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Archive for April, 2006

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Sunday Cleaning – Volume 31

Aloha / Some Echoes (Polyvinyl)

Based in various locales around the east coast of the United States (but nowhere near Hawaii), Aloha walk a line between pop song structures and post-rock moods, with hummable melodies, skittering rhythms and dense instumentation. The ensuing result can often be hard to pin down, which works both in the band’s favour and not. Case in point, their latest album, Some Echoes. On one hand, it’s an interesting and eclectic listen from the Pinback-y opener “Brace Your Face” to the classic Shins-esque pop of “Your Eyes”, but from the math-rock POV, it’s too poppy to really engage the left side of the brain and from the pop POV, it’s too mathematical to engage the necessary emotional response. I dunno. I’ve actually listened to this album a fair bit, trying to figure it out but I just can’t. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

MP3: Aloha – “Your Eyes”

Aerogramme / Seclusion (Sonic Unyon)

I saw Aerogramme open for fellow Scots the Delgados a few years back, and at first I thought, “hey these guys aren’t bad, they’re–” and then they started screaming. And then they started singing again. And then the screaming. And that, in a nutshell, was Aerogramme. They write some great songs and then often ruin them with what I suppose is meant to be “cathartic” screaming – inexplicable since frontman Craig B really can sing. Thankfully, on this EP, originally released in the UK in Fall of 2004 but only available in North America as of a few weeks ago, they’ve checked the angst somewhat and have put together quite a listenable, dramatic and impassioned record with only a nominal amount of screaming. And yes, that indeed is a hard-rocking version of The Flaming Lips’ “Lightining Strikes The Postman”. Your ears do not deceive you. At this rate, they may actually put out a record I can listen to and enjoy, cringe-free, within a few years.

MP3: Aerogramme – “Dreams & Bridges”
Short film: Aerogramme – Seclusion (MOV)

She Sir (independent)

Austin’s She Sir makes a bit of hay from the fact that the two principal members are both orchestral composers, but they must have formed this band to escape the rigidness of their day jobs because they sound like any countless number of youngsters who fell under the spell of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in the early 90s. Their debut EP is still forthcoming sometime this Summer, but they’ve made a couple of demos available to hear via their websites. Based on these teasers, expect dense, fuzzed-out guitars, uncannily Kevin Shields-y vocals and generally old-school shoegazey goodness. Worth watching.

MP3: She Sir – “It’s My Way Of Staying Connected”
MP3: She Sir – “You Can’t Change A Thing”
She Sir @ MySpace

np – Jens Lekman / When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Thug Life

Winner of this year’s Acadamy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Tsotsi really got me to thinking – but not about the film, specifically. But to that in a bit. First I’ll talk about the film.

Set in the slums of Johannesburg, it follows the story of a young man who goes by the name of Tsotsi, which loosely translates into “thug”. It’s an appropriate name as he spends his time leading a small gang in committing crimes of increasing brazeness and brutality. His world is thrown askew when he steals a car and discovers that he’s acquired a baby in the process. What happens next is rather predictable, but this isn’t a film about keeping the viewer guessing. On the whole, in fact, it’s not especially sophisticated but for all its obviousness, it’s riveting in its execution and atmosphere. In the titular role, Presley Chweneyagae manages to take a character who is initially so cold and callous and give him if not a redemption – that’s not in the cards nor is it deserved – enough depth that when the story is played out, it can’t be dismissed with a simple “good riddance to bad rubbish”.

And that’s what has had me pondering the film over the last couple days. Somewhat to my surprise, it brought out a (very) latent Old Testament streak in me that I didn’t realize was there. Understand that through much of the film, the character of Tsotsi is absolutely a violent, seemingly hopeless misanthrope. I wasn’t prepared for the coldness or callousness of some of the actions depicted, so when he’s given an opportunity via the stolen child to reevaluate his life or turn a page, I admit I didn’t think he deserved that chance. Where was the responsibility, the punishment, the justice? Simply letting him see the error of his ways wasn’t going to be enough. I was not comfortable with the notion that I should be feeling sympathy for his – the none-too-subtle flashbacks to his childhood made this fairly clear – when there seemed to be no such sympathy for his victims. By the time the credits roll, there does seem to have been some balancing of the karmic scales but I still left pondering not what message the film was trying to get across, that much is pretty obvious, but what my reaction to elements of it say about me and my presumed liberalistic ideology. Conclusions thus far? I do not know.

