Monday, February 28, 2011

REVIEW: Lifeguards - Waving at the Astronauts

Lifeguards is Robert Pollard and Doug Gillard, and those two are a match made in pop/rock heaven. Since Gillard first joined Guided by Voices and donated the great "I Am a Tree", they've made great guitar rock together. In addition to the GbV albums from Under the Bushes Under the Stars through Half Smiles of the Decomposed, they've put together some great side projects, including 1999's Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department (great advice because, as Bob once opined from the stage, "they just might save your flaming ass someday").

Point is, a Bob/Doug piece is just about guaranteed to make rock fans happy... and Waving at Astronauts certainly does.

Here's the first track, "Paradise Is Not So Bad". Check out the little vocal "hiccup" in the first line... the kind of thing that distinguishes great rock vocalists from the rest of 'em:

She stumbles down a -
Corridor of drunken madness

LIFEGUARDS - Paradise Is Not So Bad by seriousbusiness

It's a Pollard pop/rock tour de force, as are several of the other tracks on the record, but this being a Pollard disc, there's plenty of psych, punk and prog. Check out the restrained guitar solo on track 3, "Doing the Math", and the punk backbeat on 4, "Product Head"... and the overall rollicking rock freakout of track 6, "Sexless Auto".

I don't think anybody synthesizes the disparate influences from the golden age of album rock (say, 1977, the year of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pink Floyd, Television and Judas Priest, The Sex Pistols and Kraftwerk, David Bowie and Neil Young...) like Robert Pollard, while still managing to do new, or at least interesting, things with them.

And then there's the Pollard wordplay. Try not to smile as snippets like "same face the pie got smashed" and "shocking outcomes and hot propositions/from the out of body builders" rise above the mix...

Pollard and Gillard are clearly interested in the concept of the hero: astronauts, volunteer firemen, lifeguards... and I would put them in that category, at least in spirit, for doing their part to save rock's flaming ass from itself. While the industry continues to founder and lurch from one kid-friendly trend to another, there are guys like Pollard and Gillard, working in places like Dayton, Ohio, to deliver rock excellence to folks like us. Speak kindly is the least I could do.

Buy the record: Serious Business Records Website or Ernest Jenning Records Website

Here's a song-by-song account written by Doug Gillard on his Facebook page. I found this very enjoyable for several reasons, not least of which is the opportunity to discover the motivation for some more of Pollard's seeming non sequitir lyrics (check out Doug's explanation of the line "Post modern science is a trip" in "Keep It In Orbit":

Doug Gillard Song Notes for Lifeguards' Waving at the Astronauts

Sunday, February 27, 2011

REVIEW: The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh

I don't have nearly the time to listen to music that I once did, so any new young artist has to elbow past the likes of Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones and R.E.M. to get in heavy rotation at my house. I try to keep up, but don't do nearly as well as the other 3 writers here, though often still manage to find new stuff that I like a lot. But few if any of them bore a hole in my soul.

But I have flipped over The Low Anthem. They first came to my attention through a music industry friend who knew my tastes and ordered me to go pick up their 2009 release Oh My God Charlie Darwin. It was my favorite release of that year. For me, it's always about the songs, the compositions themselves, and the Low Anthem write beautiful, rich, revealing and unique songs, my favorite on Charlie Darwin being "To Ohio", which Emmylou Harris will be recording on her next record.

So when I heard they had a new one coming, I was eager to hear it. Smart Flesh, recorded in an abandoned spaghetti sauce factory in their Providence RI hometown, is a bold, sweeping effort, full of quiet spaces, beautiful vocals, and unique multi-instrumentation, much of it played on old found instruments (pump organ, clarinet, fiddle, saw, dulcimer to name a few). It is hard to compare the Low Anthem's signature sound to anyone, but I do hear hints of the Band, Leonard Cohen and Vic Chesnutt, maybe not in any linear way but more for the thoughtful artistry and masterful writing.

While they are certainly not a rock band in any sense, they can turn it up when they want to. Two of the most immediate songs here are the noisy, fast-paced "Boeing 737" and "Hey All You Hippies" a catchy stomp that could have found a place in the Camper van Beethoven catalogue.

But it's the slow quiet material that defines the aptly named Low Anthem and leaves such an indelible impression.

"Matter of Time" with its haunting church organ sound, and the hushed somewhat odd "Burn" stand out in particular. And while it is easy to label them an Americana band due to the timeless somewhat rural feel here (despite their urban East Coast zip code), that doesn't really fit due to the relative lack of guitars and little in the way of a conventional singer-songwriter sound. But they do easily deliver up a couple perfectly crafted country folk songs like "Apothecary Love" and "I'll Take Out Your Ashes".

The video for lead track here "Ghost Woman Blues" sums them up well and shows the factory where they recorded, its high ceilings and empty spaces used to great effect here to create an expansive, vaguely mysterious sound.

Charlie Darwin continued to reveal itself over a year of frequent listens, and I suspect Smart Flesh will as well. Like a lot of my favorite artists, the Low Anthem require the listener to extend some effort too, but then richly reward you when you do.

This is a terrific record from an important new voice in American music. The Low Anthem deserve to be heard.

For more on the band and the recording of Smart Flesh, here's a link to an article from the New York Times.

Low Anthem Feature From NY Times: Feb 20, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout-3: Tiny Tide, Johnny Lee Hart, Baffin Island, Sonny and the Sunsets, Finley Quaye

Spinning the big world pop wheel to see who we will discover this weekend, we have four sets for you. And don't retire early, because the best may be the last set.

Ah, shoegaze -- Tiny Tide from Italy helped by Johnny Lee Hart from Leeds, UK, is the first stop. The name of the song is "Come Along Pond":

Come Along Pond by tinytide

If you like it, it is available as a free download:

Free Tiny Tide song on Soundcloud

The next spin of the wheel takes us to Baffin Island. No, not the actual island, but a group named after Baffin Island because it is the geographically equidistant from Glasgow, Scotland, where Melanie Whittle of the group Hermit Crabs resides, and Boise, Idaho, where Jeremy Jensen and Jake Hite of the group The Very Most reside. It is well done indie pop ear-candy. The bad news is that I wasn't able to embed anything for you. But the good news is that your effort at clicking the link below not only takes you to a page where you can listen to their 3-song release, you also can download a mini album for free.

