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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'm inside your radio

Thanks to the great folks over at NPR's World Cafe, I get the distinct pleasure again this year of joining David Dye to talk about (and spin) some of my favorite albums of 2008! It all goes down tomorrow, January 1st, and you can listen online.

If you want to also hear last year's jaunt, you can do it below. I was nervous both years, but we have fun:

Heather Browne on World Cafe 2007

I'm boarding a plane in San Jose to fly back to Colorado, and I wish all y'all a safe and happy New Year's!


Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem finally announce headlining U.S. tour dates, cover The Band

Mar 18 La Tulipe - Montreal, Quebec %
Mar 20 The Opera House - Toronto, Ontario %
Mar 21 Call The Office - London, Ontario %
Mar 27 Webster Hall - New York, NY
Mar 28 The Trocadero - Philadelphia, PA #
Mar 29 Mr. Small’s - Pittsburgh, PA #
Apr 2 Turner Hall - Milwaukee, WI #
Apr 3 The Bottom Lounge - Chicago, IL #
Apr 4 Varsity Theater - Minneapolis, MN #
Apr 7 The Warehouse - Calgary, Alberta #
Apr 8 The Starlite Room - Edmonton, Alberta #
Apr 10 The Plaza - Vancouver, British Columbia #
Apr 15 The Boardwalk - Orangevale, CA #
Apr 16 Slim’s - San Francisco, CA #
Apr 21 The Clubhouse - Tempe, AZ #
Apr 24 Gothic Theatre - Englewood, CO #

% - with Saint Alvia Cartel from Ontario
# - with Heartless Bastards from Cincinnati

Only about half of the dates from the tour have been posted so far. Stay tuned.

LISTEN: Q101 Acoustic Set
The '59 Sound (acoustic) - The Gaslight Anthem
Here's Looking At You Kid (acoustic) - The Gaslight Anthem
The Weight (The Band cover) - The Gaslight Anthem

[photo credit Daniel Ackerly]

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Friday, December 26, 2008

New from Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys): "I Want Some More"

In between producing the new albums from Hacienda and Jessica Lea Mayfield in 2008, while continuing to be a member of the Black Keys, Akron's filthiest bluesman Dan Auerbach is fixin' to release his solo debut album on February 10th.

Keep It Hid will be out on Nonesuch Records, and first listens sound like fuzzed-out, skwonky rock and roll. I love his yowl. He'll be touring in support of it in the coming months, with those Hacienda fellas opening.

I Want Some More - Dan Auerbach

Listen to two other new tracks over on the Nonesuch Records site. And if you (ahem) right click the song titles you might be able to save the mp3s. Just sayin.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

...and a new Christmas one from Sufjan

In keeping with his prolific holiday tradition (he makes music like some folks make garlic prime rib), Sufjan Stevens has recorded a new home EP of Christmas songs for 2008.

As he's apparently "Astral Interplanet Space Captain" this year, many of the songs are of the synth-Casio variety, and I'm kinda finding the mood a bit off-putting, compared to the way I love his banjo with my whole backwoods heart. I mean, "Wonderful Christmastime" should have never happened. Have we learned nothing from the past! Christmas means no synthesizers.

But in any case, there is one sweet piano-based tune on the new EP that has risen above the interplanetary action to warm my heart. I do hope your day was happy.

Christmas In The Room - Sufjan Stevens

Get the whole EP over on So That's What The Volume Knob Is For.

And . . . I'm off to California for a few days of sun and fun and friends (well, maybe not the first one. It is December.)

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A very merry christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

he sings his song with his heart on his tongue

This unassuming tune was introduced to me a few weeks ago as "a perfect song." Homemade and unvarnished, it resonates with me both in the way it speaks to the creative process of artistry, and also the ups and downs of love. What more do you need in music?

Bird (demo) - Scott Brabson

lovesick bird bears his burden to the mass
sings his song to anyone who will listen back

he sings his song with his heart on his tongue
with a faded photograph in his sock
they'll walk by with x's on their eyes
greenback tethers beckon them to walk

when did you get your wings clipped bird?

(could you) love someone new?
one who'll hold you through the night
and forget the past
forward-motion puts history behind

she sings her song with her heart on her tongue
she's waiting in hope of a response
he stands by with his arm tucked by his sides
cause a ghost has claimed a place in his thoughts
and a ghost says "ooo"

So he sings his song with his heart on his tongue
pulls a faded photograph from his sock
he lets love walk by a hundred thousand times
and a memory will never let him stop

Scott Brabson is a Denver artist, and this was recorded in his studio (apartment, that is).


