Archive for November, 2008


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


Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2008


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.


Old school: Japan

November 26, 2008


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


Bootlegging vinyl

November 25, 2008


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.


Threesome: Vampire Love Songs

November 23, 2008


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


Listen local: Head Like a Kite

November 21, 2008

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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)


Coverage: Guilt by Association Vol 2

November 19, 2008


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


Neophile: The Bloodsugars

November 19, 2008


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).

website myspace

MP3: The Bloodsugars – Bloody Mary


Videogames and the music industry

November 18, 2008

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Nice guest post in the Freakonomics blog by gaming maestro David Edery about the positive impact of music-based video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band on the music industry. He does have something of a vested interest, since he works for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade, but he does provide some compelling bits of data: for example, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith earned the band more money than any of their individual albums. Edery’s posting focuses on major-label artists, but of course, where this really gets interesting is as a path out of obscurity for lesser-known bands (such as Freezepop, as in the video above, and Bang Camaro, both of whom have songs on Rock Band).

Read the full essay: “Can Guitar Hero Help Save the Music Industry?”

MP3: Bang Camaro – Pleasure (Pleasure)


Parts & Labor’s crowdsourced album

November 18, 2008


For Parts & Labor‘s newest album, Receivers, they solicited sound samples from their fans. Hundreds of samples arrived, and the band incorporated all of them into their album. The final product sounds pretty good, and is a little more accessible than some of their previous work – while I wouldn’t exactly describe the album as radio-friendly (thankfully), the songs I’ve heard are definitely more melodic and less noise-driven.  And if you want to get into the game, call (888) 317-5596 (toll-free) and send them sound samples – the band will play them onstage during their current tour.

MP3: Parts & Labor – Nowheres Nigh [buy]

[via Listening Post]


Want to write a book about an album?

November 16, 2008


The 33 1/3 book series is pretty awesome, and they are currently soliciting proposals for new books. If you’re not familiar with them, the conceit is that each book is about a single album, but the exact format is somewhat variable. For example, John Darnielle‘s tribute to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality is a short novel, written from the point of view of an adolescent boy being held in a psychiatric facility. Colin Meloy‘s book about Let It Be by The Replacements is a coming-of-age memoir. And now it could be your turn. Have a beloved album that you can tell an interesting story around? Go here for full details of how to write and submit your proposal. But get going – the deadline is the end of the year. Here’s a list of the books to date.

MP3: The Decemberists – Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect (buy)

[via Three Imaginary Girls]


Neophile: Good Night, States

November 14, 2008


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]

MP3: Good Night, States – Spring is the Winter’s End (Down to the Heart) (buy)


Threesome: Theme songs

November 13, 2008

"We Are The Pipettes" cover

One of my friends tweeted something about how all bands should have theme songs, along the lines of “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees,” which got me thinking. The pure theme songs that came immediately to mind were “We Are The Pipettes,” and both “Freezepop Forever” and “Parlez-Vous Freezepop?” (the existence of both a French and an English theme song for Freezepop warms my Canadian heart).  But surely Hallelujah the Hills’ eponymous fight song should count, and then what about They Might Be Giants?

I’m sure there’s more band songs that I can’t think of offhand. Please feel free to share your favourites in the comments.

MP3: The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes (more Pipettes, Pipettes on z=z, buy)

MP3: Freezepop – Parlez-Vous Freezepop? (more Freezepop, Freezepop on z=z, buy)

MP3: Hallelujah the Hills – Hallelujah the Hills (more HtH, HtH on z=z, buy)


Girl Talk as a PC

November 12, 2008

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I’m not terribly thrilled about the PC response to the Mac ads – don’t ad agencies ever consider that we might choose a computer for reasons other than because we want to belong to a cult of personality? And besides, if I did want to be part of a cult of personality, it wouldn’t be one that included Deepak Chopra – ick. But Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) does get something exactly right in this ad, when he says, “Software, computers, it’s the most punk-rock thing that’s happened ever. People just come up with ideas – there’s twelve-year-olds who just hear music and then they go out and make something amazing.” You could make a pretty good argument that the DIY ethic of punk rock was a quarter-century ahead of its time – that while punk rock’s inception was in reaction to societal conformity, it’s only now achieving its logical expression, with the democratization of both the means of producing music and of distributing it.



