Monday, June 30, 2008

Three punk/noise bands I've been thinking about lately

Nice was Bill's birthday, so we went out for a really, really nice dinner at a place up north that's set on a waterfall. It's been ages since we had the money to go out like that, and Sean had never been to this place.

Also a bit of a break from the running after the 5K...I only ran about six on Sunday, then went to Brattleboro for the afternoon for shopping and beer at the great, great McNeil's brewery.

Then the power went out, and we ate pizza in the dark, couldn't flush the toilet, etc. bummer...when it came back on I was in no mood to work, but had these three bands to write about for Philadelphia Weekly. Both No Age and Abe Vigoda are part of the scene that's grown up around The Smell in LA, sort of a noisy, pop-flecked, punk rock DIY thing. Titus Andronicus, not as good as the two others, is from Jersey.

Here are three videos:
No Age at SXSW...pretty sure this is "Sleeper Hold"

Abe Vigoda's "Bear Face"

Titus Andronicus "Landscape with Icarus"

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Walpole Old Home Days 5K

Sleep now...


Friday, June 27, 2008

Three more from the piles

It’s Friday, and I’ve got a depressing load of work to do, so what better time to go dumpster diving? Let’s see if I’ve missed anything good. Here are three more from the piles in the kitchen…

This Is Ivy League, ST (Twenty Seven Records)
Sort of a twee pop endeavor from two guys in the massively popular emo-shit band known as Cobra Starship…and guess what? It’s pretty sweet, in that dreamy, heavily harmonized, ultra-sensitive, long-eyelashed boy sort of way. If this record were a boy, in fact, you’d end up sleeping with him almost by accident, just because he was there and looking at you in that star-struck way…and then once it was over he would never call.

Ahem, okay, the record. Best cut by far is “London Bridges” with its shuffling, Latinate rhythms (more latin, a bit later, in the very “Girl from Ipanema”-ish “Viola”) and high easy melodies. “Never again, never again, never again/ I will not feel this way again,” they’re singing, and it’s that perfectly pitched balance between sweet and sad. You might quite like this if you’re into Explorers Club, Grand Archives, Sea and Cake, Belle and Sebastian.

The MySpace:

And a video of “London Bridges”

William F. Gibbs, My Fellow Sophisticates (Old Man Records)
Entirely different aesthetic here, a sort of barroom piano braced, hard-blues-y stomp, like M. Ward jacked up on steroids, but not bad, not bad at all. First cut “But You Were Beautiful Once,” swaggers like a drunken sailor…it’s the kind of cut that would turn the chair around and sit on it backwards just to prove it’s a regular guy. “Come Back to Me (for My Love)” backs off a bit, Gibbs toned down to a raggedy whisper and slide, girl harmonies softening the edges. …the M. Ward yardstick seems especially relevant here. Gibbs has got a pretty big band, not just guitar, keys and drums, but electric and stand-up bass and a smattering of brass…probably entertaining as hell live. His piano player, Chuck Lichtenberg is super fun, here on “Oh Pollyanna” he’s switched to country church organ, complete with tremulous vibrato. But, oh, the old-timey thing can get a little bit precious, not sure I like this “Here Comes Your Steamboat Brother!” song with its shuffling rockabilly rhythms and Oh Brother Where Art Thou call and response…but some people might.


Video of “Come Back to Me”

The Scarring Party, Come Away from the Light (Self-Release)
Oh, this is more like it. This is crazy, accordion and tuba, gypsy violin and darkness, a dangerous sort of old-time-i-ness where children die of tuberculosis and women are forced into uneasy alliances with waistcoated scoundrels. Yes, yes, yes…Waits, the Vanity Set, Alec Redfearn, at a long stretch Man Man and the Dresden Dolls are all adequate references, but really this is its own damned thing. And to think I almost missed it…all hail the dumpster dive, rescuer of lost oddities.


“Anywhere” Live at the Pabst Theater

“No More Room”

“Eat Yr Young”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Very early, very quiet

My son, Sean, has been home on summer vacation for the last two weeks, which is fun because I like having him around, but not-so-fun because some of my clients expect me to be working full-time anyway. I’ve had a very long white paper hanging over my head all week, and I got up at 5:30 this morning to finish it in the couple of hours after it’s light and before everybody else gets up. And I did…finish it, 4100 words on the evolution of socially responsible investing. Now I have to give it an hour or two and actually read the thing, make sure it makes some sort of sense…Sigh.

Anyway, nothing up today, but there are a couple of reviews I missed over at Blurt. Frightened Rabbit, which I liked a lot, and Billy Bragg, which I found utterly disappointing. (and I love Billy Bragg…Talking to the Taxman is in my top 25 all-time for sure.)

