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Monday, April 27th, 2009

Two Suns

Bat For Lashes and Lewis & Clarke at The Mod Club in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThe most beautiful day of the year so far turned into one of the foulest just in time for the early-evening start of Bat For Lashes’ Saturday night date at the Mod Club, the first for this leg of their North American tour in support of their much-heralded new album Two Suns. A more ambitious writer might try to draw some parallel between the dramatic weather shift and the themes of duality that run through the new record – I’ll just blame a high pressure system surrounded by low pressure systems and get on with it.

Rather surprisingly, support for this tour was Pennsylvanians Lewis & Clarke – surprising because they were also support the last time Bat For Lashes came to town in October 2007, and you don’t often see acts getting taken out as support twice. And their last time out couldn’t have been the most pleasant for the band either, since my recollections were the duo, as they were playing as at the time, had a poor time of trying to be heard over the chatty and inattentive audience (those of us up front notwithstanding). I also remarked at the time that maybe a full band would have had been more successful at getting peoples’ attention. Apparently bandleader Lou Rogal took my advice because the Lewis & Clarke that showed up this time was five members deep, including a drummer and string section. They delivered a set of four (maybe five) songs over 35 minutes, all of the slow and thoughtful chamber-folk variety, and while unquestionably pretty, it was all quite same-y. But at least this time, the audience was much more receptive – or at least polite. Lewis & Clarke will release a new EP Light Time on May 12.

Also rejigged significantly from last time was Bat For Lashes, the band. Whereas the troupe that visited in 2007 was a drummer-less all-female multi-instrumentalist quartet, this one had more defined musical roles and was slightly more co-ed, with Ben Christophers on keys, New Young Pony Club’s Sarah Jones on drums and the divine Charlotte Hatherley on pretty much everything. Oh, and also Natasha Khan – she whose voice, vision and songs ARE Bat For Lashes.

And as beguiling as she is on record, she’s equally charismatic on stage. She set the bar high for the show by leading with Two Suns opener “Glass”, the finest showcase for her soaring vocals, but didn’t let things lag a bit through the 70-minute set. Splitting material fairly evenly between Suns and Fur & Gold, Khan crafted a spellbinding performance that despite the rich visual presentation, didn’t rely on theatrics to rivet – rich with atmosphere and mystery, the songs were more than enough. It’s hard to pick highlights from a show really had no let-downs, but Fur singles “Prescilla” and “What’s A Girl To Do” naturally got the biggest response and single “Daniel” even got aired twice – early on, reimagined in skeletal, autoharp-led form and as the encore closer as “(Big) Daniel” (so noted on the set list), complete with the huge synths of the album version and deliciously Cure-ish guitars. Grand finale, indeed.

It’s impossible to overstate how much the new band configuration has improved their live show, which was hardly wanting in the first place. In particular, the drums, thundering and tribal, gave things a vitality that really took things to another level and Hatherley’s versatility was also put to good use, as she switched off between guitar, bass, keys, accordion and percussion in addition to providing backing vocals. For lack of a better way of putting it, Bat For Lashes v2 are just much more powerful. Though I did miss seeing the rain stick/staff of power from last time.

As for Khan, it’s remarkable how effortlessly she manages to indulge her more out-there creative impulses – her musical world is inhabited by wizards, knights and creatures of fantasy – while seeming utterly grounded, friendly and without airs. With a penchant for costumes and with stage decorations consisting of all manner of dime-store kitsch like Virgin Mary statues and ladies legs table lamps, she obviously doesn’t take things all that seriously but there’s no whiff of irony to be found, either. She makes wolf howls in her songs, for goodness sake, but also cracks jokes and at one point, looked up to see who was calling to her when an audience member yelled, “Natasha!”. Utterly charming.

Though you might think the eccentric nature of Bat For Lashes would be sufficient to consign them to cult band status – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but the fact that this show was not only sold out but with people desperately looking for tickets seems to imply that they’re bound for bigger things. But even so, even if within a year you’re seeing Bat For Lashes in venues holding thousands, I have a feeling that if you holler “Natasha!” during a quiet moment between songs, she’ll still look up and go, “yes?”.

