Turn on the Lights

If you haven't already heard, Muxtape as we knew it is no more. It plans to re-launch as a service for bands using the simple interface we've all come to love. If you click that link, you can read an incredibly detailed and interesting history on the demise and re-birth of Muxtape. Also if you click that link, you'll immediately be treated to a preview of what the new site will offer, in the form of the fantastic 2008 EP by Francis and the Lights. Wait, you don't know Francis and the Lights? Well neither did I until I fatefully stumbled upon the Muxtape announcement. A little sleuthing unearthed a band that is criminally unknown, a fact it appears Muxtape's creator Justin has tried to remedy.

If you don't fall in love after one listen to "Striking", I pity you. It begins with a few blips of instruments, like a high school band shedding nervous energy before the first note of the first song. And then they start playing and...holy guacamole. I've raved about Tigercity before, but this has more soul. It's less Hall and Oates and tons more Prince. They've only got 9k listens on their myspace page over the course of a year! I can't believe you're not listening to Francis and the Lights right now! They're so unknown that they want you to have both of their records for free on their website. They want you to tell people, as I am doing right now. I don't think you'll have a problem doing so.

Download your heart out.

[from Striking]
Night Watchman
[from A Modern Promise]

Update from the road...

As my previous post suggested, via only blog-title, I'm on vacation. First to Idaho, now Portland for the duration. I'd planned an entire calendar of posts during the trip and I'd planned to upload the tracks I was going to feature onto my webhost prior to leaving (as I'd have no access to the files once I was away from my computer). Alas, as early-morning flights usually go, things did not proceed quite as planned. I got off work at 3am and the cab showed up 10 mins early at 4:20am and I was unable to get many of the little things done. On top of that, my iPod touch refused to let me edit the body of any blog post (hence the extra long title that explained my predicament) while I was in Boise. SO, in short, I'm on a real computer in Oregon, without the songs I'd planned to write about. But fear not, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. And Portland is a gold-mine for finding some CD's to upload in the meantime. Stay tuned.


I'm in Boise and my iPod isn't letting me post text in the body of this blog. Keep your eyes peeled, I'll be in Ptown on Mon night and we'll catch up!


Mitch Gets the Last Laugh

Anytime you're writing about someone posthumously, you brings a tinge of melancholy along for the ride. It's especially ironic when you're writing about Mitch Hedberg, one of the funniest men ever to hold a microphone. He was a stranger to me when he passed, though he'd played Virginia Tech while I was a student there. I have listened to his albums with many a special person, an act that has sealed those moments in memory like a lick-closed envelope, and there aren't a lot of artists I can say that about. I was thrilled to find out that "he" was set to release an album's-worth of new jokes, recorded mere weeks before his overdose, but even that news was dulled by the knowledge that Do You Believe in Gosh? really is the last of it. I teared up some during the first listen because, unlike Strategic Grill Locations (where he sounded high) and Mitch All Together (where he sounded coked up), here he just sounds happy. Like he's laughing at these particular jokes for the first time. Like he's genuinely enjoying himself and ecstatic to be breathing the air in that particular place at that particular time. And I wonder how these people in the audience reacted when they'd heard that Mitch died just shortly after being so tickled by him in person, and how their laughs are captured here like auditory fossils telling the tale of a sunnier time.

Door Deal
[from Do You Believe In Gosh?|buy]


It's Good to be King

You've gotta admit, Kings of Leon have it pretty sweet. Somehow they've managed to steadily gain both critical and popular acclaim, building both indie cred and mainstream love simultaneously. This is because I believe Kings of Leon have stumbled upon the golden mean* of the music industry. Three brothers and first cousin Followill, all from Tennessee, becoming ambassadors for their family namesake (The bros' father and grandfather named Leon) make for a pretty adorable backstory. But more importantly, the Kings are blessed with a specialness that manifests itself most obviously in the fire-and-honey voice of Caleb Followill and his ridiculous sense of melody. While his blazing vocals clear a trail, the talented band falls in behind. Matthew draping signature reverb-drenched guitar licks, Nathan displaying impreccable taste behind the drums, Jared's basslines becoming dynamic solos to themselves.

