Saturday, September 13, 2014

Introducing: Nieves

Nieves are a new talent from Glasgow.  Indelibly Scottish by their unmodulated accents and their embrace of both the light and the dark side of human existence, the group consists of Brendan Dafters (vocals/guitar) and Herre de Leur (piano/percussion).  And the darkness certainly is front and center on their latest offering, "Straight Line".  A sparsely adorned vocal and piano song about a terminally ill child, told from the perspective of an older sibling, one cannot help but be impressed by its grace and depth of emotion, despite its sad theme.

Two other tracks from Nieves are included below, as well as a video for their first released song, "Winter".  To my ears, the lyrics are poetic and evocative, and the arrangements simple and suitably supportive, dominated by de Leur's elegant piano.


Friday, September 12, 2014

REVIEW: Robert Scott - The Green House

Life has many uncertainties, but one thing I've learned to count on is the quality of Robert Scott's songwriting.  If this New Zealander pens a tune, I know I want to hear it and I know that I am very likely to enjoy it.  The songcraft for which he is most widely known is his work for his band, The Bats, which has a three decade history of excellent songs (review of the recent release of their early albums here).  But he also contributed to creating songs for The Clean, for which he is the bass player, and as a solo artist.  Amazingly, Scott's writing shows no sign of the well running dry.  The Bats' most recent outing, 2011's Free All The Monsters contained some of that group's best work (our review here).  And now we have his latest solo album, The Green House, consisting of 12 tracks on which Scott reveals his thoughts in a somewhat quieter, slower-paced fashion than his other projects.  The melodies are fine, and finely-tuned; more relaxed than on songs penned for The Bats, but thoroughly engaging and adorned with various textures and thoughtful flourishes.  And playing guitar, bass and keys for the recording, one has to assume that Scott got the sound he wanted.  As one would expect, the vocals feature Scott's tenor, almost delicate with a hint of smokiness.  But the artist was inspired to add the vocal contributions of gifted young Kiwi singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, who records and performs as Tiny Ruins (and reviewing her album is on my long "to do" list).  Hollie's voice can be sweet and crystalline, or mature and knowing, and her contributions add the depth and contrast that Scott undoubtedly was anticipating when he invited her to the recording sessions.

The album begins with the superbly moody mid-tempo "Lights Are Low".  Taut and almost ominous, with winning vocal interplay between Robert and Hollie, it merges dream pop and folk rock to wonderful effect, and is the perfect beginning to the album.  The following "Lava" showcases Scott's restraint and use of space to highlight the melody and vocals.  The guitar pop muse prompts the delicious third song "Vertigo" (funny, I almost looked at the liner notes to see if Bob Mould guested on that one).  The quietly elegant "Lazy Boy" brings a bit of the English folk song to the proceedings, and is followed by "Favourite Case", an acoustic instrumental that sounds like the musical representation of a summer breeze.  The first half of the album is closed out with the simply affecting lover's plea, "Now In Your Hands".

The flip side is introduced with two of my favorite songs on the album.  The first is the soaring guitar pop of "Month of Sundays".  It is not easy to explain, but it is one of those songs that just sounds like redemption.  The second is "Little Bird", an  elegant and rich folk pop tune which may feature the best vocal duet on the album.  Next are the hushed "Hear the Hondas" and the upbeat dreaminess of the appropriately named "The Starry Show".  If the earlier instrumental "Favourite Case" sounded like summer, the almost instrumental "Where the Frost Lies" sounds like a crisp but sunny late fall morning.  The album closes with the lovely "Right From Wrong", which may be a textbook example of saving the most precious moment to the end.

The Green House is out now via Flying Nun Records.  It is available on vinyl and CD, and via digital download.

