Monday, March 31, 2014

Newport Folk Festival Update!

Photo by Brian Lima
It's been a while since I've updated everyone with the Newport Folk Festival line up, and it truly just keeps getting more and more outstanding. Since I last gave an update, Newport has added classic musicians such as reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, established current stars such as a reunited Nickel Creek and Conor Oberst, to next big thing acts like Phox and Reignwolf. I'm particularly excited for Reignwolf, who sound like a more raw version of The White Stripes and The Black Keys. They've also added Rodrigo y Gabriela (somehow making their Newport debut), Puss n Boots featuring Norah Jones, Newport favorite Dawes (pulling double duty as Conor Oberst's backing band), Lucius, Lake Street Dive, The Milk Carton Kids, Gregory Alan Isakov, Lucero, Aoife O'Donovan, Willie Watson of Old Crow Medicine Show, and more!

If you're planning on attending Saturday or Sunday and haven't bought tickets, you're out of luck since both days and multi-day passes are sold out. Friday is still available, and since that's the day Band of Horses, Jimmy Cliff, Jenny Lewis, Robert Hunter, The Devil Makes Three, Lake Street Dive, Reignwolf, Death Vessel, and Phox are playing, it might end up being the best day of the festival. For more information and tickets, head on over to

Quarterly Report: Albums We Missed So Far

So I try to keep up as best I can with the new releases, but sometimes they're late to Spotify or fall through the cracks. Consider this quarterly report our attempt to catch up.

Katy B - Little Red: I became a fan of Katy B shortly after her first album, On a Mission, came out. It's been a while, but the British singer is back with an even better album of dancefloor tracks. The album is much more cohesive and miles ahead of its predecessor minus one major misstep in a slow ballad-type song. Even the extra bonus tracks on the deluxe edition keep things going. If you're into Europop, you really need to give this album a listen.

Sun Kil Moon - Benji: Mark Kozelek has a very distinct sound no matter what moniker he's recording under, although Sun Kil Moon does tend to trend toward the extreme storytelling side of things. Benji feels a little overwrought, to be frank - it's not really a fun experience, and it's not memorable because of the songs but because of the direct lyrics. I get why people enjoy him, for sure, but this didn't do a thing for me.

Mode Moderne - Occult Delight: If you're sad that Editors and Interpol haven't done much lately to scratch your dark indie pop itch, Mode Moderne might be for you. It's sort of like the 80s Depeche Mode type stuff we only sometimes cop to missing, and while there aren't a ton of memorable individual songs on the album (the "Maps and Legends"-esque "Come Sunrise" excepted), there's more than enough here as a cohesive whole to make it worth a listen.

Neil Finn - Dizzy Heights: Neil Finn's latest effort is getting critically slammed. It's not nearly that bad. It's not memorable, mind you. There's no "Don't Dream It's Over" to be found. If you're a fan, though, it's absolutely worth a look.

Name the Pet - Future / Now: I have no idea how I tripped up on Name the Pet, but in terms of these nice, quiet, synthy albums that pop up every so often, this one is pretty good. Reminds me a little of Sally Shapiro without the disco, or Au Revoir Simone in some regards.

The New Mendicants - Into the Lime: The New Mendicants are a collaboration between Joe Pernice (of The Pernice Brothers), Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, and Mike Belisky of The Sadies. If you can't guess from that lineup, it's near-perfectly crafted 1990 power pop/alt-rock. I love this album, and I'm not sure if I love it more because of the nostalgia trip it provides or because there are a lot of solid tracks on it. From "Shouting Match" to "A Very Sorry Christmas," the album doesn't really have a misstep (even if, like a lot of 1990s alt-rock, there are some songs that don't pack a huge punch. Really a solid album, you should definitely give it a listen.

Elizabeth and the Catapult - Like It Never Happened: I loved Taller Children, the debut album from Elizabeth and the Catapult. The second album didn't grab me, but Like It Never Happened, while far from perfect, is a great step up. The group is certainly hitting more of the Sara Bareilles-style pop than the weird indie pop that I fell for, but that doesn't make this a bad listen by any regards. The pieces are truly better than the whole of its parts, so if you're a fan of this sort of thing, it's worth a shot.

