Saturday, January 22, 2011

Emerging Seattle Bands, Part 2: The Young Evils

The Young Evils appeared to go from O to 60mph in Seattle in 2010. The group was formed by Troy Nelson and Mackenzie Mercer, two employees of Easy Street Records, an excellent local indie record store. Troy also is a DJ at influential radio station KEXP. Other members are Cody Hurd and Barrett Jones, although ace timekeeper Mark Pickerel (Screaming Trees, Tripwires, Neko Case, Robyn Hitchcock, Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands) has often played drums for the band. The Young Evils played numerous gigs around town, including a coveted opening slot for venerated The Vaselines. Their sound ranges from cheery indie (with entertaining, sometimes off-kilter lyrics) and alt country style ballads. I believe they've scored a slot a SXSW in March. The Young Evils are unsigned, but they self-released "Enchanted Chapel" in 2010 and I recommend it. If you can't find a physical copy, I believe that it is available in an MP3 download from Amazon.

The Young Evils on Myspace
Background Article

REVIEW: The King May be Dead but The Decemberists Are Alive

Some of my favorite albums are ones where an artist in mid-career consciously dialed their thing back a bit - Beggars Banquet, Nebraska, Automatic for the People. The focus shifts away from the reach for the bold musical statement, a big sound suitable for larger venues, inventive production, overdub after overdub and instead to the compositions themselves. Strip it down – back to just song, melody and singer - like a great classic country song.

The King of Dead, released this week, is the Decemberists 6th album and to my ears, by far, by a country mile as it were, their best. Just song after very well crafted song, terrific harmonies and melodies, irresistible.

The record is an abrupt departure from its predecessor, The Hazards of Love, an intricate dense art rock experiment, much beloved by both critics and fans (if not me). But where do you go after that?

If you are Colin Meloy and the Decemberists, you go to the country, or at least to a farm outside Portland, home to the Pickathon, a great summer musicfest. Away from the rock opera and into the wide open natural sound of the organic farm-to-table Oregon countryside.

Meloy’s artistically simpler living also involved seeking inspiration in the music that moved him to start writing songs and form a band in the first place – country folk rock - R.E.M., the Smiths, Fairport Convention. And if you are going to do it, do it right – bring in Peter Buck to play his signature Rickenbacker and mandolin on four songs, notably the terrific first single “Down by the Water,” which unapologetically draws from “One I Love” and “Driver 8”. (sadly a great recent performance on Conan's show was yanked off of YouTube though you can find it on various web sites, but it can't be embedded here, so here's another version)

And why stop there? The Decemberists went all in on the Americana country folk vibe and also brought in Gillian Welch to sing. Her vocals on “Down by the Water”, “Dear Avery” and “Rox in the Box” are perfect and add a great deal to this record.

Other standout tracks are the punchy lead track “Don’t Carry It All”, the classic country “All Arise!” and the insanely catchy “This is Why We Fight”. By stripping things back, and also simplifying the story telling aspects of the lyrics, Meloy shows how strong a songwriter he is, with quite a bit less Masterpiece Theatre on this one and a lot more big pop hook.

One last thought - clocking in at 40 minutes, you can just dive in and enjoy this start to finish, every song a winner. Attn bands: Just because a CD will hold 75 minutes worth of music doesn’t mean you should fill them up, As a songwriter friend of mine once said, no one ever complained that Blood on the Tracks or Tupelo Honey weren’t long enough.

You can listen to the whole thing here in a live performance from this week:

Decemberists Live Performance in Portland

It’s only January and we already have one truly great record in 2011.

Website: The Decemberists

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Rival Schools on March 8.

Former Gorilla Biscuits/Quicksand frontman Walter Schriefels has reunited his influential band Rival Schools, and on March 8 they will release 'Pedals', their first record in a decade. Here's one of my favorite tunes from their now legendary 2001 release 'United By Fate'.

After Rival Schools broke up, Walter didn't whine and mope about. He's been doing mostly solo work since, including releasing a well-received (at least by the fortunate few who heard it) record last year called 'An Open Letter to the Scene'. He also formed a short-lived project he called Walking Concert, whose only album, 'Run to Be Born', was crunching pop brilliance -- easily in my top five of 2004. This is the first song off that one, 'What's Your New Thing?':

Rival Schools Myspace page

Bands You Should Have Known: Voom Blooms, Pela

I'm sure everyone who loves popular music was all-in for one or more artists that just never made it. Blame the fates, or poor music taste in the general public, but there you are--loving a band that doesn't continue to make music. Here are two recent bands I very much miss.

The Voom Blooms were a favorite of mine a few years ago. Well, as favorite as a band could be when I only had access to KEXP playing demos or cuts off of an LP that seemed impossible to get outside of the UK and, oddly enough, Japan. They disbanded a year or two ago, so I'm stuck with searching out these songs on You Tube every now and again to get my fix.