Friday, December 19, 2008

Your Naughty/Nice Christmas mix

Christmas is coming and kids are having fun (so said the chorus of my fifth grade play "Shaping Up Santa," for which I still know all the words and thankfully no longer have to wear the green elf costume).

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year because of the overabundance of really bad, synthy, jingly, repetitive Christmas music that bombards me at every pass. But tonight I was listening to my friend Dainon's superb radio show out of Salt Lake City and he filled two and a half hours with the kind of Christmas music that reminds me why I do love it.

I tend towards the melancholy, the meaningful, the achingly pretty at this time of year, and tonight's show inspired me to finally put the finishing touches on my own mix of music for the season. Twenty-five songs to get at the goodness under the busy surface this time of year. Enjoy.

No Christmas For Me - Zee Avi (new Malaysian artist I'm excited about)
Joy To The World - Clem Snide
Christmas Is Coming Soon - Blitzen Trapper
Egg Nog - Luna
It's Christmas So We'll Stop - Frightened Rabbit
It Won't Seem Like Christmas Without You (alternate take 6) - Elvis Presley
Christmas TV - Slow Club
Sweet Secret Peace - Neil Finn
Xmas Time Is Here Again - My Morning Jacket
Gift X-Change - Calexico
This Christmastime - Mascott & Gramercy Arms
The Secret of Christmas - Ella Fitzgerald
Christmas - Leona Naess
Just Like Christmas - Low
Song For A Winter's Night (Gordon Lightfoot) - Erica Wheeler
Icicles - Let's Go Sailing [from the Plastic Snow compilation]
Goin Home For Christmas - Nicolai Dunger
Goin Home For Christmas - Merle Haggard
Snowfall - Josh Rouse
The First Noel - Pedro The Lion
Please Come Home For Christmas - Willie Nelson
The Gift of Grace - Denison Witmer
New Year's Resolution - Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
Winter Wonderland - Radiohead
Silent Night - Evan Dando


If you want even more Christmas music, the excellent WXPN out in Philly is hosting 12 Days Of Christmas with local bands and free mp3s each day. Ten down, two to go, check it out.

Merry Christmas.

[image from the fabulous Anne Taintor]


News from our little Young Coyotes

It's been a few months since we checked in with Fuel/Friends' favorite little wild canines, the Young Coyotes. Just back from two months of touring with The Gay Blades and Asobi Seksu, they posted cryptic images today (like the one above) that would lead a reasonable person to assume that they are, in fact, in the studio! I've been waiting since the hot days of summer for a proper full-length from these boys.

I'll see you at their show tonight (Friday) at the Bluebird in Denver (with the Hot IQs and Chain Gang of 1974), and they also recently recorded a Daytrotter session which will be up in the new year. Hurrah!

Momentary Drowning - Young Coyotes


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dan Le Sac makes a free mixtape for you

In the holly jolly spirit of giving (note to self: start Christmas shopping), the first half of Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip has posted a third installment of his popular, hip-shaking mixtapes over on his blog. You might also call them remixtapes. Check these samples:

Joy Division - Leaders of Men (dan le sac RFL 2002 mix)
Elastica - Connection (dan le sac not connected mix)

I especially like what he did to the Joy Division, and really darling -- it's been too long since you've gutturally "OOOOOOh"d along with Elastica. See the full tracklist and get the download link here.

[pic from Monolith 2008]


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oh, that we could all be so Pretty & Nice

My friend Julio asked me for some Top Fives of the year (leaving it open to interpretation) and I gave him things like 5 shows I loved, 5 books I enjoyed, and 5 memorable Halloween costumes I saw. My friends were more creative. The wonderful John Wenzel (who knows dangerously funny stuff) caught my attention with this write-up of his "favorite neon spazz-rock trio":

Pretty & Nice hail from Boston, but they may as well be from southern Ohio circa 1996, as much as they incorporate elements of Dayton-bred acts like Brainiac and Guided by Voices into their squiggling synths, monaural guitars and insanely catchy vocal melodies. There's also bits of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe (and latter day post-punk/pop whores the New Pornographers) out in front, and somehow this mash of old and new makes perfect, danceable sense.

