Archive for September, 2008

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The forgotten pioneers of electronica

September 30, 2008

I’ve been fairly obsessed with the Freezepop song “Melon Ball Bounce,” a cover version of the 1963 Sprite jingle by electronic music artist Raymond Scott. And after a childhood watching Doctor Who, I still think that its theme music, created by Delia Derbyshire (pictured above), remains the coolest, creepiest musical intro ever. It turns out that I’m not alone. A recent article in the Guardian discussed the resurgence of interest in ‘library music’ – early electronic music experiments, in the service of advertising and TV soundtracks, from the 1960s and ’70s. Most of this music was never intended for release to the public, and it’s accordingly quite rare. However, the Glo Spot label has begun to reissue some releases (they are still pretty hard to get, it looks like – they seem to be sold out everywhere).

MP3: Orbital – Dr ? (Doctor Who theme)

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And the Polaris goes to…

September 29, 2008

Voted on by an ‘even more expert group of experts’ (a quote from the live webcast), the winner of the 2008 Polaris Music Prize is the album Andorra, by Ontario’s Caribou (Dan Snaith). As well as being a fan of his music (I played the track “Melody Day” when I guest-DJ’ed on WMBR), Caribou also gets z=z love for being in the ranks of overeducated musicians – Dan Snaith holds a doctorate in mathematics from Imperial College London.

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The Weakerthans win Verge artist of the year

September 28, 2008

Speaking of the Weakerthans and awards, they just won the Verge Award for artist of the year. Verge is XM Radio’s Canadian alternative/indie station, and this is a fan-based award (something like 45 000 people voted for their favourites of the bands ‘in regular rotation’ on the channel). Like the Polaris Music Prize, the glory comes with a nice chunk of change – in this case, CDN$25 000. I’m not sure if Natalie Yanchak (of the Dears, who were also nominated in this category) considers the prediction in her rather catty blog post to be negated or fulfilled: “It’s gonna be a free for all, and some totally corporate band who hired a bunch of kids to vote everyday for them is going to win. And that’s what some bands want, which is great.” (despite her dismissal of the idea, she was nevertheless thoughtful enough to provide a direct link to the voting page for her readers).

I can, however, guess how Weakerthans’ frontman John K Samson’s former bandmates in Propagandhi might feel, given their account of Samson’s departure:

For the next 3 years, we rode the tail-end of the punk-rock explosion. When the smoke cleared and we were putting together Less Talk More Rock, it was becoming evident that Jordy and I, the rural metal-heads, were cut from an entirely different cloth than little John-John, the urbane poet. He just didn’t seem to enjoy getting attacked by nazi-skinheads or sleeping on piss-soaked mattresses in lice-infested italian squats anymore. Go figure.

So shortly after we recorded LTMR, we shook hands, performed a mutual culling of the herd and like all good revolutionary anti-capitalists, got into an argument about money. Eventually, we worked out our differences and helped John into his proverbial Golden Parachute, which he has apparently, thus far, rolled into $80,000 worth of pennies with which to buy gourmet peanut butter and bread made of gold. Weird!

Personally, I’m happy to see the Weakerthans get the recognition I think they deserve.

EDIT: Natalie of the Dears stopped by in the comments to say that she was ‘happy with the results.’ All’s right with the world.

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Webcast: Polaris Music Prize 2008

September 28, 2008

Tomorrow (Monday) night is the announcement of the winner of Canada’s 2008 Polaris Music Prize. Modeled after the Mercury Prize, it’s given for the best Canadian album, ‘judged solely on artistic merit, without regard to genre or record sales.’ This year’s shortlist of ten albums includes StarsIn Our Bedroom After the War, Caribou‘s Andorra, Holy Fuck‘s LP, and the WeakerthansReunion Tour (a full list is here). As well as glory, the prize comes with $20 000 Canadian, which is real money these days. The awards ceremony is being held in Toronto, and will feature live or video performances by all the nominees. The whole thing is being being webcast on CBC radio 3, starting at 8 pm Eastern time. If you do happen to be in Toronto, the official after-party starts at 10 pm at the Drake Hotel, and members of nominee and z=z fave Holy Fuck will be among the DJs.

webcast link (8 pm Eastern on Monday, September 29th, 2008)

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Coverage: Ted Leo, “Since U Been Gone”

September 26, 2008

Speaking of Ted Leo, here’s his cover of Kelly Clarkson‘s “Since You Been Gone,” with a bonus bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeah‘s “Maps” thrown in. Enjoy!