Frightened Rabbit

Midnight at the Organ Factory
Fat Cat

Following fast on the scruffy glory of Sing the Greys, this second album by Scotland's Frightened Rabbit might well fall victim to inflated expectations. Still, it's hard to see much let-up in the frantic strumming, the manic pounding, the occasionally foul-mouthed but always touching vulnerability. "Modern Leper" seems just as laceratingly self-searching as last year's "Square Nine"; "Heads Roll Off" is this year's "Music Now," a slow-building anthem that carries hurt and joy in equal measures; and "Keep Yourself Warm" gets the "Behave!" award for memorable, not really-repeatable-in-mixed company lyrics. ("You won't find love in a hole/It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.") The big change this time is an organ drone drizzled like syrup over scrubby guitars and skin-puncturing drums. Still, just as before, Frightened Rabbit's fist-pumping anthems hide a raw, beating heart -- the clear winner in any possible organ fight.

“Heads Roll Off”

Billy Bragg
Mr. Love and Justice

The world needs a great Billy Bragg record right about now, a bracing, unsentimental indictment of evils both insidious and overt, couched in self-effacing sarcasm and sung in that trustworthy, endearing croak. The world still needs this record, even after the release of Mr. Love & Justice, because, to be blunt, this is not the one. The early half of the CD comprises muddled-headed generalities about middle-aged domestic life. Opener "I Keep Faith" is an A&R exec's wet dream of an over-produced, underthought ballad, while "M for Me" reduces couples therapy to Sesame Street levels of insight and sophistication. You don't get a whiff of why we care about Billy Bragg musically until well past the middle, with the "Levi Stubbs"-ish soul of the title track, or politically until the biting "Oh Freedom" and the darkly humorous "Johnny Carcinogenic Show." Next time, less love, more justice.

But this is why I love Billy Bragg:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No Orchestra Baobab, bummer

Last night, we were all going to head up to Hanover to see Orchestra Baobab play an outdoor show on the green at Dartmouth, but alas, around 2:30 p.m., the skies opened up and the lightning crackled and all weather-permitting events were, er, not permitted. They moved the show inside and back to 8 p.m., but nobody wanted to go (i.e. Sean and Bill didn’t want to go), so we stayed home, what a bummer.

I also got caught for the third day in a row in a lightning storm on my run…started out in bright sunshine, heard some rumbling over my shoulder, turned around to see the biggest, blackest thunderhead imaginable behind me. I hadn’t even wrapped up my shuffle in plastic, so I was freaking a little, but Bill and Sean came to get me in the car and I avoided most of the rain. Two hours later, it was sunny again and I went out again to do the remaining six miles…I got up early this morning, because I’m so sick of getting caught in the rain. I’m getting lighter and faster and stronger, I can tell, but the marathon schedule is still taking a bit of a toll.

So anyways, music…lots of stuff up today.

At Philadelphia Weekly, those two records I was whining about last week, Bardo Pond and Alejandro Escovedo (drastically curtailed, I thought the word limit was 150, but it 100, oops):

Alejandro Escovedo Real Animal (Back Porch)

Rating: Instant classic, like Edgar Allan Poe.

Alejandro Escovedo’s life unspooled before his eyes after his near-death experience at the hands of hep C, and his ninth solo album reads like an autobiography. There are some fine, slow-paced beauties—the elegiac “Golden Bear” and pedal-steel-fueled “Hollywood Hills.” Still, the best by far is the Stooges-esque “Real as an Animal.” Animal fulfills the promise of The Boxing Mirror, no longer just celebrating survival but bursting with life itself. Everything—from the rattling guitars to Escovedo’s own fine, strong voice—is one long rage against the dying of the light. (Jennifer Kelly)

A sort of trailer for Real Animal:

Bardo Pond Batholith (Three-Lobed)

Rating: Excellent, like John Oates’ mustache.

Batholith collects six droning, slow-tempo explorations of the inner space by Philly’s longest running psych rock outfit. These cuts have been around for years on the live circuit and various compilations, but have never made any of the band’s official albums. They’re of various vintages, some reaching back into Bardo’s older, heavier incarnations where obliterating blasts of guitar feedback storm-surged around Isobel Sollenberger’s trance-slackened moans and howls. “Slip Away,” recorded for a Peel session, is the most structured and songlike of these selections. (J.K.)

It looks like my review of the goofball, prog-fusion, drum-and-keyboard-centric Mats & Morgan band is up today at PopMatters, but damned if I can get in to see it.

Oh wait, there it is:
Mats Morgan Band
Heat Beats Live
[Tourbook 1991-2007]
US release date: 12 February 2008
UK release date: Available as import
by Jennifer Kelly

He's the drummer man

The live DVD Tourbooks, included in Mats/Morgan’s career-spanning compilation Heat Beats Live, opens with a tight shot of drummer Morgan Agren’s hands, still for the moment, but poised over a vast drum kit with perhaps a dozen cymbals, a snare, and four main toms, and four to five tiny timbales. When he starts, his hands fly over the set, impossibly fast but light-tempered and playful. His expression is a strange combination of grimace and grin, the grimace, one imagines, for the difficulty, the grin for the sheer joy of drumming. His long-time musical partner Mats Oberg takes up just a corner of the screen, hunched over a double keyboard. The records, both the live one and the reissued debut Trends and Other Diseases, may feature the two of them equally, but on screen it is clear that Agren is the extraordinary one in the duo, a drummer’s drummer who can flit from cool trad jazz to proggy rock to howling Swedish metal, without dropping a stick, without batting an eye.

