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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'll be satisfied this week with just a Little Joy

I've completely fallen for the short and sweet debut album from L.A. trio Little Joy, who hit Denver's Larimer Lounge on Tuesday night. After a chance meeting at a Portuguese music festival, Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Brazilian musician Rodrigo Amarante (Los Hermanos) sat beside a river and talked about their musical leanings. Upon returning to Los Angeles, they formed this trio along with local musician Binki Shapiro. The three moved into an Echo Park house, starting recording demos, and named their project for the cocktail lounge down the street.

Like a Shirley Temple, there's an innocence from another era captured here, but also a hearty dose of more modern sounds cultivated in both garages and bossa nova clubs. The sum effect feels like someone took a band like the Strokes (no denying -- Amarante often sounds delightfully like Casablancas, at the peak of his lazy lounge-singing), plunked them down in some post-war era American nightclub in Rio de Janiero, and gave them a regular gig on Tuesday nights. That's how this fantastic album feels - without pretense, eclectic, wistful . . . but music you can dance to.

How To Hang A Warhol - Little Joy

The singing occasionally lapses into Portuguese, the vocalists croon while the backup singers shoo-wop in Motown moments. The music clatters and sways with Latin influences and island ukuleles. Some of the slower songs --especially the ones fronted by Binki and her charmingly honest voice (listen: "Don't Watch Me Dancing")-- sound like the perfect soundtrack to a Technicolor 8mm film projecting in slow motion. Or maybe something I want to listen to on a sticky-humid night, unable to sleep in hotel sheets, while watching the ceiling fan lazily spin and waiting for an ocean breeze through the open window.

Of all the side projects of Strokes members, this one checks in tops with me because there is an almost-kitschy but genuine joie de vivre captured in these thirty minutes. As Moretti said when asked about how this project came to be, he replied that "We weren't doing it for the sake of doing it; we were doing it for the love of doing it." And you can tell.

Little Joy is out now on Rough Trade Records, and you should really go see them in the coming weeks if you live in any of these West Coast cities. Me, I'll be there with bells on Tuesday night in Denver.

[top photo credit the awesome Autumn de Wilde]

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fuel/Friends is three!

Hey guys, remember that time my blog hit the third birthday mark and I didn't notice? Last week marked three years of Fuel/Friends' existence, and in those thousand-plus days we have had a lot of fun.

As I say continually and every year around this time, I am humbled that you stop by to see what I am listening to or reading or exploring, and it has been my distinct pleasure to unearth some sonic gems for your enrichment and mine.

In keeping with tradition, here are twenty songs from Year 3 that have been high on my list of radness and worth parading past one more time as we embark on our fourth year. As I began going through my monthly archives I thought the culling might be difficult, but as always, several effortlessly effervesced to the top, and this is a list I feel great about.

Make sure that you didn't miss these the first time around; burn yourself a CD with these twenty, and let's celebrate another year.

One Crowded Hour (with orchestra) - Augie March
A few days into Fuel/Friends Year 3, I posted a gorgeous set from melodic and wistful Australians Augie March, playing a set with a full orchestra. I wrote, "Already literate and lavish, their songs become absolutely something else in this setting. 'One Crowded Hour' makes me want to climb inside of it even more than before. What an elegant, evocative, soaring song." Some of the best lyrics of the year, too. [Nov 23, 2007]

Frankie's Gun - Felice Brothers
Even now, every single time the wheezy opening notes of this song cue up, a wide smile spreads across my face. The Felice Brothers are from the Catskills in NY, and there's a raw and unfinished sound to their storytelling brand of folk-americana. I wrote that "as you sit with them, the colors of their music start to come out in a warm rich burn, like a campfire at 2am. Very few artists write stories like this anymore, except for folks like Ray LaMontagne or the Hold Steady, in very different-sounding ways. Their vivid music is populated by characters with names like Long-Legged Brenda, and take the listener along on all kinds of wild narratives that echo Dylan in their complexity and seeming unsingability." I absolutely adore this song; seeing them do it live in SF was a highlight of my summer. [Jan 18, 2008]

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Oh, Nick Cave had me wrapped around his finger this year. After seeing him throw down the rock 'n' roll fire and brimstone in September, I have been converted on a religious-fanatic level. This ace song is a "danceable apocalpyse," and in order to properly appreciate it, you simply must watch the music video. HOW does he do that? Nick Cave is the most effortlessly cool mofo in music today (and for the last thirty years). [Jan 21, 2008]

Nothing - The Hands
The Hands are from the Pacific Northwest, and there's something "slightly off and unnerving in the melody and rhythm here -- just a half-second syncopated, or too fast. Either way, it feels like about seven cups of coffee in the morning: all jittery and yowling, but anchored by a classic rockin' feel with those dead-ringer Jaggeresque vocals. I want to keep replaying the opening notes to figure out what's going on there in those first thirty seconds." [Jan 28, 2008]

