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Archive for September, 2006

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Ghost In The Sky

Five years is a long time to be away. After 2001’s It’s A Wonderful Life, Sparklehorse mastermind Mark Linkous essentially disappeared off the map. But now that he’s back with Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain, it’s only natural that folks want to know what happened to him.

Artvoice finds out what he was doing in that time (“For three years, I’d just come to my studio and stare at my equipment”), The Guardian finds out what motivated him to get off his ass (he couldn’t pay his rent) and Exclaim! finds out where he hopes his working with Danger Mouse will lead (“I hope to meld even further and bring my pop thing into more of a hip-hop world.”). He also talks to the The Houston Chronicle about his mixing board (“a wicked piece of gear”) and STV.tv about why sad songs say so much (“I think a lot of people prefer sad songs because it makes them feel like they’re not so alone and maybe it can be a comfort, to say that being sad isn’t such a bad thing, that sometimes it’s okay to be sad”). For a guy who’s been so reclusive over the last half-decade, he’s certainly got a lot to say. And if you were reading the print edition of Harp and were wondering why the Mark Linkous interview didn’t actually continue on the page they said it did – or any other, for that matter – at least the whole thing is available online.

And what of the album itself? The first few times I listened, it was on my smaller bedroom stereo or iPod and put simply, it sounded like a Sparklehorse record. The blend of slow, warped vinyl folk songs with transistorized, white fuzz rockers, all anchored by Linkous’ sad and ghostly voice is unmistakable and while it was unquestionably great to have new material from him, I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed that I’d already heard it all before. But then last night, finally having the opportunity to take the time and listen to it on my proper stereo, I was reminded of just why a Sparklehorse record that sounds like a Sparklehorse record is cause for rejoicing and not disappointment. Though his work is often described as “lo-fi”, Linkous’ productions are wonderously detailed and endlessly revealing when listened to properly – every whir, click, creak and ache is meticulously placed and the end result is a sonic adventure into the fractured world of Linkous’ head – truly a sad and beautiful world. I’d recommend taking Light Years or It’s A Wonderful Life as testing material the next time you go shopping for audio equipment – if you don’t mind the salesman thinking you’re a complete and total nutter, that is.

Junkmedia reviewes a recent live show in New York City and declares it a triumph. The ‘Horse is in Europe through November and will apparently be spending the early part of ’07 down under where it’ll be warm.

MP3: Sparklehorse – “Shade And Honey”
Stream: Sparklehorse – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (ASX)
EPK: Sparklehorse and the North Carolina Bureau Of Tourism (YouTube)
MySpace: Sparklehorse

Remember when I said that I’d be very wary of seeing Cat Power again because I couldn’t imagine her topping her solo show at Lee’s Palace earlier this month? Well that’s apparently going to be put to the test as she returns on November 22 – The Memphis Rhythm Band in tow – for a show at the Phoenix. Hmm, says I. Hmm. Full November tour dates here and a reminder that an exclusive EP will be available on eMusic starting October 4. Full details at Pitchfork.

The Wall Street Journal reports on Paul Westerberg’s move into movie soundtracks – he provided the music for the new animated feature Open Season for which there’s actually Oscar buzz. Westerberg at the Academy Awards? Stranger things have happened. Via claudepate.com.

New York Press talks to Mountain Goats. The band, not the animal. Because even if the animal could talk, I doubt it’d have much interesting to say.

Jenny Lewis discusses her upcoming tour (which stops at Trinity-St Paul’s in Toronto on October 7) with Pitchfork while the The Cleveland Plains Dealer also has a brief conversation. And if you didn’t notice, I’m running a contest for passes to the aforementioned Toronto show over here.

David Sitek of TV On The Radio discusses the band’s “pay it forward” philosophy with Seattle Weekly. They play a sold-out show at the Opera House next Thursday.

Interface with Spoon at AOL.

A couple albums due out on Tuesday are already streaming online for you weekend listening pleasure – check out The Hold Steady’s Boys And Girls In America at Vagrant and The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife at MTVu. The Hold Steady are at the Horseshoe October 28 and the Decemberists are at the Kool Haus November 6.

And get this – apparently the role of Iron Man has been cast (cast Iron Man?), and it’s going to Robert Downey Jr. You know, I like this move. A lot. As always, Goldenfiddle has the best zinger.

np – Adem / Love And Other Planets

Friday, September 29th, 2006

CONTEST – Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins @ Trinity-St Paul's – October 7, 2006

It seems that Jenny Lewis only comes to Toronto when I’m leaving town – back in March I missed her show at the Opera House for SxSW and this time, I am missing her Trinity-St Paul’s show for Pop Montreal. It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya. But that’s neither here (as she will be) or there (as I will be). Courtesy of Against The Grain, I have three pairs of passes to the aforementioned Trinity-St Paul’s gig on October 7 to give away.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the church acoustics will make for a stunning show, so those who do go, consider yourselves lucky. The rest of you, well, hopefully you’re doing something equally entertaining that evening. To enter, shoot me an email at contests@chromewaves.net with “I want to see the girl from The Wizard” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Contest closes at midnight, October 2. CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.

