Feb 28, 2010


mp3: She and Him "Thieves"

I am pretty ambivalent about She and Him. I like them; I dislike them. From day to day, I never know how I feel about them. I have legitimate complaints about the band (they are far too cute for their own good), but I also hold grudges against them that are patently unfair (they are fronted by a movie star). And although I liked their debut album enough, I wasn't clamoring for another outing from the duo. But goddam if "Thieves," the newest song to leak from the album, doesn't confuse the situation a bit. The song is 4 minutes of perfect pop. The song splits the difference between ballads from the 1950s and AM country from the 60s. It's a terrific combination that works better for the band than anything else they've done. Deschanel's voice sounds markedly different. While she once sang directly from her diaphragm, she's now squeezing out the song from the bottom of her throat. The trick lends some sobbed-out sorrow to her heartbreaking lyrics. I don't know if it makes me excited to hear the rest of the album ("In the Sun" is pretty forgettable . . .), but at least I have a song to lean on if I remain indecisive about She and Him.

Vol 2 is due on March 23rd on Merge.


mp3: Sunglasses "Referee"

Thankfully Sunglasses have finally posted another song; my mp3 of "Whiplash" was starting to show signs of wear. "Referee" is another song seemingly built out of sunshine and Doritos and summertime crushes. My only concern with these guys is whether or not they're going to be able to release enough material to soundtrack my summer.

Feb 27, 2010

High Places vs Mankind

High Places "On Giving Up"

On High Places' myspace page, their photos are now divided between "My Photos" and "Vintage High Places." This seems significant considering that the band has a new album, High Places vs Mankind, coming out on Thrill Jockey (March 23rd). The band is willfully dividing their past and their present. This begs the obvious question: why distinguish between your past and your present? The answer is equally as obvious as the question: this new record expands the band's signature sound to include some new sounds. In fact, your reaction to this album will depend entirely on how attached you are to "vintage High Places."

If you loved High Places' previous self-titled album (and the excellent singles collection 03/07 - 09/07), then there's plenty for you to continue to love on High Places vs Mankind. "The Charron" and "Drift Slayer" are classic High Places: bubbling synths percolate under washes of gorgeous sound while a tribal beat defines the structure of the song. However, at times, it seems as if the band is parodying their own style. "When It Comes, the only true weak spot on the album, actually ends with the sound of a pan flute that drips with one world consciousness bullshit.

Elsewhere, though, we get a mish-mash of styles and experiments. As an album, then, this thing is all over the place. It's hard to believe that the funk bass of "When It Comes" belongs on the same record as the ethereal "Drift Slayer." I would argue that High Places vs Mankind presents a band in the midst of an identity crisis. The pair, Rob Barber and Mary Pearson, cannot seem to decide what they want High Places to sound like anymore. From the dubby reggae of "The Most Beautiful Name" to the pretty "The Channon" to the banging "The Longest Shadows," this album is an unfocused mess of styles, only half of which are successful.

Another way of reading this album, though, is as a classic bait and switch, especially with regards to the fantastic lead single, "On Giving Up." They promise you a radical departure only for you to find out what's in the box is a re-imagining of the band's capabilities. High Places vs Mankind might not showcase an entirely new band; it's just a retooled, jacked-up, highly polished version of High Places. But I've gone back and forth about this album so many times, trying to understand the choices made by Barber and Pearson. I'm still not sure what I think of it. I certainly have my reservations, but if they could shift into making music that sounds like "On Giving Up," then I would be happy leaving the electronic psychedelia behind. But since the band seems noncommittal, then it's hard for me not to feel as divided.

Rating: 6/10

Feb 26, 2010

Give Up the Ghost

UPDATE: I've updated the video to a better version. It's vastly better . . .

Thom Yorke debuted three (3!) new songs at a benefit show for the UK's Green Party at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. "The Daily Mail" is a slow burning piano ballad that Yorke can write in his sleep at this point. "Mouse Bird Dog" is some of the most convincing evidence that Yorke still worships at the altar of Neil Young. But it's "Give Up the Ghost" (video below) that shines the brightest. The song is breath-taking: Yorke sings over a gorgeous melody loop. The song cruises along prettily enough until an ensemble of Yorkes enter in the final minute. The song is even more lush and relaxed than anything on the already lush and relaxed In Rainbows.

You can check out the set list to the show here. Also, as if you needed reminding, Yorke's new band, Atoms for Peace, are going to be traveling around the States in April. You should probably go see them.

Feb 25, 2010

Hard to be Humble

mp3: Phosphorescent "Hard to be Humble (When You're From Alabama)

In the immediate aftermath of 2007's Pride, I found myself worrying about Phosphorescent's Matt Houck. While the record was stunningly beautiful, he sounded inconsolably depressed, hopelessly love sick. And last year's Willie Nelson covers record, To Willie, didn't sound much more upbeat (except for his excellent cover of this gem). But Phosphorescent's lead single from his upcoming album, mercifully titled Here's to Taking It Easy, Houck sounds like he's got hot blood moving through his veins at something more than 15 bpm. The song explodes with a soulful horn section and a country-fried slide guitar. The song may be your standard issue tour complaint, but it's so bright and un-self-pitying that it's a joy to listen to over and over again. And Houck shows more attitude here than on anything he's released since Aw Come, Aw Wry: "I can't stand for none of this bullshit/I came here to play." I seriously doubt that we're looking at a Phosphorescent record full of country rave-ups, but it's nice to have one sitting around that doesn't sound like the most beautiful suicide note you're ever heard.

