Friday, May 28, 2010

Album Review: The New Pornographers – Together

Man, it’s been a rough week. Not only do I have to admit to not being into Beach House (an oversight I have heartily fixed), but now I have to ‘fess up to my lack of devotion when it comes to The New Pornographers. I really don’t know how it happened. But year after year went by, and I just never gave the twang-lovin’ Canadians a chance. I come to you today, however, a convert. Their new record, Together, has shown me the light. Because, rather simply put, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.

It’s a party on this here record, eh? With a sound that sounds a lot less country-rock than I expected, Together is a nothing short of a big ole beautiful beast of a rock record. The songs are luxuriously expansive, filled to the brim with epic sounds, though mercifully stopping short of over-the-top bombast. And naturally, I’m inclined to love any record that features the incomparable vocal talents of Miss Neko Case. But I suspect I’d love Together even without Neko’s vocal perfection. From the fabulous fragmentation of the instrumentation on opener “Moves”, I knew I was in for a treat. It, and a vast majority of the album, has this fabulous, broad sound. To me it sounds like bits and pieces of the wonderful noises made by bands like T. Rex, Roxy Music, and Slade, though missing some of that excessive decadence.

“Crash Years” I love because of the influence of Neko, though it’s pretty perfect on the whole. “There’s no other show like it ‘round here,” states Case, and she just about hit the nail on the head. “Your Hands (Together)” sounds more than a little like an early 80s stadium rock song, with all that ferociously grandiose guitar and strong vocals. And man alive, is that Bryan Ferry singing lead vocals on the sassy “Silver Jenny Dollar”? Yet another song on Together that I totally, utterly love. “A golden age is upon us,” croons Case in a painfully gorgeous vocal performance in the painfully gorgeous “My Shepherd”, a grownup lullaby fit for the heavens. Neko might well be singing about this record with that line, for it does indeed apply. “Valkyrie In The Roller Disco” is yet another class act, with just a little twang (courtesy of some delicately-played banjo) and a whole lot of raw emotion.

Let this be a lesson to you, my beloveds. It’s never too late to make up for past musical mistakes. Owning Together will most assuredly raise your musical stock, but more importantly it’ll make your day. Quite possibly your week. Guaranteed.

mp3: Silver Jenny Dollar (The New Pornographers from Together)

Happy Birthday, John

Now this, this is a birthday I can totally get behind. Mister John Fogerty has given the world so much good music, primarily while running things with Creedence. He's so good at the craft of songwriting that it's scary.

Those CCR songs of his are so darned great that I can even forgive him for those couple of baseball-related songs he inflicted on us all in the 80s (I can't even bear to name them).

Faux pas aside, (and really, it's not like he was alone in 80s faux pas-ing, the entirety of the 80s was one big faux pas for people like Rod Stewart) Fogerty is an absolute legend. When I was a young girl, I thought he was as Southern as they come, realizing later that this bayou boy was really from California. He even did well in covers, both the covering of good songs and being covered himself. After all, just think of how spectacular the CCR cover of "I Put A Spell On You" is, not to mention the Ike & Tina cover of "Proud Mary". Fogerty knew what was up, friends.

So put on your copy of The Big Lebowski, pour yourself a cold one, and remember the unrivaled radness of Fogerty in the glory days. Because for a while there, it sure was glorious.

mp3: Penthouse Pauper (Creedence Clearwater Revival from Bayou Country)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Album Review: Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

I’m beginning to wish they all could be California bands. No, really. The latest conglomeration of Californios I’m currently salivating over is Local Natives. They’ve arisen from the hipster haven of Silver Lake (though technically hail from elsewhere) and shot me through with many Cupidian arrows of musical amour. Gorilla Manor, their new full length, is at this very minute making my heart go pitter-patter, and quite possibly might induce swooning at any moment.

Gorilla Manor takes its name from the house the band once shared, and in which substantial portions of the record were written. A friend of mine once lived in a house dubbed The Rape Cave, in Richmond, but that’s neither here nor there, really. I’m not holding my breath for an album of the same name. Digressions aside, Gorilla Manor, the record, is choc full of loveliness in many forms.

The full-on foxiness of the record begins immediately. “Wide Eyes” opens the album with some haunting harmonizing and entrancing drumming, not to mention that blissful guitar, the sum total of which is magnificent. At times, Local Natives sound a whole lot like Fleet Foxes, hitting perfectly glorious notes of harmony heavenliness. It kinda sorta makes me think of Fleet Foxes vacationing in LA, sitting in Adirondack chairs watching the sun descend over the hills.

“I wanna lift/my hands towards the sun,” they sing in “Sun Hands”, yet another gorgeous summery shimmer of a song. “World News” practically blows my mind with all the impeccable harmonizing (really, it’s almost like they’re showing off at this point) and overall glorious noise. It’s painfully beautiful, but isn’t meant to be put on the mantle in the formal living room in which kids aren’t allowed. There’s some definite kick to Gorilla Manor, for as lovely as the songs are they’ve got some spicy feistiness. And I like it.

Gorilla Manor. A name definitely not giving anything away in terms of the depths of golden beauty to be found in the album’s twelve songs. But it’s a name you should definitely make yourself familiar with, if you haven’t already. And go ahead and just accept the fact that it’s one of the best records of the year.

mp3: World News (Local Natives from Gorilla Manor)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LP Lust: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

There are no actual record purchases involved in this here post. It's more of a reaction to a post a friend had written about the horror of splitting up a record collection at the end of a relationship (read the Lightning's Girl post here). While never having faced the trauma myself, I still manage to have an opinion on the subject Tracy has raised, namely, should you or shouldn't you merge record collections when entering into a serious relationship? For my part, I agree with Tracy. I think combining record collections, while perhaps an excellent idea in theory, is in truth a terrible, horrible, no good very bad idea. And here's why.

I've worked very hard at building my record collection. And while small in stature, I'd venture to say it's a pretty awesome assortment. One of these days I might meet a great boy with an equal, or even greater passion for vinyl. This would be pretty special, obviously. However, the question might eventually arise: hey, if we move in together, what about our records? I'll just go ahead and nip any future debate in the bud right here. My record collection will not be merged. No way, no how. Friends, please remind me of my stance here should my judgment falter in the future. Merging the records can only end badly. Tracy likens this to having one's fingertips sawed off, and I think that's probably fairly accurate. Our record collections, one might argue, are a part of our personalities. No matter how impressive your partner's vinyl might be, it isn't necessarily cause for blending record families. While additional records are indeed cause for great joy and increased listening happiness, the idea of laying the "what's mine is yours" umbrella over records is dangerous to be sure.

And then, when the inevitable're totally, utterly screwed. Dealing with a breakup is hard enough, but if you've merged your record collections together, it'll be infinitely worse. Bitter insults and stinging words thrown around while arguing over who is the rightful owner of that pristine copy of your favorite record. Thanks, but no thanks. If you must blend together your vinyl, make sure to mark each and every record, so no arguments can be had later on. But probably a more ideal solution could be his'n'hers record cabinets. Keep 'em separated, folks. It's not worth the heartbreak.

Album Review: Leslie & The Badgers – Roomful of Smoke

Leslie Stevens of Leslie & The Badgers sure does have a mighty fine voice, doesn’t she? It’s a little bit Dolly, a little bit Emmylou, and a little bit Loretta, with a little somethin’ extra purty thrown in for good measure. Roomful Of Smoke, her new record, is a kind of paean to the divine, honeyed past of country, odes of joy (even when they’re not so joyful). It’s a first-class tribute from the acolyte to her inspirations, and it’s full of California dreamin’.

