Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Thoughts on early January

Guided by Voices — Let’s Go Eat The Factory

A rather busy end to 2011 and start to 2012 saw me miss what I thought would be a lot, but it turned out that I was just late to my first listen to the new Guided by Voices record.

Wait, what?

I shouldn’t be surprised.* When I saw GBV at Matador at 21 — you know, that concert that was supposedly their only reunion show that turned into a full-fledged tour — they looked, well, happy. And really happy at that. None of the infighting (oh, Pavement…) and just some good old-fashioned rock music. Well, if old-fashioned means 1990s indie rock, then that. Otherwise, I retract my statement. At any rate, I also shouldn’t be surprised that they’re planning to release three albums in 2012. End of the world my ass.

But this — well, this is good, I think. A few tracks in and there’s nothing hugely surprising yet. Let’s Go Eat the Factory isn’t the polished pop-rock heard on soundtracks to mid-2000s television series (hey, I like that stuff sometimes, no hard feelings!) and it’s not exactly the fuzzy nonsense of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. No, it’s somewhere in-between, and I can’t place my finger on where that really is. That’s kind of nice, actually — we already have those albums to listen to whenever we want, and another just like it — well, that’s a bit much. Or, you know, something like that. Honestly, I wouldn’t actually have complained at first.

Wait, what’s this piano doing in here? “Spider Fighter” … nice vocals. It’s different. It’s… nice. Respectable. Why? Maybe it’s Robert Pollard’s Surprise Symphony. No, wait — it’s Tobin Sprout. Maybe that explains it. I really should listen to those two Tobin Sprout solo albums again.

Yeah, it’s all here. The oddball songs, the slowdowns at the end of tracks that just sing GBV, the overtly cut-short writing, and, of course, those attempts that really don’t come off but somehow made the album anyway. All those things that made the band a cult classic. I’d wonder if it was a forced thing, but I won’t complain either way.

Shit, wait. There’s a song called “How I Met My Mother”? It’s probably just a nice little shout after the repeated use of Guided by Voices tracks in How I Met Your Mother. Oh, and it’s a minute long. Plus two seconds. Maybe five seconds of that is guitar noise at the end though. Well, that’s weird and a bit cool.

So, yeah. This is classic Guided by Voices — to a point. It’s not obnoxiously classic, and it’s not just a weird throwback album. Or maybe it is, I don’t know.

Whatever it is, I think I like it.

* I’m not actually surprised. I already knew it was coming out long before today. But at some point, I was surprised and that’s what matters. I hope.

 

Nada Surf — The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

Onward and upward — and onward to The Binding of Isaac, which is my favorite game of 2011. Now, of course, I didn’t play it until January 2012, but you’ll hopefully forgive me for some delay there. But relevant to this piece is the album I’ve opted for: Nada Surf’s latest. Sure, everyone’s going to say something about “Popular” while completely ignoring the four very good albums that came after High/Low — and then declare that they’re mounting some sort of brave comeback with their last two albums. Yeah, If I Had a Hi-Fi is good — but so too was Let Go and The Weight is a Gift.

But I guess that’s water under the bridge, isn’t it? OK, so The Stars… is good. I’ll have to listen to it a few more times. In the mean time, I suppose I’ll watch the end of the U.S. Women’s National Team demolition of the Dominican Republic. 14-0, seriously?

Still, this Nada Surf album is a nice one, and I’m sure it’ll hold up to repeated listens without much controversy. They’re a band I keep coming back to because of their consistency, so to see that continue is quite nice indeed.

 

Diagrams — Black Light

Right, on to the point where I listen to new things and play video games or, well, something. I’d read some Quine but I suspect I’d fall asleep.

I’d not heard Diagrams before this (as, I suspect, is the case for most people — it’s Sam Genders, formerly of Tunng) but a first listen reveals some poppy shambles. Good lord, it’s fun, and I suspect I’ve already got a song or two stuck in my head. There’s nothing quite like British experimental pop, is there? Juan over at No Ripcord (where I also write, though perhaps not as often as I should) called it “an album of brainy arrangements and palatable textural work.” He’s right, of course. http://www.noripcord.com/reviews/music/diagrams/black-light

Hell, I’ll say it: It’s sometimes downright proggy. And I like that.

Strange Finds: Sesame Disco! (1979)

Yeah, that's the cover.

Sometimes, during that ever-so-regular search for something rare and interesting in the bargain bins of thrift stores and consignment shops, you run across a record that gives you pause for thought — something so bizarre that you can’t much pass it up. Sometimes, it’s Peter and Wolf with David Bowie doing narration. Other times, it’s a spoken word record with presidential speeches. Few can top, though, the strange 1979 recording of Sesame Disco.

