Lazy Sunday: Mini-Playlist #3

Ra Ra Riot - "Can You Tell"

The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Sleep All Day"

Bon Iver - "Skinny Love"

Nada Surf - "See These Bones"

For Against - "Why Are You So Angry"

Long before anyone had ever heard of Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, I was compiling an infinite playlist of my own. "Lazy Sunday" is a constantly updated list on my iPod. There are certain songs that just scream Sunday-listening; the kinds of songs that you want to play on a chilly Sunday afternoon, while you're nursing a hangover, drinking a pot of coffee, reading the newspaper, or cleaning your apartment. There's nothing easily definable that ties all of these songs together, just a certain ease or melancholy that lends itself to the overall Sunday vibe. These are the types of songs that get added to the list. I thought that it might be fun to share some of them with you. So, check back every week for a new batch of songs from my "Lazy Sunday" playlist. This week I chose five songs from albums that appeared on my Top 10 Best Albums of 2008 list. Enjoy!


Top 10 Albums of 2008

As much new music as I listen to, narrowing all of each year's albums down to a list of just my ten favorites is no easy task. There were bands that I thought would make this list, due to my enjoyment of past releases, that didn't make the cut (Death Cab For Cutie, Ladytron, Sigur Ros). There were albums that I have just recently started to listen to that might have been here, were I to post this a month from now (Wilderness, Wye Oak, Magnetic Morning, Speedmarket Avenue). And there were a whole slew of albums that have been recommended, either by people or reviews, that I haven't even heard yet. What you see here is a list of the ten albums that I listened to the most this year. They aren't necessarily the best releases of the year, just the best releases of the year to me. As you can see, I chose a 10a and 10b. The reason is given below. While I'm sure that many will disagree with my choices, I feel comfortable recommending each of these albums.

1. Anthem In - s/t
I'm not sure if this record actually came out. Maybe somebody is playing a trick on me and some guys in town recorded a bunch of songs, slapped a band name on a disc, and mailed it to my apartment. Honestly, this would be the only excuse for why I haven't seen this, my favorite album of the year, on even one other list. This Brooklyn band recalls some of the more upbeat moments in Death Cab for Cutie's catalog as well as Pinback and Modern Memory. Even the first time that you listen to Anthem In's self-titled first release you feel like you've heard every song before. But don't get me wrong, it isn't because these songs are copycat or unoriginal. It's because the hooks and choruses are so immediately memorable that you're already singing along to every song by the final verse. In a perfect world, all thirteen of these songs would be chart-topping singles.

To listen, click here.
Purchase the album here.

2. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns
My prediction is that this album will be next year's For Emma, Forever Ago (Bon Iver), aka, a self-released album that flew under most people's radars, that will get picked up by a label, be more widely released, and end up on a ton of 2009 best-of lists. This Toronto group plays well-crafted, mid-tempo, indie-pop, and their out-of-this-world drummer would take any band to the next level. Buy immediately and prepare to brag about your foresight to all of your friends next year.

To listen and purchase this album, click here.

3. Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
This is one of the best indie-pop releases of the year. Ra Ra Riot, whose name I have a hard time saying without cringing, should please fans of bands such as Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, and Ladybug Transistor. They don't really sound like dead ringers for any of those bands, but the bittersweet, autumnal tone and liberal use of strings immediately evokes the same feelings one gets when listening to the aforementioned. Brew a kettle of tea, light a few candles, cuddle up under an afghan, press play, and let The Rhumb Line envelope you in its warmth.

To listen, click here.
Purchase the album here.


4. Crystal Stilts - Alight of Night
While there were a plethora of bands, the Vivian Girls amongst them, who put out similar sounding releases this year, Crystal Stilts was the only one with songs good enough that, months after first hearing them, I'm still listening to them nearly every day. They play ramshackle, muddy, garage pop with a bit of a surf-guitar vibe (especially on the eponymous album standout "Crystal Stilts"). The most obvious influences are bands such as Black Tambourine, The Shop Assistants, and The Pastels. But the quality of the tracks on display here make the Stilts immediate equals rather than just two-decades-late wannabes.

Listen here.
Buy the album here.

5. Nada Surf - Lucky
Nada Surf just gets better and better with every album. This band is a far cry from the one that brought you the, admittedly catchy but still novel, "Popular" in the 90s. For a few albums now, they have been turning out some of the most outstanding pop songs that I've heard so far this decade. Their knack for catchy stay-in-your-head-for-days hooks and melodies has been recently matched only by the likes of The Shins and New Pornographers. Lucky is solid throughout, but the real gems are "See These Bones," "Whose Authority," and "I Like What You Say."