Baffin Island on EardrumsPop

The wheel is spinning, it stops, and I...push it to the slot I want. I can do that, because it is my post. And what do we get out of such indulgence? Low-Fi garage rock -- Sonny and the Sunsets from San Francisco. This group is signed to Fat Possum. They have released one album, and their second, Hit After Hit comes out in April. "I Wanna do It" will be on the April release:

Sonny and the Sunsets on Myspace

Sonny and the Sunsets

I wish I could write that I'd been following the career of Finley Quaye for years, but discovering this terrific song was a bit more haphazard. When the weather was its usual inhospitable self last winter I searched the library system for non-Hollywood movies to watch while riding my road bike on a turbo trainer. One of the movies was a UK indie release set in Scotland called "Late Night Shopping" (by the way, a female lead in the movie, Kate Ashfield, also was in "Shaun of the Dead", and one of the characters in Shopping is named Shaun, so she is required to repeatedly say "Shaun" in yet another movie, and I think she is more talented than that; but I digress). While the soundtrack to the movie was good, the standout was the closing song, and here it is:

The son of jazz musician Cab Kaye and brother to one and half brother to another jazz musician, Quaye was born in Edinburgh but raised in England. His mother died of a heroin overdose when he was 10, and he didn't meet his father until he was an adult and his band's tour hit the same town as his father's band.

I think Quaye has a great voice, but doesn't always choose or write the best material. But when he gets it right, it is real right. He has had successful songs and albums in the UK.

Finley Quaye on Myspace

"Sunday Shining" is, for me, a rare kind of song that I hear and immediately put it on the "great" shelf, but "Dice" just kind of kicks me where I feel (and speaking of feeling, feel free to ignore the silly graphics on the video). "Dice" was composed with William Obit and Beth Orton.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Rock and roll is full of weirdos, which, of course, is pretty much the beauty of the whole thing. First of all, would you buy a record made by a non-weird person like Jim Nantz or Eric Staal or John Tesh? The answer is not just no, it's heck no! I was thinking about including Wolf Blitzer in that list, but when you think about it, he seems right weird. I hope he makes an album.

One of the most genuinely weird bands I ever heard was the great Killdozer. To begin with, they're from Madison, Wisconsin. They came along at a time when punk music was loud and fast and anarchic, and created music that was loud and slow and, well, bolshevik. Or maybe you could call it 'extreme working class'. Or maybe, when you think about it, you could conclude they were just messing around when they called their albums things like "Intellectuals are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite" and "Uncompromising War on Art Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"(on which bassist/singer Michael Gerald is identified as Michael "Che" Gerald. After all, they populated these albums with songs like "Knuckles the Dog (Who Helps People)", "Earl Scheib" and "King of Sex." And although there was a sort of earnestness on the records, it wasn't an ideological earnestness. It was more the earnestness of a guy who walks around the neighborhood for 2 hours looking for a big pile of dogcrap to put in a bag and light on fire on your front porch. It really didn't take much thinking to get the joke.

I first heard Killdozer on Chicago/Evanston's WNUR in '88. They played a couple of songs, including their cover of Jessi Colter's "I'm Not Lisa". That song was on the EP released that year called "Burl", not-so-famously "dedicated to the memory" of Burl Ives (who dutifully passed 7 years later). Here are a couple of great concert vids from "Burl"-era Killdozer, which includes the opener, "Hottentot".

Killdozer loved doing covers. They covered "Cinnamon Girl". They covered "When the Levee Breaks". They covered Creedence and ZZ Top. My two faves, though, are the aforementioned Ms. Colter tune and the late-lamented Black Oak Arkansas classic "Hot 'n Nasty". I'm sure Jim Dandy would have been proud (not that he's dead or anything).

Oh well, I couldn't find "Hot 'n Nasty", so this'll have to do. This is a pretty recent performance, confirming that their "farewell tour", 1996's "Fuck You We Quit" tour, was pretty much a joke too.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Old Stuff Friday Reggae: Dancehall Days

In one sense, nearly all reggae (and its ska and rocksteady predecessors) was intended for the dancehalls. However, "dancehall" also is used to designate the reggae style that emerged in the late '70s and lasted into the mid '80s. This music was more likely than the early to mid 80s reggae to have secular themes and it emphasized pure rhythm. Unlike Bob Marley's socially conscious crossover reggae, this wasn't music that cared about gaining international converts. This was music to make the island move, sing, and make love. In fact, in the last few years of his life and career, Marley's music was a bit out of fashion in his homeland.

Here is Barrington Levy in his herb-promoting "Under Mi Sensi", produced by Jah Screw.

Levy had a massive dancehall hit with with a beefed up version of the same rhythm in "Here I Come", where he declared that he was 'broader than Broadway'.

The irrepressible Lone Ranger recorded "Love Bump" for Studio One.

The bluest man in the dancehall, General Echo sings his song "Bathroom Sex" off of his album 12" of Pleasure. And the General on "This is a Lover's Corner:

A dancehall man even made Top of the Pops -- the late Sugar Minott with "Good Thing Going".

Many of the rhythms (in reggae terminology, that refers to the instrumentation, melody and sometimes some of the lyrics) often were recycled from rocksteady hits of the '60s. Other rhythms were composed for the original dancehall record, but used by the same artist or different artists for later recordings. One example of the latter rhythms was the "Hard Drugs" rhythm. A radio DJ here in Seattle once played a set lasting about 40 minutes of songs based on the Hard Drugs rhythm. Below is the original recording by the dancehall artist called the Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs:

Friday Old Stuff - The Soul Corner - Why Can't We Live Together

The 70's were certainly not all disco and cannot be overlooked while we go mining for great soul music. One of my favorite, and perhaps most unlikely Billboard No. 1 hit singles was Timmy Thomas' "Why Can't We Live Together", which topped the charts in January 1973. Unlikely for its long instrumental intro, sparse instrumentation and unknown artist. But the B3 organ is so soulfully delivered, and the vocal so heartfelt and perfect in every way, any more would have detracted from the composition. The producer and record co. folks got it right here to leave well enough alone.

