Indie Darlings

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In anticipation of their album (called “Hazards Of Love,” it’s set to be released in March), the Decemberists have released a single called “The Rake’s Song.” I talked about this in August when YANP had it as a live track, but it’s worth revisiting. And now, so that I can justify the title of this blog, a short digression.

To be perfectly honest, the man in the song is more likely to be a cad than a rake. Rakes were feckless gamers and immoral seducers, but they had a glamour attached to them. They were the bad boys of the Restoration/Georgian periods and still could be received — that is, they were still accepted in polite society — even though the marriagable daughters were steered in the other direction as soon as the rake entered the room. Rakes were also usually gentlemen and unlikely to be as murderous as the fellow in this song (even though there is a class of rake called the “vicious rake” who might abuse his family). A cad, on the other hand … a cad is a cold-blooded devil. A cad might leave a poor widow in debt and run off to sea. He might take a second look at his wife and children and decide that they hamper his lifestyle.

… But “rake” does sound a lot better, no? Semantics, they matter! Wikipedia, ever helpful, informs me that “rake” comes from the word “rakehell,” which either came from Old Norse reikall, meaning vagabond, or Dutch rekel, meaning scoundrel. An old and proud tradition there. Cad, schmad.

It’s the percussion that once again makes such a great difference in this song (it did the same for “O Valencia,” which just doesn’t sound as good without the drum line). That, and the chilling sincerity in Meloy’s voice, and the backing singers chiming in like a chorus of wailing ghosts.

The Decemberists — Site | Myspace | Label (Capitol)

The Decemberists — The Rake’s Song

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Random stuff keeping me occupied:

[ed note: tracks removed. pls contact me for a copy.]

01. Immuzikation — Sweet Young Angel (Feist vs burial vs Jens Lekman)
      [Myspace — warning, this is the ugliest myspace ever]
02. Gangstagrass — On the Run
      [Site]
03. The Polyamorous Affair — Merry Go Round
      [Myspace]
04. Camera Obscura — Your Sister’s Social Agony
      [Underachievers Please Try Harder, 2004]
05. ABBA — Take A Chance On Me
      [The Album, 1977]

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For all you skinny jeans wearing folks out there — you know who you are, but you’re probably over at Catbirdseat right now — Threadless has reprinted your shirt. I know, true coolness doesn’t advertise, but if you don’t apprise the hoi polloi, no one will be able to figure it out. Xref the Simpsons:

Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Bart & Lisa: No.
Marge: Good. I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool, not caring, right?
Bart & Lisa: No.
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?
[Homerpalooza]

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Being pretty hoi in the polloi myself, I’m gonna just talk about some things I like.

01. According to La Onda Tropical, my faithful reference for what’s cool on the Latin front, the new hot beat is called New Cumbia (aka Kumbia), and it’s based on Colombian folk dance. Me, I was still grooving to reggaeton, but I like the cumbia too; faithful readers will know I’m a sucker for anything with a good beat. You can preview the nueva cumbia at La Onda or check out some stuff I snagged off the Hype Machine:

MIA — Paper Planes (Sonido Martines Guacharaca remix)
El Trip Selector — Cumbiancherita
Oro 11 — Que Calor (Pibes Chorros vs DJ Unh)

02. Gvs.B had a link to this Swedish dude who emanates a serious folk sound á la Donovan or similar — The Tallest Man On Earth. I can’t vouch for the veracity of his tallness, but the music is a major throwback to a certain time when American music was in thrall to a certain kinky-haired folk poet whose name shall go unmentioned. With a nice Swedish twist. Me likey.

The Tallest Man On Earth — I Won’t Be Found

03. Did I mention there was this disc out called “Heretic Pride”? I must have mentioned it. Ahaha. Well, so, yes. I like it very much, although what’s coming out later this year is stiff competition for best album. I am truly amazed by the jewelboxes of stories that Darnielle weaves — you open them up and look inside and it’s this itty bitty story with these amazing facets. One of the best and most detailed is the song “So Desperate,” which contains the best couplet on the whole album: We were parked near some trees; and the moonlight soaked the branches in ever-deepening degrees.

Not to mention (as many have already, so let me be brief) the song “Autoclave,” which presents love in a whole new scientifically toxic way. An autoclave is a sterilizing pressurizing unit, and Darnielle manages to put an entirely new twist on an age-old genre by simply saying, “My heart is an autoclave.” Talk about defeating anxiety of influence, folks. The song is kind of a love song (Darnielle said so at the gig I attended) but it’s also about being so toxic that no one can get near you: direct your attention, if you please, to the final stanza of the song.

