Monday, January 31, 2011

New Sounds of Scotland -- Part 3: Butcher Boy, Lenzie Moss, and Popup

Butcher Boy doesn't fit the template for most emerging indie bands. One obvious difference is the members of the group are a bit older, perhaps less edgy in appearance, than many bands clawing to stay alive in today's music world. But I'd like to think that most of us are accepting of such differences, as it is the music that counts. Still, the music of Butcher Boy differs from that of most young bands as well. There is a maturity in the lyrics and performances that underscores the abilities of the band and, more importantly, the contributions of frontman and songwriter, John Blain Hunt. Hunt is a former dance club DJ and published poet, who decided to try his hand as a songwriter and performer. The result has been two albums -- Profit in Your Poetry in 2007and React or Die in 2009. A new album is scheduled for release in 2011. Make no mistake, this is sensitive stuff; while the instrumentation may be full, and even lush at times, the lyrics are the focal point. While other bands, such as Belle & Sebastian inhabit this territory, Butcher Boy more closely resembles The Tindersticks or the Smiths than their Glasgow counterparts, B&S.

From React or Die, "A Better Ghost":

From Profit In Your Poetry, "Girls Make Me Sick":

Butcher Boy Myspace Page

Another new group is Lenzie Moss. The band is the project of Finlay Macdonald, who spent stints with Music and Movement, BMX Bandits, Teenage Fanclub and Speedboat. Macdonald also is an instructor in the music industry program of a Glasgow area college. The relatively few songs available for me to review at this point don't permit much useful analysis, so I'll just observe that the songs I've heard are good songs for late night sipping on a favorite beverage. The Lenzie Moss song embedded below appears to tell a story of a time in Glasgow when the writer was younger and out on the town.

Free Download of Song at Bandcamp

Lenzie Moss Myspace Page

And now we'll pick up the pace a bit. The third band is Popup, also from Glasgow. An indication of the difficulty of emerging as a band is that the song "Lucy What Are You Trying to Say", which is featured in the fun video below, was a single release (and critically well received) in 2006. They played SxSW in 2008 and are going back this year.

Popup Myspace Page

Popup Website

WYMA (HL's) favorite music of 2010.

Wow, it’s the last day of January, and John asked us to put together a 2010 list of favorites two weeks ago. Sorry ‘bout that John. I thought 2010 was a really quality year for music, so I was a little surprised when I compiled my Top 20 list and only got 17 albums. I think a year-end best-of list shouldn’t be a ranking of the albums you bought, where albums you bought but really didn’t knock you over get on there because, you know, you’re running out of albums to list. So this is the list of all the albums this year that I really, really liked.
1. Titus Andronicus, The Monitor – I love everything about this record. It is loud as hell. There’s lots of cussing and songs about the drinking. It’s literate but not pretentiously literary. Patrick Stickles constantly reminds me of 1984 Paul Westerberg. It’s totally overindulgent. I think belongs in the canon of truly great records that we’ll crank to at least 6 while we sit in our nursing homes doing fermentation experiments with last week’s applesauce. Yes, it’s that great.
2. The Walkmen, Lisbon – Where Titus Andronicus are snotty and sweaty, the Walkmen are suave and urbane. This is a collection of beautiful songs; beautifully played and sung, beautifully recorded. Although I must confess to liking the rocking songs like ‘Angela Surf City’ best, I cannot resist the gauzy barroom conceits like ‘Stranded’ either. And the singer’s name is Hamilton Leithauser, and they’re on Fat Possum Records. Hamilton Leithauser? Fat Possum? Remember when Rawly Eastwick was a relief pitcher for the Big Red Machine? You don’t? Never mind.
3. Kylesa, Spiral Shadow – I can’t believe there’s all this great metal music coming out of Georgia. They’ve got Mastodon, Baroness, and Harvey Milk, all of which have put out great records the past couple of years, but without a doubt two of my two favorite metal albums during that time are this one and Kylesa’s 2009 effort ‘Static Tensions’. These songs aren’t from the metal template – they’re generally around 3 minutes of fevered squall. They’re structured more like Fugazi songs than Isis songs but more primal (two drummers!). Anyway, there’s something in the water in Georgia. No wonder Mikheil Saakashvili thinks he can kick Vladimir Putin’s butt. Check out the opener:

4. Sun Kil Moon, Admiral Fell Promises – I’ll admit it, I’m an unrepentant Mark Kozelek fanboy. Seriously, he could remake this album, call it ‘Admiral Farts Promises’ and I’d pre-order two copies. I also will admit that I was disappointed when I heard that this album wasn’t recorded with a band, but rather was pretty much unaccompanied Kozelek on a nylon string classical guitar. I love the live solo records he puts out every two or three weeks, but I miss the full band sound that’s so necessary to the genius of songs like ‘Salvador Sanchez’and ‘Tonight the Sky.’ This album, though, works in every way, and in some ways is a departure for Kozelek. The subtle multitracking (especially of the vocals) and the stunning flamenco sketches combine with the expected stuff – the sepia-tinted place descriptions (matching much of the art of his album covers) and the expansive compositions – to form something utterly gripping. And like all excellent records, the more you come back to it, the more you take away. It’s quiet and contemplative music, but in no way can it be considered easy listening.
5. Superchunk, Majesty Shredding – I think Superchunk was the greatest rock and roll band of the 90s. I also think that if they hadn’t taken the better part of the last 10 years off, and instead had made a few more albums like this, they’d be making a play for best band of whatever that last decade is called as well. This sounds like the follow-up to “Here’s Where the Strings Come In”, which to me was right where they were hitting their stride. I think it was my buddy Slainte Joe who described them best by saying they write perfect pop songs and then crank the absolute shite out of them.
6. Vampire Weekend, Contra – This is the second album on my list (along with my number 1 above) from Brit label XL Recordings, so a congratulatory bollocks to them, or whatever. When you peel away the layers of studio varnish, this actually might be a stronger set of tunes than the first album. I saw them live at an amphitheater with a terrific PA system a couple of months ago and was blown away at how great they sound when simply played (there was a little bit being piped in, but not a ton, as far as I could tell). This is a great band with a unique musical vision.
7. High on Fire, Snakes for the Divine – Where I applauded Kylesa above for their compact metal songs, Matt Pike on the other hand really needs supertanker-sized songs to create a proper framework for his epic (and I’m going for a non-hipster employment of the word here) guitar work. That’s not to say he can’t work his magic in a short song. Look at ‘Rumors of War’ for goodness sakes. The songs on ‘Snakes . . .’ are mostly longform by comparison, though, and they make for an exhilarating experience. Why they’re no longer on Relapse Records is something I can’t figure out. Oh yeah, and there’s also the moment on ‘Frosthammer’ where the music stops and then restarts with Pike bellowing ‘FROSTHAMMER!’ four times before the lead starts. Hearing this has caused my 9 year old son to begin to believe in the devil that I’ve been telling him about for years; you know, the one that watches him night and day, but especially at night, waiting for a chance to drag the little guy to the basement of hell. It’s musical behavior therapy.
8. Far, At Night We Live – I was really surprised at how good this album turned out. They hadn’t been heard from since 1998, the year we got System of a Down. They had become what no real rock and roll aspirant wants to become, i.e., an obscure but significant point of influence for a raft of bands, including a lot of pretty bad ones. This album is a lot closer to ‘Water & Solutions’ than ‘Tin Cans With Strings for You’, in that it’s got a lot of quality pop sensibility to go with the bonecrunching bar chords, and Jonah Matranga sings more than he screams (although he’s got a great voice for either).
9. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks – I swear I saw the title of this album and almost resolved not to buy it. Ted Leo’s one of the few people whose lyrics I actually listen to for content, but I am not interested in a rock album that is self-consciously concerned with aesthetics as a lyrical subject matter. Thankfully, if I remember correctly, I went into the record store with fifteen bucks burning a hole in my pocket, didn’t find what I went there for, and bought this instead because Ted’s an ND guy, after all. Turns out I should have known better than to draw such conclusions in the first place. He’s really at the top of his game here, with pretty much every song perfectly blending his east coast punk edge with another of his inexhaustible supply of Elvis Costello-like pop hooks.
10. No Age, Everything in Between – While I still probably like ‘Nouns’ better, in a way this album is more exciting because it shows a band working very hard at developing a kind of musical vision. They don’t seem content to be lumped in with the vanguard of lo-fi punks hitting the scene right now (although as can be seen from some of the entries on this list, I’d have no problem with that myself). So while they’re still cranking out great songs (“Fever Dreaming” has to be one of the best songs of 2010), they seem to be taking pains both instrumentally and in the production process to create an overarching ambience to the album. Some may find that to be pointless noodling. I think it’s great – or at least it really works here.