And while the song has been covered many times, it got attention when it appeared on Sade's debut for example, my personal favorite cover artist for this one is the gifted vocalist Joan Osborne, seen here performing it live in 2002:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Getting in Bed with Exlovers

One of the things I love about music is the spontaneity. The music hits my ears and my brain reacts. I can't predict before I hear the music what emotions I'll feel as I hear it, or the emotions I'll feel when it ends. And so it is with today's blog post. I'd planned a post about three rock/pop bands from the UK, one of which I'd only heard for the first time this morning. But as I examined that band a bit closer, I tossed the original plan into the mental file cabinet (no peeking, it is a bit of a mess in there) and climbed into bed with the Exlovers.

The Exlovers are a London based guitar pop band consisting of four guys and one girl. If my research is correct, they have released four singles since they formed in late 2007. The guitars jangle and chime, and the voices harmonize. I think one could be forgiven thinking they sound a bit like a reinvention of Teenage Fanclub.

The band seems to have toured and practiced enough to produce a tight sound, and despite the melodic pop sensibilities of the songs, the twin guitars provide a satisfying amount of rock drive and muscle.

While I'm loathe to provide readers I've never met with relationship advice, try (the) Exlovers -- you may fall in love all over again.

Exlovers webpage
Exlovers on Myspace
Exlovers on Facebook

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Sounds of Scotland--Part 5: Lord Cut Glass, The Phantom Band, People Places Maps...

As a recording artist, the name Lord Cut Glass is relatively new to the scene, although the man who created the alter ego and named him after a character from a Dylan Thomas play has been around for a long time. Alun Woodward was a songwriter, singer and guitarist for the iconic Glasgow band The Delgados, and with his former bandmates he formed the Glasgow label Chemikal Underground Records (Chemikal Underground Website). A few years ago Woodward started working as Lord Cut Glass. In the resulting album, Lord Cut Glass, the instrumentation tends toward acoustic guitar, piano and full orchestration, but the songwriting reflects the wry, acerbic, and sometimes bittersweet observations that will be familiar to fans of his former band. In the first single, "Look After Your Wife" , his Lordship shares some common sense domestic advice:

One of my favorite songs from the album is Holy Fuck!. The song begins as follows:

Daylight came and you refrained from calling me your love
The truth to me seems fair, a Faustian despair
That I love you much more than you can bear

Walking close and talking loads I'd love you to love me
But you live inside a safe, and the code's been worn away
so gelignite is on my mind all day

But a stanza later the narrator reveals a bit more about the relationship:

See, I believe you and me will never be
A Fred and Ginger matinee romance
I'm not wild, and you're not clean
But those other girls they don't mean what they mean

Holy fuck, I've found a buck who's willing to believe
I'm not entirely mad, there's a love here to be had
And everyone's got a reason to be sad

The song seems to me to be about the bit of decay in every romance, and the kernel of redemption that exists in the decay. I could be wrong, but that hasn't happened in years.

Woodward's second single from the album is "Big Time Teddy":

If you are interested by these clips and the portion of "Holy Fuck!" I provided above, take a chance and buy "Holy Fuck!" online.

Lord Cut Glass on Myspace

Another Chemikal Underground Artist is The Phantom Band. Their 2009 release,Checkmate Savage, was very popular in Scotland and parts of the UK (one large Manchester record store named it the album of the year) and the band has been endorsed by Peter Buck of R.E.M. The sound of the band is similar to the late Beta Band, but I think more disciplined.

"The Howling" was a single off of Checkmate Savage:

"Folk Song Oblivion"

In 2010 the prolific fellows released another LP, The Wants.

The Phantom Band on Myspace

People, Places, Maps ... -- sometimes referred to a PPM -- is from Dumfermline, Scotland, and was formed in 2010.

I'd love to tell you more about them, but I don't know much. There are six members and their style is folk/pop/rock. However, other than the free download at the Bandcamp link below, there isn't much music from them out there at this point.

"People, Places, Maps... on Bandcamp (above songs available free)

People, Places, Maps... on Myspace

Joey Ryan and the Inks: Well Here We Are Then...

Really good, well-executed power pop... I hear a lot of attempts at this sound, but these guys are really hitting the mark. The vocals are strong, the guitars chime, and the rhythm section is solid. I even like the ballads, which is usually where weaknesses show through for young bands. They released an album, Well Here We Are Then, in May 2010, and are putting finishing touches on another one now. They're playing around the Midwest currently, I expect they'll tour once the new album is finished.

Here's the video for "Spitting in Tune":

Here's a live in-studio performance from Minnesota Public Radio's "The Current":

Website: Joey Ryan and the Inks

Myspace Page: Joey Ryan and the Inks

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout-2: Cats on Fire, Natty, Vieux Farka Toure, Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas

This weekend feature is to bring you music, usually from outside the US, that you may not have heard before. There won't be much analysis; this is late night quick hits, and you can decide whether you want to investigate further.

Cats on Fire is a Finnish four piece that I'm very high on. Their ten-year output includes a few EPs and two full lengths. Their 2009 LP, Our Temperance Movement, was one of my top-rated albums of that year. Here is "Tears In My Cup" from that album:

Lead singer and songwriter Mattias Bjorkas' voice will remind the listener of Edwyn Collins or Morrissey, and the songs have a C-86 quality like the Orchids, Flatmates or Razorcuts. Bjorkas is a Finnish teacher, but writes in English. And he writes well. Here is an incisive put down of a leaving lover from the song "Horoscope":

You say you don't belong here
Because someone once said
you look like a star
Another drunk man who saw a chance

Cats on Fire Myspace page

An artist that is new to me is Natty. He was born in San Francisco but grew up in London. His music encompasses reggae, folk and hip hop.