Only By the Night
represents the pinnacle of the Kings' songwriting experience to this point, an album chock-full of digestible morsels under 4 minutes (though none under 3). This mostly is absolute mastery of the mid-tempo emotional rock song, though stabs are taken into the faster-paced rock of Aha Shake Heartbreak ("Sex on Fire") while the fuzzy-distortion-soaked anthem of "Crawl" feels out of place by comparison. Despite that, over the entire running length of Night, it becomes apparent that Kings of Leon are a band embracing their hype with confidence and aplomb.

Together, this true American family band crafts genre-spanning gems that contain plenty of hooks to snag radio play, plenty of depth to satisfy the snobs, and enough moxy to grab even the most skeptical outsider.

It's good to be King.

[from Only By the Night|buy]

*Aristotle's theory on the desirable middle ground between excess and deficiency.


Thou Shalt Not Kill Amanda Palmer

In the "women who sound like men" category, Amanda Palmer takes the cake, primarily because the sample size is fairly small. Methinks it's a lot easier for a dude to sound like a girl, than vice versa. Palmer, of course, is the singer for The Dresden Dolls, the oft-praised indie-cabaret-punk outfit from Boston. Unsurprisingly, her new record Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (Twin Peaks, anyone?) sounds pretty much like a Dresden Dolls release, which means that it's dark, theatrical, uber-emotional, and lyrically quite literal ("who needs love when there's Dukes of Hazzard?"). She mashes the piano keys, squeals and grunts her way to the desired emotional payoff, then suddenly backs off to a beautiful counterpoint. Ben Folds pulled the strings behind the scenes, lending his musical talents both in front of and behind the microphone.

And as a result I dig this, consistently, more than a typical Dolls record. It means something and it's wonderfully hairy and real. And I'm thinking if someone actually did kill Amanda Palmer, I might have to take justice into my own hands.

Astronaut (A Short History of Nearly Nothing) [feat. Zoe Keating]
Leeds United
[from Who Killed Amanda Palmer?|buy]


The Wolf in David Condos

It has been nearly two years since the promising sounds of David Condos first appeared here. In the meantime, the mop-topped young'n from Nashville has continued to mature nicely, showing artistic restraint and displaying an even more unique take on the modern pop song. There's a little more edge, a little less sun, a few more teeth in this newness, alongside the feeling that David is spreading himself to the wind, opening up his openings and recording the resulting chords of the whistling air past as opposed to fashioning a credible copy of something that already existed. The falsetto is still spot-on, but more sparingly used, while sprawling cello and the broken distortion of guitars fill out the spaces between jogging snare beats. This is a very Autumnal offering, a sprint through the woods at dusk, like wolves. Oh yes, Like Wolves.

Like Wolves
Finding Yourself There Now
[from Like Wolves EP|download free (limited time)]


Boy Wonder: Anthony da Costa

With many apologies and much respect to Abbie Gardner, it is the young Anthony da Costa who propels this album of duets to greatness, despite only leading on half the songs. I considered not telling you da Costa's age because it doesn't make a damn bit of difference once play has been pressed, but the fact that he's only 17 makes it only that much more compelling. His voice easily recalls Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and myriad other folk legends, displaying all the dirt and beaten-down love that should take a lifetime to cultivate. Gardner plays the perfect counterbalance of harmonies and emotion, the Gillian Welch to his Dave Rawlings (roles reversed, of course). These songs thin your skin, make you feel everything around you. You're like a blind wanderer, soaking up the world like chamois, tasting life and love for the very first time. And it's devastating.