I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls
on a cliff above the ocean; howling wind and shrieking seagulls.
And the dream went on forever, one single static frame —
sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Gorgeous use of a pop culture phrase to mean its exact opposite. In “Cheers,” they meant that you go to where your friends are. This guy in this song, though, he goes to notoriety a whole different way. If you’re sitting on a throne made of human skulls, you can be sure that everyone knows your name.

I shan’t go on. Suffice to say, I’m in love all over again.

The Mountain Goats — Autoclave

04. New Old 97s album coming out in May! I have such a girly crush on these guys and their sound — proof that alt-country is still kicking its heels up somewhere in Texas, so ha ha, Aquarium Drunkard, take that. And the new song sounds great; I’m really excited to hear the rest.

The Old 97s — Dance With Me

05. Another great record that will be out in 8 short days is DeVotchKa’s “A Mad & Faithful Telling.” It continues DeVotchKa’s gypsy rock folk tradition; and though I can’t say that I’m their biggest fan, in small doses I really love the brass-and-dance sound. DeVotchKa is also going on tour in Europe and the US.

DeVotchKa — Comrade Z

06. And something I’ve forgotten to mention for a month, but it’s still awesome: The Rich Girls Are Weeping has returned to us. Frabjuous day! Calloo callay! (I’m chortling in my joy, all right? Geez.)

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In honor of my slogging up La Cienega tonight to see the Mountain Goats, I present some songs that I wish he would play. I am still digesting Heretic Pride, although I like it very much (even more than Get Lonely, which I did not expect).

01. Going to Marrakesh (live) — Darnielle is the master of simile; he can’t even seem to help himself. This is my favorite Mountain Goats song and the similes are simply perfect. Chance of being played: 0.0000000000001%

02. Palmcorder Yajna — Love the image of the camera inside the television, with its aperture “yawning and blinking.”

03. Has Thou Considered the Tetrapod — the turn in this song is in the last two lines, and those lines are chock full of menace. I wouldn’t want to mess with that tetrapod either.

04. Collapsing Stars — “You can look but you won’t find / another love like ours” — sweet loving homicidal maniacs.

05. Tollund Man — Poor guy… singing his lament, making his sacrifice, only to be dug up and leered at hundreds of years later.

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Excellent stuff

My kid and I have a cold; you know one of those where you feel like you got hit by a truck? Yeah, that’s me, dragging around the house with a box of Kleenex. Here are some things that cheer me up as much as I can be chee — hee — ha CHOO. Yeah, just stay back about ten feet.

01. Culture Bully has a really really excellent post about the best mashups of 2007. I am a huge fan of mashups, and Chris D. shows you where to get some great ones.

02. Dengue Fever! Has a new album! And it’s called “Venus On Earth”! People, without using more exclamation points I cannot stress enough how cool a Cambodian electronica pop dance band is (at least, this one. Not too many out there for comparison). Have a listen to the new single, “Sober Driver.” Top ten material!

Dengue Fever — Myspace

03. I didn’t write too much over the holidays, but I liked the following music:

A) Skittish — I had a fun time listening to these folky, spare tunes from Minneapolis. This guy can seriously fit a scutload of words into one little line (so it’s not for everyone, I think). Reminds me of Bright Eyes in a way, but not employing Oberst’s more annoying characteristics. I’m very fond of “Pass the Punch,” with its whanging noises and Thick-As-A-Brick-ian call to arms: my cutters, my burners, my lovers, my sinners, my strays; let’s march on the gates and set fire to these edict estates. ’cause we are stronger in numbers, no longer ashamed — not quiet, not going away.

Skittish — Myspace | Site

B) Science For Girls — Mmmmm…sweet sweet electronic goodness (which is the best I can come up with today). It’s a debut album, but it slips down smooth as swallowed silk; check out “Fourteen Days,” featuring Bronwyn Exeter, with its jazzy bridge and clear as a bell vocals. Or if you like your distortions a la Cher, you can check out the excellently rhythmic “You’ll Never Know.”

Science For Girls — Myspace | Site

Science For Girls — You’ll Never Know (at the Music Slut, since my FTP client is being bastardous at the moment)

C) Mountain Goats … newwww album sooooon, precious … I will wait and buy it all legal-like because I want John Darnielle to stay locked in my closet and write songs forever live happily ever after and write many more albums. You may enjoy a free track, “Sax Rohmer #1,” at Chromewaves.