Big words like that are why he works for a newspaper, people.

I love short lists of bests at the end of the year from people with tastes so different than mine, so I took a listen and yeah, pretty much haven't stopped all day. Everything Wenzel says (in this instance) is true. You can stream the aptly-titled new album Get Young over on the Pretty & Nice website, and here's one ridiculously danceable tune you can take with you.

Tora Tora Tora - Pretty & Nice

Fuel/Friends was also comfortably ranked above naughtynicegay.com on the list of "Colorado music websites that are taking over the world," by one hiply-monikered Ricardo Baca. Whew. That site has really, really good music, so it was a close finish. Thanks!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mr. Holland and his opus say "Download new Coconut Records for free!"

Jason Schwartzman ("oh, are they?") returns to quirky pop-heaven territory with the sophomore effort from his band Coconut Records. The unassuming debut Nighttiming was one of my favorites last year; I'm a sucker for that chimey, eclectic, slightly-awkward sound and openhearted joy. As I wrote before, normally we can all agree that actors making music spells disaster, but in this case it absolutely spells y-a-y.

is out January 13th on Young Baby Records, but you can now download the first track "Microphone" from his new album on Amie Street for free -- and for each download they will donate $1 to the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, which gives musical instruments to kids. You can also pre-order the album for only five bucks while you're over on Amie Street.

This catchy new track sounds like it has one of those weird accordion-sounding instruments that you blow into the tube for. That's a technical music writer descriptive term right there.


DOWNLOAD FOR FREE HERE. Richard Dreyfuss wants you to.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers get the fever out

Oklahoma native Samantha Crain released one of my favorite EPs of 2008 on the Ramseur Records label, and will be back in 2009 with The Midnight Shivers (great band name) for her debut full-length.

Called her "account of excavation," the new album was recorded in five days at the gorgeous Echo Mountain Studios with producer Danny Kadar (Grizzly Bear, My Morning Jacket, The Avett Brothers). Surrounding by a setting like the one pictured above, it's no wonder such sweeping, amazing recordings have been made there. This first single is more vibrant and less lushly meandering than her previous EP, with a full band and a choir of background harmonies from the Midnight Shivers:

Get The Fever Out - Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers

Songs In The Night is out April 28, 2009 on Ramseur Records. The spectacular album art by artist Chad Mount was just unveiled today, and looks like this:

[top photo of album recording session, credit Samantha Lamb]


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Show some restraint: The Notorious Bettie Page

[Originally posted two years ago - a re-up in honor of Bettie, who died in Los Angeles on Thursday]

Last night we settled in with some popcorn and the usual assortment of riding crops and corsets to watch the latest biopic to catch my eye: The Notorious Bettie Page (Picturehouse/HBO Films, 2006). The prurient among us may know of Bettie Page as the woman once named the "Pin-Up Queen Of The Universe" in the '50s. She was a model, actress, pin-up girl, and is most often remembered from her (now a bit comical looking) bondage photo shoots. You may also think of her in that tigress outfit, or winking as she trims the Christmas tree in the nude (and who among us hasn't would be my question).

In any case, I found it be a pretty interesting look at the bravery of her life and the depth her dreams -- as well as her rationalization (if you will) for the pictures she took ("I figure God gave me a talent for taking pictures and making people happy. Shouldn't I use that talent?"). After watching the film, I was curious to know what became of her (she became quite reclusive and mostly vanished from the public eye). Her Wikipedia page had a link to a current picture of her at 80 looking about 55 and still glowing. Not bad Bettie.

The film was written and directed by two women (Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner, who both worked together also on "The L Word" and "American Psycho"), and in the same way that Bunny Yeager's photographs of the real Bettie Page brought out some of her best moments, I think that having this movie envisioned through the eyes of females lent it a certain depth that I liked.

Bettie Page's openness and vitality were conveyed well through the acting of Gretchen Mol. There were some interesting bonus features as well, which showed the making of the movie and some original footage of Page. Gretchen Mol is a blonde in real life. This made we wonder if there were merkins involved (Pearl Jam fans might have some idea what I am talking about. When I mused that question aloud last night, I was so proud of myself for ever getting to use that word in a sentence. I mean really.)

There was a nice femino-centric (new word) soundtrack to this film, with era-appropriate innocence and swing. Here are four notable tracks that I enjoyed. The smoldering Julie London track was the closer to the film and absolutely perfectly placed.