There are feature pieces on Bat For Lashes at CMJ and The Boston Phoenix.

Photos: Bat For Lashes, Lewis & Clarke @ The Mod Club – April 25, 2009
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “Glass” (live)
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “I’m On Fire”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Petrified Forest”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Before It Breaks You”
Stream: Lewis & Clarke / Light Time
Video: Bat For Lashes – “Daniel”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Whats A Girl To Do”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Prescilla”
MySpace: Bat For Lashes
MySpace: Lewis & Clarke

Interview talks to Lily Allen, who has a newish video. Kinda regret not seeing her last week, enjoying her new one It’s Not Me, It’s You more than I’d expected. Hope her vague promises to retire are false.

Video: Lily Allen – “Not Fair”

Daytrotter has posted a session they recorded with Glasvegas during SxSW.

The first track from Stuart Murdoch’s God Help The Girl – I’m not sure whether to call it a band, project, play, or what – is now up for grabs and shock, it sounds a LOT like Belle & Sebastian. Which is to say it sounds wonderful. The album is out June 23.

MP3: God Help The Girl – “Come Monday Night”

The Sunday Mail has a 60-second interview with Camera Obscura. They’re at Lee’s Palace on June 27.

Channel M has a video session with My Latest Novel, whose second album Death & Entrances is out May 18.

PJ Harvey and John Parish discuss A Woman A Man Walked By with Pitchfork.

Drowned In Sound gets Adam Franklin to comment on the whole phenomenon/idea of “shoegaze”. Short version, he doesn’t think much of it but it’s an entertaining read. Franklin is supporting The Church on their Summer North American tour, which has a stop at the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 11 but so far hasn’t extended to include a Toronto date.

MP3: Adam Franklin – “Autumn Leaf”

Fans of XTC psych-pop alter-egos The Dukes Of Stratosphear should check out these two podcasts wherein Andy Partridge reminisces with producer John Leckie about the recording of 25 O’Clock and Psionic Psunspot, both of which were reissued in deluxe form last week.

MP3: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – “My Love Explode”
MP3: The Dukes Of Stratosphear – “Braniac’s Daughter”

Channel M has a video interview with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

A double-shot of Leonard Cohen docs for you – courtesy of the National Film Board, the 1965 documentary Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen and over at Pitchfork, the 2009 live concert film Leonard Cohen: Live In London. And apropos of nothing, whilst digging around IMDB I found that Lenny guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice in 1986 playing a villain named Francois Zolan. I didn’t think it possible, but I think Cohen just got that much more awesome in my eyes. He plays Copps Coliseum on May 19.

Video: Ladies And Gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen
Video: Leonard Cohen Live In London

Seattle-based power-popper Telekinesis will be at the Horseshoe on June 10 in support of his/their excellent self-titled debut.

MP3: Telekinesis – “Coast Of Carolina”
MP3: Telekinesis – “I Saw Lightning”
Video: Telekinesis – “Tokyo”

Brooklyn’s Obits will bring their debut long-player I Blame You to Lee’s Palace on July 23, tickets $12.

MP3: Obits – “Pine On”

Eagles Of Death Metal are at the Kool Haus on August 2, tickets $27.50.

Monday, October 1st, 2007

I Saw A Light

I begged off on trying to review Bat For Lashes’ Fur & Gold in last week’s post because their music doesn’t really lend itself to easy description and I’ll all about easy. I was hoping that seeing them live this past Friday at the El Mocambo would help crystallize things in my head and while the show didn’t make finding the words any easier, I’m now at least able to add the fact that they’re a fascinating live show into the mixture.

Playing to a much larger crowd than I anticipated, Bat-woman Natasha Khan and her three bandmates dress live a collision between a Renaissance fair and a Pat Benetar video and eschew traditional musical roles onstage, instead playing whatever instrument needed for the particular song. As such, each of them moved from keys to strings to guitars to percussion throughout the set as well as adding vocals, helping recreate the unusual sonics of Fur & Gold in the live setting.