We begin with “Los Angeles”, a soft, sweet sounding acoustic number. Stevens waxes poetic about the City of Angels, where “enchantment can be found/but not quite bliss”, making this one a lovely, contemplative ditty about the beautiful yet hard city. The mellowness of the song nearly hides the subtle frustration Stevens works into the lyrics. But before the album sinks into the weight of introspective sorrow, we’ve moved into title track “Roomful Of Smoke”, a lively toe-tapper that really plays up to Stevens’ finely-honed retro sound. It’s not a stretch to imagine Stevens, and her band of backing Badgers, playing at some backwoods, country hole-in-the-wall, in a dark room choked with cigarette smoke and filled with whisky-swilling plaid shirted gents, complete with tapping cowboy boots. “Roomful Of Smoke” is definitely one to take a turn around the floor with your old man or old lady to.

“Love is what the angels will bring,” croons Stevens in the excellent “Winter Fugue”. It’s full of don’t-do-me-wrong lady sentiments that would do her predecessors proud. “My Tears Are Wasted On You” definitely channels the golden era of popular country (i.e. the 70s), with the syrupy strings and country-fried guitar. Stevens also really lets loose vocally, pouring on the glorious, wounded dejection that she does so well. Another standout is “Ballpark Lights”, in which Stevens sweetly proclaims, “I sing for hearts in love”. It’s a good slow-dancin’ number, as the organ sways and swells and Stevens fights off the breaking in her voice.

It’s as though Stevens has taken the sound and feel of the best country albums of the 70s and reworked them to her purposes, adapted them to our current times and places. The themes are the same, but the execution tweaked just so. Roomful Of Smoke is an album deftly done, well-recorded and well-played. It’s a great blend of the humidly haunting South and the golden magic of the Canyon, and it sure does put a big ole smile on my face.

mp3: My Tears Are Wasted On You (Leslie & The Badgers from Roomful of Smoke)

Album Review: Beach House – Teen Dream

Ok, so it pains me to admit this, but I’ve never really been all that into Beach House. Sure, they’re from just up the road in Baltimore. Sure, they’ve been getting serious love for years from bloggers all over the place. I’m the first to admit I sometimes miss things. And hey, I truly didn’t give them a fair shake. Until now, that is. A mere seconds into new release Teen Dream, I might just be turning into a Beach House fangirl after all.

Right from the get-go, Teen Dream is gorgeous. “Zebra” opens the record in magnificent fashion, dreamy and transcendent, probably the most glorious song ever written in homage to one of nature’s most unique creatures. Not only do I love this song, but I love Beach House for writing a song inspired by those brilliant stripes. “Silver Soul” is languidly seductive, with that warm, glowing guitar and gentle, steady beats. It’s a song to which a boy should catch the gaze of his beloved from across the room at a house party, in slow-motion, of course. Totally, incomprehensibly, spectacularly hypnotic.

I just love the layers, the beautiful, decadent sonic layers that comprise each and every song on this record. It comes at you from all angles, wrapping around you in a heavenly swirl, creating an utterly disarming and magical effect. Listening to Teen Dream is somewhat akin to listening to musical interpretations of the best days of your life captured on record by people you’ve never met, yet who hit the nail on the head with exquisite accuracy. “Walk In The Park”, for example, took my breath away the first time I heard it. It’s stunning, simple as. And “Used To Be”? It’s just about alive with a glittering, gossamer glory. Is this a record wherein life is but a dream, and everything comes up roses all day every day? Of course not. But the music, o the music. It sure could fool you into thinking we do indeed live in a perfect world. I hereby testify that this record is a little slice of heaven, believe you me.

Teen Dream is a thing of beauty, my friends. But then, you probably already knew that. I might be a little slow on the draw, but I am here today to sing the praises of Beach House from sea to shining sea. If you, like me, were a little behind the times when it comes to Beach House, do not despair. The mere acquisition of Teen Dream will make it all ok.

mp3: Silver Soul (Beach House from Teen Dream)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LP Lust: DC Record Fair Edition

Lord have mercy, it’s been a long damn time since I’ve done one of these here posts. I’ve been spending not nearly enough money on vinyl, though clearly there’s a reason for my lack of irresponsible record costs. Sunday was clearly a case for making an exception, as it was the second installment of the Record Fair, held at the Black Cat. When last I visited the Record Fair, it was during the Blizzards of 2010, and the snow wasn’t the only issue. It was too dark, too crowded, and thereby too hard to paw through the crates of lovely, wonderful vinyl.

Well, the Record Fair folks definitely used the time between Fairs to make improvements. The lighting was illuminating, the crowd not nearly as heaving as the last Fair (though this could be do in part to getting their halfway through the event). And most importantly, there were mimosas to be had. What’s better than geeking out over vinyl with a pint glass of mimosa in your hand? Just about nothing. Also on offer? Blueberry pancakes down in the café. My purchases are all from Som Records (just a few doors down, and though tiny boasts a hugely awesome selection), though there sure was a lot of tempting treats to be had at the Record Fair. I’m already impatient for the next one.

*The Hullaballoos – The Hullabaloos
*Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs – The Best of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
*The Allman Brothers Band – Brothers and Sisters
*Archie Bronson Outfit – Coconut
*The Strange Boys – Be Brave
*Various – That’s Truckdrivin’
*Cat Mothers and the All-Night Newsboys
Albion Doo-Wah

mp3: Magnetic Warrior (Archie Bronson Outfit from Coconut)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Album Review: Neverever – Angelic Swells

Take two hot Scots with a penchant for retro, uproot them from the gray of Glasgow and move them to the sun and surf of Los Angeles, and what have you got? I’ll tell you what. You get the absolutely adorable Neverever, and their feisty little debut record Angelic Swells. Neverever is Jihae and Wallace Meek, a couple of musically-seasoned performers who now call each other bandmates as well as their better halves. Angelic Swells is outta sight, daddy-o, and you should absolutely definitely positively own it.

It begins with a rainstorm, gentle 60s guitar strumming, and Jihae’s voice singing “I was crying/half a world away” in a tone somewhere between off-key and the perfect girl group pitch. The song is a reinvention of those classic, early 60s lovesick pop songs, knocked on its ear with some serious riffage as the song progresses. And then, the rain brings the song to a close, and we’re already onto the wickedly wonderful “Blue Genes”. Neverever takes on another persona here, paying homage to some of the finest Glaswegian bands of the early 80s, namely Orange Juice and the fine, fine Josef K. The song possesses some rather good guitar jangling, and is sure to get the kids moving on the dancefloor. And damned if I don’t get a huge kick out of “Bitch Boys”, sounding a bit like a meeting of the minds between Bow Wow Wow’s “C30 C60 C90 Go” along with a hefty dose of girl group (perhaps Spector-esque, even) and a splash of surf.

Moving through Angelic Swells, several things become clear. First, and most obvious, is that this is one heck of a record. I can’t fault a single song on it. Next, Scottish kids really know how to make music. Especially if they’re from Glasgow. And finally, moving to LA seems to be just what the doctor ordered. Hey, it worked for Mr. and Mrs. Meek. They added the best of both cities, the influence of great Glaswegian bands of yore with the chirpy pop sounds of the sun-drenched SoCal landscape and wrapped the strains of the 60s, 70s, and 80s around it all to create their sublime sound. It’s required listening for 2010, my loves, so snap to it.

mp3: Young And Dumb (Neverever from Angelic Swells)

Happy Birthday, Bob

Hard to believe it's time once again to wish a Happy Birthday (69, if you're keeping track) to a legendary fellow Gemini, Bob Dylan. Geminis do it better, it's official. I started celebrating last month, when the two-disc biographical flick "No Direction Home" found its way off my Netflix queue and into my mailbox. I verily enjoyed the insights into Dylan's childhood and early years, and found myself able to relate to his thoughts on college ("I didn't go to classes. I just didn't feel like it."). Though, I suspect he missed a whole lot more class than yours truly. And he's probably just a wee bit more gifted. But I digress.

