...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

I'm still recovering from my weekend, what with all the SoCo-sponsored libations in the hot hot sun that set off other fun and unexpected happenings (like my rookie winning streak at the Klacker dice game, netting me a championship $7 --seven dollars!!-- all in singles). Incidentally the SoCo also improved both my Cornhole game and my Rock Band skills (oh! doubtful!!).

Here are a handful of new songs I've been digging lately, the first two from bands I saw this weekend:

Eagle Seagull
This was the first thing I heard coming into the festival Saturday, and I was impressed with the soaring, rich layers of melody and caught by the singer's voice. Eagle Seagull are from Nebraska, and something has been made of them sharing the same "scene" as fellow Cornhuskers like Bright Eyes or Tilly And The Wall, but I frankly hear more similarity to British bands like The Cure. In fact, I incorrectly thought they were from England, and that I'd caught a hint of accent there. I especially enjoyed watching their cool-as-ice violinist play her minty green instrument with panache. This tune is from their 2004 debut Eagle*Seagull.

LSD (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds remix)
Bassnectar / Insane Bangers
I wrote some in the Paste article just how much I enjoyed the set by DJ Lorin Ashton, aka Bassnectar, an SF/Berkeley artist who I'd never had the thrill of seeing live before. He only played for an hour but I doubt there was a single person there who was not enjoying themselves, stretching that 60 minutes out into what seemed like much longer. Amidst all the flailing dancers, even this guy got into it (and he tried to dance with me but I didn't want to break him or anything; he looked brittle!):

Ah, Colorado. Anyways, this song was one of the crowd highlights of the set -- made better when combined with the delight that Ashton took in watching all of us as he recreated it with his laptops and turntables. I recommend an experience with Bassnectar when he comes through your town.

The Notwist
As previously mentioned on Fuel/Friends, German ambient-indie band The Notwist are finally giving us some new music, and the day is here (er, past). The Devil, You + Me was released June 16 on Domino Records, and I am loving its muted elegance, deceptively urgent percussion, and swirling overall presence. I'd wondered what they had been up to and according to a reader, they've been busy with side projects in between 2002's Neon Golden and the new album. They released an album with spoken-word/rapper Dose One as 13&god in 2005 and some members are also in the Munich band Lali Puna, who released their third album in 2004. But it's good to hear a full new Notwist album, and I think it will sound especially fitting once the summer heat dies and the crispness of autumn hits the wind.

Song For

There's a delicious thrum and counteractive pause on this song, almost like holding your breath -- an atmospheric sense of foreboding. Named for a small California town halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield (some hot fun to be had out there, let me tell you), Earlimart has been making oft-dreamy tunes for almost a decade. For this new record, the rotating cast of Earlimart whittled down to just Aaron Espinoza (him) and Ariana Murray (her), their graceful harmonies intertwining like a dance. Because of Espinoza's friendship with the late Elliott Smith, many comparisons will never cease, but he has acknowledged the ways that the friendship influenced his music -- here there might be something between the lines, a quality in the timbre and the breath. Hymn and Her is out tomorrow on Shout! Factory.

On My Mind
Irish band Romantica first blipped onto my radar with singer Ben Kyle's gorgeous duet with Ryan Adams when they opened for him on tour last Fall. A chance encounter with that cover on my iPod this weekend (and the consequential singing along in harmony all the rest of my day) sent me trawling to their MySpace to see what they are up to. On this song, I find the combination of his Irish lilt alongside a very American-heartland brand of music to be simply irresistible, as he sings typical lyrics of desperation and heartache like "You're too young to get married, honey, you ought to be sleeping around" (listen for that fantastic pronunciation of the final word). Their MySpace lists shared hometowns of Belfast and Minneapolis, and this song sings about MPLS locales like First Avenue with a charming brogue. I'm just getting into their 2004 album It's Your Weakness That I Want, and you can catch them all this week at Summerfest (4 shows?) if you're a Milwaukee type.

Also folks . . . it's a time of change around these parts -- I start a new job tomorrow, among other major shifts. Wish me luck! Also, go download "Mover," a new b-side from The Verve for free this week on their site. It's a big song.

[top image credit orange32]

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Gnarls Barkley cover Violent Femmes in Denver

Under the July sunshine, the SoCo Music Experience took over an open-air lot outside Coors Field in Denver on Saturday. The free festival drew thousands of Denverites for sunshine, interactive games, booths, and of course, the free music...

Read my full review here, in Paste Magazine online.

Gone Daddy Gone (Violent Femmes cover) - Gnarls Barkley, and then the Violent Femmes return the favor; stream it here.

Julio's great festival pics are here, and my rather decent by comparison pics are here. Oh, how I need a fancy camera with a zooooom lens.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

From the vaults: The Stones & Papa John Phillips

Previously on Fuel/Friends, we talked a bit about the cool sessions that Mick Jagger recorded with John Lennon during the so-called "Lost Weekend." Another interesting moment in Stones-related history comes out of their eponymous record label which was launched in 1976. The first solo artist signed to the imprint was Papa John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.

Recording sessions grew out of a conversation that Phillips had with Jagger during a long weekend of cricket matches in Old Trafford, England in late summer 1976. Back at their hotel, Phillips took out his guitar and showed Jagger some of the material he had been working on. “You really ought to do an album with all these tunes, man,” Jagger said, “They’re great.” Phillips replied, “I’ll make you a deal – if you produce it, I’ll record it.” It was agreed that they would start recording the following week.

