Listening Assignments 6.30.08

1. Peter Gabriel - Down to Earth - This one is a no-brainer. New Peter Gabriel, which plays during the credits of one of the best films of the year. Hell of a chorus. Hell of a song. [from Wall-E OST|buy]

2. Sloan - I'm Not a Kid Anymore - This Spoon-smackin' ball of denim stands out like a roll of quarters stuffed down the tightest girl jeans you own. It's Sloan, so it's poppy, but it's also as instantly gratifying as punk rock of old. Quick verses, huge powerchord riff, piledriving chorus over and over and over. 2 minutes, 26 seconds. [from Parallel Play|buy]

3. Young Coyotes - Momentary Drowning - Stomp, clap, point at the map. Nod, shake, we'll head to the lake. We'll dive off the floating dock into the green unknown. This Denver threesome might own the copyright on summer this year. [from Young Coyotes|info]

4. Haley Bonar - Big Star - It starts innocent enough, then starts subtly tugging at normalcy and by the time the chorus comes in, swelling and shrinking with harmonies, there's nothing normal about it. It's just great is all. [from Big Star|buy]



Another Sunday, this one sunny. Another sorry, this one for Sarah. Another songwriter, this one reminds me of Bright Eyes sans-vibrato and youth. Another song, this one for remembering things. Another listen, this won't be the last.

We/Or/Me - Tell Sarah
[from Ghostwriter|buy]


Takeaway Shows

La Blogotheque's Takeaway Shows are some of my favorite things on the internet and I realize I haven't really plugged or directed you along the path of righteousness. So here's a taste, if you're unfamiliar. Your favorite bands, stripped down to their essence, walking the streets and hallways of Paris, New York, London, etc. Each takeaway show is unique and incredible. Bookmark this puppy.

Grizzly Bear - Shift

Chris Garneau - Between the Bars (Elliott Smith)

Andrew Bird - Weather Systems

Loney, Dear - Saturday Waits

Jose Gonzalez - Hints

Bon Iver - Flume

Beirut - Nantes


Eef the Big Loser

Eef Barzelay is no stranger to these parts, poking up here, here, here, and here. His long-awaited follow-up to 2006's stellar Bitter Honey is finally released and I'm here to spoon it into your ear. In short, he's a curious indie artiste with impeccable pop sensibility. He'll slip you the tongue when you least expect it. You know what I mean? He'd totally do that and you'd totally like it.

And honestly, Rolling Stone put him as perfectly as it can be done in the following quote:
"Lyrically, he can be as cool as jazz, as earnest as folk, as sorrowful as country, as goofy as pop and as ironic as indie rock, sometimes all in one song."

True Freedom
[from Lose Big|buy]


Talking to Women

Do you have ADD? Do you enjoy strobe lights and glowstick fights? Are you a fan of seizures, sweat, and synth-induced comas? If so, Girl Talk is the hit you've been looking to take.

DJ Gregg Gillis is a former biomedical engineer who, liberally and without permission, samples numerous songs together to make a new song. Then he "gives" the music away for whatever you want to pay for it, a-la Radiohead, thus apparently ducking copyright lawsuits via "fair use", which states you can freely sample a recording if it is for educational or non-profit usage (though you're still supposed to get it cleared with the copyright owner). But what better artist to represent this musical era than a guy who essentially is an overt music pirate who changes gears every 20 seconds to appeal to the ADD generation. The only thing that would make this more post-modern American is if listening to it made you fat.

My problem is this: While some of the blends can be pretty interesting, it has practically no replay value. The best part is the first listen, wondering what's going to pop up next. Jay-Z overtop of "Subterranean Homesick Alien" flowing seamlessly into "Real Love" vocals atop the bed for "These Eyes"? Check. But it's just not as surprising the next time around, kind of like knowing the ending to The 6th Sense. Girl Talk's website offers the album in one continuous song or cut up into 14 tracks, which makes it convenient for me to blog about it, but otherwise serves no purpose. There are no song beginnings or endings, only hundreds of hooks and melodies, chained together like a break-dancing Frankenstein. And "the kids" are loving it.

