Saturday, April 16, 2011

Record Store Saturday - Music Millennium, Portland OR

The kids and I headed out to Music Millennium in inner East Portland today to celebrate Record Store Day. I took WYMA's advice and picked up the new Feelies record.

Music Millennium, like Grimey's in Nashville covered in an earlier post by John below, is a great independent record store, and an institution in Portland.

It's a rambling funky labyrinth of a store, with a couple stairs leading up to a narrow mezzanine where they keep their current top selling new releases (which today included Red Fang, Kurt Vile, the Decemberists and R.E.M. all covered in recent WYMA reviews below, and local artist Alela Diane). Continue on and you'll find a few stairs that lead up to the blues section in a crowded balcony. Don't miss the electronica section near the bottom of those stairs.

Across the large middle of the store is a terrific used section, near the jazz, R&B and hip hop sections, which lead to another room with the country, folk and children's music. At the far end of all that is a door that will take you into what is in essence a separate store, the very large classical area. Personally, I have no idea what goes on in there, but my hunch is it's remarkably robust.

Sale bins and sound stations and big box set areas are scattered throughout, wedged here and there. Stuff is crammed everywhere, including a ton of vinyl, plus music books, magazines, posters, pins, stickers, you name it.

Plastered on one wall are lists of each employee's top 10 releases of the previous year, with a mid-year reckoning coming soon. I've discovered many a great new record there over the years, able to line my tastes up with one of the resident experts and thus willing to risk a new purchase of something unknown.

The staff are all ages, some have been there seemingly forever, and they are absurdly knowledgeable. This is record nerd central, not that I know anyone like that. It's the only place in town I could go on the day Solomon Burke died and know I could talk to someone even sadder than I was but far more versed in various odd import and other releases of The Bishop's.

The store is also the headquarters of the "Keep Portland Weird" movement, its black and gold bumper sticker a ubiquitous sight in this city.

All of this wonderful mayhem is overseen by Portland's king of music, store owner Terry Currier, a warm and generous bear of a guy whose love of music is surpassed perhaps only by his love of his customers and staff. And Terry is a fixture at live shows in Portland, supporting both local bands and touring acts, many of whom come by the store for in-store appearances while in town. Steve Earle will play up in the store's small balcony this Mother's Day, while the Drive By Truckers recently played there as well.

Here's a clip of The Walkmen playing an in-store at Music Millennium:

Read about Terry in this terrific feature by my friend Peter Carlin:

Any trip to Portland should include a stop at Powell's Books and Music Millennium. If you aren't coming here soon, check out the store's web site:

Midnight World Pop Scout-10: Jamie Woon; Hiatus; Dirty Beaches

This week's edition of our look at music around the world

This week British songwriter/performer Jamie Woon released Mirrowriting on Polydor. Woon, who is the son of Celtic folk singer Mae McKenna, previously mined the singer songwriter genre, but Mirrorwriting has a decidedly more urban, beat oriented feel that well-suits his vocals. So, it is a bit of dubstep, a bit of R&B, and a bit of indie pop. Purists from any of those genres may decry the compromises, but I think they would be missing the point. It seems to me that Woon's music is not consciously wed to any genre, but picks and chooses as needed. It is a good album.

"Lady Luck"

"Spiral" (live)

"Night Air" (2010)


Hiatus is the performing name used by Cyrus Shahrad. Shahrad's family fled Iran at the time of the revolution, and he was raised in the Brixton neighborhood of London. He has worked as a journalist as well as as a musician. The first video is "Save Yourself", which uses footage of pre-revolution Iraq.

In a trip to Iran in the last decade while on assignment for the Sunday Times of London, Shahrad discovered his father's old music collection in his grandmother's house. He started experimenting with mixing the music that reflected his London experiences with his father's middle eastern music. The result is his album Ghost Notes:

Ghost Notes LP by Hiatus

Here is another album track, "Insurrection" about the Brixton race riots in the early '80s, using vocals from reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson:

(Thanks to Ed at the 17 Seconds blog for exposing me to Hiatus' work.)

Dirty Beaches is the project of Taiwan-born, Canadian-based Alex Zhang Hungtai. The album Badlands was released in March. The style is dark-tinged late night roots rock.

"Lord Knows Best", from Badlands:

"True Blue"

The 2010 7" "IBB006 Golden Desert Sun"

Alex's blog which is a worthwhile read.

