Friday, November 29, 2013

Help Kickstart a Film Starring Daniel Johnston!

There's already been an excellent documentary about Daniel Johnston (2005's The Devil and Daniel Johnston), and now we're getting a short film starring Daniel Jonhston. Directed by Gabriel Sunday, Hi, How Are You will be "... a musical tale of an aging artist encountering psychedelic dreams, nightmares, and characters from his past." What's getting the most attention on the interwebs have been the celebrity backers. Frat rapper Mac Miller coughed up $10,000 for an executive producer credit. Lana Del Rey (she of insane internet overhype followed by insane internet hate over a mediocre at worst SNL appearance) also donated huge. Johnston has always had huge supporters in the world of music, and it's actually great to see a younger generation embrace him so strongly. For more information on the film, head on over to the Kickstarter page.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for November 26

A slow new release week with the holiday season in play.

Billie Joe & Norah - Foreverly: The oddest, best release this week is a team-up between Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day) and Norah Jones called Foreverly, a collection of old-time country songs popularlized by the Everly Brothers. As someone who hit his teen years around the same time Green Day's Dookie hit the top of the charts, I didn't really know what to make of this when I first learned of it, and the fact that it's not only competent, but actually pretty great, is a shock to me. Armstrong really turns down the punk affectations and Jones, who has already done some genre hopping of her own, feels as if she's driving the car in this one. This is absolutely worth a listen, it's definitely one of the more interesting pieces of the last year. Ken also noted his surprise at the quality in a post about a month ago given the announcement of the single.

Alt-J - Summer EP: Alt-J had my favorite album of last year, and this is a remix album of a few of the tracks. None of the remixes are especially memorable, so I'll just impatiently wait for the next album.

Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies: I saw Beachwood Sparks open for the Shins during their first Oh, Inverted World tour and, frankly, enjoyed the Sparks more than the Shins. They had a country folk sensibility that really fit into a specific mood I was in. I haven't loved their more recent fare, but this new album really feels like a sunnier return to form, with a lot of solid folky moments and some memorable melodies, especially with the title track. Definitely a solid outing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

D-Tension Has a New Project, Video, and Kickstarter

Ten years ago, Boston rapper/producer/ex-WFNX dj D-Tension had a conversation with Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine and Dear Leader, and came up with the idea for Secret Project. Secret Project is an album produced by D-Tension featuring vocals from many Boston area indie rockers. The idea is about to become a reality, with the video for the first single, "Can You Stand It," being released. With vocals by Ad Frank, it's a synth and keytar heavy song with a cool, fun groove. It definitely makes me want to hear more, especially since the rest of the album includes tracks featuring Aaron Perrino, Alex Stern of Big D & the Kids Table, Kevin Stevenson of The Shods, Stephie Coplan, and more. There's also a Kickstarter to help finish the album which also contributes to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Definitely check it out!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Current Obsessions: Boards of Canada

I've mentioned here and there about my mid-to-late 1990s electronica/techno addiction I went through. I enjoyed groups like Orbital quite a bit, but it was ultimately the more difficult/interesting artists like Aphex Twin that stuck with me as I transitioned to more of an indie rock listening trajectory. I always kept some of the electronic love in my back pocket (Of Montreal's electro phase was a solid time for me), but it's only fairly recently that I've come back into the fold a little more significantly.

I was never much into trance or big beat type stuff. I enjoyed a good deal of house music, and today's house-influenced pop is really great, but the dubstep/brostep thing leaves me cold. Meanwhile, a band I knew of but never ever listened to, Boards of Canada, released their first album in eight years this year with Tomorrow's Harvest. I was interested in listening to it, but since I'm more or less an exclusive Spotify listener and basically none of their stuff had made the service, I kind of put it aside and didn't think about it. I then noticed a friend listening to the new album on Spotify, and decided to fire it up.