Listen here.
Purchase here.

6. For Against - Shade Side Sunny Side
Nebraska's For Against has to be the most criminally underrated band in existence. On this, their first release in six years, they continue to peddle in the atmospherics of Comsat Angels, the raw intensity of Joy Division, and the melancholic tones of a host of other early-80s Brit postpunk bands. These guys are no pretenders though. They've been around nearly since that time. And, despite all of those familiar touchstones, their sound is all their own and possibly darker here than ever before (which, in this case, is a good thing). I recommend Shady Side Sunny Side along with all of their other releases, most of which have been put back into circulation within the last five or six years.

Listen here.
Purchase here.


7. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One
I've been a Badu fan since day one. She's had such a smooth, soulful voice, sometimes recalling Billie Holiday, that it's been hard not to fall under her spell. However, she conjures something totally new on this record. Drawing on the influences of J Dilla, quality funk, and all of the best underground hip-hop, Badu has created a hip-hop influenced, neo-soul masterpiece, the best album of this type since D'Angelo's Voodoo. Track breaks are hardly necessary as this beat-filled album transitions so smoothly that you forget where one song ended and the next began. Rumor has it that she already has three albums worth of follow-up material in the can. If they are all done at this level, she can expect me to have a spot reserved for her on this list for years to come.

Listen here.
Purchase here.


8. TV On the Radio - Dear Science,
TV On the Radio is one of those rare bands that has a wide appeal while never just playing it safe and, all the while, sounding only like themselves. There are not other bands making music like them right now and there weren't before either. This is a solid collection of songs from the band that I expected to be at the top of my list before I'd even heard a single note of this album. Why aren't they there? This album feels choppier than past TVOTR releases, which have always felt very cohesive and created one mood that lasted from beginning to end. That said, all tracks are still of the highest quality and leave me already eagerly anticipating their next release.

Listen here.
Purchase here.


9. The Coast - Expatriate
The ten songs that make up Expatriate manage to work quite well together despite the fact that they run the gamut from standard pop, to slightly twangy countrified rock, to shoegaze influenced, guitar driven anthems. The Coast have a propensity to aim for a certain epic grandeur in their song-writing that most reminds me of Ambulance Ltd. but also at times, The Editors. On the surface, there is nothing groundbreaking or remarkably unique about these songs. However, and despite that, I was compelled to play this album over and over again for months. Plain and simple, these songs just work for me.

Listen here.
Purchase here.

10a. Jay Reatard - Matador Singles '08
Since venturing out on his own a few years ago, Jay Reatard has yet to put out a piece of music that is not absolutely essential. This release, a collection of Reatard's Matador singles from this year (as the observant reader might have already inferred from the title), is no exception. This guy has more energy than anybody making music right now and he packs every bit of it into each pop-inflected punk gem. However, he also proves on this release that he is capable of turning out the same high level of song in a more subdued acoustic format. The only reason that this album isn't higher on the list is because I'm not sure that I really consider a singles collection a proper album.

Listen here.
Purchase here.


10b. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
This album is only last on the list because it technically came out last year. Were that not the case, this folky beauty would be at number one. I probably went to sleep listening to this record about 100 nights this year. This is no insult though. The songs on this album are so comforting, melodic, and relaxing that they are like grown-up lullabies. Close your eyes and you are in the remote cabin in Wisconsin where these songs were written and recorded.

Listen here.
Purchase here.


New Jack Rabid/Big Takeover Podcast

There are very few things to like about Mondays. For most of us, Monday means back to work, to responsibility, to sobriety. However, there is always one good reason to look forward to the beginning of the week, a new podcast from founder/editor of The Big Takeover, Jack Rabid, over at Breakthruradio.

Rabid has been a fixture in the world of underground music now for nearly three decades, through his bands; Even Worse, Last Burning Embers, and Springhouse, and through his tireless advocacy of "Music With Heart" via his twice-yearly magazine, The Big Takeover, and various other publications and media outlets. He has now had a weekly podcast since last Spring. It is well worth a listen if you haven't checked it out yet.

