I’ve been listening to an early copy of Logan Lynn‘s new album, From Pillar to Post, for a few weeks now, and it’s been gradually infiltrating itself into my brain. The Portland-based Lynn describes his music as ‘electro-pop’, but that carries connotations that are a little too saccharine. The gentle tenor vocals over a background of electronica are like the smooth, reflective surfaces of mirror shards, belying the razor-sharp edges of the complex song structures, syncopation, and bleak lyrics—as his bio puts it, putting the ‘disco’ back into ‘discomfort.’ This album, his third full-length, is on the Dandy Warhols‘ label, Beat the World Records. I don’t know if there’s a release date set for it, but here’s a couple of tracks to whet your appetite in the interim. More on Logan Lynn at his website or on Myspace.
Archive for the ‘Neophile’ Category
I first came across The Craft Economy last year, through a post at Boing Boing. They attracted attention by stapling their CDs to telephone poles in Kensington Market in Toronto, their hometown (and mine). The CDs, released under a Creative Commons license, were part of a protest against Bill C-61, the Canadian analog to the justly-maligned Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Somewhat more to the point, however, I really enjoy their music – it kind of reminds me of a poppier, female-fronted Alkaline Trio. Their new EP, Is On Your Side, came out in the fall, and it’s terrific (and did very well on Canadian college radio). I especially enjoyed the little CanCon lyrical joke embedded into the driving rhythms of “The Tonic” – the lines “Bye-bye mon cowboy/bye-bye mon rodeo,” which sounded really familiar. A few seconds of Googling reminded me that they were from Quebec pop star Mitsou’s first hit in 1988.
And if you’re interested, The Craft Economy makes their tracks available for remix, as part of its CC-license.
One of the most intriguing bands on the MPress Records sampler CD is Ten Minute Turns, out of Brooklyn. Following in the long tradition of rock bands birthed at art schools, principals Roger Mason and Alan Foreman met while at RISD. Their sound occupies the middle ground between guitar-driven indie pop and the electro sounds of bands like Cut Copy; evident in, for example, the slightly-vocodered vocals on “Aluminum Shine,” of their sophomore full-length, Leaving Robot City. The driving rhythms are accented by horns and accordion, and the resultant songs range from gently melacholic (“Somethin’ That I Don’t Know”) to out-and-out stompers (“Sad Animals,” from the EP of the same name). Plus, any band gets bonus points from me for referencing circuit-bending in their lyrics.
There’s been a number of high profile compilation CDs for charity recently, including Dark Was the Night and the new Heroes CD to benefit War Child. Brooklyn’s MPress Records approach is the polar opposite of lining up big names for your charity CD, although its genesis was somewhat accidental. The first of their New Arrivals label samplers was scheduled for release shortly after Hurricane Katrina; rather than giving it away free as a promo item, MPress and the artists decided to sell it and give the proceeds to Gulf Coast Hurricane Relief. They’ve continued to do this with their sampler CDs, designating a new charitable recipient every year. New Arrivals 3 is now out, and it’s worth checking out. The CD includes Toronto indie band Ember Swift, Jay Clifford (as heard on Grey’s Anatomy), a bonus track by Toad the Wet Sprocket lead singer Glen Philips, and more, with proceeds going to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Full details on the CD, including a link to retailers, here.
Hamilton, Ontario’s The Rest are set to release their sophomore album, Everyone All At Once, in April. It’s an appropriate title for an intensely-collaborative effort from the seven-member group (large groups seem to in the zeitgeist these days). Nearly two years in the making, the album was a two-stage process. First, they left the distractions of the city behind and holed up in a pair of cabins on a lake to write and arrange all the songs, and then followed it up with a return to the city and an intense period of rehearsals and recording.
And boy, does it show. The arrangements are gorgeous, and the production is clear and atmospheric without sounding overproduced. The music cross-pollinates intense, bombastic Arcade Fire-like sounds with melancholy and heart-tugging vocals, reminiscent of The Awkward Stage. The combination is both immediately engaging and rewarding of multiple listens. “Apples and Allergies” is the official single, but I found myself humming the B-side, “Walk On Water” to myself at odd times, so I’m going to share that here instead.
Hear more of The Rest at their Myspace page, where you can also buy their first album and the new single. So far all their tour dates are in Southern Ontario, but I’m hoping for a wider-ranging summer tour in support of the new album.