Here's to Taking It Easy is out May 11th on Dead Oceans.

Dragon's Lair

Horses riding across primeval plains. Magical children with swords. Gigantic sky witches with Siouxsie eye makeup. One of my favorite songs of 2009, Sunset Rubdown's majestic "Dragon's Lair," gets an appropriate visual companion.

If for some reason you still have not picked up Dragonslayer, please do something about it.

Feb 24, 2010

Woozy Viper

mp3: Woozy Viper "It's All Over"
Lou Reed comes in many different flavors. There's the proto-twee bedsitter who wrote "Sunday Morning" and "Pale Blue Eyes." Then, there's garage rock god who tore it all down with "Sister Ray." There's the baroque poet-cum-lounge-singer who recorded Berlin. Of course, there's the coked-out chronicler of glam sleaze in Street Hassle and Transformer. And, then there's the guy who recorded Metal Machine Music. But Reed's greatest iteration was the man who showed up for the Loaded recording sessions. This is the man who wrote "Sweet Jane" and "Oh Sweet Nuthin'" and "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" and "New Age." This is the man whose life was saved by rock'n'roll.

Woozy Viper are not Lou Reed, but I don't think they aspire to be him either. But the duo from NYC sound remarkably like Reed at his peak, circa Loaded. On their debut album, which you can grab for free here, the band present a dozen gloriously uncomplicated songs that sound refreshingly like rock'n'roll. No studio wizardry. No electronics. No arch irony. No authenticity claims. No volcanic guitar solos. No leather jackets. No nothing but rock'n'roll.

I'm tempted to say that the songs are deceptively simple. But that's not right. These are simple songs. But what was ever wrong with simple? The Ramones were simple. The Dead Milkmen were simple. Most of the best of Loud Reed was simple. Simple never steered anyone wrong. Simple is refreshing these days. Check out "Rent," a cow-bell driven jam about, um, how much it sucks to pay rent. Then there's "King Kong," an ode of sorts to, um, King Kong. Sample lyric: "He tried to steal the girl even though he couldn't fit it in the girl." And guess what "Love Scented Candles" is about. This album is so free of bullshit that it completely disarms you.

Woozy Viper trust their songwriting enough to leave everything dangerously unadorned. And most of the songs pay big dividends. "The Switchblade Swing" is a wry cinema verite tour through the hell that is modern hipsterdom ("Who you trying to be?/I'm just trying to teach you the motherfucking switchblade swing."). But it's the music that's the big draw here: it's loose and ragged with its acoustic guitars and tambourines and effective rock scatting ("That's right, that was a scat, [it] makes me feel good"). The album closes with the its highlight, "It's All Over." Our singer is breaking up with his girl, and he couldn't sound happier. It's not interested in lobbing accusations; he's not going to drag the past out to dissect. He's just telling her that it's all over. Simple as that. And what could be fucking greater than that?

Rating: 7.5/10

And thank you to the consistently great Anthony Fantano over at The Needle Drop for the lead.

Lifted Video

Any excuse to re-post about a song that will not leave my brain alone. Therefore:

Feb 22, 2010

Song for a Dry State

mp3: The Roadside Graves "Song for a Dry State"

New Jersey's own The Roadside Graves are one of the most criminally underrated bands working right now. The simple fact is that they have written some of the most heartbreaking songs I have ever heard. Try listening to "Oh Boy, It's a Girl" (which bleakly concludes "It's a cruel world/Thank God it finally caught up with me") without ending up with an eye full of tears. Tomorrow, Autumn Tone is rereleasing the band's hard-to-find first record If Shacking Up is All You Want To Do. The rerelease of the album is just a prelude to a new EP, You Won't Be Happy With Me, on March 23rd.

I can't recommend picking up the reissue enough. The centerpiece of the album is "Song for a Dry State," a stunning 6 minutes of ghostly Americana. Lyricist John Gleason drives the listener through the forgotten pockets of the country. This isn't the exhilarating road song of hack Beat writers; this is song about inexplicable sadness, irreconcilable exhaustion. The song is a never-ending escape route: it circles around, vainly searching for a destination. Gleason understands that there's no safe haven from the past you're running from ("Between the lovers and small towns I fled/It's hard to think when you're driving fast"). Every distraction is a trap. A young girl who has catches his eye in a dive bar warns that "15 will get you 20 in Selena, Utah." Death haunts every corner of the song. A bartender has "a dead husband and another one on the way." The roadside graves along the highway become macabre mile markers. As much as they act to count the miles you've traveled, they're also your compass, pointing you in the direction you're heading.


Holding your breath for a hip hop release is likely to kill you. So while I'm certainly excited about the prospect of this hydra-headed Wu project featuring Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon, I certainly wasn't going to get my hopes up too high. But now comes word that Wu-Massacure is actually going to happen. In fact, it's going to happen on March 30, courtesy of Def Jam. And, to make it even better, the album art is aggressively awesome.

Take a peek at the album by sampling "Meth vs Chef Part 2," a sequel 15 years in the making. The song, while not perfect (the song abruptly ends and a ludicrously stoned Meth cracks yo mama jokes) , is just one more instance of the admirable work ethic of the Clan. Raekwon, in particular, continues to add to his revitalized career by continuing to sound as hungry as he did on the second verse of "Bring Da Ruckus." I would love to announce 10 months from now that Raekwon was involved with the best hip hop album of the year for the second year in a row. I'm holding my breath . . .