Flying Nun
Bandcamp for The Green House

Rolling Stones Friday: Start Me Up

Tough day here, having trouble getting going.
Maybe this one from Tattoo You (1981) will do it:


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Old Mate - It Is What It Is

The debut album from Pat Telfer of Bitch Prefect, recording as Old Mate, is titled It Is What It Is.  And if one plays with the title to turn it into a question, it provides a nice segue into the quality of the album.  That is, what is It Is What It Is like?  The answer for me is that it is an strikingly good record.  Telfer doesn't pretend to choose a sub-genre of indie rock, resulting in an appealing variety of music.  And each song makes a convincing case for your attention.  The opening track "Medicine Man" is a bluesy roadhouse jam that sprawls for ten minutes -- and doesn't feel one second too long.  "Requesting Permission" (stream below) is a relaxed guitar pop tune, with Pat's southern Australian drawl supported by barely-there female background vocals and an organ. line.  "Something" is an urgent, chugging track that brings to mind Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.  Melancholy singer-songwriter sensibility infuses the sparsely adorned "February".

The second half of the album kicks-off with "Stressin" (video below), which is a somewhat jittery instrumental for 2:45, before the simple admonition that "Sally's stressin". Driven by Telfer's baritone, the following "Know What He Wants" has a vibe that hints at Nick Cave or the Velvet Underground.  Like a ray of light, "Him" begins with a chorus of female and male voices, and continues the enigmatic refrain accompanied predominantly by a bass guitar, drum and occasional guitar strokes.  The album ends with "Truth Boy". a strutting post-punk gem that builds and then recedes with deserved confidence.

That's it.  Eight tracks, but a fair measure of running time.  The tone is a bit sinister and decadent, owing only partially to Telfer's voice and the arrangements.  The true skeleton of this record is astute songwriting.  Telfer doesn't hit you in the head; he just lets the words and atmosphere seep into your skin. Lay out some cash for this album, and you'll be richer for it.

Originally a solo project, Telfer now relies on a group of 7-10 musicians to flesh out Old Mate.  It is a credit to Telfer's vision and the players' discipline that the songs are focused and efficient, with no hint of competition for time or attention.  It Is What It Is is out now via French label SDZ Records.

Bandcamp for album
SDZ Records

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Collar Up" from Kate Miller

Today we'd like to introduce you to 19 year old London singer-songwriter and art student Kate Miller.  Kate has a five track EP titled Neophyte coming out later this month via Karma Artists, and we think it deserves our attention.  Sample Kate's work with EP track "Collar Up" below.  The song is impressive, and the vocals are divine.

Karma Artists

Some notes on being called a fucking hillbilly by Mark Kozelek.

I guess I'll just get this part out of the way right now rather than try to build uncertainty into a narrative so I can cut the legs out of it with a surprise unequivocal conclusion. Mark Kozelek is a huge asshole. It is a fact I'd have been happy never to learn, but this past Friday night, at his Hopscotch Music Festival set at the Lincoln Theater in downtown Raleigh, my fellow attendees and I got our faces rubbed in it.

I don't think I'm violating this blog's credo by writing about my experience in coming to this conclusion. Until I learned what a self-important diva douchepump he is Friday, I might have said he was my favorite songwriter. I've done 4 year end best-of lists on this site, and three of them have named a record of his. In my 2010 list, where I ranked Admiral Fell Promises number 4, I called myself "an unrepentant Kozelek fanboy." (I hate people who quote themselves, but I'd like it noted I only do it when it outs me as the drooling halfwit that I am.) But wait for this one --  the "Kozelek" playlist on my itunes, which has Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, Desertshore, solo, collaborations, and the live albums he puts out every couple of weeks, has 312 songs (all paid for -- i.e., no scarfing from friends, because none of my friends listen to this asshole). That's 26 hours of freaking Kozelek. It's 6 more songs, and 14 more hours, than my Robert Pollard playlist.