Snowmine - Dialects: Brooklyn's Snowmine chose to put their newest album out independently, and it doesn't sound like an indie release, which isn't a bad thing. I have trouble categorizing them, as they have elements of standard rock, electronic, a lead singer who often channels Ben Gibbard, and anthemic choruses across the board. The struggle for categorization is part of what makes the album fun, as you go in listening for one thing and end up hearing something else entirely. A nice chameleon of a record.

+/- - Jumping the Tracks: +/- sounds a lot like the music I was addicted to in 2002-2005. Nontraditional, stilted indie rock with a lot of interesting choices and soundscapes. They're not really a throwback as much as producing a sound that isn't really the "in thing" right now. It certainly hits the right spots when it comes to this sort of sound, I just can't pretend it's for everybody. If you like to be challenged a bit or want to hear something a little different than what's been prevalent, this is worth the time.

Curtis Eller's American Circus - How to Make It In Hollywood: A friend turned me onto Curtis Eller a while ago - she's the same person who got me addicted to Two Man Gentleman Band however many years ago, so when it comes to sometimes goofy, sometimes historical rootsy music, I tend to trust her judgement. The new album by Curtis Eller is at its most polished even if the cohesive unit is not quite as good as my personal favorite of his, 1890. Overall, though, this is an album that you really need to make it a point to listen to. You aren't likely to be disappointed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Own Worst Enemy - "Paul Revere"

Boston's My Own Worst Enemy released quite possibly the most Boston release in years with their new 7" single, "Paul Revere." The song re-imagines Paul Revere's ride in a more modern day setting, looking for pizza and beer, wandering throughout many Boston neighborhoods. It name checks Boston landmarks such as Winter Hill and Fenway Park. It's a slice of not quite throwback 90s indie power pop, with fuzzed out guitars and a chant along "Hey!" 

The b-side is another tribute to one of Boston's own. "Angel of the Underground" sings the praises of Mary Lou Lord. The title comes from both Mary Lou's love of championing and promoting lesser known bands (she was an early supporter of both Nirvana and Elliott Smith) as well as her tendency to busk in the T. It's a loving tribute to someone that's slipped out of the spotlight a bit as of late.

You can listen to and purchase "Paul Revere" on My Own Worst Enemy's Bandcamp page. For more information on My Own Worst Enemy, check out their website.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for March 25

A strange week overall.

BEGINNERS - BEGINNERS: I went into this release assuming another electro-pop female-fronted EP, and it ended up actually being a pretty decent indie pop record. I can't say there's much that stands out on a whole, but as a cohesive piece, the five songs here are a great start, and I'll be looking forward to what comes next.

The Belle Brigade - Just Because: I tripped up on The Belle Brigade's first album a few years back and generally liked it. It's pretty much adult alternative with a bit of a rootsy feel underneath, and their sophomore effort, Just Because, is more of the same. I won't say it all works, as it does feel a little overlong, but it does sound as if they have dodged that sophomore slump a bit. Definitely worth a listen.

The Dandy Warhols - Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia Live at the Wonder: The Dandy Warhols are probably a top five band all time for me, and Thirteen Tales easily a top ten all time album. I didn't see them when they toured on the anniversary of the release last year and, honestly, this live album doesn't make me regret it. I hate how sterile it sounds, and I've heard some of these songs live before and they are certainly more interesting in person. As a superfan, skip this.

Coil / Nine Inch Nails - Recoiled: The first of two posthumous releases this week, the Coil remix of some of the Downward Spiral-era NIN work is also a fans-only affair, but works better in a lot of ways. My wife, on the other hand, calls it "creepy kids music," so you'll know pretty fast whether this is for you or now.

