Friday, May 31, 2013

Rainer Ptacek tribute

I was digging through the piles on and around my desk again on Monday, and ended up tossing most of it, but I did find this really wonderful album called The Inner Flame, which is a tribute to Rainer Ptacek, who co-founded Giant Sand with Howe Gelb. Ptacek died a long time ago -- 1997 I think -- and the album was recorded to help him and his family meet the medical expenses of his first bout with a brain tumor in 1996. He got the chemo and lived for another year, then had a recurrence, very sad...

Ptacek was an extremely talented guy -- and you can hear him either solo or with other artists on a few of these tracks. He also commanded immense respect among a broad range of musicians-musicians types. among the people who contribute here are Gelb, Calexico, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Page (!!), John Wesley Harding, Vic Chestnutt and others. The record originally came out in 1997 and was, apparently, reissued by Fire almost exactly one year ago. (I've got to clean off my desk more often.) So it's too late to do much about it, except maybe say, briefly, how god-damned beautiful it is.

I'm off for our final big track meet of the year, scheduled to last from 3:45 to about 10 p.m. and including 28 teams. It's super hot today. We will definitely be going out in a blaze, if not of glory, at least of heat and light.

Have a nice weekend then.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Hey, this is fun, short, buzzy pop punk songs with a boy and a girl trading off vocals, and, just to mix things up, some weird found-sound intervals. I'm getting a little bit of an Avengers vibe...also Dils...definitely W. Coast punk.

Check out the bandcamp.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Grumbling Fur...Alexander Tucker's new thing

Very much enjoying Alexander Tucker's new project Grumbling Fur, which is more urban and pop sounding than his psych-folk solo work, but just as mysterious and beautiful. In Grumbling Fur, he works with Daniel O'Sullivan, whose other projects include Guapo, Ulver, and Æthenor (with Stephen O’Malley). Anyway, still kind of struggling with workload issues, but thought I'd share this soundcloud sample.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Primal Scream

Kinda liking the new Primal Scream...

So here's an example of what my son Sean has been dealing with lately...just an unbelievable string of things that seem like they could go right or wrong, but always go wrong. He qualified for the 300 meter hurdles at the State Meet last weekend, but his coach put his time into the 110 meter hurdles slot (where he was, ahem, about three times as slow as he should have been...having run three times the distance).

Also found out that he got a small part in Richard the III this summer (Edward, dies before intermission) bummer. They just don't believe at him over there. Thank god he's onto bigger things soon.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunday Parlor Music

More old-time acoustic guitar from the Tompkins Square label, this time on the distaff side.

Queen of the Flat Top Guitar
Lena Hughes
Tompkins Square


Lena Hughes recorded Queen of the Flat Top Guitar in the early 1960s, but it harks back to a much earlier era, one before television, phonographs or radio, when an evening’s entertainment might consist of a succession of hymns, popular songs and fiddle tunes picked carefully out on a six-string guitar. Hughes herself came of age in the years between the two World Wars in Ludlow, Mississippi. Her father taught her to play the guitar, then considered a lady’s instrument, and showed her the fingerings for the old songs. She played all her life, not just guitar but banjo and fiddle as well, touring the Ozark Mountain folk circuit with her husband for decades. She only recorded this single album, which had all but been forgotten by the time of her death in 1998.

Almost but not quite. John Renbourne, the Pentangle guitarist who wrote the liner notes for this lovely reissue, admits that he had been looking for the original for years, as a source feeder for the folk and blues music he loved. “Lena Hughes’ playing is beautiful and depicts a bygone age, the musical sentiment of 19th century America – as iconic as quilting, shape-note singing and Tiffany glass,” he writes. “The music now termed ‘parlor’ was essentially the popular music of the day. Often light and romantic, it has tended to be dismissed as time passes. But the approach to the guitar – tunings, techniques, harmony – fed directly into the rural styles, ragtime and blues, and laid the foundation for the music that has gone on to shape the listening of the modern world.”

