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Archive for February, 2007

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Singer Sing

It was two years ago today that Luna, my dear, beloved Luna, played their final show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and yes, it still brings a tear to my eye (figuratively, at least) to think that one of my favourite bands in the world is gone.

But then I hear things like Back Numbers, the new record from Dean & Britta and their first post-Luna release, and realize that there is life after Luna and it actually sounds great. Like their first release as a duo, 2003′s L’Avventura, Back Numbers blends covers and originals in a sonic haze that’s as retro as it is timeless-sounding. Keyboards, vibes and drum machines burble in the background and Wareham’s distinctive guitarwork is still present though without the presence of Sean Eden, his six-string sparring partner for over a decade, he sounds more interested in textures than leads.

Wareham also opts to cede most of the lead vocals to Phillips but those who’ve come to this record via Luna, and I imagine that’s pretty much everyone, fear not – Dean’s narcoleptic twang is still here, it just seems he’d rather listen to his wife sing rather than do so himself. And you can’t really blame him – her voice is like honey, especially in such a musical context, and whether she’s wrapping it around melodies like that on “White Horses” (the theme to an old ’60s television program) or belting out the chorus to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s “You Turned My Head Around”, it’s a thing of beauty. You really can’t fault him for wanting to sit back and let her go.

If it makes any sense, Back Numbers feels very much like but also entirely unlike a Luna record. You could easily imagine any of these songs appearing on an album or as a b-side, yet as a whole you couldn’t imagine the collection ever coming out under that name. But while their old band was never what you’d call tightly wound, this record sounds relaxed and laid back in a way that none of Luna’s ever did. It was evident in their swan song tour, documented in Tell Me Do You Miss Me (which I still have to watch the commentary for!), that Wareham was worn down and just plain tired with the grind of being in a touring band – perhaps this is the sound of a man with a few hundred hours of sleep under his belt and a renewed interest in creating music? But whatever it is, if this is a sign of things to come than Wareham may become the (very) rare artist who can lay claim to helming not one, not two but three excellent and distinct bands over the course of his career, and not one of them a formal solo project. Who else can say that?

Village Voice catches up with Dean and Britta about the record and their other post-Luna projects (she does voice work for Adult Swim’s Moral Orel, he’s been writing a memoir which should be done this year) and in a couple weeks they head out on tour in support of the record, including a March 12 show at the Mod Club. The Jewish Legend supports. The record is also doing well early on at Metacritic, and deservedly so.

MP3: Dean & Britta – “Words You Used To Say”
MP3: Dean & Britta – “Singer Sing”
Video: Dean & Britta – “Words You Used To Say” (YouTube)
MySpace: Dean & Britta

Dean and Britta aren’t the only former Luna members being productive – Sean Eden’s new outfit Elk City will release their new album New Believers on April 17 and what I’ve heard sounds great. Again, not especially Luna-like but Eden’s distinctive style is easy to pick out and it fits well. Looking forward to hearing the full album and four out of five Wolf Notes agree.

MP3: Elk City – “Cherries In The Snow”
MP3: Elk City – “Los Cruzados”

And finally, just because. Yes I do miss you.

MP3: Luna – “Friendly Advice” (live)

Thanks to Bradley’s Almanac for the tip off that Centro-Matic will be releasing an 8-track EP called Operation Motorcide this Spring.

Miss out on tickets to Of Montreal’s sold-out show at the Opera House on March 13? Want to maximize your odds of seeing Kevin Barnes whip it out? Head to Soundscapes at 4PM on the day of the show where Of Montreal will be doing an acoustic in-store set.

And The New Pollution talks to Emil Svanangen of Loney, Dear who are touring with Of Montreal, though not the Toronto date. Hopefully he/they will be coming through town later in the year, though I’m definitely intending to catch on of his/their many shows at SxSW next month.

Artwork you should be looking for on record store shelves in May – More Cowbell has the cover for Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, out May 15, and Pitchfork has the art and tracklisting for The National’s Boxer, out May 22.