I've apparently been missing quite a bit. It's not really fair to call it trance, but it has trance elements. It's certainly not traditional electronic, and a lot of it feels more...natural than the often sterile sounding electronic stuff. They also have a lot of brief interludes sampling what sounds like old recordings of television or radio. It creates a really strange atmosphere to go along with the moods of the album. It is excellent "getting stuff done on the computer" music. My productivity has gone through the roof thanks to this band. Maybe not their intention, but I'll take it.

A friend describes them as having a "malfunctioning washing machine" vibe, while my wife insists she's hearing phantom baby cries from every song and every album. Sounds like a winner, right? They're definitely worth a look. My favorite releases so far:

* Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children
* Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Live Shows: Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA 11/6/13

I was beginning to think I was destined to never see Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside. I missed their set at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival, and even though they had played in Massachusetts 3 times this year, none worked out with my life. I was thrilled to see they were playing the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. It seemed like an odd venue that would be way too small for them (it allegedly holds 80 people, but it always seems more like 30-40 to me). Sure, it was a Wednesday night, but I obviously had to go.

On their Dirty Radio and Untamed Beast, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside are an amazing amalgam of white girl soul, rockabilly, and indie rock. Live her voice is absolutely striking, with more than a hint of Eartha Kitt’s sultry purr to it. At the Lizard Lounge, there really is no stage, just an area surrounded by reserved seating tables where the band sets up. The intimate setting feels more like you’re hanging out and watching people you know play, so the few mistakes Sallie Ford made were easily forgiven by the crowd. Her endearing nerdiness also helped. Her between song banter completely lacked the self assuredness it takes to spout lyrics as “I can fuck, I can drink, and I don’t care what you think,” but that’s part of the show’s charm. The live show is also the perfect setting to showcase guitarist Jeffrey Munger. Not that his playing isn’t noticeable on the album, but live he can cut loose a bit more.

Seeing as they have been embraced by both the Newport Folk and NPR crowds, the crowd was one of the most diverse I’ve seen in a long time, especially for a Wednesday night. It was mostly college aged Newport Folk hipsters, but I wasn’t the old guy by a long shot. This show placed Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside firmly into my Must See Every Time They Come Around list. Hopefully life decides to keep out of my way.

First Listen: New Releases for November 19

A slow new release week as we start looking toward the holiday season.

Various Artists - Rockin' Legends Pay Tribute to Jack White: Out of left field for me this week was this tribute album to Jack White (The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs) with cover versions by old country rock artists. You might not think you want to hear Gary U. S. Bonds performing "Salute Your Solution" or Sonny Burgess doing "Steady As She Goes," but this is a surprisingly fun collection of cover songs, and really highlights the bluesy, rootsy origin of Jack White's songwriting. It's pretty solid, and it's worth a listen if you're a fan of Jack White in any permutation. I'd personally love to see a Volume 2.

Beady Eye - BE: In the War of the Oasis Brothers, I am firmly on Team Noel. I'm Team Noel to the point where I really don't want to like Beady Eye, and got disproportionately angry when Beady Eye performed Oasis songs at the Olympics in 2012. I thus hate to say it, but BE, the sophomore effort from Liam's band, is actually pretty good. "Soul Love" in particular is a super-familiar highlight, and, overall, a really solid listen. I didn't love the debut album, but this is good enough where I think I want to go back and listen again to see if I was missing anything.

Andrew Bird - I Want to See Pulaski at Night: As someone who is recently back into Andrew Bird, this EP is less a traditional Andrew Bird release and more an opportunity to try some different things (mostly) instrumentally. For a short, quick hit, this is pretty solid and great for fans. If you're looking to dive in on Andrew Bird, though, his more recent album release is where you want to go.

Also out this week:

* A Perfect Circle - Three-Sixty (a greatest hits compilation from a band I didn't realize people were still listening to)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Persian Leaps - Praise Elephants

When we started this blog, I was worried we'd turn into a Boston-centric blog, since so many of the bands Jeff and I like are from Boston, it's so much easier to discover new bands from where you're from, and being from the Boston area leads to an insane level of homer-ism. Lately I've been receiving so many submissions from fantastic Minnesota bands, I'm starting to have the opposite concern. What is going on in Minnesota that is birthing all these great rock bands?