Feb 21, 2010

(More) New RXRY

The awesome folks over at BEKO have just released a digital single by RXRY. With each release, RXRY's music is getting more substantial, more structured. On the a-side, we have "Frlrn Bralb," a song built around a crispy beat and a stuttering sweep. The song is more dramatic and more nuanced than anything we've seen before. The tension builds because of an almost imperceptible pulse of bass and a digital peel that sounds like a phone call that needs to be answered. The b-side, "Bsyldr Hykrs," strikes an interesting balance between pastel synth lines and a fat bass notes that hold down the low end of the mix. "Bsyldr Hykrs" is not without its charms, but its "Frlrn Bralb" that steals the show.

Please go support BEKO and RXRY by grabbing the digital single right here.

No Joy

mp3: No Joy "No Joy"

In 1994, one of the songs I listened to most was Smashing Pumpkins' "Plume" from the b-sides compilation Pisces Iscariot (some of which holds up pretty well, by the way). Besides the intergalactic guitar solos, I loved how the relentlessly heaviness the main riff still managed to sound fluid and flexible. When I came across No Joy a couple of week ago, I was reminded of "Plume" because the two songs they've posted to their Bandcamp site manage the same trick. The self-titled song (?) "No Joy" surges with riffage that doesn't pummel the listener so much as lull them into some kind of guitar trance. Since the vocals, buried under a mountain a distortion and cymbals crashes, are almost incidental, the draw of the song is the hypnotic quality of the music.

Pill Wonder - Jungle/Surf

mp3: Pill Wonder "Gone to the Market"

The unstoppable Underwater Peoples has announced that Pill Wonder will release the band's debut album, Jungle/Surf. You can order the album here, and expect it to ship on/around February 28th. To give you a little taste of the album, I've posted the excellent "Gone to the Market." I think that the sunny good vibrations of the song are a good indicator of the album's direction and feel. You can also enjoy the trippy mirror play of "Wishing Whale" here.

Feb 19, 2010

World Sick

In internet time, I'm pretty late on this one (four day weekend in the mountains). If, for some reason, you haven't grabbed this one yet, slap down your email address in the field below to receive Broken Social Scene's new song from the forthcoming Forgiveness Rock Record, which is out May 4th on Arts & Crafts. The song doesn't stake out any new territory for the band, but it is an amorphous beast of a song. If "World Sick" is in any way indicative of the new album, then I think we're going to have another great BSS album before spring even starts.

Feb 18, 2010

How to Dress Well

mp3: How to Dress Well "My Body"
mp3: How to Dress Well "Ready for the World"

How to Dress Well is a new but absurdly prolific project between a dude in Brooklyn and a dude in Köln. Together, these guys are making the among the most exciting R&B in the world. And in the past couple of months, they have quietly dropped six (6!!) EPs, all of which you can grab for free over at their blog.

They have described themselves as a lo-fi Shai. It's a really accurate and appropriate description: HTDW swaddles his silky falsetto in reverb and tape hiss and paper thin drum machines. But unlike Shai (and H-Town and Boyz-2-Men), HDTW has removed all the scented candles and sweaty chests and hyperbolic declarations of love from contemporary R&B. In their place, we get a mysterious crooner who sounds as dark and remote as the music. While the vocals are stunning (the guys sounds remarkably like Justin Vernon), the music marks another salvo for avant-garde R&B. Between Bon Iver and The XX, R&B is taking a healthy turn toward the interesting again. As long as D'Angelo is wrapped up with his complicated demons, we've got How to Dress Well's avant-garde R&B to keep us warm.

I cannot recommend How to Dress Well enough. I'm very excited to see more from these guys. They have another (!) EP coming out next week. Please go support them here.

"Scissor" Video

For a band who already sounds like being pummeled by mysterious rocks on the open sea, it's certainly nice to see a visual confirmation of this aesthetic.

Feb 15, 2010


RXRY "Bld Drft"

The goodwill of Valentine's Day must have gotten to RXRY because he/she/it/they have decided to release his/her/their/its newest EP, SNWMLTR, six days early. You can grab it here.

Like the album that precedes it, SNWMLTR is filled with velvety synths and crisp beats and song titles that eschew vowels. "Bld Drft" is more insistent than anything we've heard from RXRY: a patient chord progression gets hassled by a pushy bassline and a clapping woodblock. In many ways, it's the most structured thing we've heard from the project. "Sbr Vokbulry" is a relatively large lurch forward because it's the first (and only) track by RXRY to feature vocals. Granted, "vocals" should be used very lightly: the voice is so highly processed that it's indistinguishable from the various blips and bleeps that flit around the song. SNWMLTR is a welcome addition to the strange body of work that RXRY has built this year.

Feb 14, 2010

Hots for Teacher

mp3: Coasting "Kids"
mp3: Coasting "Hots for Teacher"

Coasting, an excellent newish duo from Brooklyn, is Fiona and Madison. Madison handles the guitar and vocals while Fiona bangs the shit out of her kit. Together, they make some great fucking noise.

The skronky "Kids" is an addictive wall of noise: the cymbals run until they're out of breath, the main guitar riff tries to push through the tape hiss, and Madison sounds like she's giving every last inch of herself. I can't hear a single word of this song, but it's played with such heart that it doesn't much matter. "Kids" is the kind of song that makes you happy that people still form rock bands.

