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Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The Evening Descends


Photo by Frank Yang

So while I was excited about the debut Toronto show for Champaign, Illinois’ Headlights this past Sunday evening, it appeared that I was one of the only ones. There were maybe a few dozen people in attendance when the quintet took the stage and while that’s a disappointing turnout, it’s not an unexpected one. Their debut Kill Them With Kindness was well-received from those with a taste for sweet, fuzzy indie pop (like myself) but didn’t exactly set the world ablaze and their newly-released Some Racing, Some Stopping, while evidencing the sort of growth you like to see in a sophomore effort, probably isn’t on a much different trajectory.

But there’s nothing wrong with dedicating oneself to writing sharp, unpretentious pop songs, particularly when you’re as good at it as Headlights are. They drew the opening slot straw of this co-headlining tour with Okies Evangelicals and served up a sweet but too-short set drawing largely from the new album (which I haven’t spent enough time with) and a few older numbers, all while fighting off feedback issues and vocals which were buried too far into the mix.

What impressed me most were the little touches the band applied to their live arrangements, more subtle and effective than I’d expect from your typical indie-pop band. Manipulating their effects pedals to actually sculpt the static coming out of their amps and not just make random squelches, inviting the Evangelicals out for one number to man multiple floor toms on “So Much For The Afternoon” and just generally doing the little things that you might think would get lost in the mix but really do make a difference. They’re playing what seems to be a millions shows at SxSW next week – I’m hoping to catch at least one of them.

I’d seen Evangelicals a few years back in support of their debut So Gone and they didn’t do much to shake the “Flaming Lips Jr” tag that they’d been saddled with, earned as much for their noisy psych-pop as their shared home state though Evangelicals seemed to draw on inspiration several shades darker than Wayne Coyne ever has. Their new one The Evening Descends is more refined than the debut, less frantic, but it was in the live show that the band has grown the most. They’re still not much for stage lights and favour a spooky, Halowe’en-y atmosphere but frontman Josh Jones is now demonstrating a fey, Kevin Barnes-like charisma which suits them quite well. His sense of vocal pitch could still use some work – singing swoopy-style around the correct note just doesn’t cut it – but the songs, which are considerably rockier (in a classic and glammy sense) live than on record, are certainly there and so is the stage show. They’ve got the strobes, black lights and smoke machines and everything.

The New Haven Advocate and The Maneater talk to Josh Jones of Evangelicals while Headlights have been keeping a tour blog for Smile Politely.

Photos: Evangelicals, Headlights @ The El Mocambo – March 2, 2008
MP3: Evangelicals – “Skeleton Man”
MP3: Headlights – “Skeleton Man”
MP3: Headlights – “Cherry Tulips”
MP3: Headlights – “Market Girl”
Video: Headlights – “Cherry Tulips”
MySpace: Headlights

So did you catch Wilco on Saturday Night Live? If not, this is what you missed – two of my less favoured songs from Sky Blue Sky nonetheless delivered with such aplomb that you can’t help but think, “damn these guys are tight”. The Des Moines Register talks to bassist John Stirratt. Update: Denied! Damn you, NBC. Update 2: In your face, NBC! Thanks, Karl.

Video: Wilco – “Hate It Here” (live on Saturday Night Live)
Video: Wilco – “Walken” (live on Saturday Night Live)

Steve Earle talks to JAM about the mixed response his Washington Square Serenade live shows have been receiving. NPR also has a radio session and interview with Steve. He’s at Massey Hall tonight.

Josh Ritter, who’s at the Phoenix tonight, has conversations with The Grand Rapids Press and The Winnipeg Sun. Congratulations to Matt, Tualla, Derek, Eddie and different Matt who won the Ritter contest last week.

The AV Club and Country Standard Time talk to Gary Louris about his new record Vagabonds, which will bring him to town for a show at the Mod Club on March 30.

Prefix gets an update from the road from Jason Isbell.

Harp reports that the Old 97s are coming back with their first album in some years with Blame It On Gravity, due out May 13, and are streaming some samples from it at their MySpace.

Peter Buck of R.E.M. talks to Filter, discusses the Live DVD and disavows Around The Sun. Accelerate is out April 1 and they play the Molson Amphitheatre on June 8.

Filter talks to Spoon about their grand 2007, Spoon records a song for the Black Cab Session, the Black Cab Sessions are featured by The Guardian. It’s the circle of life.

