Tuesday, February 7, 2012

REVIEW: First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

Scott recently featured this Swedish duo on his Midnight World Pop Scout, and since their new album is creating quite a buzz, we thought perhaps a full review/feature might be in order.

A bit of backstory, or perhaps you already know the backstory. No? Well, apparently these two sisters filmed a video of themselves performing blues standards in the forest, and thousands of YouTube hits later, they were international sensations. The legend grew - when they were playing a show at a small club in Nashville, word was sent to them that Jack White wanted to meet them and would like to record a song or two at his Third Man Studios. If you haven't heard it, here is the song "It Hurts Me, Too" - an old favorite and a nice recording:

What people are responding to in First Aid Kit, aside of course from their strong, clear voices, are reverence for and love of traditional folk music that seem to be universal. In the US, of course, we call it "country music" and we've done it every which way: down home with an acoustic guitar and a stark song of murder and betrayal, and uptown with horns and lush string sections backing crying songs of heartbreak and unrequited love - and everything in between.

So, these girls have apparently listened to all that, and along with producer Mike Mogis, who has produced some delightfully "throwback" records with M Ward, decided to throw a bit of all of it into their second album.

Here's the title track:

The thing I find most interesting about their journey to where they currently reside is that they came to Nashville and put together a truly rocking version of an old blues standard, then went to Omaha to make a record that, in a lot of ways, pays homage to the old Nashville "countrypolitan" sound.

But, in the end, it's the voices. They know that, as did White and as does Mogis. Listen to the yodel, the cry and the harmonies in "Emmylou". This is the single:

If you're looking for good country music and you don't mind it coming from another country, you'll find it here.

First Aid Kit Website

REVIEW: Radar Eyes - Radar Eyes

Garage pop mixed with psychedelia and a bit of shoegaze is a cocktail of choice around the Rocksteady74 household (those readers who keep track of misspellings might argue that there is more than one cocktail of choice, but I digress). And there is no group on the scene that delivers that cocktail right now like Chicago's Radar Eyes. Their self-titled LP, out today on HoZac Records, delivers the buzz, power, feedback, jangle, hooks, harmonies and pace that we crave. Test their psychedelic side with "Summer Chills" --

Formed in 2007, the band has been gigging and releasing 7", while honing their sound and going through a few roster changes. The roster currently is listed as Anthony (guitar/vocals), Shelley (drums), Lucas (bass), and Russ (guitar). Although founding member Nathan is not listed as a current member, I believe he wrote, sang and played on this record.

For a taste of the band's delightful pop sensibility on album track "Miracle", which also was released in 2011 on a 7". It was the first Radar Eyes song I heard, and started me on my path of learning more about the band.

The songwriting on this album is excellent. While the tracks all have similarities, they display an impressive command of several styles. As noted above, "Summer Chills" and "Miracle" display a mastery of psychedelic and garage pop modes, respectively. As noted by a few other writers, "Accident" sounds like a drugged out brother-from-another-mother version of the Yardbirds' "For Your Love". "Disconnection" is a the shoegaze cousin with more aggressive rhythm section. "In Love" is furious post-punk, and "Prairie Puppies 2" is strikes me as a bit Britpop. But it all has a gritty garage feel to it. Another thing I'll note about the songs is that the instruments seem to rumble louder, and the rock gets a bit harder, as the album unspools--just as you'd expect and want it in a live performance.

For my money, Radar Eyes is going to be one of the sleeper surprises of the year, an album that in December will be on a lot of lists with the comment "...I don't know how I missed this one when it came out..." Don't be that guy. You can get it on limited edition vinyl or CD now, and enjoy it all year.

"I Am"

For fun, here is a short session the band filmed for Coach House Sounds in 2010:

Radar Eyes - 5.23.10 from Coach House Sounds on Vimeo.

Twitter ( @RadarEyesChicag )
HoZac Records -- Page for Radar Eyes

Monday, February 6, 2012

REVIEW: The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know

The Twilight Sad have earned a devoted following predicated on their big guitar sound, solid rhythm foundation, James Graham's expressive, commanding vocals, and titles and lyrics that suggested dark secrets and horrible circumstances. So the band didn't need to make a shift in their sound for commercial reasons. But rather than deliver another well-conceived effort in the same vein, the band took the risk of altering the template. Happily, the result on No One Can Ever Know is The Twilight Sad's most consistent, and most consistently excellent, album to date.

What is the shift? While the sound remains large, the band pared down the contribution of the guitars and added analog synths. The synths provide a chillier, often moody sound which perfectly compliments the ominous lyrics and darkly expressive vocals. And those vocals--for me, Graham is one of the more captivating vocalists in rock. It is a richly accented moan that ably thrusts home the intensity of the music. Multi-instrumentalist Andy MacFarlane again provides the music for the stories, adjusting his palate to add knobs and keys to strings and pics. While the result is spare compared to the last two albums, it nevertheless provides a full and lively texture. Mark Devine is the member of the band responsible for drums and programming, providing a somewhat militant backdrop to the tracks. (The band's long-time bassist, Craig Orzel, left before this album war recorded, and the band will flesh out its live sound with to additional musicians.)