JAM! talks to Emerge honcho Jacob Smid about the plans for this year’s edition of VFest, happening in May in Vancouver and September 8 and 9 in Toronto. They’ll be announcing the lineup in a month or two, but expect it to number around 40 acts, though if the acts are in line with Vancouver’s alt.rock-heavy lineup – which as I’ve said before certainly makes better business sense than catering to the mythical indie kid disposable income – I may give it a pass. There’s never a shortage of great stuff coming through town in early September and wouldn’t want to miss one of those in exchange for seeing My Chemical Romance.

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Many Lives 49 MP

I had no idea that Saturday’s Final Fantasy show at the Tranzac, the second of two fundraising shows for the venue, was a matinee when I bought the ticket. But it was, and an all-ages one at that, which is why it was that I found myself in a gaggle of overexcited underagers on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Different? Yes.

And also different (and not legally able to drink) were first act 123Ten, which was composed of a trio of teenage girls kind of rapping, kind of singing and kind of dancing about such weighty matters as battling whales, the practicality of black clothes and odes to baby squirrels. All terribly cute and silly.

They were followed by local trio The Phonemes who managed to see their good vibes and then raise them some. Purveyors of sweet and jangly pop songs with a certain off-kilterness to them that was very welcome, frontwoman Magali Meagher looked to be having such a good time that it was nearly impossible to not smile along. They’ve been kicking around for more than a few years now but this was my first time hearing them – the sound you hear is Zoilus shaking his head.

I’ve said before that I find the Final Fantasy live experience to be much more enjoyable than listening to his records – while that’s still true, the gap between the two is closing rapidly and it’s not because I’m enjoying Owen live any less. Accompanied by a projectionist, Pallet opted to stay in the shadows and soundtrack the visuals to rather than step into the spotlight himself. But even concealed thusly, his music demanded the full attention of the audience as he blended looped violin with his gentle vocals to perform selections from He Poos Clouds as well as some unfamiliar numbers and a cover of John Cale’s “Paris 1919″. I’m not sure that I’ve actually seen a full Final Fantasy set before – it’s always been either a supporting or otherwise truncated set – but really should try harder, it’s as wonderful as the shorter sets, only moreso. While there’ll surely be more opportunities between now and then, he does have another local show scheduled for July 1 at Harbourfront Centre, obviously as part of their Canada Day festivities. Mark it down.

Photos: Final Fantasy, The Phonemes, 123Ten @ The Tranzac – February 24, 2007
MP3: Final Fantasy – “If I Were A Carp”
MP3: Final Fantasy – “Many Lives 49 MP”
MP3: The Phonemes – “Steeples & People”
Video: Final Fantasy – “This Lamb Sells Condos” (YouTube)
MySpace: Final Fantasy
MySpace: The Phonemes

So yeah, the whole internet is agog of Arcade Fire’s appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend and yeah, I watched it too. I think it was the first full ep of the show I’ve seen in maybe three years and though the faces have changed, it’s still pretty much the same. Overlong, occasionally painful but with just enough choice moments so that it doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Anyway, BrooklynVegan has rounded up the audio and video from their performances and Catbirdseat also has an… editorial. Of sorts. On everything.

New York Magazine takes a look at their week in the Big Apple while The Globe & Mail talks to Win Butler about how and why they’re so big and popular as to have sold out two nights at Massey Hall in under a minute (well, Ticketmaster’s allotment at least – Massey Hall was still selling decent seats directly late into Friday afternoon. I’m in the right centre gallery, 3rd row in case you were wondering). Neon Bible is out in a week but you can stream the whole thing right now at NME. How’s it sound? I’ve no idea – I’ll tell you when my preorder arrives hopefully next week. But Pop (All Love) declares in the Macleans music blog (yes you read that right) that it’s “Real and good, but not real good” while Rolling Stone, in a rare moment of non crap writing, gives it a solid three and a half stars (via Said The Gramophone in Wherry’s comments).

Stylus asks Craig Finn if The Hold Steady appeals to 16-year olds.