But front and centre was Khan, both embracing and defusing her mystical, high priestess persona by being simultaneously engaging and eccentric. You could tell she didn’t play up or down any quirkiness for the stage – she simply was. Similarly, Bat For Lashes’ music dwells equally in a past that never was and the here and now of reality, a hypnotic blend of urbanity and myth, all anchored by Khan’s rich voice. Though they played for barely an hour including one-song encore (we got the Waits cover, not the Springsteen), it was enthralling for every minute.

The aforementioned large crowd was also, unfortunately, a loud crowd much to the dismay of openers Lewis & Clarke (named not for the explorers but for authors CS Lewis and Arthur C Clarke). Even bolstered by the massive low end being put out by Eve Miller’s (formerly of Matt Pond PA) cello, the duo had to struggle to be heard over the TGIF drinkers in back. Those of us up front and inclined to pay attention, though, were rewarded with a really pretty set of Lou Rogal’s thoughtful Drake/Cohen-esque folk songs. They sounded great with just guitar and cello but listening to the lusher recorded arrangements of Blasts Of Holy Birth, I can only imagine how good a full band would have sounded. Might have shut up everyone in back, even.

Afrique En Ligne has an interview with Khan while Paper Thin Walls gets a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the really quite awesome “What’s A Girl To Do” video. Lost At Sea and Muzzle Of Bees have interviews with Lewis & Clarke.

Photos: Bat For Lashes, Lewis & Clarke @ The El Mocambo – September 28, 2007
MP3: Bat For Lashes – “I’m On Fire”
MP3: Lewis & Clarke – “Before It Breaks You”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Whats A Girl To Do”
Video: Bat for Lashes – “Prescilla”
MySpace: Bat For Lashes
MySpace: Lewis & Clarke

The Pipettes’ October 5 show at the Opera House has been postponed till December something something due to Visa issues. Those of you who were going, now that your Friday’s open, why not head to Tiger Bar to see The Brother Kite and Fjord Rowboat? Plug plug. Update: Pitchfork has some of the rescheduled dates – The Pipettes are back in Toronto on November 18 at Lee’s Palace.

The Globe & Mail talks to Steve Earle about leaving Guitar Town behind on Washington Square Serenade.

Pitchfork has an interview with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam.

Ambrosia Parsley talks to Spinner about the selection process for Shivaree’s covers album of love songs, Tainted Love: Mating Calls & Fight Songs.

Will Sheff talks to Filter about bringing Okkervil River into the here and now and being persona non grata with Austin by drug dealers. NPR also has an interview and is currently streaming their performance in DC from last night.

Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows is out next Tuesday in PWYC digital form and second mortgage-inducing, 40 quid deluxe CD/double-LP format on December 3. Pitchfork has specifics. Seeing how it’s been nigh on a decade since Radiohead released an album I actually enjoyed, I’m not sure how much I care but watching the internet collectively lose their shit over this – regardless of whether or not the album is any good (any guesses which way I’m leaning?) – is going to be entertaining.

So, Toronto – how was your Nuit Blanche this weekend? I had no grand ambition to make it through the whole night and as such, was in bed by 2:30 but even if I was trying to see the sun rise, I don’t know that there’d have been enough to keep me interested in staying up that late. Even though I saw far more this time around, I think I enjoyed last year’s more. This year the crowds were so dense that down in Parkdale, there was really no opportunity to just hang out and take things in – you had to keep moving lest you get run down by other pedestrians or traffic. And the installations didn’t seem as grand or imaginative, either. But with all that said, I still love the idea of the event and am looking forward to next year’s. Maybe now that we’ve gotten past the sophomore slump, 2008 will be a return to form. But general disappointment aside, Nuit Blanche is still one of the top photo ops in the city all year – check out my Flickr set.

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The Resistance

New release news from Muse, Dodos, Quasi, Lips

Photo via MySpaceMySpaceWhat do you get when you have a pile of random news and links, not a lot of time and definitely not enough caffeine in your system? A post like this.