The podcast comes off exactly as a reader of his magazine might expect. There are no pretenses. The tracks that are featured are chosen for their merit, not their accolades or buzzworthiness. Rabid peppers his 60-70 minutes with his own insights about the songs and artists featured, and relevant backstory where appropriate. While he comes off as supremely confident and comfortable in this format (likely due to past radio experience), there is nothing of the over-rehearsed formality that often mars chattier podcasts (think NPR pretentiousness, or, of many of the podcasts that used to be offered through Stylusmagazine).

The show includes music of all varieties, including punk, postpunk, indie rock, indie pop, shoegaze, etc. Each week, one is just as likely to hear from a band that is burning up blogland (Fleet Foxes, Walkmen) as an obscuro punk B-side (Weirdos, Screamers) ,or, a cut from a recent band that you haven't read about/heard about anywhere else.

If I could make one criticism, I would say that he sometimes leans too heavily on the same artists/albums week after week. However, it could be argued that the repeated appearances of the same bands might serve to underscore the fact that nothing that Mr. Rabid does appears to be motivated by any aim but to share the music that he loves with as many people as possible. And, if the end result is new fans for underheard bands like The Coast, Anthem In, and Darker My Love, then this is a very minor gripe.

Above is a 1982 video from CBGB of Bad Brains doing the song that gave The Big Takeover it's name.

This week's playlist:
00:00 DJ Jack Rabid
00:18 Spring Unseen - Magnetic Morning
02:18 It Won't Stop - The Great Shakes
04:44 21st Century Ghost - The Unremarkables
08:48 The Brain - Frances
12:27 DJ Jack Rabid
14:33 Disclaimer - The Dears
21:14 Black Ghost/Black Girl - Starling Electric
23:35 I'm So Happy - The Interiors
26:04 They're Not Witches - Guided By Voices
26:52 DJ Jack Rabid
28:33 Human Bomb - D.O.A.
32:02 Oh Canaduh! - Subhumans Canada
34:18 Have a Nice Day - Kinetic Stereokids
38:26 Snowed In/Cruisin' - Joel Plaskett Emergency
44:50 DJ Jack Rabid
48:08 What Happened to Manfred, What Happened to Jane? - Edward Rogers

Listen to the Big Takeover Podcast here.
Subscribe to The Big Takeover magazine here.
Purchase CDs from all of Mr. Rabid's bands through his Pink Frost Records.
Learn more about Mr. Rabid and his magazine here.


Worth A Click: 11/23/08

Here are some music-related stories from around the web that are worth a click:


Lazy Sunday: Mini-Playlist #2

Pernice Brothers - Weakest Shade of Blue

Neko Case - I Wish I Was the Moon

Belle & Sebastian - The State I Am In

Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas

Judee Sill - Jesus Was A Crossmaker

Long before anyone had ever heard of Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, I was compiling an infinite playlist of my own. "Lazy Sunday" is a constantly updated list on my iPod. There are certain songs that just scream Sunday-listening; the kinds of songs that you want to play on a chilly Sunday afternoon, while you're nursing a hangover, drinking a pot of coffee, reading the newspaper, or cleaning your apartment. There's nothing easily definable that ties all of these songs together, just a certain ease or melancholy that lends itself to the overall Sunday vibe. These are the types of songs that get added to the list. I thought that it might be fun to share some of them with you. So, check back every week for a new batch of songs from my "Lazy Sunday" playlist.

New Boxed Sets From Neil Young, The Kinks!

Yesterday brought some very good news, along with the specter of financial hardships around the bend. Two of the all-time best musical acts will soon be releasing new boxed sets. Both the Kinks and Neil Young have collections on the way.


Pitchfork reported that The Kinks, my favorite band, will release Picture Book on December 8. Of the box, they say:
. . . collects over 130 tracks across six chronologically ordered CDs, sprinkling rarities, live tracks, and demos (including early ones recorded under the name the Ravens) among the Kinks' classic singles and album tracks. The accompanying 60-page booklet features a biography, a Kinks timeline, and previously unseen photos.

I'll have to wait until they release a tracklist on this one before I decide if it's a go or not. On the one hand, the Ravens' material along with the rarities and the booklet will make this difficult to pass on. On the other hand, I own all of the Kinks' 60's albums in their original form and some in their expanded reissue format, their BBC Sessions, and various anthologies and hits collections. I'm just wondering how much of the included material is going to overlap with what I already have. Probably most of it, and I don't see myself shelling out boxed set dollars for 10-12 songs that I don't own. But, I've also been known to be impulsive and irrational. So, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.