Monk Chant - The Monks
A recommendation from a friend sent me on a historical dig into the music of The Monks from the mid-'60s, American G.I.s stationed in Germany whose sound was leagues ahead of the era and laid the groundwork for the punk and rock I love today. "There's an urgency and an animal primacy to the music that belies the sweaters and the bobby socks of 1965," and this crazy tribal chant and electric feedback swamp gets my blood running hot. [Jan 31, 2008]

You Left The Water Running - Otis Redding
One of my favorite dork-concept mixes this past year was loosely based around a kids book called That's Dangerous!, and following the model of the book, I soundtracked all sorts of bad ideas and the grown-up trouble we can get ourselves into. I wasn't familiar with this Otis Redding song before, but from the opening countdown and that bewitching thump of melody, this soulful burner is one of my favorites to sing along with when I feel that somebody done me wrong.
[Feb 2, 2008]

Grounds for Divorce - Elbow
I was recently reacquainted with this fabulous song from Manchester rockers Elbow that starts off as a subdued tale about "working on a cocktail called Grounds For Divorce," then explodes into "a haunting, gospelly blues track with a guttural punch and stomp." I love being surprised by the way it shimmers with almost-glam overtones. [Feb 11, 2008]

Rat Within The Grain (b-side) - Damien Rice
One day before leap year, I posted one of the best songs Damien Rice has written, overlooked by the world as a b-side but amazingly piercing and terribly sad, soaked in a wistful bitterness. An intensely personal song for me, it "gouges pretty harshly at the softest parts of my insides, as his jaded self-contempt seeps into the tender, almost-hidden professions of a maybe hopeless kind of love. In one long sentence, he goes from wanting to keep her at arm's length because he knows that parts of him are a turbulent ocean, and wanting so much to be wonderful in her eyes." [Feb 28, 2008]

Circus of Horror - Quiet Village
"Sometimes a song sneaks up on you and surprises you with the way it insinuates entire cinescapes in your mind. That picture above belongs with another film, but it is a vague representation of the colors, the era, the intrigue that this song (by Quiet Village) conjures up for me. This seems a perfect soundtrack to a forgotten '60s Italian spy movie -- a little campy but sleek, ready for some fast driving down narrow cobbled streets. Or perhaps you can hear a change of locales with a dash of cool saunter down the Miami waterline, scoping out the sinister antagonist." [April 17, 2008]

Lovely Allen - Holy Fuck
This was the year I finally discovered Coachella for myself, and one of the live highlights was seeing Toronto's Holy Fuck create this song urgent and perfect inside one of the shady tents. "My mind was sent reeling by their brand of lo-fi improvisational electronica, which was anything but sterile. Watching them pour their hearts into their music, doubled over their machines, radiating intensity -- and then hearing the warmly soaring sounds that emerge -- made me reconsider what's possible with that genre." They closed their set with this marvelous song, and "I know it sounds a bit hyperbolic, but for those final five minutes my soul levitated a little."
[May 4, 2008]

The Only Moment We Were Alone (live in SF) - Explosions In The Sky
This was also the year I first heard Austin, Texas' Explosions In The Sky, a band that "tells amazing stories through songs which happen to lack words." A live recording of their epic show in SF conjured up a half-dreamt vignette in my mind that is still one of my favorite things I wrote this year. Maybe the earth is not a cold, dead place after all. [May 6, 2008]

Gratification To Concrete - Robert Pollard
Former Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard made huge waves in my kiddie pool at the beginning of summer with this "monster jam of a summer pop song." I'm still not sick of this, two seasons later. I originally cautioned that "this will work best if you don't try to understand Pollard's lyrics but just enjoy the crunchy riffs at play." 'Bout time concrete got some gratification. [May 12, 2008]

Soul on Fire - Spiritualized
"This back-with-a-vengeance song from seminal British space rock/shoegaze '90s band Spiritualized starts gently over an intimate acoustic strum, with lyrics about being born on a black day shot through with starlight. But before the first minute passes, all the strings swell and rise together and there's a hurricane in your veins. It's terrifically stirring yet somehow comforting, as if I've heard it a thousand times before and want to be a part of it. It's a tour-bus singalong, it's a gospel choir, it's a ballad just for me." [June 9, 2008]

Seven Fingers - Black Francis
"'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 Black Francis; a tasty return to classic form for the former frontman for The Pixies. It's only one minute and forty seven seconds long, but it is addictively refreshing as he sings, '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 nonstop through June and July." [June 21, 2008]

I Woke Up Today - Port O'Brien
This tune from Oakland's Port O'Brien is easily one of the most vibrant tunes of my aural year. When I saw it performed without amplification in an SF Diesel Store happy hour in February, "the spirit in the air 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 was fitting because it's a song that feels chaotic and wonderful." [June 22, 2008]

No Water - Hearts of Palm
Since I first posted this superb song in preview of the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase this summer, I've seen it performed live by Hearts of Palm approximately seventeen times in various venues throughout Denver -- and it's always a fantastic uprising of crowd participation. It makes me puff up inside to hear the momentum behind the song, the way everyone sings along above that bouncy bassline, and "how enthusiastically the band gives back to us all." They always perform with joy, and this is one local band that is going places. [July 17, 2008]