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[ed note — This got long. I’m not apologizing; but I will apologize because there’s no obligatory mp3. I’m sure you can find something to amuse you.]

Hello! How are you? Did you have a good Radiohead Day? I’m fine, thanks. I’m very enthusiastic about Radiohead Day, so let’s talk economics. I received the download code in my email this morning — about twenty seconds later, the file was on my desktop (unlike some sad folks, I could not care less about bit rate, so that didn’t factor in). Twenty seconds later, I could listen to the music, which is really the bottom line.

It’s the libertarian way of doing things — let people decide for themselves how much the commodity is worth to them. Some of them pay a lot for a box set; some pay a reasonable amount and buy the download; some pay nothing and feel bad about it and pay later; and some pay nothing at all and feel justified in doing so. It’s all part of the equation. Libertarians have a deep independent streak and a (possibly misplaced) faith in peoples’ abilities to regulate themselves. Only you know how much you paid or didn’t pay for “In Rainbows,” but I would be willing to bet that Yorke & co. made a good pile of money off it; as much as any represented artist would have made. This morning Connor from IGIF noted that when he polled 27 people on his campus green, half of them were listening to it. I would be willing to bet that most of them, college students though they were, paid something, and even $2 is better revenue than pirating.

Of course, Radiohead has the freedom to do such a thing; they paid their dues, so to speak, and their fame is so well established that they can circumvent the system. They used word of mouth so effectively that probably 12 hours after they posted their site, I heard about the album from half of my RSS feeds. While Beck went the opposite route, creating a physical form that everyone wanted, Radiohead has masterfully ridden the wave of immediately available infotainment. Music blogs jumped on it — pounced, even — gleefully counting down the days and basically talking about Radiohead ad nauseum. I’m not even that big of a fan, but even I felt the hype boiling overhead like a thunderstorm.

Which brings me to the series of articles written by the author of Pretty Goes With Pretty; it’s called, “Can’t Talk, Hyping.” Ironically I had never heard of this blog (which doesn’t mean much), but for some reason I still read Catbirdseat, which recommended it. The four-part article criticizes mp3 blogs for forgetting their roots and becoming mini hype machines, churning out recommendations for money and based on promo advances nudged at them by record labels. To join the conversation, intimates this article, one must download an enormous quantity of music at breakneck speed, present it with “an audio clip, myspace link, a list of tour dates, and — not always — a perfunctory they’re grrrreat!” (part II).

Two forces make this article completely correct in every way. One is what I call the Catbirdseat effect; the smugness of the folks that sit with their music you’ve never heard of, and mock you because you are five minutes behind the hype. Catbirdseat today ridiculed people’s love of Radiohead by posting a fake review, complete with disclaimer: “PLEASE NOTE: I have not downloaded or listened to In Rainbows.” See? They’re so far ahead that they don’t even have to hear the music to make fun of people who like it.

The second is the Goodhodgkins phenomenon — the simple overwhelming nature of music that falls under the indie genre. It drowns anyone who tries to keep on top of it; maybe three blogs I know actually make a stab at completism. Those blogs become the type that PGWP despises: perfunctory, swift, and overposted. Many of them make good money doing it, too, because someone out there has to try and keep their finger on the pressure point. I certainly don’t want that job (witness my infrequent postings! I’d be a mess). If you have Goodhodgkins phenomenon weariness, you bemoan how much music is out there. You can’t keep up with it. It hurts you to try. You give up. I admit, I’ve been feeling Goodhogkinsy myself these days. And I agree with PGWP; lately I’ve been tacking up lots of mp3s without much writing attached to it. How many times and how many ways can you say “awesome” or “well put together” or “great instrumentalism”? Not too many, I’ve found.

When those two forces combine, a writer feels like she is not only drowning in music, she’s going under so fast that she will never be ahead of the curve, so she pushes harder and hypes faster (or quits altogether?). So the article is completely right. And yet, and yet. It ends asking why don’t all the music blogs get together and talk about ideas? Why don’t we push an agenda like lit blogs instead of going arm in arm with record companies?

