Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Take Cover: Meet Me In A Pillar of Fire

The Tallest Man on Earth w/ his fiancee, Amanda
"I'll Be Glad" (Bonnie Prince Billy)

If this doesn't melt your heart into a big bleeding mess, you don't have one to begin with. They're so in love! And adorable. And talented.

And who knew BPB aka Will Oldham's close-to-gospel song could be turned into the loveliest love song? It's a far jump from his pathologically loaded (though stunning) funeral dirges. (He's been covered pretty notably before, too.) Check out the original "I'll Be Glad" here, the organ is super nice.

-- Caroline Klibanoff

Monday, August 30, 2010

Recap: Solid Sound Festival

Large silver letters spelling out “MASS MoCA” usually tower above the contemporary art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts, but on August 13th, even larger orange letters were fastened in front, declaring that the take-over had begun. From the signs along Route 2, to an announcement board outside the community center advertising a pancake breakfast and welcoming “Wil Fans,” to countless other local businesses hanging signs greeting the Chicago-based band and its fans, anywhere you looked, it was hard to miss that Wilco and its Solid Sound Festival had taken over this small city in the Berkshires for the weekend.

And let’s just say if your city must be taken over by a musical act, Wilco are benevolent overlords. Amenities included bike valets, free parking (with enough security to ensure no Ryan Adams fans—or actual Ryan Adams—took bats to your windshield), shuttles to and from the lots and free refills on water. No overpriced, reheated festival food here; instead Berkshire-based vendors offered chicken tikka masala, varieties of samosas, handmade ice cream and locally brewed beer. Families brought younger children for free; parents enjoyed morning yoga while their kids took in puppet shows. The band handpicked the lineup of artists and comedians and assembled their own exhibits. Make no mistake, this weekend was about Wilco—but if you were down with worshiping at the temple of Tweedy, the inaugural Solid Sound Festival was a breath of fresh air after a summer full of sweaty mobs navigating venues as crowded as the schedules.

Arriving early, we decided to check out the exhibits. After wandering the maze of MASS MoCA’s 14-acre refurbished industrial complex with no help from our map (seriously: aesthetically pleasing, but graphic designers are not cartographers, Jeff Tweedy), we stumbled into Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawing Retrospective. Inside the vertigo-inducing walls hung Glenn Kotche’s Interactive Drum Heads exhibit. Passersby tinkered with the unique additions to the drums, unleashing echoes of haphazard percussion—which the Solid Sound volunteer manning the room must have appreciated. Although, no one had it worse than the staff assigned to the cavernous space housing Nels Cline’s Stompbox exhibit. Groups huddled around stacks of lunchbox amps connected to a smorgasbord of effect pedals, flicking switches and shifting EQ sliders, trying to detect changes in the deafening drone. Happier staffers kept watch over Pat Sansone’s room of Polaroids and the hallway of silk-screen concert posters from Wilco’s past.

In addition to contributing exhibits, the individual members got time to showcase their side projects. It began with Pronto. Keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen led his group in pleasant piano-driven pop, ranging from easy-going to edgy, recalling moments like “Hummingbird” or “You Never Know.” Bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone indulged the audience with the hazy, 70s soft rock harmonies (Sky Blue Sky, anyone?) of The Autumn Defense. Drummer Glenn Kotche and Darin Gray of On Fillmore traded duck calls before launching into eerie and experimental percussion and bass numbers that culminated in Kotche nearly decapitating a woman with a thunder tube. To watch Glenn go all out is to realize how vital his more subtle, unconventional beat-keeping is to Wilco’s sound. Finally came the Nels Cline Singers, which unfortunately is not an acapella group for tall men in short pants but an avant-garde jazz ensemble—yeah, I don’t even know. But what I do know, being familiar with the noise-outro of “Less Than You Think” and the guitar freak outs on “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” is that as I watched Nels wail with furious technical precision on his guitar and masterfully fiddle with electronics, it was not hard to imagine exactly where Jeff Tweedy saw Cline fitting in when he joined Wilco post-A Ghost Is Born.

All of these sounds converged on Saturday night as Wilco took the stage, managing to pack a lively performance of 30 songs into 2 and ½ hours. Mixed in with charged performances of live staples were some rarities including Yankee Hotel Foxtrot demo throwbacks like “Not For The Season,” “A Magazine Called Sunset” and “Cars Can’t Escape.” The audience came through on the “Jesus, Etc.” sing-along, which an impressed Tweedy ranked in “maybe the Top 2.” The band ended the main set on a strange note, playing the bittersweet “On and On and On” with Tweedy sans guitar, but soon returned with an upbeat four-song encore ending in a rousing rendition of “Hoodoo Voodoo.”

