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Archive for June, 2006

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Mid-Term Reports

I was recently asked by Insound to submit my top ten albums of 2006 for use in one of their newsletters, the only caveat being that the releases had to be available via Insound. That did exclude a couple things that would have gotten some serious consideration (Trespassers William, Howling Bells), but on the whole the pool of candidates was pretty deep.

I’m as curious as anyone as to how this’ll stack up against my final year-end list. The second half of ’06 is pretty loaded with new offerings from veteran acts, but that’s not necessarily a free pass. After all, what’s more impressive – an album simply meeting expectations, no matter how lofty, or a surprise one completely surpassing them? We shall see. But odds are it’ll be a little lighter on acts with female vocalists or names starting with “C”.

And yes, I created that awesome cover art collage all by myself. Well, okay, my mom helped a little, but otherwise – ALL ME.

Anyway, this is what I came up with (listed alphabetically), and oh yeah – apparently all of the following are now on sale at Insound because of yours truly. How about that.

Asobi Seksu / Citrus (Friendly Fire)
MP3: Asobi Seksu – “New Years”
MP3: Asobi Seksu – “Strings” (Remix)

Camera Obscura / Let’s Get Out Of This Country (Merge)
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Let’s Get Out Of This Country
Video: Camera Obscura – “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” (MOV)

Neko Case / Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Mint)
MP3: Neko Case – “Star Witness”
Video: Neko Case – “Maybe Sparrow” (Real)

Cat Power / The Greatest (Matador)
MP3: Cat Power – “The Greatest”
Video: Cat Power – “Living Proof” (MOV)

Centro-Matic / Fort Recovery (Misra)
MP3: Centro-Matic – “Triggers & Trash Heaps”
Video: Centro-Matic – “Triggers & Trash Heaps” (YouTube)

The Concretes / In Colour (Astralwerks)
Video: The Concretes – “On The Radio” (WMV)
Video: The Concretes – “Chosen One” (WMV)

Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s / The Dust Of Retreat (Artemis)
MP3: Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s – “Skeleton Key”
Video: Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s- “Quiet As A Mouse” (YouTube)

Mojave 3 / Puzzles Like You (4AD)
MP3: Mojave 3 – “Big Star Baby”
Video: Mojave 3 – “Breaking The Ice” (YouTube)

Josh Ritter / The Animal Years (V2)
MP3: Josh Ritter – “Girl In The War”
Video: Josh Ritter – “Lillian, Egypt” (YouTube)

Shearwater / Palo Santo (Misra)
MP3: Shearwater – “Seventy Four, Seventy Five”

And some press clippings from some of my picks – Nichi Bei Times delves into Yuki Chikudate of Asobi Seksu’s Japaneseness, Gav of Camera Obscura talks about falling into volcanoes while Kenny McKeeve talks to The Boston Globe. The Georgia Straight talks to Neko Case, The Dish and San Diego City Beat have interviews with The Concretes, Each Note Secure interviews some Margots and Michigan Live talks to Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg.

From Blown Speakers also has a mid-term 2006 round-up.

First day in New York was good, if a little damp with spot torrential thunderstorms. Forecast is better for today, though. This town is great. So anyway, if this felt like a placeholder post written days in advance… well it was. Have a good long weekend.

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Such A Lovely Thing

I had been waiting for Tuesday night’s DeVotchKa show for some time – well, at least since I posted on them last month, having spent a good deal of the interim listening to their latest EP Curse Your Little Heart and generally craving something different from the usual indie rock fare.

Touring openers Norfolk & Western were no-shows on account of a van breakdown in Vermont so local country-gospeler Jon-Rae Fletcher got the call to fill in with a River-less solo acoustic set. I’ve seen Jon-Rae a few times and he’s never done anything for me – tonight did nothing to change that opinion. But he did pass the time and got DeVotchKa onstage a little earlier than scheduled so that was a plus. A pity about Norfolk & Western, though – I had really looked forward to seeing them. Alas, maybe next time.

While I generally try to avoid descriptions like this, I have to say DeVotchKa’s frontman Nick Urata is like the love child of Morrissey and Dean Martin, kidnapped and raised by Gypsies in the deserts of New Mexico. Everything about Urata and his band is strange and indescribable in simple terms, from their instrumentation – everyone is a multi-instrumentalist and broke out upright bass, tuba, violin, accordian and glockenspiel to name but a few, when called for. The band stuck to the more intense and dramatic end of their repetoire for the most part, only letting Urata slip into crooner mode a couple times on the night. Otherwise, it was a swirl of richly-textured strings, percussion, horns and unbridled romanticism that was something to behold. Their energy actually made the stifling heat in the El Mocambo part of the experience (though that’s not to say some air conditioning would have spoiled the mood). Superb stuff from certainly one of the most unique bands out there right now.