Phillips had initially thought Jagger was joking, but 10 days later they were together at Olympic Sound Studios in London with Jagger producing a first track. Among the musicians present were Ron Wood on bass, Mick Taylor and Keith Richards on guitar, and Jagger himself on backing vocals. There was a great synergy present at the sessions, perhaps partly traceable to the fact that Keith Richards had been living with Phillips since earlier that year, and John said that the two would “jam for hours in the upstairs loft, mostly country and blues classics.”

I have this rough recording of a version of Phillips' song, "Oh Virginia," which clearly features Jagger's unmistakable yowl. This is probably from those sessions, although thanks to the mislabeling power of the internet, I can't say for sure. Either way it's a rolling, charming ode to the South that gives us a taste of those ten days in London.

Oh Virginia (studio bootleg) - John Phillips & Mick Jagger

After 30+ years, Varese Vintage Records is re-releasing the recently-located original '70s mix of the album they recorded together, called Pussycat. The release will also include newly-discovered outtakes and material from Phillips' sessions that same year for the soundtrack for the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, featuring David Bowie (but really, could it possibly be better than this?).

Pussycat will be released September 9th.
Listen to a sample of the album here.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Saturday, Saturday, SATURDAY!

(you gotta say that like you are at a monster truck rally):

I'll be covering the Southern Comfort Music Experience: Denver for Paste Magazine. Admission is free, it's at Coors Field starting at 2pm, and SoCo and I concur that you should come on out.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

cut out all the ropes and let me fall

Absolutely jawdropping. This made the back of my scalp feel hot and tingly when I watched it, and the breakdown at the end always stabs me full in the gut.

The whole Blogotheque/Take Away Shows session with Bon Iver is definitely worth some of your time today. Bon Iver plays Outside Lands in August.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free Hold Steady show in Boston tomorrow

While we wait for Stay Positive to fully unleash upon the masses, Miller Lite and Going.com are bringing Bostonians a free show with The Hold Steady tomorrow (Thursday) at The Paradise.

You gotta dance with who you came to dance with, and also you gotta RSVP here: going.com/theholdsteady

Opening act is Boston's own Aberdeen City. Show at 8pm, 21+. If past performance is any indication of future results, it just might be a massive night.

Massive Nights - The Hold Steady

(man I love that song).


Neil Halstead and a new vinyl giveway from Brushfire Records

British musician Neil Halstead has produced some lovely, starry-night music in his years of tunes; with Slowdive, with Mojave 3, and solo. The first time I probably heard him was on a surf movie soundtrack, or something that conjures up a sparkling ocean in my mind. It's gorgeous, melancholy, sleepwalking music with a strong support of melody holding it up from slogging around in the dreamland.

This song is the first listen from his forthcoming Oh! Mighty Engine album (out July 29th on Brushfire). He sings, "I just want to live somewhere where the air is sweet and clear," and this sounds like it will be the perfect accompaniment when he does get there.

Paint A Face - Neil Halstead

This song is also the lead-off track on the newest contest item I have for your winning: Brushfire has supplied me with two 12" vinyl samplers left from the festivities of Record Store Day. It features eight songs from their artist roster --

Neil Halstead - Paint A Face
Mason Jennings - Something About Your Love
Jack Johnson - What You Thought You Need
Matt Costa - Never Looking Back
Money Mark - Summer Blue
G. Love and Special Sauce - Crumble
(from the new album Superhero Brother, out yesterday)
Zach Gill (of ALO) - Beautiful Reason (from unreleased new album Stuff, out July 29)
Christians In Black - Rogue Wave

Not a bad selection, there. I've got two to give away, leave me a comment if you would like to be entered for one of 'em. You can also buy the vinyl here if you don't win it. Neil Halstead will be the opening act for labelmate Jack Johnson in August from Toronto to Salt Lake, and then will be announcing a West Coast headlining tour soon.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ryan Auffenberg and the burnished glimmer of Marigolds

There's a desolate ache to the brand of dusty Americana that Ryan Auffenberg creates from his outpost in the busy heart of San Francisco. As the SF Weekly wrote, "sweet, rough, singer-songwriter kids like Ryan Auffenberg have a powerful animating force — they like to fuck around with folk, and they've got love songs to sing."

I called Ryan an artist to watch a few years ago after first hearing the gorgeously melancholy harmonies of "Under All The Bright Lights" and seeing him perform at Noise Pop 2007. Now signed to independent San Francisco label Evangeline Records (home of Chuck Prophet), Ryan is releasing his newest album Marigolds today. It was produced and mixed by former American Music Clubber Tim Mooney, and mastered by Matt Pence of Centro-matic.

There's a bittersweet molasses smoothness to Ryan's voice as it crests and burrows through his songs with a streak of the romantic west gleaming through. Whether plumbing the cold depths of loneliness in songs like "Deep Water" or driving a highway with the windows down amidst the bright Midwest jangle on the closing track "Alright, Okay," he urges us all to have some faith.

Alright, Okay - Ryan Auffenberg

Lay off the novocaine
'cause you've been asleep for days

it hurts but it'll go away

Almost the first of May
the San Francisco Bay's
all swollen up from last night's rain

So if you just come down
we'll get out of town

take a breath and drive all day . . .