But it’s kind of an exercise in narcissism to throw a festival all for yourself, so the band brought some friends along, too. We were treated to the sweet harmonies of Burlington-based Mountain Man, the finger-picking goodness of Sir Richard Bishop, and the jam band groove of Vetiver. Crowds vibed to sample-happy hometown heroes, The Books, and indie newcomers like Brenda and Avi Buffalo alike. But the real crown jewel of the lineup was Gospel legend Mavis Staples. In addition to old standards, the 71-year-old icon belted CCR’s “Wrote A Song For Everyone” and The Band’s “The Weight.” Jeff Tweedy even joined her on stage for the title-track of her newest album, “You Are Not Alone.”

Mavis wasn’t the only act to share the stage with the Wilco frontman. On rainy Sunday evening, Jeff Tweedy was putting on a charming solo performance in which he engaged in his favorite activities: singing and goading audience members—offenses included laughing at a bum note in “Muzzle of Bees,” being unprepared to back-up whistle on Loose Fur’s “The Ruling Class,” and being too knowledgeable on the capo placement for Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid” (“That’s a desperate cry for help”). Although he refused requests to cover “Single Ladies” again, he broke out affecting covers of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and “So Much Wine” by The Handsome Family.

But my favorite cover of the evening (and one of my favorite moments of the whole festival) came as he welcomed the young Avi Buffalo to the stage for a cover of “Look Out For My Love.” I stood there thinking that I could only dream of achieving the same level of musical idolatry nirvana that the visibly nervous Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg must have been experiencing if, well, Jeff Tweedy brought me on stage to duet to a Neil Young song. Other guests included Nick Zammuto of The Books crooning “Ingrid Bergman,” Scott McCaughey of Minus 5 joining in for “The Family Gardener” off Down With Wilco, and Nels Cline on lap steel guitar for a rare and stunning “Dash 7.”

After promising more friends, Tweedy returned with The Autumn Defense and Nels Cline, relinquishing lead to John Stirratt on “It’s Just That Simple.” Adding Mikael Jorgensen to the mix, Wilco minus Glenn Kotche (who was expecting a baby “any minute—well, hopefully not any minute” and had understandably left) gleefully stumbled through the drunken “Passenger Side,” ending on a folky take of “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)” with Tweedy appropriately barking “Look out, here I come again / and I’m bringing my friends!” And with that, the festival was over. The band waved goodbye, and Tweedy shouted a promising “See you next year!” as he left the stage.

It was easy to forget that I shared this experience with a crowd of 2,000 to 5,000 others. Under the (mostly) sky blue skies of the Berkshires, everything seemed relaxed and intimate. It was the kind of atmosphere in which it wasn’t strange to run into John Stirratt taking in the sounds of the Deep Blue Organ Trio in front of the beer tent or to see Nels Cline towering above the crowd awaiting Pronto. It seemed perfectly normal to bump into Mikael Jorgensen mid-bite into your hot dog or for your friend to mistake Pat Sansone for a tour guide and block him in line for the sugar. And there was nothing out of the ordinary about having Glenn Kotche hold the door for you right after Wilco rocked the main stage or about spotting Jeff Tweedy perched atop a dunk tank in that ugly nudie suit he wore on the cover of SPIN. It was their festival, after all—and I think I'm not alone in hoping that they’ll return to North Adams again next summer to continue their reign.

-- Catherine DeGennaro

Friday, August 27, 2010

SummaJamz Part Two

Last week, I got an email with a subject line containing simply: "F You."

From Cee-Lo Green.

Normally I'd be offended, but after clicking through to the song included in the email, I found a diamond in the rough, if the rough is email spam and the diamond is this super sweet summer dancey jam groove by Green himself, who already won me over a few months ago with "Georgia."
This is even better. I was sold when I heard "Bein' in love with your ass ain't cheap, I pity the fool that falls in love with you." (And later: "Ooh, I really hate your ass right now.") Cee-Lo is on fire here, with old-school brass horns and a hooky chorus consisting of "Fuck you, fuck you," giving some snarky undeserving girl and her new boyfriend the BOOT.