More here:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Seattle royalty and Norwegian free-rock…if you like both maybe we should get married

I’ve got kind of a weird combination of sounds for you all today…the laid back almost-rock/almost folk of the Dutchess and the Duke and the scintillating free-jazz-rock-improv of Norway’s Scorch Trio. Both pretty good, but wildly different. Enjoy.

From today’s edition of Dusted:

The Dutchess and the Duke
She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke
(Hardly Art)
The loosely-strung, blues-y acoustic ballad is a staple of even the roughest garage rock albums--think The Reigning Sounds’ “Love Is a Funny Thing,” the Demon’s Claws’ “Gun to My Head,” Mr. Airplane Man’s “Don’t Know Why.” What the Dutchess and the Duke have done here is to make a whole album’s worth of these songs, in a style that ranges at the harder end from Let It Bleed-era countrified Stones to campfire folk songs. If you are expecting garage rock, given the band members’ past work in bands like the Fall-Outs, the Intelligence and Fee Fi Fo Fum, you will be surprised, but not, at least after the initial shock, disappointed. There’s a sloppy, unplanned charm to these songs, with their close harmonies, shuffling rhythms and hard acoustic guitar strumming. They sound like the kind of songs that long-time friends might pound out on the porch in the afternoon, beer cans everywhere, harmonies drifting in and out of true.

More here:
The only sound I can find anywhere is at the MySpace:

The Dutchess and the Duke are about to hit the road with Fleet Foxes…sounds like some upper class brit country shooting weekend, doesn’t it?

06.26.08 - San Francisco, CA - Bottom of the Hill
06.27.08 - San Diego, CA - The Casbah
06.28.08 - Los Angeles, CA - The Echo
06.29.08 - Los Angeles, CA - Spaceland
06.30.08 - Tucson, AZ - Solar Culture
07.02.08 - Austin, TX - The Mohawk
07.03.08 - Dallas, TX - The Loft
07.04.08 - Memphis, TN - Pop Dungeon
07.05.08 - Atlanta, GA - Criminal Records
07.05.08 - Atlanta, GA - Drunken Unicorn
07.06.08 - Chapel Hill, NC - Local 506
07.07.08 - Washington, DC - Black Cat Backstage
07.08.08 - Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Church
07.09.08 - New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
07.10.08 - Brooklyn, NY - Union Hall
07.11.08 - Brooklyn, NY - Academy Records in-store
07.12.08 - New York, NY - TBA
07.13.08 - Brooklyn, NY - Charleston Bar & Grill
07.14.08 - Cambridge, MA - The Middle East Upstairs
07.16.08 - Cleveland, OH - Now That's Class
07.17.08 - Lafayette, IN - Zoolegger's
07.18.08 - Rock Island, IL - TBA
07.19.08 - Chicago, IL - Cobra Lounge
07.20.08 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
07.22.08 - Denver, CO - Hi-Dive
07.23.08 - Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court
07.25.08 - Portland, OR - Doug Fir

And from Popmatters:
Scorch Trio, Brolt! (Rune Grammofon)
The classic power trio line-up—electric guitar, bass and drums—takes a mesmerizing swerve to the left in this third album from the Norwegian avant-jazz-rock trio. Guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, inspired as much by Zappa and Hendrix as Sonny Sharrock, works naturally in rock idioms, from the rapid-fire bursts of tangled, shredded notes of “Olstra”, to the brief, heat-stroked wah wah of “Hys”, but he also broadens the palette with the creaking bowed sounds and slow-evolving sustained tones of “Gaba”. Likewise, drummer Paal Nilssen-love keeps stormy, tumultuous time (even when the time-signature is uncertain), but also knows when to delivers a rapturous fever dream of a solo, as the opening to “Hys” shows. Under, but not quite covered, Ingebrigt Häker Flaten’s bass pulses in fast, terse counterpoint, and rising to the fore in “Graps” with virtuoso speed and musicality. Slower, quieter, “Burning” turns the strings of an electric guitar into a hammered percussion instrument, eliciting uneasy rattles and plucks from a velvety scrim of silence. The tension, and the volume, builds gradually, as wild swathes of feedback merge with abstract twangs and pings. Still whether soft or loud, rock-leaning or disorientingly genre-free, Brolt! has the immediacy and heat of a live show, recorded in single takes on vintage equipment.

Live in Finland

Monday, June 23, 2008

Green Mountain Relay...yes, I survived

My team finished the Green Mountain Relay in 28 hours this weekend. That's an average pace of 8:32 over 196.8 miles (the 200 mile thing was, apparently, a rounding off). Personally, I ran 23 miles, everything under 8:30, and most of it, except for one 7 mile leg with a big hill in it, right around 8 minutes a mile. So, I'm glad it's over, but before I forget I wanted to write down some highlights.