On My Knees
Let Me Die in Your Arms
[from Bad Days/Better Nights|buy]


Listening Assignments 9.15.08

1. Empire of the Sun - Walking on a Dream - My first bike with gears was a Huffy called "White Heat". It's mostly-white frame was flecked with neon glow-in-the-dark paint spatters and it had Mad Max-esque black and neon yellow gnarly guards (their words, not mine) to protect your knuckles in the case of a crash. Alongside my acid-washed jean jacket (which I hated) and the unfortunate rat-tail my parents inflicted on me, that bike was the most '80s thing I've ever been associated with. This song is like that. Except it's 2008. If this song was a bike, you'd totally be finding anything you could use as a ramp. [from Walking on a Dream (out 10.4)|amazing video|info]

2. Fredrik - Alina's Place -Alina's place exists behind closed eyelids. In this dream bottles will be tapped with spoons, spices will be shaken, and paper rubbed together. Guitars will be less played than caressed. You will speak through a tiny radio held in front of your mouth, converting your voice to AM, able to carry great distances over land and sea. [from Na Na Ni (out 10.28)|stream/pre-order]

3. Jolie Holland - Mexico City - Jolie's voice is so expressive, shaking like a leaf, brittle and brown. She's caught between dimensions, stranded betwixt '80s, '60s and '00s, and I'm not sure where she'll ultimately get off. This is a lovely place, however. [from Living & The Dead (out 10.7)|pre-order]

4. Joe Pug - Hymn #101 - I've come to have great love for folk songs such as this. Something about the feeling that writers like Joe (and Josh Ritter and hundreds before them) are tapping into this common song that's running through the heart of every living thing. Something about the verses and hypnotic circling pick patterns and the singular voice spewing poetry that feels like rain soaking a dry desert riverbed for the first time in years. "Before we met, I knew we'd meet." [from Nation of Heat|buy]


Hotel Lights Flicker

I'm sure it is a minor annoyance to always be mentioned alongside a band member's former band, but with Hotel Lights' Darren Jessee (of Ben Folds Five), it's also inevitable. The Five still hold an impressive stranglehold on the nostalgic tweener years of an entire generation of nerds and piano-pop aficionados, as evidenced by the recent 30-minute sellout of their one-and-only reunion show in Chapel Hill, NC, and tickets now being scalped for almost $1,000.

Hotel Lights, however, is nothing like the Five, and it's probably a good thing. Who knew Darren Jessee would have the songwriting chops (and voice, for that matter) to lead an act of such restrained potency? I guess "Magic" wasn't a fluke after all. This album is as listenable as La Fin Du Monde is drinkable, an album for sipping slowly, for rain-gazing, for dandelion-blowing, for thoughtful reflection. The patience is palpable and it flows lazily, like a brook winding through woods, into your backyard. It's just there at the fenceline, old as your great grandaddy, gushing on by, just there for you to listen to and lose yourself in.

Dream State Flying
Wedding Day
[from Firecracker People|buy]


The Freak Flag of Chad VanG

It does get weirder than Chad VanGaalen, really it does. This is mostly because Chad is inherently capable of striking the perfect dissonant chord for any occasion, making him adorable and essential all at the same time. There is a flaw somewhere herein, but this flaw floats atop the sound, like oil over water, and says, "I don't care what you think about me." He is certainly his own, and is critically revered as a result. Soft Airplane plays mostly like an acid trip, awash in reverb and loosely strung guitar strings. A few of the songs somehow fall bland, or perhaps I'm not toking the correct carcinogen, but the few that hit the aforementioned chord are exactly the reasons why Mr. VanGaalen remains a hot button in the freak-folk indie community and on this very blog.

