It's been a little bit since we've posted any sort of concert updates on this here blog. It's also been a couple of years since we first met Phil Moore and Beth Tacular of Bowerbirds, when they crooned a stellar set opening up for Megafaun at Beachland Tavern. For those that have followed along the Bowerbirds journey, each new release has done a couple of things. First, the nature-driven lyrical imagery has remained constant. There are usually points in each record where listeners just slow the fuck down and let the landscape of foliage and seasonal shifting envelope them. All at once poignant and calming, the lyricism reigns supreme over each release. Secondly, each album has grown a bit in sound. The sonics of The Clearing are a little more fleshed out and uptempo than in Upper Air, where the stripped down classical was doubled up with Tacular's accordion in most tracks. The new record manages to move more briskly with better production, without sacrificing the incredible maturity in songwriting that has launched the duo this far. All of this to add that we're excited the folks over at Dead Oceans announced new tour dates, with Cleveland on the list.
In related news, if you are one of Bowerbirds' thirty-seven new agents, let the rock stars know we will have a cooler stocked and Brian will make some vegan chili. It's not your average vegan chili, neither.
This woke me up this morning. Dead Oceans posted this at their site, and I've been enjoying this. Almost makes me feel as though I'm in the sweat-drenched and disgustingly malodorous throng. Phosphorescent is an unbelievable band, though, and this footage is divine.
I woke up this morning with "Another Sky" on infinite loop in my brain, which has been happening a lot lately. Akron/Family's February release, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, is a vitamin-fortified, slick, and divergent smorgasbord of sound, and each listen only heightens my enjoyment. Folks that opine about the death of the album as an art form tend to forget albums like this one. I'm actually surprised people are talking about anything else as February comes to a close. Pop artists release tracks. Rock bands release albums, and this record is just that, in every sense of the word. We once chatted with Phil and Brad Cook from Megafaun, who described Akron/Family as being "turned to 11….all of the time." The interesting thing bout S/T II is that it lassos a bunch of different sounds and even reins in the intensity at points in the album. The most exciting thing, however, is the opportunity to see how this all translates live (although I think I already know the result).
On Thursday, Akron/Family brings their lunchbag full of rock zest to The Grog Shop and all of the Dicks will be in attendance for this one. I know for certain it's my most anticipated show of the year, thus far. When a band makes a towering rock opus, that tour shouldn't be without asses in seats. Here's to hoping your ass is in one of those seats Thursday. Additionally, enjoy the Vonnegut-suggestive, "So it Goes," and a killer live version of the aforementioned, "Another Sky," from Music Hall in Williamsburg, which, to me, is the best damn rock song of 2011. The sharp hooks and jungle-land chicanery have been fueling my three week bender of energetic mornings.
I call this a weekly roundup, but that's not really what it is. I'm just getting back in the swing of things and hopefully, today starts the triumphant return of my weekly "Radio Dick" posts, which used to cap off the week that was, honing in on all sorts of musings and tracks I was digging throughout the preceding seven days. I'm not so certain that's an easy task to pick back up on, but I've had my ears to the stereo a bit more this week, and that feels pretty good. Today includes some new things and a few catch-up tracks I've been meaning to get to the web. One thing's a foregone conclusion, that the early part of 2011 is shaping up pretty well. Our pals over at Music Savesput on an "Indie Orthodox New Years" each year, which marks the beginning of the new release season. Things are piling up and we're excited for some old favorites who are releasing records, and some newbies dropping their debuts.
I'll begin with a track I've been meaning to post. John Vanderslice's Romanian Names is still my go-to Saturday morning coffee record, and the guy is sick when it comes to melting simple and beautiful arrangements into large-scale productions. His back-catalog is superb, but I've always been on board in the thinking that his work is only growing more expansive and gorgeous. I'm stoked for his newest effort, White Wilderness to hit the shelves at the end of the month. As with previous efforts and projects, Vanderslice works with the Magik Magik Orchestra. As per the usual, Vanderslice's arrangement is beautiful in "Sea Salt," a slightly off-kilter, jamming tune, which opens up wide with the orchestral addition. Check out the Dead Oceans website to pre-order this one. I'll join you.
Papercuts has another album on the horizon, and Sub Pop is gearing up for its 3/1 release. The first track leaked, "Do What You Will," picks up essentially where previous efforts leave off. The bouncy rhythm melts with the dreamy vocal arrangement into huge hooks that pepper the whole song. Jason Quever has a bead on blending all sorts of instrumentation into pretty simple, dreamy ditties. No doubt, this will be a huge release in a few months. Indie-pop mixed with a shot of psychedelia is never a bad thing.