These are quiet, modest little tunes, the picking carefully precise, the crescendos modulated, even the ghostly blues slides reined in and civilized. The melodies are familiar, though perhaps not as familiar as they once were when tunes like “Spanish Fandango” were sheet-music blockbusters in the 19th century. Hughes’ version is an intricate waltz, plain spoken and practical in its rhythms yet overlit with the glow of wonderfully rounded, sustained notes. The hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” even more effectively balances the earthy and the spiritual, its homely melody weaving through ethereal bends and flared notes.


Nice piece with audio at NPR.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Catbirds Say Yeah!

Still catching up on last week's seemed to be the week when all the stuff I'd been writing for a month finally hit the web.

THE CATBIRDS – Catbirds Say Yeah

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Catbirds Say Yeah
Iddy Bitty


Chandler Travis is surely the busiest working musician on Cape Cod, splitting his time between the Catbirds, the Chandler Travis Three, the Chandler Travis Philharmonic and the Incredible Casuals. That last outfit may ring some bells among older Bostonites; it has been performing around Beantown (and the Cape) since 1980. Before the Incredible Casuals, Travis performed in Steve Shook’s Shook and the Club Wow, a comedy/music duo that toured regularly with George Carlin.

So, right, grizzled veteran, one more baby boomer refusing to give up the rock ‘n roll ghost, yadda yadda yadda….

Except that Catbirds Say Yeah! is a pretty damn fine record, regardless of the vintage of its performers. It’s well worth saying “Yeah!” about, even if you hadn’t been prompted by the album title. Travis and his compadres – drummer Rikki Bates, all-purpose player Dinty Childs (guitar, mandolin, accordion, etc.), and guitarist Steve Wood – play a giddily intense, goofily hardball kind of garage rock that sounds like the Sonics crossed with early R.E.M., or maybe Big Dipper cut with first album Feelies. Catbirds Say Yeah may not be “of” the moment, but it’s totally “in” the moment, wholly committed and totally engaged to the point where the music hardly sounds retro at all.


You can stream the album here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Eluvium's dreams and imperfections

Eluvium's immensely long Nightmare Ending is intended as a follow-up to Copia, the last of his ambient, landscape-y electronic albums; it came out in 2007. The cuts in Nightmare Ending apparently came the material that he gave up on in 2009 or so, because it was too similar to his previous output, and then went on to record the very different, vocally-centered Similes. (I liked this last album a lot and interviewed him about it for PopMatters.

Anyway, there are few vocals on this new album (which must be a double-disc? I got mine electronically, no indication of format, except that it's 84 minutes long), one of the most haunting and beautiful belonging to Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo in a song called "Happiness" streamable below.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Blank Realm

I did some record "shopping" a few weeks ago at the WFMU heavily played list, ended up reviewing Lamps and Blank Realm for Dusted (with a reissue of the Monochrome Set's Strange Boutique still to come)...all totally enjoyable experiences, and here's the first one to run, up yesterday at Dusted.

Blank Realm
Go Easy

Blank Realm has emerged out of the extended drones and free-form scree of the Not Not Fun world into a damaged, pedal-altered garage rock, kin to fellow Australian bands like UV Race and Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Go Easy, originally released on vinyl last year by Siltbreeze, is Blank Realm’s most tuneful, accessible album yet, a loosely strung, cheerily dissonant set of songs. Remnants of the band’s hard-jamming, endlessly improv-ing past poke through -- in the bludgeoning, blast-furnace heat of opener “Acting Strange,” in the untethered instrument play of “The Crackle” (parts one and two) and especially in the vast, krauty expanses of next-to-closer “Pendulum Swing.” But Go Easy is pretty close to a pop album, at least as close as Times New Viking or UV Race ever gets.

Because Blank Realm splits vocals between a boy and a girl, and also perhaps because of a general noisy slackness, they are often compared to Royal Trux. It’s an easy reference, but full of holes. I’m not hearing much, if any, of Hagerty and Herrema’s Stones neo-soul in these tracks, nor is there much of that band’s sexual smolder, maybe because three-quarters of Blank Realm are siblings. But more than that, Go Easy is lackadaisical in a happy, low-key sort of way, not strung out with existential anomie (and, er, heroin). Even the title track, which slathers a who-can-be-bothered monotone of male and female singing over a low-slung blues vamp, sounds more like Matt Valentine and Erika Elder than anything else. It’s unhurried but unworried, too, without the menacing undertow of Royal Trux.