Molten Light
Rabid Bits of Time
[from Soft Airplane|buy]


When Fantasy becomes Nightmare

Well, I did it. I drafted Tom Brady with the #5 pick of my fantasy football draft. He apparently screamed like a little girl when his ACL was ripped to shreds 8 minutes into the first game of the season on Sunday (see above). I also drafted Nate Burleson of the Seahawks (out for the season/knee), Marques Colston of the Saints (out 4-6 weeks/finger), and the Chargers Defense (best player Shawne Merriman now out for the season/knee). Out of 10 starters on my roster last weekend, 6 of them scored 3 or fewer fantasy points, helping me destroy my personal record for all-time-worst-fantasy-football-score-EVER. (72% of all owners starting Brady last week lost their matchups)

Apparently the bad karma from coming 4 points from winning my league last year and never losing a player to season-ending injury just caught up with me, big-time. At least there's room for improvement.

The short of all this nonsense is that I'm a sports addict and I probably have an inflated sense of importance because I doubt you care about any of this in the first place. But I want you to know that being a music freak and being a sports addict are not mutually exclusive hobbies and I want to nurture the fantasy-loving fan in all of you to feel sympathy for me. I just want your pity!

If you're the praying type, please make note of the following, on my behalf:
- That Brett Favre eventually throws to Laveranues Coles.
- That I land Eddie Royal (Go Hokies!) AND Jon Kitna off the waivers wire tomorrow.
- That my starting defense actually puts up positive fantasy points this week.
- That the Bengals remember how to run their usually potent offense.
- That Big Ben Roethlisburger remembers his tight end this week.
- That Brandon Marshall comes back from suspension, like whoa.
- That the Cowboys keep giving rookie Felix Jones 15 touches a game.

Thank you and g'day.

Final Fantasy - Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
[from Stars: Do You Trust Your Friends?|buy]


Swinging from the Rafter

I wanted to write about Rafter immediately upon listening to his new Sweaty Magic EP, but it wasn't released until today. Instead, I played it through the big speakers at work, where it was met with a bevy of "who is this? it's awesome!" responses. I responded like only Rob from High Fidelity would: "I know."

I will now sell 5 copies of Rafter's Sweaty Magic EP.

This music is probably not what you're expecting. Unless you're expecting the world's strangest (and somehow resoundingly successful) blend of whale noises, blips, jangling guitars, horns, kazoos, kitchen sinks and synth bends, all forming the bed over which some of this year's best melodies lay. This is an odd marriage of The Flaming Lips and Girl Talk, the ceremony taking place in a dream sequence from The Science of Sleep.

Rafter's recipe for Sweaty Magic is as follows:
2 gallons Magic 92.5 San Diego's Old School
4 packages of dancing w/my hot girl @ the nightclub
Sprinkle of math metal

And to wrap it up:
"They always seemed what? They always seemed really great, is what they always seemed. They picked up where your precious Echo left off and you're sitting here complaining about no more Echo albums. I can't believe you don't own that record. That's insane."

[from Sweaty Magic EP|buy]


Listening Assignments 9.8.08

1. Annuals - Confessor - Consider me wowed. In 2006, Be He Me was a better-than-average example of the typical downtempo indie folk. Listening to the first track from Such Fun is turning my spirits around in a hurry. With an album cover made from a Bob Ross original, how could it not be fun? [from Such Fun (out 10.7)|info]

2. Jason Falkner - Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) - This is one of my favorite old-school songs, written by Joni Mitchell but actually first recorded by Judy Collins. Both versions are amazing. I wouldn't call this one amazing, per se, but it's certainly bright and stuffed so full of guitars, it might burst. Falkner knows his way around some power-pop. [from Follow Me single|buy]

3. B.B. King - Tomorrow Night - It's hard to beat the blues, even after 83 years. The love long gone usually stays gone and songs don't usually win them back. Tears and broken hearts will always be universal. I'll miss this man when he goes. The fabulous fingers of BB King are absent on this piano-driven classic, but at the 2:25 mark you're in for a saxophone treat. [from One Kind Favor|buy]

4. The House Floor - My Little Wooden Room (LOL) - I know there is a full-band version of this forthcoming and I can't wait, but for now I can't shake this lo-fi heart-rattler practically buried amidst furiously strummed guitars. Notsomuch a wall of sound as it is a room full of drapes, criss-crossing and bunching at the floor. A bright sun burning in the middle of a maze of softness you can almost see through. [demo for War Ship|info]



I do my best to respect the integrity of release dates unless a single or track has been released as a teaser, but it is especially hard with amazing releases such as these in the pipeline for the next month and a half. Arguably the most potent period of the year. Salivation is acceptable.