Trees - Everest
In quiet moments for the last six months, the "muted Buddy Holly classic vibe with autumnal colors" of this song from Everest streams through my head on repeat. I'd heard it somewhere and learned it enough to hum the melody, but then forgot to write down who it was and promptly forgot. After rediscovering it, I'll never let go (Jack). It's a lovely, humble, halcyon song and I still feel perfect when I am listening to it. [July 28, 2008]

Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare - Matt and Kim
"Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim turned in one of the single most enthusiastic performances that I saw at Monolith last year, a cataclysmic explosion of spirited yelling and jubilant rhythm. This shiny song opens with such a sunny simplicity that it could be one of those homemade ditties you would compose on your new Casio keyboard on Christmas morning, using the program function and your siblings' handclaps for backup percussion." It also sounds like a whole army of awesomeness stomping their feet and clapping in a warehouse in the "We Will Rock You" of today. [Sept 1, 2008]

Get Yourself Home (In Search of The Mistress Whose Kisses Are Famous) - These United States
"The most recent Colorado show that Washington D.C.'s These United States played was at a farm party for Labor Day out near Nimbus Road and Diagonal Highway in Niwot. I hear the two things that existed in some abundance were farmland and alcohol. This sounds like the kind of band that you could have a lot of fun with in those doses. There's a rustic folk charm here with a feisty and jittery thread weaving through this that would make M Ward proud." An excellent album this year. [Sept 22, 2008]

I Can't Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover) - Denison Witmer
Philadelphia artist Denison Witmer self-released an inspired set of covers this year, and I keep on letting this Bonnie Raitt cover rip into me. It's worth a few minutes of your time "even if you haven't given Bonnie Raitt much thought since you (like my sister) sang this song in Girls Choir in high school." This reimagining of Raitt's 1991 song "starts with a settling in a room; you can hear the grey empty space starkly bouncing back his plaintive, resigned voice. It is an absolutely devastating song, and especially the way he does it -- all void and defeated." [Oct 13, 2008]

On that note....

And hey -- I am absolutely looking forward to year four! Thank you (sincerely) for playing along. What have been your favorite discoveries here this past year? I do so love to hear about it.


Friday, November 28, 2008

The slowburn of Calexico

On Monday afternoon, I called the bowling alley at Moe's BBQ, next door to the Gothic Theatre, to reserve a lane before the concert. "Big show tonight?" the man (sadly not named Moe) asked me. "Yeah, Calexico is playing next door," I replied.

Bowling Man was unfamiliar with their music and asked me to describe it. "Well ... there's a southwestern element in there, but it's not country. There are mariachi horns and steel guitar -- I guess it's indie-minded with kinda a wild desert streak." That's the best I could muster; Calexico is a difficult band to describe to someone who has never heard them because they straddle so many genres and defy easy characterization. This makes their live show stunning, an ever-shifting blend of enormous sounds and complex layers of melody. I'd never seen them live before, and I was riveted.

Here are some pictures from their gorgeous multi-hued set Monday night -- with mp3s from one of my favorite concert collaborations below:

Live on NPR, November 2005
Yours and Mine - Calexico
Panic Open String - Calexico
Alone Again Or (Love cover) - Calexico
Deep Down - Calexico
Bisbee Blue - Calexico
Crystal Frontier - Calexico
All Systems Go - Calexico

He Lays In The Reins - Iron & Wine/Calexico
Red Dust - Iron & Wine/Calexico
All Tomorrow's Parties (Velvet Underground cover) - Iron & Wine/Calexico
16, Maybe Less - Iron & Wine/Calexico
Prison on Route 41 - Iron & Wine/Calexico
History of Lovers - Iron & Wine/Calexico
Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson cover) - Iron & Wine/Calexico
Burn That Broken Bed - Iron & Wine/Calexico

Wild Horses (Rolling Stones cover) - Iron & Wine/Calexico
Dead Man's Will - Iron & Wine/Calexico


Calexico's new album Carried To Dust is out now on Touch and Go Records.

[poster img credit, huge thanks to Kevin for the mp3 help]

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Matt Pond PA wants to soundtrack my whole shimmering winter

A few weeks ago I was loitering in a gigantic record store in Denver, and I noticed a Winter Songs EP from NYC band Matt Pond PA. Originally released in 2005, the EP caught my attention because of a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" alongside sparkling original compositions and creative reworkings of songs by Lindsay Buckingham, Richard Thompson and Neil Young.

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - Matt Pond PA

I'd only heard a few Matt Pond PA songs before that little find (I love the icy crystalline "Brooklyn Stars" on my New York City mixtape), but my new EP has been on repeat in my car as a perfect soundtrack these last few weeks as fall decides whether it wants to hold its ground or surrender to colder nights and hard whirling snowflakes.

In a happy double dose of a good new discovery, tonight I got this nice little note:


As a preamble to the American tradition of Thanksgiving, we are giving away a batch of completely new songs in form of a digital EP called The Freeep.