Kurt Vile just makes damn good music that works. Don't expect Smoke Ring for My Halo to stray far away. "Jesus Fever" busted out of the gates a couple of days ago, and it's pretty much right on par. The guitar work is uniquely dissonant in certain parts, and even though the track is completely upbeat, the darker flourishes are what attract me the most. Matador will release the album on 3/8, but you can pre-order the record by clicking HERE.
I've gone on the record bashing the chillwave genre, which I suppose just about every blogger has been guilty of at one point or another. I'll always, however, admit when I'm beat. I tend to gravitate toward the movement when something stands out. This new Dirty Beaches track, while only partly chilled out, is crazy good. "Lord Knows Best" is the first track released from Badlands which will be released on March 29th. I guess there's no shortage of dark ambience in the indie world, but something's grabbing me with this song. I've had it on repeat all morning, fueling the weekend chores. It's filling up my townhouse to the brim with relaxed aggression.
The first of March is the big day for Californian act, Craft Spells. They are releasing their debut album, Idle Labor via the Captured Tracks label, the same corporation slinging Wild Nothing, and that also works with Beach Fossils and Blank Dogs. Justin Paul Vallesteros is another bedroom act, pumping out snarky tracks from his Beautyrest. The blogosphere gave a hefty spin to "Party Talk" a little bit ago, and "After the Moment" is the cat's ass. If you haven't heard of Craft Spells, expect a heavy dose of them this Spring. I've got it marked on the calendario.
I'm not sure where I got the mp3 of "Success Came Slowly," but London Act, Fez, woke me up a bit this morning with a pretty killer set of chops and rhythms. I think I got this handed to me via mp3 submission, but of course this is inconsequential. I'm actually surprised that more of my blog brethren haven't jumped on board here. Nothing's tricky here, but the track is catchy as can be. There's a pounding Band of Horses-ish riff sitting behind it all. Try not to like it. Dare ya.
Lower Dens crept up on the world like an angry dog last year, and with my haphazard attention span during the latter half, I missed the party quite a bit. I'm excited for some of the new content though. They have been streaming the newest tracks "Batman," and "Dear Betty Baby" for several days now. Stream those killer tunes below. Both of these will end up on a 7" pressing on January 18th.
"Dear Betty Baby"
That wraps up all I've got this morning. Seacrest, out…
On Record Store Day, we had the pleasure of having Portland's Casey Dienel (AKA White Hinterland) in town to play The Beachland to close out the festivities on Waterloo. Beforehand, she rolled in and hit a half-hour DJ set at Music Saves. We've had our hands on Kairos, WH's full length LP, for quite awhile and it's still sitting atop my playlist. Generously filling and hauntingly satiating, the album is beautiful from top to bottom. Trolling the internets for music has its perks. Here's her cover of Neon Indian's "6669 (I Don't Know if You Know)." I don't have a lot to comment on this one, other than I love both versions. Enjoy, pals of the interwebs.
(Editor’s note: That’s a picture of Phillip IV, an actual king of Spain. I am aware that the song I’m posting today is an extended metaphor and not a legitimate wish from The Tallest Man on Earth to be the actual monarch of an Iberian nation. However, it is a rare occasion that I can post a portrait of a long dead regent. If Wilco or somebody releases a single called “Lous XIV,” I’ll be stoked. Obviously.)
I’m supposed to be doing work (grading papers, reading textbooks, sending emails, sifting through academic databases for nuggets of pertinent literature and so on). Instead, I’m just listening to The Tallest Man on Earth’s “King of Spain” over and over. Making comments on my students’ work? Nope, just grooving on Kristian Matsson’s oddly unsettling vocals. (Is there some sort of intentional distortion going on there? Some sort of super special vintage microphone or something? Or does this cat smoke three packs of Kools a day? How does he maintain tunefulness with all of that gravelliness? How sweet is it when he reaches for the high note in the last bar?) Reading up on the material I’ll have to lecture on next week? Nope, just marvelling at the intricate guitar work on the track. Dude is doing some serious folk shit there. Crafting a writing prompt for my students to sweat over? Nope, just turning the lyrics over and over. “I will settle in Pamplona and I’ll provoke the bulls with words.” Yes! Senoritas sighing, floating in siestas, the overarchingly wistful yearning. Yes! More of that!
In short, The Tallest Man on Earth is preventing me from doing my job. Any chance I can sue him? Any lawyers in the house? His Dead Oceans’ debut hits the planet on April 13th. I’m already reschduling my office hours to work around the release.
Here in Cleveland, the sometimes vaguely accurate weather gods we call meteorologists are calling for a foot or so of snow to dump on us over the next day. Hardly of epic proportions, but a pain in the ass nonetheless. In the very least, cause enough to void the social calendar (and work, if one is so lucky to (a) have a job and (b) take a snow day without losing said job) and stay home to listen to wintry tunes and drink warm mugs of delight. And, honestly, I can’t think of a better track to lead off your snow day playlist than the initial single from Portland-based White Hinterland’s forthcoming album, Kairos. Hell, even the name of the band shouts winter.