Ryan took a few minutes to answer some questions for Fuel/Friends, since this is one artist whom I tend to get a lot of questions about, and who's been flying under the radar lately.


Q: You're from the Midwest but live in San Francisco. How does location and the mood of the city affect your songwriting, in contrast with the twang of your roots?

A: Some of the initial press about the album has played up my Midwestern "country" roots, which I think my St. Louis friends and family find amusing. While I never really considered St. Louis to be much of an epicenter for roots or "country" music, I did grow up 20 minutes away from Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar's hometown, so I guess there is a bit of that scene in my lineage. I remember listening to Uncle Tupelo when I was 11 or 12 years old and they were just a local band. They had a poster that said something like "Fourth best country band in St. Louis!"

While St. Louis does have a pretty auspicious musical heritage, especially in regards to blues and early rock 'n' roll, I would say that I identify much more with San Francisco as a place that has shaped my sensibilities as an artist. Cultural influences aside, I think my music is definitely affected by the atmosphere and climate of San Francisco. I live in a particularly foggy neighborhood, which I know has had a big effect on the mood of music I often write.

If you sit down to play some music and it's foggy outside, that's going to have an effect on what type of music you play. "Missouri in the Morning" is actually a song I wrote on a particularly foggy day when I was missing home and the blazing heat of the summer time. There's something really sensual about that kind of weather. I miss that out here.

What can you tell me about your songwriting process on Marigolds?

My songs usually seem to start out with chords and a melody. Once some sort of melody starts to take shape, I'll sing a bit of free-form nonsense along with the melody until an image pops out that I feel like I can run with. Once I've got those images then I'll start trying to weave some sort of narrative through lines into the song, and piece it all together.

What I find really fascinating about this process is that when I'm nearing completion of a song and take a step back, I often find that what I'd thought was simply some sort of free-association exercise has really turned into a means of expressing emotions or ideas that had been percolating for a while, but I hadn't quite figured out how to articulate them. Many of what I feel to be my most emotionally honest songs have come out of this process. Also, the writing always happens at different rates of speed. For instance, I wrote "Deep Water" and "Under All the Bright Lights" in about a half hour each respectively, whereas the song "Marigolds" took me six months to finish.

After your self-released first album Climb, your second album Golden Gate Park was never released and ultimately seems shelved for the time being. That seems to me to be a bit like the second part in a trilogy being missing. Any plans to revisit the songs on that album?

I would eventually like to release Golden Gate Park in its originally-intended album form. After recording it, I was looking for a label to help put some resources behind the release. So in the interim period, I took four of the songs off of the album, released them as The Bright Lights EP and held off on putting out the rest of that material.

When I was eventually approached by Evangeline, their original intention in making an album with me was to go back in a re-record those songs with a slightly different production approach. However, by that point in time I had already written a new album and expressed to them that I'd much rather make a new album than go back and revisit material I'd emotionally and creatively moved on from. I sent them demos for the songs on Marigolds and they signed off on the idea of making an album of all new material.

I am proud of Golden Gate Park though, and I would eventually like all of those songs to see the light of day, but for now
it's currently locked in the vault ("the vault" being my bedroom closet).

You've played shows with quite a variety of musicians, from Mark Kozelek to Laura Veirs to the Watson Twins. What other music has been influencing or astounding you lately?

I've been spending a lot of time listening to Neil Young. Tim Mooney (Marigolds producer) and I, aside from being musicians, are also pretty big music fans and would spend a lot of time in the studio just talking about records we loved. After the Goldrush was a recurring topic of conversation. We've actually been tooling around with a cover of "Tell Me Why" and may include that as a bonus track in some form or another sometime.

As far as new stuff, I've been enjoying the Bon Iver album a good bit lately. Flume, Skinny Love and Re: Stacks are all really beautiful tunes. Sun Kil Moon's "Lost Verses" off the new April album is the first song in a long time to give me that "lump in your throat" feeling.

Other newer stuff: Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a badass album. Britt Daniel crafts these incredibly lean and mean pop songs, and then they'll do these wild production things like making one tune sound like The Supremes, which seems like a pretty unique choice for a rock band to be making these days. Another thing about Britt that I love is his solo-ing style. Often times during solos, he intentionally plays all these wrong chords or notes and creates this really messy, dissonant, incredible sounding noise.

There's a moment at the end of "Interstate" (on Marigolds) that's sort of a mini-musical nod to Britt. I was overdubbing piano on the song and in the outro I just started banging on the piano, playing wrong notes while Tim messed with that fucked-up signal generator noise. Good fun indeed.

* * * * * *

Auffenberg's record release party is tonight at San Francisco's Cafe Du Nord. Head on out to support this talented artist; Willow Willow and Robert Francis open. Ryan also heads out on the road in July & August.

Marigolds is available today.

[portrait of Ryan credit Peter Ellenby]

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

Porca miseria! (That means pig misery. That's also exemplary of the reasons why Italian profanity is one of my interests). Italy lost to Spain yesterday in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals, despite the loudest cheers of my small viewing contingent. It's always agonizing and ultimately a bit unfulfilling to see big games come to penalty kicks, but Spain played exceptionally well and I can't begrudge them. Much.

And if you care not for soccer, you can walk away from that last paragraph with (at minimum) a great new Italian curse, suitable for work and use around your grandma. Pig misery!