Anyway, here's a much-needed roundup of some other summer jams, continuing from Part One earlier this summer. Check out the playlist below and let us know what your favorites are, and what we left off!

1. Robyn - Cry When You Get Older
Guess we missed this the first time around, because this song has been out for a while. Still it makes for an arching, beat-heavy, ass-kicking song. And she's got some lyrical prowess too: "Back in suburbia kids get high and make out on the train / and this incomprehensible boredom takes a hold again."

2. Nelly - Just a Dream
I realize not everyone is as mindblowingly excited for Nelly's upcoming release as I am (and this single is no Dilemma or Country Grammar, believe me). But that doesn't stop the inevitability of this song dominating Top 40 radio this fall. It's kind of sad, though, thematically! But whatever, as soon as the bass drops about 21 seconds in, you'll be too busy dancing to care. Definitely a capital-J Jam.

3. Andre 3000 - I Do (leaked)
Remember when Andre's verses were the strongest unreleased cuts off the Big Boi record? And how he drops these absolutely killer verses like they mean nothing to him, all the time? He's smart and it shows here: "And maybe 2030 our baby she'll be nerdy, make the whole club swoon."

4. Best Coast, Kid Cudi, Rostam Batmanglij - All Summer
This also came out a while ago, before Best Coast blew up, and it's a great lineup of voices: Cudi sounds super laid back and carries the track, while Best Coast's clean melody on the chorus makes this hook, line, and sinker a full-on lovable song perfect for summer.

5. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Though we've given this album a lot of credit already here, this track is exuberant enough to separate from the rest of the concept-album and cross over to keep company among the four songs listed already - an impressive feat for an indie band, but not a surprising one for a band that sells out arena tours and performs on the Daily Show.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review: Sia, We Are Born


We Are Born

3/4 Hand Claps

As far as I’m concerned, and take my expertise as you will, Sia is a master of both emotionally reflective songs, like the ones used at heart-string tugging scenes in Grey’s Anatomy, and the upbeat sassy song that makes you want to dance in front of your mirror as you get dressed.

The majority of the songs off her new album, We Are Born, fit into the upbeat music category. Carried through almost all these songs is a clap-along-to beat. The album starts strongly with the track, “The Fight.” It does seem to be a sort of rallying song with her soaring vocals calling one and all to join the fight. That song sets the tone for the rest of the album. Percussion that sounds as though it was spontaneously created by tapping nearby objects carries the listener through the album.

Like with her previous work, Sia creates a sound that you won’t find elsewhere. (After all, her last album was called Some People Have Real Problems and had this album cover) Her unique voice makes her upbeat songs sound powerful and sassy, while lending a haunting and emotional sound to her slower songs. She writes creative, but at the same time, raw lyrics. While the music sounds quirky, the lyrics are bold and straightforward. The words are sung directly, as if the person she is trying to communicate with is in the room. They are also real and explore the trials of humanity that we all face, as “we are born.” She sings with an authority that makes you want to follow her beliefs.

Only a few exceptions to this upbeat pop music appear on this album. However, when they do, they hit the bottom of your stomach like a stone. Her voice, at times self-assured, switches to being quite delicate and vulnerable. She pleads, and reveals, and sounds pure – so pure it sound a bit familiar at time.

Standout Tracks: The Fight, You’ve Changed, Be Good To Me, Never Gonna Leave Me, Cloud, and Oh Father

-- Kaitlin Carano

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Dog Days Are Over: A Fall Music Preview

The proverbial dog days of summer are fading away, as we prepare to head back into the routine that fall brings. We’ve enjoyed our days at the beach, nights out, and the feeling of the breeze rustling our hair as we cruise around with nothing to do. So, as we say farewell to another summer come and gone, let’s look ahead to some of the great music that will get us through the next season.
-- Jared Iversen

Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard – August 24th

The Syracuse-based band (don’t hold it against them) will offer up more of their orchestral pop on the follow up to their critically acclaimed debut album. This isn’t really a fall release, but I missed it on the Summer Music Preview, and it’s supposed to be “so poppy you will want to throw up on yourself” (in a good way, I’m assuming). And seeing as it was produced and mixed by members of Death Cab for Cutie and Vampire Weekend, that is entirely possible. Listen to the single (and other tracks from the album) and decide for yourself.