The Guardian spends some time with Primal Scream – back in the saddle (though without Kevin Shields) and releasing their new album Riot City Blues on June 5 (via Coolfer.

And Pitchfork reports on reissues from Bobby Gillespie’s old band The Jesus & Mary Chain. Their first five albums will be remastered with some bonus materials and released in DualDisc format on July 11. I have to ask – does anyone really want to hear Psychocandy in high-definition sound? I mean, isn’t the fact that it sounds like 40 minutes of white noise rather the appeal? And why reissue every album except Munki? No love for Munki? Munki sad. Not a good album, but still sad.

A follow-up to my Band Of Horses post from earlier this week – Subpop has made another MP3 from Everything All The Time avaliable. Get it now:

MP3: Band Of Horses – “The Great Salt Lake”

Matador has taken a page from Merge’s playbook and announced that all of their vinyl releases will come with a free digital download of said same album. Bravo, Matador. Curiously, though Merge pioneered this tactic, they haven’t made it a standing policy. No idea why, seems like a no-brainer to me. And Matador seems to be going along with I Am Not Afraid Of You, And I Will Beat Your Ass as the official title of the new Yo La Tengo album, due September 12, at least for now. I’ll believe it when I see it on store shelves, but for the moment, AWESOME.

The Globe & Mail previews next week’s Over The Top Fest, which will bring a plethora of weird and wonderful acts to town. Fail to catch at least one of them and you are officially uncool. You’ve been warned.

The reunited and probably nothing like the original Don Caballero are at the Horseshoe on June 19.

np – The Radio Dept / Pet Grief

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Thin Blue Flame

You may have noticed a sort of roots theme running through this week’s posts. This was both coincidental and by design, but what better way to finish up the working week with this – Wilco. Massey Hall. July 7. Tickets probably more than you’d care to pay but still somehow worth every penny. Presale for other Canadian dates begin at 10AM, May 3 though that may or may not include the Toronto show. There had been some concern earlier in the day when the announced date was July 8, which was already booked by Solomon Burke, but the schedule was fixed last night and the Toronto date was swapped with the London date. All is right with the world… and note that including the July 15 Ottawa show, that’s three Wilco shows within a 7-hours drive over the course of a week. Four in 8 if you include Montreal. Road trip, people.

Okay, apologies to Josh Ritter for bumping his headlining post down a couple paragraphs. I’d known Ritter’s name for some time on account of him having come through town countless times opening for the likes of Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards and The Frames (as well as his own show at the Mod Club a few weeks back), so much so that I may have even thought he was a local boy. Well he’s not, he’s from Idaho and he’s got far more going on for him than just apparently being a fine support act.

I received a copy of his well-received, just-released new album The Animal Years a little while ago and have been greatly enjoying the superb roots-rock contained within. To my ears, he combines some of the earthiness of Steve Earle with no small amout of Dylan-ish lyrical ambition, though arguably a stronger singer than both. While somewhat understated in tone, even when it rocks out, there’s a thread of politics and anxiety throughout that can be felt, even when the words are wrapped in metaphor and allegory. It’s a pleasant listen if you’re not really paying attention and a mesmerizing listen if you are.

Chart recently had a conversation with Ritter about some of the inspirations behind the new record and The Guardian talks to him about the albums political undercurrent. There’s lots of places to hear his music – you can stream the whole of The Animal Years here, befriend him at MySpace or just wade through the cornucopia of material at this fansite. And two of the strongest tracks from the album, including the epic-length centrepiece “Thin Blue Flame” can be grabbed below:

MP3: Josh Ritter – “Girl In The War”
MP3: Josh Ritter – “Thin Blue Flame”

Living With War is now streaming and you know what? It sounds good and Old Black sounds pissed. Which is also good. The New York Times has a conversation with Neil about the record.

The Riverfront Times profiles Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s. The band had to cancel their April 3 show in Toronto due to van problems, but will hopefully make it up here before too long. I can’t help noticing that they’re hooking up with Film School for a tour down the middle of America just two days after that band plays the Horseshoe… Would it have killed them to start that bill up just a little earlier? Via Largehearted Boy.