MP3: Ted Leo – Since U Been Gone (Kelly Clarkson cover)

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Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Rapid Response

September 25, 2008

Ted Leo is, as ever, putting his music where his mouth is. In response to the protests at the RNC convention, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists recorded a digital-only benefit EP, Rapid Response. As the name implies, they got it out in a hurry, using their demo setup and mixing it in GarageBand. You can purchase it from Touch and Go records – actually, I think it’s more of a ‘premium’ (in the public radio pledge drive sense), since everything you pay for it will be donated to Democracy Now! and Minneapolis Food Not Bombs, and you can choose from a range of ‘prices’ (donation amounts). The EP includes two new songs, as well as an Amebix and a Cock Sparrer cover (click on the image above for a larger version of the tracklisting).

Donate for the EP here.

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Listen local: The Builders and the Butchers

September 25, 2008

Portland, OR’s The Builders and the Butchers might have the most varied instrumental lineup of any band I can think of. Their Myspace page lists, in addition to the usual, banjo, mandolin, accordion, xylophone, bells and washboard (lead singer Ryan Sollee admits to something of a thrift shop instrument addiction). And they’ve been known to hand out tambourines, tom-toms and the like to get their audience involved at their raucous, revivalist live shows. I’m looking forward to checking them out. Meanwhile, here’s their track, “When It Rains,” – I think it sounds a little like early Mountain Goats.

MP3 link: The Builders and the Butchers – When It Rains (at RCRD LBL)

More: myspace

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Amp up your air guitar

September 23, 2008

A Japanese toy company just introduced an electronic air guitar. It consists of the headstock and upper neck of a guitar, with buttons on the neck corresponding to chords. The ‘strings’ are infrared light; just strum the air guitar, interrupting the beam, to play music. It comes in an electric or acoustic version (but really, who’d go for the acoustic version?)

I’m a little torn – on the one hand, this is an awesome gadget. On the other, it’s hard not to feel that it is a violation of the fundamental philosophy of air guitar – isn’t this now just another instrument?

If you’re unconflicted, you can buy one here.

[via Cool Hunting]

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Upcoming: Decibel Festival, Sept 25-28

September 22, 2008

The fifth edition of Seattle’s Decibel Festival begins on Thursday, September 25 and ends on Sunday, September 28. And when they say ‘begins’ and ‘ends,’ they really mean it. With a full line-up of afternoon activities (like dB in the Park) and after-hours parties, it’ll be going pretty much non-stop. Multiple evening shows reward springing for a pass to facilitate dashing from venue to venue in Capitol Hill – for example, my Thursday night schedule has Stewart Walker at Sole Repair, followed by Barbara Morgenstern at Neumos, and wrapping up with Attentat at the Baltic Room. Other highlights include Audion and Carl Craig on Saturday night, and The Bug and Supermayer on Sunday night – you might want to clear your schedule for Monday morning.

MP3: Claude VonStroke – Who’s Afraid of Detroit (Audion remix)

Previously: xkcd on techno, The zen garden theory of minimal techno, Techno and impressionable young minds

Image: Robert Babicz @ Neumos, Decibel Festival, 9/22/2007 by Flickr user donte, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Neophile: Mother Mother, O My Heart

September 21, 2008

Hurrah! Vancouver’s Mother Mother just released their second album, O My Heart, and it sounds just as awesome as their first. They have a distinctive, eccentric sound – playful pop, enriched with imaginative lyrics and vocal harmonies. They are just starting a tour of Canada and the US – they’ll be at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA on October 22nd, and they are wrapping the tour up in Seattle on November 8th.

More: myspace website

MP3: Mother Mother – Body of Years

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Coverage: CSS, “Cannonball”

September 19, 2008

Here at z=z, we love covers. So when I read that CSS was covering the Breeders‘ 1993 hit “Cannonball” for a UK-only single B side, I went in search of it. One of the characteristics of a good cover is that it makes you reconsider the original – it’s a restatement, not a recapitulation. The CSS version of “Cannonball,” while serviceable, does a good job of illustrating this point, since it doesn’t bring much to the table except a faint Brazilian accent. Check it out for youself. Disagree? Feel free to say so in the comments.

MP3: CSS – Cannonball (Breeders cover)

Video: The Breeders – Cannonball

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Concert notes: Okkervil River

September 18, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

[Showbox at the Market, Seattle, WA; September 17, 2008]

Note to Okkervil River: Let your bassist sing on more songs.

Previously: Upcoming: Okkervil River and Sea Wolf

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Neophile: Kristoffer Ragnstam

September 17, 2008

Swedish indie-pop artist Kristoffer Ragnstam’s sophomore album, Wrong Side of the Room, was just released in the US a few weeks ago. I have an insatiable appetite for infectiously catchy and happy songwriting, and Ragnstam doesn’t disappoint. I’m hoping that this album breaks him out into the US.