Here is the first official single, "Sick". It is a powerful song, despite the band dialing the usual thunder down a notch.

The Twilight Sad is not about hooks and melody, or in many cases even about verse/chorus structures. Their songs rely on the increasing tension jointly built on the driving music and emotional vocals. It seems to me that I feel The Twilight Sad as much as I hear them. All nine tracks on this album are strong. The three tracks released so far ("Sick" and "Another Bed" officially and "Kill it in the Morning" "leaked") certainly are among the best. But personally I rank "Nil" the second best track on the album, just behind "Sick" and just ahead of the scorching "Kill it in the Morning". Surprisingly, while this album sounds great from the first listen, it actually grows on you; on each successive play you discover nuances and layers you missed earlier. A standing ovation for the The Twilight Sad.

"Another Bed", with a somewhat disturbing video:

And the album closer is "Kill it in the Morning", which builds to a white hot finish over its nearly six minute run time.

The album is released today, February 6, on FatCat Records.
Lyrics - James Alexander Graham
Music - Andy MacFarlane
Drums/Programming - Mark Devine
Produced by Andrew Weatherall
Engineering, Mix & Additional Production: Jim Anderson

Twitter ( @thetwilightsad )

UK tour dates (all in February):
9 Thu GLASGOW Grand Ole Opry
10 Fri MANCHESTER Ruby Lounge
11 Sat SHEFFIELD Queens Social Club
12 Sun BIRMINGHAM Hare and Hounds
13 Mon BRISTOL Fleece
14 Tue LONDON Cargo
15 Wed NOTTINGHAM Stealth
16 Thu LEEDS Brudenell Social Club

US tour dates, starting in late February and ending at SXSW in Austin. I have the Seattle date circled on my calendar.
Feb 23 Washington DC – Rock and Roll Hotel
Feb 24 Philadelphia PA – Johnny Brenda’s
Feb 25 Brooklyn NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
Feb 26 Allston MA – Brighton Music Hall
Feb 28 Montreal QC – Il Motore
Feb 29 Toronto ON – Lee’s Palace
Mar 01 Grand Rapids MI – Pyramid Scheme
Mar 02 Chicago IL – Empty Bottle
Mar 03 Minneapolis MN - 7th Street Entry
Mar 05 San Diego CA – Casbah
Mar 06 Los Angeles CA – The Echo
Mar 07 San Jose CA – The Blank Club
Mar 08 San Francisco CA – The Independent
Mar 10 Seattle WA – Tractor Tavern
Mar 11 Portland OR – Doug Fir Lounge
Mar 14-18 Austin - SXSW

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Get to Know: Plateaus

I feel somewhat embarrassed suggesting that you get to know Plateaus, as I don't know much either. I have discovered that they are from San Diego, and the group's members are listed as Kevin Gist, Chris Rosi, Jon Greene, Elliot Moeller. Their music is a bit garage, a bit surf, and a bit punk. HoZac Records will release their song "Do It For You", soon. Have a listen:

"Beach Coma" was a release on the Art Fag label in 2011:

As was "Suzy":


Saturday, February 4, 2012

REVIEW: The Plimsouls - Beach Town Confidential

I'm generally not the world's biggest fan of live records. But this recently uncovered live recording of The Plimsouls from 1983, being released Tuesday, Feb 7, documents a great band at the top of its game. In fact, it now stands for me as their definitive work, an amazingly perfect recording.
Beach Town Confidential takes you right there to The Golden Bear music club in the surfer party town of Huntington Beach in LA, to see local heroes the Plimsouls. I'm sure the weather was perfect, the girls beautiful, the beer cold and free flowing. You can feel the energy surging as the set progresses, palpable excitement in the air, temperature rising.

Here is some footage from a live performance in Pasadena also in 1983, of the Plimsouls performing "Inch by Inch" and their big hit "A Million Miles Away":

Many of you may only know the Plimsouls from "A Million Miles Away", a perfect power pop song, but they had plenty of arguably equally great songs, many captured on Beach Town Confidential - "Magic Touch", "Zero Hour", "Oldest Story in the World", "Shaky City", "In This Town", and my personal favorite "How Long Will It Take?".

The Plimsouls, and their gifted songwriter and leader Peter Case, came out of the fertile LA punk scene. They brought that spirit and energy to a much broader range, drawing from the very best of the preceding 25 years of music - The Beatles, The Byrds, 60s garage, surf rock, and R&B. Their reach is reflected in the covers here: Bo Diddley ("You Can't Judge a Book"), Moby Grape ("Fall on You"), and one of my all times faves The Flamin Groovies' "Jumpin in the Night".