11. Deftones, Diamond Eyes – This is the best the Deftones have sounded since ‘White Pony’.
12. Male Bonding, Nothing Hurts – Check out the videos of this band that I posted a week or so ago. Well played and full speed ahead.
13. The National, High Violet – Another great effort by what’s probably my favorite band of the last five or ten years. I ranked it here because of the band’s five full length albums, this would fall at number 4 or 5 for me.
14. Robert Pollard, We All Got Out of the Army – I can’t keep up with all the Pollardiana that’s been steadily streaming out of Dayton since the demise of Guided by Voices, but this is not one of those records where there are only five songs you’d add to your Pollard playlist. This is front-to-back solid – sounds like a less anthemic ‘Isolation Drills’.
15. Wolf Parade, Expo ’86 – This looks like it will be the triumphant last hurrah of the combined efforts of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner. They were my favorite of the bands to come out of the Montreal scene of the early to mid-00s. Bands that have two accomplished singer-songwriters (Uncle Tupelo and Husker Du spring to mind here) tend not to last too long.
16. Wavves, King of the Beach – I like this album a lot more than his first, which is saying something. Much I’ve read in the music media has portrayed Nathan Williams as an ornery prima donna, but I saw Wavves play the Cat’s Cradle this past weekend, and he came across as a very likeable guy who was trying hard to play a great set. He succeeded well beyond my expectations. By the way, this is another great album brought to us by Oxford, Mississippi’s Fat Possum records.
17. Ty Segall, Melted – Ty is not just another California noise punk – not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you like your pop music drenched in feedback and distortion you need this album. Although I’m partial to the tune “Four Score and Seven” by Titus Andronicus, a solid case can be made that ‘Girlfriend’ from this album is the song of the year. This is from the great Memphis label Goner Records, home to the sadly departed Jay Reatard and the happily whoopass Eddy Current Suppression Ring (John has given them some much-deserved praise on this site) among other great garage warriors. Here's 'Girlfriend'. Turn it up.

I promise that these are not the only 17 albums released last year that I actually bought or listened to. There are some that I bought and didn’t fall in love with, including a few that were on most year-end lists you’ve probably seen. There were others – LCD Soundsystem and Deerhunter come to mind – that I plan to get but haven’t gotten around to yet. There look to be some promising albums on the 2011 horizon from the likes of the Twilight Singers, Rival Schools, maybe Mastodon, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a new Bloody Hollies release. So I’m hoping I get to 20 on next year’s list.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hey, Help a (Young) Brother Out...

Unsigned band out of Florida... If you like Band of Horses, but with a little more dance-rock lean (a la Interpol, maybe?) you should definitely check this out. I don't mean to say this band is "all influences" (though to me, those are good ones), but to give you a little bit of a reference point. I like their sound. The songs build nicely (they're all about the same length), and there's enough variety in tempo and vocals to make it interesting. Really quite good.

Check it out, buy it (name your price) or send it to a label scout!

Website: Young Brother at Bandcamp

Friday, January 28, 2011

Old things: The Lonesome Call of the Crowded West

I was listening to the Meat Puppets cover of 'Good Golly Miss Molly' the other day, which to me is one of the great covers of all time. I'll post a decent version of it one day. The first time I ever heard it was at my first MPs show, at the Brewery in Raleigh in 1986. Flat Duo Jets was the opener. Based on my having played the grooves off of Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun, I told a bunch of buddies to come see this weird jazz trio playing desert math rock (although I'm sure I didn't call it math rock). Any of you who saw them in their heyday knows that that is not what we got. It was a hundred mile per hour blast of joyous chaos, and ever since then I've thought of Curt Kirkwood as one of the truly unsung guitar players of his or any generation. They played inspired covers, like Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away' at 78 rpm, and the aforementioned Little Richard gem that made you feel like you were Michael Jackson on the set of a Pepsi commercial.