Music this week --

Perfect Games
Broken West

Last time we heard from addictively delicious Los Angeles foursome The Broken West, they were topping all kinds of best-of lists in 2007 (including mine) with their album I Can't Go On, I'll Go On. The good news this week for fans of intelligent, robust, catchy-as-hell pop is that they are at it again. I absolutely love this song already, from the opening notes about spilling our ice cubes on the lawn, and the underlying sadness that subtly gnaws through the layers of memorable melody that I've been humming all day. Now or Heaven is due in September on Merge Records. [image from their recording sessions]

The Ground That We Stand On
Hawksley Workman
I got an important-looking courier package from Luxembourg this weekend, with Cartier listed as the sender. Diamonds? An exquisite watch? Nay -- instead of fancy jewelry, Cartier has lavished an eclectic sampler CD of music upon me. Heck, why not. They have a new campaign/website/charity thing called "How Far Would You Go For Love?" (second base?). Other contributing artists with original tunes include folks like Lou Reed, Grand National, Phoenix, Marion Cotillard (who won an Oscar for her role as Edith Piaf), and this Canadian artist Hawksley Workman. I'd never heard of him before but this was surprisingly my immediate favorite track on the comp, with a warm voice like Sea-Change Beck and wistful autumnal lyrics. Listen to this tune, like it, and then go download the other songs (for free!!) at Cartier's site.

Peace Like A River
(Paul Simon cover)

The folks over at Daytrotter recently posted a top-notch session with Spoon, and as those Daytrotter guys are so good at doing, they enticed Britt Daniel and Co to play a little gem of a rarity for us -- this time in the form of a sandpapered Paul Simon cover. Spoon often has such a cinematic, evocative quality to everything they lay hands upon. Here they take a tune which originally ebbs with Paul Simon's smoothness wafting in the air tonight, and push it a bit more ragged and on-the-edge, making the song simmer with a touch of pounding mania. As for an album link, how about the new reissue of Spoon's 1998 album A Series of Sneaks on 180-gram vinyl? Yeah.

Divine Hammer (Breeders cover)
The Modifiers
Kim Deal is the bass player for The Pixies, and co-founder of The Breeders with her twin sister Kelley Deal and Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly. Deal is a formidable musical force whose creativity and innovative songwriting spirit is celebrated on a new tribute album from the excellent little American Laundromat Records. Songs of Deal's from her time with The Breeders and The Amps are covered by a wide variety of backyard indie bands of all stripes (The Modifiers are from Boston, but the rest of the featured bands are from all over). The liner notes are by Donelly, and the whole thing was mastered by Sean Glonek (who's worked with her ex, Frank Black). Gigantic is available now for your rocking out this summer, and if you order it from the label, they promise to ply you with "buttons, stickers, and other goodies with each order." I can vouch for their largesse.

Play Your Part (Pt. 1)
Girl Talk
An ambush addition to this week's roundup, Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) popped in out of nowhere last week with a brand new album of schizophrenic, mile-a-minute sampling. Feed The Animals is out on his Illegal Art imprint and is another pay-what-you-want deal (but if you pay $0.00 you have to explai yourself, apparently). So come on - this song samples Temple of the Dog, Sinead O'Connor AND UGK's "International Player's Anthem"?! It's akin to the way my brain plays music snippets all right on top of one another when I flip through a really eclectic jukebox in a bar after drinking a few. It feels like that; disorienting but so nice. Girl Talk hits Colorado July 11th at the Fox Theatre in Boulder (for what is sure to be an insane show), and the album will see a physical release on 9/23.

[top image obv credit Getty Images]

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New bands added to San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival in August

It's looking like the next festival on the Fuel/Friends docket is the inaugural Outside Lands Art & Music Festival at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in August. As a native from the Bay Area, I am looking forward to returning for a festival of this magnitude, quality, and scenic placement (akin to Treasure Island in terms of taking advantage of the local environment).

Check the full lineup, with some new additions announced today (and relevant links to Fuel/Friends content to entertain you while my server is down and Monday Music Roundups languish):


*FRIDAY AUGUST 22* (starts 5pm)
Manu Chao
The Black Keys
Cold War Kids
Steel Pulse
Black Mountain
The Felice Brothers
Howlin Rain
The Dynamites

*SATURDAY AUGUST 23* (starts 1pm)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
Steve Winwood
Lupe Fiasco
Café Tacvba (so much fun at Coachella)
Regina Spektor
Galactic's Crescent City Soul Krewe feat. Dirty Dozen Horns
M. Ward
Devendra Banhart
Matt Nathanson (always a riot)
Two Gallants
Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet feat. Bela Fleck
The Walkmen
Kaki King
The Coup (these guys blew me away in 07)
Donavon Frankenreiter
Nellie McKay
Sean Hayes
Rupa & The April Fishes
Everest (hot tip!)

*SUNDAY AUGUST 24* (starts 1pm)
Jack Johnson
Widespread Panic
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Broken Social Scene
Andrew Bird
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Drive-By Truckers
Toots & the Maytals
Rogue Wave
Jackie Greene
Mike Gordan
The Cool Kids
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Little Brother
Bon Iver
The Mother Hips
Nicole Atkins & The Sea
Back Door Slam
Culver City Dub Collective

Tickets are on-sale now (single day or 3-day passes). This one won't have camping, but I'm stoked to festivate again!