First leg, starting about 4 on Saturday: We are running around the same time as "Team Dinosaur" a bunch of college kids who drive a van fitted out in Stegosaurus spines and tusks and who wear a green dinosaur tail while they run. One of the girls on the team takes off a couple of minutes before my guy comes in, and as I leave, I say, "I'm going to catch that dinosaur chick." So I head up a very long hill (2.7 miles, 700 feet up) and I can't even see her for the first mile or so. About a mile and a half in (I'm guessing, there are no mile markers), I start to see her on the straightaways, so I dig in and start to reel her in. I pass her just a little past the top of the hill and slam down the dirt road, feeling like Wonderwoman or something. It is breathtakingly beautiful, as Vermont can be, with giant trees shading over the road and a brook running alongside, and Team Dinosaur, the ones who aren't running, are all at a swimming hole later on. I finish in about 59 minutes, for a 7.1 mile run, my slowest pace, but also the hardest leg I have to do.

My friend Jerry goes next, with an even bigger hill that ends, fittingly enough at a cemetery, then he too, has a long downhill and gorgeous sunny, Vermont in the summer views. He's faster than I am, coming in just under 7 per mile, then his son, who is 19 does the hardest leg of the whole course, racing another kid about his age the whole way and ending just over 6 minutes per mile for almost ten miles. I could maybe run one six minute mile if I had a gun to my head, but maybe not. Dana and Steve finish our first set and we end up in a tiny town called Hancock just as the sun is setting. The stores are all closing, so we go to a little café/bar where they still have food and get a sandwich. It's the solstice, which people sort of celebrate in Vermont (hippie thing, probably), so there is a small band playing bluegrass in the bar and I wish I could convey how beautiful it is to be eating finally, after a long day, on a porch in a little town with a white church and the sun turning pink over the mountains.

You're supposed to have 12 people on your team, and we only have 10 at the start and one of them goes home after her two legs, so by nightfall we are two short. So Jerry and I, instead of sleeping, get into the other van, and sign up for another leg. It is fully dark after the first two legs, which Ann, who put the team together does one after the other. We wear headlights and blinking vests and try to keep to the shoulder. I run again at about 11, 5 miles, two at a sharp downhill (Jerry has done the uphill right before me). It's pitch dark and foggy, and on a fairly major highway, but the van stays pretty close, and it is sort of fun running headlong into the dark down a hill in the middle of the night. There are some streetlights and lit-up businesses every half a mile or so, so I run one to another. It is cool and marvelously dark and I feel like a kid again. I finish in just about 39 minutes for five miles.

Another woman is running very late, maybe 12:30 or so, and we stop ahead to offer her water in a pull-off between two fields. I get out of the car, because I find that I am really tired in the car, but I feel pretty good when I'm outside. So I'm standing there beside one of the fences and this beautiful thoroughbred horse comes up and sort of snorts at me, and it is one of the most beautiful mysterious moments of the whole trip, the quiet, the stars, the horse and the sheer weirdness of being out in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. There is something large and white and hard to see in the other field. I am hoping a cow, not a bull. I stay away from the fence on that side.

I get back and we are dividing up the next series of six legs, where Jerry and I will hop back into the other van and take our places again. The only easy legs are the ones right up front, and so the choice is between a little rest in between and a harder leg, or a flat one right after the last one. It is quite late, and hard to sleep in the van. I take a 5.4 mile leg with a pretty big hill at the beginning, then a tour grade descent of over 15% at about 3 miles. This is another really magical run. The race has a staggered start with the slower teams leaving before the faster ones, with the goal of making sure that people finish more or less at the same time. In theory, this means that there should be more people around as you get further into the race, but in fact, it seems almost at random whether you are running in a bunch of two or three, or entirely alone. This 2:30 a.m. run, I was almost entirely alone, the whole time, only the van alongside for company. But it is amazingly fresh and sweet in Vermont at this time of night, the smell of wet grass and hay and running water. The moon comes out from behind the clouds during this run, and I can see a little even beyond what the flashlight illuminates...there are huge mountains wrapped in mist and giant, gnarly trees and deep, peaceful meadows, rolling off into the distance. The run goes through a little town, almost entirely dark and silent, and then I see some lights through the trees, lots of them, and it's the end of my leg.

We are now in ski country, just past Killington and coming up on Okemo. Jerry's son, Jake, does the next 6.8 mile leg, mostly flat, again at a ridiculously fast pace, but so smoothly that it looks like he's not running at all. Jake is the only one who seems to be able to sleep in the van while it's moving...he hands off to his dad, who has signed up for the toughest leg of all, a 6.6 mile grind up Okemo's mountain. (There's a reason why people pay $75 a day for the is a long, long slog.) it is, by now, about 3 in the morning and none of us except Jake have slept at all. The hill is unbelievable, and Jerry flags. With about a mile and a half to the change, we put Steve in, and he finishes the hill and does the next leg. Jerry is kicking himself all the way into the next transfer. He has run about 18 miles at this point, including two out of three of the ski resort legs, which are very, very tough. We pull into the transfer area at 5:30 a.m. in full light again, and head to Bromley (another ski area), where we can rest in the parking lot until the other team is done. Two of our people get in the other van. The rest of us talk about whether we'd rather sleep or eat (there's not really time for both). We decide to sleep. I get out my son's sleeping back and close my eyes for about an hour, but it's bright sun by then, and I can't really drift off. I volunteer for the next leg, which is mostly downhill, 5.4 miles. This is my last leg. This is when it starts to rain, monsoon hard, and with thunder and lightning.