White Hinterland vocalist Casey Dienel – who last made a splash in Lake Blogosphere in October with covers of Justin Timberlake (“My Love”) and Arthur Russell (“Lucky Cloud”) – brings a little Victoria Bergstrom to the album, soft and sweet and a little cute. The effect works well with the enhanced production of this new album, which is less keyboard-driven than previous efforts, but rather turns to drum machines and chimes to add ethereal whimsy. This is music you should listen to when standing on the warm side of some frosted windows, watching snow fall and pedestrians trudge by, safe inside with steam rising from your cup.
No disrespect to the month of December, but I’m getting super excited for January. You, me, and the creepy dude down the street are in for an ass-load of solid indie rock releases the first month of 2010, and Citay’s forthcoming Dream Get Together is the latest addition to my “albums to look forward to as 2010 dawns” list.
Dream Get Together, which will be released by Dead Oceans on January 26th, finds the San Francisco jam-pop collective stretching out, and adding a little Athens, GA-style quirk to the rugged 70s riffs that characterized their previous Dead Oceans release, 2007′s Little Kingdom.
The new record is set to open with “Careful With That Hat,” a lengthy Neil Young meets ‘luded-up Phish and R.E.M. plus a little soprano breathy “ah-ah-ah” pop track that aptly prepares the listener for all that follows. Nearly 7 minutes long, it shouldn’t surprise you to see me use a descriptor like sprawling, but Citay makes the most of the minutes, changing gears and attitudes throughout the ride.
The third quarter of the song is perhaps the best, with a grungy belly riff that comes in underneath some of the more amusing pop affect that preceded it and turns the whole thing into something more guttural and dramatic than you might have expected. The song ends where you’d expect a Phish jam to get started, a deft choice in my humble opinion.
On Wednesday night, Megafaun and Bowerbirds rolled through Cleveland, and in the fashion of reciprocal need, we got the chance to hang with the band and had a killer party at my house on the southside of town. By the end of the night, about nine people were crashing all over my house, and if the amazing talent in the band isn’t a secret, you’ll be happy to know that they’re great people, as well. Phil Moore (guitarist/vocalist) and Beth Tacular (vocals/accordion/keys) were gracious housegests and also a killer live act. It’s also no secret in the blogosphere that Bowerbirds’ fresh new release, Upper Air is loaded with soaring indie rock greatness. It’s been on our playlist for quite awhile, and while we were definitely stoked to hang out with the guys (and gal) on Wednesday, it’s been even more of a treat for us to see them absoultely bring the house down at Pitchfork on the side stage a couple hours ago.
To open, Tacular started on the keyboard and Moore gently strummed his beat-up classical guitar. Immediately, it’s obvious that sound is the centerpiece. During the set, the audience swayed quietly back and forth as the trio (along with Brad Cook from Megafaun on the upright) launched through some slow burners and dreamy folk infused indie rock. Cook’s upright bass, along with the employment of a bass drum turned onto its side creates a unique balance between highs and lows in the band’s sound. A classical guitar/keyboard duo never sounded so full and sonorous, in other words. Additionally, it doesn’t take long for Bowerbirds to hit a stride when they perform live. Moore has a quiet confidence on stage, and this is an added boon to his stellar chops.
Musically, there’s a maturity to the arrangements, and when the drummer hit the violins, it melted nicely with Tacular’s accordion work. With Bowerbirds, it’s all about emotional connection and energy, and all cylinders were hit today. As mentioned before, Bowerbirds is currently on tour with Megafaun, and it should be a summer requirement to hit this if it’s near your town. CLICK HERE for tour dates. Also, enjoy Northern Lights off of Upper Air and snag the album at insound by CLICKING HERE.
As James mentioned yesterday, our rising age was put to the test this weekend during a road trip back to our alma mater. I remember wobbling back and forth trying to text James to get back to the bar and hail a cab because I was clearly done for the night. This was, embarrassingly, at 12:30 am. Mind you, we had been drinking since six, but I can’t remember one night in my twenties that I embarked on a night of boozing and called it quits so early. I’m fast approaching my 31st year and nights like this remind me of my vulnerability and that life’s clock isn’t going to go into perpetual rewind any time soon. To connect this thought, yesterday I was finally able to spin the new John Vanderslice album, Romanian Names for the first time, and although I had big expectations by default, I had no idea how hard it would hit me. Vanderslice is 41 years old, eleven years my senior, and this boggles my mind. Vanderslice pumped out his first record when he was my age, and while most musicians these days start in their late teens or early twenties, all of JV’swork exhibits a maturity that can only be found through a dude with some years under his belt. It’s intriguing to think a guy at age 30 can put out his first album and then build that idea into something as seminal as Cellar Door so early (but yet also late) in life. Vanderslice is a jack-of-all trades, producing, collaborating, and pumping out lyrical brilliance for peeps in the know, and if for some strange reason you’ve been on a distant planet and have not caught wind of this genius, hop on board because Romanian Names fits superbly in his already successful arsenal.