Singer/guitarist Drew Forsberg used to record under the name The Persian Leaps for years, but never shared his music until 2012 when he joined with Brad Hendrickson, Michael McCloskey, and Neil McCloskey. Back in August, The Persian Leaps released their debut offering, Praise Elephants. It's five songs of fuzzy, heartfelt rock with its roots in predecessors such as The Afghan Whigs or The Sheila Divine. "Silent Treatment" is by far my favorite. With its gang vocals saved for verses and not the chorus, it has a unique sound while being familiar.

Right now you can grab Praise Elephants for a "name your own price" option over at The Persian Leaps' Bandcamp. You can also watch a live video for "Silent Treatment" below.

Friday, November 15, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for November 12

A lot to get to, and a delay at that? No wasting time!

Lady Gaga - Artpop: Lady Gaga has transformed from pop princess to strange cultural touchstone to some sort of avant garde performance art project. Artpop, when taken in the context of her increased interest in a lot of the sort of postmodern, outsider art, is an interesting listen if only because it's so weird in the context of top 40 pop music. I say "interesting" because the album itself isn't really good musically, and I say this as someone who was a fan of her first two albums. This isn't to say there aren't highlights ("Manicure," "Donatella," "Dope") but if you're expecting a "Telephone" or "Poker Face," you're going to be disappointed. On the other hand, I'm probably the only one who would be reading this site and saying "hm, I think I want to know more about the new Lady Gaga album," so maybe I'll just move on...

Tindersticks - Across Six Leap Years: Tindersticks has been a band in the background of a lot of stuff I listen to, and this was probably my first purposeful exposure to them. It's not for me - it's loungey, slow stuff that doesn't really grab me at all. I can see who might like this (and if that minor description excites you, you'll likely dig this), but it really hasn't impacted me at all.

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs - Under the Covers Volume 3: I'm a sucker for a good covers album, and a while back Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs put out an album of their versions of their favorite songs from the 1960s. It's one of my favorite cover albums ever. Volume 2 took on the 1970s and wasn't as great, but still had some solid highlights. Volume 3 is all about the 1980s, which is interesting given that both Hoffs and Sweet had their heyday in this era. None of these are necessarily hitting me as great versions, unfortunately - "Free Fallin'" is interesting, and it's always weird to hear groups take on R.E.M. songs (and Sweet was in a band with Michael Stipe's sister for a time, which makes for a weird aside), but on a whole, the idea of 80s songs without the overproduced gloss just doesn't always work for me. More a curiosity than a solid listen for me.

Los Campesinos! - No Blues: Los Campesinos! is not the most accessible band with some indie success. "You! Me! Dancing!" was a high point, and I feel like I'm always waiting for another song like it that doesn't come. It's definitely a more interesting album than I've heard as of late, but I'm not sure how much patience I'll have for it, either. Good for fans, for sure.

Cate le Bon - Mug Museum: Cate le Bon was another random Amie Street pickup for me for her album Me Oh My, and I really enjoyed the follow-up. This album turns the weirdness dial up a bit, exchanging accessible melodies over interesting instrumentation for more complicated song structures. Some of it I really loved on first listen, some not as much. This one is one I'll be giving a longer shot in the short term, for sure, but those who are expecting similarities to her earlier albums might be disappointed.

Also out this week:

* Trampled by Turtles - Live at First Avenue (a decent, if inessential, listen)
* Various Artists - Songs for Slim (includes tracks from Jeff Tweedy, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

DVD Review: East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects

I'll admit it: I really knew The Cockney Rejects more as a name than as an actual band before watching the movie. East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects works perfectly as a primer for people just discovering the band as it does for die hard fans looking to hear the whole story. It starts off focusing on West Ham, the area of London the band is from, and the economic hardships it was facing around the time the band formed. The Rejects got started off in one of the most classically punk ways possible: They claimed they were a band even though they had never played and didn't have a drummer, but somehow ended up with studio time to record. The band's rise to popularity coinciding perfectly with West Ham United winning the FA Championship in 1980, right when they recorded a punk version of West Ham's fight song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." Think Dropkick Murphys recording "Tessie" in 2004, but the one difference is The Dropkick could play in New York and St. Louis after that. With the violence involved with soccer hooliganism at the time, playing outside of London became virtually impossible. That and a BBC report that falsely tied them to the neo-Nazi British Movement virtually ended the Rejects, until modern day punk bands like Rancid and The Dropkick Murphys started citing them as influences.