Ragnstam was kind enough to respond to some questions via e-mail (his responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity).

You’re frequently compared to your countryman Jens Lekman, and you are both known for sweet indie-pop. Do you think there is a ‘Swedish sound,’ or is it just that only certain types of music are picked up for the US market?

I don’t think we’ve got special sound. And why Jens and I play in USA is probably more that we found people who believe in us and constantly give us great tours etc. So more luck than sound.

What factors influence your decision to sing in English?

That’s easy. I grew up with English music and I’ve only been listening to English music. So when I started to do my own stuff English felt best, although it can be strange sometimes to write in a language that’s not my mother tongue. But hopefully the record buyers understand what I’m trying to say. :-)

How do you feel that your artistic process changed (or didn’t) between Sweet Bills and Wrong Side of the Room?

I had a vision together with Joel (co-songwriter) and Chris [Brown, the producer – see below]. We would like it to sound homemade and pure. Thanks to the vision, we did have a very simple process making the Wrong Side—my band and I knew each other much better this time. Plus we had been touring a lot so…

You famously talk about recording ideas for and bits of songs in your cellphone. What comes next?

Maybe in the future we would be able to record a full song at a decent quality. That would be fun. I use it more like a scrapbook.

Can you cite some of your influences? And who among your contemporaries are you a fan of?

I love musicians who play music like there is no tomorrow. People who make me think they do it very much in a solid honest way. I like bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Slayer, The Roots, Kings of Leon, Daniel Lanois etc.

I really enjoy your witty, wry, and self-deprecating lyrics (and it would be great if they were posted to the Internet!). They definitely focus closely on the personal. How do you decide what to sing about? Do you ever think about singing about more ‘serious’ subjects, or are you committed to singing about the personal?

Oh, the lyrics should get posted any minute. My web page is pretty new new and needs some minor changes. But when it comes to lyrics, I do think my weapon is to sing about my normal life. ‘Cause a lot of weird stuff happened there, and it may sound forced to sing about something else. Sometimes it can be very serious to me but end up like a normal thing on the lyricpaper.

Can you talk a bit about what it was like working with engineer Chris Brown (Blur, Radiohead, Supergrass)?

Wow! It’s a dream to work with him. He’s been a part of many of my favorite albums, like RIDE. I love Chris and he’s one of the people in the music biz that I respect the most. Not only thanks to his CV, but probably more ’cause he’s constantly honest and only says what he thinks – no charade or theatre, just 100% Chris Brown, and that’s very inspiring.

Any upcoming plans to tour in the US?

I will tour all over. Europe, Japan, and back to the United States, plus take care of my newborn son.

More: website myspace

MP3: Kristoffer Ragnstam – Wrong Side of the Room

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Listen local, old school-style: Morphine

September 16, 2008

Lots of bands are described as having a unique sound. At the risk of offending high school English teachers, who remind us that ‘unique’ is definitively singular, I submit that some bands are more unique-sounding than others. Case in point, Morphine. Founded in Cambridge, MA, by Mark Sandman and Dana Colley, Morphine really didn’t sound like any other mid-90s indie bands (or anyone since, for that matter). Sandman’s description of the band as ‘low rock’ is a play on words in at least two ways – the first is for the downtempo, crooning style of the songs. But what really made Morphine sound different from anything else on the radio was the musical line-up, which consisted of Mark Sandman’s baritone vocals, his two-stringed bass guitar played with a slide, Colley’s baritone sax, and drums – a distinctively low-pitched sound. They broke out with their sophomore album, Cure for Pain, and achieved modest college-radio success in North America, together with more mainstream success in Europe. Shockingly, however, Mark Sandman suffered a fatal heart attack on stage in Rome at a 1999 show, and the band disbanded shortly thereafter—a short but notable chapter in Boston and indie-rock history.

MP3: Morphine – Super Sex

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Neophile: The Airborne Toxic Event

September 16, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

Rounding out our posts about bands with literature-inspired band names is Los Angeles-based The Airborne Toxic Event (from Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise). I first heard the track “Somewhere Around Midnight” on KEXP and immediately clicked to their playlist page to identify the artist. The song is off TATE’s eponymous debut album, released in early August on Majordomo. Mikel Jollett’s voice reaches into my chest and wraps itself around my heart; more prosaically, his voice fills in the gap between Conor Oberst and Matt Berninger. Check out the video for “Does This Mean You’re Moving On” (above) and the gorgeous string intro to “Somewhere Around Midnight” (MP3, below).