The Walkmen – Lisbon – September 14th

Indie rock veterans The Walkmen will release their sixth studio album next month. The record’s title and Romantic spirit were inspired by the band’s trips to the Portuguese capital city, which spurred the writing of nearly 30 songs (11 of which found their place on this album). The lead single, Stranded, features regal horns and Hamilton Leithauser’s distinguished whine, and creates a perfect cocoon of sound, with just the right dose of melancholy and nostalgia, to get you through those early days of fall.

Of Montreal – False Priest – September 14th

The always strange and interesting Athens, Georgia band will release their tenth studio album next month. The upcoming LP features hip-hop sensation Janelle Monae, who they are currently touring with to promote the album. The two singles indicate the record will have more of the band’s signature funky and danceable pop. And the album cover is pretty sweet.

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest – September 28th

The fourth album from Bradford Cox’s band is a concept album of sorts about “the way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that's kind of sad.” The album was produced and mixed by Ben Allen, who also worked on Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, and, despite the more guitar based sound of the album’s pleasant single, this suggests there should be more brilliant ambient, psych-pop on the way. This album cover is just creepy though.

Girls – TBA - TBA

Last year, San Francisco beach rockers Girls released their debut album, quickly becoming to the indie world what Justin Bieber is to 12 year old girls. In a recent interview, front man Christopher Owens revealed that a new Girls album would be released “sometime in the fall.” There’s not too many deets at the moment, but for now check out this new song in which Owens shows a much softer side.

Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager - October 26th

KiD CuDi is dropping the sequel to his debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, in October, saying it will bring “you into [his] reality, good and bad.” The rapper’s brand of electronic hip-hop will likely provide one or two songs that will become staples at Village A parties this fall. Until then, listen to the official single (featuring Kanyeezee) and a couple other tracks, and cop his latest mixtape.

Nelly – Nelly 5.0 – November 16th

We finally have an answer to the question everyone has been asking (mainly just Caroline) – what happened to Nelly? The St. Louis rapper hasn’t had a hit song since 2005, when Facebook still required an invitation to join and Twitter wasn’t even invented (you know, the good old days), and seemingly dropped off the grid for the second half of the decade. The man who kicked off the new millennium with classics like “Country Grammar,” “Ride Wit Me,” and “Hot in Herre” appears to be making a comeback, with the release of his sixth studio album. Listen to the single and get ready to shake ya tailfeather.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - TBA- TBA

This ectro-folk-psych-pop duo is the best thing to be associated with NASCAR since, umm, ever (except for maybe this, and probably this, ok and definitely this). According to their MySpace, the debut album will be out in the fall, but in the meantime check out their painfully catchy Horse Power EP, which features a cover of The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" (Do I smell/hear a feature on Take Cover?).

Kanye West – Dark Twisted Fantasy – November

Speaking of comebacks, ladies and gentlemen, Kanye West is back. It seems the enigmatic rapper has abandoned the abhorrent auto tune that was featured prominently on his last album, the emo dud 808’s and Heartbreak, and has returned to form. He recently joined the web’s most popular narcissistic outlet, and has shown no signs of checking his ego when discussing the new album either, comparing it to the “masterwork” of “Michelangelo, Picasso, [and] the pyramids.” He says his goal is to reach “that Avatar level,” but let’s hope he doesn’t substitute substance for some glitzy gimmick. Then again, glitzy gimmicks are what ‘Ye does best. As if that’s not enough, it has been confirmed that he flew Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) out to his studio in Hawaii to lay down vocals for “at least 10 songs!” While I can confidently say this album won’t actually compare to this or this or this, Kanye appears to be as motivated and cocky as ever, and that is a very good thing. Check out the single and a leaked track.

Other releases to be on the lookout for:

Fleet Foxes are supposed to release their sophomore album around “stocking-stuffer” time

(You’re my boy) Blu is slated to drop his album NoYork! this yea.

And of course there’s always the possibility of a new Radiohead album...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take Cover: Papa Literally Has a Brand New Bag.

Tom Waits, "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" (James Brown)

I have written this column now six times, for this week, and each time I find something better to top the last cover and so have to write it all over again and postpone whatever I had written for a future week, but then there's always the chance that the postponed cover becomes either horribly irrelevant (the internet age is fast, you know) or becomes like a viral video and becomes so relevant that I'm the last person to write about it (the internet age is fast, you know!)