And you know, just because "Falling Down Stairs" on a party Boat sounds so R'N R...

Come's first gig ever?

Reviewing the reissue of Come's extraordinary debut, Eleven:Eleven I stumbled across this video of what may have been the first Come gig ever. (It's from 1991).

Now let's all think for a moment where we were in 1991. (Me, NYC, just starting my freelance business and newly married, no Sean yet, but still a pretty decent marathoner.)

Have a lovely weekend. It's supposed to rain here, pretty much nonstop.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Pastels

I've got a bunch of stuff up at Dusted and Blurt lately...haven't really gotten around to posting it. (Still super busy with middle school track, an investment blog that is now my biggest client and sundry other financial writing gigs....)

I thought I'd start catching up with this review of the Pastels' latest, Slow Summits, which I liked probably the best of all the stuff I've reviewed lately.

The Pastels
Slow Summits

The video for “Check My Heart” starts with young girls shimmying, lost in the sun-through-showers lyricism of The Pastels’ first single in 16 years. Hedonism gives way, a little later in the film, to a more studied air, as band members flip through stacks of old vinyl. The video is kind of perfect in the way it encapsulates The Pastels’ appeal, half blind pleasure and half knowing reference. The band is history, one of the main instigators of a Scottish pop scene documented on the NME’s C86 cassette, but the past sits very lightly on its fifth studio album, Slow Summits. No pressed flowers here drily document past glories. These songs are fresh, ephemeral beauties, still beaded with dew.


Oh yeah, and since I'm flogging that video...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not as awful as High VIolet but no Boxer either...

I reviewed the new National a couple of days ago for Blurt, enjoying it but wishing it were more than it is.

First Look: The National’s “Trouble Will Find Me

More songs about mid-life crises and food: “done this well, even dad rock has its charms,” writes our reviewer, awarding 3 (out of 5) stars. Out this week, on venerable label 4AD. Watch a video, below.


Trouble Will Find Me has a smooth, cool finish, polished like a stone in the bottom of a river until all the weird stuff has been worn away. Other people may throw around terms like “mature,” “assured” and “restrained,” but I’m leaning towards the idea of chamois-cloth erosion, a process of spitting and rubbing and polishing until you can see your reflection in the surface, until it’s hardly a rock at all anymore.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Savages and Wax Idols

Savages, out of London, are getting a lot of attention lately, a glowing profile in the New Yorker, a 8.7 BNM review from Pitchfork, a live appearance on Jools Holland (see below).

I have to say I feel more in tune with the zeitgeist than usual, as the debut Silence Yourself is intensely, unflinchingly good...and, obviously, targeted at people exactly like me with a Pavlovian response to GO4-ish picked bass, Siouxie wails and jittery, unsentimental angst.

Still in the girls fronting no-wave-into-post-punk bands sweepstakes, I probably like Wax Idols a little better...Savages have a philosophy, maybe a manifesto, and so are easier to write about, but check this video of "Sound of a Void" from Discipline and Desire.

Good to see the girls up front though, in both cases, and kicking ass.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Speedy Ortiz back for more

Speedy Ortiz is centered down in Northampton and I think one her guitar players lives even closer, around Keene, but I had never heard of her (them) until Otis Hart asked me to review her first three recordings. They were pretty great, spiky and lo-fi but super intelligent behind the dissonance. My Dusted piece on Speedy Ortiz ran earlier this year. I think I even mentioned that she had a new album in the can, though I had no idea it was coming so soon. The new one is called Major Arcana, it's out on Carpark and, if the world were in any way fair, it would be a monster.

Check this out, it's like the Breeders in front of Polvo or something...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kait Lawson

I've been kind of smitten, lately, with the debut album from Memphis songwriter Kait Lawson, Until We Drown. It's pretty straight-up alt-country, though supported by a very seasoned crew, and as this genre can be at its best, bracingly, unflinchingly honest and strong. Lawson's got a flute-y, gutty voice, a good bit more vibrato than, say, Neko Case, but not as much as Amber from Black Mountain, and she writes well across a range of country sub-genres, including this full-band honky tonk song, "Place in the Ground."