And then there's "Hots for Teacher," which isn't any less tame than "Kids." The song sounds more mannered until you realize that it's about unbridled teenage horniness. It's coy and earnest, but it's also aggressive and confused. The wordless chorus roars with stunning force; our character isn't just pining for her teacher, she's wailing for him. But song's most devastating moment comes in a simple refrain: "I want to tell you that I like you." She's smart enough to avoid theatrics; she just wants to confront her illicit crush.

Unfortunately, we're probably in for that drought that comes with new bands. I want to skip the introductions. I want to skip the 12 months of limited release colored vinyl 7''s and move straight to an album of 35 straight minutes of this stuff. Please?

"Hots for Teacher" is featured on Friendship Bracelet Club Vol 3, which you can download here.

Unhappy Birthday

Stereogum has reminded us that The Smiths' Meat is Murder turns 25 today. Records have birthdays all the time. This year alone, lots of important records will celebrate their 25th birthday: Rain Dogs, Pscyhocandy, Tim, Head on the Door, Beat Happening, New Day Rising, Bad Moon Rising, Low-Life, Frankenchrist, This Nation's Saving Grace, Fables of the Reconstruction, Freaky Styley. All of these albums should be celebrated because you can trace a line directly from so many of these records to the sounds that dominate contemporary bands. So, why are we celebrating Meat is Murder's birthday? Why not wait until next year when we can celebrate the pinnacle of The Smiths' career, The Queen is Dead?

The most obvious answer here is that this is the record where The Smiths became The Smiths. The punk-lite snarl of The Smiths gives way on Meat is Murder to a wider sound and more inclusive content. From the rockabilly guitar figures of "Nowhere Fast" to the sad strum of "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore," the album broadened the sound the The Smiths could make. On Meat is Murder the gladiolas-in-the-back-pocket-romanticism of their debut gets paired with Morrissey's political and social observations to create a two-headed beast.

Of course, The Smiths are best remembered for their anthems for the lonely, the awkward, the shy, the sexually confused and frustrated. Sometimes I think this is an unfortunate fate for the band because it invariably says more about the fan base of The Smiths than it does about the band. We all find The Smiths when we're lonely and awkward and sexually frustrated, so it's easily to forget the political and social concerns of the band. Morrissey always made the political personal, which may be why we feel so connected to his songs that aren't about romantic misery. Who hasn't heard "The Headmaster Ritual" and not loathed their 9th grade gym teacher? Meat is Murder is their most overtly political record (Morrissey would get more vocal about politics in his solo career). And then there is the titular track. The song has always made me squirm; the buzzsaw at the end is more effective than any graphic video PETA could release. The kitchen sink realism of much of Meat is Murder helped define the most underappreciated aspects of the band.

But Meat is Murder will always be celebrated first and foremost because it is the record that contains "How Soon is Now?" With its vibrating chords and passing-car slide guitar and George Eliot lyrics, the song is justifiably lauded. It's ironic that the song, which was relegated to the b-sde of "William, It Was Really Nothing" because a Rough Trade exec didn't think it was very representative of the band's sound, has now become the trademark song of The Smiths. Even for people who don't like The Smiths, "How Soon is Now?" is a classic. The song's central sentiment ("I am human, and I need to be loved") is so broad that to fail to identify with it would be, well, inhuman.

While Meat is Murder is not The Smiths' best album (that would be The Queen is Dead), it marks an important turning point in the band's career. This is the moment when the band went from being very very good to being the most indispensable band in your record collection. This is why The Smiths got you through high school, college, break-ups, hook ups, committed relationships, identity crises, national elections, your darkest moments of doubt. This is when The Smiths reminded you that you were not alone.

Rhino recently reissued all The Smith's original LPs on sturdy 180-gram vinyl in gatefold sleeves. If you have some extra money sitting around, I would highly recommend purchasing these beauties here.

Feb 12, 2010

Surprise Me

mp3: B.O.B. "Surprise Me"

The jury's still out on B.O.B.'s latest mixtape, May 25th, but this much is clear: "Surprise Me" is likely going to be the most fun I have with hip hop all year. The beat is as skeletal as anything Clipse has worked over, but it's as chatty and funny as anything Lil Wayne has committed to tape. The track comes off more like a stand-up routine than a rap; this guy has more punchlines than Bob Hope on a USO tour ("The whole town will have water if I lay this pipe"). And the intentional mispronunciation and immediate correction of "not" (so that it rhymes with "mic") is such a brazen gimmick that you can't help but like the guy. Bobby Ray barely works up a sweat on this track, but it's clear that he's working hard the entire time.

B.O.B.'s popularity seems inevitable; he sounds effortless moving through so many different styles: rap, R&B, gospel, pop. His debut album, BoB Presents The Adventures of Bobby Ray comes out on April 27th. In the meantime, go pick up his mixtape here (courtesy of mixtape angels 2DopeBoyz).

Feb 10, 2010

Pantha du Prince - Black Noise

mp3: Pantha du Prince "The Splendour"

Like most minimal techno artists, Pantha du Prince (Hendrick Weber) requires deep listening. You cannot trust his records to passively play in the background. Unless you're actively listening to him, he's not really playing. Try to sweep up your apartment while listening to his latest album, Black Noise, out this week on Rough Trade, and you'll see that you soon forget that it's even playing. You have to pay attention to a record like this to understand its charms, its quirks, its humanity.