Recommended song "Bedroom Eyes"

Natty on Myspace

One of the best guitar albums I own was release a couple of years ago by Vieux Farka Toure. His father was a guitar legend, and the son will be as well.

Vieux Farka Toure Webpage

Finally, everyone, and I mean everyone, should want to know that there is a compilation called Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas, bringing you Brazilian psychedelic rock music.

Eux Autres: New video for "You're Alight" from Broken Bow

Here's another one from the late 2010 files I'm just getting around to checking out... Eux Autres. Yes, they offer a pronunciation guide on their website: "ooze oh-trah", as well as a translation: French for "them others". And they have a real nice sound, with a bit of a Neko Case reverb sound on the vocals. Here's their new video for "You're Alight":

And here's the song "Go Dancing":

And, finally, a link to their Bandcamp page where you can download or check out more music.

They're currently touring in Europe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - In the Midnight Hour

No less an authority than Jon Landau once said that Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" is "not a classic, it's an epic." Greil Marcus said of the backing band here that this performance was "perhaps Booker T. and the MG's finest hour." [The backing band in this video did not play on the record nor even on this lip synched video either.] John Lennon always called it one of his favorites and it had a permanent place on his home jukebox (slot no. 14 to be exact).

Not much I can add to any of that except let's get it on; so here for your weekend pleasure is 2 minutes and 19 seconds of pure musical perfection:

Can I get a ruling on the oldness of Ikara Colt?

They're not around anymore. Does that count for anything?

My brother gave me the CD for their first full-length, 'Chat and Business', right around when it came out in '02. Word had it that they were "London art school chums" or some such, so, you know, as far as expectations go, there was that. It was just a bunch of loud guitar (kind of like a more-distorted Gang of Four -- so you know you'll hear someone call it "angular") and pissed off vocals in a nasally English accent, doing the 'repeat stuff ten times' thing that Bloc Party came along and did a couple years later. To sum up in two words: pretty damned awesome. And the guitar player's name is Claire. So that album was great, and couple months later they put out an EP called 'Basic Instructions' that also was great, although I didn't find that out until a couple years later when I bought it. They put out another full length before calling it quits in the middle of the decade.

Pretty old, if you ask me. I generally like to post live videos if they sound good enough, but there's not a lot of good live stuff out there by Ikara Colt. The bottom video, "Rudd", is live, and a nice version of one of their best songs.

Friday Old Stuff: Long and Throbbing: Reggae Discomixes and 12" Singles

While reggae is no stranger to the 3-4 minute format, the producers also released a vast amount of longer tunes. Two common formats were discomixes and 12" singles. Click on the link below and continue reading:

This song is Assemble Not Thyself by The Terrors and produced by Roy Francis for Phase One. The song consists of the original song with the "dub" appended on to it to make one long song. The transition point, which is about as smooth a job as you will find, is at about the 3:35 point. Thereafter, you get the "dub", or instrumental, of the song with various additional drum, bass and echo effects added. The resulting song provided a longer and more popular version for the dancehall. It also provided the producer of a third way to make money off of the original song (the song, the dub, and the discomix).

Here is the sublime Desperate Times by The Chantells, which also was produced by Roy Francis for Phase One. The transition point in this discomix is at about 3:24, and is followed by a bouncy, almost playful, dub.

Another version of a discomix is for the original song fused with a dub version (perhaps with some original vocals) over which a DJ or toaster has provided his own lyrics. Keeping with the high quality of Francis' work for Phase One, here is The Chantells' Children of Jah with Time to Unite by DJ U Brown. U Brown's version starts swinging at 3:39. Embedding was disabled, but I strongly recommend clicking the link, both for the Chantell's sweet harmony and U Brown's classic Jamaican toasting.
Children of Jah/Time to Unite

If you like these songs, a great album is The Chantells and Friends - Children of Jah, on the wonderful, and now defunct, Blood and Fire label.

A 12" single shares a 6 minute plus running time with a discomix, but is a different beast. A 12" is a 33rpm single on 12 inches of vinyl rather than the standard 7 inches. This gave producers more room to be creative with echo, bass and other effects. Is was a popular dancehall item, and gave the producer a chance to sell a second version of the song without needing to pay the artists to do anything more. The producer reworked the original song into the 12" creation. This example of a 12" single was an effort by three popular reggae artists --- Home T, Cocoa Tea and the gruff Shabba Ranks.

This 12" single was by popular artist Gregory Isaacs, and is the Gussie Clark mix of his single Rumors. Note that at about the 3:45 mark the song becomes an interplay of bass riffs, drums and keys, with echo and some vocal effects.

If you like 12" singles, the Greensleeves label started a 12" Rulers series. Since there were various artists and producers each had their own style, Greesleeves grouped the songs by producers. I'm aware of four albums, one each for the work of Gussie Clark, Henry "Junjo" Lawes, Linval Thompson, and Jah Thomas. By the way, both of the 12" cuts above are from the bass-heavy production efforts of Gussie Clark.

Let's close with a song that is called a discomix, although it was created as 12" single, not reproduced from an original shorter single. The root song is a 1968 Studio One cut called Funky Donkey, that later was updated in a version called Death In The Arena. U Brown and Linval Thompson used the underlying rhythm from Death In The Arena to create Train To Zion (U Brown and Tony Welch of "Socialist Roots" produced the track):

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stop me if you've heard this one...: The Blakes

Stop me if you've heard this one--

Two brothers from Maine walk into a Seattle coffeehouse in 1999. They meet a barista who happens to be a drummer and the three of them form a kickass power trio named The Blakes. What's the punch line? Click on the link to hear it and keep reading.

The Blakes are Garnet Keim, Snow Keim, and Bob Husak. The Keims had been busking their way around the country and writing songs before their meeting with Husak. The trio worked on songs some more and self-funded a tour. After moving back to Seattle they cut a few EPs and caught the attention of Seattle's KEXP. Then they were picked up by the ultra cool little Seattle label, Light In The Attic. The Blakes and Light in the Attic remastered the existing material, added some new material, and released The Blakes' first LP, entitled The Blakes. Which brings us to punch line number 2. This is the punch line of choice for those with commitment issues.