Dylan will, most likely, be looked to for inspiration and revered for years and years and years to come, and rightly so. While initially a Woody Guthrie fanboy, he turned into one of the best lyricists musicdom has ever seen, and is likely to see. He blew typical songs to smithereens, and I think you'll agree that his style was a welcome change. So here's my probable favorite Dylan song, as a little gift from me to you, in honor of the birthday boy.

mp3: Isis (Bob Dylan from Desire)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #25: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra @ Black Cat, 5/19/10

‘Twas my second time seeing the Montreal-ians of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra live and in living color. At All Tomorrow’s Parties 2008, they were great, and made my tipsy little heart so very happy. At the Black Cat, they were just as great. And I made sure not to sneak in a flask of homemade happy juice, just to make damn sure.

MINI RECAP: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra = Hallelujah havoc! Overall score: B+.

They began with “I Built Myself a Metal Bird”, from that fantastic new record of theirs, Kollapz Tradixionales. Immediately nice and loud, the song full of tumbling textures and drowsy with drone. Things got a bit haunting, almost eerie towards the end of the song, the violins sending shivers down my spine. It was one of many glorious musical clusterfucks the band would spew out on this night. The combined “Metal Bird” with the song that follows it on the record, “I Fed My Bird The Wings Of Other Metal Birds”, which made for one heck of an epic soundscape.

Continuing to highlight new material, the band then launched into “There Is A Light”, the slow molasses of the intro seeming even more spiritual than on record. The fairly attentive crowd was huddled in attentive silence, reverently enraptured by the loveliness of the introduction. But of course, this is Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra here, and so it doesn’t stay quiet for long. The song soon builds to a noisy wall of climaxing sound, violin managing to temper the storm of the explosive loudness somehow, some way. Soon, the harsh outburst is replaced with more relative quietude. And then, nearly twenty minutes later, it’s done and the crowd claps heartily.

Also included in the set was “God Bless Our Dead Marines”, the plucking of the upright bass somehow making me think of good old Macbeth, and those witchy sisters proclaiming, “Something wicked this way comes”. It felt almost raw, this song, unraveled even. I’d liken their affinity for such rambling songs to those people who run away on totally random tangents whilst telling a story about something totally different. And yet, unlike those distracted storytellers, the result with TSMZMO is incredibly awesome.

There was even an encore, “Microphones In The Trees”, jagged guitar battling the angelic violin. It was transfixing, not just this particular song but their whole set. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra make devilishly daring music, loud and twisted and deformed and alive. And to see them in the flesh is an experience not to be missed. The band might be of the opinion that “Canada does not rule”, but I would beg to differ. At least, as it applies to bands, that is.

mp3: There Is A Light (Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra from Kollapz Tradixionales)

Album Review: My Sad Captains – Here And Elsewhere

“One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!”

(from the poem “My Sad Captains” by Thom Gunn)

A poem and a band, both with the name My Sad Captains, and both beautiful. Though the band, unlike the subjects in Thom Gunn’s poem, are shining sooner rather than later. London-based, though certainly sounding not at all like residents of the Big Smoke, My Sad Captains make positively lovely music. It’s prettily pastoral, with a hefty dose of wistfulness. To me, it’s the soundtrack you might want driving through miles of country, perhaps running away from (or running toward) something or someone.

Here And Elsewhere is a delight from start to finish. It’s sublime, placid, delicate. They remind me of a somewhat subdued Fanfarlo, they’re more low-key and a little lighter on the dramatic flourishes, though MSC is definitely in the same league when it comes to gorgeous music. It’s an album of sweeping tranquility, and mercy me it’s sensational. If I had to guess, I’d say MSC was listening to a whole lotta Beach Boys, Teenage Fanclub, and early Belle & Sebastian just before they holed up in the studio.

“Great Expectations” makes an excellent opener, jaunty and full of playful jangle and fantastic harmonizing. “Hello Bears” is a favorite, reminding me a little of Mercury Rev with its wavering vocals, somewhat sorrowful tone, and sleepy tempo. That dash of horns definitely adds to the yearning that pervades the song. “I’d rather be unknown,” they claim in title track “Here And Elsewhere”, a delectable slice of mope with dainty tinkling on the xylophone and pulsing with plaintiveness. Newest single “You Talk All Night” is a joy, with a magical opening and a punchy bassline, along with some soft piano that’s the cherry on the sundae. It’s a breathtaking song, but then, Here And Elsewhere is full of them.

It’s been a year of pleasant surprises, but perhaps finding My Sad Captains is the most pleasant surprise of all. Here And Elsewhere is simply stunning, full of subtle beauty and positively glowing with glory. Do yourselves a favor, my darlings, and pick this record up. It’s to good to be missed.

mp3: You Talk All Night (My Sad Captains from Here and Elsewhere)

Happy Birthday, Morrissey

He’s the crush of many an indie girl and boy the world over. In fact, a good percentage of my friends (and of course myself) all had crushes on this magnetic, moody bastard at some point during our formative music years. It’s something about that expertly coiffed hair, the doleful, heartbreaking lyrics, and that rather good-looking face…he’s a brooding, soulful, miseryguts. And he’s totally irresistible. His skill at moping and being miserable has certainly set him apart from the rest, and his songs have been the soundtrack to our sadness for many a long year. He has made a career out of being sad, and he's definitely got a knack for it.

So then, let’s all tip our caps to the one and only Mopefather. Because be it with The Smiths or on his own, nobody does it quite like Morrissey.

mp3: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish (The Smiths from Strangeways, Here We Come)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Album Review: Common Prayer – There Is A Mountain

The first time I listened to Common Prayer’s There Is A Mountain, I was driving home from an afternoon spent in Tappahannock, a lovely little hamlet on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Eastern Virginia. The sun was starting its slow descent into the countryside, and the car was covered by a blanket of tall trees along the roadways, peachy sunlight poking through and creating long shadows along the pavement. It was, without question, the perfect accompaniment for the first haunting taste of Common Prayer.

Common Prayer is the brainchild of LET friend and favorite Jason Russo, pied piper of superior Brooklyn band Hopewell. Taking a break from his Hopewellian duties, Russo decided to pick up stakes and decamp in the United Kingdom for a spell and work his magic in the countryside. The fruits of said labors can be found in the form of the fantastical record I shall discuss with you now.

There Is A Mountain deftly explores Russo’s gift for the beautifully quirky, and shows off his charmingly off-kilter vocal and lyrical stylings. Opener “commonprayer” sets the idiosyncratic tone straight away, with gently-strummed banjo and Russo’s enchanting, offbeat lyricism (example: “I’ve been singin in and out of tune/it’s always been to you” and “I offer up my heart on a stick”). Mr. Russo and his helpers have made one of the finest records of the year, hands down. It’s overflowing with character unlike anything else you’re likely to hear, and its’ slanted and enchanted sound makes my little heart go pitter patter. “Hopewell,” perhaps a nod to Russo’s main project, kinda sorta makes me think of “My Darling Clementine.” Don’t ask, I can’t quite figure out why. It’s certainly not because of the Harrison-esque guitar sound, but the resemblance is there. My favorite, “Us vs. Them,” is sensational. Tinkling, twinkling piano and a dash of falsetto, well, you just can’t beat it. “I have my suspicions,” sings Russo, “that nothing’s real,” as the spritely swirl swells around him.