November 11, 2008

poppy(photo credit: Ian Britton)

It’s Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day in Canada. For many years, I’ve re-read “In Flanders Fields” and listened to the Pogues’ version of “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” on this day. A few years ago, I started listening to the “The Green Fields of France,” by the Dropkick Murphys, as well. Both songs are by Australian folk singer and songwriter, Eric Bogle, and they both commemorate the fallen in World War I, at Gallipoli and in France respectively. They are also both superbly powerful indictments of war.

Dropkick Murphys – The Green Fields of France (amazon)


Information graphics and indie rock

November 11, 2008


Jez Burrows, of graphic design collective Evening Tweed, has produced an infographic based on Destroyer’s Rubies. Says Burrows:

Asked to respond to the word banausic, I chose to take the most grandiose, willfully complex thing I knew and express it as mechanically and cold [sic] as I could manage. ‘Destroyer’s Rubies’ by Destroyer was that thing.

Burrows transcribed the entire album and used the data to produce a limited-edition print, which is now available for preorder. It’s beautiful, if a little pricey to consider using as dorm-room decor. He’s also announced that it’s the first of the ‘Modern Listener’s Guide’ series of indie-rock infographics; I can’t wait to see the rest.

Buy the poster here.

Previously: Release notes: Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams; Concert notes: Destroyer; Got a question for Dan Bejar?

MP3: Destroyer – European Oils [emusic amazon]


Beatles mystery solved with Fourier transform

November 9, 2008

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Regular readers of this blog know that, while it’s mostly about indie pop, there’s also a healthy dose of geekiness, and today we are departing from our usual musical genre to amp up the geek quotient.

I was intrigued to hear that the mystery of the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” (which you can hear in the video, above) was finally solved. For forty years, it’s vexed guitar players because no one could replicate the sound. But a Dalhousie University mathematician, Jason Brown, used a Fourier transform to figure it out. This mathematical technique can be used to decompose the sound into its component frequencies, and Brown showed that there was one frequency that couldn’t be accounted for by George Harrison’s 12-string, Paul McCartney’s bass, or John Lennon’s guitar. This extra note was a clue that the missing element was a piano chord, played by ‘fifth Beatle’ George Martin.

There’s a nice post on Noise Addicts that includes links to a PDF of the paper and to additional information about the chord.


Punk memorabilia at Christie’s

November 7, 2008


I guess it had to happen. On November 24th, Christie’s is holding an auction of punk-rock memorabilia. It includes everything from a signed Ramones test pressing to a Sex Pistols press kit to a bondage jacket. That kick-ass Sandinista poster, above? Expected to fetch between two and three grand. Says a Christie’s spokesperson:

The generation who can now afford to buy this stuff is interested in different things. They’re not as interested in the Beatles as they are in the Sex Pistols or Nirvana. Ten years ago, punk memorabilia probably wouldn’t be something we’d be auctioning here. But now, people of a certain age have a certain ability to splurge on this material.

The sad part is that, if I had a spare eight hundred dollars lying around, I’d probably happily spring for a copy of Linder Sterling’s Orgasm Addict poster.

Check out the rest of the lots here.

[via the Guardian Music Blog]


Neophile: Fergus Brown, “Nerds in Love”

November 6, 2008


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.

More Fergus Brown: artist page myspace

MP3: Fergus Brown – Nerds in Love (buy)

Image: Nerd Love by Flickr user fille_de_photo, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.


Coverage: “Video Killed the Radio Star”

November 5, 2008

Following up on the previous post, guest blogger Scott adds:

As any trivia geek knows, MTV’s first aired video was Video Killed the Radio Star, by The Buggles.

and he sent along three covers for your enjoyment.

MP3: Erasure – Video Killed the Radio Star

MP3: Ben Folds – Video Killed the Radio Star

MP3: The Wrong Trousers – Video Killed the Radio Star