Rafter - Sweaty Magic (9.9)
Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane (9.9)
Blitzen Trapper - Furr (9.23)
Final Fantasy (w/ Beirut)- Spectrum, 14th Century (9.30)
-Listen: ["The Butcher"|mp3 (via Stereogum)]
Final Fantasy - Pays to Please (10.21)
Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling (9.22)
Department of Eagles - In Ear Park (10.7)
Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping (10.7)
Ray LaMontagne - Gossip in the Grain (9.30)
Margot & the Nuclear So and So's - Animal!/Not Animal (9.30/10.7)
Mount Eerie (w/ Julie Doiron) - Lost Wisdom (10.7)
Ben Folds - Way to Normal (9.30)
The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm (10.21)
Amanda Palmer -Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (9.16)
Annuals - Such Fun (10.7)
Talkdemonic - Eyes at Half Mast (9.16)
Astronautalis - Pomegranate (9.22)


Stars and Sad Robots

Stars are a pretty easy sell here. Though singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell have both tried their hand at solo and side work, it is only in Stars that they find the golden mean of melody and songwriting. Additionally, it's nice to be surprised. On September 27th, the band released a new blog containing only website address (sadrobots.ca), which led to a beautiful flash site announcing impending release of the Sad Robots EP only one week away. That week has passed and we are left with 6 new songs and a listen I prefer to most of last years In the Bedroom Before the War. Stars isn't messing around with what's made them loved here, but everything still sounds so fresh and so clean. It just goes to show that all these genre reinventions everyone else undergoes are superfluous. Maybe those bands just weren't good enough to continue doing what they used to be good at. Maybe only a few bands are.

Going, Going Gone
[from Sad Robots EP|buy]


Old World Maps + Atlases

Maps and Atlases are generally predictable. Not the band, the navigation tools. Maps rarely change (too much, at least) and Atlases are typically dependable. Boring would be a word. The band, however, is anything but ordinary. A listen to the first 20 seconds of "Witch" should be enough to convince you of that. They are weird enough for the weirdos with more than enough melody to please the pop-nazis. Stuccato rhythms bind together this loose framework of solid riffs and chiming odds and ends while the vocals literally dance around and throughout. A unique marriage of Santa's workshop and wherever it is in heaven that they make up names for angels. Forget the mundanities you associate with Maps and Atlases of old. It's a whole new world out there.

Ted Zancha
[from You and Me and the Mountain EP|buy]


Listening Assignments 9.1.08

1. The Virgins - Rich Girls - There's just something about this track I can't shake. Perhaps it's the smart little rattle of hi-hats, the playful twang of a sweet bassline. It's a bit of MGMT, while a bit more understated and British-sounding. I just keep pressing play. [from The Virgins|buy]

2. Parenthetical Girls - Four Words - Symphonic, warbling drama is unfolding here. It's overtly theatrical, but unfailingly beautiful at the same time. The horns have a life of their own. Jon Brion would love this record. [from Entanglements (out 9.9)|buy]

3. Mason Proper - Lock and Key - It's ironic that I was just mentioning (lamenting?) the hiatus of Crystal Skulls two days ago, but old friends Mason Proper are swooping in to carry the banner of hip '60s-influenced pop. [from Olly Oxen Free|buy]

4. Going Gone - Salty Teeth - Sometimes the most beautiful thing is also the most simple. This is as gentle as morning dew. With velvety guitar strings and a voice adorably normal, this duo of female songwriters is about as diy as they come. Which means a little love goes a long way. [info]