The Blakes released a second LP, Souvenir, in 2009. My wandering around the internet suggests that we may get another LP in 2011. Here are punch lines 3 and 4, from Souvenir.

The sound? By now you can assess it as well as I can, I suspect. If I had to describe it in a short elevator ride I'd say it covers the range of swaggering, emotionally vibrant and somewhat scuzzy powerpop with a bit of British invasion flourish. And it gets a top recommendation from me.

The Blakes' Website

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Holy Soul

Do you ever ask yourself, 'hey, I've got a bunch of music -- probably more than I can listen to and get tired of from here out (according to actuarial tables) -- so why don't I just save some money and listen to what I have henceforward?'

Of course you don't. First of all, you don't phrase questions to yourself as run-on sentences with legalese prepositions. Secondly, it's a stupid goddamned question. Because if you ever did such a thing, you'd miss great new bands who understand the basics of visceral rock and roll. Bands like The Holy Soul.

It's just past noon here as I get ready to hit the post button. I waited 'til now on purpose, based on the perhaps fanciful notion that someone would read this early in their day. Because I swear if you listen to these three songs below, by the middle of the second one you'll feel that unmistakable tap on your shoulder. It's the call of the brown demon, and by the end of the third song you're likely ruined for anything productive for the rest of the day.

By the way, they're from Sydney, and they've toured with the Drones. What more does one need to know? Here's "Train"

"Dream Last Night" (from an older EP)

and "Love Has Left the City Limits" -- from the same EP. This is a pretty standard blues tune played by a thousand bands, with a thousand sets of lyrics -- here distinguished by great vocals and guitar sound.

Their myspace page has some excellent newer songs. Check them out and buy their music.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day gift from the Drive-By Truckers

Free download of a fine song from their soon to be released album. "Everybody Needs Love". Who can argue with that today, or any other day for that matter?

Sounds from one listen that Mr. Hood is more than a bit inspired by all the great Muscle Shoals soulful music his Daddy played on.

That old Minneapolis sound.

Yesterday I was running, and had a shuffle going on the ipod. 4 of the first 10 songs were from "Zen Arcade". Pretty weird. The playlist is about 600 songs. So I started thinking about the only time I saw Husker Du -- at University of Chicago on their last tour (no one knew at the time - well, I guess the band did) in October 1987. Soul Asylum opened. I was never a big Soul Asylum fan. The whole Winona thing was pretty bragable, but I think she must have been a fan of ballads or something.

I saw Sugar play several times over the coming years. I also saw Grant Hart's band, Nova Mob, play the Cat's Cradle in the early 90s. It was at the previous location on Franklin Street, and maybe 25 people showed. I played pool with Grant, and he was pretty cool. My friends and I also threw the frisbee in the parking lot with the opening act, another Minneapolis band called the Magnolias. They were hilarious, and had that certain innocent Minnesota je ne sais quoi that makes Minnesotans generally pleasant to be around. I think we had a twelver in our car as well.

The guys in the Magnolias didn't give off the vibe that they just might incinerate the place with their 40 minute set, but that's pretty much what happened. They played a few of the jangly late-Replacements vintage guitar pop songs, but most of it was just straightforward garage punk music.

At the risk of earning the opprobrium of my blogmates for not being able to wait to Friday, here's a great example of the latter:

and an insanely catchy specimen of the former:

Frontman John Freeman re-made the band in 2007 and it looks like they're still at it. The tunes on their myspace page are really good. Check them out.

Happy Valentine's Day: Ballboy

I'm one of those guys who is more attracted to an off kilter or downbeat love song than a bouncy happy one. Maybe that makes me a mope. But it also leads me to my Valentine's day offerings from Scotland's Ballboy. Ballboy's head man is Edinburgh schoolteacher Gordon McIntyre, who sings, writes the lyrics and plays guitar. Other members are Nick Reynolds (bass), Katie Griffiths (keyboards, backing vocals) and Gary Morgan (drums).

First is Let's Fall In Love And Run Away From Here. Nothing says "love song" to me like a song that starts out:

You used to play piano,
for a living,
You stand six foot three in your heels
Now you're table dancing,
for a living,
and your world has gone to hell

And on the gentler side, a truly nice (lost) love song -- I Lost You But I Found Country Music:

Donald In The Bushes With A Bag Of Glue:

And we'll close with I Wonder If You're Drunk Enough to Sleep With Me Tonight:

So why work on Valentine's day. Let the gang from Ballboy serenade your loved one--what could possibly go wrong?
Ballboy website
Ballboy on Facebook

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout: La Femme, The Phoenix Foundation, The Starlets, The Joy Formidable

Every weekend the When You Motor Away's Midnight World Pop Scout staff intends to put on their safari jackets and search the sonic corners of the world wide web so, well, so you don't have to. The point of the feature isn't to tell you all we can about some new band, or some type of music. We just want to bring you stuff that seems interesting or promising to us on the chance you might like it. Listen. And if you like it, do some exploring on your own. Here is the best of this week's dispatches.

First up is La Femme. I don't know much about them--There are several guys and one girl, and they are French. The sound is surfy synthy new wave, and I like it. Enjoy the video, and if you want more, check out the additional songs on their Bandcamp page linked below.

LA FEMME - SUR LA PLANCHE (official music video) from George Trimm on Vimeo.

La Femme on Facebook
La Femme on Bandcamp

Your next discovery is from the other hemisphere -- New Zealand band The Phoenix Foundation. Last month they released an album entitled Buffalo. There are elements of psychedelic rock, math rock and folk rock, with a bit of Yeasayer-like prog. Here is a good video of one of the songs from Buffalo:

The Phoenix Foundation Website

The next dispatch is about The Starlets, a Scottish pop band which, at least in this video, has a bit of a cabaret sound. In any case, the video, in which they took over a Glasgow pub, is fun:

The Starlets on Bandcamp

The final dispatch is from our scout in Wales, who has asked us to give a boost to The Joy Formidable. As a Scottish pop fan, do I want to feature a Welsh band? After listening to my scout's dispatch, I can only say that I'm feeling very Welsh this evening. This female-fronted three piece can make some noise.