The Baseball Project - 3rd: The Baseball Project, featuring Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and now Mike Mills, release their third baseball-themed album this week, right on time for Opening Day. I loved their first album, wasn't so hot on the second, but 3rd is a return to form of sorts. A lot of great stories, a lot of great musicianship (you can hear a lot of the focus from Peter Buck on this in particular), and it's certainly a fun ride. Worth a listen.

The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams: To be honest, the last few releases from The Hold Steady have left me cold. I didn't go into this one expecting much, but this album has inadvertently ended up being one of the best albums of the week as well as a solid contender for great albums released this year. There are a lot of solid individual songs as well as the sort of cohesiveness we haven't seen from them since at least Stay Positive. A great, old-fashioned rock record from a band that has really returned to form.

A Tribute to Bob Dylan in the 80s: So, this is a thing that exists. Honestly? I'll leave it up to you as to whether you think this is worth it. As I don't have this sort of nostalgia for 80s Dylan, well...

Johnny Cash - Out Among the Stars: Speaking of 1980s music from classic acts, the "lost" Johnny Cash album Out Among the Stars released this week. It's got a few classic Cash moments, for sure, and a number of winners on the album, but nothing that will jump out at you like his great songs from early on. Definitely a nice hidden gem, though.

Morgan O'Kane - The One They Call the Wind: I hadn't heard of Morgan O'Kane at all, but Ken sent me this one to check out and it is great. Subtle, musical folk and roots music, lots of great banjo sounds, a few solid songs that stick in your craw a bit. If you dig the sort of interesting ways some bluegrass/folk musicians are expanding their musical palatte, this is absolutely for you. Definitely give this one a listen.

Also out this week:

* Tokyo Police Club - Forcefield
* Bardo Pond - Refulgo
* The Bad Plus - The Rite of Spring

Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys - Ruined Your Childhood

Ruined Your Childhood is a kids' album that's not meant for kids. No, really. I don't mean it's kids' music that even parents can like. I mean the opening line is "I wanna fuck myself right out of this hole." Not exactly what you want your kid sharing at preschool. Or maybe you do.

Each track is set up as a channel surfed by a kid who's mom is out shaking her ass and trying to find a man. Not all 22 tracks are songs, some are transitions between songs or intros. But the songs are one of the most disturbing that I have ever heard. It has a level of creepiness that Marilyn Manson has been working for years trying to produce. It shows off their usual folk/punk/vaudeville/noise rock on crack sound (what they call "steamcrunk") but this album is so unbelievably dark. I assumed given that it's a kids' album that's not for kids it would be tinged with the macabre but overall silly. Throughout the entire album there is this groove of pure dread. It sounds like the inside of David Lynch's brain. With song titles like "Lullaby for an Antichrist" and "Slaughterhouse Sweetheart," you kind of know what you're getting.

You can get a copy of Ruined Your Childhood for the "Name Your Own Price" option at Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys' Bandcamp page. You can also find more information on the band at their website. If you happen to be in the Boston area, go see them at the Middle East Downstairs on May 9. You can buy no fee tickets here. Finally, they just released a video for "Ourselves" off last year's Soft Time Traveler. Watch it below.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quite Possibly the Coolest Record Store Day Exclusive Ever - Faux Real

I've never really been a huge Record Store Day person. I love the concept, but lately it seems like you have to get there the second the store opens and hope they happen to have the ultra rare 7" of some 20 year songs you already have in three other formats. It might seem like blasphemy, but I've always been more interested in hard to find content than product.

That being said, I can't wait to get my hands on Faux Real. Faux Real features a bunch of up and coming indie bands playing songs by bands that don't really exist. For example, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz covers "Pretend to Be Nice" by Josie & the Pussycats. I feel like this type of album already exists somewhere, but if it doesn't, it's about damn time. Another Western Mass band, Potty Mouth, covers "Take Me Away," which is apparently by a band called Pink Slip from Freaky Friday. The 2003 Lindsay Lohan version, so yes, this will make you feel old. But you also get Bent Shapes covering "Ow! My Face" by Mystik Spiral, Trent's band in Daria. The song even features the dialogue from the show that took place during the performance of the song. How has no one done this one yet? The song I'm most looking forward to is Field Mouse covering The Wonders, which could only possibly be "That Thing You Do."