It’s an album that includes such, uh, hits as “I Lost Me Cookie in the Disco” (“…and me got careless, me don’t know how, and me have something me can’t find now…”) and the inimitable “Bein’ Green” in a strange disco mode.

[soundcloud]http://soundcloud.com/sesamestreetmusic/doin-the-trash[/soundcloud]

Imagine, if you will, the sounds of singing Muppets, female backups, and that predictably bouncy disco sound. Bizarre, right? It won’t come close to how absolutely weird this is. Hell, the album art alone is worth the inevitably low cost of this album. The sight of Grover thrusting forward as he does the hustle, or Ernie with a gold chain around his neck and a white turtleneck, or Cookie Monster with his shirt open wide? Why, that’s all I needed! The addition of Oscar, The Count, Big Bird, Herry Monster, and a young muppet girl with pigtails (Prairie Dawn, is that you?) — why, it’s icing on the cake. Oh, and you mustn’t forget that there’s a sandwich board advertising the special guest star: Kermit the Frog! The gatefold also shows some of the Muppets with children. That’s sort of weird. And if you couldn’t get enough of the front, why, it’s repeated on the back, only, you know, smaller. It’s a weird one.

Sure, this was a novelty record for kids, but there’s plenty here to enjoy. If you’re looking for something strange and exciting to listen to repeatedly, though? Well, don’t look here. Those backing female vocalists just keep going and going and going: It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. And those bouncy beats? If you’re feeling particularly down, listen to this. If it doesn’t help immediately, turn it off. This is somehow lots of fun, but it’s also enough to drive one to madness. “Disco Frog” is particularly egregious. It included a moment where I thought the record was skipping — I found out after 10 or 15 seconds that the repeated bass line and the “ribbit ribbit” was quite intentional. Oh, boy.

I will say this much: The disco rendition of “Bein’ Green” is actually kind of interesting. Who’da thought?

Is it fair to criticize a kid’s album from 1979? Well, probably not. But this is Sesame Disco! — it’s in a world all its own. If there’s one thing we can certainly agree on, it’s that this is definitely one strange find.

The Artist Behind the Art: Nick Drake and Keith Morris, Five Leaves Left

The front cover of Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left. Photography by Keith Morris.

The inimitable Nick Drake, recognized after his death as a brilliant songwriter but rarely before, is still the master of that brand of moody, emotive finger-picked acoustic guitar. The haunting melodies, the unshakable vocals, the ability to move through song: Nick Drake, an English songwriter but a speaker for deep veins of sadness and despair running through all culture, is still untouchable as a musician.

His first album, Five Leaves Left, was produced between 1968 and 1969, when Nick was 20 and 21. Keith Morris was asked to photograph Nick for the album cover by the album’s producer. Incidentally, this was the first album cover Keith would work on, and it’s one that defines him still today. The moment for both young artists, both near the start of their careers, was the first in an unfortunately cut short collaboration between the two, in which Keith photographed Nick in conjunction with each of the three legendary Nick Drake albums: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later, and Pink Moon.

Visit the Keith Morris Gallery online for more of the iconic photographs of Nick Drake.

Keith, still, had little chance to engage the elusive Nick Drake; despite being the only professional photographer to work with Nick, he hadn’t worked with him aside from the work the three albums — and then, on but a single day for each.

The artwork taken for Five Leaves Left, the first of those opportunities, captures the young Nick Drake looking perhaps as contemplative as his early music. The photograph used for the front of the album depicts Nick gazing out a window, and presumably, the only light in the room being the natural light coming from the two windows seen in the photograph. The strong shadows cast by only in the corners of Nick’s Hampstead flat set the mood for the music: The whole thing is not cast in shadow, though certainly parts of it are. The play between the light and the dark serves as a visual metaphor for the bleakness and the exuberance heard contrasting in Nick Drake’s guitar work and vocals.

The photograph from the reverse side of Five Leaves Left. © Keith Morris. Image used under Fair Use rationale.

The photograph on the reverse side is as much revealing, but it exists more as a metaphor of Nick Drake’s musical attitude than of the musical performance. Nick, against a brick wall, is still, and again, he is gazing into the distance. It’s not the gaze of a combat-hardened soldier, that thousand-yard wear gaze. Nick is instead looking almost wistfully into the distance, unaware that, ahead of him, people are running by, carrying about with their busy lives. The specific photograph in the series depicts a man, perhaps a businessman, running into the frame in some sort of rush.