Several reasons, I imagine. One, the age and status of the usual music blogger would tend to be a person who consumes a ton of music quickly, spits it out, and loves to be on top and have high stats. Coolness = stats to those people. I don’t have a problem with that, though it isn’t my thing (in interest of full disclosure, I get between 600 and 800 hits a week, if I post). One thing that bothers me about PGWP’s article is that it sees listeners as rubes, gawking at the hype and not understanding the machine behind it. Of course (some) bloggers make money; they get free promos; they put ads up on their website and some of them get thousands of dollars to do it. Good for them; like I said, they fill a niche. Are the visitors to a site like Brooklynvegan so stupid that they don’t see it’s a lot of business? I surely hope not. And stats must equal coolness; I see many “famous” sites quoted over and over like the nerds quoting the cheerleaders. Someone’s always got to be the cheerleader (and yes, I’ll take the nerd position, thanks).

Two, music is personal; more personal than even a novel, especially since no one reads these days. We music lovers have a secret fetish for hearing the same tunes in different guises. We probably have 4000 songs on our iTunes that are about heartbreak, and 4000 more about falling in love. Some people lovingly caress one or two albums a year; others zip through fifty or sixty and are just as happy. Everyone is looking for that chord in them to be struck, that one chord that no one else can hear, the shiver up the spine. How can you initiate a dialogue about that chord, that thing that is so personal? I venture to say that you can’t have a conversation about it, per se. But you can put it out there and hope that someone will come along who hears the same chord. I don’t get enough comments on this site to fill a pint jar; why then do I write? Why did I bother with these words at all? Am I just hollering uselessly into the void? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I hear music that strikes a chord in me, I vibrate, and sometimes I reflect that musical chord, that personal love, with words. I’m not a musician, and all I can do is write down my love.

Some people take that personal fetish and make it political; they parlay their friendly persona into visitors and money and hype and (you might say) soullessness. But for every soulless hype site, there are five sites that keep the personal personal. Those sites are still out there, plugging away, telling us about their memories, their experiences, talking to unknown readers for no reason whatsoever. They don’t have an agenda, and they don’t want to have one (or their agenda is, like Muruch, to expose a certain genre of music). They get great stats, maybe, or they don’t, and they use record companies to help obtain what they like, not just to boost numbers. Using myself as an example — I sift through what the record companies send me. Sometimes I even slap an mp3 up with a “they’re grrrreat.” Not everything hits my buttons, that’s for sure. I even like to talk about what I don’t like. Sometimes — gasp! — I even like to talk about what everyone else is talking about too. Sometimes I don’t. Is it hype, or love, or something in between?

Hey reader, I’m talking to you! You out there, with your Radiohead on! For what it’s worth, I liked “In Rainbows.” Probably I’m gonna write about it. You should too. Don’t forget what Thom Yorke says: “Don’t get any big ideas / they’re not gonna happen.” Or like Homer says, the lesson is, never try. Right? You might make some money off what you love and earn the eternal scorn of the Catbird set, even though they’ve got ads all the way up the right sidebar. You might fill a need, you might get so popular you can go around the rules. Who knows? It’s a big infotaining world out there — someone might holler back at you from the void.

Most of the time, I write my reviews in spite of people who write the same ones, but better. But today I shall direct you to those people instead! Both Matthew of Song By Toad and Marcy from Lost In Your Inbox have written wonderful reviews of “The London Book of the Damned,” the new album out by Stephen Coates, aka The Real Tuesday Weld. That was a lot of long titles. Let me sum up.

The Real Tuesday Weld = Awesome band with new album.

Song, By Toad’s review = here

Lost In Your Inbox’s review = here

Both are much more cogent than I could be, since I am only casually familiar with Coates’s entire catalog. But his music is deliberately crafted, sometimes sounding as though it was just created yesterday by a mouse with a tiny piano and sometimes as if it’s coming back through your old stand-up radio in the voice of a long-dead relative. I know, I know. Have a look at the reviews and then listen.

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I’ve decided I love songs by email, mostly because I don’t have to host anything on my own space (unless it’s worth it). Thanks, promoters, for saving my bandwidth!

Cheyenne — So quintessentially indie — a guy who can’t sing, some pretty good lyrics, etc., etc. Perks up a bit in “Write It Down In Red,” with addition of female vocalist and harmonica, but mostly does nothing for me. However, I can see hordes of fanboys slavering over their new EP, “The Land Rush.”

Cheyenne – Myspace | Site

Rose Kemp – This gal is old school, from a long tradition of proud girl rockers who don’t give quarter. It’s not my style of music anymore, but when I was eighteen I would have listened to it at full volume on my little basement-bedroom stereo. I’m glad there’s still music like this to be heard! You girls out there choking on your surfeit of Fergie and Kelly Clarkson, you give Rose here a try.