A song from WAY before he was born

Last night in DC, Pearl Jam brought a kid from the front row up on stage to play Ed's guitar on "All Along The Watchtower" (assumedly so Ed could be free to ricochet about the stage with his tambourines). I'd say that could be a fairly memorable moment in a kid's musical shaping -- and much cooler than anything I did at 13. Oh wait, or since.

No audio from last night's set, but this live version of Watchtower from San Francisco in 2006 is still one of my favorites ("And I'm not sure why but this feels like a San Francisco song, and uh, I think we're gonna play the shit out of it."):

All Along The Watchtower (live in SF 7-18-06) - Pearl Jam

The picture above was taken coincidentally by my pal Rob, who got in touch with me after I posted that Counting Crows live show in Boulder from 1993. After all those teenage years of mine listening to that boot on cassette, I find that Rob is the one who taped it. Small world. Thanks for the pic, Rob!

UPDATE: Rob is traveling to these shows with his friend Zack, who's writing a Pearl Jam tour blog for SPIN Magazine. Check out Off He Goes: On The Road With Pearl Jam.


New from the Verve: Love is Noise (official stream)

A first listen to the official studio version of that song I first saw performed at Coachella . . .

STREAM: Love Is Noise

The single is to be released August 4th on Parlophone, and the first new Verve album in 11 years will be out on August 19th (which is, incidentally, my birthday. Thanks R-Ash!).


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Port O'Brien: All we could do was sing

Port O'Brien is a nautically-named collective of five musicians based out of the California port city of Oakland, the neighbor across the bay from San Francisco. Their songs are mostly written by lady baker Cambria Goodwin and her commercial salmon-fisherman boyfriend Van Pierszalowski. Their self-released 2008 album All We Could Do Was Sing contains one of the most vibrant tunes of this year (and hey, M. Ward agrees):

I Woke Up Today - Port O'Brien

Part of the reason this song hit me so viscerally is due to the first time I saw it performed live. This February I was out in San Francisco to cover the Noise Pop Festival. Every event all weekend long had about twelve good artists on the bill, including a happy hour at the Diesel Store on Post Street.

So maybe we can call it the four free vodka/fruity concoction dealies that the excellent amateur bartender made for me amidst the overpriced denim, but the spirit in the air when Port O'Brien kicked into their free set was nothing less than jubilant. I would even call it riotous as people sang along, the percussion beat at full-force, and the vocals keeled into an almost war chant.

That mood of spur-of-the-moment explosion served the song better than cutesy sailing videos, in my opinion, because it's a song that feels chaotic and wonderful - akin to this session that my Blogotheque peeps captured a few weeks after I caught the Port O'Brien set in SF:

Check out All We Could Do Was Sing, which was recorded at John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone Studios -- the same ground where folks like Sun Kil Moon, the Mountain Goats, and Death Cab for Cutie have also done their musical thing. The band describes their album as "lush string arrangements, raw electric guitar, percussive banjo, pots + pans, a tight rhythm section, group chants and screaming . . . with a diverse, but cohesive feel."

They're playing tomorrow night (June 23) in Boulder Creek, California, with none other than Black Francis of the Pixies (who has that new EP). Folks closer to these Rocky Mountain climes can catch Port O'Brien on Saturday afternoon at Monolith this September.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Black Francis may or may not have seven fingers on his right hand

"I was born with seven fingers and seven toes, in my dark face sadness always shows," claims the thumping, thrumming acousto-punk title track from the new Black Francis EP/mini-album, Svn Fngrs. This little collection of seven songs was recorded in seven days, and is a tasty, tasty return to classic form for the former frontman for The Pixies.

The title track is only one minute and forty seven seconds long, but it is addictively refreshing. Black Francis sings, "But tonight I'll be with you, and in the morning when we're through, please know that you have helped me with my pain." Tunes like this'll numb it for me too -- it makes me feel as happy as I did that summer when I was 14 and listened to the Violent Femmes on cassette all through June and July. Each of the songs in the mini-LP forays into different musical ground, from Pixies-worthy fuzz-rock with those strong melodies ("Garbage Heap") to the chugging-at-the-gate serration of "I Sent Away" with its near-apocalyptic overtones.

Svn Fngrs (take out the vowels -- like Pig Latin, only harder to type) is out now from Cooking Vinyl; Black Francis is touring to show it off in your town.

Seven Fingers - Black Francis

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Welcome, summer

Ten tunes for this first day of summer 2008:

Girls In Their Summer Clothes (winter mix) - Bruce Springsteen
California (Phantom Planet cover) - Mates of State
Constructive Summer (live at Non-Comm) - Hold Steady
It's Your Thing - Isley Brothers (this cut from Out of Sight)
Electric Music and the Summer People - Beck
Sunshine (Jonathan Edwards cover) - Paul Westerberg
Summersong - The Decemberists
Burned (Buffalo Springfield cover) - Wilco
Summer In The City - Regina Spektor
Nightswimming - R.E.M.

Check out the corresponding selections at Some Velvet Blog and The Late Greats as well -- and choose your own summer adventure.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Using all the colors :: Frightened Rabbit interview

In the short time I've been listening to Scotland's Frightened Rabbit, something in their music has hit me hard. Their latest album Midnight Organ Fight has been more or less on constant repeat and haven't even come close to getting tired of it. You can read all about it here.