REVIEW: Midgetmen - Loud Enough

From Austin, Texas comes self-described "slop-punk" outfit The Midgetmen. Judging by the sound, the similarity to d boon's long-lamented outfit cannot be a coincidence... especially given that some of this album put me in mind of a British blues shouter (say, Ronnie Lane) fronting a "turn it up to 11" punk bar band. So, Ronnie Lane fronting the Minutemen. Got it?

First two songs are a declaration of purpose, to the pursuit of fun and beer. These guys are a bar band, and as my co-writer JD has said, more eloquently than me, there is nothing like a good bar band. "Beer's gone, we're gone..." how many bands have lived that out? These guys just put it in a song. "Unforgettable" is a thrash-it-out raver...

But it's on songs 3-6, "King Kong", "Glue Factory", "Race to the Bottom", and "Honus" that they really show their stuff. While different, these songs are all memorable and well-done. Some of the playing betrays an intent by the Midgetmen to "outgrow" the slop-punk label (at least to my ears)... but then, you're into "Sword Fight" and some splendid devolution.

You can check out some of their old stuff on their Bandcamp page:

Midgetmen on Bandcamp

And you can buy it on iTunes, or wait for the great unveiling/Titus Andronicus show on April 21 in Austin... I'd expect they'll be selling some there or you can order via their website:

Midgetmen Website (Buy Here)

And here's a videoj of them performing "The Rodeo Came to Town" from 2008 release Show Pony:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Old Stuff Friday: Robert Plant in the 80's

Sometimes you'll see this guy around Nashville. And even with all the very, very famous and talented people who live and work in this town, he draws stares. Yes, I know he's hit it big with the alt/country crowd by teaming up with Allison Kraus, but I still remember when he started out on his own... it was a bit of a shock, the synthesizers, the drum machines, even the phrasing, it was all very different from the raw sounds of Led Zeppelin.

My favorite song from this period, by far, is "Ship of Fools" from 1988's Now and Zen... I'm a sucker for the phrasing in the little "I know why" phrase he repeats between verses. The guitar's okay, of course his singing is very good, but that little break makes the whole song for me.

If you listen to a good bit of this stuff, you can't help but picture the 80's - Arnold Schwarzenegger's shades, Miami Vice linen leisure suits, an oiled-up Sly Stallone... Plant himself observed as follows in an interview he gave to Uncut magazine in 2005: "by the time Now and Zen came out in '89, it looked like I was big again. It was a Top 10 album on both sides of the Atlantic. But if I listen to it now, I can hear that a lot of the songs got lost in the technology of the time."

Yeah, but the guy sure can sing.

New Sounds of Scotland (New Videos)

Here are two bands we've covered previously, but they've released some videos that I really like, so I'm sharing them with you. Yes, it all is included in your WYMA subscription. And the third video is a Scottish band I don't know much about yet, but they seem to be a dance rock outfit.

"You Only Went Out to Get Drunk Last Night" was one of the really good songs on last year's Shouting at Wildlife by Kid Canaveral. But it only gets better with this stop action treatment:

"The Boat Ride" by Weather Barn got the retro treatment in this video:

GoGoBot, "First Class Fool":

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - "I Can't Get Next to You"

Motown's forays into more of a rock'n'roll sound weren't always successful. But The Temptations were well suited for it. For my money, "I Can't Get to Next To You" released in 1969 was not only the best Motown rock'n'roll moment, with its wah wah guitar and psychedelic sound, but also simply one of the all time great Motown songs. And of course this is after one of Motown's greatest singers David Ruffin had left the Tempts, though they still had Eddie Kendricks, Dennis Edwards and the rest of the crew.

The first 25 seconds here show the real genius of Motown. "Hey everybody, hold it, hold it, listen." Cue the beautiful little Earl Van Dyke piano roll, then the music comes with a quick triple shot - bam bam bam! Then be still you loud horns for a little more gorgeous piano then a new bam - the vocals "I [pause] can turn the greyest sky blue...."

The song has barely begun yet it already has about 4 pop hooks under its belt! Then they really get it going - you are a goner by the time they get to the fantastic chorus.

I've heard this song thousands of times, and it still kills me, makes me really happy.

Had a bad week? This'll cure what what ails you brothers and sisters.

A song so good Al Green covered it. No surprise, his version is wonderful, slowed way down with the Rev's signature all over it. Though of course we knew Al Green could make a ship sail on dry land.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

REVIEW: The Feelies - Here Before

Aside from Glenn Mercer's solo release Wheels in Motion in 2007, we haven't had any new music from these folks in 19 years. NINETEEN years. And I have missed them tremendously.