To make a potentially long story short(er), may I just say that There Is A Mountain is glorious, darling, magical, and almost as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. As much as I adore Hopewell, Common Prayer is quite a breath of fresh air. Don’t be surprised to see this here album perched on the Best of 2010 list, not just here, but all over the place.

mp3: Us vs. Them (Common Prayer from There Is A Mountain)

Album Review: The Frequency – Absence Of Giants

Today, friends, I woke up and felt the sun streaming into my room and thought to myself, “It’s time for something a little shoegazey, a little psychy, with some hot synth action.” With the sultry heat of the day beginning to simmer, and the blue of the sky seeming alive, I turned on The Frequency. And what a good move that’s turned out to be. The band’s latest release, Absence Of Giants, is a heady, intoxicating blend of all those little sounds that make yours truly very happy. And on an pre-Summer Summer day, it’s the perfect fit.

Hailing from LA, this band was chosen to be on the bill for the Austin Psych Fest this year, and it’s not hard to see why they were picked. The record opens with my favorite song, “Love Is One”, a mini opus in the key of drone. Its’ languid, slow-motion feel and seductively sliding guitar, not to mention the slightly muddied, perfectly-pitched vocals, make this particular song hard to stop listening to. Bleeps and sentiment follows in the brief “It Can’t Hurt You”, an ode to love (“Love can’t hurt you”). Not sure I agree, but it’s a good little song nonetheless. “Statues and Angels” has an almost industrial feel, thanks to some wailing guitar effects and the fixed beat of the drum. “Forwards”, another favorite of mine, is almost anthemic in its steady building and emotional-heavy lyrics. “Humans Play” treads trip-hop lines, with the repetitive line “Humans play with each other” backed by an almost dancey background that for some reason makes me think of the band Faithless.

Throughout the record, The Frequency shapeshifts from song to song, showing a mercurial style that’s pretty dang appealing. Their sound is all over the place, yet they somehow make it work. Each incarnation of their sound is rather agreeable, and being a fickle Gemini I sure do appreciate the need for constant transmutation. And I tell you what, the more I listen to Absence Of Giants, the more I want to see this band live, so boys, make it happen.

mp3: Love Is One (The Frequency from the forthcoming Absence Of Giants)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meet The Vermilions

As more than a little bit of a self-confessed history nerd, I'm inclined to think of Fredericksburg, VA, in a purely historical context. One of my last trips down 95 to Fburg was to ogle all the famously glorious plasterwork on the ceilings of Kenmore, for example. But all of a sudden, here comes a band that might just give me another, non-nerdy reason to love the 'burg, and to think of it not just as a history-laden little hamlet but a place from which good ole fucking rock can be spawned.

The band in question? The Vermilions (one "l" in the name, if you please). I saw them warm up the crowd for The Black Lips not long ago, and they did rather well. Somewhere around that time, I was fortunate enough to get my mitts on the band's self-titled EP, six songs of garage-y glory, coated with nods to the past (well look at that, history and rock'n'roll) and occasionally bluesy undertones. This little band kinda sorta gets me going, thanks in no small part to that dirty guitar sound they've got going. Even on the demo songs, it's obvious that Vermilion Jeremy knows how to play a mean goddamn guitar. He shreds and wails and rips this joint with the best of 'em. While this guitar massacre is going on, Vermilion Evan plucks his bass with dutiful, meaty precision, and Vermilion Dan hits the skins with filth and fury. Having seen them live, and now hearing them on record, I can definitely hear the Detroit sound pulsing through their veins (Motor City burning in Fredericksburg? Who knew?).

I'm hoping for big things from this trio. If this here EP is anything to go by, they've got quite a promising future ahead of them.

mp3: Second Time Around (demo) (The Vermilions from The Vermilions EP)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #24: These United States/The Mother Hips @ Black Cat, 5/15/10

Man alive. Now this, this friends is a show. Throw together a band I’ve been dying to see live for something approaching ten years (i.e. The Mother Hips) and a band that I’ve seen plenty of times but never, ever get tired of absorbing (i.e. These United States), and you’ve got good odds that my little head just might explode with molten, golden joy. And truth be told, it very nearly did cause cranial combustion.

MINI RECAP: The Mother Hips = Interminable Wait-Worthy! These United States = Predictably Peerless! Overall score: A.

Mother Hips, O Mother Hips. How long you made me wait to hear your saucy, smooth yet tangy rock und roll. Fifteen years is a really long time to stay away from a city, which is the approximate time lapse the band surmised between trips to my fair land. As I knew I would, I fell totally further in love with the band as they played and played and played. To hear them, be it getting their twang on or totally rocking out, was a beautiful thing indeed. Their sound is so warm, so much like a wonderful cocoon. They rocked my world, but in a cozy, comfortable way. They have the ease and casual awesomeness of a band that’s been around the block many a time, like elder statesmen, if you will. Their set was non-stop wonderfulness, and I just hope it doesn’t take them another fifteen years to get their little keesters back this way.

After the incredible fabulousness of The Mother Hips in their set (and encore!), it was time to bring on my local band numero uno. These United States have, from my very first time seeing them, constantly and faithfully wowed me live. And as such, I knew I (and the rest of the folks who wisely attended the show) was in for a treat. I wondered to myself what would be played, though assuredly it would all be splendid. And sure enough, it was. To me, they’re one of the best live bands around, and once again they proved it. It began with “The Business”, an old (well, old for TUS) favorite that I’ve not heard in donkeys. From start to finish, the members of These United States were full of vim and vigor and panache. Bands, this is how you play live.

“Everything Touches Everything”, title track of the band’s most recent LP, was up next, and featured the gleeful undulating and gesticulating and probably other –ings of the irrepressible Jesse Elliott. In fine form, Jesse made sure to give thanks where thanks was due. “Thank you, Oregon,” he mischievously stated before the band launched into “The Important Thing”, full of fine, thumping bass action. Elliott was in such a mirthful mood that he was actually giggling throughout the set, and frankly, I think there’s not enough giggling in rock these days. Another newish song, “The Secret Door”, broke up the giggling, as did old favorite “First Right”, which sounded lovely as played with the newer, meatier lineup. Formerly ethereal and light, the song took on a new, full-bodied flavor. In a nod to the new additions, Elliott finagled some lyrical wrangling as he changed the lyric, “There’s a picture of the three of us at the gate to the garden of Eden” to “There’s a picture of the six of us at the gate to the garden of Eden”. All together now, aww.

Elliott was full of proclamations and explanations, as per usual. “The Black Cat is the goddam greatest venue in the history of the universe,” he cheerfully opined, before voicing a totally killer rendition of “Good Bones”, one of my favorite songs from the newest record Everything Touches Everything. One of the many things I love about this band is how much of a group effort their performances are. As one goes so too do they all, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them on very, very good nights wherein everyone is kicking musical ass and taking names. When introducing “Honor Amongst Thieves”, Elliott elicited some giggles from the gaggle as he proclaimed, “This is just one of our greatest songs ever.” True words, friends. True words. But then, there are so many greatest songs ever with this band.

As the set went on, it was clear that the band was in the zone. They were in their special, happy musical places, and it was pretty dang magical up on that stage. They closed the dozen songs in the set with the excellently poppy “I Want You To Keep Everything”, and it was divine. My question as to whether or not there would be an encore was soon answered, and as the band strolled back to their places, Elliott smiled as he said, “I can’t believe we forgot to play these songs!”. First came a dead perfect cover song, “Can You Picture That” by Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem. The ramblin’ rose lyrics are just the sort of song you’d expect this band to cover. “Slow Crows Over” really did finish the proceedings, and it was brilliant. Hot damn, do I love this band.