Jake takes over when I finish and does about 4 miles of his 6.8 mile leg. At 4 miles, it begins to thunder in earnest. We are on top of mountains, under trees...just where you're not supposed to be. His dad pulls him back into the car, and Steve finishes the leg. It gets worse. We talk about whether we should pull out of the race. There are really only a couple of people on the team who have any running left in them by this point. one of the women in the other van has left to go home. We are down to nine, I am in that sleep and blood-sugar-deprived state where you feel like you are really legs are hardly able to move anymore. We talk about waiting for half an hour and seeing if the weather clears. We try to pull Steve off the road, but he shakes us off. It clears a little bit and Jerry does 3-4 miles to the transfer. We talk Kevin into a 3 mile run (he's got back problems), but the minute he starts, the thunder clouds go right over us, and there are some strikes within a mile...his wife pulls him back into the van. We wait. It clears finally and some of the people from the other van, Kevin, Ann and Dick offer to do a mile or two. We are about 15 miles from the finish, and the rain stops and we finish somehow, mostly Steve and Jerry carrying the team.

And then we get to eat, and we go home.

So, there were some amazing moments. There were some really awful moments. (After my last leg, I go into a diner where the Van 1 people (who did a lot less and a lot easier mileage than the Van 2 people, even without all the switching and extra legs) were having a full breakfast...there was no room at their table, so I go to the counter, but I can't get the waitress and I know they're about to leave, so I end up not getting anything to eat. This is the low. It just seems so unfair and so unbearable that I might have to run again, and these people who have been able to SLEEP and EAT do not. I get really mad and depressed, and I know that is mostly the low blood sugar, but I still cannot wait to get back into the other van. Where, late in the race when everything falls apart, we all share an ice-cold can of Heineken and I have never tasted a better beer in my life.

I don't think I would do this again unless we had a full, official team, with more people who would run the harder legs, but it was definitely an interesting experience. I'll write about music tomorrow I promise, but for now, I've got to try to get some work done.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Picks from the pile

This morning I picked out three CDs at random from the pile of promos I’ve received over the last several weeks, and now I’m going to listen to them once and write down some general impressions. I am, of course, far more likely to pitch reviews of albums I’ve actually listened to, so if I like stuff, there’s a good chance I might spend more time on it and write a formal review (Though editors play a role in this, and they can always say no or at the very least, “It’s not a priority.”)

I’m going to try to do this once a week or so, because the piles are hella big and who knows, there might be some good stuff in there. Here we go:

Jay Brannan Goddamned (Great Expressions)
Soft, clever pop, artfully embellished with strings, guitars, piano, but eccentric enough not to cloy. For instance, right now, the guy is singing “I wanna be a housewife/What’s so wrong with that?” in his high smooth tenor, a gender switch that is all the more unsettling because it’s hard to tell from listening whether the singer is a boy or a girl. My favorite cut is “American Idol”, with the memorable line “American Idol/get the hell off my TV.” Yeah, who says you can’t be gentle and melodic and pissed off at the same time? Brannan is frequently a dead ringer for Sufjan Stevens, so if you like him, head over to the MySpace for more:

Or Jay’s website:

And here’s a video of the title track, “Goddamned”

The Weeks, The Weeks (Esperanza Plantation)
The cover blurb promises Southern boogie a la the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, but the first song (“Comeback Cadillac”) is more of a post-punker frenzy, with these giant stop-start riffs and not a mustache or southern accent in sight. Not bad, not quite a sale…let’s hear some more…ah, song two, “Teary-Eyed Woman” is all acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, more of a country thing? Nope, now there’s that razory punk riff and straight-up beat…this I kind of like, though it’s all over the place with at least three fundamentally different kinds of songs slapped together. You could pogo to it, no doubt, though, and that is a good thing. The all-important song #3 (have you noticed how many times the third song is the single?) “Altar Girl” is a bit simpler and more conventional, but not bad at all. I’m thinking American Princes as a reference point, a band that’s Southern by origin and occasionally lets it show, but is mostly a straight up rock-punk-garage kind of experience. Here’s the MySpace:

Drunk Stuntmen, State Fair
Okay, here’s the Southern Boogie we were looking for, that heel rockin’, back-leaning country blues beat. This band has been around forever and sets up its tents in Northampton, MA. I’m pretty sure we saw them one year at First Night, but this album is still kind of a surprise, way better than you’d expect from a plain label, self-release out of a band that no one seems to have heard of. I am really liking the instrumental break in “Every Third Thing,” a long sidewinding guitar solo, leading into some sort of electric piano boogie, and then a groove-repetitive vocal chorus a la Little Feat. This is my pick out of the three. There are all kinds of Drunk Stuntmen downloads and streams here:

And here’s the MySpace

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wolf Parade and some alternate mid-year bests

A few more reviews from recent days...