Of course, the anticipation (dare I say, trepidation) was high as I popped in the disc. Would they be a mere shadow of their former selves? Or would the intervening 19 years melt away in a wash of layered guitars and laid-back vocals? The latter, definitely the latter. Given that nobody's voice sounds exactly like it did 19 years ago, I'm impressed at how well the Feelies have managed to recreate their signature sound without sounding at all as though they're going through the motions.

There are a few differences, a little bit more "out-front" guitar on a few of the tracks... but if you've come looking for what I always loved about the Feelies -- a cool, Velvets-inspired fusion of punk and power-pop -- you will not be disappointed. Yes, much of it sounds the same. And it has been that way with the Feelies since The Good Earth... the piano on the beat with the guitars on "Should Be Gone", the way the backbeat moves along under the guitars, from strumming along to blazing solos, and the understated vocals. But when you have a sound this great, why would you change it up? Aside from a couple of surprises: the intro and solo on "When You Know", which quite honestly put me in mind of something by the Sex Pistols, and "Time Is Right", which reminds me in a good way of The Stooges, the record delivers just what you'd expect... and just what I'd hoped for.

Listen to "Should Be Gone"

Should Be Gone - The Feelies by BarNoneRecords

And stream the record here:

AOL Spinner Full CD Stream of Feelies' Here Before

Website: The Feelies at Bar-None Records

Website: Night of the Living Feelies

REVIEW: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

I stumbled on this when it was playing in the record store recently. I couldn't leave the store until the record was done, thinking the entire time that the next song couldn't possibly be as good as the last one, only to be blown away again and again, one by one. By the time I got to the stunning finale "Ghost Town", I was at the Music Millennium counter gladly handing over my $14.

I didn't know anything about Kurt Vile, had never heard any of his prior stuff and honestly can't tell you if it's all this great. But I sure will vouch for Smoke Ring for My Halo.

It is a record that reveals itself with multiple listens, making you work a little for your money. The beautiful finger picking acoustic guitar work is offset by the tough and melancholic singing. Vile's voice grabs you, pulls you in, makes you try your best to really hear him, wondering what he's truly trying to tell us. The lyrics are emotional and nearly conversational without being the slightest bit indulgent.

Here's the opening track "Baby's Arms":

Just when you think you have a handle on this understated trippy folk rock thing he's doing, he comes with the electric guitars on "Puppet to The Man" and adds all this noisy texture.

If you haven't heard him, he's hard to pigeonhole, which is one more thing to like about it. I hear some Brian Jones-era Stones, and even some Brian Jonestown Massacre, but also some really disparate stuff like Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr., Smiths, Low Anthem, Lou Reed and Joseph Arthur, and a whole lot of Kurt Vile. This is a strong and original voice.

I love the production here, shout out to John Agnello. The piano, tambourine, keyboards, percussions, harp, mellotron and various hard to identify sounds just sneak in there, subtle, beneath the guitars and voice. But just right. I'm especially digging the terrific drum sounds, especially on songs "Society Is My Friend" and "Ghost Town".

Here's a good intro to this terrific record by my favorite discovery of 2011, the Philadelphia-based Kurt Vile, with what is probably the most accessible song on the record:

Artist web page:

He's on tour now, so catch him if you can. Attention our loyal readers in Denmark, Mr. Vile will be in Copenhagen on May 12.

Record company link:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Record Store Day, April 16! A look at Grimey's in Nashville...

Coming Saturday, April 16, Record Store Day. With too many promotions and limited issue items to list here (check the link for more comprehensive info)...

Well, I was gonna write a little profile of my favorite music store and the wonderful folks at Grimey's, but I can instead point you to this excellent interview posted by Wax Poetics magazine (which, by the way, I can't recommend highly enough for their excellent writing and research in the areas of funk, soul, reggae, dance and other pop music, as well as their promotion of vinyl and other physical forms of music).

Vinyl Fanatics Unite! RSD Elite Record Store #2: Grimey's

I do, however, want to say a few words in praise of Grimey's, which I've been fortunate enough to patronize since it was a little used music store in a house on Bransford Avenue around the corner from 100 Oaks and Baja Burrito. I met My Morning Jacket's Jim James there. As MMJ was delivering copies of its CD At Dawn to record stores, Grimey's founder Mike Grimes was kind enough to introduce me to MMJ's manager, who he observed was "another one of those GbV fanatics". I bought a copy of At Dawn, which was playing on the speakers and when Martini introduced me to Jim, I said "This is really, really good." Jim looked me in the eye and said "You should listen to it with headphones on."