NME reports that British prog-rock space cadets Muse have announced the release of their fifth studio album, The Resistance, for September 14 with massive world touring to follow. I had thought they might feasible V Fest Toronto headliners, following their shiny red-jumpsuited performance at the first edition in 2006 but they seem to have all their record promotion ducks in a row with the US U2 support dates and the European headlining dates – any visits to Canada will probably come much later.

But there is some V Ontario news – the dates and one of the acts performing have basically been confirmed thanks to Mute Math’s MySpace – they’re listed as performing at V Fest Toronto on August 29 and 30.

The Dodos will release their third album Time To Die on September 15. Expect to hear some of the new material when they open up for Beirut at the Phoenix on July 6 9.

The duo of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss have reconvened as Quasi have a new, still-untitled record in the can. Look for it to have a name by the time it comes out on October 27.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips confirms to the BBC that their new record will be a double-disc affair entitled Embryonic and is targeted for a September, though more likely later in the Fall release. He also gives a video interview to Clash. Hey, maybe they can headline V Fest. They still technically owe us a show.

Drowned In Sound has a two-three-part interview with Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire. NME quotes bandmate James Dean Bradfield as saying that their next album will be a more upbeat affair than their current release, Journal For Plague Lovers.

The New Yorker salutes Sonic Youth, who have released a video from The Eternal. They are at Massey Hall on June 30.

Video: Sonic Youth – “Sacred Trickster”

NPR interviews Elvis Costello, who will be at Massey Hall on August 28.

Bowerbirds are showing off a second MP3 from their new record Upper Air, due out July 7. They will be at Sneaky Dee’s on July 14

MP3: Bowerbirds – “Beneath Your Tree”

Her Acid Tongue album was released last Fall, but Jenny Lewis has only just released a first video from it.

Video: Jenny Lewis – “Black Sand”

Decider interviews The Decemberists, playing a date at the Kool Haus on August 4.

Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis talks about American Hardcore to The Quietus. Their new record Farm is out next Tuesday.

Magnet has a Q&A with Bob Mould, who is playing guest editor at their website this week. He and his band have a date at the Mod Club on October 5.

Interview interviews An Horse.

Mille-Feuille talks to Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William about her various musical projects.

JAM has an interview with Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker.

Decider has a talk with Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes.

Charleston City Paper has an extensive feature on Band Of Horses.

Washington City Paper talks to John Stirratt of Wilco. Wilco (The Album) is out June 30.

The Quietus examines the thespian endeavours of David Bowie.

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Awkward Kisser

Telekinesis, An Horse and Oh No Forest Fires at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSo if an artist has already proven themselves to be gifted at both writing a song and recording it, as was the case with Michael Lerner of Telekinesis, is it really fair to expect them to be superb live performers as well? Especially if you take into account the fact that the album – Telekinesis! – was essentially a solo project and the band assembled after the fact? I say not really. Obviously a scintillating stage show would be welcome, but I went into Wednesday night’s show at the Horseshoe with modest expectations.

And anyways, any cravings I had for manic rock shenanigans were well satiated by local openers Oh No Forest Fires. I’ve tried in the past to accurately describe the quartet and their sound, but think they themselves did so more succinctly by namechecking The Dismemberment Plan in their NXNE one-line RIYL. This isn’t to say they sound like the the dear, departed DP, but they are similar in the way they meld virtuosity with anarchy and make it power-pop sweet without compromising their weirdness quotient. Their compact warm-up set drew heavily from their 2008 debut The War On Geometry and featured lots of sweaty flailing and great tunes. Long set or short, these guys always give a tremendous effort and don’t disappoint.

Aussies An Horse I’d seen during CMW and the duo were certainly making the most of their work visas, this being their third show in Toronto in the past three months. The hard work appeared to have been paying off, however, as a pretty good-sized crowd had gathered by the time they took the stage and kicked off a set that was far superior to their CMW one if for no other reason than singer/guitarist Kate Cooper was able to perform without fear of being electrocuted by poorly grounded equipment. You’d be amazed how much mortal fear can disrupt a performer’s vibe. She was also sporting a new guitar, a very fetching racing-striped orange Fender Mustang with a P90 in the bridge which significantly beefed up their sound – it may seem a minor thing, but when you’re working with as few ingredients as An Horse are, every bit counts. Unchanged were the quality of the tunes from their debut Rearrange Beds – taut, anxious and melodic, and worthy of the attention the audience was giving them.