NOW talks to Elf Power about the easy paydays of getting songs in TV shows. Powerful Elves are at the Horseshoe on May 3.

James McNew of Yo La Tengo reveals to Pitchfork that their new album has a release date – September 12 – if not a real title. For the record, I have no problem with I Am Not Afraid of You, and I Will Beat Your Ass. None at all. Nor do I mind that McNew says the new songs are “short and upbeat”. The last couple records strayed a little too far into the quiet, drawn out territory to really thrill me. Here’s to the days of wonderfully eclectic albums rather than long, cohesive mood pieces.

And back at the ranch, Arts & Crafts continues to prove they’re more than the Broken Social Scene house label by expanding their international roster. The latest addition to the family is French act Phoenix, at least here in Canada. More deets at Filter.

np – Neil Young / Living With War

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

All Systems Red

There’s been some talk out there that the new Calexico record is a disappointment, or just plain bad. I hold that this is not true, but an understandable POV. Over the years, if there’s one thing that Calexico could be counted on for, it was for music evocative of the American southwest they call home, all wide-open desert, Mariachi soul and sun-cracked adobe. In fact, it’s only been on the last few records that vocals have become a central component of their records – early on, most of their magic was created instrumentally. It’s actually quite ironic that Joey Burns was initially hesitant to sing because on Garden Ruin, it seems to be all he’s interested in doing.

While their last full-length Feast Of Wire was a near perfect balance of the vocal and instrumental numbers, Garden Ruin tilts almost completely over in favour of the singing. Burns’ voice is front and centre throughout and the record is actually very singer-songwriter-y, seeming more like what I’d have expected a Burns solo record to sound like than a new Calexico album, with the desert atmospherics that used to define their sound now sounding more like production flourishes rather than an integral component of the sound. In truth, I think if the record had been recorded with just Burns and a conventionally configured backing band, it probably wouldn’t have diminished the songs at all which I suppose is equal part compliment and complaint. It used to be that you could expect the unique from Calexico, and now perhaps that’s not so much the case.

But with all that out of the way, one must remember that change is inevitable/good/etc etc. It’s worth noting the songcraft is still quite strong. In particular, the opening and closing numbers “Cruel” and “All Systems Red” are standouts, the latter a not-so-veiled bit of commentary directed at the current administration. The whole record has a similar political undercurrent, which seems to be becoming more and more inevitable for any American band with cable TV. Getting back to the previous point, maybe the need to articulate certain sentiments verbally is part of the drastic shift in direction on Garden Ruin, maybe working with Iron & Wine really opened some new creative doors or maybe deep down they just really want to be a pop band. Time will tell.

But let’s hope that choosing to colour outside their lines hasn’t diminished the band as a live force – their set with I&W last December certainly showed they were still at the top of their game on stage. They’ll be in town on their own for a show at the Phoenix on July 5 6 – tickets are $20 and go on sale today. There’s also a smattering of shows available to download at Archive.org. And though I’ve posted these before, I’m all about the consolidation so check out the audio and video for the first single from Garden Ruin.

MP3: Calexico – “Cruel”
Video: Calexico – “Cruel” (MOV)

The Globe & Mail gets a sneak preview of Living With War, which begins streaming on neilyoung.com tomorrow, from his brother Bob. No, seriously. Neil will also be at the Air Canada Centre on July 10 with some old fogies named Crosby, Stills & Nash but apparently they’ll be performing stuff from Neil’s new solo record. Hmm, recorded with a power trio, performed with four-part harmonies. Okay then. Finally, YouTube has a video of Neil being interviewed about the new record by CNN… and dig the brown paper goodness of the album art. Last couple bits via Stereogum.

Billboard talks to The National’s Aaron Dessner about the band’s Summer plans, which include heading into the studio in June to record the follow-up to Alligator as well as contributing a track to the apparently indie-rock-centric next edition of the Red Hot AIDS benefit CDs. And part two of the A Week In The Life Of The National doc is available for free in iTunes. The final part is out next Tuesday.

Frantic Nashville teens gone wild Be Your Own Pet will be at the Mod Club on June 7, tickets $13.50 while Immaculate Machine see how many fans they made whilst opening for The New Pornographers when they play the Horseshoe June 15. And the July 21 Ladyhawk show will be going down at the Rivoli, tickets $8.