Scott Hutchison formed the band with his brother Grant (who is an insanely ferocious and passionate drummer) in 2004. I was curious to learn more about the person largely behind these gorgeous songs, so Scott and I sat in a Denver parking lot in the deepening twilight this past weekend and talked a bit more about the emotional core of the record, the songwriting, and the production that Peter Katis (The National) brought to it.

They are Frightened Rabbit, they are on tour in the US, and yes, they are happy to meet you.


On Midnight Organ Fight you sing about working on erasing someone but lacking the proper tools. It seems that many of your songs on the record are a sort of catharsis, or a tool for working through a difficult situation, but at the same time, a constant reminder of some pretty rough times. Is that ever a difficult dichotomy?

Well, during that part of my life, that relationship and that situation was a really major part that wasn’t going to go away anyways, so I didn’t really see the songwriting as therapy or anything like that. It was just the most important thing that was going on at that point in time, and the only thing I really cared enough about to write about.

And now, each time I sing the songs I definitely think about that time just naturally, like imagery pops into my head, but the whole thing’s not hard anymore. Performing them every night definitely takes some of the edges off of it, but you still have to transpose whatever energy or emotion you’re feeling that day into those songs when you perform them. When the record was recorded it was still pretty fresh. It’s not really anymore. I’m really concentrating on different things when I’m doing it live, like playing it well, and getting energy into it.

I know as a writer that there is some sense of fulfillment when you can string together words that perfectly pierce the gut of what you are trying to express. All of the lyrics on the new album are extremely rich, but do you have any personal, small favorites?

Yeah, I really like the whole of the song “Poke.” I feel like something definitely happened with that one whereby I was able to exactly compartmentalize one particular time in my life – something about it, I don’t really know exactly what. I summed something up perfectly in that song, I really like the line about tying a navy knot, just how two people can be interlaced like rope:

"You should look through some old photos
I adored you in every one of those
If someone took a picture of us now they'd need to be told
That we had ever clung and tied a navy knot with arms at night
. . . I'd say she was his sister but she doesn't have his nose"

And then I also like the line about “I might never catch a mouse and present it in my mouth / To make you feel you're with someone who deserves to be with you.” There is a sense of compressing three years of worry on my part into that one line. Those words kind of appeared from nowhere.

But I don’t usually write in the moment or at the time of feeling, I usually write after the fact so that I can them almost fictionalize events and distance myself from them slightly. I’ve always thought that there’s one thing to be personal in a song, but then you’re really a fine line away from being selfish if you’re not externalizing it so other people be invited into your songs. I hopefully try and write so that there’s enough vagueness so that the emotion is specific, but the personal is not specifically mine anymore. People can attach their own emotions onto my songs, and I can let the songs go.

That must be kinda difficult to balance, because the emotion all by itself means less without any details or context.

Yeah. Of course, people close to me are well aware of lines meaning really specific things, which is fine, but I think the metaphors used are still idiosyncratic enough that not everyone feels those things as intensely as I personally would. I mean, I think anyone can even take most of the songs on that record and just enjoy them as rock songs, it depends what frame of mind they’re in.

But I definitely do try and get as much out of each line of lyric as I possibly can. I don’t like throwaway lines in other people’s music. I tried to make the whole record and each line matter. That helps with what we were talking about before, to make the live delivery of each line as if it really matters.

My first introduction to your music was actually a YouTube video where you covered a bit of Fake Empire before My Backwards Walk. The National are a bit formidable to cover, not many bands have attempted that that I’m aware. What is your relationship with their music other than sharing a producer?

I came to that song before we worked with Peter and got to know the record and loved it. I’d heard The National in a bar in Glasgow, and that song definitely came at the same time as when I was writing and finalizing some of our songs on the record. When I first heard “Fake Empire” --on MySpace cheesily enough-- I don’t know, there’s something about it where I just visualized myself inside of that song during that time in my life.

The National have a way with lyrics; there’s a line with them so often that really hits you so directly, and there’s wit which I really appreciate as well. I’ve never met the band, although I’d love to, so I cover that song 100% from a fan perspective.

I love Peter Katis’ work with The National, and you’ve said that with Peter you knew there was a certain way the record was always going to sound. Can you tell me more about that? How did that working relationship come about?

I got mostly what I’d expected from working with Peter, I just really appreciate the atmospheric quality he brings to all his records. Up to that point our demos and our first EP had sounded very closed, not really big. I really wanted to achieve a grander scale with this record. There was a completeness to the whole album and to the writing process, and I didn’t want the power of that completeness to be brought down by the music not being sonically powerful enough.

So Peter brought a muscle, I would say, to the record. He approaches things in production from a more scientific perspective than I do, which is good. He has his tricks that he uses on all his records, but he was really clear about the fact that he wanted to make our record unlike most of the other records he’s produced, which are quite dark. We got to the point at the end of mixing where he felt that this should really not be a dark record, actually. Hopefully we kept the power and the muscle without turning into Interpol. I mean, I think there’s black imagery, but also a hopeful aspect to the songs.

I can definitely appreciate the grandness on this record – I mean, there’s a place for the intimacy of bedroom demos, but the atmosphere and the beautiful sonic feel of the album kinda lends itself to expanding into new emotional areas through that as well.