My first exposure to the Black Keys was via former employee Mickey Parks, who not only played the CD Thickfreakness for me because he thought I'd enjoy it, but sold my daughter a vinyl copy of The Big Come-Up when she was looking for a birthday present for me. Seriously, could you ask for better service?

Speaking of GbV, it's great to have a fellow Pollard fanatic in town and stocking the shelves at a record store. Co-owner Doyle Davis is a tremendous local resource in so many ways: Funk DJ, impresario, artist manager...

If you live in Nashville or the surrounding area, likely you already know about Grimey's. If you don't, you're in for a treat. Otherwise, if you ever plan to visit Nashville, make sure you leave a little time to visit this shop. Great music, great folks and a great, great vibe.

Here are a few features folks have been inspired to write about Grimey's over the years:

Grit and Grimey (Nashville Scene, 1999)

Grimey's Record Shop Rejoices in High Fidelity Coolness (MTSU Sidelines, 2004)

At a Mainstream Record Store, Mainstream Country Fights for Shelf Space (NPR Music News, 2010) Local Store: Grimey's (2010)

Check the website for the Record Store Day schedule at Grimey's. Among other things, Jason Isbell will be playing there that day... and many of the 100's of special releases and treats planned by record companies to promote and support independent retailers like Grimey's will be available as well.

I think you can still get a copy of this EP. And if your timing is right, you might be there for the next ridiculously exclusive rock moment.

And if you're not in Nashville, check AIMS (Alliance of Independent Music Stores) or CIMS (Coalition of Independent Music Stores) for a similar retailer near you. They're sure to be having some fun on Saturday, and great music all year round. Feel free to post a comment in support of your favorite record store, too.

New Sounds of Scotland-Part 8: Edinburgh School for the Deaf; Sebastian Dangerfield; Admiral Fallow

Edinburgh School for the Deaf is an Edinburgh band formed from the ashes of two members' former project, Saint Jude's Infirmary, and renamed from Deserters Deserve Death. Fortunately, their musical chops exceed their appetite for change. The music is self-described as "deathjangle" and "noise pop", and they employ the soft loud technique reminiscent of The Delgados.

Here you can stream their not yet released EP She Shot Him A Disinterested Glance below, but if you only want to listen to one track to try them out, here is the demo for "Orpheus":

EP Stream:

The members of the band are Ashley (vocal and "sweet" guitar), Jamie (drums), Grant (shouting and bass) and Kieran (vocals and "sourer" guitar).

"11 Kinds of Loneliness":


And just for fun and a bit of background, here is a video for "Goodbye Jack Vettriano" by Saint Jude's Infirmary. The Scottish artist, Vettriano, appears in the video, smoking in the beach chair. And the lyric "'love' is tattooed on his knuckles, 'cut here' on his wrist" just slays me.

Sebastian Dangerfield are Jason Irvine, Stuart McGachan, David Thompson and Jim Watson from Edinburgh who play indie rock with a big dose of Americana and a touch of crunchy southern rock. I think their first recorded output will be an EP named The Sound of the Old Machines is officially released later this month but you can stream, and probably buy, all four songs right now at the Bandcamp link below. And it is really worth listening to, not because the genre is anything new but because they do it well.

"You Played Your Part, Singer"

You Played Your Part, Singer! by sdangerfield

"The Sycamore Tree"

The Sycamore Tree by sdangerfield


Admiral Fallow released a fine folk rock album in 2010 (to my ears, far better than the Mumford gang) that also boasted one of the best album titles of the year: Boots Met My Face. (The album was produced by Paul Savage, drummer for the disbanded Delgados who is making a name for himself as a producer.) The band played SxSW last month. Here is their single "Squealing Pigs" from that album:

Until last year they were known as the Brother Louis Collective. The band is fronted by singer-songwriter Louis Abbott and also includes Kevin Brolly, Phillip Hague, Sarah Haynes, and Joseph Rattray. Instrumentation includes guitars, piano, clarinet, flute, and upright bass.

"Subbuteo" from their live performance and the T in the Park festival in Glasgow last year.

Shared artists' site

Monday, April 11, 2011

REVIEW: Crystal Stilts -- In Love With Oblivion

The noise pop Alight of Night by Crystal Stilts was one of my favorite albums of 2008, so I was eager to listen to their second album In Love With Oblivion, which will be released tomorrow. The album opener, "Sycamore Tree" begins with a building cinematic-style wave of sound. At about the one minute mark the instrumentation becomes a guitar groove that, along with bass, drums and organ, propels the song along with a bit of Ennio Morricone feel. The vocals are a baritone reminiscent of the late Mark Sandman of Morphine. While the song is recognizably a Crystal Stilts song, it also is a clear and intriguing expansion and refinement of their craft. At that point I suspected that I was in for a musical treat.

