Thursday, May 29, 2014

Live From Studio Dee: The Very Best of On the Town with Mikey Dee

For those into the Boston music scene, "On the Town with Mikey Dee" is legendary. Back in 1989, Mikey Dee started a local music show on WMFO to give local artists a place to have their music heard, and to just hang out. Mikey was known around the Boston music scene, showing up at virtually every show, right up front and singing along. Unfortunately, Mikey Dee passed away in 2003 at the far too young age of 40. WMFO has kept the show going to honor his legacy, even keeping the name intact. 

On the Town with Mikey Dee turned 25 this month, and to celebrate they're releasing a 2 disc compilation highlighting some of their best live performances. It's truly a who's who of the Boston music scene, with tracks by Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, Varsity Drag, Cropduster, The Pills, Sarah Rabdau and the Self-Employed Assassins, The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library, and many more. It numbers 35 tracks total, and this is merely volume 1. Every track captures the laid back, familiar vibe that defines "On the Town with Mikey Dee." We can't recommend it enough. The album is released next Tuesday, June 3. You can check it out here, but ignore the price for now. It's pretty safe to assume it won't be $1000 once it is officially released.

Also, if you're in the Boston area and aren't afraid of going out on a Thursday night, there's a 25th anniversary show tonight at TT the Bear's in Cambridge featuring The Shods, The Rationales, The Wrong Shapes, Corin Ashley & Friends, and Butterknife. Go here for more details and tickets.

First Listen: New Releases for May 27

A pretty sparse plate for the holiday weekend in the States.

Zoe Muth - World of Strangers: Pick of the week for me is Zoe Muth's latest effort. There seems to be a glut of alt-country songstresses as of late, and Muth takes the more traditionalist line, but stands out due to really strong songwriting, catchy hooks, and without skimping on the production. It doesn't feel overly twangy, and that's a good thing, too. All her albums are worthwhile, but this is absolutely worth a listen for this week.

Babes - Babes: Debut EP from buzzy blog band Babes, the four songs are actually a lot more understated than I expected. Sometimes harkening back to the girl group melodies of 50 years ago, it's a really solid lo-fi affair that has left me wanting more and wondering what a full length might sound like. Worth keeping in mind.

Owen Pallett - In Conflict: Owen Pallett, better known by some as Final Fantasy or the guy who does the strings for Arcade Fire, is back with a new album. He's always been a step beyond Andrew Bird in terms of the orchestral folk that he resides in, and In Conflict ultimately sounds like what I'd expect it to. I know I need more time with it, but it's a solid album on a whole. Worth a listen.

Melanie De Biasio - No Deal: A lot of early pieces I read about this album put it out there as sort of a "jazz revivalist" thing, whoch I only sometimes get from it. De Biasio has a great voice, but unless you're in the mood for something more classically oriented, you might not find a lot of value in this album.

Ben Frost - A U R O R A: Ben Frost is an electronic artist from Australia. This album is complicated, and fits a lot of places for me. Sometimes it's loud, sometimes it feels like Boards of Canada, sometimes it feels like it's trying to be a little more difficult on purpose. With all that said, I really liked it, and it's probably one of my favorite electronic albums of the year so far on first listen. We'll see if it holds up.

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There: I want to love Sharon Van Etten as much as everyone else does. Often her songs are really great but the albums aren't quite there, and I can usually find a couple songs on everything she does that I love. This album is no different - the opening track might be the best song she has put out yet, but the album is a very deliberate affair with a lot of hits to go along with some misses. I won't give up on it, but for a buzzed-about album, I was hoping for more.

Also out this week:

* Birdy - The Fire Within (US release)
* Disparition - Granicha

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Freebie: Veruca Salt - "The Museum of Broken Relationships"

90s band reunions are nothing new by now. Typically the band announces a reunion tour, and then maybe after 1 or 2, they'll release a new album. Veruca Salt are doing it differently by releasing a new album and then touring. It's a bit of a risk, since if the album is bad, it can turn people away from going to the show. And besides, nostalgia is the main attraction, not new music, right?