God, I feel so old.

Set it Off
No Pause
[from Feed the Animals|buy]


Listening Assignments 6.23.08

1. Sam Champion - Be Mine Everyone - Riff riff riff riff riff riff riff riff riff. Raff. Raff. But mostly just riff. And a hell of a riff at that. [from Heavenly Bender|info]

2. Iron and Wine - Serpent Charmer - Sammy's back, but it's not a 4-course meal this time. It's just a UK-exclusive bite of the usual tasty fare. Singing, sliding guitars served with a side of silky hand percussion. [from Lovesong for the Buzzard|buy]

3. The Myriad - Throwing Punches - I enjoy the subtle bed beneath this whispery bit of emo-tinged indie rock. It reminds me a lot of Lovedrug, so I don't have much of a choice here. [from With Arrows, With Poise|buy]

4. The Lord Dog Bird - The Gift of Song in the Lion's Den - MOKB said it's like Bon Iver with a bit of John Roderick/Long Winters mixed in and I didn't need to be told twice. It's a builder, a lo-fi Everest, rising up out of the fog with arms stretched out to the sky. [from The Lord Dog Bird (out 8.5)|info]


Chris Merritt and the Fabric of Reality

As an artist, making a double-album takes balls. A double-album is an auditory finger to anyone who was even thinking about taking just a cursory listen. At the same time, it's an artistic risk on par with the dreaded "concept album". If you can't deliver the goods, you're going down like the Hindenburg.

Chris Merritt knows these things and he probably doesn't care. He knows he's got it. He knows he's going to lead off both discs with five-fingered-fists-of-melodic-fury and you'll be on the ropes. TKO, baby.

Listening to Pixie and the Bear, it's like sitting in the den watching 8mm's of the last 15 years of Chris' life. He names names. He tells you like it is. In the first line of the record, he's gonna "drive up north to get some." Einstein, Hawking, and Dawkins meant a lot to him. His thoughts on L4YER CAKE: "The movie's gnarly, but I'm retarded. The drugs they're taking is how I'm feeling." It's all here, all heart and introspection, laid down amidst a myriad of Beach Boys-esque harmonies, 8-bit Nintendo samples, classical piano, and the talented assistance of bassist Dustin Hofheins and drummer Tim Fellow. This is musical non-fiction.

This album is exactly as it should be. Beautiful ballads tumble into sweeping dynamic epics which saunter into glitchy, bitcrushing hip-shakers. It has the unchained personality of early Ben Folds, censors be damned. And while that comparison is inevitable, Chris's quality songwriting output is staggering in its own right. This record is nothing other than Chris Merritt, at his best, his ivory keys unlocking doors you never knew existed.

The Long Road
Dr. Jerk
[from Pixie and the Bear|buy]


Don't Coldplay With My Heart

Sweet Artwork, dudes!

I think we all oughta know Coldplay by now. With every new release comes scores of promotion and interviews where the artist calls this "the best thing we've ever done," and simultaneously downplays the relevance of their previous material. Have you ever heard a singer say "Well you know, I really loved my last album, this one just doesn't seem to have the life of the one I'm about to release."? Hell, no. It's all part of this dance we participate in, a fantasy world where each subsequent release is supposed to improve upon the last. A universe where an artist is unfulfilled unless they can convince themselves they are getting better and not getting worse.

Coldplay isn't getting better. I know they'd like to think they are and mainstream culture would love to believe the same, but they just aren't. They're older and, presumably, wiser. They brought on Brian Eno to give them a new spin, toured Latin America to get a new snap in their step, and declared a distinctly Hispanic flair to be present in their current recordings. They're getting bigger and bigger, becoming one of the more polarizing bands on the globe, but they aren't getting better. And they're not necessarily getting worse either. I've heard there is less falsetto on Viva La Vida, but I don't really notice a difference. The lyrics are as hit-or-miss as they always have been ("Those who are dead are not dead, they're just living in my head"...wow) At this point, it just comes down to you. Old dogs don't always need new tricks.