Aquarium Drunkard reported yesterday that Neil Young's first volume of his long rumored archives collection will be releasing shortly after the new year. Here is an excerpt that they featured from The Rolling Stone:
After more than 20 years, the first volume of Young’s career-spanning box set is finally coming out. The 10-disc set (available in Blu-ray for $432 or DVD for $345, and eventually in CD and download formats) is built around an interactive timeline that allows users to access hundreds of hours of audio and video, ranging from Young’s high school band through 1972’s Harvest. “There’s photos, there’s original lyrics, there’s all the materials that make up a career,” says Larry Johnson, the set’s producer. So when is Vol. 2 due? “Now that we’ve done the format,” says Young, “it’ll be quicker.”

So, this one sounds like a really amazing set. It also sounds like they are making it interesting and unique enough to justify purchase even if you already own a lot of the included material. However, the price is kind of crazy. I know it's Neil Young and there are all kinds of goodies included. But, damn. Three or four bills would be hard for me to justify to myself for a new camera (which I actually need), much less a music collection that I probably already own the majority of.

Oh well, somebody will get both of these. And they'll probably be very happy. And I'll definitely be very jealous.


Free Dr. Pepper, Compliments of Guns N' Roses (sort of)


After a 20+ year wait, Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy finally drops tomorrow. Like myself and so many others, the people over at Dr. Pepper didn't believe that this day would ever come. In March the company made the statement that, if this album actually released in 2008, they would give a free soda to every person in the United States. Well, they are holding up their end of the bargain. An AP statement from November 20 reads:
Dr Pepper is making good on its promise of free soda now that the release of Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy" is a reality.

The soft-drink maker said in March that it would give a free soda to everyone in America if the album dropped in 2008. "Chinese Democracy," infamously delayed since recording began in 1994, goes on sale Sunday.

"We never thought this day would come," Tony Jacobs, Dr Pepper's vice president of marketing, said in a statement. "But now that it's here, all we can say is: The Dr Pepper's on us."

Beginning Sunday at 12:01 a.m., coupons for a free 20-ounce soda will be available for 24 hours on Dr Pepper's Web site. They'll be honored until Feb. 28.

So, head on over and get yourself a free Dr. Pepper. You'll need all of that caffeine to keep you up while you listen to this album. Oh, if only I were still nine years old and riding my Appetite For Destruction high . . .

Above, a photo of the Guns N' Roses line-up that I fell in love with as a little kid.


Pre-Order Idlewild's Forthcoming Album

I found a notice in my inbox today that Scottish band, Idlewild, has a special pre-order package for their as yet untitled 2009 album. It read in part:
We will be in the studio for the first few months of 2009 and plan a conventional album release in the summer, but for a limited time, we would like to offer our fans a chance to be involved from the beginning by pre-ordering directly from us a special edition album along with plenty of extras. This offer is available worldwide so that finally our fans overseas will have the chance to hear our music at the same time as everyone in the UK and before any general release.

Extras include some fun, but sort of useless, perks such as getting your name printed in the album booklet. And, of more interest; you will receive the album shortly after it is completed and long before it is actually released, there will be at least one bonus track that will not be on the officially released version, you will have access to 15 free downloads of selected live recordings from the band, and you will be entered in a drawing with lots of nice prizes for the taking.

I haven't been a huge fan of Idlewild's last few releases. They were just okay. But, their 2000 album, 100 Broken Windows, is still one of my favorite and most frequently listened to albums of the new millennium. If you haven't heard it, do yourself a favor and get a copy ASAP. The video above is of a song called "Actually, It's Darkness," one of the best tracks off of that album.

For more pre-order info, click here.
To purchase other Idlewild albums at insound.com, click here.
To listen to 100 Broken Windows at last.fm, click here.


808s & Heartbreak/Auto-Tune, Please Go Away!


Stereogum had a link to Kanye West's blog today where you can stream his new album 808s & Heartbreak. So, I figured that I'd head on over and give it a shot. This, despite the fact that I'd been underwhelmed by the early leaks off of the album.

I'm disappointed to report that the whole exercise was a waste of my time. From what I heard (before I gave up), this album is a total dud. The most obvious flaw is the excessive use of Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune is a pitch-correcting vocal processor that leaves vocals sounding lifeless, filtered, somewhat robotic, and totally devoid of a human touch. Nearly every song features this device. Top 4o listeners, by nature of the fact that the songs that make it to that list nearly always fit the above stipulations, will be rather familiar with the Auto-Tune sound, which was most familiarly used on Cher's abysmal 2002 hit, "Do You Believe In Love."