IndieInterviews has got an exclusive Voxtrot track for you to download and keep for your very own – frontman Ramesh Srivastava playing an acoustic cover of Blondie’s “Shayla” in Garrison’s Toyota Corrola. OUDaily.com talks to the band about the touring grind.

And if you thought I was the only blogger who still cared about Luna, I direct you to the Land of Grambo, where Mark recounts his accidental discovery of the band and anticipates the Tell Me Do You Miss Me documentary. I maintain that if Luna were a new band and released Lunapark or Bewitched today, exactly the same as they came out 15 years ago, the blogosphere would be all over that shiznit. They’d be HUGE. Guaranteed.

np – Luna / Bewitched

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

I Go To The Barn Because I Like The

What’s that? I missed the Band Of Horses-wagon and can only get on the backlash wagon? Alas, that’s what I get for waiting a little too long to get a copy of Everything All The Time, even though it just came out over a month ago… Anyway.

With their distinctly twang-friendly sound and Ben Bridwell’s affecting holler, comparisons to the similarly bearded My Morning Jacket are natural, but while the Kentuckians have much more rock in their diet and ride Jim James voice into orbit, Band Of Horses are content to aim for the troposphere and maybe examine their feet rather than put them on the stage monitors for that big guitar solo. But that’s not to say that Everything All The Time doesn’t have it’s big loud moments – there’s more than a few. It’s just that even with those thrown into the mix, the overall feel of the album is of delicate, shimmering introspection. Around the start of the year, Band Of Horses were pegged by many as one of the breakout bands of the year – if Metacritic is any indicator, they haven’t necessarily set the critical world ablaze but they have produced a damn fine record that should more than prove them worthy of whatever expectations anyone might have had.

Band Of Horses are at Lee’s Palace on June 13 with Mt Egypt and The Can’t See. Their official website is undergoing renovations and shunts you to their page at SubPop, so you might be better off heading to MySpace to interact with them. The officially-released MP3 for the album is for “The Funeral”, presented here in album, demo and video form. And So Much Silence has helpfully encoded the band’s recent radio session for hometown station KEXP, which features yet another version of “The Funeral”. Collect them all!

MP3: Band Of Horses – “The Funeral”
MP3: Band Of Horses – “The Funeral” (demo)
Video: Band Of Horses – “The Funeral” (MOV)

PopMatters talks to Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers while The Star draws the Jason Isbell card

Billboard talks to Roger Miller about the extensive promotional activities surrounding the release of Mission Of Burma’s new album, The Obliterati, out May 23, as well as the new documentary about the band’s improbable reunion, Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story. Most notable is the Obliterati.net website which allows you to preview tracks from the new album as well as play with the band’s wiki. There’s also now an official MP3 to download:

MP3: Mission Of Burma – “2wice”

It’s funny – for a while a few years back, it seemed you couldn’t swing a stick in this town without hitting some up-and-coming young female singer-songwriter type. Not that I’m complaining, I often like that stuff, but it seemed like there were more than you might normally expect. Now, it seems, they’re all ditching the acoustic guitar thing and forming attitudinal rock bands. Huh. Last year, Martina Sorbara went electro with Dragonette (listen at MySpace) and now Chart reports Emm Gryner is taking some time off from making covers albums to rock it out with Shudder To Think’s Nathan Larson and Kevin March in Hot One (listen at MySpace). Mocking Music, a big Gryner fan, is not impressed and frankly, what I’ve heard seems a little silly to me as well. But the important thing is that they’re having fun, right? I think. Their self-titled debut is out July 4.

Of course, sometimes they go the other way. Case in point – Chart talks to Emily Haines about putting her rock band Metric on the shelf for a bit to put out her singer-songwriter-y solo record Knives Don’t Have Your Back on September 26.

Mike Doughty, who has apparently given up the whole “only going by my first initial” thing, is at Lee’s Palace on June 9, tickets $20.

At long last, volume three of Scott Pilgrim’s epic adventures, Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness, will be released on May 24, barring catastrophe at the printers. But if you can’t wait that long (and why not? It’s already been delayed half a year), swing by your local comic store on May 6 for Free Comic Book Day and grab a copy of the free Scott Pilgrim comic that Oni Press is putting out for the occasion.

Is there anything better than paying one’s income taxes for the year? Yes, actually. Pretty much anything.

np – Asobi Seksu / Citrus