Are you fine with two or three above-average songs and an instrumental opener that would have benefited itself and the album if it were an actual song? Are you satisfied with a reverse exponential curve that runs from Parachutes to Viva La Vida and beyond? Or did you see the Apple commercial, buy the album, and convince yourself that older and wiser equals bigger and better. Because I, as much as anyone, can acknowledge the power of the right chord at the right time and can understand if that man-crush on Chris Martin just refuses to let go.

Viva La Vida
[from Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends|buy]


Cello, Ben

Cello, how are you today? Ben Sollee would like to know. He'd like to extend his right hand in a formal offering of friendship. His left hand will be plucking the wobbly strings of a cello. His eyes will be closed. Don't be offended by this, he's only concentrating on expressing himself vicariously through the instrument and concentrating very hard on shaking your hand firmly, two shakes and release. He's got the market cornered on soul-filled cello-playing dynamos in the same way Andrew Bird has the same for violin. All I ask is that you, too, extend your right hand with your eyes closed and your heart open.

It's Not Impossible
A Few Honest Words
[from Learning to Bend|buy]

Also, you can check out his awesome rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" in Blankets V.2.


Listening Assignments 6.16.08

1. N.E.R.D - Yeah You - The boys of N.E.R.D. say this is the true manifestation of their musical minds, while the Neptunes and other side projects just pay the bills. This is important because as The Neptunes, Pharrell and Chad are pretty unstoppable with the hooks and beats that have become their much-sought-after calling cards. As N.E.R.D., however, everything always seems like a hodgepodge of celestial rock-n-roll and salsa weirdness. It's as hit-and-miss as it comes. This is one of the standouts from their new LP, highlighted by the sax-mimicked chorus. [from Seeing Sounds|buy]

2. Little Dragon - Twice - This is the song I've been waiting for Lamb to release for the last few years only it's not Lamb, it's yet another Swedish collective making beautiful sounds. This song is a tractor beam, disarmingly quiet, the vocals drawing you far away from home. [from Little Dragon|buy]

3. Calexico - Crystal Frontier - This track was chosen by Arizona congresswoman Gail Giffords, to accompany her husband (Space Shuttle Discovery's Commander Mark Kelly) into space. It's aptly titled for travel amongst the stars, though there are much better Calexico songs, in my opinion. Still, it's a fun anecdote and has thrust their 2001 EP back into a relevant light. [from Even My Sure Things Fall Through EP|buy]

4. Low - I Started a Joke - I know this song was included in last week's Blankets V.2, but Low hasn't done anything new in awhile and I thought I'd throw you this nugget. Such a beautiful song, made more so by the languid pace Low is famous for. It burns. [from You May Need a Murderer|buy]


The Best of 2008 So Far

Lists are always (always) fun to think about and we're a little over the halfway point of 2008. It's been a great year for music so far. Here's a rough look at how my 2008 best-of lists are shaping up. I won't rank them til the end of the year, but you can see how yours stack up. The usual criteria apply: one song per artist, imports that came out in '07 but didn't reach domestic ears until '08 can qualify for either year, and whatever else I feel like.

Top 30 Songs:
Frightened Rabbit - Heads Roll Off [mp3]
Flight of the Conchords - Ladies of the World
Death Cab for Cutie - Grapevine Fires
David Karsten Daniels - That Knot Unties?
Chris Merritt - The Long Road
Adele - Hometown Glory
Al Green (w/ John Legend) - Stay With Me (By The Sea) [mp3]
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - Swimming Pools
Nada Surf - I Like What You Say
Mas y Mas - Hi
Guillemots - Get Over It
Supergrass - When I Needed You [mp3]
The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
Chris Walla - Sing Again
Vampire Weekend - Bryn
The Dodos - Fools
Shearwater - Leviathan Bound
Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - Modern Mystery
What Made Milwaukee Famous - Sultan
Vetiver - The Swimming Song [mp3]
The Weepies - Can't Go Back Now
Tokyo Police Club - In A Cave
Tingsek - Let It Shine
Sunny Day Sets Fire - Smallest Heart on Earth
Surrounded - Safe Tomorrow Sun
Jamie Lidell - Wait For Me
Sam Sparro - Too Many Questions
Julian Velard - End of an Era
Ida - Lover's Prayer
The Helio Sequence - Can't Say No