Video: Spoon – “I Summon You” (live on Black Cab Sessions)

The New York Daily News has a feature on Keren Ann.

The Boston Globe and Pitchfork talk to St Vincent’s Annie Clark.

Nina Persson of The Cardigans tells the BBC that the release of their Best Of compilation doesn’t mean the band’s done. Nor does the fact that she’s releasing her second A Camp solo record this year, with the title Here There Are Many Wild Animals.

Some upcoming concert announcements – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin will be in town at the El Mocambo on April 18 to offer their thoughts on the election of Medvedev as President of Russia and play some songs from their new album Pershing, due out April 8. Via Audio will be along for the ride, Pitchfork has full dates.

MP3: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Glue Girls”
Video: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Pershing”

Breaking-space averse British post-rock outfit 65daysofstatic will hoof it from their opening gig for The Cure at the Air Canada Centre on May 15 to the El Mocambo for their own headlining show.

MP3: 65daysofstatic – “When We Were Younger And Better”
MP3: 65daysofstatic – “Don’t Go Down To Sorrow”

Brazil’s Bonde do Role, new singer/MC in place, will tour North America this Spring and wrap things up with a show at The Social on May 18.

Welsh kiddies Los Campesinos! are hitting the road in support of debut full-length Hold On Now, Youngster… and stop in at Lee’s Palace in Toronto on May 23. Neu! has an interview with Ollie from the band.

Video: Los Campesinos! – “Death To Los Campesinos!”

And according to Dave Bookman, a date in late May from Rilo Kiley is in the offing. The rumoured impending nuptials between Blake Sennett and Winona Ryder? Maybe not so much.

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Bête Noire


Photo by Sam Holden

Though I came of age in the early ’90s, neither the Screaming Trees nor Afghan Whigs figured heavily into my musical development. I dug a few of the singles from each but I just couldn’t relate to their brand of bellowing angst – was more of a moper than a shouter. Did I say was?

Even though it’s been some 15 years since either band reached their commercial peaks with Sweet Oblivion and Gentlemen respectively, the frontmen from each band have never stepped out of the public eye. Mark Lanegan has carved out a critically acclaimed solo career in addition to his duties as a sometime-Queen Of The Stone Age and unlikely duet partner with Isobel Campbell while Greg Dulli has been a Twilight Singer for as long as he was an Afghan Whig and now the pair, who’ve worked together before in the Twilight Singers, are set to release the first album from their long-percolating collaboration as The Gutter TwinsSaturnalia, out Tuesday. And hell, if you’ve been waiting a long time for this? It was worth it.

It’s hard to imagine a situation in which Greg Dulli would be the good cop, but here – even though his vocals drip with the greasy soul and anguished lasciviousness that have long been his hallmark, they can’t withstand Lanegan’s weight of a thousand tombstones baritone. When he steps in, it’s like every light in the room dims and the temperature drops by ten degrees. The man has presence. They both do. And together, whether trading lead vocals or in harmony, they’ve produced a record that stands as one of the finer pure rock records I’ve heard in ages. Dominated by huge guitars (“Idle Hands” is an apocalypse I could get into) but also drenched in piano, strings and mellotron – this is no collection of home demos cobbled together – Saturnalia is grandiose but never loses the rawness or darkness that gives it its crackling vibrancy. Of course, when you’ve got two singers who sound like their concert rider could consist of nothing but whiskey and gravel, how could it? The songwriting drips with blues and soul with dashes of Americana and shows two veteran songwriters still restless, still searching and still not the kind of guys you’d want to run into in a dark alley. Absolutely bracing.

You can stream the whole album on their MySpace and they kick off their North American tour tomorrow at Noise Pop in San Francisco, with a Toronto date on March 14 at the Mod Club. There’s not many things that could make me wish I was here at home that week rather than eating tortilla-wrapped foodstuffs in Austin, but this show is one of them. And there’s a terrific feature on Lanegan in the new issue of Magnet, featuring conversations with many of his collaborators over the years as well as the man himself.

MP3: The Gutter Twins – “Idle Hands”
Video: Afghan Whigs – “Gentlemen”
Video: Screaming Trees – “Nearly Lost You”
MySpace: The Gutter Twins

The Oakland Tribune discusses the life story of The Mountain Goats with John Darnielle.

The Herald Sun gets to know Interpol frontman Paul Banks.

A Place To Bury Strangers tells The Deseret News they are pro-internet.