To accompany this gift of goodwill is a brand new video for "People Have A Way" by the incredibly talented Ed Lowther.

We owe our existence to our fans and your act of listening. We give our thanks!

-matt pond PA

First Light - Matt Pond PA

The new collection follows the same format of subtle, numbered instrumental soundscapes interlaced with well-crafted tunes, although this time my cover-radar doesn't detect anyone else's songs in the mix. Download the whole new EP here and listen to it all this long weekend.


Matthews Caws of Nada Surf and Denver's Flobots are totally coming to hang with me at work

Nice thing #42 about working at a college? Matthew Caws from Nada Surf comes to chill in the building next door in a few weeks. The eclectic Boulder radio show eTown is doing a taping on December 10th in my humble hamlet with Caws and Denver's Flobots (an odd pairing, but that's what keeps the show interesting). I helped interview Caws back in February, and that cemented my fandom of the "magical realism" in his literate, pop-heaven tunes.

Caws will be playing an acoustic set, drawing from songs throughout the sixteen-year career of Nada Surf. It should be lovely. The band just released a retrospective of all five of their studio albums on vinyl. The limited 1,000 copy pressing includes their very first 7" single and download codes for all their albums, plus a collection of rare and out-of-print bonus tracks and b-sides.

The box set is already sold out at Barsuk, but local indie retailers may still have it around. Here's one of the bonus tracks that you can download with the box set:

No Quick Fix (b-side) - Nada Surf

Nada Surf is on tour now, with Fuel/Friends favorite Delta Spirit and the soulful, moody, female-fronted Jealous Girlfriends as support. Man, she's got a voice (Listen to their Daytrotter session too):

Organs On The Kitchen Floor - Jealous Girlfriends

Nov 28 Minneapolis, MN - Fine Line Music Café #%

Nov 29 Chicago, IL - Metro #%

Dec 2 Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club #%

Dec 4 Philadelphia, PA - Trocadero#%

Dec 5 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club #%

Dec 6 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom #&

Dec 7 New York, NY - Webster Hall#*

Dec 8 Hoboken, NJ - Maxwell's %$

Dec 10 Colorado Springs, CO - eTown taping, Colorado College @

# w/ Delta Spirit
% w/ The Jealous Girlfriends
& w/ Gramercy Arms
* w/ Bear Hands
$ w/ Mary Kate O’Neil
@ Matthew Caws solo

[I took that top image last time Caws trucked on through these parts, with a few friends]

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

As excited as I am to bust out my near-expert turkey skillz this week, I kinda hate late November. Around this time of year I suffer from unrelenting twinges of anxiety every time I listen to part of a new album, because great is my worry about excluding a late-year release for consideration as one of my favorites of the year. What if I just don't know it yet, and mistake that for not loving it? Will I adore it come February? What kind of a huckster am I?!

I'm reprising my talking head role (like Max Headroom) on NPR's World Cafe this year, and I am so aware of all the wonderful music this year held, and the inverse proportion to my amount of listening time. Sigh. I think I have 8 of the 10 favorites nailed down with two dark horse spots left to be filled. Wish me luck. What are your favorites of the year?

A few more tunes from 2008 that are very good:

City of Electric Light
Chad VanGaalen

The opening lines of this song are among my favorite this month: "And I thought you were the moon in the sky, but it turned out you were just a streetlight, you were burning like a hole in the night." Ah, the old story of mistaken identity; an error that many of us make. This track traces the journey from infatuation to disillusionment, and uses what sounds like xylophones. You cannot go wrong. Calgary's Chad VanGaalen makes shiny, multi-instrumental homespun recordings, with his newest release Soft Airplane out now on Sub Pop.

Not The One
Francois Virot
My NYC friend Cara posted this track from Francois Virot out of Lyon, France, saying that he had a "sort of shambolic happiness, a violent acoustic guitar player type. he's got the right kind of crazy going on in his voice." I love the torrent of strumming acoustic guitar as percussion, and the way he flirts with an untamed edge throughout this song. As he repeats, "It's over now; I'm not the one, not the one, not the one..." it's as if he is primarily trying to convince himself. Virot has a bunch of tour dates coming up, but mostly all in France. My brother is teaching English in Calais for the year, so maybe he can scrape together the funds to see this guy -- this kind of passion would be amazing live. Yes or No is out now through Red Eye Distro.

To Ohio
The Low Anthem
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, The Low Anthem has made a fantastic album that friend Bruce says sounds like a night ride home in Joni Mitchell's car. That's the best way I've heard yet to capture what this song feels like, from a band who hand silk-screens their CDs with love and says their ethos is "not entirely jaded yet: music that really is music, not an advertisement. Imagine that." Citing influences in the vein of Dylan, The Band, Tom Waits and Neil Young, they vacillate between stripped-down acoustic arrangements and a more rollicking jam that echoes modern contemporaries like The Felice Brothers. The female vocal harmonies on this song also add such a warm and bittersweet undertone. The band is currently unsigned, and their album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is out now.

