Saturday, January 22, 2011
The Young Evils on Myspace
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:
It’s only January and we already have one truly great record in 2011.Website: The Decemberists
Friday, January 21, 2011
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
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
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
Thursday, January 20, 2011
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
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
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
I've featured them on here before and I would say this is the best song I've heard from them.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
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
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
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.
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.
Website: Drive-By Truckers