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Archive for January, 2007

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Up Against The Wall

I generally reserve the right to ignore or dislike bands for completely arbitrary and silly reasons – like Swedes Peter Bjorn & John. Though the import edition of their third album Writer’s Block scored an impressive 8.5 from the Pitchforkian judges and made a few discriminating year-end lists, I opted to ignore them because… well, the name. It doesn’t matter that those are actually the first names of the band members – I just found it so awful (and even worse if you look at the acronymed version) that I decided to pay no attention to them. But the internet had different plans.

Leading up to the domestic release of Writer’s Block on February 6, PB&J (shudder) have been everywhere in Blogopia thanks to their appearance Monday night on Conan O’Brien and their inaugural New York shows. But none of that means anything to me – alls I know is I got a copy of the record last week and have been soaking it in. On first listen, it seemed rather innocuous – certainly pleasant in that inimitable Swedish way, but more understated than I’d expected for something that was getting the praise it was. But within a few more spins, it was evident that the hooks had burrowed their way into my brain like tapeworms. If tapeworms actually resided in the brain.

The way I figure it, the secret of this album lies in the arrangements. They’re quite lean but this proves very effective in directing the listener’s focus exactly where they want them to – the whistling, the twangy guitar line, the drum fill, the vocal line. The roughness in the production sounds a bit like an affectation as it’s obvious that Writer’s Block is a very meticulous and deliberate piece of work. Everything is exactly as it is for a reason and a purpose – maximum stealth pop hookery. The prime example of this is the big hit single from the record (#2 #35 in the UK), “Young Folks” featuring the narcoleptic crooning of former Concrete Victoria Bergsman. The first time I heard it, I was all “what, this is it?” and now I’m all, “yes, I understand”. Never mind the tapeworms – this record is like those ear bugs from Wrath Of Khan. Still not a fan of the band name, though.

Pitchfork talks to Bjorn Yttling about catching the Leafs-Rangers game in New York tonight while The New York Times reviews one of their NYC shows. Bradley’s Almanac has captured the audio of their performance on Conan (with Ms Bergsman in tow) from Monday night as well as that of Billy Bragg on Craig Ferguson at the very same moment. How’d you do it, Brad? MAGIC.

MP3: Peter Bjorn & John – “Young Folks”
Video: Peter Bjorn & John – “Young Folks” (YouTube)
Video: Peter Bjorn & John – “Let’s Call It Off” (YouTube)
Stream: Peter Bjorn & John – “Writer’s Block”
MySpace: Peter Bjorn & John

And speaking of Victoria Bergsman’s old outfit, I’m surprised to see that The Concretes have regrouped so quickly from losing their lead singer/songwriter. Wasting no time, they’ve already recorded a new record with drummer Lisa Milberg handling lead vocal duties – the album is called Hey Trouble and they hope to have it out this Spring. There’s a song from it streaming on their MySpace and to be honest, it’s pretty underwhelming. But I’ll reserve judgment on their fortunes without Bergsman until I hear the whole thing.

It’s more March madness as the concert announcements keep rolling in. Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips will be at the Mod Club on March 12, their first post-Luna appearance in our fair city. Sure, I have to be on a plane to Austin the next morning, but there’s no way I’m missing this one. Back Numbers is out on February 27, almost two years to the day since Luna played their final show. Sniff.

And the day before (March 11), Damon Albarn and his all-star band, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, are at the Kool Haus. What I’ve heard from the project has done almost nothing for me. Am I being too hasty in judging or is that really all there is to it? Or perhaps I’m just put off by the name (see notes on fickleness above). CMJ profiles the band.

Australia’s Youth Group will be at the Horseshoe on April 3 with Aqueduct. It’s a free show so no complaining about not getting bang for your buck.

The Belfast Telegraph talks to Charlotte Hatherley, whose new album The Deep Blue is out in the UK on March 5.