Talking about individual songs on a record like this seems as ridiculous as talking about a single curlicue in a filigree design. This is an album in the truest sense of the word; it's a colllection of parts that combine to make a whole artistic statement. If you start taking out individual pieces for inspection, you jeopardize the stability of the whole. The percussion on Black Noise is driven entirely by the stunningly depthless snaps and thumps of a precise machine. Icy chimes freeze to the microbeats while it all gets enveloped by misty clouds of synthesizers. The music swingings from warmly comforting ("Welt Am Draht") to vaguely menacing ("Behind the Stars"). And while most German techno sounds heartlessly mechanized, Pantha du Prince has located the ghost in the machine. The album's elegiac and urgent closer "Es Schneit" employs a frantic bell to ring out against the clouding snyth washes. Sure, there's a frightening amount of mathematical precision in the song, but the song leaves listeners spooked, jittery for the final something that never quite comes.

Of course, Black Noise is receiving so much attention because of Noah Lennox's contribution to "Stick to My Side." This makes my point about the whole being greater than the parts a little moot, but the song's worth talking about. Person Pitch was an album that took as much inspiration from techno as it did from Brian Wilson. In other words, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Frankly, the song is passable, but Lennox's charmingly frail voice just doesn't quite fit in the clinically clean rooms of Black Noise. Think about it: "Walkabout" was so perfect because it sounded as ramshackle and sweet as Lennox frequently does.

While Pantha du Prince is less adventurous than the volks over at Kompakt, he does reward patient ears. Black Noise is the rare kind of album that can make us better listeners. This isn't the horny bass and clap of house music; Black Noise requires that you pay attention before the whole thing blooms like frozen crystal in your ears.

You can purchase Black Noise here or you can stream the album here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Feb 8, 2010

No Age - Daytrotter Session

mp3: No Age "Hard Trash"

Last year's barn-burning "You're a Target" was a high water mark for No Age. In many ways it showcased the band at their most creative, their most destructive, their most ambitious. The most recognizable part of the song will always be those notes that sound like they're being pulled right out of the mix. It's such a simple idea that I'm shocked that it sounded so innovative to me. No Age used their recent Daytrotter session to release "Hard Trash," a song that contained the samples used in "You're a Target." Those distinctive notes clawing their way out of the noise started out whining their way through "Hard Trash." It's fascinating hearing the same sound used for two completely different effects.

No Age also premiered two other songs: the strummy "N.G.F.S." and the raging punk rocker "Depletion." Go visit the generous folks over at Daytrotter here.

Also, I love how there's nothing on Spunt's face in the illustration that even remotely suggests that he can play the fuck out of a drum kit. See how pleasant he looks?

Feb 7, 2010

Spirit Spine - Jungle Bridges

mp3: Spirit Spine "Slept Away"

Last January, I bought a CD-R from Joseph Denny, aka Spirit Spine. Ten dollars and a week later I received a package with a nice hand-written note and one of the best albums I heard all year. I was struck by the fact that such an incredible album was written and recorded by a 19 year old student (!) in Indiana (!!) using GarageBand (!!!). Unlike a lot blind acolytes (Blind Man's Colour, Our Brother the Native), Spirit Spine's debut took Panda Bear's aesthetic as a point of departure. The album wasn't the transcendent liturgy of Person Pitch, but it was an great album brimming with blissed-out pop that understood the power of a strong beat and repetition. Now Spirit Spine is back with a new album, Jungle Bridges. Like his debut, Jungle Bridges trades in echoed vocals, massive beats, and ephemeral walls of synthesized noise. The album isn't as immediate as his previous effort; it takes a few listens to unveil its charms. He trusts the strength of the songs to reveal themselves on the listener instead of packing every moment with a catchy new idea. And while that makes a first listen a bit of a gamble, it also makes the reward more worthwhile.

Denny can be a capable lyricist. "Slept Away" boasts some of the album's most stunning lines: "When you came to wake/Had to say go away/Just a few minutes more/Switch the lights, close the door." In his unadorned language, Denny creates a scene that throbs with the tension that defines avoidance. Elsewhere, though, we get a questionable ghost story ("Ghost Suspension") and some (satirical?) New Age speak ("Are our chakras aligning? Today's really riding on it.").

Despite those minor hiccups, Denny is clearly an artist who knows his way around a mix, pushing both ends to create his signature mammoth sound. The album opens properly with "Wicked Trick," a song that defines Spirit Spine's aesthetic: bubbling synths, relentless beats riding shotgun in the mix, addictive vocal lines that echo like memories. "Stone Wheels" depends entirely on the interplay between the mile-deep canyon of bass and the watery keyboards. Late in the album, we get the anthemic "India Electric," the only song that can rightfully be called the album's spiritual center. Exactly halfway through the song, everything cracks open, revealing a glowing core of warm synth tones and a booming heart of an 808 hand clap. Jungle Bridges is not a perfect album, but it is certainly an important album. With the release of the album, we are witness to the official arrival of a significant artist who has managed to digest and process an aesthetic that most are simply aping.

You can stream Jungle Bridges here before you decide to purchase the album from either iTunes, eMusic, or Amazon.