The other band is Pela. I learned of these guys at the same time I learned of The National, and probably from the same source -- local taste-makers at KEXP here in Seattle. While I like The National, Pela was by far my choice of the two.

While Pela has died, two of them live on under the name The Augustines.

Article about The Augustines

Emerging Pacific Northwest Bands: Seapony, Head and the Heart, Black Whales

Perhaps because the rain forces introspection (and refuge indoors), Seattle never seems short of musicians writing songs, forming bands, and trying to make it in the music world. From time to time, I'm going to highlight a few of those bands here. As I drove in to When You Motor Away's Seattle Headquarters complex this morning, in the rain, I decided that today was an appropriate day to begin.

First on my mental stage is Seapony. They showcase jangly guitars and female vocals. Musically it seems to camp with dream pop, C86, indie pop groups.

Seapony's Bandcamp Page

The second act is The Head and the Heart, an act that is rapidly growing more popular here. The sound is somewhat similar to the Avett Brothers, and more generally to a rootsy country rock approach that has been very popular in Seattle lately. If you browse their songs on the web, you'll note that they are somewhat adventuresome in their instumentation.

The Head and the Heart at Myspace

And in closing, The Black Whales. The Black Whales' sound ranges from power pop to a more country rock sound. I hope they break through, but they are unsigned at this point.

The Black Whales at Myspace

Centro-matic: "Only In My Double Mind" from upcoming album Candidate Waltz

Great new track from Centro-matic, with great guitars, a bit of feedback partway through and Will's terrific singing. Vocals seem to be a little heavy on the reverb... it works for me. I'm excited to hear this record.

Centro-matic: "Only In My Double Mind" Video from Helms Workshop on Vimeo.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ryan Gustafson, "Let Go"

One of my favorite musicians here in NC is Durham's Ryan Gustafson, who put out a terrific album in 2009 known as the "Donkey" LP (there's a picture of a donkey on the cover). He's got an earthy, forlorn vocal delivery and an Americana guitar vibe. Mainstays in his live band include the excellent guitarist Carter Gaj, who is the frontman for the more pop-sounding Max Indian, and a gentleman whose name I don't know, but who sings wonderful harmonies that leave you thinking of Scott Danbom.

Here's a recording of them playing at Chapel Hill landmark Local 506. It's a little grainy, but the vocals and lap steel guitar will still have you wiping the corner of your eye. On the CD, this track has a beautiful violin overlay that makes it even sadder.

Website: Ryan Gustafson Myspace

Solvents: "We Were Guests Here" from Forgive Yr. Blood

Seattle band with a nice full sound. Album Madonica out in August, 8-song EP Forgive Yr. Blood out in December, looks like they've been touring regionally and will appear on KEXP January 29.

I love this sound, the vocal harmonies, the guitars and the nice violin layered in over the guitars... First heard on a KEXP Song of the Day podcast. Recommended.

solvents-we were guests here

solvents | Myspace Music Videos

Website: Solvents Myspace

Guided by Voices - Classic Lineup: Bob teaches the band Jar of Cardinals

Oh, this is wonderful... No wonder the Nashville show was so great!

Thanks for the heads up, Cash...

Here's hoping Rich will post some more of these... or fold them into a tour recap DVD of some sort.

Website: Robert Pollard

Website: Rich T's YouTube GbV Channel

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Generationals: "Trust" from Trust EP

Great guitar line, good drumming, this is a very catchy song... you may have seen the free download card in your local Starbucks, guess that means they've hit the big time or are on the outskirts.

I've featured them on here before and I would say this is the best song I've heard from them.

Website: Generationals

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Yeah He's Mad..." GbV Classic Lineup, Nashville Cannery Ballroom: January 14, 2011

They played probably 50 songs. I'm still trying to reconstruct the setlist in my mind... fighting a losing battle, at that. But I remember "Game of Pricks", "I Am a Scientist", "Tractor Rape Chain", "Shocker in Gloomtown"... and I would have gladly paid the price of a ticket to hear any ONE of those songs performed by Bob, Tobin, Mitch, Greg and Kevin...

But the highlight of the evening, to me, was the chorus of "Matter Eater Lad". I'd given up guessing what was coming next and decided to just take them as they came, and was absolutely floored by their version of "Expecting Brainchild", a song from Bee Thousand I have always liked but had never heard LIKE THAT. But to hear this group belt out the chorus "Yeah he's mad, he's Matter Eater Lad" as if it was a well-worn cover of an early Beatles pop gem was an unexpected and spectacular pleasure.