I am overlooking no less than Macy Gray killin' the Arcade Fire, Fever Ray covering Peter Gabriel (really well), Mavis Staples covering CCR (come on), Rage Against the Machine covering Dylan (killing me) and the force-of-nature buzz band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. actually doing justice to the sun-kissed harmonies of The Beach Boys (I am dead). Finally there was the North Carolina A&T Marching Band covering the instant classic Bed Intruder Song (why?!) that put me over the top. (Thanks for the tips Fiona, Ben, Jared.)

But this is simply the best of all possible worlds. I mean it this time. Classics on classics. Kings on Kings. Listen up.

--Caroline Klibanoff

Monday, August 23, 2010

Artist of the Week: Dawes

Artist of the Week: Dawes

I stumbled upon Dawes, a four-piece band from Los, Angeles, at this year’s Newport Folk Festival, and I was instantly taken with their endearing folk rock. Hailing from the renowned Laurel Canyon region of California, they don’t shy away from their influences, infusing the warm harmonies of CSNY and the comforting melodies of The Band into their familiar sound. What really set these guys apart though are the lyrics, inspired and poetic, yet somehow instantly germane and deeply human. They’re debut album, North Hills, came out last summer, and it is a compelling collection of Americana songs that show a remarkable maturity for a few guys in their early twenties.

-- Jared Iversen

Listen to a few tracks below:

Dawes & The Morning Benders "When My Time Comes" from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot

Big Boi
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

I’m going to cut straight to the chase: Big Boi’s debut solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, is dope! No questions asked. I must admit that over the last few years I have pretty much been a hater of most new music released under the ‘hip-hop’ genre. This is due in part to my love-hate relationships with both T-Pain (it’s hard for me to continuously hate his music after he joined forces with Andy Samberg for “I'm On a Boat”) and Lil Wayne, coupled with my complete and utter dislike of artists such as Gucci Mane and Bangs. Over the course of these past few summer months, I have tried to mentally accept that the music industry is changing; genre roles are changing and therefore, hip-hop must also change. And, although I do miss the innovative styles of such artists as Eric B. & Rakim and De La Soul, not all of the hip-hop artists today are complete crap. Actually, some of them are pretty damn amazing.

I first heard Big Boi rapping on Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik as part of the duo OutKast. This album dropped in 1994 and I distinctly remember little ol’ me sitting in the back seat of the car as my older cousin drove around Chicago with this album on full blast. By the time Stankonia dropped in 2000 I was finally old enough to seek out the album myself and sing along to the lyrics whenever I was clear of adults. At this time I knew very little about production quality or lyrical flow and judged music solely based on the beat. It’s now 2010, I’m older, wiser and I have become a hell of a lot better at distinguishing albums that I will blast for a season then quickly forget from those that I believe represent true artistry.

I can’t get enough of Sir Lucious Left Foot. Big Boi has definitely been able to hold his own both as part of Outkast and as a solo artist. Despite doubts as to his potential success releasing a full solo album not accompanied by Andre 3000 (Speakerboxx was released with Andre 3000’s The Love Below so it doesn’t count in this instance) Big Boi has proven to be a definite innovator in the music industry. Maintaining the oh-so-precise calculations of production Outkast was so well-known for, Big Boi serves listeners with back to back dope tracks. He spits ill rhymes that had me continuously saying to myself, “Oh snap, he said that”. My top four tracks off the fifteen-track album are “Follow Us ft. Vonnegut”, “Shutterbug ft. Cutty”, “Hustle Blood ft. Jamie Foxx,” and “Fo Yo Sorrows ft. George Clinton, Too Short and Sam Chris”. Some of the tracks are slow jams while others remind me of summer parties back home but all fit together so perfectly that I enjoy listening straight through the album. If you have not yet listened to Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty I highly, highly, highly, recommend you do so. And soon. I for one will definitely be rocking this album for seasons to come.

Disclaimer: I would have given the album 10/10 but I had to deduct points for Gucci Mane’s presence on the track “Shine Blockas” (Gucci’s voice is a drone but the track otherwise is pretty awesome).

-- Dominique Barron

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Various Artists, Twilight: Eclipse Official Soundtrack

Various Artists
Twilight: Eclipse (Original Soundtrack)
B (Twilight: Eclipse, as a movie: F--)

I don't know where to begin on why I hate Twilight so, so much. There's just too much to hate. But then again, this is not a literary blog, or a vampire blog, or a
Teen Korner blog, this is a blog about music. And the Twilight: Eclipse Official Soundtrack makes me forgive Twilight a tiny, almost insignificant bit for making the world so much worse. The Twilight movie saga has set a strange reputation for itself by roping in more and more (previously?) respectable indie bands to create and collaborate on original tracks for the movie soundtracks--a moneymaking scheme, no doubt, but one I finally agree with.

