Friday, August 30, 2013

Happy Friday! Listen to demo version of "Serpents" by Sharon Van Etten

Spotify posted the deluxe edition of Sharon Van Etten's excellent album Tramp from last year. The album has both remastered original versions and demo versions of all 12 songs (with one bonus demo).  Demos are demos for a reason, but "Serpents" was always my favorite track from the original album and the demo is heartbreaking and raw.  Check it out below. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Tunes Reviews, August 27: Belle & Sebastian, The Dodos, Dent May, & Franz Ferdinand

Belle & Sebastian: The Third Eye Centre (thelineofbestfit)
Belle & Sebastian, The Third Eye Centre, presents whimsy, front and center. This album of B-Sides and rarities from Dear Catastrophe Waitress to Write About Love does contain a few memorable tracks, like "Suicide Girl." Other songs are b-sides for a reason.  There are even some electronic remixes, which is not something I expect from B&S. "Your Secret" calls out being "introspective to a fault." I suspect every B&S fan experienced that once or twice in their life.  Lyrics like that are what is most enjoyable about this band.

The Dodos: Carrier (Pitchfork)
The Dodos released their latest album, Carrier, the follow-up to No Color, an excellent album from 2011. The album starts off slow. Vocally and musically, the opening track "Transformer" reminded me of a Minus the Bear song. This track flows right into "Substance." That track features their signature drum beats once the chorus hits. Overall, I find this band very interesting and this album is definitely an enjoyable release.  

Dent May's Warm Blanket was released this week. The opening track "Turn Up the Speakers" orders you to pay attention and I kindly obliged. The musicality is complicated but the lyrics are very accessible.  Like in "Born too Late," Dent May sings "Am I lonely just because?/ Now I'm learning that I was."  I think the days of weirdly absurd lyrics are over.  This is practical but never boring.  Every title conveys the song's subject matter clearly and succinctly. 

Overall, its like a mix of surf-folk, New-Wave, and dance-pop. But the execution is more modern. But I'd recommend this one. It definitely stirred my interest in Dent May's other releases. 

Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts... (Amazon)Remember Franz Ferdinand and that song "Take Me Out" was everywhere 10 years ago (holy crap!).  Well, they released a new album this week entitled Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions.  The special edition (the only one available on Spotify) clocks in at 23 tracks, 13 of which are live recordings.  This threw me off immediately. Why release an album 10 years after your last successful album with 13 live tracks to songs that no one knows (yet)? 

Anyway, this album is pretty catchy.  It was in the background and definitely caught my ear.  It is the kind of thing where you start subconsciously foot-tapping along. "Evil Eye" is basically INXS's "Need You Tonight."  Based on a limited knowledge of this band (beyond the 2003 single), I found this to be a solid nod to 80s new-wave. The album as a whole does not necessarily introduce anything new but it was enjoyable.  

Also, NPR spotlights new albums from The Julie Ruin, Okkervil River, and Neko Case this week on First Listen.  I listened to all three and The Julie Ruin's Run Fast stuck out.  A band fronted by Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre and Bikini Kill, this is a 90s riot grrrrl album for the 2000s. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Tunes Reviews, August 20: Laura Veirs, Crocodiles, Kurt Braunohler, Superchunk, and more

Laura Veirs released an album called Warp & Weft this week.  As a fellow glasses-wearing-girl, I always appreciate her smart lyrics and old-worldy style.  There is something very retro about the way she sings and constructs songs.  This is another strong album from her. It has a lot of heart and takes her normal sound a step further with more complicated instruments.  It is a great follow-up to 2011's Tumble Bee, an album full of originals and a bunch of folk song covers many of us (or just me) grew up with.  

Crocodiles are a San Diego-based band, often mentioned in the same breath as Dum Dum Girls and Wavves.  On their latest album, Crimes and Passions, the melodies are catchy and there are elements of both rocking distortion and breezy harmonies.  I especially enjoyed the two opening tracks, "Marquis De Sade" and "I Like It In the Dark," as well. The last track, "Un Chant D'amour," is definitely a stand-out.  It takes the listener out of the noise-pop aesthetic into a new tone of quiet guitars and muted vocals.  It is one of the strongest outro sounds I've heard in recent memory. 

On the comedy front, Kurt Braunohler called How Do I Land? Having seen Braunohler perform two New Years in a row (and being a fan of Bunk), I was looking forward to this release.  Spotify only previewed 6 tracks. Out of that small sample (& my previous experience with his stand-up), I believe he is a comedian to watch. I recommend "Three Fun Things" and "Chat Pack." 

The new Braids album, Flourish // Perish, is no doubt a buzzy release, but the psychedelic electro-indie scene is over-saturated with similar releases that I think I'll just stick to last year's Grimes' release. 