Drowned In Sound talks to Beach House about Devotion. They’ve a new video and are at the El Mocambo on March 28.

Video: Beach House – “Heart Of Chambers”

Thinking about heading to the ElMo this Sunday night to see Headlights and Evangelicals, aren’t that familiar with either band and don’t have a lot of time to spare? Have no fear – just check out the track below wherein Headlights cover Evangelicals. If you like the performance and the songwriting, it’s win-win. If you don’t like either… well there’s a new episode of The Simpsons on. You could watch that.

MP3: Headlights – “Skeleton Man”
MP3: Evangelicals – “Skeleton Man”

Billboard reports that Elbow’s next album The Seldom Seen Kid will get a North American release on April 22 courtesy of Fiction/Geffen.

Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion, who plays a free show at the Horseshoe on Tuesday night, chats with Exclaim!.

The Westender talks to British Sea Power, whose Martin Noble writes in The Guardian about the debut of The Modern Ovens, his Jonathan Richman covers band.

Entertainment Weekly has the tracklisting for the Heroes soundtrack, out March 18, which will feature artists such as Bob Dylan, Wilco and the first new Jesus & Mary Chain single in a decade. None of which changes the fact that it’s a terrible show.

Canadian Music Week hits next week and while we, as a city, haven’t cottoned to the culture of the day show yet – and probably never will – we have rather taken to the art of the in-store. Just consider the many mergers of live performance and retail next week: On Thursday, March 6 at 5PM you have Immaculate Machine at Soundscapes, then it’s a quick jaunt on the Bathurst 511 to Sonic Boom where Matthew Barber will be playing in the basement at 7PM. Then on March 7, Attack In Black will make those same wood-paneled walls rattle with a show at 7PM. Laura Barrett will serenade Soundscapes on Saturday the 8th at 4PM and then on Sunday at 4PM, once you’ve recovered from whatever CMW hangover you’re nursing, head back to Soundscapes for a show from Forest City Lovers. Yes? Yes.

And not an in-store, but there might be a merch table – Emily Haines plays the Phoenix on March 30.

And here’s something to wind out the week… new Iron Man trailer. May 2. Yes.

Trailer: Iron Man

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Waving Flags

As seems to be my habit with British rock bands lately (Bloc Party, Editors), I fell for British Sea Power not with their much-lauded debut albums, but their mildy-reviled sophomore efforts. The complaints about Open Season relative to their debut The Decline Of British Sea Power were that it was too smoothed over and lacked the jagged chaos that some loved about the first record and was certainly a defining character of their legendary live shows.

I’m not ashamed to admit that it was that directness, pop sense and athemicism that sold me on the band but after going back and spending some more time with Decline, I could appreciate where the detractors were coming from. There was an energy there that seemed muzzled on the second record, like they were making a deliberate effort to fit in with more refined company at the expense, perhaps, of being themselves.

And so we come to the critical third record, the promisingly titled Do You Like Rock Music?, scheduled for release on February 12. Though it was also recorded in part in the Czech Republic and Cornwall in the UK, much attention is being paid to the album’s debt to Montreal – in particular, the fact that it was recorded with the assistance of Howard Bilerman and Efrim Menuck, best known for their work with Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And if you’re looking for their fingerprints, they’re not hard to see (or hear) – there expansiveness and dramaticism that the band has always striven for is better realized than ever before and the guitars have a churning quality that reminds me more than a little than some passages on Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.

But while those are interesting talking points, the fact remains that this is still a British Sea Power record through and through, and maybe I’m still on a buzz from the newness of the album, but I’m prepared to call it their best. It strikes an almost-perfect blend of the best parts of the first two albums, with the idiosyncrasy and energy of the first balanced with the scope and grandeur of the second. Start to finish the whole thing hangs together wonderfully, ebbing and tiding as necessary and crackling with electricity throughout and when it reaches for the high points, look out. “Waving Flags”, the download of which comes from Spin, is the sort of song that could incite a revolution. With Rock Music, British Sea Power have crafted a record of anthems meant to be sung not from arenas, but the forests, the fields, the beaches, the cliffs. Yes, we like rock music. Especially like this.

Do You Like Rock Music? is one of the first big releases of the year, particularly in the UK where the album is being released today. This is evidenced by the sheer amount of press and interviews that have been cropping up in their media over the last little while… of course, this is helped by the fact that the BSP boys are odd fellows to say the least, which always makes for interesting conversation. Check out pieces at The Times, The Independent, The Irish News, Drowned In Sound, The Guardian, MusicOHM and The Belfast Telegraph.