Photos were taken and if you get the chance to catch them on tour, do yourself a favour and do so. Hell, maybe even Norfolk & Western will be back on the job.

MP3: DeVotchKa – “We’re Leaving”
MP3: Jon-Rae & The River – “Come Back”
MySpace: DeVotchKa

Though they’ve left their native Australia for the UK, Howling Bells are returning home for a series of dates to promote the release of their self-titled album, prompting local media like The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald to reminisce about the days when the band was sunshinier and called Waikiki. There’s also a couple of interviews with the band at Screaming Tarts and Repeat. Finally, I think this stream of the first track on their self-titled album is new:

Stream: Howling Bells – “The Bell Hit”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discusses the shift in sound on Calexico’s Garden Ruin with Joey Burns. Calexico play the Phoenix next Thursday, July 5, and don’t forget to enter my contest for free passes to said show. Unless you can’t go in which case go ahead and forget.

Feist details her trans-Atlantic Summer to Dose and calls the new album “93% complete”.

Stevie Jackson of Belle & Sebastian talks about making The Life Pursuit and keeping things fresh with North Jersey.com.

Billy Bragg has defeated Rupert Murdoch. MySpace no longer owns your music. Only your souls.

Billboard tries to tally up everything that Magnolia Electrician Jason Molina has got coming out in the next little while. Good luck with that. MEC and Shearwater are at Lee’s Palace on September 12.

And more V Fest teasers… maybe we get Roger Moore?

So I’m off for NYC this morning. Thanks to everyone who offered help and suggestions – I’ll check in and let you know how it’s going at some point.

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

King Of Carrot Flowers

This PopMatters article on the Elephant 6 had given me the idea of putting together a massive E6-themed post but as I began collecting links, I realized that a) I haven’t really felt like listening to any of the bands associated with the label in some time and b) there’s not really anyone who’d gain anything from my posting an Apples In Stereo MP3, so I saved myself some trouble and damn, does it feel good. But if you do want listenables, the sounds page of the E6 website is loaded down with live stuff and rarities.

However Great Body Of Water directed my attention to this post on the Elephant 6 message board that appears to be a dispatch from Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and which appears legit enough that Billboard has picked up on it. It hints at Mangum’s return to music which is akin to Moses coming down from the mountain for much of the indie nation, though the post warns,

we dont have a timetable for releasing the album yet, so dont get your hopes up for new songs now. if you want more “aeroplane” just ignore all of this, the songs are songs but they’re longer and more free. when jeremy came down after his tour we just spent days playing noise while screaming and it was incredibly liberating.

Considering how much ink was spilled over the Neutral Milk demos that surfaced late last year. any new music – no matter how out there – will be greeted like the rapture.

Update: Lies, all lies. Good Hodgkins says “I told you so”. Hey, I was just looking for something to post today. Facts schmacts.

But in the meantime, there’s plenty of old music. In addition to the Elephant 6 archives, The Carrot Flower Kingdom has rotating MP3s of the moment and this fansite also has a slew of live material available – including this one:

MP3: Neutral Milk Hotel – “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” (Live in St Louis, May 5 1997)

And it’s worth noting that The Late BP Helium, which boasts members from E6 mainstays Elf Power and Of Montreal, are at the Boat in Kensington Market tonight – admission $8 at the door.

Sleater-Kinney has called it a day for now and for the indefinite future. MTV has more.

The Times delves behind the mystery of Serena Maneesh, though there’s not really any mystery behind them. They’re just Norwegian. Have you noticed the North American release of Serena Maneesh is stomping all over Metacritic? Awesomeness. They’re at Lee’s Palace on September 13.

San Diego City Beat and The Columbian interview Doug Martsch of Built To Spill, who have gone all Medieval Times for their new video.

Video: Built To Spill – “Conventional Wisdom” (MOV)

Stream the debut self-titled album from Jayhawks drummer Tim O’Reagan, courtesy of AOL. It came out yesterday and features guest appearances from many Jayhawks past and more past.

A couple show announcements – World Party are at the Opera House on September 3 and Ben Lee is at the Mod Club on August 17.

GoodHodgkins has an interesting and revealing interview with Saturday Looks Good To Me’s Fred Thomas where he discusses where the band has been and where it’s going when they finish the new album, due out in February or March of next year. And he insists that he’s been the singer in the band all along. Even when the girls were doing all the singing, it was really him.

This Fall will bring a new Pernice Brothers album. Look for Live A Little in September.