The Joy Formidable Website

Friday, February 11, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - Arthur Alexander

This week's soul classic is "You Better Move On" by the late great Arthur Alexander. Another of those hard luck stories, Alexander didn't have a string of hits and never got his full due, except maybe in Europe where he was more popular than in the US.

Like a lot of kids in the South, Alexander was heavily influenced by the country music of his day, especially as heard every week on the Grand Ole Opry radio program. From the classic country singers of the late 1950's, he learned how to deliver a song.

Alexander's impeccable phrasing had a significant influence over a young fan from London named Mick Jagger who copped a great deal of his singing style from Alexander. Shortly after the Beatles covered Arthur Alexander's "Anna", The Stones covered Alexander's best known song, "You Better Move On".

Here is the original:

Old Stuff Friday: The "Paisley Underground" - Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, Long Ryders...

Steve Wynn has played psychedelic hard guitar rock since 1981, and is in my opinion the avatar of this strain of psychedelic rock which featured Wynn's band The Dream Syndicate and related artists like The Bangles, Green on Red, The Rain Parade and The Long Ryders (to name a few). The Dream Syndicate put out The Days of Wine and Roses in 1984 and, if anything ever combined the spirits of The Stooges, Lou Reed, Crazy Horse, Hendrix and Creedence in a suitably hard-to-categorize package, this thing did it. Here's a contemporary performance of "Tell Me When It's Over".

Another member of the "Paisley Underground" movement, which sometimes shared members with The Dream Syndicate and other local favorites like The Bangles, was The Rain Parade. Much more accessible, this band featured Matt Piucci and David Roback (who later formed Mazzy Star). Piucci has done some excellent work post-Rain Parade, and even joined Crazy Horse. Of course he did! Recommended if you like Neil Young, the Byrds, Velvet Underground... Here's "This Can't Be Today" from 1983's Emergency Third Rail Power Trip... which I can't stop listening to, even 27 years later:

These bands often shared bills with country artists like Dwight Yoakam and roots bands like Los Lobos, which shared a natural affinity for and fan base with artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gram Parsons and Buffalo Springfield that had preceded them on California stages. Nowhere is this better represented than in the music of the Long Ryders... here's a terrific video of "Looking for Lewis and Clark" from 1985's The State of Our Union:

If you've followed the string this far (and hopefully enjoyed the music), I am going to seize this opportunity to attempt to turn you into Steve Wynn fans, if you aren't already. He towered over this movement and remains a tremendous talent and an inspiration to a lot of independent artists. He and old buddies Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey and wife and bandmate Linda Pitmon have recently recorded a second album of baseball-inspired rock, The Baseball Project: High and Inside. Check out that record and some of his other music:

Website: Steve Wynn

Old Stuff Friday Reggae: Heart of the Congos

For a musical form that produced so much great music, and so many worthy compilations of such music, reggae produced relatively few great albums. The music industry in Jamaica was focused on dancehall music and the production and sale of singles. Of course, singles, other recordings and dub (instrumentals of the singles) were released in album format, but it was less common to conceive of and produce music with the primary intent to create an album, as was becoming more common in the States and the UK in the '70s.

Click on the video's play button, and keep reading.

But the old order, in this and other respects, was challenged by Lee "Scratch" Perry. Perry originally worked for Dodd at Studio One, and then for Joe Gibbs. He founded his own Black Ark studio, really a shed, and embarked on a creative frenzy, working with the Wailers and many other top acts. His production hallmarks were an "underwater" ambiance, especially in bass effects, and unusual effects and structures. Amazingly, he created this music on a four track machine, dumping completed tracks onto a single track and then re-recording repeatedly until the sounds in his head were reflected on tape. Sometimes the musicians would sit outside cooking lunch while Scratch smoked herb and plotted the track, then he would call them in and provide instructions. His genius produced great albums such as Party Time for The Heptones and Police and Thieves for Junior Murvin, and the three disc compilation of his recordings, Arkology, is one of the truly great reggae compilations that could serve as a foundation for any collector of reggae.

However, his crowning achievement may be Heart of the Congos for The Congos. The Congos were a duo consisting of Cedric Myton (the falsetto) and Roydel Johnson (tenor). Their songs were supported by Perry's highest level of production and Perry's excellent studio musicians, The Upsetters. However, what puts the album on the top step may be Perry's decision to assemble the greatest collection of backing vocalists on any reggae album before or since. The incomparable Gregory Isaacs, Barry Llewellyn and Barry Morgan of the Heptones, Watty Burnett and the Meditations.

Will you discern all of this quality in these clips? Sadly, that isn't possible. You need better source material than You Tube (and perhaps better speakers). But if like reggae and don't have this album, it is one to take a chance on. Especially worthwhile is the two CD version with additional material for which there wasn't enough room on the original record.

And before you click on the next song, consider that this highly rated and widely loved album was rejected by Island Records, the label that helped launch Bob Marley.

How's about some old Buffalo Tom?

I can't remember how I first heard of Buffalo Tom. Hell, it might have been Matt Pinfield. But I'll never forget first hearing them -- it was the opening chords of the title song from 1990's "Birdbrain". As broke as we were back then (I sold my Fender Mustang and Crate amp around this time -- they weren't doing me any good, and what the heck, 150 bucks is 150 bucks) I headed to Schoolkids Records on Franklin Street as soon as they opened the next day. Nearly everyone who would visit this site has heard it, but if you haven't, check it out and see if you aren't seized by the same impulse:

Two years later they'd release "Let Me Come Over", which I think is a beautiful piece of East Coast non-grunge; really one of the best albums of the decade. Can you think of a more beautiful song than "Larry"? Well, can you think of five of them very quickly? I did not think so.

Here's what became and probably remains my favorite Buffalo Tom song. Sounds like Grant Hart could have written it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

La Sera: "Never Come Around", self-titled album due out next week...