Top 10 Albums:
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Flight of the Conchords - s/t
Fleet Foxes - s/t
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Chris Merritt - Pixie and the Bear
Shearwater - Rook
Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell
Jamie Lidell - Jim
Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
The Hush Sound - Goodbye Blues


Viva la Beer

As I may have mentioned before, I'm a beer freak. I applied to become the new beer columnist at Link Magazine, a daily culture mag owned and operated by the local newspaper The Virginian-Pilot and was chosen as one of 3 finalists. I got to meet with the editor and current columnist (who is leaving for an amazing position at Sierra Nevada) yesterday, which I thought went really well. Regardless, I had a blast writing the two entry columns on some of my favorite beers and I thought it'd be a shame if they never saw the light of day. I'm proud of myself for giving it a go and I'll let you know the outcome when it is evident. Cheers!

Name: La Fin Du Monde
Type: Belgian Style Tripel Fermentation
Alcohol: 9%
Maker: Unibroue. Chambly, Quebec, Canada
Cost: $5 for a 12oz. bottle at The Taphouse Grill, 931 W. 21st St. Norfolk, VA

Picture Armageddon, if you can. What would you do if you knew all of existence was ending? I'd probably head down to the closest watering hole for one last sip of my beloved bubbly, La Fin Du Monde.
It's a fitting title. Translated into English, it means "The End of the World". It's also a Belgian Style tripel brewed in Canada with a French name. A surer sign of the Apocalypse would probably be difficult to find.
As with the entire line of Unibroue beers, La Fin (that's what I like to call it) pours with an exuberant head of thick white foam, which lingers delicately long afterward. Underneath, the brew is a beautiful hazy golden color and its aroma tempts with the light hint of belgian yeast and wild seasonings. The beer is densely carbonated, spicy and immediately quenching. Subtle hints of clove, dark cherries, banana and warm apple slide into a crisp and dry finish.
Hidden behind this delicious facade is an abv that packs a sizable punch. This is possibly the smoothest 9% abv beer on the planet, a tribute to Unibroue's confident catch phrase "Drink less. Drink better."
The sky is crashing down around me, but all I can think about is this taste enveloping my palate. Who knew "the End of the World" would only be the beginning.

Name: Smithwick's Irish Ale
Type: Irish Red Ale
Alcohol: 4.5%
Maker: Guinness Ltd. Kilkenny, Ireland
Cost: $5.5 for a 16 oz. draft at Cogan's Pizza, 1901 Colonial Ave. Norfolk, VA

If you've ever ordered Smithwick's Irish Ale, you've probably mispronounced it. Or maybe you pronounced it correctly, but your bartender thought you mispronounced it. Maybe you've been corrected by one of your traveled friends who's drank the real thing on a vacation across the big pond. In any case, I'm here to console you. As with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, there's nearly no wrong way to say Smithwick's as long as the W remains silent.
Smithwicks is one of my old standby's and it has never done me wrong. I find that many American Guinness drinkers don't even know that Smithwicks is produced by the same brewery and outdates the stout by 50 years. This usually intrigues them enough to taste a sample of the creamy Irish Ale and results in developing what I refer to as a "beer crush".
It's easy to understand why. It pours a delicious, caramel brown, just hazy enough to prevent seeing through to the other side of the glass. Held up to light, it glows the slightest chestnut red. On top, there lies a full and stubborn head of creamy foam. Do not fear the beer mustache! The malt body of this brew is roasted and sweet, leaving tastes of toffee, caramel, and whole grain to roll over your tongue. The hops are subtle, as good Irish Ales should be, but just sharp enough to define the bold malt character. The finish is long and smooth, leaving the faintest nutty aftertaste. Upon finishing, the head will have traced playful rings of white down the glass with every sip, a visual diary of your new favorite beer. A fresh pint will start a new page.
So it doesn't matter much how you say Smithwick's, only that you drink it with joy. Order with reckless abandon.