Apparently no one told Veruca Salt this formula, since their first song with the original line up in 14 years may be their best song ever. "The Museum of Broken Relationships" has their earlier noise with a more mature and polished song writing edge. It might be the catchiest thing you've heard in years. Plus, you can download it for free off their website, without even having to give them your email address. You can watch the video below, and check out their tour dates when you download for free!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for May 20

The good news is that the new releases were a day early this week and have a lot of fun nuggets. The bad news is that at least three of them are well over two hours long. Ah well.

R.E.M. - Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions: R.E.M. is far and away my favorite band of all time. Previously only available in bootleg form, and R.E.M.'s contribution to Record Store Day this year, the Unplugged collection is one of those completest things that will be of interest to R.E.M. fans and perhaps fans of the now-basically-useless Unplugged brand, but beyond that it's going to be filled with a lot of songs you probably don't know on the first disc, and a lot of songs you only know if you're a hardcore fan on the second. One thing I always enjoyed about the Unplugged shows were the ways they kind of exposed the songs for what they were - a reason the 10,000 Maniacs session was so solid was because their songs translated well to an acoustic landscape. While the 1991 Unplugged is great because of the folksy nature of a lot of what R.E.M. had been doing up to the point of Out of Time (even beyond the extra b-sides and rarities they played during the session), the 2001 set is really interesting as it largely ignores its most folky effort of the previous decade, Automatic for the People, and relies heavily on the electronic-and-synth heavy Up and Reveal tracks, which really doesn't work. It's also worth noting that the 2001 session was part of the promotional junket for Reveal and is largely not the best time on a whole for the band (nor is Reveal an exceptional album in the R.E.M. catalog). So should you listen to this? It's worth it if only to revisit one of America's greatest rock bands, but don't expect to get a ton out of it unless you're already a fan.

Oasis - Definitely Maybe (20th anniversary reissue): I can't believe this album is 20 years old. I'm old, it's official. While I'm pretty sure the "essential" Oasis album remains (What's the Story) Morning Glory, the fact that the band is revisiting their catalog is not the worst thing in the world, especially if we'll eventually get reissues of their later stuff. As for Definitely Maybe, they didn't spare much on the deluxe reissue, with three full discs of music and pretty much every b-side you can imagine. The album itself still feels like it meanders a bit, but on a whole there's a reason why this is getting a reissue. Worth revisiting at least once.

LCD Soundsystem - The Long Goodbye: Live at Madison Square Garden: I'm a relatively recent convert to LCD Soundsystem, and this album is three hours of their final live performances at Madison Square Garden. I tend to be very down on live albums, but this album's production is really top notch and we get a great feel for how over the top the band went for their last shows. Really great album put together here, definitely great if you're into the band at all, but at three hours long...

Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain: On a whole, Conor Oberst has left me a little cold. Never been a big fan of Bright Eyes, his solo stuff has been hit or miss for me, but this specific album is really pretty solid. Has a good folksy twang to it, a lot of understated songs to go along with some solid cuts. This will definitely stay in rotation for a while, worth a listen.

The Roots - ...and then you shoot your cousin: The problem with this First Listen project is that an album like this one requires a few listens to really drill down to what's going on. This is another concept record, different than undun but still musically interesting. There are just a lot of themes I'm sure I missed on the first listen, so I think I'll withhold judgement except to say that, musically, it's worth your time, and at around 30 minutes, it's not a huge investment.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation: While I consider myself a fan of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, it's impossible to not judge them in comparison to The Dandy Warhols (an all-time favorite band of mine) thanks to DiG! from nearly a decade ago. The fact that The Brian Jonestown Massacre is effectively doing The Dandy Warhols better than the Dandys as of late is an irony not lost on many, I suspect. With that said, this album is good, albeit flawed. When the songs are on point, they're very catchy and worthwhile. There are a number of interlude-style meanderings throughout, however, that might have made for a tighter record had they been dropped or reduced. Still, a decent release.