As this is the easiest way to go about a "Various Artists" album, I'll run through the best and worst tracks artist-by-artist. Metric's track "
Eclipse - All Yours" is decent at best--there's no denying Emily Haines is a golden god no matter what she attempts, but the song just falls flat. As an aside, who is Sia? Did I miss something? What is that name? Wasn't there that one song everybody put on their angsty mixtapes for a while? Anyway, "My Love" is utter twee, but movies need those moments just like we do (unless we're robots). I'd never heard Cee-Lo on his own before (which isn't a surprise, if you look at his utterly impressive list of collaborations), but "What Part of Forever" made me curious for more.

As for the real highlights--the Black Keys track "
Chop and Change" is gritty, gritty gold with epic movie potential (does the beginning remind anyone else of Inception?). Good work on two great tracks from Bombay Bicycle Club ("How Can You Swallow So Much") and Battles ("The Line"), Twilight producers, you've truly upped your ante with some indie heft. There's a Beck* and Bat for Lashes collaboration--a track I at first thought might turn out like Converse's first and second round of summer jams (read: really, really high expectations thanks to a dream team collab coupled with a really, really mediocre turnout). "Let's Get Lost" actually turned out great, to be honest--the two utterly different respective vocal styles melded together perfectly.

Finally--as per usual, I've saved the best for last, only because everything else pales in comparison to
Florence + the Machine's "Heavy in Your Arms." I've said it before, but I'll say it again, I get depth overcharge when it comes to this band. "Heavy in Your Arms" is thundering, epic, utterly mind-blowing--and oh, the funniest, cruelest joke, it's not actually in the movie--it's not even the first song as the credits roll, to add insult to injury, it's the second. Which is, I suppose, in a roundabout way best, because if the scene this song was slated for was not the most epic, rousing battle scene in the movie, then it's probably best it was cut altogether. Because, in the end, the whole movie (Kristen Stewart-the-Worst included) should have been cut as a scene, leaving only this decent soundtrack behind it.

Up next for the Twilight movie soundtracks? One mega-collaboration track with every artist on the album contributing to the same song--a la "We Are The World."

*Hang on, I just realized that Beck's Top 8 Myspace Friends are all Greek Philosophers? Points? So many points!

--Fiona Hanly

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Let it Sway

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Let it Sway

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin creates tantric pop. They are able to identify that climactic moment in a pop song, that fleeting micro-second that saves pop music from the over saturation by the Biebers in the world. Upon identifying it, though, they exploit it. They dissect that one instant into minutes. Stretching it out over repeating riffs and building handclaps they let us experience that perfect moment for longer than we ought to. And it feels pretty good. 

Let it Sway is the third release from Springfield, MO pop quartet Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. They recruited heavy-weight Chris Walla (of Death Cab For Cutie) to help with the production and mixing, and though Walla's influence is definitely noticeable in the album's aesthetic, the arrangements of the tracks shows a return to the patience that gave Broom, the band's first release, its rich texture.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Take Cover: The Roots of Rock 'N' Roll

The Tallest Man on Earth, "My Journey to the Sky" (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

If you don't know Sister Rosetta Tharpe and think that Jimi Hendrix or even Chuck Berry or even Little Richard originated rock 'n' roll guitar playing, you better get acquainted quick, because the lightyears-ahead-of-her-time Tharpe, a gospel singer in the 1940s, is the reigning queen of the instrument and entire generations of musicians owe her a debt.

A Philadelphia gospel singer raised in the Pentecostal church, Tharpe's self-taught guitar playing was at the forefront of her whole performance at a time when the electric guitar was considered controversial in the church. In addition to her powerful, throaty voice, Tharpe manipulated the instrument like it was an extension of her own body, playing blues solos and rhythm with an ease and confidence that a whole lot of modern artists can't hold a candle to. She invented the windmill arm swing (Pete Townshend, you're welcome) and played perfect bluesy solos with flying fingers, all while lifting that big, big voice to the Lord.