‘Course, I can’t let them get by with a totally gushing review. Next time, boys, please make sure to include “Night & The Revolution” in the set. But otherwise, the set was fanfuckingtastic. If you haven’t seen this band live yet, make it a priority.

mp3: Honor Amongst Thieves (These United States from Crimes)

Album Review: The Futureheads – The Chaos

Ah, The Futureheads. Some of Sunderland’s favorite sons won my heart back in 2004 when they released their self-titled LP, a brilliant pantheon of slick, angular Brit garage rock, peppered with memories of Madness, vintage Blur, and one hell of a kicky Kate Bush cover (I’ll never think of “Hounds of Love” in the same way again). Their subsequent couple of records didn’t quite grab me as much as The Futureheads did, so I was a little wary of latest release The Chaos. But guess what? Seems I’ll never learn my lesson, because this little album is pretty bloody good indeed. It doesn’t quite have that breathtaking spark of The Futureheads, but then again, it doesn’t need to.

The Chaos begins, quite rightly, with “The Chaos”, a punchy, taut number highlighting the sharp angles the band can still knock out with much aplomb. “Struck Dumb” keeps up the frenetic pace, and sees The Futureheads churn out their satirical social commentary backed by fast and furious guitars. It’s a straight up 80s revival for the cheeky poppy song “Heartbeat Song”, which seems almost, dare I say, youthfully sweet in its exuberance. “The Connector” totally makes me think of the glory days of Adam Ant, somewhat silly and verily unstoppable. The proceedings come to a hearty close with the fabulous “Jupiter”, with its humming intro, especially jangly guitar, and almost Queen-esque harmonizing. Well, without the Freddie falsetto, that is. And I love that chant of “Jupiter” as the song reaches its’ finale.

Listening to The Chaos reminds me a whole lot of how it felt and sounded when I first listened to the self-titled LP back six long years ago. The songs are so very good, so very catchy, and so very addictive. And while I’d hate to spoil all the frivolous fun, but in a way The Chaos seems a bit, well, mature. It’s like the band has grown up…maybe just a touch. Maturity or no, it’s a well-played return to form for The Futureheads, and I’m certainly impressed with this latest offering.

mp3: Struck Dumb (The Futureheads from The Chaos)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Good Ship Rediscovery: The Verve - Voyager 1

For you new kids on the block, yours truly is well and truly enamored with The Verve. They're one of my favorite bands of ever, and in my humble opinion they're one of the best English bands of the last twenty years (technically the last twenty-one, since they've been together since 1989). If you already know and love them, good for you. If not, well, the sooner you listen to them the sooner you'll be forgiven.

I'm perpetually in thrall with the earlier songs of the band, the hazy, heady, heavily shoegazing songs of The Verve EP and A Storm in Heaven. Everything about this era in The Verve's history smacks of Romantic poets (as does the Northern Soul record, wherein Richard Ashcroft apes heftily from the William Blake poem "London", though that's a matter for another post entirely), mysticism and magic, and dissatisfaction with modern life. The songs on those two recordings are some of the best songs I've ever heard in my life, both lyrically and musically. One of my biggest regrets in life is not getting into The Verve early enough to see them touring any of the early records over here. But happily, dear, dear friends, there exists a crucial part of the band's mystique, a little slice of heaven known as Voyager 1.

Recorded in both the US and the UK, Voyager 1 shows a band in full command of their powers, even fairly early in their career. Listening to it is a bit like stepping back in time, back to the dawn of the 90s, and being immersed in a powerful wave of incandescence that must have been quite remarkable to behold. Listening to V1, I can almost see Richard Ashcroft, long-haired and gaunt in full Mad Richard mode, undulating as if possessed by some unholy spirit, while Nick McCabe drones and shreds his guitar, existing in a world alone with his instrument. The seven-song recording is one of the best live records I've heard, bar none. The textures and the scope of the band's music is perfectly captured, warts and all, from the throbbing, telltale bass of "Slide Away" to the seductive swirl of "Already There".

It's a wonder to behold, and even more special than the content belies, thanks to the relative rarity of this particular recording. Copies of Voyager 1 are hard to come by, and pricey to get a hold of. They also make the perfect birthday present, for the Verve-loving blogger who has a birthday coming up next month (hint hint).

mp3: Slide Away (The Verve from Voyager 1)

Remembering Ian Curtis

It seems more than appropriate to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis on such a day as this, overwhelmingly gloomy, hung with droopy clouds and covered in misty rain. It's a day rife with melancholy, and a perfect day to reflect upon what was lost 30 long years ago today.

Whether you love him or hate him, see him as a sinner or a martyr, there's no getting around the level of talent Ian Curtis, and his band Joy Division, had in spades. Something in his voice, and in those lyrics, captured the spirit of the times, and captured the spirit of what was to come. In the pain and anguish of his soul, there was something beautiful and free. Someday we'll know what Curtis found that day in May years ago, but for now we're left with the songs, the songs that continue to inspire to this day.

Spare a thought for Ian today, and a thought for all the lost souls gone too soon.

mp3: Disorder (Joy Division from Unknown Pleasures)

mp3: Means To An End (Joy Division from Closer)

Album Review: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollapz Tradixionales

I first recall hearing of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, purveyors of one of the finest and lengthiest band names around, a couple years back whilst in the mountains of New York State for All Tomorrow’s Parties. I was more than likely intoxicated, but I remember really getting into the band’s sound, a kind of epic, swirling, twisting mess of rambunctious yet lovely strings and sheer noise and slightly dissonant vocals. It appealed to me then, in that unique environment at that wacky little festival, and it still appeals to me now.

The short version, little darlings of mine, is that you should go out and buy Kollapz Tradixionales. It’s good. Very, very good. It’s an album that sprawls, seemingly, from here to eternity and then some. The Orchestra is very good at creating varying levels of sonic exploration, daring you to try to stick a genre on them (I myself am gonna steer clear of such an attempt). But if you’re down with Godspeed You Black Emperor, and love wacky bands from Montreal, well, you’ve possibly got a notion of what they’re all about.

Each song is its own animal, breathing and feeling something totally different than any other song on the record. The general mood is unsettling and slightly unstable…but in a wonderful way. The Orchestra keeps you on your toes, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad album, a cracked fairyland where the unexpected is to be expected, and disparate elements create something bizarrely ethereal. It’s the kind of album that baffles the mind, confounds the senses, and can very likely cause headache, dizziness, and disorientation. Do not attempt to drive while listening to Kollapz Tradixionales, until you know how it will affect you. But by all means, listen to this album repeatedly, because it most certainly does a body good.

mp3: I Built Myself a Metal Bird (Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra from Kollapz Tradixionales)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Album Review: Cuff The Duke – Way Down Here

Well good goddam. After listening to this here Cuff The Duke record, all I can say is O, Canada! This quartet of absolutely adorable, country-lovin’ Canucks has just thawed my cold, black heart…just a smidge. Way Down Here is just plain great, and makes for a delightful listening experience.

Now, maybe it’s because I first listened to this record on a gloomy, rainy day, cooler than the average temp and a lot more depressing, and so perhaps any sweet country-folk record would have done the trick when it comes to putting a smile on my face. But something about Way Down Here acts as a kind of salve, and totally got rid of the glumness. I hate to engage in such trite clichés, but sweet lordy it’s like a little ray of sunshine cutting through all that horrible rain-soaked misery outdoors. And so, darlins, I feel head over wet chartreuse shoe-clad heels for this band and their record.