Am I really surprised? Not terribly. But, I've always thought that West brought something unique to hip-hop music, even when I didn't love what he was doing. I respected his production, innovation, and willingness to step outside of the boundaries that constrict so much mainstream hip-hop music. I can't get his back this time though. If this is what happens after Graduation, Yeezy needs to go back to school.

Neko Case probably can't either. When I started listening to the album I was immediately reminded of a 2006 interview that she did with Pitchfork. During the interview she had much to say about the Auto-Tune. One of the relevant quotes:
-When I hear auto tune on somebody's voice, I don't take them seriously. Or you hear somebody like Alicia Keys, who I know is pretty good, and you'll hear a little bit of auto tune and you're like, "You're too fucking good for that. Why would you let them do that to you? Don't you know what that means?" It's not an effect like people try to say, it's for people like Shania Twain who can't sing. Yet there they are, all over the radio, jizzing saccharine all over you. It's a horrible sound and it's like, "Shania, spend an extra hour in the studio and you'll hit the note and it'll sound fine. Just work on it, it's not like making a burger!"
And, later in the same interview, when asked her opinion of Top-40 music:
- And I'm not going to say I don't love the new Kanye West record (Graduation). I do. There are things about the production I'm not crazy about though. People mix records to be heard in cars and to have the bass incredibly loud so the vocals have to fight with everything so there's no dynamic left, and that's kind of a bummer. That may not be my taste but I'm not going to go, "Kanye's not very good," because he's pretty badass.
I wonder how Neko feels now. In case you live under a rock or something, Neko Case has one of the most amazing voices in music right now.

You can buy her solo albums here.
You can buy her albums with the New Pornographers here.
You can read the whole Pitchfork interview here.
You can read Stereogum's post here.


Out Of Time?


I would not consider myself a fan of Spin Magazine. Though I can see its worth to someone who spends less of their time obsessing over, listening to, and seeking out new music. For someone like me, a magazine like Spin plays it way too safe. They review all of the albums that one would expect them to review; mostly mainstream or only slightly below the mainstream's radar. And, even this, they do entirely too late. In an age where information is so readily and easily available on the internet, it is hard to keep a music magazine relevant (I can think of only one that I deem absolutely essential, The Big Takeover). However, Spin ran an editorial by Chuck Klosterman that I read years ago that featured one passage that has stuck with me ever since. The article is called "Out of Time" and appeared in a 2004 issue of the magazine. Today, I decided to seek it out.

The passage:

But what I have come to realize is that those four or five years (from 20 to 25, roughly) represent the only time when things can seem new. When you're a teenager, you can't appreciate innovation intellectually -- everything seems normal, and you take everything for granted. And when you reach 30, you can't enjoy innovation viscerally, because it's impossible not to see how everything is ultimately derivative of something else. And yet there is a very specific window of time when newness can feel truly authentic, and it's a really amazing moment in your life.

I was twenty-five when I first read those words. Though I didn't commit them to memory, I have remembered the essence of what Klosterman wrote ever since. And, in the nearly five years that have passed, I have frequently ruminated over this notion; the idea that as the brain accumulates a greater degree of knowledge, its capacity to view things as unique and new is gradually eviscerated. I do believe that there is some truth to this.

Take music for example, since that is what I write about here. I can't remember the last time that I heard a song that didn't cause me to immediately recall parallels, draw comparisons, cite influences. Nobody could ever listen to all of the music that is out there. But, at this stage in my life, I have listened closely and widely enough that nothing does sound totally new. And, while I do get nostalgic for that time when there were genres and sounds that I could listen to that sounded like nothing that I ever could have imagined before, I would be remiss if I didn't say that I am still stopped dead in my tracks by new music every single day.

The experience is not the same. That doesn't mean that it can't be just as pleasing though. In my opinion, discovering a new genre or a new sound was just a tip-of-the-iceberg experience. It was life changing, yes. But, it was only the beginning of the journey. The fun came, and still comes, in digging deeper into whatever has captured the imagination at a given time. In other words, something doesn't have to sound like a transmission from another planet in order to affect one deeply. One doesn't have to feel like a caveman discovering fire in order to be moved by a work of art. What the experience lacks, viscerally, can be made up for in the exploration of nuance. And while that might lead to a different sort of pleasure, it is a pleasure nonetheless. What do you think?

Read Chuck Klosterman's full editorial here.