Real nice performance video courtesy of InCase, apparently a manufacturer of iPod accessories and similar products, they sponsor performances to put up online...

I'm looking forward to this record, she's a real good singer and I really like that big wall of sound thing:

Website: La Sera (Free MP3s available for download)

PJ Harvey: New Album Available to Stream

The new album from PJ Harvey, Let England Shake, is available to stream on NPR:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

McGuane on the Stones.

I'm a latecomer to the genius of Thomas McGuane. My buddy Troy from Alaska convinced me to read 92 in the Shade a few years ago, and I was hooked. Because this isn't a literature blog, I won't go into detail, other than to say that I rarely come across a writer of any generation who causes me to pause and reread a sentence just to be able to take in the sheer beauty of the writing with the frequency McGuane does. If you really care about writing, and have hopes that one day you yourself make some contribution to the collective aesthetic, well then don't read Tom McGuane. Whatever self-confidence you may have had will be squelched with a cold and raw abandon.

I'm reading a book of his essays on fishing. One of them is about fishing in Ireland in the early 60s. Writing in the late 90s, McGuane recalls reading a month-old copy of the Dublin Times:

There was an upstart band from London, the Rolling Stones, who would soon play Dublin. A large advertisement suggested this band was going places. I looked at their pictures in astonishment. Only the English cities, I thought, could come up with these drooling imbeciles whose stippled and wolfish jaws and pusspocket eyes indicated a genetic impasse. A decade later, I tried and failed to get tickets to their concert at Altamont, where with their retinue of Hell's Angels, a rock 'n' roll ceremony of murder was performed for our guitar-ridden new world. I didn't even see it coming.

As homage to drooling imbeciles, here's a Stones cover by the Hellacopters, played the only way they know how -- full on and utterly without subtlety or nuance. I'm pretty sure the title to their first stateside release, "Supershitty to the Max!", is Swedish for "skullcrushing freaking awesomeness."

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Sounds of Scotland, Part 4: Endor, Bubblegum Lemonade

Let's start with some straight guitar driven indie rock/celtic rock from Endor. Endor is four guys based in Glasgow. They've released two singles on Say Dirty Records (run by the Wake the President lads featured in my first New Sounds of Scotland post), and recently recorded and self financed a full length. According to their website, lead singer David McGinty provided background vocals on Snow Patrol's "Eyes Open" album.

Here is their song Fly Straight and Always Wear Sensible Shoes, and I must confess that I repeated this one about five times the first time I heard it, and it has lost none of its charm since:

This song is Without the Help of Sparks:

Endor Website
Endor at Bandcamp
Endor at Myspace

What happens when a Glasgow guitar player loves The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Monkees? Apparently, we get Bubblegum Lemonade:

Bubblegum Lemonade is the project of Laz McCluskey, who took the name from the title of a Mama Cass album.

The sound is all about powerpop jangle that wouldn't be out of place on a C-86 compilation, and you'll get no complaints from me about that.

Bubblegum Lemonade at Myspace

Crocodiles: "Sleep Forever"

This sounds great to me: psychedelic, hard-rocking... Looks like it was out in the fall, on Fat Possum. Anybody remember the great band Rain Parade? Maybe a retrospective on 80's California psychedelia is in order for the next Old Stuff Friday... meantime, check these guys out. Sorry to just be discovering stuff from last September, but there's a lot of good music out there!

Website: Crocodiles on Fat Possum

Saturday, February 5, 2011

REVIEW: I Was a King - Old Friends

Been on a bit of a power-pop kick, and this definitely scratches the itch...

The four P's of Robert Pollard (pop, punk, prog and psych) are elements I look for in rock records... When I started counting P's on Old Friends, pop and psych were reached in the first few seconds... as for prog, there are several Captain Beefheart-style horn freakouts that add to the tension and offset the sweetness of the vocals and guitar melodies... I don't know about punk, unless a Guided by Voices connection fits the bill. Song two, "Echoes", starts out as an almost note-for-note copy of the opening of "Game of Pricks". Man, if you're going to sound like someone, you can sell me a lot of records sounding like Alien Lanes-era GbV.

I really like the drumming on this record; it anchors the sound nicely, inasmuch as the songs on this record can be considered "anchored"... there are definitely jazz elements here, but not so much that Old Friends loses its focus as a pop record. The vocals are a bit understated (honestly, I don't pay a lot of attention to the lyrics so the fact that they're buried in the mix a bit does not bother me in the least). The guitars play well together, and there's a bit of piano on the beat as well as organ and the aforementioned horn parts to add variety and reset the songs here and there.

Finally, there are songs on here that definitely call to mind Apples in Stereo and there are songs that remind me of one of my favorite psych-pop bands ever: Oranger. Oranger, wherever you are, here's hoping you are planning a comeback, that you get a copy of this record and that it inspires you. I certainly am enjoying it.

Video for opening track "The Wylde Boys":

LINK: I Was a King at Sounds Familyre (3 MP3s available)

LINK: I Was a King Myspace

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Old Stuff: The Wailers

Since Sunday, February 6 would be Bob Marley's 66th birthday, today's Old Stuff post will focus on Marley's early career with the Wailers. Marley not only is a legendary reggae star, but may have been the most charismatic pop performer in history. But while known for the themes of freedom, militant advocacy for the downtrodden and universal love conveyed in the songs that made him world famous, the Wailers started down a different path. And until recently, the early Wailers' material wasn't well known because it wasn't released outside of Jamaica.

Click on this link to listen to one of their earliest recordings while you continue to read:

If you didn't know it was the Wailers, you'd probably guess that it was a Motown act.

The group was formed in '63 by Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer), Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith. Originally they called themselves the Teenagers, then the Wailing Rudeboys, and then the Wailers. Initially, the lead vocals belonged to Braithwaite (who had a smoother voice than Marley). But Braithwaite and Smith left the group in '64 and Marley became the lead. The group recorded for Dodd's Studio One until '66, then disbanded. After a brief stint working in a factory in America, Marley returned to Jamaica and reformed the Wailers with Tosh and Livingston.