East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects features interviews with the band and people associated with the band, as well as archival clips and animation. My only complaint is it could really use a closed captioning feature, since the Cockney accent is really strong. For more information, head over to the film's website. You can also order a DVD copy from Amazon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Radish - Restraining Bolt

Back in the 90s, Ben Kweller wasn’t a solo artist, but the lead singer/guitarist of Radish, a Texas based grunge (for lack of a better term) band. I don’t remember really having an opinion on Radish at the time, except that I didn’t like them, and I just lumped them in with Silverchair. On a lark I decided to give their major label debut, Restraining Bolt, a listen. It’s far better than I remember it being.
Most reviews at the time call Radish some variation of “Weezer Jr.,” based mostly on the fact that Kweller was 16 at the time, and they play crunchy alternative rock. They’re far more aggressive and nowhere near as quirky as Weezer were at the time, so that’s really where the comparisons end. Radish also pull apart from the 3rd generation Pearl Jam rip offs of the time by not being quite as moody and being far more upbeat. However, Radish just lacks the fun of Kweller’s solo music. I’m guessing that stems from being 16 and wanting to be taken seriously as an artist, but the music suffers a bit from it. One track in particular, “Dear Aunt Artica,” comes across more than a bit hokey with its anti-church burning message hidden in a song with a pun for a name. The album’s hit single, “Little Pink Stars,” is infinitely better than I remember, and stands up with anything in Ash’s entire catalog. Restraining Bolt isn’t as good as Kweller’s solo work, but it’s the rare look into a current artist’s teenage years that isn’t embarrassing.

As of this writing, you can pick up used copies of Restraining Bolt on Amazon for a penny. Might be one of your better 1 cent purchases.

Live Shows: Sebadoh and Octagrape, The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA 11-4-13

Monday night shows are always iffy, especially for “classic” bands. Most of my Sebadoh loving friends (ok, ALL of my Sebadoh loving friends) have passed the no going out that early in a work week stage, and I was curious how the show would go, especially after hearing about a Fountains of Wayne/Soul Asylum/Evan Dando triple bill back on a Monday night in September that ended up being ½ full. All 3 of those acts had more commercial success than Sebadoh, but apparently Sebadoh breeds more loyalty since The Sinclair was roughly ¾ full, with the majority being older fans, so luckily the Creepy Old Guy Factor was non-existent.

I had never heard of Octagrape before seeing that they were opening for Sebadoh. I meant to pop into The Sinclair maybe half way through their set just to check them out, but ended up in the area earlier than I expected, so I wandered in early while they were still setting up. Seeing as how they sometimes write out their name as “Octa#grape,” I assumed they were kids in their early 20s who’d be rocking ironic hipster mustaches. Instead they were middle aged guys keeping the dream alive. Their set blew me away completely in a way an opening act hasn’t since Spirit Family Reunion opening for David Wax Museum two years ago. Their sound blended the sludge of the Melvins with the stoner quirk of Pavement. You’d never know they were from San Diego since they had the live energy of Ex-Models. Their love of playing love was infectious, and after three days on the tour, they had sold all but five 7” records. That’s a pretty good sign of a great band.