This release is so fresh and alive, hard to imagine it was nearly 30 years ago. It fits in remarkably well with a lot of the new stuff by very young bands that we write about here. If you don't know the Plimsouls but love power pop, you must check this out. And this is an absolute must have for even the casual Plimsouls fan.

Here's a second live clip of the Plimsouls from 1983, this time doing "Shaky City", a song included on this new live disc, and "I'll Get Lucky":

Peter Case and Paul Collins (Case's former partner in The Nerves, his band before the Plimsouls), are touring the country with a full rock band starting in March, playing songs from the Plimsouls, Nerves, The Beat and others. Not to be missed.
I'll leave you with two more from that same 1983 Pasadena show, "Oldest Story in the World" and "Everywhere at Once":
More info about Beach Town Confidential and the upcoming Peter Case tour dates here: http://www.ymlp.com/zWCSL2.

More about the record, and other Plimsouls reissues on Alive/Naturalsound Records here

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Soul Corner - Don Cornelius (Soul Train)

The death of Don Cornelius this week is sad at a great many levels.

But today let's celebrate the immeasurable contributions that Mr. Cornelius made to black music and American culture. Every Saturday morning from 1971-2006, Soul Train presented not only the best in soul music, but great interviews, with candid insights into black culture at a time of rapid social change in the US, plus awesome fashion and dancing. It allowed a white kid like me in the 1970's to sneak behind the racial curtain, into the black club, the black church, the classroom at the black college. It was as educational as it was wildly entertaining.

There are so many great Soul Train clips on You Tube, I urge you to dive in there, you'll be amazed what you will find.

But here's a few to get you started. First, a terrific interview with Curtis Mayfield when Superfly was released:

One of the remarkable elements of the show was how the superstar artists were right in the thick of the studio audience, literally up close and physical with them, as here when Marvin Gaye lip synchs "Let's Get It On":

Here's The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, doing a live vocal over the recorded track; this song goes out to one of our great WYMA writers:

And finally, the famous Soul Train dance line, this time featuring Don Cornelius himself in one of only two times he joined the line in the history of the show, with Mary Wilson of the Supremes, to the sounds of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Next Shiny Thing

This is my first post for "When You Motor Away."  I am honored to be among such august company. There has been a delay since I was first asked to post.  I was constant distracted by the next shiny thing.  I was always learning something new while on my way to complete another task.  First is was the discography of Robert Pollard, then dances of the 50's, 60's and 70's (RIP Don Cornelius) followed by a focus on funk.  The only constant was my daily birthday post on another site.
Today's birthday was for a godfather of jangle rock/pop.  Graham Nash 70 years old today.  Prior to his stint with CSNY, Graham was a member of the Hollies - one of the best acts of the British Invasion.  Their music was characterized by three part harmonies, ringing guitars, and, of course, the memorable hook.  Their influence is recognizable in jangle pops throughout the rock era - The Rasberries, Big Star,  and Shoes.  Would there have been the New Pornographers without Graham Nash and the Hollies?  Their influence has been a constant for the past 45 years.   Hollies were a presence on the charts from 1966 to 1969.  Give them a listen.

Their first recordings were covers.


Later recordings were written by the three main vocalists - 2:40 of jangle, rock, and harmony.

Aus London:

The harmonies have been cuffed by other groups for years.  I often hear the harmonies lifted from this song.

Get to Know: Black Marble

How about some chill electronic beats to match the season? Black Marble is Ty Kube and Chris Stewart, a coldwave duo from Brooklyn that gives us icy, minimalist beats and detached baritone vocals. They are packaged in Weight Against The Door, a five-track EP out on Seattle's Hardly Art label.

"Pretender" features an insistent beat and effectively builds tension to the end. Here is is the backdrop to scenes from and old movie that fittingly seems to have its own ominous currents.

Pretender from BLACK MARBLE on Vimeo.

"On My Head"

Hardly Art's page for Black Marble

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Get to Know: POST

The thing I most love about writing for a music blog is discovering a band that isn't well known yet, but strikes me as the kind of band that can grow and delight you. To my mind, one such band is POST. I put a couple of their songs up on the blog last spring, but they are on my mind again because been busy recording. While the album isn't ready for release, a few unmastered tracks have been made available to whet our interest.

Here is the dark vamp called "New Play Thing". I love the feel and rhythm of this track --
New Play Thing (unmastered) by POST music

"Monument to a Lost Cause pt. 1" was released earlier on a We Can Still Picnic sampler. It has a delightful indie pop feel --
Monument to a Lost Cause pt. 1 by POST music

The band lists home as Glasgow and Manchester. It seems to my ears that their music is grounded in the urban indie pop of that I most identify with Glasgow. Post is Chris Elkin, Adam Florence, Craig Forbes and Graham Wann. Their album is being engineered and co-produced by Emily MacLaren and Stuart Evans at the Green Door studio, Glasgow, and will be released by the We Can Still Picnic collective.

"Rabbit in the Headlights", live in Newcastle, October 2011 --

"R.I.T.H.", from an earlier release --

We Can Still Picnic