Life's Railway To Heaven - Patsy Cline

It's A Good Day - Peggy Lee

Sopa de Pichon - Machito & His Afro-Cubans
(mood music for the Miami photo shoots with Bunny Yeager behind the lens)

Gone With The Wind - Julie London

And here's the trailer:


Friday, December 12, 2008

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2008

Another year packed with music has come and gone. Music is a language I can't create myself but it does me good to know that every hour someone out there is humming a snippet of a melody, returning to their seat at the bar with a head full of lyrics that just occurred to them, or tapping out a drumbeat on their leg in the car. People everywhere are trying to get it right, to get the music out just so they can be. I am glad that they do.

2008 was full of fantastic (and varied) music from all corners of the world for me. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the quantity of music and the subjectivity that swirls around the ones that make it vs. the ones that no one ever hears. I wish I'd had more hours to listen to (and properly digest) more songs this year. As it is, these are ten albums (plus two EPs plus one carryover from last year) that affected me on a gut level in the past twelve months. These are the ones I listened to over and over, that knocked the wind out of me and made me glad I have ears.

These aren't "the best." These are just my favorites.


Nada Surf
I've been surprised by the intensity with which I've listened to this album in 2008. I guess it's tapping into the introspective moments of my year as it pertains to "grown-up life," which Caws sings is like "eating speed or flying a plane -- it's too bright." The album cover hints perfectly at the feel of the music; the moment where it's still warm from the sun but the gorgeous pinpricks of light are starting to shine through. I talked today about the cascades of glory on this album, a blazing meteor from this band that's been around so long. I saw Matthew Caws perform solo last night and he said, "We feel blessed to have a second story," (post-mid-Nineties buzz band). "It's the story we always wanted anyways." I've listened to this album a hundred times this year and it still affects me deeply, makes it okay to be fragile -- and to be on a vector up.
[original review, interview]

Beautiful Beat - Nada Surf

Midnight Organ Fight
Frightened Rabbit
(Fat Cat)
Coming from Scotland with their hearts held out for the offering, these two brothers plus two bandmates have crafted an album that is not for the fainthearted, but excellent for the honest. Over gorgeous melodies and with a thick and wrenching Scottish brogue, Frightened Rabbit guttingly dissect the moments of bravery and moments of weakness that go with a relationship ending. Peter Katis (The National) produced this lilting, rocking piece of perfection -- unflinching in its intimacy.
[original review, interview]

Backwards Walk - Frightened Rabbit

For Emma Forever Ago
Bon Iver
I didn't know when I started 2008 just how much I would need this album. Justin Vernon recorded this achingly vulnerable album in the Wisconsin woods in the dead of cold winter as he recovered from a breakup. The name he adopted means "good winter" in French, and I think the name fits the music as well as that ice-encrusted window on the cover. In winter, things move a little slower, but with more crisply defined edges, and the first time I heard this something was scraped loose inside of me. His music is wrapped in a thin skin but a current thrums powerfully under the surface. This is an album that I am unable to shake.
[watch: still one of the most perfect things I've seen this year]

Skinny Love - Bon Iver

Stay Positive
The Hold Steady
I think the thing that gets me with the Hold Steady, this year or any past year when they've released an album, is that they are unabashed in their belief in rock and roll. Craig Finn is a modern day prophet who flails and explodes with the force of the catharsis of these fantastic sounding songs that they must get out. The lyrics trace some of the most intelligent, evocative stories you'll hear with characters I feel I know by now (they might as well be breathing). This is an immense album, with the pounding piano that crashes across the songs and the brass instruments slicing through. Gorgeously grand and subversively hopeful.
[original review]

Constructive Summer - The Hold Steady

The '59 Sound
The Gaslight Anthem
(Side One Dummy)
If the Hold Steady filter their love for Springsteen through a lens of kids raised on punk and The Replacements, Jersey's Gaslight Anthem play with an urgency and passion of a pre-Born to Run Bruce, young and hungry. Lead singer Brian Fallon grew up in a home four blocks from E Street, and this band is crafting songs that hold up as well when howled out ragged as they do stripped down to their bare acoustic bones. There's a wisdom and sometimes a resignation beyond their years.