The album's has been out, in a very quiet way, since March 2013 on Madjack Records...shame it's been lost in the shuffle.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ooga Boogas

Awesome new stuff from Australia which, in itself, makes this perfect for Friday.

Got a glass of cold white wine waiting for me and, jesus lord, do I need it.

have a nice weekend.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Rather enjoyed this mildly psychedelic, ever-so-slightly jammy sixth album from the Gainesville, Florida band Morningbell...what do you think? (Little bit of Flaming Lips in there?)

Off to yet another track meet, my fifth in the last eight days. Wheeeee! Good thing I'm not working (oh, crap, I'm working, too).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ty Segall finally gets some sleep

So what do you do after the year of three original full band, one more or less just you, one with Tim Presley of White Fence? All supported with relentless touring, and those ridiculous press interviews.

Get some zzzzzs apparently. And also make a teaser for the upcoming Sleeper which sounds, on a very limited sample, to be trippier and more psychedelic than recent efforts and very, very fine.

Maybe he'll get something to eat after this. A salad perhaps.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sam Amidon's Bright Sunny South

It's been a long time since I had a review up...this is a good one. It's from Brattleboro's own Sam Amidon.

SAM AMIDON – Bright Sunny South


“He’s Taken My Feet” is an old song, a hymn that has been sung in churches for 100 years, celebrating one of the humblest moments of the New Testament, when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. It’s a homespun melody, ringed in by melancholy but buoyed by the hope of resurrection. Its simplicity, humility and certainty are as foreign to our age as hoop skirts and mutton chops, but when Sam Amidon strips it down, as he does in its ghostly opening, it seems perfectly modern. It is streamlined and unfussy, but like a Bauhaus building, rather than a Shaker box. Later on, a lovely trumpet solo (that’s Kenny Wheeler, a free jazz titan, who has played with Derek Bailey and Anthony Braxton) shades the tune further towards the modern day, and, near the track’s end, it twists suddenly into drum-pounding, guitar-distorting, improvisatory mayhem. It’s the kind of track that you could really only do if you were Sam Amidon, raised on the folk and shape-note-singing customs of rural Vermont and educated as a young man in the post-modern anti-traditions of free jazz.


Monday, May 13, 2013

David Berkeley...oh, well, okay

I just took a bunch of new stuff off my iTunes because it was unbelievably boring and I couldn't picture listening to it again...but I kept David Berkeley's Fire in My Head in the new folder. I'm not sure it's great, but it's pretty good, kind of a wavery, warbly Americana folk solo thing with some pretty harmonies and nice banjo picking. I'm not pounding the table on this one, but at least it doesn't make me want to throw my iPod across the room, you know what I mean?

If any of you are actually excited about anything you're listening to, I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Jon Hopkins

I'm not really an electronics type, but Jon Hopkins participated in one of my absolute favorite albums from a couple of years ago, a joint effort with King Creosote, where he surrounded the really gorgeous, fragile folk melodies of KC with oddly evocative bits of found and manufactured sound...Immunity Jon Hopkins latest solo album is a bit drier and more abstract (because, doh, it doesn't have King Creosote on it), but quite lovely in spots. Here's a video while I try to think of something intelligent to say about it for Blurt.

Sorry I've been so haphazard lately. My work has picked up a bit, and I'm in the middle of track meet frenzy (three meets this week, two next...good times).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Come again?

Matador is reissuing 11:11, the debut album from Come, a searingly powerful piece of work, described very ably by David Sprague in the band's Trouserpress entry:

Eleven: Eleven is very much a guitar tour de force, drenched as it is in the sweaty fluids that come forth when the six-strings of Zedek (a veteran of Boston's Dangerous Birds and New York's Live Skull) and Chris Brokaw (who served concurrently as Codeine's drummer until 1993) rub against each other. The guitarists seldom settle into standard lead/rhythm roles; rather, they hydroplane in roughly parallel arcs over the steadfast rhythms laid down by drummer Arthur Johnson (formerly a member of spazz-punk ensemble the Bar-B-Q Killers) and bassist Sean O'Brien (who played with the Kilkenny Cats). On tracks like "Brand New Vein" and "Submerge," the atmosphere verges on the oppressive, the air heavy and blue-black with a pharmacological ennui that only abates on the double-barreled windup of "Fast Piss Blues" and a cover of the Stones' "I Got the Blues."