Maybe you haven't heard what happened Friday at the Sun Kil Moon set at the Lincoln. By mid-day Saturday it was making the rounds online, starting locally at the venerable IndyWeek, which reported, accurately, that before Kozelek had played his first note, he said, "everybody, all you fucking hillbillies, shut the fuck up." If you go to that link, you can click on a recording of it on someone's instagram account. It actually splices two distinct unpleasantnesses together, making them sound like a single rant. In fact, after the first song, he threatened to quit, claiming not to care whether he got paid or not. He started bitching about trying to do "really delicate" musical things and needing to hear the others in the band -- all valid, no doubt, but conveyed with such poindexterish superiority and patronizing contempt that I, who had been looking forward to this set more than any other of the festival, had to stifle a hurl before muttering 'give me a fucking break' (very, very quietly, to be sure). By this time I was experiencing traumatic remorse at having left in the middle of a facemelting performance by KEN Mode so I could be on time for the abuse.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I'm this bent out of shape about being called a fucking hillbilly. It should be pointed out that, technically, those of us from this general region are really more redneck than hillbilly, but now I'm the pedantic asshole, aren't I? After a couple of songs, Kozelek could see he had completely lost the room, and claimed to have been joking about the fucking hillbilly stuff. Frankly I believe him. Although tons of his songs are about all the European places he's traveled to for performances, and all the beautiful women he's seduced with his brooding faux-diffidence and melancholy charm, his latest album is deeply prosaic and earthbound -- its beauty inheres in these things. Despite showing himself to be a diva artiste this weekend, Kozelek never has seemed to be trying to convince us of any sort of literary sophistication or privileged upbringing. In any event, I went to college in the midwest, where being a southern redneck could be put to great use in nearly any situation in your day. No, I learned long ago not to be reflexively offended by such epithets, especially coming from a guy who's not ashamed of his own humble origins.

Old Mark did piss off quite a few with the fucking hillbilly remark, but that's not what got my shorts all bunched up about him. For me, it was seeing this great artist reveal himself as lacking any sense of humility or appreciation for the people who have put him where he is in the world. I had sensed some of the resigned contempt Kozelek has for much of his audience before this night -- his lyrics lamenting signing posters for guys in tennis shoes; much of the crowd banter on his recent live album recorded in Milan, but I got that. I'm Kozelek's age, and I can empathize with the notion that being an itinerant singer-songwriter is much more fun when you're a twenty-something guy than a late-40s guy. But seeing Kozelek berate a stage tech because of sound issues, and then lash into the crowd for lacking proper reverence for the moment, including threatening to quit after one song -- it was just a massive disappointment. Kind of like Charlie Bucket when Wonka (at least the Wilder version) told him to go screw himself because he'd gone in that bubble chamber or whatever that thing was.

The ripples from this little squall spread surprisingly wide (and quickly), and the recriminations have flowed back with equal force. The Kozelek apologists have blamed the entire matter on Hopscotch logistics, saying that scheduling this set in the traditionally rowdy Lincoln Theater is akin to displaying the Faberge eggs at an interstate Bob Evans. Friends, that is horseshit. The Lincoln is a music venue, and an excellent one at that. Bands play there, and the people who go see those bands change, depending on the band. I've seen the National play there, and I've seen Corrosion of Conformity play there, and I bet that I was one of maybe 5 people who was at both of those shows. From time to time they have gentle bands play there, and no one gets hurt, other than maybe some hurt feelings.

The fact is that this was a festival set -- and that's a fact that appears to have been lost on Mark Kozelek. Because this was a festival set, it meant that Sun Kil Moon was one of six bands playing at the 12.30 a.m. time slot. Thousands of fans with weekend passes would be going to these six shows, and many would be unfamiliar with the bands. With an album widely expected to be on many of the year end best-of lists, it's easy to see why Sun Kil Moon might be a favorite among uncommitted festival-goers, regardless of where he was told to play. That Kozelek decided to go out of his way to be a complete dick to all these fresh-faced, slightly drunk (it was late) would-be-initiates is not the fault of the Hopscotch brass (who put on a terrific festival) or the chimerical "Lincoln Theater crowd."