Scotland’s My Latest Novel will definitely be making the most of their stay in Toronto for Canadian Music Week – in addition to their original showcase at the Drake at midnight on Friday, March 9, they’re opening for Red Sparowes at the El Mocambo the following night and then playing a free show at the Horseshoe on the Monday night (March 12) at 9:30. For my part, I will be managing to miss all three shows and instead be seeing them in Austin at SxSW (Saturday night at 8PM at Buffalo Billiards). As improbable as it seems, I’ve got something else going on all three of those evenings. It happens.

And Brazil’s CSS are slated to be at the Horseshoe on June 4. That is going to be insane. INSANE. Maybe even in the membrane. Via For The Records.

Sooooo SxSW wristbands went on sale yesterday. Anyone got an extra? Anyone? Be your best friend.

24: Where did they find a suit in Jack’s size so quickly? Yeah, that’s all. I suppose I could comment on the riveting subplot of whether or not Morris is drinking again or not, but that’s still too raw and emotional for me to talk about just yet. Sob.

And check out Metatube for all your television blog commentary needs.

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Don't Take My Sunshine Away

Mark Linkous and Sparklehorse have been near the top of my ever-shrinking list of current acts who I’d never seen live and could realistically expect to for a while, but for the longest while – namely the five years following 2001′s It’s A Wonderful Life – it seemed for a long while that the odds of there being new material let alone a tour to promote were getting more and more distant. But lo and behold, Fall 2006 brought us the long-awaited Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain and Winter 2007 the North American tour to support so to say that my anticipation was high for Friday night’s show at the Mod Club would be something of an understatement.

I was expecting a rather smouldering, low-key set from openers Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter – at their show at the Rivoli in September 2004, Sykes spent pretty much their whole show seated and with her long hair hanging down in front of her face. Thankfully, Sykes has since discovered the benefits of being upright and their set was not only performed standing, but with a surprising and welcome amount of energy. Drawing largely from their new album Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul, they were really rather terrific. I mentioned last week how complimentary Sykes’ hickory-smoked voice and Phil Wandscher’s twang-tacular guitar were on the record – live, it’s even moreso with he lifting up her earthy songwriting and she grounding his runaway fretwork.

Conventional wisdom dictates that when you’re touring in support of a new record, you play material from that record. But as anyone who’s followed his career knows, Mark Linkous is hardly conventional. Instead, on this tour Sparklehorse have been drawing from the greatest hits playbook and the set list leaned far more heavily on the back catalog, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and Good Morning Spider in particular – Light Years was only represented by a couple of songs (give or take, I don’t have an actual copy of the set list) Whatever the reasoning – maybe the early stuff is easier or more interesting to play live – I wasn’t complaining since I’d never heard any of it live before and being reintroduced to the older songs, which I haven’t listened to much lately, was a treat.

On record, the snap, crackle and hiss production is a fundamental part of the Sparklehorse vibe, creating the distant, otherworldly vibe that’s the band’s trademark. But trying to reproduce that atmosphere live would be folly so the like ‘Horse experience strips away that AM radio filter and instead sounds a good deal fuller and more conventionally “rock” than one might expect but which still sounded marvelous. And for one with such a well-chronicled distaste for touring and generally being in public, Linkous exuded no small amount of onstage charisma (helped out by the fan at the front of the stage blowing his hair around all rock star-like) even if he didn’t seem especially comfortable being up there.

And maybe it’s that unease that’s the reason behind the suprising and somewhat disappointing brevity of the set – even including the one-song encore, Sparklehorse still played for less than an hour. Considering the catalog-spanning nature of the set list, there was certainly no shortage of material to draw on but no – with a minimum of banter and downtime between songs, they barreled through their set list, said their thank yous and were gone. To be fair, their efficiency meant that they still played a full set’s worth of material – it’s just that after waiting so long to see them, I was sad to see them gone so soon and with BrooklynVegan reporting that Sparklehorse may be a casualty of label mergers (which wouldn’t surprise me at all), who knows when they’ll be back?

Sparklehorse’s tour continues through next week and they’re also slated to headline the Astralwerks showcase at SxSW on Thursday, March 15 at Antone’s, for which I note that the organizers have allotted an hour and a half. Hope they’ve got some DJs handy. The News Observer talks to Linkous in advance of his sort-of homecoming show in North Carolina and Minnesota Public Radio has a studio session with the band from last week available to stream or download.