Wolf Parade
At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop)
Rating: Excellent

Towards the end of "Kissing the Beehive", Wolf Paraders Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug bleat nervy cries of "Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!" over and over again, as if all should abandon this particular ship, still four minutes or so from shore. No one will jump, though since listeners who have made it this far through At Mount Zoomer will have noticed that these two have already set every indie convention on fire. "Call it a Ritual" is a piano-banging pop song fed through an echoing, disorienting hall of mirrors, while guitar-chiming "California Dreamer" makes an anthem out of half-heard radio choruses. From the thumping, surging rhythms, to the anguished yelps to the image-drenched, puzzle-complex lyrics, to the non-linear yet fist-pumping choruses, At Mount Zoomer remakes Wolf Parade's own baroque brand of indie rock. Arcade Fire, Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs, consider your bets met...and raised.

Sub Pop has made two cuts off the album available on its website:

"Call It a Ritual"

"Language City"

Earlier in the week, I posted a link to Dusted's Mid-Year Round-Up, where various writers picked their favorites for the year so far. Mine was Big Dipper. Others picked Nick Cave, Toumani Diabate, Kurt Vile and others...

Anyway, as usual I had trouble deciding on just one, so I wrote a few other blurbs on particular favorites from the first half of 2008, which I am including here:

Experimental Aircraft, Third Transmission (Graveface)
Post-shoegazer bands are a dime a dozen this year, but none of them have made a record like Third Transmission, with its shimmering walls of altered guitar and dreamy 4AD-girl vocals. The two principles split singing, each taking the mic for one of two stand-out songs, Rachel Staggs in pulse-droning "Stellar," TJ O'Leary for the more strident, punk-rhythmed "Upper East Side." Both are stunning. No one warned me about this record, and hardly anyone seems to have heard it, but it's a good one, no question.

Thalia Zedek Band Liars & Prayers (Thrill Jockey)
The always excellent Zedek gathers her best band in years, adding Mel Ledermann (from Victory at Sea) and Winston Braman (a one-time Come bassist) to the core line-up of David Curry and Daniel Coughlin. A full band frees Zedek to loosen up her guitar playing, even taking the occasional solo, and gives her often elegiac songs an edge of anger. She hasn't sounded this powerful since Come...and maybe not even then.

Human Bell Human Bell (Thrill Jockey)
David Heumann, the guitarist from Arbouretum, and Nathan Bell of Lungfish, join their names -- and their instruments -- in radiant patterns of acoustic guitar. The disc turns electrified and distorted towards the end, in long, rock-leaning "Ephaphatha (The Opening)" drones coalescing around picked patterns like Kirlian auras. Weightly, mysterious and wonderful.

Retribution Gospel Choir Retribution Gospel Choir (Caldo Verde)
Loud is the new loud on this sludgy, distorted mass side-project from Low's Alan Sparhawk. You'll have to listen to a couple of times before you even recognize the Low songs, "Breaker" and "Take Your Time" wrapped as they are in splintering, rupturing volumes of feedback, yet it's worth well worth the extra spins. Delicate melodies emerge from harsh over- and undertones, in their way as lovely as Sparhawk has ever done.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The worst movie ever

Do not rent Dan in Real Life, quite possibly the most false and cloying movie of last year…it’s about the kind of family that plays charades together at a big beach house, but whose matriarch is still casually cruel and thoughtless enough to start the dryer up (with sneakers) just as her son tries to get some sleep in the laundry room. Oh, and there’s a dead mom character…eeesh, isn’t there always? Worst of all, it is not funny, not touching, not smart and not believable. The main question is “What the hell was Juliette Binoche thinking?” (Perhaps: “Money, I need money.”)

Anyway, I have a couple of new reviews up at, the avant pop of Au (pronounced sort of like “hey you”) and the freaky classico-folk of Fern Knight.


Pitched somewhere between the arty campfire songs of Animal Collective, the whole-grain, free-jazz clap-alongs of Akron/Family, and the choral ephemeries of Grizzly Bear, Luke Wyland's Au plays feel-good experimentalia. It is joyful, explosive and improvisatory, altogether more communal than exclusionary. First single, "rr vs. d" starts in a rumble of piano notes, a flurry of handclaps, a syncopated, chorale-in-unison island lullaby. "Get it, one, two, three" sings Wyland, ushering in a frantic march of brass, bells and melodica, as crazily celebratory as a circus parade. "All My Friends", Verbs' biggest production, gathers 22 singers into a PDX Ecstatic Singers chorus. The track filters sun through hazy layers of tone, its slow-sung lyrics and piano rolls curling like steam around hand-clapped, xylophone plunked rhythms. Towards the end, Wyland cuts back to just himself in "Sleep," a slow-bowed, whispery coda to one of this year's most joyful experiments.
Standout tracks: "rr vs. d," "All My Friends" JENNIFER KELLY

Fern Knight
Fern Knight
Cellist-singer-songwriter Margie Wienk's third album as Fern Knight has the same rich baroque drone, the same rupturing 1960s psychedelia as Music For Witches and Alchemists. This time, however, she's got a fully-formed band with Jim Ayre of Flying V picking up the acid leads (from Greg Weeks of Espers on the previous album), James Blackshaw back on renaissance harp and electric bass and James Wolf on achingly pretty, sad violin. Eerie cymbal rolls and angelic runs of harp lend drama to "Silver Fox," a tale of casual cruelties and chains encircling the neck. "Sundew" unfolds languorously, breezy jazz-tinged guitar and bass pulsing through the throb of cello. Wienk sings so sweetly that you might not catch the threat and intelligence of post-classical "Magpie Suite," a three-part suite that starts with a Milton quote and ends in giddy reels and dizzy harmonies. Fern Knight is organically gorgeous, but never oversweet.