Rose Kemp – Myspace

Rose Kemp – Violence (fades out at the end, but it’s enough to sample.)

Vivek Shraya — Reading through his website, I’m tickled by his sense of humor. As for the music: for electropop, it seems thin — rather one dimensional — but I do like it, especially “Fevered,” with those hot minor key changes. It bounces. I don’t know if this would fly in a club, but I’d dance to it in my living room. New album is called, “If We’re Not Talking.”

Vivek Shraya – Myspace | Site

Vivek Shraya – Fevered [track removed]

Stars — Superfab reader James notes that Stars has a new song called “The Night Starts Here,” a precursor to new album “In Our Bedroom After the War.” Recommended to those people who … you know … like Stars. Is there anyone who doesn’t?

Stars – The Night Starts Here

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Confession time? Perhaps. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never heard a Joy Division song. I wouldn’t know “Love Will Tear Us Apart” if you blasted it at a thousand decibels (I was five when it was released). Therefore, I neither know nor care if Interpol is some kind of JD ripoff — I mean, call it a revival, don’t act like Joy Division didn’t flame out 27 years ago, do they have a hundred year monopoly on a certain set of guitar chords? Well anyway, enough said before I show too much ignorance.*

Interpol! I like you guys! I like that you wear suits in all your pictures. Honestly, I can’t believe you’re from the US; you seem too classy, too Euro. In fact, I can tell from browsing Wiki that you’re more popular in Britain than here — that is, more songs come up on the UK charts — but you don’t seem to be so well known in US or UK mainstream. Which is too bad because you’ve got a sound that is completely radio friendly. Maybe you’re just a casualty of the fact that no one listens to the radio anymore. And no one watches music videos. You guys look great in music videos (well, except for the unfortunate glasses in “C’mere.” Dunno what you were thinking there).

I like that driving bass that underlines most of the songs. You always sound like you’re singing through a tunnel, so I haven’t deciphered most of the lyrics, but I like what I think I’m hearing. I’ve got “Mammoth,” from your new album “Our Love To Admire,” on repeat. Please continue making your staccato punk and damn the torpedoes. It’s impressive stuff.

Interpol — Site | Myspace | Label (Capitol)

[tracks removed. Contact me for a copy.]

Interpol – Mammoth

Interpol – Rest My Chemistry

*Also, it is quite likely that everyone has heard about Interpol already and I’m beating a dead horse. The Hype Machine certainly seems to prove this theory. Oh well.

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Two more albums that are forthcoming from the female staples of indie rock:

01. Maria Taylor, “Lynn Teeter Flower” — Ms Taylor is the author of one of my favorite songs of 2005, “Song Beneath the Song.” Her voice is so distinctive that you can’t mistake it for anyone else’s, and “Lynn Teeter Flower” starts out with the really gorgeous song “A Good Start.” By the end of the album she suffers from Jenny Lewis syndrome (all the songs kind of blend together), but as far as a sonic assault, you can’t go wrong. You can download “A Good Start” at the Saddle Creek website.

02. Feist, “The Reminder” — Feist is a master of all genres. She goes from ethereal electronica to rock to country and back again; her songs contain multitudes. Her albums are endlessly intriguing, because no two songs are the same, but they are all tied together by her voice. Maybe I should just insert the word “slaver” somewhere, because that’s what I’m doing over this album. *wipes up the puddle of drool* You can listen to Feist at her Myspace or snag Honey Honey, which is just gorgeous and starts out totally minimalist and then adds just enough instrumentation so that it’s perfectly put together.

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If I invented a time machine, would you run away with me, Colin Meloy? We could just be comrades, if you like; no hanky-panky. I’m okay with that, especially if we had to curl up in a trench together on a cold night. Might you be interested in the following scenarios?

1. Napoleonic era soldiers. I’ll cut my hair and we’ll take the King’s shilling (the Queen’s?). Then we’ll serve under Wellington for a ripping good time at Salamanca. Or I’d even do the naval version, though I’d spend most of my time puking over the side of the ship.

2. Itinerant 19th century troubadors. We’ll wander the country singing plaintive ballads about drinking and lost loves. I’ll sing crummy but sincere harmonies to the tune of “To Anacreon, In Heav’n.”

3. Antebellum riverboat gamblers. You can sharp rich folks and sleep with their wives while I deal the marked cards and curse the Yankees who stole my daddy’s plantation and freed all my slaves so that I have to lace my own corset.