Photos: Sparklehorse, Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter @ The Mod Club – February 23, 2007
MP3: Sparklehorse – “Shade And Honey”
MP3: Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter – “LLL”
Stream: Sparklehorse – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (ASX)
Stream: Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter / Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul
MySpace: Sparklehorse
MySpace: Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter

The Guardian gets a tour of Denton, Texas from native sons Midlake.

Drowned In Sound and The Event Guide get acquainted with The Hold Steady, who wrap up their Europe-demolishing tour in Dublin tomorrow.

The Enquirer Q’s, Richard Thompson A’s.

Ex-Refreshment and current Peacemaker Roger Clyne will be in town on April 30 for a show at the Horseshoe, though it’s unclear if it’s with band or just him listings indicate it’s Clyne & The Peacemakers – full band goodness. I used to love The Refreshments and still think they deserve better than to be forever known as the band that did the theme to King Of The Hill, though I certainly don’t begrudge them the cheques that surely brings in. Anyway, tickets for that are $10.50 and on May 12, Swedes Mando Diao are at the ‘Shoe with Pop Levi and The Films for an evening of too-tight pants rock.

Toronto’s Tokyo Police Club are next up in the Daytrotter queue, offering up both an interview and downloadable studio session. There’s a new song in there that sounds pretty dang good and with them having sold out two dates at the Mod Club for April, it looks like 2007 is the year that they grow into the buzz and expectations that’ve surrounded them for the last few years. Good on them.

The National’s new album has a name – look for Boxer May 22. The label people at Beggars say it’s amazing, and even though it’s their job to do so, I believe ‘em.

PopMatters celebrates the coelacanth. No, it’s not a band. It’s a fish.

If you stopped by this weekend or tried to, sorry about the downtime. Entirely out of my control but my hosting seems to be behaving itself now. Knock on wood.

Update: I KNOCKED ON WOOD, GODDAMMIT (posted at 6:30PM after another five hours of downtime).

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

A Makeover

So late yesterday afternoon Pitchfork revealed a bit of news that I’ve been sitting quietly on for almost a couple months now – namely that Shearwater have signed to Matador – congratulations to both the band and the label on what will hopefully prove to be a fruitful partnership. To kick things off, Matador will re-release their 2006 masterpiece Palo Santo on April 10 in a deluxe, expanded format usually reserved for Pavement reissues.

Firstly, the album proper will feature five re-recorded tracks – though Palo Santo was originally in May, the band went back into the studio in December and re-tracked a goodly portion of the album with an eye towards this release (their idea, not the label’s). Now I’m on record as feeling that the record was stellar the first time around but the band disagreed and with this new edition have declared “This is Palo Santo the way we wanted it.”. And based on the new version of “Red Sea, Black Sea” which I’ve posted below, I’m not going to argue. And as further enticement, it will come with a second disc with eight unreleased tracks. Their first Olé-powered disc of new music is slated for an early 2008 release.

You can see a teeny tiny pic of the new cover art to help distinguish it from the original version, but let me say this – I don’t think that the release of this new version in any way diminishes how good the 2006 edition of Palo Santo was. An edition, by the way, that Misra is clearing out for a mere $4 USD right now. Buy it, then buy the deluxe version. Then buy the double vinyl edition. Then go see them at SxSW both at their official showcase at 7:30PM on Thursday, March 15 at the Central Presbyterian Church (Shearwater in a church? Hells yes) and then on the Friday headlining The Hot Freaks at Mohawk. Then see them on tour. Palo Santo was unjustly overlooked in the 2006 year-end round up, so here’s an opportunity for folks to rectify that mistake (though I don’t think I’m allowed to put it on my year-end list twice in a row. I’ll have to check with the judges on that).

MP3: Shearwater – “Red Sea, Black Sea” (new version)
MySpace: Shearwater

X-Press talks to one of Shearwater’s new labelmates, Yo La Tengo, about why they’re no longer quite as prolific as they once were. The Kansas City Star also catches a few minutes with James McNew.