The New Pollution, Aversion and Harmonium all talk to Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal.

np – The Early Years / The Early Years

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

I Will Kill Again

I’ve mentioned before how much I’m enjoying the Jarvis Cocker album Jarvis, which, while not as brilliant as Pulp in their prime, is still pretty damn sharp and a worthy addition to his oeuvre. It finds Cocker, after being away for five years dabbling in electronica, appearing in Harry Potter films and generally inspecting the state of the world, reporting back on his findings and being none to impressed.

While musically things veer toward the midtempo, the rather lush, classic-sounding arrangements suits the material perfectly though Cocker hasn’t foresaken the big pop numbers as evidenced by the opening salvo of “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time”, “Black Magic” and “Heavy Weather”. And that’s fine because rocking out was never what Pulp was about anyways – it was about Cocker and his words, his wonderfully acidic words and it’s so good to see that age hasn’t dulled the sharpness of his pen. In fact he plays the curmudgeon quite well though that’s probably of no surprise to anyone. Currently only available as an import (though I paid a regular domestic price), it will be officially released in North America on April 3. Highly recommended and let me just say it’ good to have Jarv back.

And while on the subject, I noticed that Pulp’s classic trilogy – His ‘N Hers, Different Class and This Is Hardcore were given the double-disc deluxe reissue treatment last year (though for the record, I don’t think We Love Life was nearly as bad as some do). My question is, does anyone have these, and are they worth the rather steep price of admission? I figure I should at least get the Hardcore one, that being my favourite Pulp album and the number of new material on disc two looking quite worthwhile, but how about the others? These acquisitions will likely be in addition to The Peel Sessions record which I didn’t even know it existed before seeing the Pitchfork writeup.

What can I say? I’ve been feeling all kinds of 1995 lately. It’ll pass.

MP3: Jarvis Cocker – “Running The World”
Video: Jarvis Cocker – “Running The World” (YouTube)
Video: Jarvis Cocker – “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” (YouTube)

The Shins talk to various media outlets around the world, including The Scotsman, The Sydney Morning Herald, Incendiary (out of The Netherlands) and AZCentral.com.

Leeds Music Scene and The Daily Collegian talk to The Hold Steady.

Billboard pegs the release of Baby 81, the new album from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, for May 1.

Show announcements, big and small – The Killers are at the Air Canada Centre on May 7, The Frames at the Phoenix on April 20 and Birdmonster at the Horseshoe on March 28.

24: Random observations: Milo is so totally putting the moves on Nadia – “Here, use my login…” = CTU PILLOW TALK. The detention camp has truly the worst security ever – never mind missing a cellphone in their cavity searches (it wasn’t even a RAZR), they’ve somehow got NO guards in the yard where they’ve got supposed terrorists or collaborators gathering en mass. Lameness. And after getting the bag treatment from Jack (surely soon to be a staple in the arsenal of every sadistic older brother), Graem finally gets some payback though I have to stop watching the scenes from next week’s episode – not that I expected him to get away with anything, but it’s kind of disappointing to see how quickly he bungles it all. I can only hope that at some point, we get to see James Cromwell throw some haymakers. He’s old but he’s wiry. You know he’s got some moves. Need more 24? Watching 24 is your fix. Via Earfarm.

Monday, January 29th, 2007

500 Up

The last time I saw Sloan was in first-year university, almost eleven years ago and MAN does that make me feel old. And it’s not because I stopped liking them, I simply never got around to it. So while there was literally a bounty of other shows going on in town Saturday night, I opted to stand out in the cold at City Hall as Sloan played as part of the WinterCity Festival. And while I guess it was fortunate that the unseasonably warm spell that had defined Winter this far ended a few weeks ago (or it wouldn’t have been very Winter-y), it made for some frigid toes after a while.

Sloan have been Canadian institutions since 1993 and though they’re no longer necessarily the hippest band amongst those inclined to care about such things, they’ve always managed to maintain a remarkable level of quality from album to album. Even when they sound like they’re phoning it in a bit, as some of the more recent records have implied, it’s still pretty decent power pop. And though I’ve not heard it, all indications are that their latest Never Hear The End Of It – out in Canada last September and earlier this month in the US – is their most inspired record in some time. Them boys still got some gas in the tank.