And did you notice The Wizard is out on DVD now? That means it’s time to break out the ol’ Jenny Lewis soundboard!

MP3: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins – “Rise Up With Fists!”
MP3: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins – “Melt Your Heart”
Video: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins – “Rise Up With Fists” (YouTube)
MySpace: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Perfect Circle

Every year or so I go into a big R.E.M. kick. I recounted my history with the band during one of these phases a couple years ago and I find that when you’re as inundated (and occasionally assaulted) with as much new music as I am, it’s helpful to retreat and recentre oneself – get back in touch with one’s roots, so to speak. Be reminded of a time when music was a single, beloved cassette tape in a walkman, played to the point of death and not a half-dozen CDs and press releases in a bundle of padded manilla envelopes in the mailbox.

But it was one of those padded manilla envelopes that brought me the new R.E.M. compilation And I Feel Fine…: The Best Of The I.R.S. Years 1982-1987 and its companion DVD When The Light Is Mine: Best of The I.R.S. Years 1982-1987 Video Collection. I didn’t pay this release much heed when it was first as it’s generally wise not to when bands you grew up with go into archival mode, but I have to say – I’m really enjoying this double-disc set.

Now while my R.E.M. indoctrination began two albums into the Warner years with Out Of Time, I almost certainly spent far more time immersed in the I.R.S. material. All of those albums, and Document, Lifes Rich Pageant and Eponymous in particular, all got heavy, heavy, HEAVY rotation through my teen years and I’m very pleased at how well that material has held up over the years. Hell, just the Murmur material is still amazing – “Radio Free Europe” is and always will be a first salvo for the ages. But while cuts like “Harbourcoat” are missed, the 21 tracks on the first disc do a great job of reaffirming early R.E.M.’s greatness. In a way, the second disc (come on, who would only get the one-disc version?) is even better, offering rare live tracks, outtakes and alternate mixes as well as band-selected album cuts that while they couldn’t qualify as “hits”, are certainly essential pieces of the puzzle. You can hear how young, creative and intent on making music they were and that’s an interesting contrast to the current incarnation they’ve (d)evolved into over the past 25 years.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying I liked Stipey better when he had bad hair, wouldn’t make eye contact and mumbled a lot. The glam activist icon thing just isn’t doing it. Of course, if they were still making good music all would be forgiven but they haven’t made an album more good than bad this century and though they say that they’re ready to rock on the next album, don’t forget that the last time they said that we got Monster. Not exactly one for the ages. I’m not ready to write them off completely yet but you can’t help but think they should have made good on their promise to call it quits when Bill Berry left in 1997.

This trip down memory lane did make me wonder one thing – in today’s ultra-wired society, does there even exist the sort of environment or underground that would allow a band like R.E.M. to slowly grow and develop as they did over their ultra-prolific six-year run on I.R.S.? Able to garner enough of an audience to sustain and motivate, yet stay out of the spotlight and remain insular enough to grow artistically without the huge pressures of an entire, oh, blogosphere watching and documenting their every move, performance and utterance? Not to say that today’s young artists are stifled by the attention, but it must have an effect on your work to be under the microscope like that.

The liner notes from rock scribe Anthony DeCurtis also make this point, declaring it inconcievable that the band (and by extension, any band) could find the “opportunity to evolve and discover its voice without the pressure of having to generate enormous sales”. Which is not to say that I yearn for the days pre-internet or that bands today are at a disadvantage for being able to tap into a potential worldwide audience or be declared saviours of popular music simply by posting their first recording on MySpace, but still. Makes you wonder who, if anyone, of today’s younger acts will be able to craft as long and generally productive a career or will the hyper-accelerated and miniscule attention span mindset of today’s audience simply not allow it? Or will we all die in a horrific meteor strike before anyone finds out? Place your bets.

I haven’t watched the DVD yet but do remember seeing most of the videos from this era on TV at one time or another so I know what sort of low-budget, ’80s-styled goodness awaits. And you can see a few of the vids on the ecard for the compilation – I dug up a couple other faves on YouTube. For audio, I will offer my one adjustment to the And I Feel Fine tracklist and direct you to RBally, who has a complete live show in Germany circa 1985, Marathonpacks, who wrote a short love letter to “Shaking Through” off Murmur and Aquarium Drunkard, who contemplates “Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)” from Chronic Town. And some guys called Pavement once wrote a whole song about Reckoning. “Time After Time” was their least favourite song. “Time After Time” was their least favourite song.