And Chart talks to one of Shearwater’s former labelmates (in the US, anyways), Great Lake Swimmers, about their new record Ongiara, out March 27. They’re playing two shows at the Church Of The Redeemer in Toronto on April 14.

Billboard talks to Rachael Yamagata about creating Wild Hope, the follow-up to Happenstance, which will finally be released later this Spring.

The Age and The Courier-Mail ask Peter Bjorn & John about the whistling thing. They’re at the Phoenix on May 6 and BrooklynVegan directs us to a new video:

Video: Peter Bjorn & John – “Objects Of My Affection” (YouTube)

The Belfast Telegraph talks to Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith about their new album Our Earthly Pleasures, out April 3. He also tells MTV UK that the new record draws on hip-hop for inspiration.

Tortoise are at Lee’s Palace on July 3.

And I had meant to write up Cortney Tidwell today but as it stands, I won’t get to that till probably later next week. But since this album stream from AOL will probably be gone by Tuesday, I’ll post a link to it now and suggest if you’ve got some time and want to hear something great, give it a listen.

Stream: Cortney Tidwell / Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up

I’ve got a lot of work to do this weekend so I’m taking it off from posting. See you Monday.

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Patient Eye

Sexy, sultry, mysterious and a maybe a bit dangerous – whether you think I’m talking about Los Angeles’ Midnight Movies or just their lead singer Gena Olivier is entirely up to you, but the adjectives apply equally to both, inasmuch as the former is defined by the latter.

Some lineup changes between their 2004 self-titled debut and the recording of their follow-up, Lion The Girl (originally slated for a March 6 release but now due out April 24), saw Olivier step out from behind the kit where she had been doing dual duty as drummer and lead singer and she now fronts the band in a more conventional manner, while also playing keyboards. She’s been replaced on drums by Sandra Vu and Ryan Wood is another new addition on bass, with original keyboardist Jason Hammons having departed before work on the new record commenced.

While this move will no doubt disappoint those who believe the singing drummer to be the pinnacle of musical accomplishment, I’ve no doubt it’s played some part in the remarkable growth evident from the band’s debut to the new album. They’ve taken the promising elements of the first record – Olivier’s femme fatale vocals overtop the darkly psychedelic atmospherics – and created a record that succeeds both as a strong collection of songs and an overall immersive mood piece, though that mood is rather like sitting in a loud, crowded club while wondering if someone slipped something into your drink and if so, where can you get more of it? Dream pop for those with unsettling dreams.

Campus Circle and The Rockit talk to Midnight Movies, who play The Hot Freaks at SxSW on Friday, March 16 at 3:30PM inside at the Mohawk and have their official showcase on March 15 at 10PM at the Blender Bar at The Ritz.

MP3: Midnight Movies – “Patient Eye”
Video: Midnight Movies – “Patient Eye” (YouTube)
MySpace: Midnight Movies

Also appearing at Hot Freaks on the Saturday at 3:30PM is Asobi SeksuPitchfork has info on their upcoming touring and European release plans. They’ve also released a new video from Citrus for “Goodbye”.

Video: Asobi Seksu – “Goodbye” (YouTube)

eye, NOW and The Toronto Star talk to Jesse Sykes, in town tomorrow night with The Sweet Hereafter opening for Sparklehorse at the Mod Club. What, no one wants to talk to Mark Linkous? Okay, The Phoenix, Seattle Weekly, Seattle New Times and The Westender did – just no one in Toronto. Feel the love, Mark. Feel it.

And some more country chanteuses coming to town – Lucinda Williams at Massey Hall on April 17 and Brandi Carlile at the Horseshoe on May 7. Her new album The Story is out April 3. And completely not an alt.country chanteuse, UK next big thing Mika is at the Mod Club on March 21, tickets $15.

PopMatters wonders why Arrested Development failed while The Office is a hit. And speaking of television, Studio 60 is pretty much dead while reports of Veronica Mars’ demise are hopefully exaggerated.

I finally got that SxSW torrent downloaded and on the iPod. This will be a trip.