Yeah, see the beautiful thing about Boxer is that there is so much breathing space for people to jump into the record. You can visualize yourself in the record and in the room . . . they definitely have a great way of describing rooms as well. The whole record has so much space, you can absorb yourself in it.

One of the nicest things that Peter brought to our record, actually, was that pulling back sometimes and taking things out. In my demos I tend to be all about filling the whole thing in. When I was younger, my mom tells me that I would always want to color in the whole piece of paper, rather than just drawing a person and a house and leaving it at that. I would want to color in all the white space to the very edges. I think that’s something that’s still there in me, I like to use all my colors. But Peter was very good at trying to make space so that there wasn’t that overload.

Is there a certain song you can point to on the record where you feel he did that really well?

There’s one called “I Feel Better” that I think I could have really taken over the top, going for more of a Phil Spector feel. But with what Peter did with that song, I feel like he made a difference in it. It’s completely different from the demo.

How has the response been in this leg of the tour?

It’s been consistently good. I mean we knew people were enjoying the record and it was doing quite well, but you’re never really sure what to expect until you get in each city and meet people and get their reactions about the songs. It’s been really nice. People are excited to talk to us as well, which is kind of weird for us, they want to meet us and talk to us about how they came to the record and why they like it. People are really forthcoming and very honest, and so many people apologize for being weird about it and taking it to heart but hey, they’re in good company with us. Really a big part of coming over here has been meeting the people that have connected with the record.

Do you feel like it’s been a long journey for the band to get to this point?

It’s been a really nice, steady growth. There’s not been a point with this band since its inception where I’ve felt that we’re moving backwards at any point. That’s the whole motto of the band, as soon as we feel that we’re traveling backwards perhaps it’ll be time to shake things up. But as for now, we’re moving forward and I don’t have any other ambitions aside from that.

In terms of our records, I really don’t feel you should be producing your best work on your first record either, or even on your second for that matter. I would say that I am in fact prouder of our second record, as a fan of albums -- that’s definitely an album and not just a collection of songs. That first album was really written over a period of time when songwriting and playing music was more of a hobby to me so it’s more disparate. But this one is more a representation of me as a person, so I enjoy giving that to people more.


And giving to people from the depths of their gut is definitely what this band does superbly well. Later that night they blazed brilliantly through almost every song from Midnight Organ Fight, as well as several older ones from Sings The Greys (the chanting fraternal harmonies of "music now!" felt like a rebel yell). I think I felt walls shake at the Hi-Dive from the emotion reverberating through the near-capacity crowd. I doubt that I will see a better show this year.

Here's the video I shot of the Fake Empire/My Backwards Walk. Their agitated intensity seeps out of every part, and watch Grant on the drums. The way he can barely contain himself as the song winds to the place where he comes in mirrors the way I felt in watching this song come to life:

Frightened Rabbit is playing tonight at Holocene in Portland, and on Saturday all you San Franciscans should absolutely head out to see them at The Independent. More tour dates follow in the coming weeks; I strongly recommend going home with the albums, a handmade t-shirt (like I did -- thanks Steve!), and a renewed faith in the power of good songs and live music.

[My other pics from the show are here, and my creative friend Kate took some artsy shots which can be found on her Flickr]

UPDATE: I greatly enjoyed reading Daytrotter's piece with Scott, where he tells 5 things that inspired him in the past week.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The insurgency began and you missed it

R.E.M. had a little help tonight at their encore in Philly; Eddie Vedder joined them (and Johnny Marr) onstage to sing the excellent "Begin the Begin." So many great shows happening from both artists lately, to see them together would be astounding. Until video surfaces (edit: here), I'm gonna have to imagine it went something like this:

[video from 2004, the mutual admiration society continues]

UPDATE: mp3 from last night!
Begin the Begin (live in Philly 6/18/08) - R.E.M. and Eddie Vedder

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Monday night: Coldplay at Brixton Academy

On Monday night, the eve of the North American release date for their new album, Coldplay performed a free concert at Brixton Academy in London which was broadcast on Radio 1. They performed seven of their new songs off Viva La Vida (whilst getting good art into the collective public consciousness). Many of the new songs seem to possess a sweet air to them, unvarnished but still epic in this setting. Have a listen:

Live at Brixton Academy 6/16/08
Life in Technicolour
Violet Hill
In My Place
Viva la Vida
Chinese Sleep Chant
God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
Square One
Strawberry Swing
Death Will Never Conquer (The Goldrush cover)
Fix You
Lovers in Japan


And is it just me or does Chris Martin move more and more like Bono every day, especially in that iTunes commercial? Yeah.

[photos credit Jeff Galasso]


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kings of Leon wrap 4th album

The June 12 issue of Rolling Stone carries a bit of welcome news from news from Fuel/Friends favorite sons Kings of Leon: they've been drinking, and they just wrapped their fourth album. Only By The Night will be released September 23rd on RCA Records. It was recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, TN, and was produced by Angelo Petraglia, Jacquire King and Kings of Leon.

If you don't have supersonic vision (I do) the article reads:

"'I know I sound like a fucking cock right now,' says Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, 'But this is the first time I've really been proud of myself track for track.' After a grueling 2007 tour, and Caleb's recent surgery to repair his arm after a fistfight with brother Nathan ('Nathan won'), the Kings planned to take a well-deserved break. But when we called them, they were at Nashville's Blackbird Studio, wrapping their fourth disc, out in September.