All the rock and roll stations that summer were playing "In Your Eyes" and "Back in the High Life", which caused me to retreat to the Meat Puppets. Although not nearly as often as in the past, I still get that need for westernness, or the arid landscape that my brain projects when I listen to their old music. So this morning I was thinking about all that crap when I started trying to think of the other music that does that for me. It's not so much music about wide open spaces as it is music about empty spaces, and of course, the allegorical emptiness that we insist on connecting to it. Sort of like "Pulp Fiction" if it had been directed by Sergio Leone.

So that's my best effort at trying to explain the thought process that brought me to post these two tunes -- different sounds and different times, but both doing a similar thing for me.

I don't think it's an overstatement to suggest that Wall of Voodoo, on their masterpiece 'Call of the West', "got" their place and the characters in it the way that Steinbeck "got" Salinas, California. This is a good live version of the last (title) song, but you can really only get its full impact when it follows the other songs, especially desperate songs like "Factory" and "Lost Weekend".

I can't think of another album that would catch that mood again until Modest Mouse released 'The Lonesome Crowded West' in 1997. Despite the title, it was not as overtly "western" in its themes, but for some reason (maybe just the title) it puts me in the same place. Here's my favorite Modest Mouse song.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Friday Old Stuff (Rocksteady74): Reggae

Whether measured on a per capita or square mile basis, the island of Jamaica may be the music capital of the world. It infuses the lives of the people, and constitutes its best known import (with due respect to Usain Bolt). However, the music has not always been reggae, and certainly not always the reggae of Bob Marley. In the 50s, calypso and mento were the most popular music forms. Then the usually faster paced, horn dominated sound of ska took over. In the latter half of the 60s ska gave way to the forms known as rocksteady and reggae. These forms were characterized by a slower beat, less reliance on horns and more emphasis on bass. Vocally, the forms parallelled the music coming out of Detroit and Memphis. While socially conscious lyrics began to creep in to the music scene, the lyrical content more often was similar to the content in U.S. R&B.

The base for the music was provided by the producers, such as Coxsone Dodd (Studio One), Duke Reid (Treasure Island), Prince Buster (a former professional boxer and "protection" guy for Dodd), Leslie Kong and the Chin family (which still controls VP Records, in Queens, NY). Originally, the producers were operators of "sound systems" that would set up outdoor dancehalls and play their music. They often would sell the music as well, and the selling gradually became more important. The producers generally hired and provided the instrumental talent, while solo artists or groups sang the songs. The groups tended to form, break up and reform. And they jumped from producer to producer and back again. Few artists made real money under this system. In that sense (as well as many others), The Harder They Come illustrated real life in the Jamaican music world. The producers would own the music, so they often would recycle the instrumental pieces to keep the costs down. Over the years, "versioning" different songs off of the same instrumental, sometimes with portions of the original vocals as background, has become a distinct part of the music scene; but more on that another day.

The short rocksteady era (about 1966-1968) was dominated by two studios: Coxsone Dodd's now legendary Studio One, and Duke Reid's Treasure Island. Treasure Island became a studio after Duke terminated his career as a policeman and took over the family grocery store. He entered the businesses of sound systems and recording. He was a tough man, keeping a loaded gun and hired muscle (often his former police compatriots) at his side as he negotiated. Apparently, the gun was discharged into the ceiling for emphasis from time to time. Dodd's business lagged Reid's for a while, but Duke ran into several problems: Failing health; refusal to embrace the rastas and their form of reggae; and the fact that even though Dodd was a tough character who didn't always make his artists happy, he was considered better to work with than Reid.

Here are a few examples of the rocksteady/reggae music of the mid to late 60s. By the way, unlike R&B and rock, the vocal groups of rocksteady and reggae generally were comprised of three members.

The Cables had an early rocksteady hit with Baby Why:

Despite their talent, The Cables were underrecorded, and you are likely to find their works only on quality compilations.

Here is Rougher Yet by Slim Smith, which also is a Studio One recording:

Smith started recording at age 17, displaying a voice like his hero, Curtis Mayfield. He had success as a solo artist, as well as with The Techniques and The Uniques. He recorded for Dodd, Reid, and for Bunny "Striker" Lee. Sadly, he bled to death alone at age 25, and it is uncertain whether his death was accidental or a suicide.