The first area worthy of discussion is the lyrical strength of Romanian Names. Vanderslice grabs the audience from the start, weaving through ambiguous content and an overriding aura of sadness and loss. A few particular tracks pound home JV’s lyrical ability, specifically “Fetal Horses,” “Time to Time,” and the broodingly evil, “Forest Knolls.” In “Fetal Horses,” a high pitched synthesizer is laced with simple piano arpeggios and Vanderslice’s neo folk crooning. There are some swift guitar effects and an amazingly rich and textured sound from the analog recording process. Lyrically, he’s stuck in a push-pull relationship as he angrily states At least today your pixelated bloody face, it seems to me to be finally dead with you and him. Come back to me again. You’d break everything I have. “Forest Knolls” (kickass live video below) emphatically points to how sharp Vanderslice is. Reminiscent of the spooky narration in Sufjan’s “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” the track places the extended metaphor of deer lurking outside a cabin window to express intense pain and regret over not aggressively dealing with intruders into a past relationship. We’ve got food for weeks and weeks. All that blood would find its way to the carpet. Sitting there I couldn’t shake that guilt. As the deer walked free up the hill. As with Sufjan’s Gacy track, spooky and dark imagery emits the idea that the fine line between sanity and losing marbles is not always abundantly clear. Dude got cheated on and he let the guy get away with it. He’s filled with regret and pain. Romanian Names is chock full of poetic worth and the mere fact that the music is so damn good only adds to the effectiveness.
The analog recording process that Vanderslice employs creates a wonderful atmosphere of sound. At no point on the album does it sound sloppy, however. ”C&O Canal” includes xylophones, wood blocks, and tinny snare drum percussion to create an oddly soothing sound. In many tracks on the record the percussion is soft and simple, and this allows Vanderslice’s dominant vocals and harmonies to rise to the forefront. In the acronym track “D.I.A.L.O.” a trippy reversed synthesizer riff almost sounds like it’s being sucked back into the synthesizer and dual harmony vocal delivery signifies Vanderslice’s panache for creating excellent arrangements that make something complex sound completely simple. Simplicity is shown in the title track, as an irish-folk vibe is on full display with a simple acoustic guitar and Vanderslice’s teetering mix of soft and loud vocal delivery. When you fell off the balance beam, you couldn’t win. But you jumped up again. At times, JV decides to keep things simple and focus on the emotional content of his lyrics. It’s nice to know that he doesn’t need bells and whistles to hit an emotional chord. This happens often throughout the entire record.
Vanderslice has often garnered plenty of acclaim for the narrative structure of his albums. Whether it’s the mysterious Microsoft lawsuit or the tightly drawn reference to classic British poets like Shelley and Robert Lowell, it’s a poor decision to only listen to his work for musical sound. The narrative nature of Romanian Names is loud and clear as Vanderslice is creating a painful and sad depiction of life’s regrets and of losing things once loved. Obviously, this isn’t always an area where blame can be placed, and Vanderslice seems keenly aware of this. in “Tremble and Tear.” the album’s opener, the largeness of the track is juxtaposed by the softly pined, I can see her in the snow, snow snow and delicately placed lyrics of loss. In the previously mentioned “C&O Canal” JV hits the audience with probably the most interestingly placed lyric, I track down your friend. And won her heart over slowly. Then I walked away. Hope it gets back to you someday and immediately goes into a poppy and happy “la la la” session that creates the exact sarcastic machismo that many of us have felt when trying to get over a lost love. The album is narrative, but more strongly thematic, and its intelligence and sharp construction make it a 2009 release that is well worth all of the hype.
So at 41 years old, Vanderslice is in his 11th year of recording solo efforts. I suppose that eleven years into a career would signify one’s prime. We’re in full agreement that Vanderslice hasn’t dropped a bit or lessened his intelligently composed musicianship. Whenever I get an album a little bit late and I find myself struggling to find elements of quality, I think about albums like this that immediately sprawl outward into my nervous system in just one listen. I have no doubt this is going to be a great listen for many years to come. If you’re not picking this one up today, you’re a lunatic. Enjoy “Fetal Horses” and pick it up at insound.
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