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Monday, April 9th, 2012

Looking Through

Nada Surf at Sonic Boom in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangNada Surf fly under a lot of peoples’ radars, remembered as that “Popular” band if they’re remembered at all, but they really do deserve credit for not only surviving the boom and bust of the ’90s alt-rock scene but putting together a fruitful second act of solidly tuneful albums of sensitive guitar pop while many of their contemporaries called it quits and are only returning to action now via the reunion track.

The seventh of which, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy, was released back in January to follow up their 2010 covers record If I Had A Hi Fi and it follows the aforementioned template though with more volume and velocity than you might expect from them at this point. The band could probably get away with writing strictly sensitive, ballad-y material at this point but Astronomy shows that they can still turn up and rock a bit when they want to.

And just as they did in January 2008 when they were promoting their last album of new material, Lucky, they made time during a visit to Toronto to play an in-store at Sonic Boom. That occasion came during the advance press circuit and not the actual tour, so they were able to play a longer set at the store’s old location; this time, they were at the new Bathurst St. location offering what frontman Matthew Caws described as a condensed version of that evening’s performance at the Opera House. But while this equated to a shorter set, it also meant that the band were fully equipped to play. Sure, Caws still stuck to his acoustic and drummer Ira Elliot again forewent a kit for a rhythm box/stool, this time Daniel Lorca had his bass with him and their two touring players – Calexio’s Martin Wenk and former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard – were on hand to fill things out in indie rock all-star style.

Their mini-set drew from all their records and they performed with the confidence and ease of a unit with little else to prove, content and grateful to be able to play for themselves and their fans. Some may point at them and declare them a band that’s had its moment and is far from fashionable, but there’s something to be said about no longer be beholden to the machinations of hype. Bands of the moment should count themselves lucky if they can eventually write a brace of songs as good as Nada Surf’s, let along have their longevity.

Hater High has a recording of the in-store to share while The Boston Phoenix and Billboard have feature pieces on the band.

Photos: Nada Surf @ Sonic Boom – April 4, 2012
MP3: Nada Surf – “When I Was Young”
MP3: Nada Surf – “See These Bones”
MP3: Nada Surf – “Do It Again”
MP3: Nada Surf – “Blankest Year”
MP3: Nada Surf – “Blonde On Blonde”
Video: Nada Surf – “When I Was Young”
Video: Nada Surf – “Electrocution”
Video: Nada Surf – “Whose Authority”
Video: Nada Surf – “Weightless”
Video: Nada Surf – “Always Love”
Video: Nada Surf – “Blankest Year”
Video: Nada Surf – “Inside Of Love”
Video: Nada Surf – “The Way You Wear Your Head”
Video: Nada Surf – “Firecracker”
Video: Nada Surf – “Popular”
Video: Nada Surf – “Treehouse”

The June 19 release date of The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do confirmed, the return of Fiona Apple continues with a full North American tour; Pitchfork has the Summer dates, which include a July 4 date at The Sound Academy in Toronto.

Video: Fiona Apple – “Fast As You Can”

Fast Company Create and Pitchfork talk to The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne about their forthcoming collaborations album Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends, due out this Record Store Day, April 21.

Father John Misty has released another track from the forthcoming Fear Fun, due out May 1. He plays The Horseshoe on May 14.

MP3: Father John Misty – “Nancy From Now On”

There’s a new video available from White Rabbits’ latest Milk Famous. They’re interviewed at St. Louis Today, The Columbia Daily Tribune, and College Times.

Video: White Rabbits – “Temporary”

DIY has a feature piece on M. Ward, whose new album A Wasteland Companion is finally out tomorrow.

The Village Voice interviews Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.

Artrocker checks in quickly with Stephen Malkmus.

The Birmingham News talks to Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers.

The Toronto Star interviews Howler.

DIY has a video session with Craig Finn while CBS Sports talks to the Hold Steady frontman about his love of baseball. On a similar note, Rolling Stone talks to other musicians about their affection for America’s pastime.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Jigsaw Falling into Place

So it’s been almost three months since Radiohead sneak-attacked their new album In Rainbows on the world, with reams upon reams of virtual paper (or litres and litres of digital ink, choose your own hoary metaphor) expended on their brave new model for the music industry and the album topping numerous year-end lists and basically reaffirming the band’s place as the biggest/most important in the world and making the physical release of the album in CD form today (or yesterday or the day before, depending on where you live or where you shop) a bit of an anti-climax.

On a personal level, it’s been interesting to observe as I used to be as big a Radiohead fan as anyone in the mid-90s from Pablo Honey through OK Computer but in over the following years, we basically drifted apart during their more “difficult” phase and after seeing them live in October 2003, I basically broke it off with the band. The themes of alienation and paranoia that informed their music just didn’t resonate anymore. We wanted different things. It wasn’t me, it was them.

But I always remained curious what they were up to and whenever any snippet of new music, in whatever form, surfaced (and whipped their more loyal acolytes into a frenzy), I would still give a listen and almost invariably be left scratching my head. I expected more of the same with In Rainbows, but still placed my pre-order for the download like however many thousands of others, and waited. And I’ve waited this long to write up my thoughts because, well, the last thing the world needed back in October was another blog post about Radiohead – and it’s still probably the last thing the world needs – but whatever.

So from the point of view of a lapsed fan, the best way I can put it is that it sounds like the band has stopped running from themselves. Since Kid A, I’ve felt that the band has been reacting against the successes of The Bends and OK Computer and the pressures that came with it, dodging anything that might sound like a pop hook or a conventional melody lest they again score a hit like “Fake Plastic Trees”. Hence Thom Yorke’s insistence on running his vocals through as many effects processors as possible, Jonny Greenwood’s trading his Telecaster for antique synthesizers.

But In Rainbows has an organic vibe that I never expected to hear from Radiohead again. The production is dense but dry and sounds very much like a rock band playing together in a room, a fact backed up by all the videos and webcasts the band has released showing them in their rehearsal space, just playing. It’s something I’d take for granted with most bands, but for Radiohead, it seems quite remarkable. Similarly, Thom Yorke is more direct lyrically than he’s been in many years with songs dealing with humanity and emotions other than anxiety – there’s hope in the mix, even love. There’s still lots of anxiety, sure, but for the first time in a decade, I might believe he is not a paranoid android.

I’m happy to get on the bandwagon declaring In Rainbows a very good record, and certainly a return to form (assuming you felt Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief demonstrated the band was out of form) though I will back away from those declaring it their best work yet. They’re certainly a more accomplished band now, musically and creatively, but for my money – two quid, if you were wondering – the songs just aren’t as good as the material on the earlier records. There’s no standout song amongst the eleven that I would hold up against their very best. But as an album, start to finish, it’s very strong. I’m not renewing my W.A.S.T.E. membership or anything (actually I never had one) but it’s good to have the band back in my life, even if we’re just friends.

Thom Yorke tells NME which song off In Rainbows is his favourite, The Toronto Star looks at how the band came to join the Maple Music roster in Canada and if you missed their New Year’s Eve webcast wherein they played the whole of the album live, you can watch it below – they’ve called the program Scotch Mist. And if you haven’t heard the album yet, it’s streaming this week at Spinner.

Video: Radiohead / Scotch Mist
Video: Radiohead – “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”
Stream: Radiohead / In Rainbows

Also streaming at Spinner this week, a live EP from Interpol, creatively titled Live EP. It was released at the end of November as one of those independent retailer-only Think Indie but I guess they only got around to getting a stream up now. They also have an interview with drummer Sam Fogarino.

Stream: Interpol / Live EP

Nada Surf’s new record Lucky isn’t out till February 5 and they don’t have a tour coming up this way but they’re in town next Wednesday night, January 9, for a free in-store at Sonic Boom Records at 7:15PM. Why? Couldn’t tell ya. Check out the first MP3 from the record below.

MP3: Nada Surf – “See These Bones”

Athenians The Whigs are in town February 5 for a free show at the Horseshoe.

And speaking of Athens, Georgia, R.E.M. have given their new album a title – Accelerate. NME quotes Stipey as saying the album is “the fastest we’ve made in 20 years”, which means it’s going to rock at least as hard as… Document? Green? As long as it’s not another Monster. The record is out April 1 so it’s entirely possible that it’ll actually be an album full of piano ballads. HA HA. But seriously, they’ve set up a website at www.ninetynights.com and will use it to count down the three months to the album’s release with a new video clip each day from director Vincent Moon, best known for his work with the Take Away Shows.

And segueing off the Take Away Shows, they’ve got a new one up featuring Handsome Furs.