Faux Real will be put out by Father/Daughter Records on Record Store Day, April 19. Pretend you're buying the kids some Easter candy and get in line for this one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for March 18

An...interesting week.

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dram: Album of the week is almost certainly the new release from The War on Drugs. It has a late-1980s alternative rock vibe to it in some areas, but many of the songs, most notably "An Ocean In Between the Waves," are subtle earworms. This is absolutely an album to watch, this could end up being a breakout effort.

Foster the People - Supermodel: Sometimes if you can't say anything nice, it's best not to say anything at all. The album unfortunately feels like a bunch of Torches b-sides while the rest of the indie and alt-rock world moved along a bit. Nothing about this screams immediacy or innovation, which is unfortunate. Skip this one.

Kylie Minogue - Kiss Me Once: People can keep Madonna. As far as I'm concerned, Kylie Minogue is who I'd probably take in the "pop stars with four decades under their belts" sweepstakes. With that said, it is...strange for any older woman to be doing club-style pop, and it's difficult to separate Minogue the woman from the songs on the album at times, but once you can let that go a bit, what we find is a solid, enjoyable dance record with a lot of good highlights. Just, well, maybe skip "Sexercise" for everyone's benefit.

Tycho - Awake: Weirdly enough, I got my first exposure to Tycho two weeks ago when I tripped up on the local college radio station accidentally. Listening to their album, I felt like it was a more mainstream Boards of Canada, and the new album, Awake, certainly expounds on that sound a bit while still remaining more accessible than ever. Definitely worth the time if you're into electronic music at all.

The Black Lips - Underneath the Rainbow: I have traditionally confused The Black Lips with The Black Keys. Even now, the one song I know from The Black Lips, "O Katrina!," is not a song I really liked. This album definitely turns up the garage rock riffs a bit, and it's a solid effort that doesn't jump out at me as anything really special, although I suspect those who have enjoyed their sound will find a lot to like here.

D-Tension - Secret Project: Ken sent this one over to me, and I have no idea about the background on it outside of Ken highlighting the Pledgemusic drive. D-Tension is a localish musician/producer who got a lot of Boston-area performers (like Aaron Perrino from The Sheila Divine/Dear Leader and Liz Enthusiasm from Freezepop) to work on a synth-heavy record. The album was funded via Pledgemusic and, even if you're not into the Boston music scene, there appears to be a lot here to like. Reminds me of The Fever in some respects, if that helps. It's certainly worth a listen, but your enjoyment might be based more around the collaborations than anything else.

Ruby the RabbitFoot - New as Dew: Ruby the RabbitFoot ticks off a number of my automatic boxes: folky indie pop with a female singer/songwriter hailing from Athens, GA. The name alone made me think of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, but Ruby's songs are shorter and more mainstream-sounding, with a pleasant airy vibe to go along with the solidly-structured soundwriting. This is something that stuck with me for a while after listening, so I'll be sure to spend more time with it.

Also out this week:

* Perfect Pussy - Perfect Pussy (some albums just aren't made for me).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Forgotten Fridays: The Spin Doctors

Can we be honest with ourselves and admit that the Spin Doctors were killing it back in the early 1990s?

We all know, and are probably sick of, "Two Princes." I somehow got "Jimmy Olsen's Blues" stuck in my head a few weeks ago and threw on their greatest hits compilation (embedded below) and was immediately struck by how solid a lot of those early songs were. Between the three big singles on the first album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite and two massively underrated singles from the follow up, Turn it Upside Down, it's almost too bad that they blew up as quickly as they did. It clearly stunted them in a lot of ways, and that's too bad, because we don't get the same kind of nostalgia trip for them as we do for similarly positioned bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket or the Gin Blossoms.

They still perform and occasionally record today. I'm pretty sure lead singer Chris Barron was involved with The Moldy Peaches for a time, too, which is just...weird. And unexpected. But mostly weird.