I am not working-class. I’ve been tenure-track practically since I learned to read, and instead of wisely spending my youth drinking in the woods, hanging out with the ‘bad boys,’ and learning to play pool, I wasted it in libraries, doing calculus problems, and starting college early. I suspect that my fondness for bands with lyrics like “this whole town is like this/been that way our whole lives/just work at the mill until you die” stems from the same root that leads suburbanites, who’ve never been closer to a cow than the plastic-wrapped-packages in the meat case, to go to dude ranches. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a similar urge – for an idealized, all-American, authentic experience – contributed to UK music mag’s Kerrang!‘s decision to put New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem on the cover a few months ago, with the headline, “The Best New Band You’ll Hear in 2008.”
The Gaslight Anthem’s second album, The ’59 Sound, is filled with teenagers, cars, and teenagers in car crashes. Their musical aesthetic is post-punk melded with classic rock – fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen meets Alkaline Trio. It sounds instantly familiar, in the best possible way, and certainly will make you nostalgic for a life you probably haven’t led.
More The Gaslight Anthem: myspace
Along with Good Night, States, Brooklyn-based The Bloodsugars will be playing at the All-Asia in Cambridge, MA on Friday, November 21st. Their songs are best described as ‘sweetly catchy,’ like a more dance-y Belle and Sebastian. And like Belle and Sebastian, who come across as all twee on their records and totally rock out on stage, word on the street is that The Bloodsugars have a killer live show. If I wasn’t on the wrong coast, I know what I’d be doing on Friday night (although I will be at this, so you don’t have to feel too sorry for me).
Also check out the lovely video for ‘Purpose Was Again,’ with its Simon in the Land of the Chalk Drawings-style conceit (I’d have embedded it, but the DailyMotion player doesn’t seem to play nice with WordPress).
One of the bands that’s on constant repeat in my media player right now is Pittsburgh’s Good Night, States. They sound like a stripped-down version of Arcade Fire – a little bit more catchy, and a little less bombastic. While they’ve been getting some good press (like this Spin article), I’m more impressed that I can’t help but stop whatever I’m doing to just listen whenever “Spring is the Winter’s End” comes on. They also get the z=z stamp of approval for making all their songs available on a pay-what-you-will basis at their website.
Good Night, States will be playing the All Asia in Cambridge, MA on November 21st, and here’s a live video to give you a taste of what to expect. I asked Megan Lindsey (vox, keys, trumpet) if there were any plans for a West Coast tour. Sadly not, but she did mention that they were looking for a booking agent, and she offered up a case of Franktuary hot dogs as an additional inducement (Megan is the owner-operator of the cathedral-based hot dog stand). I’m happy to personally attest to how good the hot dogs are, and I’d add my gratitude to hers if you are someone who can get Good Night, States to visit this coast.
Good Night, States [website]
I stumbled upon this sweet, geeky love song by Australian singer-songwriter Fergus Brown. It has an amusing backstory; apparently Brown wrote it about a particular girl that he had silently admired from afar. One of his friends told her about it, and gave her a copy of the song. In a perfect world, they would be happily together, but either Brown is very discreet about it, or they are just friends.
As far as I can tell, this track and its B-side, “Last Winter” are the teasers from his debut album, scheduled for release next February. I’m looking forward to it – Brown has the same gentle, playful-but-melancholy vibe as Jens Lekman, with a similarly beautiful voice. If these two songs are any example, I’ll be reaching for the full-length CD to get me through grey winter days.
I’m delighted to report that noted Canadian auteur Bruce McDonald (best known for his films Highway 61, Dance Me Outside, and for his onstage comment on winning an award for the movie Roadkill, which came with a large cash prize: “This will buy me a big chunk of hash.”) is creating not just one, but three sequels to the 1996 cult classic, Hard Core Logo. The original is a mockumentary about punk band Hard Core Logo’s last cross-Canada tour, and is often compared to This is Spinal Tap. But it’s a lot darker, to say the least. That’s part of the reason why the announcement of sequels is so surprising – the end of Hard Core Logo is, well, terminally depressing. The movie also wasn’t what you’d call a commercial hit, although it’s developed a steady fanbase on DVD. On the other hand, both the leads are now draws in their own right: Hugh Dillon has gone from his punk roots as lead singer for Toronto’s Headstones to a well-respected actor on Canadian TV, and Callum Keith Rennie most recently played one of the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica. And playwright Daniel MacIvor is signed on to write the second sequel. More details of the sequels can be found in this Calgary Herald article.