Magazine Reforming/Howard Devoto Backstory


If you are a fan of the band Magazine, then you can probably relate to my mix of excitement and disappointment upon hearing that they are getting back together for the first time since their 1980 breakup. Excitement, at the thought of one of the most important and influential bands of all time reforming. Disappointment, at the realization that, like so much seemingly good news, there is a down side. There will be only two reunion shows. Both shows will take place in the UK. Magazine will be playing The Forum in London on February 13th, and the next night, February 14th, at The Academy in Manchester. If anyone out there has a secret crush on me, you are encouraged and implored to send me a plane ticket and a concert ticket for either night in lieu of a Valentine, flowers, or chocolates.

The story of Magazine founder, Howard Devoto, or at least the part of the story that matters in this context, begins with a show that has often been referred to as "The Gig That Changed The World." The gig in question; the June 1976 Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. The most generous estimates have the turnout at 35-40 people. However, amongst the attendees were an all-star line-up of future punk, post-punk, and new wave giants, including Devoto and soon-to-be Buzzcocks bandmate Pete Shelley, future Smiths vocalist/lyricist, Morrissey, the men who would become Joy Division (and later New Order), and Mark E Smith, who would soon start The Fall. All of them have cited this show as one of their greatest motivations to form bands.

Devoto and Shelley started The Buzzcocks almost immediately after the show. They were, without a doubt, a punk band. But, they brought a certain melodicism and songcraft to their pieces that still had it's feet firmly planted in pop. As such, they are often cited as the first pop-punk band ever. Though one would be hard pressed to draw much of a comparison to most of the garbage that gets tagged with that label anymore. Devoto only stuck with The Buzzcocks for one (very good) EP, Spiral Scratch, and, in 1977 he left the band.

He sought to expand on the rather limited punk format by adding new instruments, such as saxophone and keyboards, without abandoning the punch and immediacy of the genre. The result was his teaming up with John McGeoch (guitar/sax), Barry Adamson (bass), Dave Formula (keyboards), and Martin Jackson (drums), to form Magazine. Their output includes a handful of singles and EPs, three essential LPs (Real Life, Second Hand Daylight, and The Correct Use of Soap), a live album that suffers from shoddy production value, and a very unessential LP (Magic, Murder and the Weather) that prefaced their demise.

The tracks contained on these recordings document the experimentation and discoveries of a band on the early edge of the post-punk and art-rock movements. Lyrically, they are biting, witty, and poetic. Musically, they feature the dark, paranoid, angular guitar work that is still associated with the post-punk of today, and a wash of keys that was predictive of the 80s new wave craze that was just around the bend.

Devoto went on to a spotty solo career, and the so-so (at best) Luxuria, after Magazine disbanded. And, while his former Buzzcocks mates have reformed to renewed success, he has been markedly absent from the music scene for some time now, adding that much more anticipation to the Magazine reunion shows. Here's to hoping that these shows go well enough that the boys decide to stick around for a bit longer and maybe (keeping my fingers crossed) play a few dates on this side of the pond.

Here are YouTube links to videos of Magazine performing some of their classic songs:

"Shot By Both Sides" on Top of the Pops.

"Definitive Gaze" on Old Grey Whistle Test.

"Permafrost" in concert.


The Dreadful Yawns - Thursday 11/20 @ Bernie's (Columbus, OH.)


I found the following in my inbox today:

"The Dreadful Yawns are coming...

To a little rock club called Bernie's on THURSDAY 11/20
1896 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 291 - 3448

We are proud to share the stage with these fine folks.
The Sailing
Trains Across The Sea

We are playing last, because our rider indicates that we ONLY HEADLINE.

Two stories: 1) Bernie's is the site of the VERY first show played by the original core of the Dreadful Yawns Ben, Dave, and Charlie back in the glorious 90's.
2) Special thanks to James of Outer Sounds for inviting us, not forgetting about us, then inviting us again.

Cost is nominal when you consider your other options.... hooker (1/2 hour)+ rocks (3) = $70...
thems is high street hooker prices."

For those unfamiliar with them, The Dreadful Yawns are a band out of Cleveland that has been around since the late 90's. Their sound is a unique blend of alt-country, psych-folk, and indie-rock. And their newest album, Take Shape (out now on Exit Stencil Recordings), is their most experimental, accomplished, and enjoyable yet.

The Yawns seem just as comfortable playing quiet, acoustic-based music as they do raucous, extended length rockers. This provides for an interesting, and sometimes jarring, juxtaposition that keeps one listening in anticipation of where each song might lead. One of the best examples of this is on, "Mood Assassin," the culminating track of Take Shape.