Here is an early Rocksteady hit produced at Duke Reid's Treasure Island studio, Dobby Dobson singing Loving Pauper:

The American R&B influence is readily apparent in this Studio One hit, Love Me Forever by Carlton and the Shoes:

You may also note in this early Rocksteady hit echos of the recently passed Ska period, as the producer made ample use of horns.

And it is fitting to end this post with the Duke Reid produced song, Rock Steady, which may well have been the source of the name for the period, sung by Alton Ellis who probably was the artist most identified with rocksteady regardless of whether that song provided the label.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - First I Look at the Purse

In keeping with Old Stuff Friday tradition here, I'm going to post something old each Friday, and until further notice, it'll be a a soul song.

We'll kick it off with a Motown classic and one of my all-time my favorite party tunes. Penned by American poet laureate William "Smokey" Robinson, quoted here in all its politically incorrect glory:

"I don't care if her teeth are big / I don't care if her legs are big / I don't care if her hair is a wig / Why waste time lookin' at the waist line? / Cuz first I look at the purse"

A big part of Motown's magic was how well Berry Gordy matched material to artist. He couldn't let sweet-voiced Smokey do this track, or the Four Tops with the great Levi Stubbs, so serious and raw, nor did he let it go to the smooth and soulful David Ruffin and the Temptations. No, "First I Look at the Purse" could only be done by Motown's dance party kings, the Contours.

This recording is so slamming. Check out the rhythm playing and those hand claps. And the lead vocal. Damn. I've listened to it for 40+ yrs and never tire of it, brings smile to my face every time.

And while white rock bands covering soul songs is sometimes not the best thing, a pale imitation as it were, I gotta say the J. Geils Band also do this track justice. But nothing touches the Contours version.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

REVIEW: Dolorean – The Unfazed

I promise not to write exclusively about Portland bands, but this recent release is so damn good, I can’t wait one more day to write about it. And I hear we have some readers overseas who follow this blog. Dolorean are headed to Europe in two days, so all you Euro-based When You Motor Away readers, please listen up (and check tour dates in link below).

To start, Dolorean are a true band, a stable unit of five who’ve been playing together a long time. And on The Unfazed, their 5th full length recording, the confidence, competence and trust that comes from being such an experienced band shines through.

Second, Al James is a terrific writer. He could have just as easily been a novelist or short story writer had he not become a songwriter, or like fellow Portlandiar and like-minded artist, Willy Vlautin (Richmond Fontaine), James could do both if he so desired. James says so much in so few words, paints a picture in every song, makes you care about the characters he introduces in the songs.

Al James makes me feel. And sometimes, Al James doesn’t make me feel so good. The Unfazed is full of heartache, pain, broken relationships, drink, regret. But ultimately, it’s a story of survival. And beautiful music.

The instrumentation and arrangements are well done, with tasteful use of keyboards and violin. Jay Clarke's piano warms the sound throughout. And James’ vocals are gently delivered, direct, so beautiful, with gorgeous added harmonies from band members and some extra female voices. You are lifted up far more than brought down.

The title track:

The production and mixing is first rate. One great aspect of modern technology - you don't need a big budget to make a great sounding record anymore.

There's an ambition and skill level here that makes this rise far above the standard singer-songwriter record. Songs like "Black Hills Gold", “Country Clutter” and "If I Find Love" would not be out of place on a Joe Henry project or a Daniel Lanois-produced Emmylou Harris record.

The centerpiece for me is the lead track "Thinskinned". Beautiful piano opening, guitar strum, great first lines: "It only takes one burr under the saddle / And you and I babe, oh we do battle / Seems like we're just too [perfect pause] thinskinned" [repeat the word three times with ever so slightly different feel and cadence each time]. Then cue the violin. Haunting, under your skin, etched in your brain, pulling at you like a perfect Neil Young song - I just can't imagine how it could be better. Which is how I feel about all 10 songs here.

Dolorean Website

Might as Well Say Something about Nashville... Jack White, Third Man Studios, JEFF the Brotherhood, URP

Since inviting those other three on board, we've been treated to Portland, Seattle and Chapel Hill nuggets... which was just the kind of thing I was hoping for.

But I'd like you to know about some of what's going on in Nashville. It's a little different than a lot of other local rock scenes, as you might imagine of a city that's still the Vatican of the big-time radio-ready country music industry.