The first slew of North American tour dates was announced last week and while the absence of a Toronto stop is obviously disappointing (especially after their abruptly cancelled show a couple of Autumns ago), it should be noted that the entire east coast has yet to be serviced so I think we can expect an announcement of further dates before too long.

MP3: British Sea Power – “Waving Flags”
MP3: British Sea Power – “No Lucifer”
MP3: British Sea Power – “Atom” (edit)
Video: British Sea Power – “Waving Flags”
MySpace: British Sea Power

The Sydney Morning Herald combines an interview with Arcade Fire with a review of a live show in New York City (in advance of one in Sydney next week).

The Tripwire reports that Rob Dickinson is working on both “new music” and “new ‘old’ music” in 2008. Could the Catherine Wheel be turning in some capacity…? Let’s watch.

Some shows of note – Amos The Transparent, who frankly killed last time they were here, are back for a show at the Drake this Friday, January 18.

In the “ask and thou shalt receive” department, Headlights – whom I was hoping would come through town on Friday – were revealed that very afternoon to have a show booked for the El Mocambo on March 2 with Okies Evangelicals. I probably won’t be able to make it, but that’s besides the point. Headlights’ Some Racing, Some Stopping is out February 19 and Evangelicals’ second album The Evening Descends is out next week on January 22. Sample a bit and stream the whole thing below.

MP3: Evangelicals – “Skeleton Man”
Stream: Evangelicals / The Evening Descends

The Breeders, whose new one Mountain Battles is out April 7, have confirmed their Toronto show for CMW which was mentioned last December. They’ll be at the Phoenix on March 8, tickets for that are $28.50 and probably a limited number of CMW wristbands.

Clinic are gearing up for the release of their new record Do It! on April 8 by releasing the first single “Free Not Free” as a free download from their website starting on February 1. They’ve also booked a North American tour that will stop at Lee’s Palace on May 11. Single details and full dates at Strange Glue.

The Times evaluates various musician blogs. The best? Belle & Sebastian and Courtney Love. The worst? David Gilmour.

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Cherry Tulips

My internet crapped out on me last night before I had time to get anything put together, so only the briefest of updates for today.

Champaign, Illinois’ Headlights are back with their sophomore album Some Racing, Some Stopping on February 19 and the first sample of it is now available. “Cherry Tulips” is still sugar-sweet pop built on Erin Fein and Tristan Wraight’s harmonies but it backs away from the gleeful noisiness present on Kill Them With Kindness and The Enemies that garnered them a “next-gen shoegazer” tag and takes a more classic, retro-sounding approach that happily suits them just as well.

Of course, this is just one song – the rest of the record could be 9-minute drones. But based on this and what they’ve already shown themselves capable of, those of us who abandoned the USS Rilo Kiley after their last record may have found a new ship. And as this quick video promo shows, we’re all welcome aboard.

Even though they were touring machines for the first record, they never made it up this way – here’s hoping that 2008 gets Canada some Headlight-y love. Update: Thanks to Mike for pointing out in the comments that Headlights have confirmed a show in Toronto on March 2 at the El Mocambo along with Evangelicals. Nice.

MP3: Headlights – “Cherry Tulips”

Almost guaranteed to have nothing but 9-minute drones is Smalltown Supersound, a rerelease of older material from Norwegian noisemakers Serena Maneesh. Details on the double-disc, May 5 release can be had at Pitchfork.

Vancouver’s Ladyhawk are also back with their second album Shots set for a March 4 release. The Fader has the first MP3 from the record and they’re doing a cross-Canada tour in March with a stop at the Horseshoe on March 22 with Immaculate Machine.

MP3: Ladyhawk – “I Don’t Always Know What You’re Saying”

The Sydney Morning Herald talks to Matt Berninger of The National.

Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo chats with Creative Loafing.

Bradley’s Almanac is sharing a vinyl-to-MP3 rip of Bedhead’s final-ever release. Their new incarnation as The New Year should have a new album out this year sometime.

Spinner talks to Steve Earle (in town at Massey Hall March 4) about his contributions, both musical and thespian, to The Wire and The New York Times watches the season five premiere with some real-life gangsters and dealers to get their take on the show. Verdict? Bad times coming for The Bunk.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t so brief.