Through the visual metaphor of Morris’s photographs, the album gains additional valuable meaning that could not be achieved without a visual narrative, as non-literal as it may be. There is a specific art in capturing the combination of weariness and optimism that is packaged gracefully in Five Leaves Left: Keith Morris, for his part, tells the story of Nick Drake, the musician, through these two beautiful photographs, and through the others he took throughout the musician’s tragically short career.

How’s it Holding Up? Destroyer — Kaputt

Early on every year, there are those records that you’re certain will make the top of your year-end charts, that you’re sure is going to be among the very best the year has to offer. Perhaps it’s in part due to our particular demarcation of years as periods for music, when clearly the shifts and swings are more organic than that.

[soundcloud]http://soundcloud.com/bar-ok/destroyer-kaputt[/soundcloud]

Perhaps it’s just out of a desire to start with a clean slate: The music really piles up when you’re making those year-end lists, then there’s nothing of note for two, three, maybe four weeks. That break is a bit like those coffee beans they give you to cleanse your palate at a wine tasting, and after a full year of listening, a cleansing is certainly beneficial.

This year, my early pick was the consummate Destroyer album Kaputt — easily my top pick of January and somehow still in the running for my year-end list. It’s full of little things that are easy to ignore but brilliant to take in: Every listening produces something a bit different. And those melodies — oh, those melodies — are impossible to ignore. It’s the lack of jumpiness, both in construction and in presentation, that really define Dan Bejar’s outpouring. The melodies are evocative in the smooth, definitive quality that permeates the album.

It’s even better on vinyl, too! The third side of the album is a bit of a suite that’s not found in other releases, and it adds a nice quality to the flow of the album. Sure, it pushes the runtime to a lengthy 70 minutes, but it completes the album. The thing is, I’m not even sure it needed completion, and it was dangerous to mess with what was already very strong — but here it is nonetheless, and it’s one of the best parts of the double LP. See what a little risk-taking gets you?

Standout tracks include “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker,” “Song for America,” and “Kaputt,” though it’s a bit odd that tracks can stand out when the whole of the album is at a high level. To be fair, any of the songs could have reasonably been picked as standouts, and any decision has a degree of arbitrariness to it.

Has it held up well? Certainly so. It’s one of the few albums released this winter that have held my attention raptly through the spring and summer, and I don’t think I’d be lying if I said that I expect it to last a good deal longer than that with consistent listening. Is it Destroyer’s Rubies? No, but it certainly holds up favorably next to it. Thankfully, I’m not in the business of ranking Dan Bejar’s work on some mysterious scale.

At this point, it would take a downpour of brilliant releases to seal this one out of the top ten. It is, I think, one of the few surefire bets of the year.

“… this is an early contender for album of the year — when the end comes, don’t forget about this January masterpiece.” — Me, in January.

Yeah, I’d say it’s held up just fine.

Jonathan Jones readies Utah, Idaho tour in support of Community Group

Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones of We Shot The Moon is coming to you, Utah! Yes, the piano man behind the acclaimed indie pop troubadours We Shot The Moon is striking out on his own to support his latest solo effort, Community Group. He’s got a swell band to cover his ass on the way through the Inland Northwest as well. To help distribute the wealth of piano laced excellence, Jones has enlisted his fellow Moonies, as well as some new recruits including Spokane, Wa., based drummer Ben Hilzinger (The Young Professionals). It is suffice to say, something brilliant is in the work for you his already adoring fans.

Community Group is likely to be known as Jonathan Jones’s finest work to date. One listen to a track like “East Coast Feeling” brings to might the powers that be as being ever present and phenomenal in an entirely non-theological sense. Only the sense that one man’s sensual ability can bring your heart ablaze as melodies and harmonized beauty sweep and swill through your body. The kind of feelings only a wonderful song can invoke within you. So, find your way to whatever fine venue our hero of virtue and musical genius might be spitting his venom of positivity into the faces of an adoring crowd. Go ahead. Go get spit on!

To hear Community Group in its entirety and for three free downloads, including the amazing “East Coast Feeling”, visit jonathanjonesmusic.com.

Find Jonathan Jones in a city near you very soon:

6/22 – Logan, UT @ Logan Arthouse

6/23 – Provo, UT @ Velour

6/24 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court

6/25 – Rexburg, ID @ Hemming Village Complex (FREE Show)

6/27 – Boise, ID @ The Venue

January shapes up exciting 2011 music scene

Here's where I destroy the mystery of what I've pegged as number one for January.

January brought with it some stunners. I won’t bore you with exposition; let’s just get to the music.

5. Braids — Native Speaker
Native Speaker is mysterious and draws a bit long. It’s even kind of clumsy. Somehow, though, Native Speaker is satisfying — invigorating, even.