Here is an early song with Braithwaite on vocals. An added bonus is the great Ernest Ranklin is playing guitar:

The music of the Wailers in the Studio One period was vastly different from the later music performed by the Wailers or any of Marley, Tosh and Livingston in their solo careers. As noted in last week's reggae post, that time period of Jamaican music was dominated by local acts putting their own spin on American R&B and soul, and the Wailers were no exception. Some of the songs reflected the ska beat and instrumentation, and some reflected the transition to rocksteady. At that point, they would have been happy to be scooped up by a Motown or Stax talent scout. And the band dressed the part, in matching suits and short haircuts.

Here is one of Bob's earlier compositions. It appeared on several later albums, but this version reflects the ska beat of the pre-rocksteady period:

The reformed Wailers became interested in the Rastafari faith. That faith, the political and social climate in Jamaica, shifting personal dynamics and other musical influences influenced the change in their musical approach. But that music, and the story about how Joe Higgs taught the Wailers to be a band, is for another day.

The Soul Corner: Johnny Taylor - Who's Making Love

This week's soul offering is the Stax classic "Who's Making Love" by Johnny Taylor.

And if you are thinking damn, that backing band sounds good, you would be correct. It's Booker T and the MGs, with Isaac Hayes playing additional keyboards. Check out the late great Al Jackson Jr on the drums.

Love the all out soul scream at about 2:38 just before the end. And this green suit is awesome; I want one and know that you do too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Let's Shake Hands With The White Stripes

As the Detroit native here, it pains me to report that The White Stripes issued this statement today:


So that's that. But we still have this:

The White Stripes leave behind a great legacy. They had some very successful records, many good songs, and were a terrific live band, kicking up quite a bit of racket for a duo. I've admired them in no small part because they carry on the Detroit traditions - blues and soul based rock'n'roll, edgy, intense, but also unabashedly entertaining with a flair for visuals and performance.

Jack White will probably stay stay busier than ever with a variety of projects. I even suspect his most distinguished work is ahead of him. He's a great talent. And Meg White could surprise everyone and have some terrific hit song on her own down the road, like Kim Deal did with the Breeders after the Pixies broke up.

And say what you will about Meg as a drummer, but this band had some real magic. I saw them many years ago in a club, and I still remember the entire show, including the surprising closing song, a blisteringly intense cover of Bob Dylan's "Lovesick", which most of the crowd being half my age did not recognize.

And few radio hit songs of the last 10 years rocked like this one did:

So, to the White Stripes, I say thank you. Good luck to both of you in your future endeavors.

Noise, Glorious Noise: The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Manhattan Love Suicides, and Crystal Stilts

One rock sound that rarely fails to elicit a positive reaction from me is a buzzy, distorted, jangly-clangy wall of guitar sound wrapped around a pop song. It is simultaneously musical and decadent and, ultimately, immediate and alive. And for me, the best execution of that style is by The Jesus and Mary Chain. Formed in Glasgow in 1984 by brothers William and Jim Reid, TJAMC sought to fuse the brooding muscle and debauched swagger of The Velvet Underground and The Stooges with the pop sensibilities of Phil Spector.

The pop core of the songs is evident when we are treated to an acoustic version. Here is a stripped down demo for Taste of Cindy:

If you like what you hear of TJAMC from their most famous albums, Psychocandy and Darklands, I highly recommend their collection of b-sides and demos, The Power of Positive Thinking.

The style of TJAMC has been resurrected by recent bands. The Manhattan Love Suicides had an all too brief recording career. Formed in 2006 in Leeds, UK, The Manhattan Love Suicides didn't last until the end of the decade. Their farewell present is the compilation album Burnt Out Landscapes, which contains 27 songs.

And my favorite TMLS song in honor of the founder of this blog:

Fortunately, there are other bands still recording the glorious noise, including Danish expats The Raveonettes, New Zealand's Surf City, and Texas band Ringo Deathstarr (all of whom will be covered in future posts). However, one that you may not have heard of and deserves a listen is New York Band Crystal Stilts. Admittedly, Crystal Stilts probably edges more to the shoegaze segment of the spectrum, but enough of their songs ring the glorious noise bell for my tastes.

REVIEW: Apex Manor – The Year of Magical Drinking

I’m not inclined to doubt the sentiment expressed by the album title, given that one song mentions being “four fingers deep in the mason jar”, which covers the drinking part. As for the magical part, this record works great as a whole when you have time to listen all the way through, and as a collection of terrific individual power-pop songs, when maybe you don’t. That’s a deadly combination, and it may be the result of magical drinking, who am I to say?

Apex Manor is a guy named Ross Flournoy, and this album is his follow-up to the two albums he did with his previous band The Broken West. As big a fan as I was of The Broken West, this album is actually better than either of those records. I suppose it’s more “mature”, with a bit more variety in song structure… but my favorite songs are still the ones like “Teenage Blood”, which starts out with a whopping drumbeat and throws in a ripping guitar solo, “Party Line” with wonderful jangling guitars, and “Southern Decline”, with more propulsive drumming and a great guitar lead.

I think it’s valid to compare this Apex Manor record to Wilco discs like Summerteeth, and even Being There… several of the uptempo songs really remind me of “I Got You (at the End of the Century)” and “Outtasite”, where the more contemplative songs with relationship-inspired lyrics really are reminiscent of Summerteeth. Think I’m imagining it? There’s a song in which Flournoy says: “I’m not an easy jar to open”! I’m also reminded of Lloyd Cole’s work on albums like Rattlesnakes, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Throughout, it builds toward the last track, "Coming To", the title of which may represent a bit of self-revelation. Apparently the year post-band-breakup was a tough one for Flournoy. But by the time we get to "Coming To", it's rolling along with great guitars, some "inside joke" lyrics, and even cowbell! At 35 minutes, with plenty of hooks, Flournoy has made a real good record, a great start to 2011.

Here's the video for "My My Mind":

Apex Manor - My My Mind from Merge Records on Vimeo.

For a limited time, you can stream the whole album here.