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Hailing from the small Ontario town of Manotick, but now based in Montreal, Hollerado have just released a great single, “Americanarama” (from their Demo in a Bag 5 EP). Its video is a hilarious spoof of American Apparel, complete with Dave Foley doing a spot-on parody of the company’s notably sleazy founder (and fellow Montrealer), Dov Charney, in over-the-top mustache and lavender Y-fronts. Of course, the nice thing about making a video that indicts the hypersexualized imagery of American Apparel is that you can fill it with women in skintight, metallic leggings, in t-shirts and panties, and the like. To be fair, the band members don’t spare themselves – they also appear in just their skivvies. Make sure you check out the behind-the-scenes video too, to watch the band drink booze out of coffee cups while director George Vale zooms around on rollerblades.
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.
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.
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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).
Speaking of growing up in a pre-Internet world…I still find it kind of amazing that I can hear about a band like Blue Mary Jane. As far as I can tell, they don’t have a record deal, and they probably still live with their families in Spalding, Lincolnshire. I’m not actually sure how I came across them, in fact. But I’m going to happily share this song – sometimes I just want the sharp, palate-cleansing sting of punk, and these gentlemen oblige. They cite influences along the lines of the Rolling Stones and the Stone Roses, but this song reminds me most of the Buzzcocks.
Blue Mary Jane: myspace
Continuing with what I promise to be a short-lived political theme…I’m a little late coming to this, in several senses. I was introduced to Max and the Marginalized by frequent guest blogger Scott, who sent me an MP3 of “It’s Awkward When Bad People Die,” a song written in response to Jesse Helm‘s death. Max and the Marginalized are the house band on liberal news site, The Huffington Post, posting a song every week. Don’t let their self-description as ‘political’ turn you off. Frontman Max Bernstein presumably learned about speaking truth to power in the cradle – his father is journalist Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame. But his entertainingly catchy, sing-a-long songs reflect his maternal lineage; his mother is legendary rom-com screenwriter Nora Ephron. You can catch up on Max and the Marginalized songs to date by downloading their songs on a pay-what-you-will basis from their website.
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With the arrival of warm, sunny days – finally! – I start thinking about songs I want to hear in my car, with my sunroof open and the windows down. Power-pop group The Loyalty, from upstate New York, have found themselves a spot in my personal early-summer rotation. This is largely on the strength of the track below, “On Top of the World,” with its infectious guitar riff, late-70s Journey-ish verse, and late-90s post-punk chorus and bridge. I’m also a fan of their song “Stella” and its video, above (I can only imagine it makes a lot of furries very happy).
Toronto-based The First Time are making a splash with their cover of “Sundown,” a mega-hit by iconic Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. This song, released in 1974, hit number one on the Billboard charts and cemented Lightfoot’s status as a major musician. I grew up listening to it, but it was always in the background – the kind of boring music your parents listened to. It wasn’t until I heard The First Time’s version that the song cracked open for me, and I realized that it was about infidelity, lust, addiction, and other decidedly grown-up themes. Like all great covers, it made me hear the original anew.
It’s late notice, but if you happen to be in Toronto, The First Time has a gig tonight at the Bovine Sex Club.
[I stole the image from TFT's MySpace page, since I wasn't enthusiastic about doing a Google Image search on the phrase 'the first time'.]
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How to listen to the new I Am Kloot album, I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge:
- Wait for a rainy afternoon, so the sky is grey and the drops are pattering against your windows.
- Pour yourself a glass of whisky.
- Put the CD (or your iPod, or the vinyl, or whatever) on your stereo. Ideally, listen to it on a pair of headphones (not white earbuds; proper headphones that look like earmuffs from the Gernsback continuum).
- Lie on the floor of your living room.
- Let John Bramwell’s voice wash over you.
Failing that, just listen to I Am Kloot any way you can.
More inducement: From The Independent’s review of I Am Kloot’s April concert in London: “I Am Kloot, formed 10 years ago, offer a little more grit than [The Decemberists], and in their endearing frontman and presiding spirit Johnny Bramwell they boast a songwriter of seemingly effortless grace.”
Above, the video for “Proof” (starring the inimitable Christopher Eccleston).
New Brunswick, NJ-based Spiraling seems custom-designed to appeal to me, given that their music inhabits the intersection of love, indie music, and deep geekiness (like some other bands that come to mind). Their sound isn’t very easy to place temporally – I hear echoes of 70s Queen, 80s synthpop, 90s emo and 21st century postpunk. Despite that, the album hangs together as a consistent whole – it’s a melodic mixture of guitars, piano and synthesizers, capped off with bittersweet and yes, geeky, lyrics – “Modern life is much too hard/with no jet packs or flying cars./This is not the future we were promised.” “I won’t forget the breaking of your heart/All I have to do is step into the time machine/And stop before it starts.” Check them out (even if you’re not a geek like me).