Archive for November, 2008

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Counter-programming: indie music vids

November 28, 2008


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

If your family holidays are characterized by everyone gathering in the living room and watching large, heavily-armoured men crash into each other (that would be American football, for our non-US readers), and that’s not exactly your speed, I commend to you some counter-programming.

On opposite sides of the English Channel (known by the rather less possessive La Manche on the other side), two groups are making short videos of indie music that are characterized by a common bare-bones aesthetic. In London, there’s the Black Cab Sessions – as the name suggests, it’s all bands filmed playing a song in the back of a black cab (given the rather stringent space limitations, sometimes it’s only part of the band, like the Spoon video above that is just Britt Daniel). In France, La Blogothèque has a video podcast called Les Concerts à Emporter (The Take-Away Shows, better translated as ‘The Take-Out Shows’ on this side of the Atlantic). There’s masses of cool stuff in both sets, including The National, The New Pornographers, and Amanda Palmer.

So gather up your like-minded relations, ignore the cheers coming from the living room, and huddle around the glow of the LCD screen to watch some great indie music unfold.

MP3: The New Pornographers – All the Old Showstoppers

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2008

hand-turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our US readers!

If I were going to list everything and everyone I’m grateful for, I’d have to start another blog.

MP3: Loudon Wainwright III – Thanksgiving (live)

Image: “hand turkeys” by Mitra Farmand, who kindly agreed to let me use it. Check out more of her hilarious cartoons at her Flickr site or her blog.

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Old school: Japan

November 26, 2008

japan-gentlemen-take-polaroids

Somehow, as a kid, I got my hands on a copy of the album Adolescent Sex by Japan (on vinyl, of course). Their 1978 debut, it was an excellent example of late glam-rock, in the vein of David Bowie and, especially, Roxy Music. However, while it did well in Japan (fittingly) and got some airplay in Canada, it never really broke into either the US or the UK markets.

Over the course of Japan’s next few albums, including 1980’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids and 1981’s Tin Drum, they took a hard left turn into synthesizer-driven music that amalgamated both Western and Eastern sounds. You can hear the transition from the hard, punk-influenced “Adolescent Sex,” through the keyboard-driven “Gentlemen Take Polaroids,” to the startlingly minimalist “Ghosts” (I’m still astonished that it hit #5 on the UK charts). Japan was a bellwether, prefiguring the rise of the New Romantics; their shift was part of a larger cultural scene, where art-oriented bands moved from glam to synth-pop.

Sadly, Japan broke up after only a half-dozen years and five albums. While all the members continued on with musical projects, lead singer David Sylvian’s work is probably the best known. Of these, Secrets of the Beehive was the biggest commercial success, yielding the single “Orpheus.” He’s still active; his work is increasingly experimental, fusing jazz, electronica and other styles in conjunction with collaborators like Robert Fripp and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I had an amusing conversation once with a cabbie, on whose radio a David Sylvian track was playing – I asked after the song, and he dismissively replied, ‘oh, you won’t know it.’ But Sylvian’s baritone is distinctive (and beautiful), even in an unfamiliar context.

More Japan: wikipedia allmusic amazon

MP3: Japan – Adolescent Sex

MP3: Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids

MP3: Japan – Ghosts

MP3: David Sylvian – Orpheus

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Bootlegging vinyl

November 25, 2008

vinyl-spines

Interesting Resident Advisor article on bootlegged vinyl albums, with a focus on electronic music. It’s kind of a perfect storm – DJs and aficionados are always looking for rare tracks, digital masters are more widely available, the quantities are small enough that it’s rarely worth it for the artist to file lawsuits, and bricks-and-mortar music stores are already struggling, so they have an incentive to look the other way.

Link: “Bootlegs: Unauthorized at any speed

Image: Vinyl spines by Flickr user aeioux, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Threesome: Vampire Love Songs

November 23, 2008

stephin-merritt

Guest blogger Scott writes:

Knowing the z=z audience, I have no doubt that you all rushed out to see Twilight opening night. Twice. And so, to tide you over until you head back mid-week for a third bite of undead Cedric Diggory, I offer a trio of vampire love songs.

[debcha notes: The above is a fine example of Scott’s famously arid sense of humor. However, if you are a Twilight fan who somehow ended up here, I suggest that you go read this article. Now.]

Stephin Merritt’s “I Have The Moon” is, like most of his work, an exceedingly well-written and composed song. But, as with Tom Waits and Nick Cave, sometimes his…unique vocal sound works for him and sometimes against him. I find that “I Have The Moon” falls into the ‘against’ category. But Brit-pop band Lush steps in to tighten a few of the screws and make the spectral quality of the original yet more ethereal. As an aside, Lush is credited with being one of the first bands in the “shoegazing” genre, and I can’t recommend heartily enough that you check out the striking graph toward the bottom of the linked page. (I can only hope that no one has changed it between my writing and your reading this.)

AA Bondy offers a similar story with “Oh The Vampyre.” But instead of Lush’s reinterpretation of Merritt’s moody indie rock, Bondy edges his already folkier style in the direction of blues. I’m in favor of adding harmonica to anything, but it still surprised me how effectively it ramps up the lament quotient on lyrics that would seem more at home with strings and maybe an oboe.

I’ll come clean—those were the only two songs I had in mind in putting this together. I went looking for a third and pulled up some perfectly mediocre options, like Annie Lennox’s “Love Song For A Vampire” or The Deadbeats’  “Vampire Love” (which is chronically misattributed to The Misfits). Fortunately, my one spark of inspiration—that some clever-clever singer/songwriter must have stumbled upon the song title “Bloodlust”—was well-rewarded. Admittedly, Lauren Shera is undeniably folk minus the ‘rock’ modifier I’d apply to AA Bondy, so this isn’t exactly typical fare for z=z. Also, “Blood Lust” isn’t quite a vampire love song; it’s more of a love song that is vampire-adjacent. Sorry. I like it anyway.

[debcha adds: The photo is of Stephin Merritt, mostly because I couldn’t stomach doing an image search with the keywords ‘vampire’ and ‘love.’]

MP3: Lush – I Have the Moon

MP3: AA Bondy – Oh The Vampyre

MP3: Lauren Shera – Bloodlust

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Listen local: Head Like a Kite

November 21, 2008

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

Seattle’s Head Like a Kite have been getting all kinds of buzz, including getting picked up for MTV2’s ‘On the Rise‘ series, and they actually deserve it. Their music, which mixes samples, fuzzed-out guitars, electronics, and indie-pop hooks, is that rarest of beasts – tunes for both your butt and your brain. Layered, sophisticated and thoughtful enough that you can lie quietly and listen to it in your headphones, but with enough immediate appeal and a solid enough groove that you can just get up and dance. If you need more details, I’m going to refer you to the terrific review of their latest album, There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere, at Three Imaginary Girls.

Head Like a Kite are playing on Saturday, November 22 at Neumo’s in Seattle, along with Truckasaurus and Slender Means.

website myspace

MP3Head Like a Kite – We Were So Entangled (buy)

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Coverage: Guilt by Association Vol 2

November 19, 2008

guiltbyassociationvol2

Speaking of The Bloodsugars, they have not one but two tracks on Guilt By Association 2 (it is their record label, after all). As the name suggests, it’s all about guilty pleasures – indie bands covering decidedly un-indie songs: The Bloodsugars cover Chris de Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red‘ and Laura Branigan’s ‘Self Control,’ for example. The CD won’t be out until February, but you can download it now on iTunes. Here’s some Pitchfork links with full tracklistings: volume 1, volume 2.

MP3: My Brightest Diamond – Tainted Love

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