Voila – the first Spider-Man 3 trailer. Symbiote-goodness – just the thing to wash the taste of X-Men 3 from one’s mouth… And oh yeah – that Superman flick is out today. Reviews are pretty much as good as it gets for Summer blockbuster action/sci-fi flicks – I fully intend to see it, Kate Bosworth’s ginormous forehead notwithstanding, but it probably won’t be for a few weeks at least. Simply no time. Maybe I need Superman to fly really fast around the world in the wrong direction. Update: The AV Club lists off Superman villains you probably shouldn’t expect to see in sequels.

np – DeVotchKa / How It Ends

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

A Hush

Considering it comes from a first-time director and screenwriter and boasts a cast of rookies and unknowns, Fall To Grace, a small indie drama set and shot in Austin, Texas, is a commendable effort. Following the stories of three families whose paths intertwine through good life decisions and bad, it’s an ambitious first effort for Mari Marchbanks and while it doesn’t always hit, it does so enough to be worthy of note.

The core of the film centres around an immigrant family from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The father, played with superb depth by Bhagirit Crow, seeks to provide more for his family than the manual labour jobs can provide while his son likewise seeks to improve his fortunes through basketball and is also wooing the girl next door (okay, across the street) who has fallen in with a bad crowd to escape a dysfunctional home life. If this sounds like a situation ripe for melodrama, well it is – but to its credit, Fall To Grace manages to skirt that trap for the most part. It only really stumbles when it overreaches in scope and ends up with half-drawn situations and characters and dangly plot threads. For example the third family in the story – a cop, his daughter and absentee mother – really serves no purpose and adds nothing to the greater whole. Similarly the cast, which otherwise impresses with their quiet realism and naturalism, has difficulty with the more Hollywood moments where they’re given dialogue meant to convey great profundity but instead just comes off hackneyed.

It might sound like I’m daming this film with faint praise but the fact is I was never bored, the heart in the film is genuine and much of the cast sparkles with promise. It continues to make the film festival rounds, picking up awards here and there in the process. Screenings could be hard to come by but if it happens to come ’round your neighbourhood, it’s worth 90 minutes of your time. And don’t let the rather poorly assembled trailer put you off – it’s not a film with money shots or moments that are compelling in bite-sized pieces.

Trailer: Fall To Grace (MOV)

Another big selling point of the film is the soundtrack – it’s loaded down with contributions from Austin and Texas-area indie bands. The score is provided by Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg and former bandmate Travis Weller. There’s a lot of silence in the film, in keeping with its quiet, contemplative mood, but when the music is used it’s done so very effectively. Austin 360 talks to the film’s musical director Eric Zappa, who acted as music supervisor on the film. Have a listen to Centro-Matic’s “Flashes & Cables” which is used as the theme and Shearwater’s “A Hush”, off Winged Life, which is also used to great effect.

MP3: Centro-Matic – “Flashes & Cables”
MP3: Shearwater – “A Hush”

And speaking of Shearwater, The Red Alert discusses inspiring films, Palo Santo and solo records in an expansive interview with Meiburg. Shearwater has officially finally 100% confirmed they are playing Lee’s Palace with The Magnolia Electric Co on September 12 so put it on your calendar.

Okkervil River are also touring this October. But from the looks of the confirmed dates , it looks like they’ll only be coming as close as Buffalo. A pity, their last Toronto show kicked serious ass.

But more than compensatory is the confirmed Eric Bachmann and Richard Buckner show at the Horseshoe on September 16. Bachmann’s To The Races is out August 22.

And further on the use of indie music in film and television, The Globe & Mail tells how homegrown television drama Whistler hopes to have an OC effect for Canuck indie bands featured in the show. As I understand it, the show is like Falcon Beach in the snow, Falcon Beach being The O.C.… in WINNIPEG. And people wonder why Canadian television is so bad.

The Guardian offers an expansive and excellent feature/interview with Neil Young.

Updates on the follow-ups to a couple of the biggest records of the last few years (at least in my universe). The Postal Service’s Ben Gibbard tells MTV that work is beginning on the follow-up to Give Up and Win Butler of The Arcade Fire reports to Chart that their new album is almost complete. No release date for either record has been set.

np – Olivia Tremor Control / Dusk at Cubist Castle

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Freak Scene

So you say you like the music of Broken Social Scene but don’t care for their songs? Or you dig Dinosaur Jr but wish there were twice as many members in the band? Then by gum you should have been at the Mod Club this past Friday night for what was billed as “Broken Mascis Scene”, with J Mascis leading a core lineup of Broken Socialites on a romp through the Dino Jr catalog with undeniably awesome results. The show, scheduled the night before both BSS and J Masics were scheduled to throw down at the annual Olympic Island fete, was a fundraiser for the Amma Foundation – a charity to which Mascis has not only written a song (“Ammaring”) but also recorded an entire CD of devotional songs (J + Friends Sing And Chant For Amma).