Right away, I knew I was in love. Opening track “You Were Right” is a finely-strummed, waking lullaby of a little love song, anchored by fine harmonizing and an overall mellow vibe. And from there, this album gets better and better. “Follow Me” is a gorgeous ditty, disillusioned though it may be, the soaring vocals and slide of the geetar soothe my soul. Something about the way the line “If you can’t walk/I will carry you back home” is sung, perhaps, so faithfully and gallantly. Another favorite of mine is “Promises,” which begins with some naughty little guitar playing and follows the path of excellent, haunting pop.

As good as the first half of the album is, so too is part the second. “Listen To Your Heart” is another good one, reminding me just a touch of Uncle Tupelo (just not vocally speaking). Which means, of course, that it’s mighty fine. “Old Photograph” sounds a bit old itself, with all that dainty guitar and piano playing. Overall, I was really surprised at how happy this record made me.

I’m waking up to the fact that Canadians know a thing or two about making some pretty good country and folk music. Of course, I should know better, given some of the folks that have come out of our fabulous Northerly borders. So I have to thank Canada, for giving us yet another band to help block out the memory of Celine Dion.

mp3: You Were Right (Cuff The Duke from Way Down Here)

Album Review: Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye

And now for something completely different.

My time in Richmond might have been brief, but it was lengthy enough to totally change my feelings about a genre I once had absolutely no love for: metal. There was a time when for all intents and purposes, I liked metal about as much as I liked really bad 90s country. And that ain’t much. But after a little while in the town that spawned Lamb of God (and Gwar, but that’s something else entirely), something remarkable happened. I began to enjoy metal. And these days, while not totally in love yet, I can say with some emphasis that I do indeed dig the metal. Which kinda comes in handy while listening to the new Iron Age record, The Sleeping Eye.

This is good shit, kids. If you like metal at all, you’re probably gonna like this record. It’s got your hellishly loud guitars, thrashing and throttling your eardrums from here to kingdom come. It’s got that drum sound reminiscent of what you might have enjoyed back in the heyday of (good) Metallica. Oh, and there’s some good old-fashioned shouting that occurs every now and again on this here album. I can’t quite figure out how, but I’m really starting to dig it when I can’t understand a word on account of all the shouting and deep growls that highlight so many good metal bands. I also love the way the songs on this album tend to lull you into a false sense of aural security before unleashing a battering ram of sound. It’s straight up ridiculously awesome.

Though it was released last year, it’s totally worth giving The Sleeping Eye a good listen (or several), especially when you’re in the mood for a little hullabaloo. These Iron Age dudes from Austin really know what they’re doing when it comes to making gawdawfully good noise. From here on out, I’m drinkin’ the Kool Aid.

mp3: Burden of Empire (Iron Age from The Sleeping Eye)

Album Review: Harper Blynn – Loneliest Generation

I must be honest, friends, when I first saw the name Harper Blynn, I totally had images of immaculate hair, popped collars, and quite possibly madras plaid shorts. Refreshingly, however, instead of Harper Blynn being a superprep, Harper Blynn is a pretty good little band that’s made a pretty good little record. Formerly known as Pete & J (good call on the name change, guys), Harper Blynn is the brainchild of two NYC dudes (Pete Harper and Jason Blynn, natch). With a little help from some friends, these two have managed to concoct a pretty, harmony-drenched rock record, and I like said record quite a bit.

Loneliest Generation was produced by David Kahne, which should make you Strokes fans happy (he also produced The Strokes). It’s well-produced, very tight and smooth. The band prides themself on their “man-singing,” and their vocals are definitely worth writing home about. They’ve got some mean harmonies goin’ on here, and it’s pretty special when all four functional band members have great voices and know what to do with them. They sing songs of disaffectedness (“25 Years”, “This Is It”) and songs of yearning for love (“Steal Your Love”), but in a way that’s not at all gloomy or bleak. Instead, Harper Blynn’s songs are well-constructed, beautifully-played, and pretty dang fine. My favorite song, “It May Be Late,” is draped with melancholy, but somehow feels uplifting more than anything else.

All in all, Loneliest Generation is a solid debut. I’m betting it sounds even better live, so I sure do hope the boys come back down this way in the near future. But in the meantime, I’ll be listening to them on record for quite a while to come.

mp3: It May Be Late (Harper Blynn from Loneliest Generation)

Happy Birthday, Trent

Y’all know I couldn’t let this birthday go unnoticed. After all, the birthday boy in question is the reigning two-time Stone Coldest Fox, as ordained by LET (and let’s face it, he’ll probably be a three-timer by the time the end of 2010 rolls around). He’s also a damn fine musician, as the legions and hordes of Nine Inch Nails fans will attest to. And while NIN is currently on an indefinite hiatus, that hasn’t stopped this guy from keepin’ on keepin’ on (check out How To Destroy Angels to get more Trentness).

And so, it’s time to break out your favorite Nine Inch Nails record (may I suggest perhaps The Downward Spiral?), have a glass of whatever tickles your fancy, and join me in a rollicking birthday toast to the man, the myth, the fox: Trent Reznor.

mp3: Discipline (Nine Inch Nails from The Slip)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #23: Horse Feathers/Lay Low @ Black Cat, 5/6/10

Wanna know what makes my heart go pitter patter (the PG-rated edition)? Hows about the dreamy combination of enchanting Icelandic country and gorgeous Portlandian folk. And when it comes to both of those concepts, nobody does it better than Lay Low and Horse Feathers. Seeing the two of them was the best possible way to spend a Thursday night. It was almost too good to be true.

MINI RECAP: Lay Low = Adorably Countrified! Horse Feathers = Folktastically Fine! Overall score: A.

I love country music. I love Iceland. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined stumbling upon a great country singer from Iceland. But with Lay Low (given name: Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir), that’s exactly what I got. It might be an unwritten rule that Icelandic musicians are adorable and really talented, but Lay Low takes the cake. She’s a little bit sassy, a little bit feisty, and yet she’s also china-delicate. Her seven-song set was charming, interspersed with amusing, heavily-accented banter, and the songs themselves were bittersweet and smoky. Her inspiration, records filled with the songs of country legends of yore, is clear, and she does her foremothers and fathers proud. Her mix of plaintiveness and warmth creates a golden glow, straightforward songs laying her heart bare in a plucky, lovely way. The songs seem even more poignant, stripped down to just a gal and her guitar as opposed to the lushly produced sound of her record. I have to say, I found Lay Low to be a most pleasant surprise, and a perfect start to the evening.

Having been suitably warmed up, I was oh so excited for Horse Feathers. I was feeling particularly demanding, and these Oregonians stepped up to the plate in a most satisfactory way. I mean, you know when a band brings not only a violin but a cello onstage, they’re not fucking around. Horse Feathers are another one of those bands that elicit bucolic images of mist-encircled mountains, brilliant sunrises and heavenly, haunted dusks. Their music is as pure as that rarified country air that you can find in the middle of nowhere all over this fair land of ours. The place was packed, and it would have been a damn shame if it hadn’t been. In a rare feat, the band was so captivating that they actually managed to hush the mouths of the DC crowd, which is a pretty Herculean accomplishment. Seems I wasn’t the only one transfixed by the glorious noise.

“Curs In The Weeds” was particularly noteworthy, and not just because of the band’s sweet anniversary shout-out to a couple in attendance (and the subsequent declaration from someone in the crowd that “marriage is awesome!”). It was breathtaking, and every single soul in the room was hanging on every note.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I heartily encourage you to see Horse Feathers and Lay Low whenever you get the chance (as regards this current tour, that means you, Left Coasters). You won’t likely hear much prettier music, and that’s a fact.

mp3: Curs In The Weeds (Horse Feathers from House With No Home)

mp3: I Forget It’s There (Lay Low from Farewell Good Night’s Sleep)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Album Review: The National – High Violet

Oh my, oh my, how nervous I get whenever I listen to a new National record for the first time. It’s what happens to me whenever a band I love above most others puts out new music, and is probably driven by a fear of disappointment and/or dislike. The idea that The National could release an album I didn’t love to bits and pieces caused me great distress, and explains why it took me a while to actually put up, shut up, and listen to High Violet.