Sebadoh took the stage next. Opening with the first song on their new album, “I Will,” was a bold choice, but it worked and set the tone for the night. Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein did their trademark switching instruments and vocal duties. This time around each of them performed 5-6 songs in a row before switching back to the other. They also tended to play guitar on their own songs, and always sang from stage right. This helped alleviate one of Sebadoh’s other trademarks, long gaps between songs. Lou joked about how this always seemed particularly frustrating whenever they were in Boston, but I always saw multiple minute tuning sessions as part of their charm. They also have adjusted some of their older sings a bit for live performances, which is great for fans that have been around for a while. “Love to Fight” was almost unrecognizable, but in a fantastic way. Sebadoh played a marathon set clocking in at nearly two hours, which rewarded the die hards that stuck around well past our normal bedtimes.

Make sure you check out Octagrape. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. Also, head over to Sebadoh’s website for remaining dates on their tour and to purchase their excellent new album, Defend Yourself.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Circles - Are You Watching the Masters? Because the Masters Are Watching You

Chicago trio Circles (featuring members of Ponys, France Has the Bomb, and Radar Eyes) released their debut EP over the summer called Are You Watching the Masters? Because the Masters Are Watching You. It features some of the jangliest indie pop I've heard in a long, long time, reminiscent of bands like Guided By Voices and Apples in Stereo. You get a great, upbeat mixture, followed by a wall of distortion and noise that is seemingly unexpected. Melissa Elias and R. Srini share lead vocal duties and complement each other quite well. "Curses" is without a doubt my favorite, nodding heavily to Regretfully Yours era Superdrag. If you long for fuzzed out indie pop, definitely check them out.

There's not much info available online for Circles, but they do have a Bandcamp where you can stream/download Are You Watching the Masters? Because the Masters Are Watching You.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

First Listen: New Releases for November 5

Another slow week for those uninterested in pseudo-comeback albums from your favorite white rapper from high school/college. We'll avoid that in favor of a few others:

Midlake - Antiphon: Midlake is back after a while with Antiphon. I got into Midlake thanks to an Amie Street sale way back when, and they are a deceptively complex indie rock/folk group with an extremely recognizable sound. No song jumps out at me as something above and beyond for Antiphon, but no single Midlake song ever has for me. They've always been an album experience, and this is no different. I'm not sure if I like it or love it or I'm just glad it's there, but it's one of the highlights of the week.

Cut Copy - Free Your Mind: I am embarrassed because I thought Cut Copy was Hot Chip (of "Ready for the Floor" fame), and they're not. In a way, I might actually like Cut Copy more based off a first listen of this album, which is 80s electro-pop done right with some catchy melodies and dance beats. A pretty solid release that has me thinking about their back catalog as well.

That's all we've got this week, folks.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Magik Markers - "Bonfire"

I had kind of forgotten about Magik Markers, kind of assuming they had broken up a few years ago. I first discovered them opening for the first Dinosaur Jr reunion tour back in 2005. Back then, they played a 20 minute set consisting of exactly one free form song.
Photo credit Art-Utility
"Bonfire" is a complete departure from that era of Magik Markers, seeing as the video clocks in at 2 minutes, 40 seconds. They lost a bit of their charm for me once they started releasing traditional albums with, you know, songs, I got over that relatively quickly and embraced their newer material. "Bonfire" is about as mainstream as Magik Markers can get, being the catchiest noise rock I've heard possibly ever. Drums an frontwoman Elisa Ambrogio's vocals take the forefront which results in something you can almost dance to.

Magik Markers' new album, Surrender to Fantasy, comes out on 11/19. Head on over to their page on Drag City Records' website for more details.

Yoko One Plastic Ono Band - "Bad Dancer" video

To say Yoko Ono isn't my thing is an understatement of epic proportions. However, her video for "Bad Dancer" deserves some attention, just because of the guest stars it features. I'll take any peek into what Ad Rock and Mike D of the Beastie Boys are doing, and when you add Ira Glass of This American Life, Questlove of the Roots, Roberta Flack, and others into the mix, you'll want to watch it at least once. The video features Ono and her cohorts all dancing badly, which sounds (and is) super cheesy, but it also ends up being a lot of fun, which isn't a side of Ono you get to see a lot. Will the song make anyone's best of 2013 list? Nope. Is it worth checking out in between cat videos on a Tuesday morning? Yeah, sure. Why not?