The State I Am In (live on BBC)
Belle and Sebastian
From 1996-2001, Glasgow's twee extraordinaires Belle & Sebastian recorded five sessions at the BBC for folks like John Peel, Mark Radcliffe, and Steve Lamacq, and they are now releasing this look into their early years as a band. If it's possible for the songs to take on an even more vulnerable timbre, they do here. I enjoy hearing the intimacy of these sessions, the acoustic takes on favorites, and the four previously unreleased songs. The BBC Sessions is out now as double-disc on Matador (second disc is a live gig from Belfast in 2001).

The Features

In 2005, I fell in love with the awkward indie pop of Nashville's The Features, with their song "Blow It Out" (celebrating sitting between a pair of speakers and playing vinyl very loud) making it onto pretty much every mixtape I created that year. This first single from their new album Some Kind of Salvation pulses with darker textures, and surprisingly reminds me more of The Killers. How did that happen? It's an interesting development for this ebullient band.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Two Can Play with Eulogies

In what could be described as a fit of regret, I'm salving my wounds for missing the Eulogies show a few nights ago by wistfully listening to their music on repeat. I've just met Eulogies fairly recently, and if their tunes were a person in a bar, I'd stoop to lines like, "Hey, baby, where have you been all my life?" or offer to kiss their music (in a metaphysical sort of way). I'm in love, or something like that, with the nuanced, melodic pop of this Los Angeles four piece.

Pitchfork wrote that Eulogies "brims with understated hooks, registering nearest the sensible introspection of Wheat's Hope and Adams, Nada Surf's The Weight is a Gift, or Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism."

I said "Okay."

This coy little duet features the warm honeyed voice of Silversun Pickups' Nikki Monninger, over a smooth and rolling bassline that reminds me of that undercurrent on the Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane."

Two Can Play (feat Nikki Monninger of Silversun Pickups) - Eulogies

From the Tempted To Do Nothing EP, a precursor to their second full-length Here, Anonymous due out April 7th on Dangerbird Records (The Dears, Sea Wolf, Silversun Pickups).

And a bonus tune because these guys are seriously great (off their first self-titled album, from 2007):

One Man - Eulogies

(other than, oh, that Denver show)
w/ Darker My Love

11/21 || 7th St. Entry || Minneapolis, MN
11/22 || Vaudeville Mews || Des Moines, IA
11/25 || Berkley Front || Berkley, MI (NO Darker My Love)
11/26 || The Summit || Columbus, OH

w/ The Duke Spirit
11/28 || Bottle Tree || Birmingham, AL
11/29 || 40 Watt || Athens, GA
11/30 || Exit In || Nashville, TN
12/2 || Radio Radio || Indianapolis, IN
12/3 || The Basement || Columbus, OH

w/ Longwave
12/9 || Casbah || San Diego, CA
12/10 || Troubadour || Los Angeles, CA
12/11 || Rickshaw Stop || San Francisco, CA
12/13 || Dante’s || Portland, OR
12/14 || Chop Suey || Seattle, WA

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"...more like reviewing a unicorn"

Chuck Klosterman reviews Chinese Democracy:

"I've been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy. This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can't psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows."

Read it and weep (and by weep I mean laugh until you weep)


Thursday, November 20, 2008

nothing matters when we're dancing

There are nights when I think that this simple song may be one of the most perfect things ever penned.

dance with me my old friend
once before we go
let's pretend this song won't end
and we never have to go home
and we'll dance among the chandeliers

and nothing matters when we're dancing
in tat or tatters you're entrancing
be we in Paris or in Lansing
nothing matters when we're dancing

you've never been more beautiful
your eyes like two full moons
than here in this poor old dancehall
among the dreadful tunes
the awful songs we don't even hear

and nothing matters when we're dancing...

Nothing Matters When We're Dancing - The Magnetic Fields

The original version is flawless --unassuming and utterly convincing-- from Stephin Merritt's 1999 opus 69 Love Songs. The cover from NY trio The Antlers is a wisp of a song, haunting and ethereal, like the ghost of a dream that hasn't even happened yet. Or maybe never will.

Nothing Matters When We're Dancing (Magnetic Fields cover) - The Antlers

[photo credit LIFE Magazine]

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Superdrag return with Industry Giants

Filthy & Afraid (Stealth Mix D) - Superdrag

Superdrag has announced the title of their first full studio album with the original line-up of Coffey, Davis, Fisher, and Pappas since 1998’s Head Trip In Every Key. I've not heard the whole album yet, but rumor has it that Industry Giants will "rock harder than Superdrag has ever been known to rock before." So they tell me. The good-hearted John Davis says, "I can't wait to get the record out. I can't wait for people to hear it. I wish it could come out tomorrow."

Produced by John Davis (whose solo work I seriously dig of late) and recorded & mixed in Nashville, Knoxville, and LA, the album is out on Superdrag Sound Laboratories / Thirty Tigers (Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Avett Brothers, Samantha Crain) on March 17.