After a quick blast of electric-guitar at the onset, the song settles into a pleasant and familiar enough tone for the next two minutes, with a straight forward guitar line, softly cooed female vocals, and even a violin for good measure. This is followed by a gradual build up (which reminds me of similar moments on the 2000 album Designing For A Nervous Breakdown, by The Anniversary), the vocalist repeatedly singing "Please remember, to step carefully" as the, now, dual guitar lines become more and more urgent until they reach a point of beautiful chaos. The remaining 2-3 minutes take the listener on an intense, ramshackle, Velvets-like romp through layers of feedback and distortion that, when all is said and done, leaves you totally floored. To my ears, this song encompasses every facet of The Yawns' sound and is, without a doubt, the best track of 2008 (as if you couldn't already tell that from the way that I just gushed about it). You can listen to it here.

You can also check out some video clips of the band here.

Do yourself a favor and head out to the show. And if you can't make it, grab the album here.


Melpo Mene - "I Adore You"

A few years back, something strange started happening. People of my generation, and whom I shared interests with, moved into positions at advertising agencies that allowed them to make big decisions about ad campaigns. One of the decisions that many of them made was to attach actual good music to the commercials for the products and companies that they were branding. The concept seemed to work well for all parties involved. And, in no time, commercial jingles seemed archaic relics of a bygone era.

With record sales sagging across the board, commercial exposure provided a new source of income for many struggling and formerly obscure bands. Additionally, this widespread exposure gave them a chance to tap into an entirely new audience, one that never would have heard of them in the past, much less heard them. For those who were already familiar with the "underground" music that was being used to shill a product, they felt like somebody was actually trying to market directly to them. And, to some degree, they were.

The truth is, the use of the music of relatively unknown artists by advertisers was a double bonus for the brands whose products they were promoting. Because the songs were not well known, they didn't have to cough up a lot of cash to get the rights to them. This sound economic decision also proved to be a shrewd marketing choice, as it allowed the companies and products to adopt an air of hipness due to their association, on a subliminal level or otherwise, to songs that were "cool" and outside of the mainstream. Anymore, as many indie acts break into the greater public consciousness through television advertising exposure as through nightly gigging.

While the debate in the music dork community rages on as to whether these bands have "sold out" or not, I, for one, welcome the inclusion of good music in television advertising. Don't get me wrong, I love to know about a great new band or song before any of my friends do. And I've definitely had concert experiences ruined by fans who only came to hear the one song that they knew and then talked through the rest of the show. But, I can also face the issue in a practical sense. If a band that I love gets a big ad-revenue injection into their budget along with the accompanying larger concert crowds, the chances of them being able to record more great music are upped. Not to mention, watching television commercials becomes at least a little bit more tolerable.

Anyway, I took the long route to get here, but the reason I was posting was because one of my favorite new songs happens to be one that I hadn't heard until it played in the background of a frequently run Volvo spot. Rarely do I devote the whole of my attention to the television even though I frequently have it on. Usually, I'm reading, writing, surfing the internet, or doing crossword puzzles too. On one particular day, a few weeks back, I heard a song that sounded like something straight out of a Wes Anderson movie (which is typically a good thing in my book). I was somewhat startled when I looked up and realized that it was playing in the background of a Volvo ad.

The track was "I Adore You" by Swedish indie-pop artist, Melpo Mene. And it should appeal to fans of Jose Gonzalez, another Swede who found an American audience through a commercial (when his cover of a song by The Knife, "Heartbeats," was used in a Sony Bravia commercial turned viral video). This song's soft, soothing vocals and lilting melodies really put one's mind at ease. One listen, and it'll come as no surprise that Volvo thought this would be an appealing track to use in a commercial. If you enjoy this one, it can be found on an album full of songs that I would rate its equals, Bring The Lions Out.


My Morning Jacket, or, Cousin Itt & Friends?

Earlier this afternoon, I happened to stumble across this video of My Morning Jacket playing a rousing version of their song, "One Big Holiday," on Conan. The song is a good one that I hadn't heard for probably a year. But, it's made even better by the fact that Jim James' hair entirely obscures his face throughout the performance, creating an uncanny resemblance to Cousin Itt, from The Addams Family.