Andrew Bird - Beware (Reprise)/A Drinking Song (In the Grand Style)
[from Oh! The Granduer|buy]




More and More of Mas y Mas

It's sticky sweaty slippery stupidly hot outside right now. The wind is moving the trees, my eyes are telling me so. However, that same breeze is a curse. It's as if someone has left the oven door open. It's like that surge of superheated air on the edges of an expanding forest fire. It only makes you sweat more and desire only to be completely submerged in liquid. I am the world's largest salt lick. Bring on the livestock, their tongues a-lapping.

Mas y Mas's new record Proud Sponsors of Pepsi sounds like being outside feels right now, with one small difference. I want to down a bottle of this sound and smear it on my face. I want it to mingle with my sweat so it drips down and drenches my dancing shoes. The weather makes me want to retreat, but this album pushes me to engage. Bring it on.

[from Proud Sponsors of Pepsi|buy]

** This LP is released on Sound/Friends, one of the few labels/collectives/people to actually "get" what this love of music is all about. It's all beautifully designed and packaged, pressed on sparkling vinyl. There's a sweet interview about Sound/Friends here that appeared in Anthem Magazine. I'd recommend supporting them. It's good musical karma.


Listening Assignments 6.9.08

1. Wolf Parade - Call It a Ritual - If this track is any indication of the rest of WP's upcoming LP, sign me up. This is tastefully controlled and a big step forward from their at-times great and manic previous album. [from At Mt. Zoomer (out 6.17)|buy]

2. Jason Collett (with Emily Haines) - Hangover Days - Sure, everyone loves the idea of Broken Social Scene, a supergroup of Canadian musicians who put out an album every few years and have no set lineup at any given time. They really are all solo musicians who collaborate for the greater good and now that brand is established. When you dissect all the members' own work, you can see clearly who does the heavy lifting in the group setting. Jason Collett is the man and Emily Haines in one impressive second banana. Kevin Drew, you say? I say nay! [from Idols of Exile|buy]

3. Grand Archives - Torn Blue Foam Couch - This song isn't really a song, it's a hot air balloon, can't you tell? It's striped and haloed by sunlight and ascending ever higher. [from Grand Archives|buy]

4. Liz Durrett - The Mezzanine - Decidedly un-Summery, yet sparkling and hypnotizing. Very dark and shimmery, like an underground pool, reflecting flashlights and fear. [from The Mezzanine|buy]


Blankets, V.2 (a linesthroughlines mix)

It's been 9 months since the first installment of Blankets, and we're long overdue for a mix in general. So I whipped this mix of covers into shape for you to rock while you're out and about enjoying the weather. Great stuff coming up this week including a preview of the amazing Chris Merritt's upcoming double-LP and the Best-of-2008-so-far lists!

1. Yael Naim - Toxic (Britney Spears) [mp3]
2. Deftones - No Ordinary Love (Sade)
3. Miracle Fortress - Digital Love (Daft Punk)
4. Chris Walla - Shattered Dreams (Cutting Crew)
5. Scissor Sisters - Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand)
6. Apostle Of Hustle - I Want a New Drug (Huey Lewis)
7. The Kooks - Young Folks (Peter, Bjorn, and John)
8. Lily Allen - Mr. Blue Sky (Electric Light Orchestra)
9. Ben Sollee - A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke) [mp3]
10. Petra Hayden - Don't Stop Believing (Journey)
11. James William Hindle - I Started a Joke (Bee Gees)
12. Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Bruce Springsteen)
13. Yoav - Where Is My Mind? (Pixies)
14. Travis - River (Joni Mitchell)
15. The Veils - Drive (R.E.M.)
16. Rogue Wave - Everyday (Buddy Holly)
17. Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear - Too Little Too Late (JoJo) [mp3]
18. Wilco - Thirteen (Big Star)
19. She & Him - Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (Traditional)

[download] (.zip)


Apples and Bacon

If you press play below, consider yourself handcuffed to the chair. Joan As Police Woman further matures into the fearless cop we always wanted her to be in her new release To Survive. The silky smooth voice is still there, the sass as well, but some really nice horn and string arrangements give rise to some ascendant moments not found on her previous record. This is still a pleasant mood album, for the most part, keeping things downtempo yet engaging. Its best settings range from a sultry candlelit evening to a shady back patio picnic lunch. This is begging to be used in an Apple commercial. Enjoy or despise accordingly.