[my pic above, Tom Pappas airborne at Monolith 2008]


Robert Pollard boards a spaceship to Boston

The thought process behind this post went, "Wow, I really like this Boston Spaceships track from Bob Pollard's latest. I wonder what else he's up to?"

You Satisfy Me - Boston Spaceships

When it comes to updating oneself on Dayton's prolific Robert Pollard (Guided by Voices) this is a dangerous question that will suck all your time away. Pollard famously claimed that he can "can write five songs on the toilet, and three of them will be pretty good," and you will have multiple chances to test out this theory in the coming months. In Bob's own words, "I'm doing more than I've ever done," and that's saying a lot.

Earlier this year, Pollard released Brown Submarine with Boston Spaceships, a project that reinvigorated Pollard so that he decided to take to the road these last months for his first club tour in two years. The Boston Spaceships site describes the album as "a pop punk album, made by and for kids who've worn out the grooves on their Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Wire and dBs records." Of themselves, they say "Boston Spaceships rock hard, have fun and drink Miller Lite."

Pollard has said that he plans to stick with this Boston Spaceships business and release an album a year with them. They've got a new album called The Planets Are Blasted coming out on February 17, 2009. Check out the new song from that album called "Headache Revolution," live in Philly in September.

Pollard also released a new album a few weeks ago with his band Circus Devils called Ataxia (on Happy Jack Rock Records):

Girls Will Make It Happen - Circus Devils

And finally, just so no one thinks he's wasting any time, there's a new solo album under his own name called The Crawling Distance, due out Jan 20th on his own Guided By Voices imprint.

According to Bob's Facebook page, there's a sweet little mp3 sampler containing tunes from many of these recent efforts that you could snag if you bought a shirt at one of his shows, but I can't turn up hide nor hair of it online. I'm anxious to hear some of these new tunes, especially if any of them come close the celestial pop magnificence of this song off 2008's Robert Pollard Is Off To Business:

Gratification To Concrete - Robert Pollard

Man I love that song.

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The 2008 Gummy Awards

I got an email from the Stereogum folks this morning, letting me know that the voting is open on the 2008 Gummy Awards and "early returns indicate that I Am Fuel, You Are Friends is a top contender for Best Music Blog." Eh! Pretty cool.

If you wanna state your piece, do so over at www.gummyawards.com -- and everyone who does will be in the running to win the top 50 CDs of the year, as picked by the poll. I've played along the last two years and my favorite part is always voting for Indie Rock Crushes because clearly that is a very important topic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gorgeous new Beach House video :: "Used to Be"

The saturated desert hues and retro motel settings of this video (shot during a recent West Coast tour in the desert outside LA with director Matt Amato) are visually stunning. The fact that this is such a marvelous song makes it even better.

Baltimore duo Beach House remind me of a female-fronted Fleet Foxes on this outing: a lot of space inside the song, a haunting build, but with that persistent and anchoring tambourine rhythm.

Following their sophomore album Devotion earlier this year, Beach House just released a new limited-edition 7" with this song on the a-side, and the b-side featuring a 4-track demo version of "Apple Orchard" (from the Beach House S/T album) recorded three years to the month before the new song.

The b-side is one of the first things Alex and Victoria recorded together as Beach House. Their third full-length is anticipated sometime in '09.

Dec. 06 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts*
Dec. 09 Brooklyn, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg #
Dec. 10 Providence, RI Club Hell #
Dec. 11 Northampton, MA Iron Horse Music Hall #
Dec. 12 Boston, MA Museum of Fine Arts #
Jan. 19 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern*
Jan. 20 Los Angeles, CA Henry Fonda*
Jan. 21 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore*
Jan. 23 Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom*
Jan. 24 Seattle, WA Neumos*

* = w/ The Walkmen
# = w/ Tickley Feather


Monday, November 17, 2008

El Ten Eleven is el bomb

This weekend I had my face melted (a few times actually) down at the Larimer Lounge -- most completely by the duo El Ten Eleven, who were opening for Land of Talk on Saturday night. Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogarty make mindblowing sounds using just a drum set and fretless bass/double-necked guitar.

With the help of about 27 different pedal and whirlygig deals on the floor, they loop layers of sound to create some amazing(ly fun) music. From the initial stirrings of even something like Pachelbel's "Canon in D," I've always found the slow build and denouement in any song to be fascinating, especially ones that focus on adding the layers of sound or noise and then taking them back. My brain likes appreciating each element distinctly.

The vague confusion that I felt when I first walked in on their set ("Wait -- I am hearing sounds that are not currently being played by those hands I see in front of me...") slowly melted into a hot flush of wonder. I'm a sucker for cool loops. Watching Kristian lay down one bit of melody and then another, effortlessly weaving in and out of different sounds with a flick of a finger across the strings -- it was sort of like watching a magician at work, albeit in sneakers and a striped t-shirt. Together with Tim the relentless drummer, he constructed something that was awesomely danceable but intelligently (and joyfully) composed.