Standout tracks: "Silver Fox," "Magpie Suite: Part II" JENNIFER KELLY

Here’s Margie and crew playing “Magpie Suite” last month:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

200 miles, 10 people, yikes

This weekend is the solstice and I will be celebrating (suffering) it by running the Green Mountain Relay, a 200-mile team run from Burlington Vermont, way up near Canada, to Bennington, Vermont, which is all the way down by Albany. From what I hear, the relay legs are mostly in the 4-6 mile range and everybody does 3-4 of them depending on how many people you have. (I assume, since they let me in, that my team is a little short.) The race starts Saturday morning and runs all day and night and most of the next day. Am I looking forward to those country jogs at 3 a.m.? Yes, I am, you bet, thanks for asking. So those are my weekend plans, which may well spill over into Monday…at least in terms of sleeping in afterwards.

Other news, my son Sean has completed 7th grade…highlights:
* Most improved XC skier…he took about ten minutes off his time in one race.
* Starring role in local production of “Tom Sawyer”…very amusing southern accent.
* Most improved award in track, too…did a personal best of 6:25 in the mile, which is faster than I can run…yeah Sean!
* Reasonably good academic performance, but not the all-As that would get him an X-Box or possibly into Yale or Dartmouth
* Selected for advanced algebra next year
* Will play Diesel this summer in a New England Youth Theater production of “West Side Story”.

Okay, and music…

My interview with David Berman of the Silver Jews went up today at PopMatters:

Clearer Vision: An interview With David Berman of the Silver Jews
In between his fifth and sixth albums as Silver Jews, David Berman underwent eye surgery that both physically and metaphorically extended his range of vision. He explains, "The changeover to sight, for me, is accompanied by a larger agenda -- being able to take on more, being able to see farther, but also having more confidence about any number of things because I can see."

More here:

Here’s David performing “What Is Not But Could be If” from the new album:

Also, today, Dusted picks its favorite records so far:

Mine is Big Dipper. Here they are playing “Ron Klaus Wrecked His House” fairly recently:

And “Man o War” in their prime”

Monday, June 16, 2008

What a firedrill!

On Friday, I threw caution to the wind and pitched three album reviews for Philadelphia Weekly, all for albums that I didn’t at that exactly moment possess in my hot little hands. Come 5 p.m. when assignments were made, I found that I needed to obtain both Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal and Bardo Pond’s Batholith immediately. The reviews were due Monday at noon.

So I asked everybody I knew, and my friend Michael came across with the Bardo and my editor at PopMatters with the Escovedo. Both have been an absolute joy to listen to…and I think Alejandro has just knocked Big Dipper off its #1 slot. I haven’t actually reviewed the Bardo yet, but I’ve been listening to it all morning and just about ready…

Meanwhile, a couple of new reviews up today.

Wonderful, totally over-my-head avant-classical/jazz piano from a lady who has worked with Anthony Braxton and a whole bunch of other high profile jazz guys.

Marilyn Crispell, Vignettes (ECM)
Pianist Marilyn Crispell, according to her bio, trained at the New England Conservatory and played nothing but classical music until she was 28. Then, transfixed by Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, she turned towards jazz, playing over the next several decades with Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Barry Guy and the Reggie Workman trio, and, most recently Paul Motian and Gary Peacock. Here, in the solo album Vignettes, Crispell brings together both sides of her experience, in a series of 17 mostly improvised pieces that tread the line between contemporary classical and jazz, compositional structure and improvisation.

Seven abstract “Vignettes” frame the album, brief distillations of moods and ideas that are, perhaps, the most challenging elements of the CD. The longer, named pieces are, in general, more lyrical, “Valse Triste” moody and full of searching pauses, “Time Past” awash in romantic longing, the extended “Sweden” jazz-like in its thoughtful exploration of themes. Crispell improvised most of the tracks, but a few were based on existing pieces. “Stilleweg” follows a composition by Arve Henrikson, the trumpet player from Norway’s Supersilent, while the melody of “Cuida Tu Espirito” comes from a piece written by flutist Janya Nelson. The whole disc is surpassingly beautiful, full of clarity and shimmering with melancholy introspection. It would be a shame if only the jazz cognescenti or the classical avant-garde took notice of Vignettes, because has a elegiac loveliness that any music fan can appreciate. [Amazon ]

And a not-so-overwhelmed review of the Lodger…a Leeds-based pop band that sounds a bit like Orange Juice.