The Fault in Our Stars Soundtrack: The movies based on young adult books have continued to kill it over the last few years, although The Fault in Our Stars has more of a Garden State-y feel on its soundtrack than what we've come to expect from the Hunger Games/Twilight soundtracks of late. Everyone is losing it over the Charli XCX track, but the album is actually probably going to be a surprise for many who check it out. Also, read the book. Just do it.

Jolie Holland - Wine Dark Sea: I won't pretend that Jolie Holland is for everyone. Her music can be abrasive, difficult, unpredictable, but that's why I generally enjoy her. Wine Dark Sea is no different in this regard, with some memorable pieces alongside some different stuff along the way. I recommend everyone give her a shot, at the very least, but I don't assume for a moment that it will be your cup of tea, just that you'll love it if it is.

Alana Amram and the Rough Gems - Spring River: I had never heard of Alana Amram prior to today, and her album was a very pleasant surprise. At times reminiscent of the best of Gillian Welch, the album is a traditionally rootsy folk-country album, and not in the Sturgill Simpson way. If you like a little twang in your music, this is absolutely something you need to seek out, it's quite good.

Emma Ruth Rundle - Some Heavy Ocean: Emma Ruth Rundle's new album continues along the line of the ethereal, chamber-like folk music that got me interested in her to start. The new album is appropriately interesting and dark, and really held my interest in a lot of parts. Definitely worth a listen if you're into Marissa Nadler and the like.

Devo - Something Else for Everybody: The story behind Devo's Something for Everybody involves focus groups and a long process to get the album out. This compilation is from the rest of those sessions, and feels like it in some places, but not other. Devo's not as weird as you remember them, but I wouldn't recommend this without listening to Something for Everybody first.

Haley Bonar - Last War: I'm a recent convert to Haley Bonar, and this album is great. It rocks in a lot of places, it knows the highs and lows of an album very well, and it feels like a very complete, albeit short, effort. In a sense I've saved the best for last this week, as this is really a must-listen album. If you have an interest in the sort of indie rock singer/songwriter efforts, definitely give this one a listen, but this is really worth a listen no matter what.

Also out this week:

* Coldplay - Ghost Stories
* R.E.M. - The Complete Warner Bros. Rarities 1988-2011
* R.E.M. - The Complete I.R.S. Rarities 1982-1987

Friday, May 16, 2014

Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys, Middle East, Cambridge, MA 5/9/14

Ever since they opened the Nines Festival last year, I've been trying to get out to an actual Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys show. They just seemed like the kind of band you need to see on their own, not just opening a large outdoor festival at 1:00 pm in the bright sunlight. Last Friday night, everything finally worked out and I headed out to the Middle East to see them in a headlining slot.

Seeing the Army of Broken Toys in a Friday night opening slot is a completely different experience. Their blend of folk/punk/gypsy/burlesque/hard rock needs to be seen late at night in a dark club. And I have to say, they rock far harder than you could imagine a band could with a frontman that stays seated the entire time. At The Nines, they confused at least half the crowd, but the Middle East was packed with converts. Opening with the frenzy of "Devil's In the Details," they tore through a set consisting mostly of tracks off Soft Time Traveler. Even slower tracks like "Pornival" have a new energy and life live. A highlight had to be when the band was joined by Mali Sastri on backing vocals. Her voice is fantastically otherworldly and added such an amazing feeling to the band. Closing their main set with their ode to the apocalypse, "28 Days," left the crowd desperate for more. They came back for two encores: Their covers of "Paint It Black" and "Ghostbusters."

No review of a Walter Sickert show can leave out mentioning the burlesque performers. Each song featured different dancers, routines, costumes, etc., and just brought such a great element to the entire evening. Instead of just go-go dancers you would see at a Rob Zombie show, the ladies that joined the Army of Broken Toys were true artists in their own right, even bringing a touch of creepy sexuality to a new song about The Shining.

For more information on Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys, check out their website. You can download their music on their Bandcamp page. If you happen to be in the Boston area, they are playing again at TT the Bear's on June 27.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for May 13

This week's new release slate is really all over the place.