Rating: 8/10

Feb 6, 2010


mp3: RXRY "Baulkn Slihts"

Between the totally mysterious iamamiwhoami and the slightly mysterious jj, it's a great time to be blogospheric Encyclopedia Brown. Now we have RXRY (pronounced Rex Ray).

There were initial rumors that RXRY was Panda Bear/Animal Collective's Noah Lennox. Those rumors have since been discounted (check out the myspace ID photo). I'm curious about this comparison to Panda Bear because, on the surface, the two couldn't be more different. RXRY makes feather-light eletronica in the vein of The Field. The first full length by him/her/them/it is a brisk 36 minute workout. The album is a surprisingly unpretentious brand of IDM: no abrasive noise, no glitchy anxiety, no fractured vocal samples, no dread, no arrogance, no icy indifference. All you get for your time is beautifully soothing washes of undistinguished sound carried along by gentle beats. Opener "Baulkn Slihts" is an excellent port of entry into the country of RXRY. Warm feedback with the texture of velvet rises and falls while a steady and almost imperceptible bassline works the low end of the mix. Even if this is dance music without a soul, it still has heart.

Some of the big boys haven't yet been tipped to him/her/them/it, so now's a good time to get in on the ground floor. You can grab his/her/their/its first full length right here. In 14 days, on February 20th, you will be able to download RXRY's new EP SNWMLTR. The artwork for the EP is particularly excellent:

A Tiny Anthem

mp3: Dignan Porch "On a Ride"

Anthems usually have huge footprints. They stomp and muscle their way around your iPod like a blind giant. But Dignan Porch's "On a Ride" is one of the tiniest anthem I've ever come across. In fact, you can literally listen to this thing 3 or 4 times before you can complete your average Arcade Fire song.

"On a Ride" doesn't have quite the texture or development of GBV's "A Salty Salute (another awesome tiny anthem), but the band wisely choses to start with the song's emotional crescendo. They hold this heightened stance for the remainder of the song: "On a ride, I'll keep you there/All the things I'm dreaming of/Drive until we've had enough/Drove until we're truly loved."

You can buy a 7'' of "On a Ride" from Captured Tracks. Dignan Porch also has their debut LP coming out in March.

Swinging Party

mp3: Kindness "Swinging Party"

On Tim, "Swinging Party" follows closely on the heels of the meanest song Paul Westerberg ever wrote, "Waitress in the Sky." It's a strange song, and it took me a long time to learn how to appreciate it. I just never felt that it deserved a place on an album with "Little Mascara" or "Left of the Dial." But I've learned that "Swinging Party" is as subtle as "Bastards of Young" is brutish and direct. The band locks into a lounge groove and lets Westerberg come to grips with his sense of lostness. The song is an emotional gut punch in the same way as "Here Comes a Regular."

Kindess' cover of "Swinging Party" reimagines the song as a flat, bass-heavy dance number. Amazingly, the flat vocals retain the humor of the song ("Bring your own lampshade/Somewhere there's a party"). But even more amazing is the fact that the pathos of the original is transformed in the cover. Westerberg sounds impassioned about his quarter-life drift ("Water all around/Never learn how swim now"), but in Kindness' cover, the lyrics actually mimic the sense of loss. Our singer sounds like he couldn't care less if he actually found a partner to share his misery with. Westerberg, though, was clearly desperate for a shoulder to lean on.

You can pick up Kindness' "Swinging Party" 7'' here.

Feb 4, 2010

Active Child "Wilderness"

mp3: Active Child "Wilderness"

I only finally understood Antony Hegarty's voice when I heard the sublime "Blind" by Hercules and Love Affair. With Hegarty's voice surrounded by lush instrumentation, I think I finally heard the moments of contrast between his voice and something bigger that I needed in order to understand that strange voice. Without that disco bolstering him, Hegarty always sounded lost, endlessly circling back on himself without ever gaining ground.

Pat Grossi, who records as Active Child, seems to have solved this problem before it's ever pointed out to him. Grossi's silky falsetto (which recalls both Hegarty and Justin Vernon) is certainly strong, but it would be severely limited without the rippling electronics encircling him. The production here is incredible. Behind pastel-colored synth washes beats the black heart of a shuddering machine. The main beat echoes out laterally across the wide range of the mix, bounding in all directions. The effect, when coupled with Grossi's icy voice, is simultaneously soothing and unnerving.

You can get Active Child's latest cassette (this trend can stop right now) from Mirror Universe Tapes (which actually supports some great artists including the recently blogged-about Truman Peyote and Hula Hoop).

Truman Peyote

mp3: Truaman Peyote "Anotherother"

I finally got a chance to listen to the latest Friendship Bracelet Club Mixtape (which you can download for free here). Like most comps, it's a little hit or miss. And like all comps, it's a great way of being introduced to a lot of new artists in no time at all. The most immediate standout was closer "Anotherother" by Jamaica Plain's very own Truman Peyote.

Truman Peyote accomplish an incredibly rare feat in the song: they manage to make the kind of lomography rock that's all the rage right now sound muscular and purposeful. "Anotherother" starts with an fuzzy obese synthesizer running up and down the frequencies. Soon, a hyperactive backbeat and deathly sounding bassline are introduced into the mix. When the vocals arrive, they're nearly drowned out by the hypnotic noise around them. But you can hear enough to the vocal melody to know that it's catchy as hell. By the time the song hits its stride about halfway through, you're being assaulted by a blizzard of cymbal crashes and drum rolls. The band doesn't let up for a few minutes, but you kind of wish they would continue for another 2 or 3 or 7 minutes.