To Be Loved
[from To Survive (out 6.9)|buy]


Rook takes King

Shearwater's Palo Santo came out around this time in 2006 and I immediately loved it. I'd never gotten into vocalist Jonathan Meiburg's Okkervil River as much as I'd wanted to, but Shearwater provided that middle ground I needed to get footing. As discussed seemingly ad nauseum here and elsewhere, expectations can be a bitch, for lack of a better term. In the case of their new album Rook, consider them annihilated.

The places Palo Santo displayed grit and emotion, Rook shows restraint and patience, building an impossibly beautiful framework of billowing guitars and delicate falsetto. Both band and album named after different birds, this recording has wings like few could ever hope to possess. It glides along on the updrafts effortlessly before diving thousands of feet towards earth, cutting off at the last moment, just because.

Leviathan Bound
The Snow Leopard
[from Rook|buy]


Travel by Adron

I know you're wishing you were on a hammock somewhere, sipping daiquiris in the shade. I'm pretty sure you'd prefer to be barefoot and shirtless, soaking up rays like a chamois, smiling. I'm also confident you aren't doing those things right now, accessing this page on your blackberry from some exotic locale. For that reason, I give you Adron. Despite calling Brooklyn home, this 19-year old (!) has more in common with Brazilian counterparts like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. Bossa Nova, samba and nylon-string guitar provide your ticket to the closed-eyes vacation of your desires.

[from Adron|info]


Listening Assignments 6.2.08

1. Sigur Ros - Gobbledigook - Yes yes yes yes yes yes. Tribal poundings + circling acoustic guitars + cooing and artfully-panned vocals = anticipation for June 23rd. [from Með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust (out 6.23)|info]

2. Balmorhea - San Solomon - I keep trying to listen to this song and not be moved like a leaf on the water. I keep trying to hold my eyes open for its entirety. Alas, I cannot. [from Rivers Arms|buy]

3. The Do - Stay (Just a Little Bit More) - The strumming gives this away early. It's going to tug your lips into a smile. Adorable lyrics, whistles, violins, triangles, and ooohs? If this song was a girl, I'd propose. [from A Mouthful|buy]

4. The Avett Brothers - Murder in the City - This track is a hardened face, smoldering in the firelight. In my opinion, it's hard to beat a good folk song. Beautifully simple. [from The Second Gleam EP(out 7.22)|info]


linesthroughlines Vs. Low Vs. Diamond

Wikipedia is a fairly good place to start when I'm looking for info on bands I don't know a lot about, but sometimes it's kind of a funny collection of knowledge. Take Low Vs. Diamond, for example. There's not a lot to be found on their wiki, other than the usual ho-hum stuff. However, it does list "typical jam band influences such as Dave Matthews and Phish" as part of the band's foundation, influences I never ever would have guessed from the music and thus, are probably useless even mentioning.

Before you break out the ganja, you could read my little blurb from their first appearance here, almost a full year ago.

Speaking of which, it's taken an awful lot of time to make this record, considering two of the tracks (including probably the best) appeared on the Life After Love EP back in February of 2007. That release garnered them a certain amount of hype, but hype only lasts so long unless you've already established yourself. Like, say, Jeremy Enigk, who spent 10 years writing and recording between Return of the Frog King and World Waits.

I've decided this review is going to be highly disjointed.

I personally prefer Low Vs. Diamond to the glut of similarly-influenced bands out there like Editors or She Wants Revenge. They've got a little more heart and a little more diversity under the hood. It's got some of the darker hints of Interpol, the classic brit-pop leanings of Starsailor, the wailing crescendos of Lovedrug. It's hooky and twisted, crimson and shadowy. It's good.


Song We Sang Away
[from Low Vs. Diamond|buy]