Three days after his surgery, Caleb says he removed his arm from a sling and began writing. 'I don't know if it was the pills or what, but the melodies were so much stronger than anything I've ever done - it's just really beautiful songs.' In addition to the pills, the band members say they drank all day to fuel songs like 'Cold Desert' and 'Crawl.' (In the latter, Caleb touches on politics: 'Let's just say that Sean Penn is gonna like us more,' he says).

'We had to get drunk because we all have girlfriends to go home and deal with,' he says, before passing the phone to drummer Nathan, who adds, 'Caleb just blew a 1.2 on the Breathalyzer we have here.'

JANUARY 9, 2008
Black Thumbnail
Taper Jean Girl
King of the Rodeo
My Party
Holy Roller Novocaine
The Bucket
On Call
Molly's Chambers
Spiral Staircase


[photo from Monolith 2007]


Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

Well, the mercury finally crested the mid-80s mark this weekend, just in time for Father's Day BBQs. I was laughing out loud on a hot Saturday as I discovered the fabulous Tremble.com blog and read his post about the first bare-chested male subway rider signifying that summer is truly here, like a red-breasted robin announcing the spring. Tell me, where else on the web can you read a recounting of a story that includes the sentence: "Say how would you like to get your dance card punched by [fists] Savion Glover and Alfonso Ribeiro? Let's bring in the noise as well as the funk, except with punches and kicks to the face and kidneys." It's terrifically funny reading.

Heck, no bare-chested, bleeding males 'round these parts lately, but some excellent new tunes can be considered almost as good...

The Old Days
Dr. Dog

This song feels eminently summery to me, a shiny new one from Philly's excellent Dr. Dog (still not the children's book). We've got banjos and sparkling vocals here, all swelling into a Nilsson-worthy symphony. The folks at FADER have seen Dr Dog perform much of their new material live, and wrote that "every new song they played was wilder, thicker, more willing to chop up the jam into smaller jam particles that smash into each other to create a wormhole directly to the best summer of your life." Can't complain. Fate is out July 22 on Park The Van -- and make sure to catch Dr. Dog on a crazy amount of tour dates in the coming months, including a roll through Denver's Hi-Dive September 27th.

A Change Is Gonna Come
Ben Sollee

I recently had an intensely-defended (and possibly liquor fueled) argument while in Washington DC about which version of this song was the best, Sam Cooke's silky original or Otis Redding's howling soul-filled cover. Now this goes and adds a new facet to the discussion. Ben Sollee is a white guy from Kentucky who takes a wholly good-natured, spirited stab at this formidable song -- and unfortunately leaves me cold. I've written before that Otis' version (the side I argued) "fairly drips with aching as [he] sings about the thick swelter of racial oppression in the South. You can almost feel and see the tension, like heat rising up off the August sidewalks." On the other hand, this sounds like a pleasant skip through the daisies. Sollee is a talented guy though, and I really do like the sweetly dusty acoustic soul in the other tracks I've heard off his Learning to Bend (out last week on SonaBLAST! Records).

My Drive Thru

In this golden age of media tie-ins, a shoe company commissions an original song bringing together three artists we like: Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Brooklyn glitter girl Santogold, and Pharrell project N.E.R.D. Whew. Quite the mouthful of folks involved, but I think this works surprisingly well from the opening bell peals, largely because of Pharrell's funky production and golden touch. I enjoy hearing Casablancas' drawl over the top of such a dance-ready beat. Santogold says that "working across musical genres was like creating a patchwork where I got to weave together various influences and allow them to co-exist in a fresh and original way." Now what to do about the Kurt Cobain Chucks?

Bargain of the Century
(song removed, stream it here)
Albert Hammond Jr

And while we're on the topic of "projects that take away from precious time the Strokes could be spending making new music for us," let's also broach the new songs from Albert Hammond Jr that have made their way onto the interwebs in recent weeks. This cut starts with a bit more aggressive drumming than the lackadaisical start of "GfC," but really, we keep ending up in the same hammock with Al, wine glass on our chest, unable to move with any real gusto in the summer heat. Sounds like we may be in for another collection of laid-back retro-pop melodies with this one. Incidentally I wore my AHJr shirt out to breakfast on Saturday morning (okay, so maybe I'd also slept in it) and I actually got a nod from the IHOP waitress about Al's new album. I was mostly just excited to find out that I am not the only person in Colorado Springs who would know what that three-bunny silhouette meant. Hammond's second solo album Como Te Llama is out July 7 on Scratchie.

Soul and Fire (acoustic demo)

Not to be confused with that anthemic "Soul on Fire" from Spiritualized that I posted last week (and cannot stop singing out loud), this demo is the closing track on Sebadoh's 15-year reissue of their seminal Bubble and Scrape. The double-disc opens with the original, and closes with this small and humble demo, which sounds like it was recorded at the kitchen table of a mountain cabin, while waiting for water to boil or for snow to quietly stop falling. Barely two minutes, this demo is much less heartless than the album version, as it wanders through thoughts like, "If you walk away we may never meet again," and aches to a close with a phrase that sits on my chest: "Call me if you ever want to start again." The reissue is out July 8th on Domino/Sub Pop, and Sebadoh will be performing the album in full at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this July.

[top image via]

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