Great Expectations - The Gaslight Anthem

Ode To Sunshine
Delta Spirit
Delta Spirit was formed in San Diego when lead singer Matt Vasquez was busking loudly by the train tracks and he met with Brandon Young at two in the morning. The honesty and sloppiness that bleeds through at 2am is captured well on this authentic album with a vintage feel. It basks in the warmth of the surf guitars, the singalongs and handclaps and banging on trashcan lids, the tinkly last-call piano over glasses clattering.
[original review]

Trashcan - Delta Spirit

Dual Hawks
Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel
The cinematic desert beauty and chugging fuzz-rock found side-by-side on this dual album swooped in late in the year to win me over. I saw an acoustic video of Will Johnson, who helms both bands, performing "I, The Kite," from an album I'd passed over too quickly the first time around. Both bands are Will's and explore different dimensions of his music -- Centro-matic electric like the heat in the air even as the Texas August sun has just begun to rise, whereas the more muted, spacious South San Gabriel has tones of evening and fireflies. This album was written and recorded fast and pure in a handful of days in the studio, and has a feeling of distilled essentials.

Counting The Scars - Centro-Matic

Oh! Mighty Engine
Neil Halstead
(Brushfire Records)
Taking six long years from his last solo release Sleeping On Roads, influential British musician Neil Halstead (Slowdive) comes quietly back with a humble album of acoustic folk melodies that rewards the listener for their patience. This is a slow grower for me, and I find that more hues in the songs are revealed to me the longer I sit with it -- a task I am eminently willing to take on. Halstead sings about trying to get the colors right, and with these unassuming tunes I think he does.

Paint A Face - Neil Halstead

The Great Collapse
Everything Absent or Distorted
This Denver collective does things full tilt. They play with seemingly all the instruments they can find, in order to squeeze the earnest beauty out of every melody and every rhythm. They fearlessly meld incisive lyrics with a resilient hope, like on "Aquariums": "We are aquariums -- left outside, but we hold life and a bright light in our glass walls." With eight official members (and up to 15 on stage) EAOD is a joy to watch, and that joy transmits onto this smart album of sweeping scope. Amidst banjos and casio keyboards, trumpets and pots and pans, this band is ready for a larger stage. Literally.
[original review]

A form to accommodate the mess - Everything Absent and Distorted

Little Joy
Little Joy
(Rough Trade)
It's as simple as this: Little Joy just makes me happy. Their thirty-minute debut album is short and occasionally rough, it's kitschy and danceable with Brazilian influences. I like the quiet Technicolor flicker of songs like the Portuguese "Evaporar" as much as the jerky fun of "How To Hang A Warhol," and all the shades in between. Binki Shapiro's vocal contributions on this album are especially charming, as she croons out of my stereo like an old-time Victrola.
[original review]

No One's Better Sake - Little Joy

HONORARY TOPS (should have been on last year's damn list):

In Rainbows (physical release)

Because I was overwhelmed and ignorant at the end of 2007, and didn't give this my undivided attention until someone sat me down in a darkened room and made me really, really listen to it.

And come on Heather. Come on.

Last Flowers To The Hospital (bonus track) - Radiohead


Second Gleam EP
The Avett Brothers
(Ramseur Records)
Scaling back from their potently explosive live show of punk bluegrass, the Avetts showed again this year that they can also craft devastatingly simple ballads relying solely on acoustic guitar, strings, and their pure voices that blend and compete as only brothers can. [original review]

Murder In The City - The Avett Brothers

The Confiscation EP, A Musical Novella
Samantha Crain
(Ramseur Records)
Also from the excellent Ramseur label, 22-year-old Oklahoman Samantha Crain has Choctaw Indian roots and a dusky earnestness to her alto voice. The five songs here tell a cohesive story (a musical novella indeed) with shimmering, unvarnished truth.
[original review]

In Smithereens, The Search For Affinity - Samantha Crain

LISTEN: Once again this year, I'll be appearing on NPR's World Cafe with David Dye on January 1st to talk about stuff from this list! We have a lot of fun. You should listen (online, or via your local station that carries the show), and tell your mom to listen too. I know mine will be.

[top image credit tim!]

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rustic warmth and seeping wistfulness

The honest, richly-spun folk sounds of Gregory Alan Isakov captivated a packed house in Denver last week as he opened for the Calexico show. I've written about the marvelous skiffle of Isakov's "The Salt and The Sea" tune before, and have been appreciated the bright talent of this local artist in several venues across Colorado this year. I love to hear Gregory sing; his voice is really something special in the singer-songwriter pantheon, with hints of sly knowing, balanced with a warm and soaring verve.