Sound quality on this video isn't the best, but you get the idea. Hopefully they'll release a live DVD from this tour, and it will include "Matter Eater Lad" and you can play it on a good home system, turn it up to 11, and have a goofy grin plastered on your face, too.

Better yet, maybe they'll regroup and hit the road again. Amazing...

Robert Pollard has a new disc out this week: Space City Kicks. More on that, later...

Website: Robert Pollard

Monday, January 17, 2011

Check out the new look Future of the Left

At the top of my list of live shows from the last year or two is the evening I spent with about 50 other people at Local 506 in Chapel Hill seeing Andy Falkous's post-Mclusky project Future of the Left. They were touring on their second fantastic album, "Travels With Myself and Another", which made all the best of lists for 2009. I was disappointed to learn a few months ago that FoTL's bass player, Kelson Matthias, was no longer in the band. Heck, they seemed to get along pretty well -- their on-stage banter was hilarious. And they didn't vent any disappointment in the sparse turnout on those of us who did show up. Just a great show.

Anyway, Falco has gone out and picked up not only another bassist, but another guitarist as well, and the result, as shown on this nice quality vid below, is a pretty dang beefed up sound. The show is from just a couple of weeks ago in Sydney, and if you follow the video to youtube you'll find the rest of the set. They play several new songs, and it doesn't sound like they've lost any of their edge. Falkous hasn't grown tired of erupting into guttural screams where lyrics used to be, and I haven't tired of listening to it. He's the most original voice in punk music in at least the last ten years.

Oh, and here's Future of the Left doing a Mclusky cover. Why wouldn't they?

And what the hell, we all know Japandroids is a great band, as they demonstrate here by doing the same song, which you can hear in stereophonic glory on the 'No Singles' comp. It's a halfway decent recording, with fewer than 300 views.

Website: Future of the Left Myspace

Website: Japandroids

R.E.M. - "Mine Smell Like Honey"... single out tomorrow, Collapse Into Now due out in March

Here's a trailer video for the album (recorded part of it in Nashville, apparently)...

I'd say something if there was anything original left to say about REM, and I can't imagine they need my support... but God bless 'em, they've made some of the very best music I have ever heard in my life. I'm looking forward to this disc.

Website: REM

Transition Music

I guess in life we always are transitioning from one state or set of circumstances to another, but some transitions are more significant than others. One of those times for me was ending high school and entering college. Because of the way I view things, the period had a soundtrack, and for me, that soundtrack is very old music to most who will read this post.

I graduated from high school in June 1970, and entered college the following August. What was the soundtrack for young Rocksteady74? Like most, I listened to the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, various Motown groups (although I preferred Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding).

But I also favored a few acts with less general popularity. One was Terry Reid.

My older sister brought his album home from college the spring of my final spring in high school, and I fell in love with this song. I since learned that Reid had been offered the lead singer slot for the group that became Led Zeppelin, but turned it down. Robert Plant likely is grateful for Reid's decision.

Another is a British blues/psych rock band called Steamhammer. I learned of Steamhammer my first year in college.

Another good song from the "Reflection" album for which embedding is disabled:

The group recorded a number of albums and went through several personal changes, although I really am only familiar with the 1969 release "Reflection".

And two more acts gaining in popularity were regulars on my turntable. One was
Jethro Tull, whose "Benefit" album was as used as any album I've ever owned.

The other was The Band, which had published "The Band" in 1970.

Drive-By Truckers... Go-Go Boots, out Feb 15

To tide us over, here's the video for "Used Be a Cop":

Used to Be a Cop - Go-Go Boots - Drive-By Truckers from Drive-By Truckers on Vimeo.

This is actually fantastic, a crazy concept video in which the band does nothing but play, and they really stretch out and play those guitars! I'm looking forward to this disc... And here's a link to get a free mp3 of the song:

Website: Drive-By Truckers

Let's celebrate Curtis Mayfield today too

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr's birthday today, his righteous and courageous leadership, I want to do a shout out to the great Curtis Mayfield.
Following King's assassination, the country went through a difficult time to put it mildly, and few places experienced more turmoil than Detroit where I grew up. And the legendary Motown music of that city played a role in building a bridge between the white and black kids of my generation.
But when I think of the strongest music of that era in terms of courage and righteousness, I think of Curtis Mayfield from across I-94 in Chicago.
Mayfield's work was unflinching, both musically and thematically. He addressed the black experience head on. And for me as a white teenager, it was a walk down the other side of the street. Thought provoking, challenging, yet uplifting. And oh so swinging.
The first video here is a killer 1972 live version of Give Me Your Love.
The second "Move On Up" isn't a great quality video in terms of images but the sound is great and this is my song for today. The music here is the recorded version of one of my favorite Mayfield songs, with a montage of photos and live shots overlayed.