First, a long article from the Nashville Scene about Jack White's Third Man Records. Yes, the guy is ridiculously cool... Conan O'Brien did play a gig there on his way to Bonnaroo... Jack did get onstage with Bob Dylan at the Ryman recently; among other songs, he played a stunning lead on "Outlaw Blues", played and sang "Meet Me in the Morning" and sang a duet with Bob on "One More Cup of Coffee"... this is all true. But he's jumped right in with the folks who have been trying for the last 20 years or more to share Nashville's rock scene with the world, they seem to have accepted him and his help, and it's exciting to see.

Second, one of the acts White has been working with and will feature on a live release soon, JEFF the Brotherhood, is playing what might best be described as heavy electric garage metal blues rock. Take a listen and see if you've got a better description. This is bracing stuff. Here's a cut from their split 7" with WYMA favorite Best Coast:

Jeff the Brotherhood - Bummer by VolcomEnt

Also, JEFF has a live disc out on Third Man Records.

Finally, I thought you should know that real record pressing is still going on in Music City USA. United Record Pressing does all the vinyl for Third Man, just around the corner, actually. There are hundreds of interesting stories relating to URP's history... including the apartment suite the owners had built for a very specific purpose... From the History section of the website: When the current URP plant opened in the 1960's it was a very different time in the South, Nashville included. In the early 60's there were hardly any restaurants or hotels in Nashville that would offer their services to African Americans. With top clients like Vee Jay Records and Motown being run by people of color, the company was in need of accommodations for their clients and created what we now call the "Motown Suite", an apartment located above the factory. The Motown Suite which is still viewable to guests touring the plant, displays the same furnishings that these execs were offered including a common room with a bar, a turntable, enough seating to entertain guests, a full bathroom, a double occupancy bedroom, a kitchen equipped with an old push button stove and other novel 60's decor.

They produced the vinyl copies of the Exile on Main Street reissue last year. And they give tours.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Sounds of Scotland, Part 2: Kid Canaveral, The Cinnamons, We're Only Afraid of NYC

One of my favorite albums of 2010 was Shouting at Wildlife by Scotland's Kid Canaveral. The band has had little exposure here in the states, but this spring they are playing a few dates in New York, and then heading to Austin for SXSW. Try their album here, and if you like it, splash out some coin and help them get to Austin.

Here is a video for one of their songs, which tells a story about a music hipster getting shot down by a woman with different tastes:

Kid Canaveral's Bandcamp Page

Another Glasgow band I learned of last year is The Cinnamons. The music is pop/rock with a nice bass groove. And the band seems to take care with the lyrical content as well.

The Cinnamons at Bandcamp

And the third Glasgow band is We're Only Afraid of NYC. It is a young band with a big post-punk sound.

We're Only Afraid of NYC Bandcamp page (free download)

Are you up for some Male Bonding?

Pointing out the excellence of this Brit trio is by no means revelatory. They're on Sub Pop, and their first album, "Nothing Hurts", came out way back in May of last year. Since then, every critic who took the half hour it takes to listen to it has called it one of the best of the year. It's not really groundbreakinig, and doesn't have pretensions to be. Just thirteen two minute bursts of really well-played, even melodic, punk music.

One of the many things this band has done right is make sure they have a freaking great drummer. Another thing they've done right is make sure the drummer is given a prominent seat at the table in the production of the record. The result is an album that sounds like three excellent musicians having a pretty awesome time.

If you don't have two minutes to watch this band, you need to rethink your priorities.

Here's a video for my first (but not current --which is the sign of a good record) favorite song on 'Nothing Hurts', called 'Weird Feelings'. Looks like they broke the Sub Pop video budget with this one.

Here's Male Bonding's myspace page.

Here's their band page on Sub Pop's site.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

WYMA 2010 Top 20 (Rocksteady74's List)

Management undoubtedly will hold up my bonus if I don't publish my 2010 Top 20 soon, so here it goes:

1. Orange Juice, "Coals to Newcastle" -- This isn't a greatest hits collection, it is an "everything they've ever done" collection. The group is an indie rock icon and an inspiration for many who followed. Is there a negative? Yes -- it is expensive. The silver lining is that your purchase will never be outdated by a subsequent package, because there is no more.