The band has promised a 12'' version of Light Lightning on (the exceptionally cool) Whitehaus Family Records soon, as well as a split 12'' with Many Mansions to be released in late March.

If you happen to be in the Boston area, you should check them during the Together Electronic Music Festival at the Cambridge YMCA on Saturday, February 13th.

Feb 3, 2010

Greil Marcus

There is a terrific article over at Popmatters about the impact of Greil Marcus.

I can't plug this article enough because Marcus is the most important music critic America has ever seen. Period. He towers over all of the big names in the field: Sasha Frere Jones (who is trash, by the way), Lester Bangs, Matthew Perpetua, Simon Reynolds, Henry Owings, Ann Powers, Rob Sheffield, Toure, Tricia Rose, David Fricke, Joan Morgan, Chuck Klosterman, Hua Hsu, Alan Light. Marcus is more important (not better) than all of them. There are other critics who are better at describing why a song sounds good/bad (Mark Richardson and Matthew Perpetua are particularly good at this). But what makes Marcus such an incredible critic is his ability to survey music on the grandest scales imaginable. Lipstick Traces, his mammoth treatise on the meaning of punk rock, becomes this alternative history of a scene that didn't even realize that it was following in the footsteps of intellectual heavyweights like Guy Debord and Asger Jorn. And in his unstoppably brilliant The Shape of Things to Come he manages to bring in a compelling history and analysis of the Riot Grrl scene in the Northwest to aid in his deconstruction of Laura Palmer's face in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. And his analysis of the chaotic closing minutes of The Modern Lovers' "Road Runner" is among the best pieces of criticism I have ever read: "Every phrase is reduced to single words, each word shuffled out of its phrase, verse and chorus broken into a shamanistic incantation, the chorus, left whole, fighting to keep up with the versifier's incomprehensible rhythm and somehow succeeding, even though by now the words are barely words at all." But he concludes what we all have known forever: life is more fulfilling/bearable/livable/meaningful/democratic with rock n roll out there.

You can buy a 20th Anniversary reissue of Lipstick Traces here.

Feb 2, 2010

8000 bam bam

mp3: Sunglasses "Whiplash"
mp3: Hula Hoop "Call Off"

Savannah, GA is a weird place. The city always lives up to its marshy southern gothic reputation: eccentric residents, antebellum gentility and hospitality, decadent food, Spanish moss, nasty old race problems, corrupt politicians. I was fortunate enough to live there for a couple of years, and I would really like to see a spotlight cast in this little musical corner of the world.

So it was great to stumble across Samuel Cooper (who apparently goes by the name of 8000 bam bam) and his impressive menagerie of projects (Sunglasses (that's them up there), Hula Hoop, Grandma Q, and 8000 bam bam (his solo project)). Each band only has a handful of songs to their myspace page, but each is absolutely worth spending time with. From the sounds of it, he formed these bands while a student at SCAD. I'm posting the only two mp3s I could get my mitts on: "Whiplash" by Sunglasses and "Call Off" by Hula Hoop.

On "Whiplash," the band comes off like an electronic Johnny Mercer, pulling you along in a neon horse-drawn carriage of a song. It sounds sweet and goofy (that slide whistle!) and generous and big-hearted. This thing sounds like its constructed entirely of good vibes and pleasant dreams. Plus, the video, directed by Cooper himself, is colorfully bonkers. Check it out:

Then, we have "Call Off" by Hula Hoop which is, in a few key ways, even more chill than "Whiplash." The song orbits around a soul sample (I'm assuming) that is as sunny and breezy as a Sunday picnic. In the end, "Call Off" builds to a lively close that showers the listener with cascade of beautiful harmonies.

Neither of these songs is groundbreaking, but it's rare to come across a band (let alone 4 of them) that exudes more goodwill than Mother Theresa. I really hope that we hear more from Samuel Cooper in the near future.


mp3: Frog Eyes "A Flower in a Glove"

Frog Eyes, according to Pitchfork, have signed with Dead Oceans and will be releasing a new album, Paul's Tomb: A Triumph, on April 27th.

While there's rarely a shortage of Carey Mercer related material (strange but good albums from both Swan Lake and Blackout Beach last year), it's been far too long between Frog Eyes albums. Their last outing, 2007's incomparably awesome Tears of the Valedictorian, showcased the band at the top of their game. The album's towering giant is "Bushels," where the band best exploits their tried and true formula: enter a song at full tilt, create such a whirlwind of noise that the song tears itself apart, and then rebuild the song into something even more grand and majestic. Slowly, over the course of the first few minutes of "Bushels," Mercer sounds like he's descending into madness until he finds himself singing an ode to London and its wheat supply (really). Then, as soon as he's literally reduced to babbling and crowing, he reminds himself that he's a singer and quickly gets to work building you a monumental cathedral of rock n roll.

Now, in advance of the new album comes the 9 minute opener, "A Flower in a Glove." My first impressions are near hysterical. This thing is a staggering giant, a colossal piece of work that is now officially the front runner for my favorite song of the year.

The band reworks their formula a little for the song. Instead of letting the song implode under its own noisy weight, the band lets out a little slack, enough that the song can wander and explore a little. But it keeps breaking its chains, gnashing and howling like a wild animal. The band quickly reins it back in (mainly courtesy of drummer Melanie Campbell), trying mightily to keep something so powerful docile. This give and take creates a terrific sense of tension that gets strategically purged a number of times (check out the mid-song crescendo) when the band lets the song rear up on its hind legs.