Mirah - Changing Light: I'm embarrassed to admit that my first reason for listening to Mirah back whenever I first heard of her was because I thought she was the artist Nick Hornby constantly wrote about. Not only is that a questionable reason to get into a band, but he was also writing about Marah with an A, not Mirah with an I. Regardless, I never thought much of it again until her 2009 album (a)spera, which was a beautifully haunting melodic piece from start to finish. Changing Light shifts gears a bit for her on a whole, being more raw and straightforward without losing a lot of the tone that we've gotten used to with her. Whether this album will have the staying power for me that (a)spera had remains to be seen, but it's certainly the best release of this week, one of the more interesting listens of recent releases, and worth a try for you.

I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson: I've traditionally struggled with Wes Anderson's movies, even though he has had some excellent musical choices in the films I've seen. This tribute album has a variety of indie favorites covering songs from Wes Anderson movies, and as a basic cover album it's got a lot going for it. I'm sure if I had any attachment to the films the songs were in, I'd feel even better about it. Definitely worth a listen.

Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: My most anticipated release this week, Sturgill Simpson has been bunched in somewhat with the "outlaw country" movement going right now, but I'm not sure if he fits. Thematically, yeah, he's operating elsewhere, but the result of this album is a country album that feels very traditional in spite of its outsiderness. If you're looking for a companion piece to Lydia Loveless, you're coming to the wrong place, but if you think country music should sound more like what the radio was playing 50 years ago, you'll probably love this album. It's a solid piece of work, it just didn't work for me.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn: If you like women who can rock it out, La Sera's latest album will be right down your alley. I've been a fan since her last album, and I hesitate to call it more of the same as there is a definite tonal shift of sorts, but in terms of a quick hit, often-aggressive rock album, you can't really go wrong.

Swans - To Be Kind: Even with 13 albums under their belt, To Be Kind is my first real, remembered exposure to Swans. Clocking in a two hours, it doesn't feel like it lingers, but it also doesn't really feel like something I might actually reach for and want to hear again. At this point, you probably know if you like Swans, and if you're looking for an entrypoint this probably isn't a bad one. You might just want to look into other releases from them first.

Hallelujah the Hills - Have You Ever Done Something Evil?: I'm not too familiar with Hallelujah the Hills. A somewhat popular Boston-based indie band, their latest album is brash and loud while also being fairly melodic. They definitely have a loud indie pop sensibility to them, this is definitely worth a listen if you're in the Boston area, and worth your time even if you're not.

Joseph Arthur - Lou: Joseph Arthur's latest album is a tribute to Lou Reed. It doesn't do anything new to the songs on a whole while avoiding what makes Joseph Arthur an interesting musician anyway. Skip it.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Days of Abandon: Easily the most disappointing new release of recent weeks for me, while I enjoyed the fuzzed out rock of their previous albums, the new album is much quieter and much more boring as a result. While some might find enjoyment in this if they're unfamiliar with their previous work, I can't recommend to existing fans.

Michael Jackson - Xscape: I suppose it's impossible to not do a new release post without noting the existence of a new Michael Jackson album. I didn't listen to his previous posthumous release, and it's difficult to judge this as an album given that Jackson has been dead for five years and there's little chance that these songs come close to what he would consider album ready or even contextually right, and then there's the whole issue of Michael Jackson the man... I don't know. Solely, from a musical standpoint, it feels old and dated. Fans might like it, I did not.

Tori Amos - Unrepentant Geraldines: I have a friend who ranted on Twitter a while back about the status of Tori Amos in regards to her musical legacy. There were a lot of thoughts, both personal and political, as to why she felt that way, but I've always kind of felt like she hasn't done anything both interesting and enjoyable since To Venus and Back 15-odd years ago. Unreptentant Geraldines sounds like a Tori Amos album. If you think that's a good thing, you'll enjoy it. If your reaction was more of a surprise she's still making music, this might not work for you. This isn't a knock against her or the album, which seems perfectly fine, it's more just that what you see is what you get on this one, for better or for worse.