Most drummers with songwriting ambitions will do anything to get out from behind the kit and play frontman. Not Michael Lerner. A one-man show through the writing and recording of his debut album, when he put together his touring band he opted to take the role of drummer for himself. Now I know as well as anyone that finding a good drummer is probably the hardest part of assembling a band, but watching them set up the stage with the drum kit right up front, I had to wonder if this was going to be a good idea. And watching Lerner drop his sticks at least twice during the first song while not singing directly into the mic, it really appeared as though it wasn’t but within a couple of tunes, he’d settled in some and was mostly keeping it together. There were still more gaffes than you’d have gotten with a dedicated drummer and I think he gave up on singing the second verse of “Tokyo” entirely, but by and large acceptable. On the unqualified positive side, the songs really came kicked in a live setting, benefiting from some of the ragged energy the quartet imbued them with. They weren’t the most charismatic bunch but were exceedingly friendly and looked to be having a great time, cracking jokes and poking fun at one another. With an album barely a half hour in length, it wasn’t surprising their set was short, padded out with a sprightly Kinks cover, and while I don’t know if they left anyone wanting more, no one was left wanting either. Hopefully next time around they’ll have polished up just a bit more – maybe Lerner will have a better grip on those sticks – and maybe have some more tunes in their bag.

I Heart The Music has an interview with Oh No Forest Fires, whose next gig is this Thursday evening at the Drake Underground as part of I Heart Music’s NxNE showcase. Love Shack, Baby talks to An Horse.

Photos: Telekinesis, An Horse, Oh No Forest Fires @ The Horseshoe – June 10, 2009
MP3: Telekinesis – “Coast Of Carolina”
MP3: Telekinesis – “I Saw Lightning”
MP3: An Horse – “Postcards”
MP3: An Horse – “Camp Out”
MP3: Oh No Forest Fires – “It’s Not Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye”
Video: Telekinesis – “Tokyo”
Video: Telekinesis – “Awkward Kisser”
Video: An Horse – “Camp Out”
MySpace: An Horse

eye, Metro and The Age interview Phoenix, who have managed to sell out Monday night’s performance at the Phoenix. This is going to be good.

Pink Mountaintops mainman Stephen McBean talks to eye – they’re in town on Sunday, June 14, for an in-store at Sonic Boom at 3PM and a proper show at the Horseshoe that evening.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears are sticking around in town for a bit after opening up for New York Dolls at Lee’s Palace on June 30, and will play an in-store at Criminal Records on July 1 at 3PM.

Video: Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears – “Sugarfoot”

Los Angeles’ Airborne Toxic Event have a date at the Phoenix on October 19.

MP3: The Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight”
MP3: The Airborne Toxic Event – “Wishing Well”

Black Book welcomes The Kills to their offices for some arts and crafts fun.

NME reveals that Richard Hawley’s new album is complete – Truelove’s Gutter will be out on September 21 and yes, the title is another Sheffield reference. As if you had to ask.

Out interviews Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan. There’s also a new remix of “Daniel” by Tara Busch up for grabs in exchange for your deets.

Cornershop Studios talks to Andy Williams of Doves, who have themselves a new video.

Video: Doves – “Winter Hill”

Under The Radar has confirmed that the Jim James/M Ward/Conor Oberst-powered supergroup The Monsters Of Folk have gone from a strictly touring concern to a studio one, and will release their debut album on September 22.

NPR has an interview and session with Jason Lytle, who will be opening up for Neko Case at Massey Hall on July 14.