2. Frightened Rabbit, "The Winter Of Mixed Drinks" -- More mature and cheerier than the prior album, and with higher production values. Not everyone liked it better, but for my ears it still is a top album and I'm listening to it regularly many months after purchase. As for the tone of the songs, I've not going to blame a songwriter for finding potential redemption after pouring desperation and cynicism out in prior albums.

3. The Radio Dept., "Clinging to A Scheme" -- This album is pretty much perfect Scandinavian guitar pop to my ears. In their comfort zone, this band has the complete package of songwriting, hooks and delivery. They won't bowl you over with blasts of noise or gritty rock riffs, but they deliver matchless music.

4. Girls, "Broken Dreams Club" -- I love the sound this band produces, and only worry that to satisfy me that much they must be living inside my head. While only an EP, I think it is good enough to justify inclusion on the list of top albums for the year.

5. Kid Canaveral, "Shouting At Wildlife" -- Widely acclaimed in their native Scotland, I think they are virtually unknown on this side of the pond. And that is a shame, because they are a very good indie pop/rock band. Their music has the hooks, flourishes and, when needed, muscle, while their lyrics are actually worth hearing. There will be a proper review with links on this site in the near future.

6. Surf City, "Kudos" -- In 2009 I bought an import EP from a New Zealand band called Surf City. I loved the touchstones of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Surfer riffs and shoegaze (Surfgaze, anyone?), and didn't mind the somewhat casual approach to the lyrics and vocals. I must admit that it occurred to me that I might never hear from them again. I'm thrilled to report that Kudos builds on the EP with a smashing full set of songs that seem more mature, but just as vibrant and exciting. That Kudos didn't receive more attention in 2010 is a shame. Correct it--get a copy.

7. The Henry Clay People, "Somewhere On The Golden Coast" -- I was early on the bandwagon for The Henry Clay People, and nothing since has pushed me off. To my ears this album has a bit more guitar muscle than the first two albums, but that's not a development I'll complain about. In terms of genre, I'd say its a well executed mixture of bar band, Pavement, and The Replacements.

8. Avi Buffalo, "Avi Buffalo" -- Excellent tunesmithing and guitar playing and an interesting back story. I consider this group one of the finds of the year, and I hope to be hearing new things from them for years to come. Some folks compared them to the Shins, but frankly, I don't think any in The Shins (and I like The Shins a lot) can hang with Avi on the guitar. Mercer may write better lyrics, but he's been at it for more than a decade longer.

9. Jonsi, "So" -- I'm not a big Sigur Ros fan, but this album pleasantly surprised me with its sonic breadth and upbeat tone.

10. Beach House, "Teen Dream" -- I went around in circles about this album. I first heard a few songs, and liked them. But I also concluded that I wouldn't be interested in a full album of dream pop performed at that tempo. Accordingly, I entered the album on my running list of contenders for the year and expected it to get knocked down. I am surprised at this point to write that in a year that contained a lot of quality music, I still rate this album pretty highly. Less surprising is that a couple of the songs are on my playlist of favorite songs of the year.

11. Yeasayer, Odd Blood
12. Vampire Weekend, Contra
13. Surfer Blood, Astro Coast
14. The Young Evils, Enchanted Chapel
15. The Drums, The Drums
16. Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
17. The High Dials, Anthems for A Doomed Youth
18. She & Him, Volume Two
19. Perfume Genius, Learning
20. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker

WYMA (JD's) Favorite Music of 2010

Our benevolent leader here, Mr. Hyland, asked his new recruit (me) to include a Top 20 of 2010 list. And these exercises are a bit compulsive to begin with, so I figure I have to get it in here by the end of January or it'll be moot or at least mildly embarrassing.

A couple caveats: I am not longer the completist I once was. This list signifies nothing more than these are records I happened to hear and like a lot. It does not suggest that I think the 20th of these is "better" than say Beach House and all these hip records everyone else thinks is great but I haven't heard. Truth be told, I might have listened more to Exile on Main Street, Bob Dylan and Solomon Burke (whose death was a significant loss in 2010) than all this new stuff combined. So consider this a drive by of sorts.

For many years I have written about and listened mainly to singer-songwriter kind of stuff, but this year found myself gravitating towards rock'n'roll. Which isn't to say this necessarily was an unusually great year for rock (though I believe it was) or off year for singer-songwriters, but more just where my head was at.