Since I’ve got all their earlier stuff (even if my copy of Pretty Together is scratched and needs replacing) and didn’t recognize most of what they opened up with, I assume they led with the new material. It sounded like vintage Sloan (well, more recent vintage Sloan), meaning equal parts 60s and 70s AM radio rock and intros that tend to sound a bit like the opening of “Spirit In The Sky”. It was all well and good but as an old-schooler, I was happiest in the last third of the show when they finally began dipping into the old stuff. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed those records – Twice Removed and One Chord To Another came along at very crucial times in my musical development. But damn, the songs hold up and you can’t not sing along.

There was a time when a Sloan show was a hit or miss affair (a perception which may well have been a factor in my decade-long hiatus from their concerts) but I guess you can’t really keep at it for as long as they have without getting your act together. And as you might expect, their act was a lot of Chris Murphy being equal parts goofy and dorky, Patrick Pentland getting in his share of rock star moves (no one else’s foot went on the monitor), Jay Ferguson as the shy wallflower type and Andrew Scott generally doing whatever it is drummers do though the instrument switch portion of the show (nice to see they’re still doing that) brought him out front to take lead vocal on a few numbers.

With the exception of Pentland and Scott having gone completely gray, the Sloan boys have aged pretty damn well – I suspect that Murphy and Ferguson maintain their youthful demeanor by feeding on the blood of the other two, but I’ve no proof. At one point, Chris Murphy was asking who in the audience was in high school when their various records were released, gauging the age of the audience. I was around 18 when Sloan first hit the scene, and judging from the response he got, lots of others were around the same age when they first discovered the band, whichever album it might have been. And I realized that at a Sloan show, everyone’s 18 years old. And it felt good.

But Hell’s bells it was cold, even if it was only -4 Centigrade (or so the Weather Network would have us believe). I have to say that unless we get some serious localized global warming action over Nathan Philips this coming Saturday when The New Pornographers play, I’m going to have to give it a pass.

Photos: Sloan @ Nathan Philips Square – January 27, 2007
MP3: Sloan – “Can’t You Figure It Out”
MySpace: Sloan

Josh Ritter talks to The Richmond Times-Dispatch about the direction of his new record and how much he enjoys playing solo, as he will at the Horseshoe on February 15. He also tells The Virginian-Pilot not to look for anything autobiographical in his songs – “I can’t stand autobiography in songs”. And for those of you who were catching him on his west coast dates, sadly opener Will Sheff has had to cancel after injuring his voice recording the new Okkervil River album. Support for the Toronto show will be Julie Fader.

Yo La Tengo are currently on tour in the American southwest and where the Yo La goes, interviews follow. The Daily Beacon, Orlando Sentinel and Miami New Times chat with James McNew while The Tallahassee Democrat minces words with Ira Kaplan.

The Maria Taylor show scheduled for March 21 at the El Mocambo has been moved to The Horseshoe. Saddle Creek has a couple MP3s available from her new album Lynn Teeter Flower, out March 6.

MP3: Maria Taylor – “A Good Start”
MP3: Maria Taylor – “Lost Time”

Look for Interpol’s third album and major-label debut on June 5 (via MusicTAP).

Prefix has it that Idlewild’s Make Another World will see a North American release on April 3. We still get a staggered release from its March 5 UK release but one month is far better than the 12 or more that it took the last few records to make it over here. They’ve just released a second single and thus a second video from the new album.

Video: Idlewild – “No Emotion” (Flash)

Tapes ‘N Tapes are slated to be at Lee’s Palace on May 16. I’m never sure where the apostrophe is supposed to go in their name.