"Gonna write one for you, the unwritable girl . . ."

Unwritable Girl - Gregory Alan Isakov
[from his 2007 album That Sea, The Gambler]

All pictures of Gregory's set with Calexico are here.

Isakov is playing again this Friday night at Boulder's B-Side Lounge with Wisconsin folk artist Peter Mulvey. When I ripped out the ad in The Onion at a local coffee shop, I knew I recognized the name Mulvey from somewhere fantastic. Turns out that I've long loved a collaborative set that Mulvey did with two other excellent "dusky-Americana" musicians in the same vein: Jeffrey Foucault and Chris Smither. I've listened to this set from WPLN many times when I need an infusion of something . . . authentic.

In addition to a cover of "Buckets of Rain" that gets me every single time, this set also includes one of my favorite sad songs of the last few years, "Northbound 35."

I mean seriously:

We fought all night
and then we danced in your kitchen
You were as much in my hands
As water or darkness or nothing
Can ever be held

It's just flashes that we own
Little snapshots
made from breath and from bone
And out on the darkling plain alone
They light up the sky

Agonizingly gorgeous in the sadness.

Train Home - Chris Smither

29 Cent Head - Peter Mulvey
Stripping Cane - Jeffrey Foucault

Lola - Chris Smither

Stranded in a Limousine - Peter Mulvey

Northbound 35 - Jeffrey Foucault
**highest rec**
Crocodile Man - Chris Smither
Shirt - Peter Mulvey

Secretariat - Jeffrey Foucault

Outside In - Chris Smither

The Road To Mallow - Peter Mulvey

Buckets of Rain (Dylan) - Jeffrey Foucault


TICKETS: Gregory Alan Isakov with Peter Mulvey
Friday, Dec 12 - B-Side Lounge in Boulder

[audio via]

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

#5 ain't half bad

Hey! Stereogum readers ranked Fuel/Friends as the #5 Music Blog That's Not Stereogum. What a huge honor for me, to be among such stellar company on that list. A sincere thank you guys!

New solo album from Raveonettes dude

Sune Rose Wagner is the masculine half of Danish duo The Raveonettes, alongside his platinum counterfoil Sharin Foo. After seven years of working in tandem (including on this year's marvelously cool Lust, Lust, Lust) Wagner is striking out on his own for an album of solo material, released this week.

That same echoey blend of surf sounds and scuzzy garage rock from the Raveonettes output is at play on this collection. To my non-Nordic eyes, these song titles look like Sigur Ros, but sound like Phil Spector -- except completely in Danish. It works!

Beruset Og Forhadt - Sune Rose Wagner

Wagner's self-titled solo album is out now on Juvenile Records.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem on Conan Tuesday night

"Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over?"


Monday, December 08, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

I went skiing this weekend, a rare occurrence for me despite living in Colorado. My body doth protest heartily today, after using muscles near-forgotten. I am a novice skier but by the end of the day Saturday I was hitting a stride where I wasn't fighting against the giant contraptions buckled to my feet and I could just glide down the mountain (almost) naturally. It felt at times like flying, silently.

It was a gorgeous day and occasionally the sun would break through the clouds and shimmer across Lake Dillon in the distance. Even though I was listening to things like The Strokes and The Darkness, I couldn't help but think of the Josh Ritter lyric, "The lake was a diamond in the valley's hand." A few times I stopped dumbfounded on the edge of the run and said out loud to no one in particular, "Man alive, that's gorgeous" -- all I have is a cell phone snap that doesn't do it justice.

We also saw a free Girl Talk concert outside at Keystone Friday night (part of the impetus for the original trip) and it was short but fantastic. Gillis could have held the stage for another two hours and I think we would have all been happy as cold little clams. Due to the fact that we were dancing outside on snow, it never got as hot and sweaty as your standard Girl Talk concert, leaving us all wanting more and more.

Here are a few new tunes in these waning weeks of the year:

Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus

This is a fantastically sloppy, raucous track from Jersey's Titus Andronicus. Like the band's live shows, the song is loose and unhinged, with frustrated lyrics about the creative pressures like "throw my guitar down on the floor, no one cares what I've got to say anymore." Frontman Patrick Stickles vows to write his masterpiece another day, but it sounds like they capture a fine visceral slice of their lives right at this moment. The band is named for the bloodiest of Shakespeare's plays, and the re-release of their debut album The Airing of Grievances is due January 19 (XL Recordings). They hit the road next month with Los Campesinos!.