4. Diseased whores. We can sell our bodies in some large city, trading witty repartee inbetween customers. Eventually we can die of consumption, coughing daintily into handkerchiefs and insisting that we’re fine, hoarding all our pennies for opium.

Or … perhaps we’re just better off where we are, living the armchair life. After all, the 19th century didn’t have very nice toilets, and ‘suffrage’ was still a bad word. Still, I’m going to go see you at the Wiltern on the 21st, so could you at least take your shirt off? Sincerely, z.h.

Oh yeah, and the new album was released today: “The Crane Wife.” W00t!

The Decemberists: Site | Myspace | Label (Capitol)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

The Decemberists – The Perfect Crime 2

The Decemberists – Sons and Daughters

The Decemberists – Human Behaviour (Bjork)

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My Brightest Diamond

So why didn’t anyone tell me that Bjork and Tori Amos got together and raised up a baby in their image, probably on a commune somewhere in Iceland, and that sometimes they had PJ Harvey and Dido and Karen Peris over, and then the girl grew up and was Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond? I mean, people, you can’t just leave that information languishing! I’m ashamed of you. I’m ashamed of me. Shame all around!

“Bring Me the Workhorse,” which came out in August, is Worden’s first album, and it’s on the Asthmatic Kitty label, giving it Instant Cred. But her music really is an appealing mix of her masterful vocals and augmenting instrumentals. By which I mean, the instrumentals don’t overwhelm or detract from her voice. She has a fantastic voice; I can’t say it’s not derivative, because just listen to “Freak Out” and tell me if it doesn’t sound just like Tori in the “Boys for Pele” era. But that being said, I have not yet found a song that doesn’t appeal in an odd, experimental, and yes, even bright, way. The more I listen to it, the more I like it, and that’s the kind of music that stays with a person much longer than, say, pop á la the Quiescently Frozen Primates.

My Brightest Diamond – Site | Myspace | Label (Asthmatic Kitty)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

My Brightest Diamond – Freak Out
My Brightest Diamond – Golden Star
My Brightest Diamond – We Were Sparkling

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The Thermals

I recommend the Thermals, with reservations. Normally my personal beliefs don’t really intersect with those of the bands I listen to. People in bands have their beliefs and I have mine, and one doesn’t affect the other. Of course, the exception to such a rule would be when the band shoves their belief into my face, and I’m forced to confront it and, therefore, rate it in some way. This makes me uncomfortable and irritated, and usually I just refuse to listen, but not always.

Two examples coming to mind would be Green Day’s “American Idiot” and, many years ago, Live’s “Throwing Copper.” “American Idiot” clashed so harshly with my libertarian ideals that I just couldn’t listen to it, and even the fun songs like “Holiday” went by the wayside. I just found myself listening to, and re-analyzing, the lyrics, much more than I ought to with a freakin’ Green Day album. “Throwing Copper” was a little different. Though it did not jibe with my own beliefs, Ed Kowalcyk really seemed to embody a genuine, thinking dissonance between himself and Christianity. Kowalcyk was searching for an answer with music, and I could appreciate that, so I spent many a long hour listening to “Throwing Copper.”

So here are the Thermals, and here is their album, entitled “The Body, the Blood, the Machine.” On the Subpop site, the album is billed as:

…envision[ing] a United States governed by a fascist Christian state, and focus[ing] on the need (and means) to escape.

Beliefs, meet face. I hardly need to go into it, but those of you who read this regularly and know me will understand how annoyed a summary like this makes me. In 99.5 percent of cases, I would chuck the music into my recycle bin and forget about it. But again, the dissonance interests me. The Thermals seem to be dissonant with everything … not just Christianity, but with popular culture. Their previous album “More Parts Per Million” seems to take on culture in that Chuck Pahlaniuk sort of way, hating on capitalism and commercialism. Then in “Fuckin A,” they take on politics, with songs like “God and Country,” where they say, “history will show / our progress is slow / when we win / we win in inches” which is definitely not untrue.

So what I’m trying to say is, if they mean to offend, and I think they do, they mean to offend everyone, everywhere, with everything. This, while not admirable, is tolerable. Some might say that it’s music’s job to criticize culture; I’m not one of those people. So if they choose to do it, they might as well take on everything.

But the band does have its strong points. Their music underpinning is catchy and engaging, and when they drop the rhetoric for other subjects, they make really sweet observations of character, as in “A Stare Like Yours,” where they note “when you have control / you defend / when you don’t have control / you pretend .”