I've listed my favorite of year, then gone in alpha order for the rest of a Top 10, then added 10 more. Please excuse the brevity and lack of links and videos, but I know our readers are resourceful. And hey, I'm on deadline here.

Black Keys, Brothers. Hard to believe at this point in the game that anyone could mix the blues and rock’n’roll and come out with something sounding completely fresh and innovative, but these Ohioans do just that. And when I’m driving around and “Tighten Up” gets played on the commercial radio stations in Portland, the sound leaps out of the speakers and sounds awesome. Turn it up.

Alejandro Escovedo, Street Songs of Love. Al has survived a nearly fatal serious illness, every up and down the music industry could provide, and various other life obstacles. So now he just tells the truth, lets it fly like John Lennon. One of my favorite artists doing more quality work with his special brand of Texas roadhouse, garage rock, Rolling Stones, glam rock. Raging.

Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, Goodbye to the Rank and File. I wrote a long piece on Casey for this blog last week and won’t repeat myself. But this unusually well written record is wonderfully varied with rock, waltzes, ballads, Celtic hints, a great Husker Du cover…

Corin Tucker Band, 1000 Years. Corin left the beloved, respected Sleater Kinney and stayed home for a couple years to raise kids. This new beginning took her to new and deep places, the writing here so strong. And it sounds nothing like S-K and has a great deal of stylistic breadth. She's still rockin' though. And who knew Corin could sing, and I mean really sing, like this? Wonderful, triumphant.

Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone. I love Mavis and love Wilco too, but when I heard they were making a record together, I thought, huh, I’m not sure about that. But Tweedy checked his ego at the door and tapped deep into the songs here much like he did on Mermaid Avenue records. Mavis is so deeply soulful.

The National, High Violet. This is a real rock band, the whole so much more than sum of its parts. Anthemic guitar rock written by super smart guys. It helps to have a kick ass lead singer. Their outdoor live show performing these songs in early September at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland before maybe 4000 people was live rock at its best. I’d much rather see this band than U2.

Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, Northern Aggression. So how does a guy at this stage of his career make his hardest rocking record ever? Great band, dual guitar attack, great songs. As good as anything the Dream Syndicate ever did and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. Hell, Lou Reed himself would kill for a record this good.

Superchunk, Majesty Shredding. As a former Chapel Hill resident, I have a soft spot for this band. But staying with my theme and biases here – this is some infectious, super intelligent kick ass rock’n’roll by an experienced band who know what they are doing.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks. A music blog dominated by a bunch of Notre Dame grads simply has to include Ted Leo, easily the coolest guy to come out of Notre Dame in the last 40 years with the possible exception of Joe Montana. Except Joe can’t write songs like Elvis Costello and isn’t a super smart encyclopedic old school punk rock god. Three chords and a cloud of dust.

Teenage Fanclub, Shadows. Don’t call it a comeback… well maybe you should. A terrific return to form by Scotland’s finest. Well crafted power pop, great harmonies. The closest thing to Big Star we have left.

Ten more:

Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig. Banjo, fiddle, guitar. Born in 1920, alive in 2010.

Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do. Now a venerable and vital American institution. Working class Southern heroes who seem to put out a record every year and never stop touring.

Gaslight Anthem, American Slang. A truly great bar band.

LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening. Post punk, heavily Bowie influenced, urban dance rock is hardly my thing but damn are these guys good. Will I embarrass myself to admit I listen to this while working out?

Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust. More great American music from real pros.

New Pornographers, Together. Confession: I have an autographed photo of Neko Case in my office. And AC Newman’s catchy power pop songs are a lot of fun.

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise. It almost isn’t fair to have a band this good. Especially if god gave you that voice.

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses, Junky Star. The guy behind some of the great music in the great film Crazy Heart. Country music isn’t really dead, you just have to be willing to go looking for it. T Bone Burnett produced and that is always good news.

Tift Merritt, See You on the Moon. Delightful and soulful country pop Americana. Producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists) gets such a warm sound, and help from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and super sessionist and Pariah Dog Greg Leisz on pedal steel doesn't hurt. Tift’s best ever.

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor. They mean it. Joe Stummer would have loved this band.

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