Also out this week:

* The Black Keys - Turn Blue

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sizzy Rocket Releases Feminist Response to Beastie Boys' "Girls"

Sizzy Rocket just released a cover/parody of the Beastie Boys' 1986 hit "Girls." Her version is much slower paced, in a more modern electro-pop style, and it's also a whole lot more feminist. With lyrics like "They like the way that we walk / But they don't wanna hear us talk" and "But they have no idea / The pressure that we feel." 

I completely understand the sentiment, but the song is almost 30 years old. Between this and the GoldieBlox parody/rip off of the song, there seems to be this newfound focus on the misogynistic lyrics. This feels odd, because the song is older than the people complaining about it. It was meant as a joke, but once the Beastie Boys realized people were taking it seriously they completely disavowed the song and never performed it live. Later songs contained lyrics like "I want to say a little something that's long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end." It's not like there aren't current targets begging for feminist parodies, such as "Blurred Lines" or the entire Odd Futures catalog. Maybe it's because current female singers aren't afraid to insult their parent's generation of musicians, but don't want to alienate their peer's fan base or lose out on doing background vocals in the future.

I completely agree with the sentiment, but let's get a more appropriate target.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for May 6

I can't tell you how good it feels to have a week jam-packed with new releases AND have them all be high-quality releases from top to bottom. Everyone can find a winner from this week's offerings.

Andrew Jackson Jihad - Christmas Island: I'm a fairly recent convert to Andrew Jackson Jihad, a band that combines the melodic/instrumental sensibilities of The Mountain Goats with the best irreverent parts of the anti-folk movement. Christmas Island is their fifth album, and it's certainly their most ambitious from a musical level with a lot of the same craziness of their previous. Leadoff track and single "Temple Grandin" is a fuzzed out blast, and the album continues along a bit of a madcap vein throughout. I fully recognize that this band isn't for everyone (my wife in particular is displeased with them in general), but if this is truly your thing, you're in for a treat.

Fujiya and Miyagi - Artificial Sweeteners: I first heard Fujiya and Miyagi on satellite radio back when I first got it. Their understated, oddball electronic dance music from Transparent Things was just a ton of fun, and a lot of Lightbulbs was just as good. I felt their follow-up, Ventriloquizzing, was a miss, but the newest album is very much a return to form. A lot of fun, danceable tracks to go along with some smart songwriting, it really does the job from start to finish. "Acid to My Alkaline" in particular is a standout track, but the whole thing is worth a listen.

Liam Finn - The Nihilist: Liam Finn (yes, the son of Neil Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz) is back with his third album. I'll Be Lightning was in rotation for me long after it really ended its shelf life, and I enjoyed The Nihilist in spite of it not having any songs that initially jumped out at me. I've found that Finn is exceptional at setting good moods for his albums, and this one is no different. It's not as if I can place anything specific from it, but it really deserves a listen as one of the good releases from this week.

Nikki Lane - All or Nothin': Nikki Lane is often bunched in with the so-called "outlaw country" subgenre, which really just comes across as rootsy alt-country for me. Regardless, her song "Walk of Shame" got me on board, and her new album really continues the sort of twang I love to hear. Another solid effort from start to finish, the album does a good job with balancing out the sounds, and even standout tracks like "Seein' Double" do a little bit of songwriting experimentation without throwing everything out of order. Definitely a solid release.

Lily Allen - Sheezus: Outside of the internet arguments Lily Allen has a tendency to encounter, I do get the feeling that, at least in the United States, Lily Allen is an acquired taste of sorts. For me, I love it. I think she's witty, I think her music is fun, and she strikes just the right balance for me. I loved her second album, and the rumors of her getting out of music entirely were not happy ones for me on a whole, but she's back with Sheezus, part social commentary, part feminist anthem, part great pop album. When the lead single, "Hard Out Here," tends to be the least memorable track on a whole, you know you're in for something special. I fully and completely love this album, and you might/should too.