I don’t love it as much as my favorite National record, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers. I’ll go ahead and admit that right now. But I love it all the same. There’s something about this band that seems to get stronger as they go along, perhaps it’s the whole maturation process. Whatever it is, The National makes some of the finest music to wallow to that I’ve ever heard. For some reason, in my mind they often seem like sonic equivalents of the (brilliant) plays of Tennessee Williams, imperfect slivers of American Gothic steeped in layers of sorrow and yet achingly beautiful. The songs on High Violet only add to this parallel.

It’s a sullen, sulky record, which is exactly what we National fans expect. “I set a fire/just to see what it kills,” broods Matt Berninger in the fantastic “Little Faith,” just one of many perfectly gloomy lines contained in High Violet. Mr. Berninger for his part is in top vocal form, his voice raw and exposed once again. The band of brothers behind him turn in another tour de force, driving the album with tight, taut guitars and bass and another fine drumming performance. Musically, the excellent “Lemonworld” reminds me of a slowed-down “Mistaken for Strangers” from the sublime Boxer, but seems to be even more melancholy somehow, as Berninger laments “I guess I’ve always been a delicate man.” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “England,” “Runaway,” and all the rest are utterly captivating in their despair and dejection.

High Violet is an album of regrets, and it’s beguiling in its unhappiness. Once more, the five Ohio boys turned New Yorkers have made music to soothe my weary soul. The wait for High Violet, agonizing though it may have been, was well worth it. When it comes to The National, being sad feels pretty good.

mp3: England (The National from High Violet)
(song removed by request, don't blame us)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Album Review: Woven Bones – In and Out and Back Again

Who the bloody hell does this here band think they are? Who asked them to make one of the best records of the year? How is it that they could come out of nowhere and rock my world so very much? I’ll tell you what, these saucy little Austinites have made a killer, killer record, my friends, and it seriously has my knickers in a twist. 9 songs is all it takes Woven Bones to wrap me around their collective little finger.

In and Out and Back Again is delicious from start to finish. And a little perplexing, too. You see, the first time I listened to it, I wasn’t sure when the hell this record had been made. It reminded me more than a little of bands like The Dream Syndicate and The Nectarine No. 9, both bands tangled up in muddy, magnificent fuzz with a rather aggressive attitude resonating through their music (the peak music being made in the late 70s-early 80s). So too with Woven Bones, who while relative neophytes in that pseudo post-punk meets shoegaze meets the garage playground, certainly don’t act like new arrivals. Hot damn, In and Out and Back Again has swagger. It’s all over the place, wrapped around the distortion, giving extra bite to the slightly monotone sneer of the vocals.

This record has every right to be so cocky. It’s pretty awesome, from top to bottom. “Blind Conscience” sets the table, immediately grabbing you with those driving drums and swirling guitars. “Couldn’t Help But Stare” ups the ante even more, speeding things up and getting louder. Which, by the way, is another crucial point about In and Out and Back Again. The louder you listen to it, the more painful it gets, but the better it sounds. My absolute, hands-down favorite, “Creepy Bone,” has a little something sinister to it, with an extra dose of sass. “Guess You Already Know” is more of the same, sizzling noise with major white light and white heat.

“Half Sunk Into The Seats” has some kicky little shimmy to it, and continues along the Woven Bones themes of beating you over the head with crushing, crunchy guitars and gritty drums and the overwhelming awesomeness of the result of those combined forces. Basically, little darlings, this record is without a doubt one of the best I’ve heard, or am likely to hear, this year. It totally blew me away, and if you give it a chance it might just do the same to you. I’m converted to the ways of Woven Bones, I’ve seen the light, and there’s no goin’ back.

mp3: Creepy Bone (Woven Bones from In and Out and Back Again)

100 Shows of 2010 - #22: Sea Wolf @ Rock’n’Roll Hotel, 5/4/10

Sea Wolf’s set started late, which was rather handy considering my bedeviling time trying to find a place to park. I’m very, very, very glad parking problems didn’t cause me to miss any of the set, because it was a thing of absolute beauty.

MINI RECAP: Sea Wolf = Beamingly Beatific! Overall score: B+.

As more and more people filtered into the R’n’R, Sea Wolf’s set began. Initially, it was just Alex Brown Church and his guitar, strumming and singing his way into my heart. With a line like, “The only way that you will ever have me/is if you throw my body into the sea,” I was destined to love Sea Wolf madly. “We’re missing a guitar player,” Church announced, as the rest of the band ambled to their posts on the stage. Finally, said guitar player emerged from the throng and the full band began to play.

“The Trigger” was the second song of the set, a bouncy, lively song full of spring and sunshine. I was continually enthralled by the band’s overall sound, a foxy, come-hither sound of delicacy with blood racing quickly beneath its surface. It’s smoky and earthy and carefully, tenderly crafted. As their set went on, I found it easier and easier to fall head over heels. And hey ladies, the boys are all rather handsome. I’m just sayin’. Apart from a little feisty mic feedback here and there, the band sounded nigh on perfect. Something slightly mystical hangs over the band, infusing their sound with all sorts of blissful nuances and intricacies.

The phenomenal “Wicked Blood” sounded particularly gorgeous, toe-tappingly marvelous and flat-out fantastic. Church’s voice is just arresting, so warm and robust and strong. He’s probably got one of the best voices around, methinks. Sea Wolf pretty much killed me with their 11 bewitching songs, and if I hadn’t been so dang broke I would have bought each and every piece of merch they had for sale. They were seriously sensational, and I do so hope you’ll take the time to go see ‘em live. You absolutely will be glad you did.

mp3: Wicked Blood (Sea Wolf from White Water, White Bloom)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #21: Family Of The Year @ DC9, 4/29/10

So what if the show was over an hour behind schedule (even bands get stuck in traffic)? So what if there were veritable swarms of Gold Motel fangirls? What I saw at DC9 on a gorgeous Thursday night made me one heck of a happy, happy girl. And that, my friends, is thanks to the group of fabulous people known to the music world as Family Of The Year.

MINI RECAP: Family Of The Year = Sunsational! Overall Score: B+.

I know this is a subject raised many a time before, but how come so many California bands sound like, well, California? I like to think it's something in the air out there, that gorgeous, rarified (smog be damned) air that passes through magical places like Laurel Canyon and inspires and seeps into band after glorious band. Such is definitely the case with Family Of The Year, hailing as they do from Silverlake.

I could literally use every single sun-related word to describe their live awesomeness. But I won't do that to you. I'll say other things about their 9-song set. During their (too brief, if you ask me) time on the DC9 stage, the band held sway somewhere between gentle acousticism and frolicsome, toe-tappingly delightful jangle. Their boy-girl harmonies and sunbleached (sorry!) instrumentation were just too cute. I closed my eyes and saw beachscapes. Their music is just perfect for this time of year (or, well, anytime really), and absolutely beckons you to listen to it. It's perfectly pastoral, and not even the overly talkative crowd could mar my FOTY experience.

I'm hoping their path crosses this way again soon, and in the meantime, loves, make sure you get yourself out there to check 'em out. The current tour with Gold Motel runs for about another week.

mp3: Chugjug (Family Of The Year from the Through The Trees EP)

Friday, May 7, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #20: Light Pollution @ Black Cat, 4/28/10

Another Chicago band, another great show. If this keeps up, I’ll have to revise my feelings about the Windy City. I was so psyched to see Light Pollution, and they didn’t let me down (the crowd, conversely, well that’s something else entirely). The pre-set music was Lush, which automatically assured me that the show would be delightful. And lo and behold, it sure was.