The highlight of the song for me is Carey Mercer's voice. Truth be told, Mercer's voice is one of my favorites in rock right now. He can make it do a lot of weird things: it cracks and yowls and roars and croaks and wails and coos. We get the full range of Mercer's capabilities in "A Flower in a Glove," from the fiery passion of the first few minutes to the unhinged crowing of the final minutes. When he's unleashed, Mercer sounds less like a lunatic than he has in the past. He sounds incredibly focused, willing his voice to capture whatever it is that he's feeling. Listen closely to that first line: "You were always on notice." He swallows the first syllable of always before he growls out the second syllable. Even in the first line, the band has already cemented what makes them among the most compelling bands around.

Remember: Dead Oceans. April 27th. Circle it on your calendar.


Consequence of Sound has pointed out that Trent Reznor has updated his Vimeo account to include a great performance of covers from a 2006 radio show in Boston which includes a take on Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing" with Peter Murphy handling the vocals. The song, of course, just throbs with sleazy menace. The beat skulks and cowers and hides in the shadows while the synths sound like they're spoiling right before your eyes.

And considering that Reznor stole the beat for "Closer" from "Nightclubbing," it's not surprising that the cover is excellent. Jeordie White provides all the right accent marks with his fuzzed out guitar solos, and Reznor's piano slinks along like a dirty old man. Peter Murphy adds a bit more oomph to the song than Pop, rounding out the natural bass in his voice. The clean production coupled with Murphy's stately voice adds a certain elegance to the song that I never heard in the original. This subversive reading of the song makes it a surprisingly compelling cover.

You can also take a listen to Murphy's needlessly theatrical cover of NIN's "Hurt" right here if you're so inclined.

Feb 1, 2010

Black Tambourine

mp3: Black Tambourine "For Ex-Lovers Only"

When I was 14 or 15, I fell in love with the song "Pat's Trick" by Helium for a few other reasons than Mary Timony. At exactly 1:53 in the song, the scuzzy bass and cymbal crashes fall away and Timony unleashes a note that's breathy and fluttery but robustly full. Then, without a moment's hesitate, the band barrels through a sludgy bridge that masks Timony's voice is gainy distortion. The idea that two such contradictory stances (beauty and ugliness) could coexist so happily, so productively made the song seem really radical to me (I was, remember, only 14). These two poles seemed to inform one another: the prettiness of it seemed indescribably tough while the brute force of the song seemed brittle and vulnerable.

I still like this sound, though you don't hear it as much anymore, which is why I'm particularly excited to hear a new Black Tambourine anthology that Slumberland is putting together. Black Tambourine perfected this kind of muscular vulnerability very early in their short career. The band has a lot of songs that strike this balance (the aggressively bright "Throw Aggi Off the Bridge" and "Black Car" come immediately to mind), but "For Ex-Lovers Only" is the one that I think best exhibits the band's striking balance of grit and heart. Between the prickly wall of guitar and the percussion that gallops like a deranged horse, the song manages to churn up a lot of noise. But it's Pam Berry's vocals that rein it all in. She keeps her head in the squalls of feedback and rumbling bass, singing "Yes, you know why I had to go cool and civil/See, you're lying, again." She's definitely angry, but she's not about to let anyone see it. Her posse behind her are the ones weilding the weapons.

The anthology is out 3/30 on vinyl from Slumberland Records.

The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night

mp3: The Besnard Lakes "Albatross"

The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse was a stunning record: a dark album that was equally comfortable laying down cold slabs of riffage or tending to the weak flame of a quiet melody. From the slow blooming firework of "Because Tonight" to the scalding bombast of "Devastation," the album's range and impact was impressive.

On their followup, The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night, shed almost everything that made them a mysteriously forceful band. Previously, the band could easily stretch a song into its 6th or 7th minute; the emotional punch of the song required that kind of build up. The length of the songs on Roaring Night, though, feels arbitrary and meaningless. In the epic "Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Part 2: The Innocent," the band plods along for 7 minutes, padding the song with bland guitar histrionics and flat choruses ("Ooh, you're like the ocean/Ooh, you're like the innocent"). In fact, the whole album kind of plods along. About my fourth time through "Chicago Train," it occurred to me that playing the song live probably isn't any fun: there's nothing in here to hook an audience. And "Glass Printer" is a shockingly forgettable song. Literally. I've listened to the album quite a few times now, and I can't seem to remember that this one exists. Even "Albatross," the good first single, loses a little bit of its luster when its couched by glassy-eyed dead-enders.

But what makes the album all the more irritating is that it's evidently a concept album. According to Jagjaguwar, Roaring Night is a "twisting chronicle, or fever dream, of spies, double agents, novelists and aspiring rock gods turned violent. Loyalty, dishonor, love, hatred all seen through the eyes of two spies, fighting in a war that may not be real." I don't know what the shit any of those words are supposed to mean. I've tried (albeit very briefly) to listen for such a plot. Nothing. And besides, concept albums are mostly stupid.

At the end of the day, The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night is just boring. I hope that this just represents a stumble in the career of an otherwise great band. How an album with such an epic title, great artwork, and loads of fuzzed out guitar solos fails to dazzle is beyond me.

Rating: 5/10