While there were surely some in attendance strictly on the basis of the BSS component of the lineup, the night was unmistakably J’s. Call them whatever you want – as far as I’m concerned, that was Dinosaur Jr up there. Kevin Drew often doubled J’s vocals but only occasionally took lead and if he never strapped the guitar on at all, you wouldn’t have noticed. Also onstage were Brendan Canning on bass and Bill Priddle on guitar and two drummers – BSS’s Justin Peroff and Mascis’ Fog bandmate George Berz Kyle Spence. Rather than take the dueling percussionist route, Peroff and Berz Spence played pretty much the same thing beat for beat – probably unnecessary but they were so tight that it became that much more impactful. And in very un-Broken Social fasion, guests were kept to a minimum. Charles Spearin and Ohad Benchetrit added trumpet and flute to “Thumb” (probably added to the set just to get trumpet and flute in there) and Feist came out for chorus vocals on set-closer “Get Me”.

Unlike the Dinosaur Jr reunion tour last year which stuck to the Barlow-era material, this night’s set list read like a greatest hits package. Every album in the J’s discography was represented save for the bookends – Dinosaur and Free So Free – and were executed with the perfect amount of passion and slop. After all, no one wants precision and tidiness from Dinosaur Jr. But if you asked me even a month ago if I ever expected to hear “Start Choppin'” or “Feel The Pain” live, I’d have said no – how sweet it is to be wrong. Thanks to a curfew the patter was kept to a minimum as the band powered through a setlist on only three days of rehearsals but were compelled to return for an unrehearsed encore of “Alone” off Hand It Over. While not exactly a crowd-favourite, it’s three chords and a crapload of soloing so it wasn’t too hard to get the Scene up to speed.

I didn’t know what to expect from this show – it could well have been a karaoke-like disaster, an unrehearsed mess or just plain uninspiring, but instead it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. At the very least, as good as the Television show two weeks ago and that’s saying something. I guess it’s been a good month for fans of super-extended guitar solos. Though the star attraction, J positioned himself on far stage left in the shadow of approximately 300W and 18 speakers of Marshall and Fender power, leaving most of the stage to Drew and Broken Social Scene. Somewhat surprisingly, even with all that firepower, he wasn’t nearly as loud as I’d heard the Dino Jr shows were, perhaps having to afford some sonic space to his bandmates necessitated backing down the volume a bit. I thought it sounded great, so I wasn’t complaining.

Tokyo Police Club were added as last-minute openers and I was pleased to see they put on a much better show than the last time I saw them, ironically by not trying to put on a “show” at all. By keeping their ultra-compact (sub-30 minute) set laser tight and focused and antic-free, they finally managed to impress me with their chops and songwriting. While not entirely up my alley, I think I saw what their boosters saw and will throw my support behind them as a band certainly worth watching.

But this show wasn’t about Tokyo Police Club or even Broken Social Scene. It was J Mascis and the works of Dinosaur Jr and it was amazing. I’d want to say a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but that’s probably overstating it and they did the exact same thing not 24 hours later on Olympic Island. Oh well. Once-in-a-WEEKEND, then. Or twice. Hmm. Anyway, thanks and cheers to everyone who made this happen. Look at the front-row photos and read the Globe & Mail article about how the show came together. Listen to some J below. And read the Chart article where Tokyo Police Club discuss what to expect of their first full-length album.

MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “Freak Scene”
MP3: J Mascis & The Fog – “All The Girls”
MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “Nature Of The Experiment”
MySpace: Dinosaur Jr
MySpace: J Mascis & The Fog

Jeff Tweedy talks about the Wilco writing process with The Edmonton Sun and Vue Weekly while Nels Cline talks life and death with The Georgia Straight. Their Canadian tour kicks off Wednesday in Calgary and lands in Toronto’s Massey Hall next Friday.

The Pitch keeps on (Drive-By) Truckin’ with Patterson Hood.

Synthesis puts up what reads like a really old interview with Jenny Lewis. Via Largehearted Boy.

Yesterday was the 26th annual gay Pride Parade here in Toronto, and it’s always a fabulous photo op – I daresay I went to town. I want to draw particular attention to this one, as while it’s not particulary outrageous or gay, it’s quite possibly one of my favourite photos ever. The parade itself was great fun and for want of a better word, made be incredibly proud to live in a city where something like this can happen and on such a scale.

And don’t think I haven’t noticed the pics with boobs in ’em have gotten the most views.

np – Luna / Lunafied