Lykke Li - I Never Learn: Lykke Li is a bit of a musical chameleon. As a standard point, she does the sort of darker electronic pop quiet well, but her previous album was a bit of a breakout. I Never Learn is a much slower paced, much more deliberate affair. What it gives up in significant singles it trades in favor of a solid cohesive effort. If you've enjoyed her singles more than the rest of her music, you might struggle with this, but if something more straightforward and thematically consistent is your thing, this album is worth hearing.

tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack: I'm decidedly not a fan of tUne-yArDs, but in the interests of this weekly post I felt it right to give this a listen, and I was very surprised. Is it still weird? Yes. Is it weird in the way that I really couldn't find a ton to like from the prior albums? No. It's actually fairly melodic and more accessible than previous efforts without betraying why people like what got tUnE-yArDs on the radar to begin with. Still not for everyone, certainly, but it is more than good enough where I want to listen to this again and see if the back catalog is of more interest now. Well done.

The Horrors - Luminous: I was told to listen to The Horrors some time ago, and I liked the sort of dark, out-of-the-1980s atmosphere the album provided. The new album builds on that idea, adding some dance elements to it and providing another strong start-to-finish effort. It's sort of like if Editors met Depeche Mode, if that makes sense. Worth a listen.

Elephant - Sky Swimming: This is the debut album from a duo that met one night, recorded some music, became a couple that fell apart during the recording, and have released the result. It's more understated than you'd think, but in terms of quieter singer-songwriter-style affairs that tend to tell a complete story, this one ends up being more than just a curiosity. Not for everyone, but it's deserving of a listen.

Paws - Youth Culture Forever: Both Ken and I loved the debut of Paws, Cokefloat, a fuzzed-out throwback to early 1990s alt-rock. The follow-up is a little more straightforward and perhaps a little experimental. It's not as catchy from start to finish, but it has a lot of good moments. Perhaps the best is actually the long final track that shows a lot of promise for a band that is probably still searching for its sound a bit.

Also out this week:

* Papercuts - Life Among the Savages

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wayne Kramer Has the Greatest Pledgemusic Ever

Wayne Kramer recently released Lexington, his foray into jazz recording. If you haven't heard the album yet, take time to listen. It brings the spirit of the MC5 into the realm of free jazz. Wayne's looking to tour behind the album, and to raise money for touring, he's decided to sell off some of his memorabilia that has been sitting in storage for years. Beyond the typical $10 album download, he's offering autographed bobble heads, promo photos of the MC5, vintage posters, rare t-shirts, private concerts, and more. He's even selling an autographed mug shot and posters from an MC5/Iggy & the Stooges 2007 French show. Quantities are extremely limited (most have 5 or less items available) so you'll want to check it out ASAP. A portion of all pledges will also go to Jail Guitar Doors, the charity he founded with Billy Bragg to bring guitars to prisoners to help aid rehabilitation. 

You can check out Wayne Kramer's Pledgemusic campaign here. To find out more about Jail Guitar Doors, you can find their website here.

"Chasing A Fire Engine" from Wayne Kramer's upcoming full-length album LEXINGTON from Clint Ratliff on Vimeo.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Freebie: Foxy Shazam - GONZO

Foxy Shazam has kind of taken ahold of the whole glam rock thing for me, and their new album is a little different than what we're used to, but it's free, right? You can download it at their Bandcamp site, and maybe you'll find something to like here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Download Tom Morello's "Union Town EP" for Free on May Day

Since today is May Day, Tom Morello has decided to let you download his "Union Town EP" for free. I was skeptical when I first heard he was going to release acoustic singer/songwriter material under the name The Nightwatchman, but it's been shockingly good. Plus, throw in three stellar Newport Folk Festival appearances and I've become an obsessed fan. Here is Morello's statement about the EP:

Here is my Union Town EP available for free download this May Day. This record is dedicated to working people of every nationality, age, color, and religion who have the courage to stand up for justice and dignity in the workplace...and beyond. Enjoy the tunes and fight the power!
In Solidarity,
Tom Morello

To get your copy of "Union Town EP," head on over to For more information on all things Tom Morello, check out his website.