Of course, ultimately, you get to judge for yourself. Which is the fun part.

The Thermals – Myspace | Label (Subpop)

[These tracks have been removed.]

The Thermals – A Stare Like Yours
The Thermals – No Culture Icons
The Thermals – Here’s Your Future

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M. Ward

Despite reading about 100 articles about M. Ward in the past couple weeks, I wanted to feature him myself. I’m nothing if not derivative. M. is for Matt, if you’re wondering, and he’s just released a new album called “Post-War.” He’ll be at the Henry Fonda theater on Sept. 28th, for those locals interested. I’ve heard from several places, though I can’t corroborate, that he does a very good live show.

Ward’s music isn’t particularly classifiable, and that’s a very nice quality. You don’t hear it and immediately pigeonhole it as, “oh, alt-country” or “oh, folk,” or “oh, emo indie rock.” For one thing, Ward’s voice has an amazingly intimate quality: for lack of a better, less creepy expression, he sounds like he’s singing right into your ear. It’s a focussed quality: when other bands are screaming at you for attention, Ward simply croons over the slightest of percussions on “Post-War” and you’re hooked on him.

He’s got a real flair for the simple, easy lyric as well, neither over-doing nor dressing up his lyrics. In “I’ll Be Yr Bird,” he is evocative and even sweet, even though I can’t figure out what exactly he’s talking about. It’s not particularly necessary to know, even though one does wonder. And in “Sweethearts On Parade,” he just sounds sort of sadly resigned to the fact that he’s single, and so he’ll never be able to join the two-by-two march. Something that all of us, one time or another, have felt.

M. Ward – Site | Label (Merge)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy. Or better yet, go buy the album! It’s one of the top ten of 2006.]

M. Ward – Post-War
M. Ward – Sweethearts On Parade
M. Ward – I’ll Be Yr Bird
Bonus: Jim James, M. Ward, & Conor Oberst – Girl From the North Country (Bob Dylan)

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Snowden

How’d youall like to feel cutting-edge and Totally Indie? Well, at least Pretty Darn Indie, since I remember reading about Snowden at Cable & Tweed like, weeks ago, yea verily. However! You can definitely feel Indietastic listening to Snowden, since Pitchfork just gave their new album “Anti Anti” a very high rating, and they’ve become the blogger darlings that they were always meant to be, or something.

I liked the song “Anti Anti.” I put it in my Keepers file and forgot about it. It’s got a good beat and harmony and poppy singing and all that stuff. But upon further listening, I’m confused. The lyrics say:

we are anti-movements, we are anti-anti
one time we believed but now its passé and cliché
and she’ll say anything to make you move again
but is it the truth? I dont care if it is.

What does that mean? What have they stopped believing in? What movement(s) are they opposing (“anti,” of course, coming from the Greek, meaning “opposite”)? And if you’re anti-anti- something, doesn’t that mean you’re for it? And if you’re for it, then you do believe, and so you’re passé and cliché, and I don’t want to listen to you.

(You see, once you teach grammar, it’s the end of enjoying music for you. You start spotting inaccuracies like the incorrect use of double negatives, and you might as well go stick your head into an oven. Don’t do it, kids! Just keep on typing those text messages full of Us and Rs! You can avoid this problem!)

On the other hand, Snowden did make a bootylicious remake of The Zombies’ song “Time of the Season” — which was, faithful readers might note, another of the songs on the “oldies station” that Pan Am used to have on transatlantic flights. Only Snowden says, “It’s the time for the season of loving” instead “it’s the time of the season for loving.” I think, with a little teeth-gritting, I can get through that. But I don’t think I can get past the double negative.

Not that I require all my music to be error-free, gramatically … oh wait. Yeah I do. Speaking of which, I want to give a little primer to all those bloggers out there who use our friend “peek” in the wrong place. If you already know this, you can put your head down on your desk till I’m finished. To wit:

1. “peek” means to look or glance at. From Middle English, piken.

2. “peak” means either, the pointed top of something (a mountain peak), or the summit of something (the peak of popularity). Probably also from Middle English.

3. And “pique” means to arouse excitement (to pique curiosity), or to wound someone’s feelings (you can feel piqued). It’s from Middle French (piquer, to prick).

Honestly folks, let’s get this straight, because I read someone’s blog just today where they said they were going to “peek our interest.” Anonymous Person, you can’t glance at our interest. What you meant to use there was our trusty French homonym. Okay? Okay. Let’s admit our mistakes and move on.