No Age is an experimental-punk band on Sub Pop. Their new release, An Object, is gritty. It reminds me of earlier releases by Japandriods, but a little less accessible.  The grit-punk genre never appealed to me much, but its an album worth a listen if you are into that.

I Hate Music, the new album from Superchunk, is very good.  It is an impressive release from this consistently great band and features some of the catchiest songs of the year. "Overflows" and "What Can We Do" are reminiscent of Portastaic songs.  Other songs "Me and You and Jackie Mittoo," "Trees of Barcelona," "Your Theme," and "FOH" are upbeat songs. Overall, I highly recommend it. It will be stuck in your head for days.

(Editor's Note: We are planning a post that will highlight bands who started in the same era as Superchunk - like Guided By Voices and Yo La Tengo - and are currently releasing some of noteworthy material).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Tunes Reviews, August 13: Yellowcard, The Wild Feathers, Washed Out

Continuing the trend of nostalgia-laced albums, Yellowcard released Ocean Avenue Acoustic this week. This is song-for-song re-do of their classic album from 2003. Because I did not remember the original release all that well, I put each track side-by-side in my queue to compare.  

Overall, these two recordings are pretty similar. Yellowcard was an acoustic(y) band to begin with so this "stripped-down" production really isn't anything new. As a whole, it isn't as much re-imagination as Taking Back Sunday's Tell All Your Friends Acoustic from earlier this year. In general, I think if a band is going to do this type of release, take chances! Do something different! Some of the instruments are deconstructed once you reach the chorus, like in "Breathing," and as expected, "Ocean Avenue" and "Empty Apartment" are all great. The guitar and violin-style in "View from Heaven" makes the track seem as a country song. 

(Random thought: If Yellowcard embraced the finger-picking violin and guitar tone used in this song on future albums, they would probably be lumped in with successful bands like Mumford & Sons and Lumineers. Was this is the plan all along?!) 

Final thought: I enjoyed this album more than the original.  It is more refined. It seems they took away all of those frivolous parts and just kept the essential pieces. 

Chill-wave never really appealed to me as a genre. But when I saw that Washed Out released a new album, I decided to give it a chance. This album, Paracosm, is in-line with the basic elements of chill-wave: lo-fi with looping effects.
washed out - paracosm

Another noticeably summer-time album, it captures the pool-party/drugged-up aesthetic with melodies and whimsical tones. One reviewer hypothesized that albums like this are a direct response to this generation's float-along, paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. To me, it feels like background music. I can imagine situations where this album may be a good soundtrack. It wasn't bad. It just wasn't anything exciting. 

No doubt Paracosm will be considered for Album of the Year honors, though. 

Wild Feathers
The Wild Feathers was my stand-out of the week.  This Nashville alt-country band released a very strong self-titled album that reminds me of Lucero and Jason Isbell. With multi-layered instrumentals and harmonies, the songs do not feel tired.  If you are a fan of accessible alt-country with robust lyrics and good musicianship, check out this album (especially "The Ceiling" and "Hard Times). The Wild Feathers are definitely one to watch. 

Also, Rilo Kiley's rkives (released in April) is finally on Spotify! I was charmed by many of the tracks, including "Bury, Bury, Bury Another" and "Let Me Back In."  The album, which was described as a b-side record, also includes "The Frug" (from Initial Friend EP) and "Emotional" (originally from "The Execution of All Things" single). 

Next week, Superchunk's I Hate Music comes out.  NPR featured this album on First Listen. I took a listen yesterday and it is very catchy, especially the opening track. I will most definitely post a full review for its official release date. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

10 Years Later: The Long Winters' When I Pretend to Fall

I received a email from Barsuk Records about their 15th anniversary. They announced a bunch of special shows at landmark venues around Seattle featuring some of their landmark bands, including Nada Surf, Mates of State, David Bazan, Rocky Votolato, The Long Winters, and Death Cab for Cutie.

As the email pointed out, The Long Winters' When I Pretend to Fall is 10 years old. This got me thinking about how excellent this album is. 

Yes, this album came out in 2003 but I was not aware of it until a few years later. As a someone who listed to a lot of pop-punk in those days, I was constantly yearning for something a little more adult as I completed my first years of college. I wanted smart, fun and emotionally-aware music to soundtrack my walks to class and study sessions. 

When I first heard this album something just clicked. It has a lot of those pop-punk sensibilities I loved but took the aesthetic a bit further.  As with a lot of Seattle indie-rock, The Long Winters are a smart band with smart lyrics. Their songs are built around common emotions and experiences.  Their albums touch upon alienation, love, and introspection. John Roderick is consistently one of the funniest men in indie-rock (along with Jon Wurster, of course) and as a result, here is something so enchanting about the songwriting method and instrument style. 