WATCH: "Hot Cakes" (live in Arizona)

El Ten Eleven hails from the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles (although 1/2 of the duo went to a neighboring high school from mine in the San Fran Bay Area). Their music is, hmmm . . . danceable like Justice, with pulsing basslines like Primus, and radiating sonic atmosphere like Sigur Ros. Their music darts in and out of ethereal and rocking, sublime and visceral.

These Promises Are Being Videotaped is their third album, self-released after a stint with Bar/None Records. I can't get enough of this first song, and check that Radiohead cover! The crowd packed around the stage provided the "sing-as-loud-as-you-can" vocals to their instrumental rendition.

Jumping Frenchmen of Maine - El Ten Eleven
Paranoid Android (Radiohead cover) - El Ten Eleven

And while you're over on their website, you can check out the sweet "Slasher Tee" I bought at the show and love because it makes me look like an Eighties guitar hero. Which is something I shall ne'er be.

Nov 17 - Record Bar, Kansas City, MO
Nov 18 – Mojo’s, Columbia, MO
Nov 19 - Canopy Club, Urbana, IL
Nov 20 - Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI
Nov 21 - Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, OH
Nov 22 - Casa Cantina, Athens, OH
Nov 23 - Bug Jar, Rochester, NY
Nov 25 - Cafe 9, New Haven, CT
Nov 26 - The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY
Nov 28 - 92Y Tribeca, New York, NY
Nov 29 – Brillobox, Pittsburgh, PA
Dec 1 - 816 Pint and Slice, Fort Wayne, IN
Dec 2 – Schubas, Chicago, IL
Dec 3 - TBA St. Louis, MO
Dec 4 – Opolis, Norman, OK
Dec 5 - The Cavern, Dallas, TX
Dec 6 - Beauty Bar, Austin, TX
Dec 10 - Hotel Cafe, Hollywood, CA
Dec 19 - Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff, AZ
Dec 20 – Plush, Tucson, AZ

[pics from the glorious Laurie Scavo, natch]

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New Ben Nichols (Lucero) solo: "The Last Pale Light In The West"

Ben Nichols of Lucero has a gravelly, urgent voice full of hard wilderness. I cannot fully tell you how excited I am by the fact that his new solo album The Last Pale Light In The West is inspired by the Cormac McCarthy book Blood Meridian, which I coincidentally just started reading last week. McCarthy is one of my favorite authors, and Nichols has the chops to compose the perfect atmospheric soundtrack to his writing.

STREAM: The Last Pale Light In The West - Ben Nichols

The seven song "mini-LP" was recorded this past summer with Rick Steff (Cat Power, Lucero) and Todd Beene (Glossary), and will be released January 2009 via Liberty & Lament / The Rebel Group.

In full band news, the formidable Lucero [previous lavish Fuel/Friends love] has signed to Universal, and they'll be heading into the studio to record music for their 6th studio LP at the end of 2008, which is scheduled for release in summer 2009.

[Top photo credit the fantastic Denver photographer Todd Roeth]

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Jeff Buckley, Glen Hansard "Neath The Beeches"

Today, November 17th, is Jeff Buckley's birthday, and a reader sent me this interview clip with Glen Hansard (Once, The Frames, The Commitments) discussing the months when his guitar tech/roadie was this young guy named Jeff.

Listen to Hansard tell the story of Jeff first playing "an Irish club in the East Village " with him (of course, the famous Sin-é) and the reaction of the audience when this unknown kid started to sing. As he discusses their relationship in this wonderfully unguarded interview, he also recounts the story of playing the Tim Buckley song "Once I Was" in the hotel room for Jeff, and being stunned when Jeff casually mentioned, oh yeah, he was my father.

It closes with a gorgeous version of the song "Neath The Beeches," which Hansard says fell fully formed from his mind, and that "I was thinking about (Jeff) when I was doing it, so it became his song in my head."

Glen Hansard discusses Jeff Buckley / plays "Neath The Beeches"

Here is also the album version, from the 1999 Frames album Dance The Devil:
Neath The Beeches - The Frames

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

"make you believe / make you forget" :: Matt Nathanson in Denver

San Francisco songwriter/rocker (and fellow covers-whore) Matt Nathanson played the Bluebird last Monday in a sold out show which, as usual, juxtaposed his own wonderful songs with a well-picked stream of covers and snippets of other tunes. I've seen Matt several times and always walk away from his shows feeling a little gutted by his songs (especially his recent output chronicling the unmagnificent relationship difficulties of adult life) and smiling from the force of his hilarious and engaging personality.

He closed the night with this, one of the saddest songs of the year in my book:

Come On Get Higher (live in Denver) - Matt Nathanson

And I had not realized how devastating (and uncomfortably close) the lyrics of "Cath" by Death Cab for Cutie are until Matt quoted a few of them at the beginning of his song "Wedding Dress."

Cath --> Wedding Dress (live in Denver) - Matt Nathanson

Check out the rest of the show on the Live Music Archive, including a sweet little cover of "All I Have To Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers, which was a song I'd requested, and came out just lovely. Also, we rocked that singalong cover of "Take On Me" in a catharsis I wouldn't have thought possible.