Despite a rocky inaugural edition and the demise of V2 records in North America, Virgin Fest is a go again for 2007 – times two. It’s expanding to Vancouver this year, taking place at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium on Victoria Day weekend (May 20 and 21) and some of their headliners have already been announced. Looks like they’re looking to attract a more Alternative Press-type crowd, with the likes of My Chemical Romance, Billy Talent, Muse, The Killers, AFI and Hot Hot Heat being counted on to draw the crowds. This is probably a savvy move since the alt.kids seem to have more disposable cash than the indie kids and more inclined to do the big corporate festival thing. We’ll have to see if this M.O. carries over to the Toronto edition when the lineup is announced later this Spring. It’s scheduled to once again hit the Toronto Islands on September 8 and 9. Here’s hoping for warmer weather and fewer leaky boats.

np – Midnight Movies / Lion The Girl

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Sunday Cleaning – Volume 64

The Earlies / The Enemy Chorus (Secretly Canadian)

The second release from bi-continental outfit The Earlies (members reside in both Texas and the UK) is the first properly conceived as an album – their debut, These Were The Earlies, was actually a compilation of singles and EPs though it hung together remarkably well as a whole. This time around, they continue mining their distinct vein of psychedelia that blends pastoral English pop with some twangy southwestern seasoning, but darker and a touch more menacing than that description might imply. The shadow of Pink Floyd still hangs heavy over things, though only if you make Waters a few hundred shades more mellow and Gilmour a few hundred shades less noodly and throw in a penchant for orchestration and some world music influences. Which is to say it doesn’t really sound like Pink Floyd at all. But it is simultaneously dense and sprawling (contradictory adjectives, if you think about it) and almost certainly requires more than a few listens to properly absorb.

MP3: The Earlies – “No Love In Your Heart”
MySpace: The Earlies

David Vandervelde / The Moonstation House Band (Secretly Canadian)

It’s apparently some sort of rule that everything written about this young Chicagoan whippersnapper must include the words “T-Rex” or “Marc Bolan”. And for the first few songs of this record, that seems pretty apt – the songs rock and swagger so hard you can practically hear how tight his jeans are. But after that opening glam salvo, things get much more interesting – from channeling some last-call lounge singer overtop a richly orchestrated backing to hooktacular classic pop and strummy balladry. It’s all got a decidedly retro tinge to it but Vandervelde touches a remarkable number of stylistic bases over the course of eight songs and 32 minutes. There’s a lot more in his (top) hat than you might expect, though that looks pretty good on him, too.

Check out Vandervelde’s recent session for Daytrotter.

MP3: David Vandervelde – “Jacket”
MySpace: David Vandervelde

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

CONTEST – Grizzly Bear @ Lee's Palace, February 6, 2007

Grizzly Bear had a breakout 2006, collecting critical raves for their album Yellow House and a high-profile tour opening for fellow Brooklynite it-band, TV On The Radio. It was also, unfortunately, a break-in year with band being robbed and their gear stolen in Brussels last November.

But undeterred, they’re hitting the road again this Winter and will be at Lee’s Palace in Toronto on February 6 with Dirty Projectors and I want you to be there. Courtesy of Against The Grain, I’ve got three pairs of passes to the show to give away and winning couldn’t be simpler. Actually, it could, but not by much.

To enter, leave me a comment on this post telling me your thoughts on who would win in an ultimate fighting match and why – Winnie The Pooh, Paddington Bear, Tenderheart Bear (of The Care Bears) or Boo-Boo Bear. I’d have said Yogi but he’s have an obvious size advantage to say nothing being smarter than the average bear whereas Pooh, on the other hand, is a bear of very little brain. Gotta keep a level playing field. The contest closes at midnight, February 1.

And while you’re pondering this cosmic question, check out this piece at Daytrotter wherein guitarist Daniel Rossen lists off all the stuff he’s into right now, or if you haven’t seen it, this bathroom concert for La Blogotheque.

MP3: Grizzly Bear – “On A Neck, On A Spit”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Colorado”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Knife”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Lullabye”
MySpace: Grizzly Bear