The album begins in a typical way.  "Blue Diamonds" is a song where the slow drums and vocals rein supreme. As the song continues, more elements enter the song (including back-up vocals and some other brass instrument).  

There is that accessibility built into the songs, like on "Shapes,"  Roderick sings "Secrets/ Secrets/ Damn your secrets!"  "Cinnamon" explores being in-love and is followed up "Bride and Bridle," which seems to be about being strapped down and feeling anxious.  

There is an acoustic song about being careless and free ("It'll Be a Breeze"), followed by "Stupid," a song about being wrapped up in another and taking chances. 

(I just realized Sean Nelson from Harvey Danger does back-up vocals on this track! Note: he is a former member of TLW, with other well-knowns

"The Sound of Coming Down" is a sad song about (relationship?) decline. The instrumentation and harmonies slowly draw you into acceptance; sometimes things deteriorate and you need to accept it and move on.

The Long Winters use energetic harmonies.  This is especially apparent in "New Girl" where "No You are!" is repeated in the background of song.  It feels like a sing-along that I would love to be part of. 

"Prom Night at Hater High" is a delightful jaunt full of parody that seems to be about going back to your hometown to find that you don't understand anyone anymore.  Who hasn't felt alienation when being in the presence of hometown heroes? He seems like a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. In an increasingly humorless world, this attitude is quite refreshing.  My favorite part was always: "So won't you quit talking down to your girlfriend/ Oh, I see, you're not fighting, you're flirting/ Well I hope it's exciting." One cannot listen to this without imaging Roderick's gap-teethed smirk. 

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This album was followed by Ultimatum EP and Putting the Days to Bed, an LP that seemed like an attempt at mainstream. The former featured two version of "Ultimatum" including a finger-picking version that is great. The latter had some great tracks, including a song that got played on some NPR called "Fire Island, AK" and one of the catchiest opening tracks ever ("Pushover"). 

I always feel like this band doesn't get the recognition that they deserve. Maybe it has to do with the fact that The Long Winters haven't released an album since 2006 (even though Roderick claims one is coming soon-ish).  

If you are a fan of smart indie-rock, I'd suggest checking out this band.  The themes continue to resonate and with each listen, I feel refreshed and eager for some new material.  

But if there isn't new material, I am perfectly happy with these three albums and one EP that have held up for 10 years and will probably hold up for at least 10 more. 

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Here is a video from 2012, where John Roderick preforms "Prom Night at Hater High" at the Showbox.  It has a little bit of his signature banter and acoustic guitar picking.  

Check out Roderick On the Line, a weekly comedic podcast featuring Roderick and Merlin Mann talking about stuff on the phone. 

He also has a very funny twitter (@JohnRoderick), where he shares musings about life and often converses with his friends (who happen to be John Hodgman and others)

Earlier this year, he wrote a piece for Seattle Daily entitled Punk Rock is Bullshit.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Tunes Reviews, August 6: The Civil Wars, Polyphonic Spree, Jake Bellows, and more

There were some notable releases this week. I was most excited for The Civil Wars' self titled album. I also was looking forward to the Explosions in the Sky collaboration for the Prince Avalanche soundtrack but it wasn't on Spotify. 

Here are the reviewed albums: 
The Civil Wars self titled
Polyphonic Spree Yes It's True
Jake Bellows New Ocean
Longlost Save Yourself, Start Again

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For those who don't know, this album comes after the recent disillusion  of collaboration between Joy Williams and John Paul White. In general, there is something so dreamy about The Civil Wars. It may be the way Williams' voice flows through the melodies or White's quiet yet powerful instrumentals and backup vocals.  On this self-titled album, the sadness comes through in each of the tracks. The title of the single, "The One That Got Away," is just a preview of the heartbreak and disappointment that plagues the release. "From the Valley" and "Oh Henry" are two high points. I wonder where this group of songs will stand up next to
 Barton Hollow, which is one of my favorite albums of 2011. 

In addition, the test will be what follow this release.  Now that the duo has they broke up as a band, what will they do next? I wonder what each of these solo-projects will sound like. Are these two individuals an example of the "better together" theory?  

Note: If you like these type of vocals but are feeling a lusher and more upbeat sound, check out Mount Moriah. This Merge band just released a great new album called Miracle Temple. 