(Of course this post means I open myself up to grammatic criticism from my 3-4 readers. BRING IT! Mmmhmm.)

Snowden: Site | Myspace | Label (Jade Tree)

[These tracks have been removed. I have a copy of “Time of the Season if you need it.]

Snowden – Anti Anti
Snowden – Time of the Season (The Zombies cover)

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Amy Millan

(Thanks to BT reader J.M., my Canadian musical consultant, for pointing me in the direction of this artist.)

I don’t feature enough female singers. I have a straight woman’s bias towards my indie rock — I like to hear those pretty boys wailing away about lost love and whatnot. So let me remedy here by mentioning Amy Millan.

Ms. Millan is a Canadian darling, of course, what with those other little bands she happens to be part of (Broken Social Scene and Stars). Those crazy kids, what will they think of next? Well, the new trend seems to be releasing a solo album … blah blah blah Jenny Lewis blah blah blah. Let’s get our inevitable comparisons out of the way.

I didn’t like “Rabbit Fur Coat” for two reasons — the first is, Lewis’s voice sounded so thin that I spent most of every song wondering if it was gonna crack. The second reason was, outside of “Handle With Care,” all the songs blended into each other in an orgy of perfect sameness. I found it excessively boring, like she just stripped all the good Rilo Kileyness away and then we were left with … Rilo Lite.

“Honey From the Tombs” is much more solid. Millan’s voice has a real bluesy tinge to it, and she had the smarts to add a wonderful bluegrass band as backup. The music also doesn’t sound like Stars or BSS, which is a bonus, because a solo ought to be a solo … something different from what you did in your band, right? Or what’s the point?

Millan has a great turn of phrase; the guitar pickin’ is pretty fantastic; and there’s a, dare I say non-Canadian, sense of ambience. One can definitely imagine her singing these songs in a Texas country bar, backed by fuzzy red light, while a burly guy with “Lucinda” tattooed on his arm sobs manfully into his pint of Miller. Or maybe it is Canadian, and it’s a bar in Toronto, and the burly guy is drinking Labatt’s. He’s still sobbing, believe me.

Amy Millan Site/Label (Arts & Crafts) | Myspace

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Amy Millan – Skinny Boy
Amy Millan – Ruby II
Amy Millan – Losin’ You

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OK; the Dundie for Catchiest Name Ever goes to CFTPA. I downloaded a song on the strength of that name alone – “Jeanne, If You’re Ever In Portland.” Ohhkayyy, I thought to myself, this guy sounds kind of like Fozzie Bear. But by then I was hanging around on the Myspace page, so I thought I’d give “TxTxAxBx” a listen, and it blew me away. I haven’t heard anything so weirdly engaging, well, ever. That slow, hypnotic voice, repeating itself like it’s your bad dream, combined with those banging low beats — beyond coolness. (I realized later that “TxTxAxBx” is just “Toby Take A Bow” slowed down, and he says, “Check out my website” at the end like it’s a subliminal message or something, but still.)

Casiotone began, as I read in the biographies, with Owen Ashworth and a keyboard and a lo-fi tape recorder. I suppose that means I should compare him to John Darnielle, but, nah. They aren’t at all similar. Ashworth has a wildly varied sound — sometimes he ups the beat, as in “Scattered Pearls,” and sometimes he kills you with sarcasm, like the grindingly nasty “Don’t They Have Payphones Wherever You Were Last Night.” Sometimes it’s him singing, and sometimes he gets vocalists (Katy Davidson is your guest solo on “Pearls”).

The subject matter varies too, and it’s clever enough to stay interesting. If Ashworth is painfully alone, he wants us all to wallow in it like he’s doing, and so we throw ourselves down and wiggle around in his pain. “Cold White Christmas” chronicles the hard times that come post-college; “Nashville Parthenon” wistfully wishes for his ex to return; and “Scattered Pearls” is about, well, telling your mom how you lost Grandma’s necklace at a disco. All of it, of course, complemented by the most synthesizer that I’ve listened to since Depeche Mode stopped being interesting.

It’s difficult even trying to sort out what songs to put up as a sampler, but even if the three I choose aren’t to your liking, maybe you’ll hear a song someday and go, “Hey, that song is really great! I must buy the album!” and it’ll turn out to be Ashworth, surprising you again.

Casiotone For the Painfully Alone: Site | Livejournal | Myspace | Label (Tomlab)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Scattered Pearls
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Nashville Parthenon
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Cold White Christmas

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