If the first song was the nibble at the bait, the second song springs the trap and captures me for the duration of the album. Not only is it my favorite song on the album, to my ears it is a power pop masterpiece that ranks as one of the best songs of the year so far. Here is "Through the Floor":

Crystal Stilts "Through The Floor" from Slumberland Records on Vimeo.

The third track, "Silver Sun", is a delightful jangle pop song that begins with the sound of a car crash. The album continues with slower songs such as "Alien Rivers", which successfully merges a vamping rhythm with jangly guitars and an ominous vocal, and the delightfully twangy and jangly "Precarious Stair, as well as faster delights such as "Flying Into the Sun" -- a furious, but still melodic, epitome of noise pop -- and this album highlight: "Shake the Shackles":

Crystal Stilts was founded by Brad Hargett and JB Townsend in Florida, but currently is based in New York. The current line up also includes Andy Adler and Kyle Forester. Frankie Rose (formerly of The Vivian Girls) was the drummer until her recent departure to work as a songwriter and performer in her own group. The band is signed to Slumberland.

Crystal Stilts' sound has always pushed the right buttons for me: Jangle; distorted noise pop; and baritone vocals. This outing includes organs and a touch of surf to go with the psychedelic. While their first album contained several gems, this sophomore effort seems more focused and more varied. The songs don't rely on guitars and style, but include a more noticeable rhythm section and vocals higher in the mix. Even more impressive is the band's ability to craft songs that reflect the musical touchstones from the 60s, 80s and more recently, while still being unmistakably original and unconfined.

"Flying Into the Sun"

Stream the entire album here.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Violet May: "What You Say"

Sheffield band, formed in 2009, with some impressive connections... I would say you ought to check out the Violet May if you're a fan of Doves, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, or (for the older readers here) Jesus and Mary Chain (they've made a video with Douglas Hart)... they seem to be generating a bit of buzz in Europe.

This track "What You Say" will be part of a 5-track EP to be released in June. We'll be looking forward to it. You can visit their MySpace (link below) to view videos, listen to additional tracks and learn a bit more.

Free track to download:

Violet May on MySpace

REVIEW: Mars Classroom - The New Theory of Everything

The New Theory of Everything finds Robert Pollard working with a new team in a power trio that plays everything from angular pop/punk to wistful jangly ballads, and plays it as well as anyone working today. The band consists of Gary Waleik of Big Dipper and Volcano Suns on guitars, bass, keyboards and Robert Beerman of Pell Mell on drums.

The first song, "New Theory", is a power pop masterpiece... the drumming, the guitars and of course Bob's way with a chorus all combine to kick off the record with a winner, and they never let up. "Man, Wine, Power" drives along a little faster and, again, the drums and guitar are terrific, as is the insistent chorus lead-in - "Every day of the year" - where the vocals and a guitar riff are on the same beat, tension is created by repetition the first two times it's played and then on the third repetition it's released into a soaring guitar solo.

"There Never Was a Sea of Love" has a wistful quality that Pollard fans will recognize from previous collaborations with Tommy Keene (The Keene Brothers) and Mac McCaughan (Go Back Snowball). If those aren't familiar to you, you've got another treat in store. "Pre-med's a Trip" is one of those wonderful Pollard conversation songs with lots of changes in a short timespan... "It's Good to Be Bug Boy" combines the goofy title and lyrics with Wire-style pop/punk music...

This record's got a little bit of everything, including Bob's wonderful wordplay, instantly catchy melodies and some excellent musicianship from Waleik and Beerman... and I do mean excellent. While instantly recognizable as Pollard's music, this is a different combo with a different sound, and the whole thing comes together so well it's hard to believe they haven't been a band for years. Just goes to show, I suppose, that the Four P's are something of a universal language.

I won't go song-by-song, although I certainly could. The record can be sampled (and bought in digital format) here.

But the final song deserves your attention. It's a beautiful ballad with reflective lyrics:

Without a smile or a frown
these kids don't want to go down
and that's the difference between
you and the cyclone machine
they say you're too tightly strung
that's why you're not having fun
but that's not what it's about
you're trying to figure things out
too many obstacles flung
I guess you wish you were young

And here's a nice video someone did on YouTube, combining the song with some footage from a family reunion. I think it's inspired, really:


Buy the disc at Factory of Raw Essentials.