Headin' Inside
Surf City
A dear friend is currently out of these snowy Colorado climes and spending a month in New Zealand and Australia. She regales me with emails about how humid it is there, while I am watching snow twirl outside my window right this minute. Fittingly, in the dead of winter New Zealand band Surf City (formerly Kill Surf City) brings a hot and feisty slice of July back into my music life this week. With an opening riff that sounds like the Jesus & Mary Chain channeling Dick Dale, they tie up the classic pop sound with "the simple structure meets raw energy" of punk. Their self-titled EP is out now on Morr Music.

Hurtin' You
Ben Kweller

Deep within Ben Kweller's gawky indie-rocker heart, which normally beats with sublime pop harmonies and sunny construction, there lies a downhome country fella. We've heard hints of it spun marvelously in 2006's self-titled album and more recently on his How Ya Lookin', Southbound? EP. But this new slide-guitar laden song from his forthcoming Changing Horses full length (ATO Records, February '09) just consummates the ongoing flirtation once and for all. And I'm glad.

Juliette Commagére
One of the coolest girls ever to wield a keytar, the fearless Juliette Commagére fronts the L.A. band Hello Stranger, sometimes in knee-high red boots. Now embarking on a solo jaunt, Juliette gives me chills in the opening moments of this pristine song with cascading harmonies that sound more at home in a Tibetan monastery, but then breaks into a fine, loud Blondie-type rock. Ry Cooder guests on her enticing album Queens Die Proudly, out now on Aeronaut Records.

Girl Ain't Preggers
Grampall Jookabox

The world might be a better place if every song came complete with a video game where you can jump over babies while the song discusses the protagonist's conflicting feelings about the girl not being pregnant (starting with "I need some money right now, I can't pay for no baby," then moving into a surprisingly sentimental line of thinking about how cute tiny baby hands are, and ending with, "Don't it make you feel bad that the girl ain't preggers?"). Despite two of my guy friends each feeding over 25 babies on this game and being praised for their superior parenting skills, I regret to inform that I kept landing on the babies. Sigh. Grampall Jookabox's new album Ropechain is out now on Asthmatic Kitty.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sufjan gets behind the Welcome Wagon

If you showed me the cover of this (2008!!) album from Brooklyn's Welcome Wagon and asked me if'n I would like to borrow it from you and listen to it, my first reaction would be "No." That would be based largely on the fairly unbelievable cover. But shucks -- beyond that Seventies-tastic artwork lies a whole downpour of wholehearted harmonies and majestic banjos on this debut album from Rev. Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique. As it helpfully says on the cover, "Pastor and wife join voices in sacred foks songs for All Ages."

The album was produced, recorded, and arranged by Sufjan Stevens, and this song was originally written by past Sufjan collaborators Danielson Familie. Fans of Sufjan's music will appreciate the same childlike delight and shiny newness in their music.

Sold! To The Nice Rich Man - The Welcome Man

Welcome To The Welcome Wagon is out December 9th, and that night they are playing St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn.

[thanks bruce!]

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

The great collapse of Everything Absent and Distorted

The end of last year was a nightmare for me of long hours in hospital rooms, soundtracked by the beeping and whooshing of intimidating machines under a sickly halogen buzz. As I confronted very real fears and my absolute inability to do anything other than hold a warm, dry hand and sing the occasional song, I lacked the words to express how that feels.

Everything Absent or Distorted
is a band of wonderful guys from Denver whose new release The Great Collapse incisively explores some of these themes that gnaw in your head during long hours of waiting. In the starkly-perfectly titled song "A Form To Accommodate The Mess," lyrics ponder all that a hospital room has seen over the years, and the cycles that hold us all together. Over a slowly-building cadence that grows like a tsunami, the words question why the stench of sickness is the same as the smell of medicine and healing. "We are born gasping for air," the song notes, "and we die gasping for air. One, two, three deep breaths -- the end and the beginning." It's hit me rough and potent.

A form to accommodate the mess - Everything Absent and Distorted

Through EAOD's gorgeously vibrant multi-instrumental music (that sounds "more at home in Montreal than Denver") this album is helping to define something to accommodate a mess and a chaos that befalls me lately. During the recording process of this album, band members faced massive situations like a dad dying, a baby being born prematurely, a marriage beginning -- the true grit that makes up life. Life's ups and downs are all there, reflected in the incisive, poetic lyrics.

