long. The tracks are too long. The solos are too long. The lyrics make no sense at all. It's a loving recreation of a kind of music that I hope never (really pretty mean) review...

Howlin Rain
The Russian Wilds

The guitar solo is alive and well on Ethan Miller’s third album as Howlin’ Rain, a virtual reference book on classic rock styles of the 1970s, from Black Sabbath to Jimi Hendrix to Santana to Deep Purple and well beyond. If you hanker after the days when bands flew around in their own private jets, trailed by groupies and hangers on and A&R guys on the make, then The Russian Wilds is your kind of album. Beautifully played, immaculately recorded and bloated to the gills with 1970s album rock pretensions, it’s a throwback to a time that most people don’t remember very well (and few of those have any desire to revisit).


Adam & the Amethysts

It's just indie pop, but indie pop done right.

I'm talking about Flickering Flashlight, the upcoming album from Montreal-based Adam & the Amethysts, an offshoot of Miracle Fortress, and in that same vein of polished, electronically enhanced, but somehow whimsically home-made song-making. Adam, in this case, is Adam Waito...his first CD was Montreal Hour's "best folk-rock album of 2011." I'm not hearing much folk here on Flashlight, more of a soft-focus, Elephant 6 style psych-pop, mostly spare, but with the occasional addition of vocal harmonies, strings and other embellishments. In any case, the album, which comes out March 27 on Kelp Records, is very much worth a listen or two.

"Prophecy" has little quotes from "Everything's All Right" from Jesus Christ Superstar...and "Auld Lang Syne".

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Neville Skelly

I dug out an old Mojo comp a few days ago, one of those song-by-song cover versions of a famous album -- in this case, Neil Young's Harvest. I suppose I decided to listen to it, finally, because of the artists I knew. Kelley Stoltz does the title track, the Smoke Fairies turn in a really lovely version of "Alabama", Phosphorescent an eerie take on "Are You Ready for the Country", and Sam Amidon strips "The Needle and the Damage Done" down to its essential core. It's a wonderful album, and none of these covers was in any way disappointing, but as usual, the best part was a surprise.

That would be Neville Skelly's profoundly spooky, electronically enhanced but, at its core, really minimal cover of "There's a World," which knocked me flat the first, second, third and fourth time I played it (it's going on now for the fifth time, and still pretty astonishing). Skelly is, apparently, from Liverpool. He has attracted the admiration of Mojo, the NME and Liam Gallagher, but you probably shouldn't hold that against him. He's got a hollow, cadaverous baritone that reminds me of Chris Isaak and also raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

He does a lot of covers, evidently. Here he is performing "Eleanor Rigby."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jonathan Kane's February Live at the Issue Project Room

Pretty stunning document of a band that is, by all reports, obliterating live, this six song set recorded at the Issue Project Room, fittingly enough in February of 2010.

Kane, as you might know, was the original drummer in Swans. He's also played with La Monte Young, Rhys Chatham, Gary Lucas. His February projects filters the hypnotic drone of blues through a very rock aesthetic, bringing three electric guitarists into play (Peg Simone, Jon Crider, David Bicknell) for a monumental sound.

The disc is dedicated to Issue Project Room founder Suzanne Fiol, who died of cancer in October 2009.

You can get "Blissed Out Rag," from the Issue Project Room sessions, from the Live Music Archive here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Royal Baths...make me feel dirty

Entirely predictable that I'm enjoying the new Royal Baths CD Better Luck Next Life, out now on Kanine Records. It's got that clanky, dungeon-y VU locked up in a Jesus and Mary Chain kind of vibe, reminds me of a whole bunch of bands I like from later on, too...Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Raveonettes, etc.

In fact, I was thinking about passing it along to my son (now 17, just latching onto BRMC), but the single is so perverted and decadent that I don't think I can. Not that I'd mind if he found it himself, you understand, but there's something weird about your mom recommending a song called "Faster, Harder." But as to you guys out there in cyberspace, I have no qualms at all...enjoy. (Though I really like "Darling Divine" better.)

Both tracks DL'able via Pitchfork

"Faster, Harder"

"Darling Divine"

"Darling Divine"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Lineage is another really beautiful bit of melodic electronica from the Chicago label, Ghostly. Shigeto is Zach Saginaw, a drummer, jazz student and self-taught electronic composer, originally from Michigan. Before Lineage, he had two EPs, a full-length (Full Circle) and an album of remixes under his belt (Full Circle Remixes). He has also remixed tracks for other artists including Tycho, Mux Mool and Shlomo.