Lazy Sunday: Mini-Playlist #1

Mum - We Have A Map Of The Piano

Simon & Garfunkel - Old Friends

Oscar Peterson Trio - You Are My Heart's Delight

Swan Lake - All Fires

The Clientele - Voices In The Mall

Long before anyone had ever heard of Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, I was compiling an infinite playlist of my own. "Lazy Sunday" is a constantly updated list on my iPod. There are certain songs that just scream Sunday-listening; the kinds of songs that you want to play on a chilly Sunday afternoon, while you're nursing a hangover, drinking a pot of coffee, reading the newspaper, or cleaning your apartment. There's nothing easily definable that ties all of these songs together, just a certain ease or melancholy that lends itself to the overall Sunday vibe. These are the types of songs that get added to the list. I thought that it might be fun to share some of them with you. So, check back every week for a new batch of songs from my "Lazy Sunday" playlist.


Passion Pit - "Sleepyhead"

Passion Pit began earnestly enough as, Boston-based, Michael Angelakos' Valentine's Day gift to his girlfriend. The one-man-project consisted of a handful of home-recorded songs. It seems that the gift went over alright as she began passing the disc along to friends who also found that they liked Angelakos' songs. Eventually, the songs ended up in the hands of indie label, Frenchkiss Records, and they've now been released as an EP, entitled Chunk of Change.

The EP includes all of the original songs plus an additional track, "Sleepyhead," that has been written and recorded since Angelakos assembled a full band so he could play the songs live. Passion Pit has opened up for some rather big name acts, such as Death Cab For Cutie, but its heart-on-sleeve mixture of electronics and pop music bares more resemblance to DCFC side project, The Postal Service.

While all of the tracks are enjoyable enough, "Sleepyhead" is the one that you'll find yourself playing over and over again. I take this as a good sign since it is of a more recent vintage than the other five songs. If this song is a preview of things to come, then we have much to look forward to from Passion Pit. And, if it's just a fluke, we still have one of the most exuberant, uplifting, and finest tracks of 2008.

Jessica Lea Mayfield - "We've Never Lied" (Acoustic)

Anyone who gets stuck listening to me yammer on about the music that I love has probably heard me talk about Jessica Lea Mayfield at least once during the last couple of months. Mayfield, a 19-year old product of Kent, Ohio, has put out one of the best, and until this week's 8.2 Pitchfork rating, most unheralded albums of 2008. This is not, however, to say that she hasn't quickly bowled over those who have heard the album. Just that knowledge of the songs on With Blasphemy So Heartfelt should be the norm, not something that one should have to randomly discover.

Pitchfork hit the nail on the head when they said that Mayfield calls to mind Mazzy Star chanteuse, Hope Sandoval. She sings her slightly countrified folk in a lulling, and unaffected voice that belies her age. Her lyrics are easy to relate to, yet poignant.

Though the album, produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, is fantastic from top to bottom, my favorite track is "We've Never Lied." It's a song of conflicting emotions; submissiveness and empowerment, endings and beginnings, hate and love. But, most of all, it is a song that elicits from the listener memories of the moment in every failed relationship when one has accepted the end, but has yet to fully let the acceptance sink in. Posted above is a clip that I found of Mayfield playing an acoustic version of "We've Never Lied." Enjoy. And go buy the album!

Hard Times

I had to make a deposit at the bank today. In front of me were a woman and her daughter, probably five or six years old. I was within earshot and overheard the teller explain to the woman that she would not be able to get any cash. She was already overdrawn. The woman looked defeated and on the verge of tears. The matter was compounded when her daughter asked "Mommy, does that mean that we're poor?" Her response, a hushed "no!"

For the tellers and those of us in line the moment was awkward and embarrassing. For the woman it must have been absolutely heartbreaking. I'm not a parent. But, I can appreciate the stress that one must feel knowing that their financial burdens are carried not just by themselves, but by their children as well.

The moment reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite films, The Bicycle Thief. The setting is post-World War II Italy. Jobs are scarce and times are tough. The story is of a father and son in search of the father's stolen bicycle. Without the bicycle he cannot do his job and provide for his family. When, after scouring the town they still can't find the bike, the father reaches his breaking point.

Unable to deal with the shame of not being able to support his family, he attempts to steal a bicycle from another man when he thinks that his son is not present. Not only does he get caught during this act of desperation, but he realizes that his son has witnessed the whole shameful scene.

The woman at the bank had committed no wrong. But, the look of fear, despair and disappointment in her eyes mirrored that of the bicycle thief in the climactic moment of the clip that I posted above. Unfortunately, this is a look that is becoming all too familiar.