Talk about a band that just has too many members! The Polyphonic Spree's extensive membership of flute, piano, cello, trombone, keyboards, and more really plays into the lusciousness of their sound. Since I recently started listening to The Flaming Lips, I noticed that many of the songs on Yes It's True seem like a nod to the FLips, especially "Carefully Try" and "Blurry Up the Lines."  As of now, I enjoyed the album. It had that baroque and dreamy quality that one would expect from this band. But as with every Polyphonic Spree album, I ask myself, "Would I go back to this album?"  The gimmick of baroque-style and multi-instrumentation is something I rarely am in the mood for. If you are a fan of Beirut, check out this album. It feels very similar.  I'd rather listen to the Flaming Lips, personally. 

Jake Bellows, former member of Saddle Creek band Neva Dinova, released his first solo album this week, called New Ocean.  In general, Saddle Creek bands are known for that lower Midwest folk-y song.  This album has the usual twang and Bellows' has obviously strong songwriting skills. Overall, I liked the album. It satisfied my propensity towards male singer-songwriters. I am interested to hear more.

I never heard of Longlost but New Music Tuesday is a great opportunity for discovering the unknown. When I saw this album on Largehearted Boy's list, I clicked through because I was intrigued by the album's name (Save Yourself, Start Again). The Amazon page described the debut album from this Boston band, recently signed to No Sleep Records, as "upbeat power-pop to solemn folk, which any fans of bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Circa Survive, Maps & Atlases and Rilo Kiley will undoubtedly adore." 

As a fan of DCFC and Rilo Kiley, I gave this album a chance and it is as advertised. It has that pop-punk sound popular in the early 2000s. The title track reminds me of an early Starting Line song. Most of the other tracks have that Armor for Sleep quality with the harmonies and breakdowns. XM's AltNation would play these songs on repeat. I wish that this band was around during the early 2000s. But then again Longlost would probably just have gotten lost in the mass of similar bands that existed during that time. If you are interested in hearing what is current in the pop-punk scene, I'd recommend this album. It was an enjoyable journey back into long-lost music preferences. 

[editor's note: an update was made on 8/6 to reflect an incorrect characterization of the relationship between members of The Civil Wars and some additional thoughts on that album were added.]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Club Is No Longer Open: Memories of Maxwell's

[The following is a guest post from Christopher Harris.  As a native New Jerseyian and an indie-rock fan since the early days, he has a special attachment to Maxwell's and everything it represents. He shared his thoughts below.]

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Today is August 1, 2013 which means that Maxwell's is officially closed.  Recently we've been bombarded with articles about the closing and history of the now legendary Hoboken bar and restaurant.  I still have yet to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to see another band in what is considered to be one of the best clubs in the NYC area.  I thought I'd talk a little about the best show I ever saw there, Guided By Voices on December 30, 2010.

I have been to Maxwell's more times than I can count at this point.  I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs and missed out on City Gardens (which closed in the 90s).  When I was in high school, Asbury Park's The Stone Pony closed for a few years. Unless you wanted to see cover bands or travel to New York or Philly to catch a band, we were only left with Birch Hill to see live bands (until it closed in the early 2000s).  

I discovered Maxwell's in college when I heard that Yo La Tengo was going to be doing eight shows for Hanukkah. I ventured from NYC to Washington Street and 11th Street for the first time.  I got way too drunk and really don't remember much about the show except that it was a really cool venue.

Fast forward to 2010: the year of 90's indie rock reunions.  That fall, I had seen Superchunk, Pavement and Guided by Voices within a few weeks of each other.  The Guided By Voices show was at Terminal 5 which has a reputation for being one of the worst music venues in New York City and I left very disappointed.  I had seen GBV twice before they broke up and they sounded pretty bad on this reunion. But I figured it was the venue, not the band.  

A few weeks later, the band announced a New Years Eve show at Irving Plaza. I already had plans for that night so I had to skip this show.  Days before the show was to take place, they announced a warm up show at Maxwell's the night before and I knew I had to go.  I have never before (or after) spent as much for two tickets to a club show then for this one but it was absolutely worth it.  

[image by Christopher Harris]When you charge $85 per ticket for a bar with a 200 person capacity you are pretty much going to guarantee that only the biggest fans show up and that they did.  

I started off in the way back of the room but somehow was pushed into the very front by the end of the night.  They played for hours, only the classic era material. Every single person in the room was hammered as they sang the words to every single song. It was probably the most respectful crowd I have ever encountered.  If anyone had their phones out, they were mindful of those fans around them as to not disrupt the line of vision straight to the band. I have not seen this type of respect ever before or anytime since.   

I've gone to many other Guided By Voices shows and many shows at Maxwell's since but none have compared to that night.  The venue may move to Jersey City but who knows if it will be the same.  Brooklyn is where you have to see bands now. But for a while, New Jersey had a unique place that wasn't filled with memories of Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi and for that I thank everyone that helped make Maxwell's what it was.