Braids — “Lemonade”
[audio:http://www.musicgeek.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Braids_-_Lemonade.mp3|titles=Braids - Lemonade]

Read my review at No Ripcord.

4. Robert Pollard — Space City Kicks
I worry sometimes when I talk about music from Robert Pollard. He’s sort of a demigod in the indie rock world, having been in the driving seat for many years with the inimitable GBV. Thankfully, Space City Kicks sees him to return to parsimonious songwriting again, and there are some really memorable tracks here.

Read my review at No Ripcord.

3. Ensemble — Excerpts
This is future chamber pop. Really, I think some French-speaking space aliens swooped down in a time travelling spaceship, dropped this indie pop at the band’s door, and it’s hit the world.

Ensemble – “Things I Forget”
[audio:http://www.musicgeek.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Ensemble_-_Things_I_Forget-MP3-192-VBR.mp3|titles=Ensemble - "Things I Forget"]

Read my review at No Ripcord.

2. Smith Westerns — Dye it Blonde
Smith Westerns have taken their fragmented, noisy approach and spiffed it up. Dye it Blonde is fuzzy, exciting power pop. It ventures into euphoria sometimes. Yum.

Read my review at No Ripcord.

1. Destroyer — Kaputt
Destroyer, that brilliant man. Or Dan Bejar, that brilliant man. Something like that. He can hardly do wrong. Kaputt is everything done correctly. As a result, this is an early contender for album of the year — when the end comes, don’t forget about this January masterpiece.

Destroyer – “Chinatown”
[audio:http://www.musicgeek.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Destroyer_Chinatown.mp3|titles=Destroyer - "Chinatown"]

Read my review at No Ripcord.

And if you’re looking for more to check out:
• The Decemberists — The King is Dead. Good stuff, that. It’s the same band doing something different again. Keep it at, Meloy.
The Beets — Stay Home. Fuzzy, lo-fi, but some fine songwriting beneath it all.
Minks — By the Hedge. Hazy, noisy pop, but it’s got some good moments.
Oh No Oh My — People Problems. Refined, not brilliant. Not so sugary. I don’t mind.

And just wait for February:
• Esben and the Witch — Violet Cries. This is great stuff — brooding, mysterious, engaging wrapped in a very strange package. First listen was not great, but now I can’t get enough.
• Bright Eyes — The People’s Key. Conor Oberst as Bright Eyes: He’s back!
• Mogwai — Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Post-rock goodness from part of the ruling class.
• James Blake — James Blake. Interesting Brit dubstep. Not my favorite of February so far, but I’ve set it as my alarm album a couple times to good effect. A little too dreamy to wake up to, but it’s fun.
• Asobi Seksu — Flourescence. I’ve not listened to this yet, but I have some high expectations. Not too high, but high.

Damn, I love Dreamend

Ryan Graveface, the man behind Dreamend, has had my ear for a number of years now. He first landed on my radar when I, on a bit of a whim, bought As If By Ghosts. I was, I think, duly impressed, and I’ve since paid some attention to Graveface, his label. Some of what’s released by the man is brilliant.

Maybe We’re Making God Sad and Lonely is no exception. This is a delectable mix of post-rock and pop; the swells, the drops, the hesitant approach and the glorious return: It’s all here, and it’s all masterfully done. This LP is among my favorite in my collection.

Listen to “New Zealand” below.

Children Of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World Of Independent Music

Art by Kathie Bayne

Disclaimer:  Folks, if you don’t know by now, your further searches into this project will show that, yes, this is my project.  And I am basically using my own pull to advertise my own work.  I am the editor and coordinator of this project, came up with the idea and what not.  I feel as though I can rationalize doing this since we have so many other great folks involved with this project that deserve all the recognition they can get.  And we are doing it all to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.  So leave judgements at the door, and you will find something awesome below!

With the holiday season upon us, an almost nearing completion, it might be a good time to start thinking about one of the finer, and probably more noble, sides of the season – The Giving.  But, as most of us know, but may not want to admit, sometimes the benefit of giving is actually the getting.  So how we solve the dilemma of trying to give back, and at the same time receiving something awesome in return?  I’d like to say, “there’s an app for that”.  And there may very well be.  But, there is also a nice charity project in development that could very well offer just what we need.

The project is a book entitled Children Of Mercy:  Tales and Teachings From The World Of Independent Music.  It shall be a collection of essays and poems written by several elite individuals from all over the world, as well as all over the independent music spectrum telling tales of glory and woe they have experienced in this somewhat deviant, yet delightful world we call independent music.  Contributors to the book include artists, journalist, bloggers, label owners, dj’s, etc.  And in some cases, a contributor might hold all of these titles. (more…)