Oh, and the Tallest Man on Earth recently did a really lovely cover of her song "My Journey To The Sky" at the Pitchfork Music Festival, a gentle acoustic version that is quite moving in its sincerity and simplicity. His voice sounds better than ever here; I just wish the song was longer.

Watch two killer performances by Tharpe herself after the jump.

-- Caroline Klibanoff

Review: Jaill, That's How We Burn


That’s How We Burn

3 mustaches out of 4 (actual band statistics: 2/4)

Michael Chabon, musing on the possibility of a totally original novel, said that “All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.” The same is true in the world of music. This review will not be able to tell you whether or not Jaill’s new album sounds like The Soft Pack has a crush on XTC, or of what it is “reminiscent.” Nor will it contain a lengthy analysis (with spreadsheets and percentages) that charts the band’s influences from their toddler days, when they were big into Raffi to their teenage years spent idolizing Joe Strummer. This review is, in fact, significantly more concerned with how the name of the band is pronounced (I alternately envision the word ‘jail’ pronounced with a Southern drawl or a Jamaican saying ‘ja! ill!’) and the fact that one of the members is named Ryan Adams.

Regardless of influence, what sets this album (and any other) apart is what Jaill does differently from others who have come before. Sure, Jaill may not fully be the “psych-pop” band that they envision themselves to be, but they still know how to throw together some slick, catchy tunes. The guitar lick on the deliciously upbeat ‘Everyone is Hip’ is utterly irresistible. The sardonically titled ‘How’s the Grave?’ sports some quite fun guitar solos and ‘Baby I’, though a bit slower, has an equally catchy hook. Sure, ‘Snake Shakes,’ and ‘She’s My Baby” could have just as easily come from an early Shins album, but then again, you would never find Mercer and company crafting a song like ‘The Stroller,’ the most “psych-pop” song to be found here. The album does have a few duller moments, and it is clear that Jaill are at their best when they are rocking out, keeping things upbeat and tight, and surfing easily through pure pop riffs. Still, when all is said and done, That’s How We Burn would be a pleasant addition to any summer rotation.

-- Mark Waterman

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mystery Train: Requiem For A King

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It’s been 33 years since he died rather famously, the stuff of legend, at age 42.

I have met people that have never listened to Elvis. This astonishes me, though perhaps it shouldn’t; his music can seem dated today, his story told and re-told so many times it’s now less like a legend of rock ‘n’ roll than a tired old movie plot rehashed again and again. It becomes one of those snoozefest tales your dad tells you while he’s driving somewhere and you’re literally subject to his will and his memory, trapped as you are in the front passenger seat by a seatbelt and the car’s velocity.

But more than that, I have met people that have listened to Elvis and still never really heard him, never truly given his music that concerted listening it deserves. They admit his story and his influence, but for them his music moves no bones, stirs no heart. I get it. I feel the same about, say, Frank Sinatra. And it’s not that it is somehow wrong to have a deep love for rock ‘n’ roll music, or even the blues, without giving Elvis records a second listen; it’s just something you might want to consider, is all. He has a remarkable talent for saying beautifully simple things in an incredibly truthful way. I didn’t get it until I saw footage of Elvis live, namely his seminal 1973 performance in Hawaii. See below:

It’s easy to write him off as a stage presence only, a white-suited caricature of a pop star swallowed alive by his own fame. But watch closely -- he is a presence, but that’s entirely part of why he was, and is, so captivating live. Swinging hips, the gospel choir, and his classic snarl are essential here, but it’s also clear how much he means every word he sings. Nobody has vocal pitch that perfect while fighting addiction and inner demons and a crushing fame and performing live in front of a mammoth audience, unless they mean every word they’re singing. This is real gospel.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Top 30 Albums of the Week

1 BIG BOI Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty
3 BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE Forgiveness Rock Record
4 CEO White Magic
7 WAVVES King Of The Beach
8 BAND OF HORSES Infinite Arms
11 TAME IMPALA Innerspeaker
14 SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS Disconnect From Desire
15 IVY WALLS The Elegant Universe
16 PAPER TIGER Made Like Us
17 BLUE GIANT Blue Giant
19 STILL FLYIN' A Party In Motion [EP]
21 JAILL That's How We Burn
22 DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. Horse Power [EP]
25 UFFIE Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans
26 EL-P Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3
27 SUCKERS Wild Smile
28 DAN SARTAIN Dan Sartain Lives
30 BOOKS The Way Out