Anyway, if you want to flash back a bit, here's their hits collection. I promise you that "Cleopatra's Cat" is better than you remember.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for March 11

Another slowish week allows us to look at some lesser-known stuff.

Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything: If you remember the British indie invasion of the early aughts, you might remember Elbow doing some interesting indie acoustic stuff that flew under the radar while Travis and Doves and Starsailor hit it somewhat big. Their first album really spoke to me on the sort of level that forced me into importing a bunch of stuff from a tiny record shop in England to get the b-sides, but the albums became more progressively rocking and less of a folksy thing. I feel like, on first listen, the new Elbow album comes the closest to restoring the classic sound that got me into them to start. The darkness is still there, mind you, but in terms of songs, there's a lot of memorable stuff for what's a quiet, unassuming, stealthy record. Definitely worth a listen.

Divergent Soundtrack: Movies based off of young adult books have done a decent job over the last few years of getting credible artists involved for their soundtracks. The gold standard, interestingly, were the first two Twilight soundtracks, but the soundtrack for the first Hunger Games film really did a good job of capturing both the mood and the music. Divergent is trying to ride that train hard, and mostly flops. The Ellie Goulding song is okay, the M83 not a standout, and...well, there's just nothing here. It's an eclectic mix with no immediacy (a lot like the book, to be honest). Skip this one.

Hong Hong Kong Kong - Hong Hong Kong Kong EP: Ken wrote about this earlier this week, and while he hears a lot of Jack Drag while I feel like either of the first two songs could end up having that slow burn like "Pumped Up Kicks" did for Foster the People if it gets the right attention. This is a fun, short EP, and if you have any interest in either Jack Drag/The Submarines or interesting indie pop, it's worth a few minutes of your time.

MØ - No Mythologies to Follow: Another week, another European pop album that I'm invariably going to fall in love with. It's no surprise that the Euro pop stars are doing more interesting things musically lately than a lot of stateside electronic acts, and this is a little bit on the darker side if you're into that. It's more Sky Ferriea than Katy B, but it's still worth a look if it's your thing.

September Girls - Cursing the Sea: I loved Bleached's album last year, and I'm still mourning the loss of Vivian Girls but loving the current Dum Dum Girls stuff. It seems like I have a soft spot for dreamy, lo-fi, reverb-heavy girl pop, and September Girls is offering some of the best I've heard. It's the sum of its parts that is great, but if you're looking for a sort of retro sounding thing that will surprise you this week, be sure to look this one up. It's quite good.

Joan as Police Woman - The Classic: I don't know what it is, but I never seem to think of Joan as Police Woman at all when I'm thinking about indie acts. Every time she flies under my radar, and then a new album comes out, and I really like it. In this case, The Classic is a retro-tastic change of pace, sounding straight out of the 1970s in what feels very genuine and endearing. This is one of the more different releases of recent times, so it's definitely something you might want to give a shot.

Also out this week in various forms:

* Steve Martin, The Deep Canyon Rangers, and Edie Brickell - Live

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hong Hong Kong Kong - "Heidi's Moon Stomp"

Yes, Hong Hong Kong Kong is a terrible band name. That's kind of the point. It was chosen to annoy radio djs that had to announce it, if radio djs are even a thing anymore. While writing songs for the upcoming Submarines album, John Dragonetti wrote some that didn't quite fit into the Submarines' sound. As much as I like The Submarines, I was always a bigger fan of his 90s Boston based band Jack Drag, so I was expecting something more along those lines. Hong Hong Kong Kong are closer to Jack Drag than the Submarines are, but it's still got some of the Submarines' dreamy pop sound to it. Dragonetti has described the band as "alien love-pop," and that only makes sense once you listen to their first song, "Heidi's Love Stomp."

You can listen to "Heidi's Love Stomp over at Indie Shuffle. Hong Hong Kong Kong's debut EP comes out March 11. For more information, "like" the band's Facebook page.

David Yow Stars In a New Video for OFF!