MINI RECAP: Light Pollution = Muy Fantastico! Overall score: B+.

Opening with the epic, noisy “All Night Outside,” the band played up their crashing drums and swirling guitars to perfection. The vocals were just a teensy bit overwhelmed by all that fantastic noise, but it didn’t detract at all. They make quite a racket, those Chicagoans, and I absolutely love it. They had great energy, great presence. Though when it comes to garnering my favor, if you’ve got a glorious blend of shoegaze, dance, and rock’n’roll, you can’t lose. And as such, Light Pollution sure do sound like winners.

I must confess, I hoped for a good show, but Light Pollution did one better than just play a good show. They totally won me over, song after song. I found their brambled tangle of ripe noise blissfully mesmerizing. If there’s one complaint I have, well, it’s that they only played six songs. I’m all for quality over quantity, but sometimes a girl just needs more than six songs. Their set was over far too soon. Other than that, well, they were absolutely splendid.

Go see them, friends, whenever you can. You’ll be glad you did. Especially if they play more than six songs!

mp3: Drunk Kids (Light Pollution from Apparitions)

Album Review: LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Thank goodness for James Murphy and the many seasons of his discontent. Were it not for his multitudinous complaints about life in the scene, my music collection (and probably yours, too) would definitely be missing a certain something. You might give me the stink eye here, but in my humble opinion This Is Happening is the best LCD Soundsystem album to date. It’s got everything you could want and expect from Mr. Murphy, and then some. It’s pretty much the best dance music for the disaffected you could ask for.

I must say that initially I was a little worried about this one. After all, opening track “Dance Yrself Clean” certainly takes a while to develop. It’s pretty darn basic for over three of its eight minutes and fifty-eight seconds, though the biting lyrical wit that we all know and love is present from the beginning. But eventually those big beats kick in, and all is well. “Drunk Girls,” perfect single material, follows and is hilariously perfect. “Drunk girls are boring me wild,” croons Murphy, as the beat swirls and pounds around him. If you’re not already hearing it at those indie rock dance nights, well, color me shocked.

Always difficult to choose a favorite on LCD Soundsystem records, right this very minute I’d say track four, otherwise known as “All I Want,” is my fave. It’s in the same vein as songs like “All My Friends” and “Someone Great,” epically long and sweeping in scale. It’s another LCD relationship song, and naturally things aren’t going so well. But that just means it’s fantastic. It’s hypnotic, and I’ve already listened to it more times than I can count. Hot damn, it’s a good song. “I Can Change,” which immediately follows, is sort of LCD through an 80s lense. The beats are more than a little Atari-fied, and I keep getting images of Murphy sporting Flock of Seagulls hair whenever I listen to this song.

“You Wanted A Hit” is another absolutely brilliant song, musical influences perhaps coming from bad karate flicks and a wonderful, dizzying swirl. Taking direct, sarcastic aim at the industry (“You wanted a hit/but that’s not what we do”), it’s a winner. “Pow Pow” is yet another quality track, with some of the best lines on the whole album (ex: “From this position/I totally get how the decision was reached,” “From this position/I can say serious or cop out or hard to define,” “Oh eat it, Michael Musto,” and “Tonight is our night/so you should give us all of your drugs”). Also helping add to the overall charm of the song are those choruses, much like those on “North American Scum,” featuring a slightly bratty chick singing along. It’s totally amusing and totally undeniable. Which is how I feel about this entire record.

If loving this here record is wrong, well I don’t wanna be right. It’s a damn fine dance album, and without question has some of the best lyrics you’ll hear all year. It’s funny and sad and way more poignant than you’ll want to admit. And I love it.

mp3: All I Want (LCD Soundsystem from This Is Happening)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #19: Yukon Blonde @ DC9, 4/27/10

The week before this particular show was for all intents and purposes pretty spectacularly craptacular. My car had been violated by some friendly neighborhood thuglets, meaning big bucks on repairs, and I was feeling pretty darned bummed. But leave it to a bunch of Canadians to drag me out of the dumps, and turn my frown way, way, way upside down.

MINI RECAP: Yukon Blonde = Purrfect. Overall Score: A.

Friends, Yukon Blonde was exactly what I needed. They were just the prescription I needed to make me snap out of my mean reds. Right away I felt my spirits lift, as soon as they started to play. And by the time they had finished the first song, I was well and truly in love. Their sound is so very rich, sparkling and vibrant. In a way, their sound is a little reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, just a more chipper, upbeat variety. It felt like, for a fleeting while, being part of the golden age, basking in the sun somewhere out west.

The crowd, well, was rather small. But bless their hearts, the Yukon Blonde-ians played like they were surrounded by thousands of adoring fans. And quite frankly, they should have been. They were sensational, and it makes me as pleased as the cat that got the cream to be able to lord it over everyone who wasn't at this show. This is a band that seems to be disarmingly humble, and that in itself is oh so appealing. And then when you throw in how great they are, well...

They just all sorts of blew me away, and could very well have manouvered their way into the title of Megan's Favorite Canadians. The back-to-back "Blood Cops" and "Wind Blows" were probably my faves, the jaunty bounce of "Blood Cops" tempered by the starkly beautiful vocals of "Wind Blows." There's something so very pastoral about them, golden and calm. And on this night, they sounded nigh on perfect. My only complaint (well, apart from the rather sparse crowd, your loss if you weren't there) was that their set was only 6 songs. I suppose, however, that 6 such magnificent songs are better than a longer set by most other bands. I'm already eagerly awaiting their return to the area in June, and I suggest you look into seeing Yukon Blonde live yourself. It'll be well worth your while.

mp3: Blood Cops (Yukon Blonde from Yukon Blonde)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #18: Suns of Guns @ Black Cat, 4/16/10

I’ve always been bad about keeping tabs on local bands. I know, I know. Given the bands that have come out of this here city, it’s pretty ridiculous that I’m not better about paying attention to the bands of the Greater Washington Metro Area. But those bands that I do manage to latch onto, well, they’re pretty darn good. Take Suns of Guns, for example. If you haven’t heard of them yet, just you wait, my pretties. Just you wait. They’re the Real Deal Holified and then some.

MINI RECAP: Suns of Guns = Gobsmacking! Overall score: A.

The first time I saw Suns of Guns live they were opening for The Black Hollies at Iota last year and they totally shook me up just like one of those tacky little souvenir snowglobes. They had me at hello, you might say, and suffice it to say my expectations for my second Suns of Guns experience were pretty gigantic. And o, friends, this is a band that does not, I repeat does not, disappoint.

These boys have them some soul. Not fake plastic soul, but deep, down, dirty soul. And this soul is part of what makes them so vexingly good. You’ve got vocals this side of Eric Burdon (minus some weathering), dirty little basslines, an absolute animal behind the drumkit, and some pretty fierce guitar. Suns of Guns spit out some of the finest nouveau garage that would definitely make the Old Masters proud. Their music is soaked in beer, soaked in sweat, soaked in soul. It’s a little bit Detroit Rock City, a little bit British Invasion (the non-Beatle lineage), and a little bit 80s Brit (think The Undertones). All of this blends together for a sound that is so appealingly filthy, and it’s absolutely irresistible. The foursome can easily shift from controlled, slightly sinister sounds to absolute raw rock’n’roll, and they do it all effortlessly.

Bottom line is this. Suns of Guns are one of my two favorite local bands, and they pretty much own the stage. So you heard it here first. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for them, because they’re the dog’s bollocks.