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

New In Town

Little Boots sets live dates for North America

Photo By Daniel SannwaldDaniel SannwaldSince the start of the year, Little Boots has been tipped as the next-big-thing to come out of the UK, and with the release this week of her debut Hands, it may well be time to drop the “in waiting” status from her title. I hadn’t initially expected to be especially interested in Ms Boots (Victoria Hesketh to her friends), but a growing fondness for ’80s worshipping synth-pop – thank Ladyhawke for triggering that – and seeing a couple of impressive performances at SxSW went a long way to turning that opinion around. The fact that all of Little Boots’ singles leading up to record’s release, collected domestically on the Arecibo EP, were insanely catchy and fun if not especially deep and much of the album measures up sealed the deal. The fact that Hesketh is also cute as a button had nothing to do with it, I swear.

There’s no North American release date for Hands at the moment, but the fact that she’s announced a North American tour for this Fall starting off with a September 14 date at Toronto’s Wrongbar (tickets $18.50, on sale Friday) certainly implies that it’ll be out by then. In the meantime, an EP entitled Illumination which collects a handful of singles and non-album tracks was released this week only on this side of the pond – both it and the album are currently available to stream.

There’s interviews with Hesketh at The Kilburn Times and The Quietus, and The Sun has a typically classy chat with her about being kissed by fellow it-girl and fan of anatomically-referencing album titles, Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine.

MP3: Little Boots – “Love Kills” (Buffetlibre vs Sidechains remix)
MP3: Little Boots – “Meddle” (remix)
Video: Little Boots – “New In Town”
Video: Little Boots – “To The End” (Blur cover)
Stream: Little Boots / Illuminations
Stream: Little Boots / Hands
MySpace: Little Boots

There’s a brief interview with Florence & The Machine’s Florence Welch at Interview and an extensive one at The Telegraph and The Times. Her debut Lungs is out July 6 in the UK and October 13 in North America.

BBC has a feature piece spotlighting both the aforementioned divas-to-be as well as La Roux, whose own self-titled debut will be out on June 29. Not as won over by Ms Jackson as the other two, but still interested to hear how she holds up over an album.

Pitchfork has an interview with Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan. Some more North American dates are surfacing, and routing places her in the northeast in early/mid-August – the 9th in Chicago, the 12th in New York. I don’t know if she’d come back to Toronto so soon after her last visit, but considering that was all kinds of sold out I imagine the demand is there. Update: The Music Slut has more complete dates – no Toronto date, but that three-day gap between Chicago and New York remains…

SX talks with Patrick Wolf. He’s at the Mod Club next Wednesday, June 17, passes still being given away over here.

Director Wes Anderson has an extensive talk with Jarvis Cocker at Interview.

Fanfarlo are seeking to win over America not only with their lush and lovely music, but with great value – they’re offering a digital download of their album Reservoir, complete with four bonus tracks not on the CD, for a measly $1. Do it – I guarantee it to be the best $1 you spend today.

MP3: Fanfarlo – “Luna”
MP3: Fanfarlo – “Finish Line”
MP3: Fanfarlo – “I’m A Pilot”

Scots We Were Promised Jetpacks have released a video from their forthcoming debut These Four Walls, due out July 7. True, I wasn’t overly impressed when I saw them play at SxSW but the record has made a more positive impression.

Video: We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Roll Up Your Sleeves”

MPR welcomes Camera Obscura to their studios for a session. They’re at Lee’s Palace on June 27, which is nearly sold out. They also have a new video:

Video: Camera Obscura – “Honey In The Sun”

As much as I try to consolidate all the God Help The Girl-related material, they just keep out more immediately after I include some in a post. Next up, a video for “Funny Little Frog” from the album due out June 23. And note that my compatriots at MBV Music have got a God Help The Girl subscription package to give away, and are offering multiple chances to win. Two so far and two more to come.

Video: God Help The Girl – “Funny Little Frog”

Personal matters kept me from seeing them last month when they opened up for The Kills, but The Horrors are coming back to North America for a Fall headlining tour that includes an October 14 date at Lee’s Palace. I become more favourably inclined towards Primary Colours with each listen, so by then I should be right interested.

MP3: The Horrors – “Sea Within A Sea”
Video: The Horrors – “Sea Within A Sea”
Video: The Horrors – “Who Can Say”

Arctic Monkeys have named their third album – Humbug will be out August 25.