The Lodger, Life is Sweet (Slumberland)
The next gig that Leeds-based the Lodger has listed on its MySpace page is something called "Rip It Up: Edwyn Collins Night," so it's probably fair to infer that any similarities between this band and the late, lamented Orange Juice are not exactly accidental. And indeed, there are lots of similarities––the scrambled, jangling guitar flourishes, the almost disco-funk of the bass, the wistful smiling-through-discouragement pop lyrics. The problem is that the Lodger gets many of the elements of Orange Juice's sound exactly right, but ignores its angsty melodic soul.

As an experiment, try listening to OJ's "Blue Boy," then the Lodger's "My Finest Hour." The Orange Juice song starts in a flurry of martial drums, a tangle of hasty, manic guitars. Collins' voice, when it comes, pushes hard against the pop contours of the song, as if effort could (and perhaps did) transform easy melody into something weightier. Now, take "My Finest Hour" with its cracked-dry drums, repetitive keyboards and Ben Siddall's off-toned, wistful voice. It drifts rather than grips, glides rather than catches you short. It's like Orange Juice, but in the way a line drawing is like a sculpture of the same person, flattened, simplified, an allusion rather than a full-body experience.

More here:

You can do your own comparison test with these two videos:
The Lodger

….and Orange Juice

Also saw the movie Son of Rambow, which was wonderful, sweet and very funny…reminded me a little of My Life as a Dog, which is one of my all-time favorites.

Oh, and I can highly recommend MOJO’s current giveaway CD, a Class of 1977 punk compilation which ends with my friend Robert Lloyd’s old band, the Prefects, playing “things in general.”

Now for that Bardo….

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ends, beginnings and, oh screw it, middles, too

There's a scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Huck have run away to an island and sneak back into town just in time to attend their own funeral. They are surprised, as I suppose most people would be, at all the nice things people say about them.

I had a similar experience this week, after flushing my MOG page. I'd sort of meant to go quietly, because MOG can be a very dramatic place...and anyway, the new site enhancements meant that I couldn't post or comment anymore without driving ten miles into town for WIFI. I've been kind of bored with MOG lately, to tell the truth. There are people I like on there and people who post interesting stuff...but there's a lot of commercial dreck on there, and the site seems to value it more than the good stuff. (The main page is particularly, aggressively awful.)

Anyway, I had been unable to upload music from home for a year and a half, since an upgrade that timed you out of the system if you were inactive for more than 10 minutes (uploading a song counted as inactive for some reason). Another upgrade a few months ago made it impossible to listen to music clips (you couldn't let them load and listen to them later). The last upgrade cut me off from even posting text. So it was time to go, and I went.

And then my friend Cody did this:

It's the nicest obituary anyone's ever written about me, and I didn't even have to die for it. Thank you Cody.

I've had two experiences recently, which illustrate both the up- and downside of not being on an active social site (this one doesn't count because as far as I know, no one reads it).

On the upside, on Friday, during the time I might have been screwing around on MOG, commenting on clips I can't hear, videos I can't see, etc., I listened to about an hour of an WFMU show by (sometime MOG-ger) Lou Ziegler and heard about six bands/records that I want to check out.

In order of appearance:
Allez Allez -- Belgian synthy dance punk, sort of like ESG or Delta Five
Battant -- also in the crevice between punk and dance, but more current and more punk I think.
Future of the Left -- Here we go all the way over to the punk side...this could be classic late 1970s stuff, but I think it's not...
A.H. Kraken -- super distorted garage punk from France on the can-do-no-wrong-ever In the Red Label.
Bardo Pond's Batholith...which my friend Michael already sent me, which I am reviewing for tomorrow morning for Philly Weekly and which is pretty mind-splitting great, if you ask me.

You can listen to this show, too, if you want, by clicking on this link:

So in terms of hearing new music, I think MOG has been a bit of a sinkhole, and it's good, no strike that, it's downright exciting to be out there foraging for new experiences again.

The other thing, also on Friday, was that I went to an open mic with to meet my friend Ann's new boyfriend, who plays guitar. His bass player has a washtub bass, something I had never really looked at up close, but it's kind of cool how you can move the stick around to tighten/loosen the string and change the note. As a joke -- oh yeah, this is fairly pathetic -- I asked the guy if he could play any Pere Ubu songs. I mean, it was a ridiculous thing to say, but the idea of "Final Solution" on washtub bass kind of tickled me. My friends' new boyfriend never heard of Pere Ubu, to the extent that he asked what kind of music they played. So this is the lonely thing about not being on MOG...that no one will know the what the hell I am talking about when I talk about music and I will have to learn to shut up about it again, at least around people that I want to stay friendly with.

As for new stuff, here are some links:
Thalia Zedek interview in Philly Weekly

Review of Grand Archives/Sera Cahoone show in Blurt-Online

This has utterly disappeared from the index of the website at the only way anyone can ever see it is by following this link:


Review of Bishop Allen/War on Drugs show in PopMatters

Review of a totally insane a-capella-on-steroids, art-freak record by Lexie Mountain Boys

Oh, and the new Alejandro Escovedo record is freaking brilliant, way more rock than the last one and a kick in the ass all the way through. I'm reviewing this one, too, for tomorrow, for Philly Weekly, and I might be interviewing him for Popmatters.

I think I’m going to do this about once a week, to keep track of what I'm doing for my own purposes at least.