MP3: R.E.M. – “Harborcoat” (from Reckoning)
MP3: Pavement – “Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence” (from No Alternative)
Video: R.E.M. – “Fall On Me” (YouTube)
Video: R.E.M. – “Driver 8” (YouTube)
eCard: And I Feel Fine…: The Best Of The I.R.S. Years 1982-1987

The Philadelphia Inquirer talks 50 states with Sufjan Stevens but manages to avoid asking outright, “can Pennsylvania be next?”. Sufjan has covered R.E.M. in the past.

MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “The One I Love”

Tinderstick Stuart Staples will play a solo show at the Mod Club on November 2. I presume Staples has heard of R.E.M.

np – Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 / Ole! Tarantula

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Missing Pieces

As I mentioned earlier this month (before Pitchfork’s “exclusive”, you may note), Austin pop mavens Voxtrot will be releasing a new EP as a “don’t you forget about us” to fans while prepping their debut full-length for release next Spring. Your Biggest Fan will be out on CD and 7″ on November 7 via their new home at Playlouder and I have a sort-of exclusive of one of the b-sides from said release (there’s 3 songs in total). It’s a short but sweet (and cheap!) EP that doesn’t necessarily expand on the band’s sound too much but does reinforce their strengths in classic pop songcraft. A nice reminder of why I like these guys.

The UK just got their first taste of Voxtrot as their Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives EP was released over there last week and reviews are ContactMusic – not surprisng considering how anglo-indebted they are, stylistically. Also note that you can grab another MP3 for frees by signing up to their label’s newsletter.

MP3: Voxtrot – “Trouble”
MySpace: Voxtrot

Pitchfork interviews Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell about making ends meet and Lloyd Cole. If you’re ready to be heartbroken, he’ll be obliging November 5 at The Mod Club.

The Dish talks to Kianna from Tilly & The Wall.

Grok the new video from Howling Bells, via Torr. The Sydney Morning Herald talks to Juanita Stein about the transition from Waikiki to their current incarnation.

Video: Howling Bells – “Setting Sun” (YouTube)

I think people are as sick of me talking about Lollapalooza back in August as I am about saying “When I saw so-and-so at Lollapalooza“… but it’s worth noting that a goodly number of official (read: soundboard) recordings are now available on iTunes (via Lollapalooza.com). Some are complete sets, some just highlights but all are almost certainly of better sound quality than the audience boots circulating in torrent-land. Also note that if the Apple AAC thing isn’t your bag, they’ll also be selling the tracks on LiveLollapalooza.com shortly in other audio formats (MP3, FLAC). DRM-free? Lossless? Not sure yet.

Offbeat.com converses with Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood. Hood and compatriots are at the Phoenix October 18.

The Chicago Tribune makes interview with Amy Millan.

New Pornographer Todd Fancey tells Pitchfork to expect their next album around June of next year, and yes – it will again be Bejar– and Case-powered. But in the meantime, they’re embarking on a cross-Canada tour next month including an October 11 date at the Kool Haus.

Billboard gets caught up in all the goings-on in the world of Stephin Merrit – namely a new Gothic Archies album on October 13 (Songs From A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Tragic TreasuryPitchfork has details and streams) and two new Magnetic Fields albums in 2007.

eCard: Songs From A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Tragic Treasury

The first single/EP from the forthcoming Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips album (still untitled but due out in January) will be out October 17. Check out the artwork and tracklisting for The Words You Used To Say at Head Full Of Wishes.

Whoo! Pagination! Down there. At the bottom of the page.

Well I’m excited about it.

np – Malajube / Trompe L’Oeil

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

The Zookeeper's Boy

One thing you should know about Mew is that their name is actually the toughest thing about them. If you recall my review of their latest album And The Glass Handed Kites last month, I described them as “hyper-kinetic, ultra-urban neon wilderness of glass and stainless steel… epic-length glammy post-prog-space rock with touches of Queen-approved arena-metal grandiosity”. Well that’s still sort of true if you you alter it to read “hyper-kinetic static, ultra-urban fey neon wilderness of glass and stainless steel… epic-length glammy power ballad post-prog-space rock with touches of Queen-approved 80’s arena-metal grandiosity”.

Currently on tour with Kasabian, Mew took advantage of an opening in the schedule to book their own headlining show in Toronto before zipping up to Montreal last night and back here tonight for a show at the Phoenix. While thankful that I wouldn’t have to go to see Kasabian, I found it a little puzzling – from what I could tell, their profile in Canada was non-existant so was there really a demand for two shows in three nights from the Danes? Apparently so – the Mod Club was near capacity by the time the band took the stage, and not just from the curious like me. Many in attendance were the faithful.