Like an Arcade Fire collective, all eight band members cohere through a symphony of instruments ranging from "violin, cello, bowed double bass, guitars, glockenspiel, casio keyboards circa 1985, alesis synthesizers, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone, banjo, piano, pots and pans, trains, and fences." And just in case eight is in fact not enough, they're also joined on the album by members of Denver bands DeVotchKa, Bela Karoli, and Cat-A-Tac.

I've been privileged to see EAOD a few times live (and will again this Saturday at their record release show at The Gothic) and it's one of the most pure-hearted rock 'n' roll bacchanalias you will see. They convulse and thrash and jump and fall over each other, but they close their eyes and they sing with their whole hearts and therein lies a gorgeous glimpse of the role music plays to them and their audience. As another song on the album says, this feels like "featherbeds in a bomb shelter, trying to find some sleep." For me, The Great Collapse is a bit of comfort during the shelling.

Both EOAD albums were recorded, financed, produced, mixed, manufactured, distributed by the band with their own limited funds. As member John Kuker says:

"We barely make enough money in a year’s worth of shows just to make a record – we then go in debt to put it out – and slowly try to recoup some of the funds. We’re a part of the so-called Needlepoint Records family with Rabbit is a Sphere, Thank God for Astronauts and Cat-A-Tac, as we thought an Elephant 6 type deal could be fun.

But at the end of the day, of course all the label/money stuff doesn’t matter at all to us. Of course this project will end up costing us tons more money than we could ever make and we don’t care. We put our blood, sweat, tears, and dollars into this because it’s about all that matters to us.

We never set out to get signed or tour the world. We just all had to make some art in order to be. To be

As they also said in a recent interview, and what must be keeping this fantastic album vibrating and resonating within my chest, is that "anything meaningful in this world, musical or non-musical, is bound to take a great collapse."

GO: Everything Absent or Distorted album release party at The Gothic Theatre, Saturday, December 6th at 9pm for a mere eight dollars.

LISTEN: Most of the new album is streaming at their Myspace, and you can buy it here.

[band photos from my Monolith Saturday set]


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Autumn de Wilde turns her lens on Elliott Smith (new contest)

Insound is teaming up again with Fuel/Friends to give away another music prize -- the book Elliott Smith by Autumn de Wilde. This is "a portrait of the beloved and troubled singer/songwriter by those who knew him well. Complementing de Wilde's riveting, personal images are ephemera, handwritten lyrics, and revealing talks with Smith's inner circle, many speaking here for the first time. Also included are a foreword by Beck Hansen and Chris Walla, and a live CD of unreleased solo acoustic performances."

Autumn de Wilde also did the video for Elliott's "Son of Sam": [thx]

Enter to win the book here through December 10th (and even though there is no confirmation page after you submit your name, I am assured it is working). Looks pretty sweet; I've been listening to a lot of mopey Elliott Smith lately. The book is part of Insound's Holiday Gift Guide.

Angeles (live on KCRW) - Elliott Smith
Trouble (Cat Stevens cover) - Elliott Smith

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Hang the DJ

I'm gonna try my hand at this DJ business as part of Denver's New Music Mondays over at the Larimer Lounge on January 19th. A new event on Monday nights, folks can bring their own vinyl or iPod contributions to add between sets to this record party. Should be a cool time of new music discovery with local, national and international tunes, brought to you by the Monolith Festival folks.

If you're in Denver, come check it out. And don't tell them I have no idea how to actually DJ (shhh!).

Dec 1: Jim McTurnan (Cat-A-Tac) + Joshua Novak (Songwriter)
Dec 8: Brian F Johnson (Marquee Magazine) + Nicole Covington (Gothic Theater)
Dec 15: Kurt Ottaway (Overcasters) + MondoGarage (Garage/Spy Fi)
Dec 22: Chris Martucci (Laylights) with Miles & Baumer
Jan 5: Eryc Eyl (Westword) and DJ Ginger
Jan 12: Citrus Sauthoff (U.S. Pipe) and Julian Wakefield
Jan 19: Heather Browne (Blogger, I Am Fuel/You Are Friends) with Meese!

For the most current schedule updates, check here.

[photo credit]


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