Hardcore supergroup OFF! (Keith Morris, Dimitri Coats, Mario Rubalcaba, and Steven Shane McDonald) have a new video for "Hypnotized." The clip stars David Yow of The Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid as a crack smoking guy in a lousy costume that poses with tourists in Hollywood for cash. He has an altercation with a man dressed in the same superhero costume as him (played by Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L.) and it all goes downhill from there. This all happens while OFF! play in the background.

The new album from OFF!, Wasted Days, is due out April 8 on VICE. You can get some more information, including tour dates, at their official website. To find out what David Yow is up to, such as art and his solo album, head on over to his website.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Current Obsessions - Benjamin Booker

I know virtually nothing about Benjamin Booker. He was one of the first acts announced for this year's Newport Folk Festival, and he seems to have come out of nowhere. When he was announced, he had less than 500 "likes" on Facebook, and two videos on YouTube. I mean, what musician has only two videos on YouTube? Your 14 year old nephew's band has at least a dozen, and they haven't played a show yet. How does someone so virtually unknown get added to one of the most prestigious festivals in the country? By being amazing.

His influences range from Blind Willie Johnson to T. Rex. His sound is like early blues recordings mixed with MC5 and Death. It's one of the most raw and unique sounds I've heard in years while still being straight up rock n' roll. It fits completely into everything you already know and love but mixes it up in a way you've never heard before. At this point, I have no idea when his debut albums comes out, but I need it. Now.

Benjamin Booker is currently on tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff. You can see the tour dates below. Head on over to his page on the ATO Records website for more info, and watch a 3rd YouTube video that just dropped below.

Mar 06             Will's Pub        Orlando, FL
Mar 08            Curtis Hixon Park       Tampa, FL
Mar 12            The Chevrolet Courtyard at Cedar Street       Austin, TX
Apr 03            Mercury Lounge         New York, NY
Apr 05            The Sinclair     Cambridge, MA
Apr 08            World Cafe Live Philadelphia            Philadelphia, PA
Apr 10            Local 506        Chapel Hill, NC

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for March 4

After a whirlwind few weeks, it's kind of nice to get a shorter week of releases.

Ásgeir - In the Silence: I admit to having a significant bias toward any Icelandic music available, given my love of both early Bjork and early Sigur Ros. I don't know how I tripped up on Ásgeir, but this album is a gorgeous soundscape. It's really what you might expect a more folky Icelandic artist to sound like with your tinny American ear. It really strikes all the right notes and is definitely my favorite listen of this week. Absolutely worth your time.

Real Estate - Atlas: You know how, sometimes, you get weird associations of bands in your head? Like, you were exposed to a few bands at the same time, or they once had similar songs on the radio and you have just coupled them forever. Real Estate falls into that category with me along with Beach House and Best Coast. Not sure why, as Real Estate (especially Atlas) sounds a lot different than them. Atlas, in particular, has a tendency to sound a lot like the singer-songwritery alt-rock of years ago, and I enjoy that. This is a nice, pleasant, quiet listen for this week.

Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans: I hate to be that guy with this album, but, ultimately, it sounds exactly like what I'd expect from a Drive-By Truckers album today. It's very straightforward country rock, and it does the trick perfectly well. Worth a listen if you're a fan of the band or associated acts.

Also out this week:

* Holly Golightly - All Her Fault

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday Morning Playlist: Dirty R&B

At some point late last week, I had landed on an article from Medium regarding "Dirty R&B", the lesser-known, somewhat more vulgar side of early-to-mid 1900s blues and jazz music. For as much as many of us grew up with the PMRC and the idea that hair metal or gangsta rap would be the thing to corrupt our impressionable minds, there was some really dirty stuff coming out decades before. Some of it is more veiled, but others don't even try to hide what they're getting at.

The article also shares an article from WFMU in 1997 that lists even more dirty blues and jazz songs, with a little more variety thrown in. Seeing as I enjoyed this (and, truth be told, the music as well) this weekend, I decided to throw together a playlist. You can subscribe to it here or listen to it embedded below: