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Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Clear And True

I’d like to think I adequately previewed last night’s Rainer Maria/Ambulette show at the Horseshoe last month, so let’s just get into it.

Rainer Maria have been through town a few times since I saw them last here in July 2003, but usually with some really dubious emo-punk bill that I couldn’t bring myself to see. I still hadn’t gotten my copy of Catastrophe Keeps Us Together yet (damn you post office) so aside from the few preview tracks I’d heard and the SxSW showcase, I was going in a little blind. But what I did knew for certain was that RM are one of the most energetic live acts I’ve seen, especially guitarist Kyle Fischer who spends most of the show flailing around the stage somehow without missing a note. Caithlin De Marrais wasn’t as karate-kicking animated as last time, but still kept up her end of the energy level while handling lead vocals loudly, clearly and passionately. Fischer occasionally doubled vox on older material in a new hoarse scream. It’s not often that the drummer is the most restrained member of the band, but William Kuehn really was, at least relatively speaking.

Again, I haven’t heard the new record in its entirety but do know that it’s a more… mature affair? Polished? But either way, the new stuff works quite well live – there’s maybe a little more crackle to it in that context but put against the more frantic older material it also provides a good dynamic counterpoint. The set, short as it was at an hour including encore, had a really good tempo and pacing and the crowd, smallish as it was, was completely into it. The band didn’t have quite the defiant “something to prove” attitude that I picked up on in Austin, but still gave a fine performance.

Ambulette also seemed to have a different attitude than in Austin, but it was a positive change. They had a friendlier vibe than last time I saw them and were also playing and sounding a lot better. Maura Davis’ voice was in fine form, still huge and dramatic, but there seemed to be some more real emotion behind it rather than just mechanics. The band played much of the material from the The Lottery EP but the songs that really caught my ear were (presumably) the new ones not on the recording – some of it sounded really good. At a high level, it’s likely that Ambulette are simply operating in a genre a little outside of what I’m usually into, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep paying attention.

Gig photos hopefully tomorrow though maybe not till Wednesday. In the meantime, there’s a video available for the title track of the new Rainer Maria album and you can hear more from both RM and Ambulette at their MySpace pages. And City On A Hill Press has posted an piece on the band with some quotes from RM’s Kuehn. Update: Photos are done!

MP3: Rainer Maria – “Burn”
Video: Rainer Maria – “Catastrophe” (MP4)

Though their new one, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass isn’t out till September 12, there’s already new Yo La Tengo to hear! Why, it’s positively JAUNTY. Happy day.

MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Beanbag Chair”

The AV Club talks to Neko Case about geography. And if you haven’t seen it, there’s a video for “Maybe Sparrow”.

Video: Neko Case – “Maybe Sparrow” (Flash)

Toronto’s Diableros have put together a video for “Sugar Laced Soul” and have made another song available for download via MySpace. VUE Weekly talked to the band about playing larger venues thanks to the success of You Can’t Break The Strings In Our Olympic Hearts. They’ll be playing a loaded non-NxNE show at Sneaky Dee’s on June 9 with The Paper Cranes.

MP3: The Diableros – “Working Out Words”
Video: The Diableros – “Sugar Laced Soul” (MOV)

The powers that be have unearthed a slew of videos from Soul Asylum’s heyday. Take a stroll down memory lane and marvel at Dave Pirner’s hair here.

Harp has some behind the scenes video footage from the making of Drive-By Truckers’ A Blessing And A Curse, out in Canada next Tuesday.

The Boston Globe Q&A’s Stuart Brathwaite of Mogwai. They’re in town at the Phoenix tonight.

AOL continues to be a surprisingly cool resource for complete streaming albums – this week, have a listen to the new Doves live EP Some Cities Live and two new Dinosaur Jr reissues for Green Mind and Where You Been. The links may not go to the correct default album, so use the scrolly menu at the top.

I’m proud to have been asked to contribute to Goodhodgkins.com’s list of “Visceral Song Moments”. My pick? Okkervil River’s “For Real”.

Penultimate 24 commentary tomorrow or Wednesday or whenever. I’m busy these nights.

np – Sufjan Stevens / The Avalanche: Outtakes And Extras From The Illinois Album

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Takk

Time heals all. My two relatively minor regrets from my trip to Europe last Fall were missing shows by The National and Sigur Ros. Well lo and behold, eight months later both acts have returned to town – The National in March and Sigur Ros on Saturday night.

This would be my third time seeing Sigur Ros at Massey Hall, though the first in three and a half years. I missed their legendary show at the Palais Royale in April 2001 but can still hold their show from September of that year, for which I was in the front row, as one of the most amazing musical experiences I’ve ever beheld. The second time in October 2002 was less impactful, but as I commented at the time – “how many times can a band change your life?” Well while Saturday night’s show wasn’t life-changing, it was very much life-affirming – and I mean that in a completely non-schlocky sense.

My night got off to a bit of a rocky start as I realized after settling into my seat that my camera battery was still happily charging at home. Thankfully I only live one subway stop from the venue so I made a mad dash home to retrieve it – unfortunately, this meant missing most of Amina’s set. I only caught about two songs total but what I did hear was pretty and tinkly like a fairy tale jewelery box. This wouldn’t be my only opportunity to see them perform though, as they were an integral part of Sigur Ros’ band as well.

I’m no good with song names on the best of days so I won’t even bother with Sigur Ros’ foreign and cryptic titles (witness the set list – thanks, Erik). Sufficed to say that the richly orchestrated, Amina-enchanced tracks from Takk somehow made the () material sound almost raw and stripped down – certainly not adjectives one would normally use to describe Sigur Ros. The contrast in emotional content between the material Agaetis Byrjun, () and Takk is far more evident in the live setting – it’s remarkable that albums as laboured over, meticulously recorded and arranged as theirs are, still pale in comparison to the power of the live performance. Not meant as a slight against the albums, but as a point of reference in trying to describe how amazing they are on stage.

The wonder isn’t just aural, either. The show opened and closed with the performers hidden by a sheer white curtain and backlit to create eerie silhouettes the height of the stage, but for the rest of the almost two hours, it was just eight slight young Icelanders against a massive backdrop of projections and lighting effects. The coreography of the visuals with music, though subtle, was amazingly precise – especially during “Smaskifa” off of the Sigur 1/Sigur 9-era single where the silhouettes of birds on a wire, seemingly coming and going at random, all flew away the instant the last note was struck. And if the projections weren’t your style, you could always just close your eyes and let your imagination do what it would with the soundtrack. The closing number, as I believe it was four years ago, was “The Pop Song” from (), and it was as epic, terrifying and tremendous as I could have hoped.

Yeah, using this sort of language to describe the show might seem a little over the top, but the band doesn’t take any half-measures in what they do, it’s only fair to do likewise. I can’t think of another act today that is capable of channeling such pure, universal emotionalism through music. Whether singing in Icelandic or Hopelandish, I’m actually thankful I don’t understand any of it – that way it means exactly whatever I want it to. And the whole show, top to bottom, sound, sight, everything – was just beautiful. And the only thing better than second row seats? Second row seats with no one sitting in the first row directly in front of you. Hence the absence of heads in les photos. I’m glad I made the dash home for the battery, the lighting made for some dramatic shots. To whomever paid for those seats but couldn’t be bothered to show up, I thank you and you missed a hell of a night.

Here’s the closing song of () and of the night – long, but if you haven’t heard it before you really should.

MP3: Sigur Ros – “Untitled #8 (a.k.a. popplagio / the pop song)”

New records coming our way this Summer – a long time coming, The Hidden Cameras’ new one Awoo will be in stores August 15. A couple of veteran UK frontmen will be releasing their first solo efforts – Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield will release The Great Western on July 24 in the UK and head Radiohead Thom Yorke has an album called The Eraser also due out July 11 – Billboard has details about that. And Luna’s The Very Best Of will be in stores on June 20, the same day as the Tell Me Do Miss Me documentary DVD. And as a footnote, congratulations to Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips who have a) completed work on their second album and b) gotten married.

Popmatters pays tribute to the late Grant McLennan.

The Cleveland Plains Dealer discusses the “emo” tag with Rainer Maria, in town at the Horseshoe tonight with Ambulette.

A most promising show will be going down at the El Mocambo on June 27 with DeVotchKa and Norfolk & Western. Both have just released new EPs – Curse Your Little Heart for the former, A Gilded Age for the latter. Also, The M’s have been tapped as support for the second half of Wilco’s Summer tour, including the July 7 Massey Hall show.

Billboard talks to Amy Millan about making Honey From The Tombs, out May 30. She reveals there’ll be touring to support in the Fall before heading back into the studio to work on the new Stars record, hopefully for a Spring ’07 release. She’s playing a special album release show June 10 at the Mod Club, Fembots supporting.

Last night was the final episode of The West Wing, and I am sad. I’ve watched the show faithfully since its inception seven seasons ago, and is – I believe – the longest relationship I’ve ever had with a television program. Despite a shaky fifth season in the wake of creator Aaron Sorkin’s departure, the series finished incredibly strongly and actually left me wanting them to carry on with the Santos administration but am probably glad they’re not. Always leave them wanting more, right? The final episode had many nice touches, not least of which was Martin Sheen’s brief scene with real-life daughter Renee (“Tell your mother I’ll see her soon”) – that was sweet. But man, especially after watching the repeat of the pilot before the final episode? I miss John Spencer. Read some farewells to the series from The San Jose Mercury News, The Chicago Sun-Times, the BBC and The Washington Post. Yeah, it may have been just a make-believe White House, but compared to what we’ve got today… What was that about Karl Rove?

np – The M’s / Future Women

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

A Better Version Of Me

May 15 will see a couple of bands roll into the Horseshoe, both of whom have new records out that look to distance themselves from the “emo” tag/slag that was often attached to their earlier works. Hailing from New York by way of Madison, Wisconsin, Rainer Maria just released Catastrophe Keeps Us Together while Richmond, Virginia natives moved to Chicago Ambulette’s debut release is The Lottery EP.

I haven’t heard all of Catastrophe yet as I’ve been too busy/lazy to go out and get a copy, but based on what I’ve heard both live and online, it sounds great. Caithlin De Marrais’ voice is so much stronger than it once was, no longer sounding like she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown whilst being egged on by Kyle Fischer. Fischer’s self-proclaimed “peculiar” voice is apparently completely absent from the new record. While I was never a fan of his leads because of the aforementioned peculiarity, I thought it could be effective in certain contexts. Regardless, producer Malcolm Burn, who might at first seem like an odd choice with his roots-heavy resume featuring the likes of Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan, has done a terrific job of helping the band along in the maturing process first evidenced on 2003’s Long Knives Drawn, though The New York Times (Bugmenot) thinks they’ve actually gotten less mature but holds that up as a good thing. Metacritic in general is tilting for them rather favourably.

MTV and The News & Observer have conversations with Fischer about the new record. Official MP3s from the new album are hard to come by, I guess new label Grunion isn’t as generous as their old friends at Polyvinyl were, but this one submitted for their SxSW profile is still good – there’s also a couple more tracks on their MySpace.

MP3: Rainer Maria – “Burn”

Ambulette (née Bella Lea), Rainer Maria’s tourmates for this jaunt, haven’t been quite as successful at shaking the emo label that frontwoman Maura Davis’ old outfit Denali wore. The Lottery boasts a couple exceptional rock tracks, but much of the rest is still too heavy on the (melo)dramatic wailing. While the strength of Davis’ voice is undeniable, you get to wishing she’d use it in a different manner every now and again. But for what it is – a moody, sultry slice of alt.rock – it’s not a bad start. No MP3s available, but you can hear a couple tracks from the EP and a couple that aren’t at their MySpace page. Denali also has a MySpace page if you want to hear something from their salad days. And Spin recently named them “Band Of The Day”.

I caught both Rainer Maria and Ambulette at SxSW last month (linky 1, linky 2), so I can attest that the Horseshoe is going to play host to some fine rock on the 15th. Tickets are $10.50 in advance, $12.00 at the door.

Thanks be to Five Seventeen for tipping me off that The Wedding Present would be continuing to affirm their status as maybe the most fan-friendly band on the planet by releasing Search for Paradise: Singles 2004-5 on May 16. The CD/DVD collection will compile all the singles and b-sides released for 2005’s Take Fountain as well as all the videos. While the Weddoes have always been good about making their b-sides and whatnot available – witness all the compilations out there – it was during the Cinerama years that they began releasing a companion disc for every one of their proper albums. As an avowed fan of b-sides but not so much of having to buy all the singles individually, I applaud them for this. Clap clap.

And also check out My Mean Magpie’s list of albums that are better heard than seen (he’s talking about ugly artwork, yo).

The now-defunct Comes With A Smile offers an unpublished interview with Stephin Merritt, whose new album Showtunes, consisting of songs written for a pair of operas (via For The Records). Gigwise and Opera News Online also have interviews with Merritt about his collaborations with director Chen Shi-Zheng. Opera News Online. Now THAT’S a website I never thought I’d be linking. As for the record itself, apparently it’s a little confounding. The Magnetic Fields guy writing operas scored entirely by traditional Chinese instruments? I can’t see why that wouldn’t be ultra-accessible.

So lately I’ve been more than a little obsessed with bags. Yes, bags. Besides this addictively voyeuristic Flickr group, my recent adventures abroad have shown me that my current sac, this ubiquitous (in Toronto) MEC bag, just isn’t big enough or suitable for my current junks, my DSLR and attendant lenses in particular. So I’ve now been looking for something better – I gave up on camera bags since I want something that can serve multiple duty, ideally hauling my laptop, camera gear and assorted sundry items in whatever configuration I desire. I’m now looking for something courier/messenger style, bigger than a standard briefcase/satchel but not as big as a real bike messenger bag. Something that’ll handle my apparently gigantic laptop (it seems that most bag manufacturers only acknowledge the existance of Apple-sized laptops? WTF? Windows people don’t ever travel?) as well as offer space for me to slap in some of these for toting camera gear. Padding, waist strap for cycling and not butt-ugly are also concerns. I’ve found a couple of good candidates, but an inability to find them locally to measure and test them out is annoying (Update: Bah – Timbuk2 says my laptop won’t fit, it’s maybe 1cm too thick. Anyone want a used Dell Inspiron 6000?). I can easily order them online but am not terribly comfortable with doing so without being sure they’re what I want. Any other suggestions? And I know someone is gonna recommend Crumpler, but I can’t see any of their current models fitting my exact needs – by the time they get big enough to do what I want, they’re mammoth both in physical size and price.

np – The Concretes / In Colour

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Blue In Yr Eye

Broken Socialite and Stars star Amy Millan will hold a CD release party for her solo disc Honey From The Tombs at the Mod Club on June 10. This will be a NxNE-related event and as such, some wristbands will be admitted but otherwise tickets will run you just $12. The CD itself is out May 30 in Canada but not until the 29th of August in the US of A.

In addition to the first MP3 for “Skinny Boy”, which you can grab for free from Arts & Crafts and which Pitchfork was kind of “eh” about, there’s a second track streaming at Amy’s MySpace page. She also recently talked to Dose about the new record.

And in other local show news, Grizzly Bear are making themselves comfy in Toronto with a show at the Drake on Thursday and another at the Music Gallery on May 4. Drama-rockers Ambulette will support Rainer Maria at the Horseshoe on May 15, tickets $10.50, and Wolfmother will be back at the Opera House on May 16 with Deadboy & The Elephantmen.

Bardo Pond, still kicking and most likely still hellaciously loud, are at Lee’s Palace on June 11, while fans of soaring vocals and introspective lyricism are SOL on June 13 14, when instrumental acts Pelican and Mono are at Lee’s, tickets $13.50. And at a venue to be determined but hopefully somewhere quiet and vibe-y, Jose Gonzalez will be in town June 26 with Juana Molina and Psapp.

But perhaps most exciting is Television at the Phoenix on June 9? Hello? For real? Yes? YES? FINALLY. Apparently tickets are $40-ish and go on sale Thursday. I will post more details as I find ‘em.

Harp gets a travelogue from road warriors Rainer Maria, whose Catastrophe Keeps Us Together was released last week.

And looking to the future, Billboard reports Spoon will be starting work on the follow-up to Gimme Fiction shortly and hope for an early 2007 release while a single-disc reissue of their Telephono and Soft Effects releases should happen before the year’s end. Also, Wilco will be taking their new stuff on the road. There’s no timetable for the new album but hopefully 2006 will still happen, though I am a little doubtful.

Apologies for the lateness of the hour. Maybe I’m a little jet-lagged after all.

np – Billy Bragg / Talking With The Taxman About Poetry

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Winged Life

I’m on a plane to Austin this morning, and one of the bands I’m likely to see an awful lot of whilst there are locals Shearwater. In addition to their slot in the Misra showcase at Maggie Mae’s on the 17th, they’re playing three other day shows over the course of the week. This is all to build up excitement for their new album Palo Santo, which is out May 9 and if it’s a patch on Winged Life, will be excellent. They’ve released the first MP3 from the album below and there’s more to listen to on their MySpace. 2005 was the year of Okkervil River – 2006 may well see Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff again put out one of the best albums of the year.

MP3: Shearwater – “Seventy Four Seventy Five”

As the festival draws nigh, there’s lots of tips, guides, suggestions, etc for the SxSW punter, newbie and veteran. Pitchfork and Drowned In Sound have some suggestions of hot acts worth the attendee’s attention (and all of those showcases just got 200% harder to get into… thanks…) and The Star-Telegram rates the buzz bands of SxSWs past. Central Village has some excellent day party suggestions including hard-to-find set times, Crackers United has some festival-going tips, (via BrooklynVegan, whom I probably won’t be running into around ye olde BBQ pit) as do Depraved Fangirls (re: band t-shirts… but I don’t have any other clothes!).

Festival sponsor Yaris (as in the Toyota) has set up a really nice guide with maps, schedules, music and tips and for those of us who didn’t have the foresight to book a hotel with free internet access, here’s a map of free wifi points around Austin. And WhereAustin has a terrific Google Maps app for finding all the night showcases.

For my part, here’s an idealized list of where I’ll be during the evening shows. Probably won’t shake out that way, but I’m avoiding a lot of the bigger shows so maybe I’ll get lucky and make everything I want to.

Wednesday, March 15:
Page France @ Emo’s Annex, 8PM
Luminous Orange @ Habana Calle 6 @ 8PM
Headlights @ Emo’s Jr, 9PM
Voxtrot @ Emo’s, 9PM
Field Music @ Emo’s, 10PM
The Czars @ Fox & Hound, 10PM
Serena Maneesh @ Emo’s, 11PM
The Octopus Project @ Emo’s Jr, 12AM
Monsters Are Waiting @ Nuno’s Upstairs, 1AM
Saturday Looks Good To Me @ Emo’s Jr, 1AM

Thursday March 16:
Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s @ Nuno’s Upstairs, 8PM
Belaire @ Emo’s IV, 8:30PM
Film School @ Club DeVille, 9PM
Mazarin @ Buffalo Billiards, 10PM
Some By Sea @ Redrum, 11PM
The Hidden Cameras @ Molotov Lounge, 12AM
Levy @ Nuno’s Upstairs, 1AM

Friday, March 17:
Ambulette @ Red 7, 7:30PM
Dirty On Purpose @ Spiro’s, 8PM
The Mendoza Line @ Maggie Mae’s, 8PM
Isobel Campbell @ Dirty Dog Bar, 9PM
Eric Bachmann @ 18th Floor At Capital Place, 10PM
Gemma Hayes @ Soho Lounge, 10PM
Sarah Hepburn @ The Drink, 10PM
The High Violets @ Molotov Lounge, 11PM
Hopewell @ Bourbon Rocks, 11PM
Shearwater @ Maggie Mae’s, 12AM
Centro-Matic @ Maggie Mae’s, 1AM

Saturday, March 18
Decoder Ring @ Red 7, 8PM
Bedroom Walls @ Habana Calle 6 Patio, 8:30 PM
Rainer Maria @ Karma Lounge, 9:30PM
Superchunk @ Antone’s, 11PM
I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness @ Emo’s Annex, 11:15PM
Camera Obscura @ Antone’s, 12AM
Okkervil River @ Emo’s Annex, 12:15AM

So you can see there are heavy periods and light periods. Saturday, in particular, is rather barren – I don’t even have a 1AM show picked! I can’t close out the festival sitting on a street corner narfing down pizza… though I bet that’ll sound like a pretty damn good idea by that point. But suggestions for filling in the gaps are welcome. Also, I will be photoblogging this week for Scene From My Life. One photo a day from Toronto and Austin. Hopefully I will manage to document something worth seeing.

Glide puts the spotlight on Centro-Matic, who will be playing the Misra evening showcase at Maggie May’s on the 17th and their day party at Red Eyed Fly on the 18th.

Notes from the UK – Doves will release a live, e-EP on April 10 consisting of five songs recorded during their 2005 Some Cities tours and Primal Scream tell NME about their new album, still untitled but due out June 5 across the pond.

Shows news – the Death Cab/Franz Ferdinand has been moved from The Docks to the Ricoh Coliseum. This may be the first time anyone has celebrated a show being moved into a bigger arena. The Strokes will also be at the Ricoh on May 6, presale starts today, and Architecture In Helsinki will make up their cancelled Fall date with a show May 20 at the Horseshoe.

The Asheville Citizen-Times stands up for vinyl (via Coolfer).

Oh look, I lost at the Bloggies again. 0-for-4. I rule. Congratulations to Photojunkie on the win.

24: The lifeboat episode! Chloe sheds a single tear! Lynn gets dressed down by an anonymous security guard. Jack plays Macgyver and holds his breath! But really, wouldn’t any nerve gas worth its salt affect any mucous membranes, like his eyes or his nose? Not that I wish severe hemmorhaging on Jack, but come on. Don’t know why the security guy was so upset about dying, surely he knew when he put on that red shirt he was a goner? Hasn’t he ever seen Star Trek? Poor Bill, he’ll never get to stay in charge. Collette? Who’s Collette? WE WANT MANDY. Oh, and who wants to bet that Kim gets caught in the martial law crackdown? No one? Smart. Not like Tony. Tony is stupid. Stuid and dead. And as a chaser – The Toronto Star has a requiem for dear, departed Edgar.

Hey, question – yesterday afternoon my MSN crapped out. Like the application itself crashed, and would do so any time I tried to log in. I uninstalled and reinstalled, same thing. I can login via web and through Windows Messenger fine, but MSN Messenger? No dice. Now this wouldn’t normally alarm me that much, but the exact same thing happened on my laptop install as well – the program crashes the exact same way. So, uh, WTF? Anyone having this happen to them?

np – Okkervil River / Black Sheep Boy