Shigeto's new mini LP offers eight tracks of luminous, subtly beat-driven atmospherics...a cerebral, introspective meander through imagined landscapes that somehow feel like home. I'd say it's a bit drier and more intellectual than last year's Dive from Tycho, and certainly more prone to experiments with altered vocal tones, but it's not a bad comparison point. It reminds me also, especially on "Huron River Drive" (streamable below), of the percussive cross-currents and complexities of Dosh.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Liam Finn's gnarly pop

I've got an interview up at PopMatters with Liam Finn today...he's the son, as it happens of Neil Finn (he of Split Enz and Crowded House), but what's really interesting about him is his fascination with messed up pop, especially Beyonce.

Here's the piece:

Mental Pop & Beyoncé Beats: An Interview with Liam Finn

By Jennifer Kelly 7 February 2012

“As a sonic thing, I really loved the way that bands like the Latin Playboys had made records that mixed that lo-fi thing with the high-fi stuff in a really beautiful way,” says Liam Finn. “They showed how you coul d make your sound as interesting and crusty and wild as possible, but if you’ve got one element like a vocal, one thing that’s recorded beautifully, it’s an otherworldly element.”

Liam Finn has a feel for catchy pop, which is, perhaps, partly genetic (his father, after all, is Neil Finn of Split Enz and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” fame). Yet on this, his second solo album, Liam isn’t content to craft hooks and let them fly. Instead with the help of producer Burke Reed, he threads melodies through murky, noisy, static-y atmospheres, obscuring them so that, paradoxically, they turn all the more memorable. This is pop you have to work at.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Mark Lanegan

It's been a pretty good year so far, one month's my review of Mark Lanegan's new kraut- and electro-tinged album Blues Funeral.

Mark Lanegan
Blues Funeral

Mark Lanegan has always had one of rock’s most natural-sounding voices: rough-hewn, unaffected, deep and vibrant in an unstudied way, whispery and worn at the edges. His singing is couched in the world-weary acceptance of blues, but also reaches for spiritual resolution in the manner of gospel. He sounds, most of the time, as if he’s ruminating to himself, and when he hits the occasional soaring, outward-directed crescendo, it’s startling, as if a tiger in a zoo had suddenly turned its gaze on you. There is something elemental about Lanegan’s singing, something unconcerned with, and maybe hardly even aware of, the listener. It’s the reason that comparisons with Tom Waits, who is always calculating his effect on the audience, have never made sense to me. Two deep growly voices, one on a vaudeville stage, the other singing from the pit of an abandoned well, and not the slightest bit similar.


Saturday, February 4, 2012


I got maybe a little too deep into the whole Church story a few years ago when I reviewed a biography of Steve Kilbey for Blurt...sort of put me off the band for a year or two, despite a lingering fondness for one of the best rock ballads of all time ("Under the Milky Way Tonight"). There was just too much interpersonal nastiness in the book for me. That even more than the drug addiction and major label compromises put me off for a while. But anyway, regardless of what you think about Kilbey as a person, he's got an astonishingly cool voice, eerie and melodic and able to turn the worst kinds of hobbit-loving tripe into something mystical and lovely.

Isidore is Kilbey's project with Remy Zero's Jeffrey Cain, a very occasional collaboration that has, so far, resulted in two albums in seven years. Life Somewhere Else is the second of these endeavors, recorded in much the same way as the first, i.e. Cain along with select other musicians -- Remy Zero’s Cedric LeMoyne and Leslie Van Trease, drummer Charles Darby Kilpatrick (The Great Book of John) -- make instrumental tracks, Kilbey records the vocals.

The album is really lovely, with misty, subtly electronic foundations and spectrally soulful singing, a slow-burner, if burn is even the term for it, the overall aesthetic is too chilled and restrained for that. Anyway, I like it a lot, and maybe I'll review it at some point, but meanwhile, here's the giveaway track:


Friday, February 3, 2012

Best faves through january

So I think I'm going to do this once a month or so, just to remind myself about what I was liking a few weeks ago and how it compares to what I'm liking now...also I'd love to hear what everyone else is into early on in 2012, if there's anyone out there anymore. Anyway, here are my favorite records through January.