Kozelek clearly doesn't like festival crowds because they don't properly prostrate themselves (i.e., very quietly prostrate themselves) before his overwhelming genius. Seems like henceforth he should avoid festivals for that reason. He was able to make do this weekend though. Halfway through the show, two-thirds of the alienated crowd had staggered out of the theater into the warm embrace of the Raleigh night, leaving only mindless sycophants and bewildered morons (like me) to witness the episode lumbering to its sad end. Those in the exodus were wondering what on earth they could have done so wrong as to have provoked that old man on stage to treat them in such a way. Don't worry, Raleigh. Sleep tight. You didn't do anything wrong. That old man's just an asshole.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review and Tour Notice: The Gooch Palms - Novo's

FROM HOMELAND SECURITY:  The Department has learned that The Gooch Palms are touring the states and indoctrinating our children regarding garage punk, surf rock, power pop, and the utility of crop tops in male stage attire.  Everyone must be on the alert.  The Department suggests that to keep your community safe, all adults should check the tour schedule below, find the show nearest to you, buy all available tickets and take your adult friends.  By following these procedures, the adults will become familiar with the subversive nature of this music, and unsuspecting innocents will not be able to buy tickets, and thus will not be exposed to the debauchery and questionable fashion sense.  The Department is cognizant of the financial and time burdens resulting from these procedures, but it is deemed the only way to protect the American way of life from alien influences.  Think of the children!

From the Oversight Committee of the Executive Members of the Editorial Board of WYMA:  We think that every adult in America should follow the above recommendations.  We also believe that everyone else in America should see The Gooch Palms.  It is as if The Ramones, The Clash, FIDLAR, Cool Ghouls, and a soulful, well-in-their-cups doo wop group from Brooklyn were all put in a blender (painful, I know, but it is for art) and poured out as an efficient, exuberant party machine.  And let there be no misunderstanding -- this duo seems to be having so much fun that I don't understand how their audience could not have fun.  This is rock music for the sweaty, beer-soaked masses.  In other words, it is rock music for us! The remaining dates on their US tour are listed below.

The Gooch Palms are Leroy Macqueen (guitar and vocals) and Kat Friend (drums) from Newcastle, Australia.  The initial pressing for their LP, Novo',s sold out, but I understand that another pressing is in the works.  You may also be able to source it digitally.

Thu 11 Sep 2014Turf ClubSt. Paul, MN, US
Fri 12 Sep 2014Cactus ClubMilwaukee, WI, US
Sat 13 Sep 2014The BurlingtonChicago, IL, US
Sun 14 Sep 2014Jumbo's BarDetroit, MI, US
Wed 17 Sep 2014Now That's ClassCleveland, OH, US
Thu 18 Sep 2014The Windup SpaceBaltimore, MD, US
Fri 19 Sep 2014Cake ShopNew York, NY, US
Sat 20 Sep 2014Death By AudioBrooklyn, NY, US
Sun 21 Sep 2014O'Brien's PubAllston, MA, US
Mon 22 Sep 2014The FlatBrooklyn, NY, US
Tue 23 Sep 2014Bourbon & BranchPhiladelphia, PA, US
Sat 27 Sep 2014Murphy'sMemphis, TN, US

Anti Fade Records

"The Mile" from Cool Ghouls

I am very much a fan of San Francisco's Cool Ghouls.  Their self-titled 2013 LP (review here) made my list of top albums for the year.  The news from the Bay Area is that the garage rock/surf pop/psychedelic experts have prepared another LP, titled A Swirling Fire Burning Through the Rye, planned to be released on November 11 via Empty Cellar Records (vinyl and CD) and Burger Records (cassette).  Recorded by Sonny Smith of Sonny and the Sunsets and mixes and mastered by Melbourne's Mr. Musical Everyman Mikey Young, the album would deserve a listen based on its title alone.  But I am quite sure that the content from this foursome will match the promise.  And to prove me right (thanks, guys), the first song from the album has been released.  Listen to "The Mile" below, and anticipate more Cool Ghouls in your life.