I think I realized things were going to be… unusual when a few songs in, they introduced “Why Are You Looking Grave?” by stating that J Mascis – who contributed vocals on the album version – couldn’t be in attendance but they had him on tape… and on the screen. And then the video screens on which they’d been projecting strange, fantastical and occasionally nightmarish visuals (I now realize the album art was probably entirely their idea) threw up a big image of J, just standing there. He wasn’t singing his parts, as the female vocalist who got the video treatment on the previous song did, but just stood there. Blinking, waiting, but certainly not doing much else, while all the while singer Jonas Bjerre sang to him as though he were right there. Maybe I’m not conveying the sheer bizarreness of it well enough, but trust me – it really was the most demented thing.

And that moment sort of encapsulated the night for me in a nutshell. I had expected a rock show, and instead got something decidedly not. They did perform a few of the heavier numbers from Glass-Handed Kites but the band’s general lack of energy – Bjerre, all dewy-eyed and delicate, barely moved from the same spot even though he had the mic in his hand – kept them from rocking in any meaningful way. Instead, they stuck largely to the slower numbers that allowed Bjerre to exercise his soaring, elastic voice which is indeed remarkable but unfortunately came off a little more cheesy than impactful in the overwhelmingly soft rock context of the show. There’s other little things I could present as further evidence of this, but that’d be getting petty and nitpicky and I’m reminded of something else I wrote in my initial review – “I intially found it hard to believe what I was hearing was created unironically but I think that’s more a comment on my own musical cynicism than anything else” – and I think maybe that goes exponentially so for the live show… So I’ll just say that I didn’t NOT enjoy it, I was just more confused/amused than anything.

Openers Nassau didn’t especially seem like they wanted to be there, sort of trudging through their set of two-chord, droney tunes without much energy. No one will ever confuse them for an exciting band, but they were still better than the last time I saw them over a year ago. The songs had a little more variety to them and the last two, which they declared as their pop songs, showed that frontman Jon McCann learned a thing or two about songwriting and melody in his time as stickman for Guided By Voices. Now if he could just pick up a scissor kick or mic twirl from Bob, they’d be getting somewhere.

Photos: Mew, Nassau @ The Mod Club – September 25, 2006
MP3: Mew – “Chinaberry Tree” (from And The Glass-Handed Kites)
MP3: Nassau – “How Long”
MP3: Nassau – “Falling Out”
Video: Mew – “Special” (YouTube)
Video: Mew – “The Zookeper’s Boy” (YouTube)
MySpace: Mew
MySpace: Nassau

Okay – so you remember last week I made mention of Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon’s ill health and the need to raise money to cover associated costs? Well nicking an idea from rbally’s ipod auction, here’s my bit – I’m auctioning off a copy of the super-rare first Emily Haines album Cut In Half And Also Double, circa 1997, on eBay and will be donating all proceeds to the fund. My understanding is that this thing sells for three figures when it comes to market so here’s hoping that it raises some decent coin. If you know any obsessive Metric fans out there with some cash to drop, let them know about it.

So now that The Science Of Sleep has been out for a little while (well, almost a week) and some of you have had a chance to see it, what are your thoughts on it in comparison to mine? Genuinely curious. Salon’s review is pretty in line with my take and they’ve also assembled a nice video tribute to the music video and commercial works of Michel Gondry. Paste also has an interview with Gondry and I’ve got an MP3 of the Velvet Underground remix/cover of “After Hours” that Gael Garcia Bernal’s fantasy cat band plays in the film. There’s also a sort-of video for the song featuring a cat rescue operation and far-more-attractive-than-usual cat lady.

MP3: “If You Rescue Me” from The Science Of Sleep
Video: “If You Rescue Me” from The Science Of Sleep (YouTube)

This should have been appended to yesterday’s postB(oot)log has some Grizzly Bear UK radio sessions MP3-ified for your downloading pleasure.

According to Pollstar, the bill at the El Mocambo for November 4 has hit silly proportions. They’ve got Pretty Girls Make Graves, A Gun Called Tension, The Drones, Favourite Sons AND The Devastations all scheduled to play there that night. I know the first two acts are touring together and the last three acts are also touring together, but I’m doubtful they’re all playing together, unless it’s an upstairs/downstairs dealie but I didn’t think they even booked shows for the upstairs anymore? Yes/no? I’ve heard good things about The Devastations, hence my mild interest in how this shakes out.

James McNew seems to have assumed press duties for Yo La Tengo – the genial bassman has a rather extensive Q&A with The Montreal Gazette and shorter conversations with The Ottawa Sun and Glide. Amazingly, after a run of being out for 15 of the last 18 nights, I am show-less until the Yo La Tengo show at the Phoenix next Monday. A whole week off! Just in time for work to beat my ass Yo La Tengo-stylez. Great.

np – Forget Cassettes / Salt