Shearwater, Animal Joy (Sub Pop)...way out in front, more visceral than you'd imagine Shearwater could be, but also incredibly fragile, spiritual, delicate. I've got a PopMatters feature in the works on this (by which I mean, it's all done and god knows when they'll decide to run it...June would be about par for the course).

Sharon Van Etten, Tramp, (Jagjaguwar)...wrote about this one for Dusted, an almost ideal consolidation of her beautifully vulnerable, spare debut and her lusher, guttier Epic.

Damien Jurado, Maraqopa, (Secretly Canadian)...Jurado's second collaboration with producer Richard Smith is warmer and more immediate than Saint Bartlett, marginally more rocking, but still has a core of unknowability and mystery...the songs sort of glow in the dark. (I've got a slightly more coherent review in the pipe at Dusted on this.)

The Twilight Sad, No One Can Ever Know (Fat Cat)...Just finished my review of this one, and kind of too exhausted to try to find another way to say that this one is chillier, dryer, more rhythmically intense than previous outings, but with a really intriguing overlay of synthesizers.

Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral (4AD)...I've barely started on this, but what can you say...that voice...chills. (also, did you ever think you'd hear gated snare on a Lanegan record? Me neither.)

Cloud Nothings...a big jump forward

It's funny because when I reviewed Turning On a couple of years ago, I tried to trace the chronological development of Cloud Nothings so far, and ended by saying that it would be interesting to see what Dylan Baldi does next. Interesting, hah, that's an understatement. Attack on Memory is radically different -- and much better -- than anything Cloud Nothings has done so far. My review from Blurt yesterday...

Cloud Nothings
Attack on Memory

"I thought...I more...than this," shouts Dylan Baldi towards the end of the nine minute freakery of "Wasted Days." It's like the end of a war, this last minute of the song. Baldi's voice is a shredded, disintegrated mess, splattering bloody polyps of angst, stray spit and undiluted aggression over the verse. The guitars are just back from an excursion into effects-altered ecstasies, an extended experiment in chaotic groove and tone. And the drum and bass player who have held the whole thing together must be exhausted, yet continue to batter and thump, a pureness of purpose in their clashing, pounding forward movement. The whole thing is so far removed from Baldi's previous staticky clouds of lo-fi cotton candy that you have to wonder what happened. A tour with Fucked Up might account for the increased aggression, a visit to Steve Albini's studio the raw and brutal clarity, yet how Cloud Nothings got here is still something of a mystery. A year ago, it looked like the band might turn into the next Real Estate. Now it seems they're on the way to becoming their generation's Nirvana.


"Stay Useless"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My second favorite album so far...Sharon Van Etten's Tramp

On reflection, I think the first paragraph is a little too flowery, but judge for yourself.

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten’s debut, Because I Was in Love, was a work of aching purity, just a little guitar and doubled vocals to underline the luminescence of Van Etten’s voice, the plain spoken lyrics transmuted to radiance by sheer loveliness. She sounded like a long-lost 1960s icon — fragile, haunted, and not quite grounded in the real world. Her follow-up, Epic, was a larger, denser, more empowered undertaking, opening up her self-lacerating songs with layered harmonies, a full rock band and a sense of wild, against-all-odds triumph. Epic was a gigantic leap forward for Van Etten, proof that she had exploded right out of the coffee shop genre, but it shorted the transfixing vulnerability, the shuddery, silvery delicacy of the singer’s debut. With Tramp, her third, she has brought both elements together in a record that will surely be among the year’s best, a gorgeous, fully realized expression of her potential.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hell Songs

Kind of a bizarre thing, but not without some interest, a new live recording from Swedish trio Hell Songs...which continues their easy-listening interpretations of landmark metal anthems. The new record, which is called Long Live Lounge was recorded with the band () and members of the Gothenburg Symphonics. You have really never heard "War Pigs" until you've heard it sung by a pretty soprano with strings and piano and so cleans up unbelievably well. (with the accent on the "unbelievably" part.)

Here's the video...their version of "Run for the Hills," which, you probably remember, started life as an Iron Maiden song.

I also kind of like the closer "We're Not Going to Take It," in a distinctly what-the-fuck, why-are-they-doing-this kind of way. Just beautiful Twisted Sister. Awesome.