More The Airborne Toxic Event: myspace website

MP3: The Airborne Toxic Event – Sometime Around Midnight

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Upcoming: Okkervil River and Sea Wolf

September 14, 2008

There’s a lit-inspired-band-name double bill this week – Okkervil River (from a short story by Tatyana Tolstaya) and Sea Wolf (which I presume has some relation to the Jack London novel by the same name). They’re playing together at the Showbox, here in Seattle, this Wednesday, September 17th. Okkervil River are supporting their new album The Stand Ins, and I imagine that Sea Wolf will show off some new music since their last tour, which followed the release of 2007’s Leaves in the River.

Coincidentally, even as I write this, Okkervil River’s brilliant new track, “Lost Coastlines,” just came on over the speakers at my beloved local coffee shop, Fuel. I predict some serious audience participation at the concert when it comes to the ‘la la la’s towards the end of the song.

MP3 link: Okkervil River – Lost Coastlines (at RCRD LBL)

MP3: Sea Wolf – You’re a Wolf

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Unintended consequences

September 13, 2008

Indie record label Kill Rock Stars—home to Sleater-Kinney, The Decemberists, et alia—recently relocated to Portland, OR; back in the Pacific Northwest after a brief sojourn in New York City (they were founded in Olympia, WA). Its owner, Portia Sabin, was interviewed in Sound magazine, and she made this comment about the rise of digital music sales:

We definitely have seen a decline in physical sales, but, with that being said, iTunes has been unbelievable. In the old days, like three years ago, we would get four royalty checks a year. So it would be complete feast or famine. Now, because of iTunes, we get paid every single month, boom boom boom. I don’t have those, “Oh God, we can’t put out another record because we don’t get paid for another month” moments anymore.

This an interesting side effect of digital music—stabilizing the cash flow of independent record labels so they can get on with the job of putting out new albums.

MP3: The Decemberists – Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect

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Upcoming: Documentary, It Might Get Loud

September 11, 2008

Davis Guggenheim, the director and one of the producers of The Inconvenient Truth, just screened his new documentary, It Might Get Loud, at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Rather than focusing on an artist, this is a music documentary that focuses on an instrument, the electric guitar. A trio of musicians tell their stories: guitar legends Jimmy Page and The Edge get to step out of the shadow of their larger-than-life frontmen and take centre stage, together with Jack White (who is also the larger-than-life frontman, of course, and he’s still a legend-in-progress at this point). All three talk about coming to the instrument, as well as about the art and craft of songwriting and playing. I imagine that this film was, or soon will be, picked up for distribution – I certainly plan on keeping an eye out for it to make it to a theatre (or at least a Netflix queue) near me.

More info: website TIFF ’08 listing Twitch review

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Coverage: Alkaline Trio, “Wake Up Exhausted”

September 10, 2008

Is it still a cover when one of the principals of the original is participating? Tegan Quin joined Alkaline Trio on AOL’s “The Interface.” Together, they performed a number of Alkaline Trio songs and covered Tegan and Sara‘s “Wake Up Exhausted.” You can download the whole performance, or watch the videos, here.

MP3: Alkaline Trio ft. Tegan Quin – Wake Up Exhausted (Tegan and Sara cover)

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Threesome: Namecheck nation

September 9, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

Three songs that namecheck bands, with three different intentions.

The Dead Milkmen had a minor college radio hit in 1987 with their song, “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything),” which lampoons listeners of a number of (iterated) post-punk bands, such as The Communards. The best line in the song is, “I came to drink not to get laid.” (I’ve often thought that it would be useful to have a t-shirt with this line, although I’d probably substitute ‘dance’ for ‘drink.’)

In contrast to “Instant Club Hit,” which ridicules music fans for their taste, LCD Soundsystem‘s first A-side, 2002’s “Losing My Edge,” simultaneously celebrates and mocks obsessive music fans with its iteration of bands and repeated refrain of “I was there…” James Murphy slyly mixes reality in with the hyperbole – “I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City” (probably not, since he was four) is alongside “I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it at CBGB’s’ (yup). But the best phrase is undeniably the description of “art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.’

Finally, Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip rail against taking music too seriously in “Thou Shalt Always Kill,” off Angles, which was just released in the US. The best part of this song is definitely the visual-pun-laden video [above]. While the lyrics are self-consciously countercultural and more than a tiny bit preachy, Dan et Scroobius get props for the line, “Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry.” Advocating spelling ‘phoenix’ as ‘pheonix,’ however, is suspect, to say the least.

For the record, The Smiths show up in both “Instant Club Hit” and “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and Public Image Ltd shows up in both “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Losing My Edge.”

MP3: Dead Milkmen – Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything) (warning: contains homophobic language)

MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge

MP3: Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill

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