Come has been playing a few shows (and has a tour planned). Here's video from a 2011 reunion show.

And dates, mostly Europe and very large American cities on both coasts (with Chicago in the middle).
5/17-19 Orange Blossom Special Festival Beverungen DM
5/20 Bitterzoet Amsterdam NL
5/22 The Ruby Lounge Manchester UK
5/23 Dingwalls London, UK
5/24 Instant Chavires, Paris FR
5/26 Primavera Sound Festival, Barcelona ES
5/27 Le Romandie Lausanne, Switzerland
5/28 Jubez Karlsruhe, Germany
5/30 Locomotiv, Bologna IT
5/31 Kino, Ebensee AT
6/01 Pilot, Prague CZ
6/02 Festaal Kruezberg, Berlin DE
6/19 Bootleg Theater Los Angeles CA
6/20 The Independent San Francisco CA
6/21 Mississippi Studios Portland OR
6/22 The Crocodile Seattle WA
6/27 The Sinclair Cambridge, MA
6/28 Bowery Ballroom New York NY
7/12 Empty Bottle Chicago, IL

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages

Just signed to Bloodshot...this guy is awesome.

Not these Savages, unfortunately. (Wouldn't that be incredible?) Though they are pretty good on their own and obviously do not need much hyping help from me.

Off to another track meet, this time the girls' 7th and 8th grade invitational...busy, busy, busy. (But ice cream after, so that's fun.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

People of the North

This sporadic side project of Oneida's Fat Bobby and Kid Millions has a new album coming out in June, another bit of extended psychedelia that sounds very much like Oneida's recent long-form output (and also like Kid Millions' Man Forever, except with more keyboards, duh, hi Bobby!). I like it okay...not as much as Secret Wars or Anthem of the Moon, but I guess I can always pull those out when I want to hear them. They've switched from Jagjaguwar (specifically their Brah imprint) to Thrill Jockey for this one, which totally makes sense, given the more experimental vibe.

There's no audio yet for the new People of the North, but here's a video from album #2, out about three years ago.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Immediate rush, lasting pleasure...Cronin's MCII

Really enjoyed the new Mikal review, up today at Blurt.


Mikal Cronin



Mikal Cronin’s second album filters the lyrical melancholy of confessional pop through a joyfully dissonant, dirt-crusted lens, winding fuzz-frayed guitar lines through sunny miasmas of overtone, threading triumphant melodies through hedge-rows of strident strumming. Sounding at times like his garage pop collaborator Ty Segall, but more often like power pop icons Brendan Benson, Jason Faulkner and the Flamin’ Groovies, Cronin has recorded the beach-and-pool-and-driving-with-the-windows-down album of the summer. MCII is an immediate rush and a lasting pleasure.


You can stream it, at least for now, at NPR.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Micah Blue Smaldone

Lot of people are liking the new Hiss Golden Messenger (very fine, reviewed for Dusted here). Micah Blue Smaldone's new album The Ring of the Rise is in the same family of folk-based, Neil-Young-style-electrified could also throw Arbouretum and Red River Dialect into the mix. Micah has been around for a while, and I believe he's playing Peterborough's Thing in the Spring in about a month...might have to check that out. Ring of the Rise is out now on Immune records.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A new one from Daughn Gibson

Last year's All Hell from ex-Pearls & Brass drummer Daughn Gibson was a moody slice of existential dread, cavernous and country-tinged, like Johnny Cash bereft of the comforts of church, Rose Carter and whiskey all at once. His follow-up, on Sub Pop, is less skeletal but just as dire, surrounding corpse-y authenticity with the bright clarities of electronic music and studio-refined rock. It's called Me Moan...and it's a good one.

You can DL "Reach into the Fire" here.