[see all pics here]

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Bright, snarly indie rock from Montreal's Land of Talk

Land of Talk is an effortlessly cool chick-fronted trio from Montreal on the Saddle Creek label (Bright Eyes, Cursive, Rilo Kiley). Centered around the "slow-burn drawl that suggests Lucinda Williams fronting a power trio" of Elizabeth Powell, Land of Talk hits Denver's Larimer Lounge tomorrow night and I am told I shall enjoy them greatly.

In the midst of some tour dates with Broken Social Scene, they are currently supporting their debut full-length album Some Are Lakes.

The album was co-produced by Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), but sounds nothing like his music. This bright, snarly, indie rock was recorded in an old converted church outside Montreal, and possesses loads of charm with a fiery edge.

Death by Fire - Land of Talk
Give Me Back My Heart Attack - Land of Talk

11/15 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
11/18 – Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom *
11/19 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse *
11/20 – Tallahassee, FL @ The Moon *
11/21 – St. Petersburg, FL @ Jannus Landing *
11/22 – Pompano, FL @ Club Cinema *
11/27 – Toronto, ON @ Sound Academy *
11/29 – Utrecht, NL @ Le Guess Who ^
12/1 – Berlin, DE @ Festaal Kreuzberg ^
12/2 – Copenhagen, DK @ Vega ^
12/4 – Heidelburg, DE @ Zum Teufel ^
12/5 – Offenbach, DE @ Hafen 2 Club ^
12/6 – Ghent, BE @ Etolie Poliviers Festival w/ Bon Iver
12/8 – Brussels, BE @ Botanique ^
12/9 – Paris, FR @ Main D’Oeuvres ^
12/10 – London, UK @ Water Rats

* w/ Broken Social Scene
# w/ Josh Reichmann
^ w/ Think About Life


Thursday, November 13, 2008

War/Dance: "In our daily lives there must be music"

It's currently International Education Week in the U.S., which translates into busy times for me in my dayjob life. I don't mind this kind of busy, because I am tasked with bringing global culture to our campus for a week of free activities. In a welcome intersection of music and film, my event Tuesday was a screening of the exceptional film War/Dance.

I sat in a darkened theater in the late afternoon and watched a group of school children from Northern Uganda prepare their music and impassioned dance for their National Music Competition. The children are displaced refugees of the Acholi tribe, which has been subject to a horrific persecution at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army for twenty years -- abducted, forced into child soldierhood, raped, orphaned. This tribal war has left 200,000 Ugandan children without parents, seen 30,000 abducted to fight for the LRA, and forced almost all of the Acholi people to leave the green hills of their ancestral homes and relocate to dusty camps, guarded by military 24 hours a day.

But -- when these children are swimming in the waves of their music, they are free. You can see it in the spark in their smiles, the unbridled earthy joy shining in their faces when they sing, when they stomp the dry earth and arch their backs. As one girl says in her sonorous native tongue, "In our daily lives there must be music. In everything we do, if there's music, life becomes so good. That's why I want to be part of music."

Suffering of great magnitude is extremely difficult to wrap our Western minds around, and the filmmakers incisively narrow the lens to track three young teenagers and the stories of the dark path that brought them to the camp, to this school in the remotest part of Northern Uganda. The kids take seriously the opportunity to compete with the other 20,000 schools throughout Uganda to represent their tribe as one of the best. When they perform the 500-year-old Bwola dance of their tribe, they radiate pride and spirit as they stomp and whirl in shades of a Feist video (I must not be the only one who thought that).

The film is a deeply human exploration, one that made me question what it is within the human spirit that flares up, that remains unbreakable and irrepressible. One of the main characters Nancy explains, "When I'm singing, I feel that everything is exactly how it used to be. Everything feels okay again, like I'm at home and not in the camp." Rose muses, "Music is the most important part of Acholi culture. It is our tradition. Even war cannot take it from us.

War/Dance is shot with the stunning eye of a photographer, with shots that make you ache in their purity, their power, and their sadness. The dance scenes are swirls of color and shifting focus. As they tell their unflinching stories, the skin of the children shines with an illuminated vibrancy that seems out of place in their dusty, hard surroundings.

Out of the gritty horrors of a story that could be the bleakest of bleak, hope and pride rise up in the kids. In music, they survive. It's a message that resonated deeply with me, and indeed should with all who have ever felt the power of music in any capacity. I give this movie (and the corresponding music) my highest recommendation of the screen this year.

And hey, the percussion that punctuated all the pounding-heart moments of this film made the tiny little djembe player in my own heart leap a little:

Khine Sine - Doudou N'diaye Rose [wiki]

You can watch War/Dance online now if you have Netflix, and the soundtrack is on Amazon. For more information about how to support these kids in Northern Uganda, visit shineglobal.org, a foundation set up by the filmmakers.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

saw death on a sunny snow (running, running . . .)

For Emma (MySpace version) - Bon Iver **highest recommendation**

...And get Flume, Blindsided, and Lump Sum here

[via MySpace Transmissions]


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