New Music - Eric Wolfson

You couldn’t expect the politically minded Eric Wolfson, one of my local favorites, to keep quiet during an election year. His wicked cool 2007 debut, State Street Rambler, was full of politically and socially charged Dylan-esque folk-rock, and he’s been an outspoken supporter of Barack Obama in this year of election as well. He also contributed a bunch of thoughts to my Year In Review series last December, proving he’s got his finger on the pulse of more than just politics and the L.E.S. music scene.

Wolfson has been busy of late recording 2 new demos and posting them on his myspace page. Both avoid lyrical subtlety in favor of sharp, striking images and clear messages. “Crispus Attucks” name drops the one-time slave & revolutionary who helped incite the Boston Massacre, and then does the same for a few hundred other tongue twisting cultural and historical references. It sounds like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” meets “We Didn’t Start The Fire” without the cue card video of the former or the tacky chorus of the latter. The other new track is a reworked version of Rithie Valens’ “Donna”, only with new lyrics and Obama’s name inserted instead of the female love interest. Clever shit I tell you.

MP3 :: Crispus Attucks
MP3 :: Obama
(demos available at Wolfson’s myspace)

MP3 :: Graveyard Girls
(from State Street Rambler. Buy here)

Wolfson will be playing a full band show on July 5 at the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan to celebrate the 156th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s “5th of July” Speech.

Related :: [video] Eric Wolfson - "Sleeping Is A Sucker's Game"

PHW Album(s) of the Month - 6/08

I’m taking the easy road out this month and picking co-albums of the month. I know, I know….shocking. But choosing between The War On Drugs amazing Wagonwheel Blues and Fleet Foxes’ self titled debut is proving too hard. I’ve listened to both far more than anything else this month, and both will likely wind up placing very high on whatever year end list I put together in December. My obvious recommendation - if you haven’t yet checked into these records than you are missing out on 2 of the year’s best.

MP3 :: Taking The Farm
(from Wagonwheel Blues. Buy here)

MP3 :: White Winter Hymnal
MP3 :: He Doesn’t Know Why
(from Fleet Foxes. Buy here)

Previously on PHW:
New Music - Fleet Foxes
[interview] The War On Drugs
[mp3] The War On Drugs - “Taking The Farm”

PHW Songs of the Month - 6/08

Forest Fire
MP3 :: Slow Motion
(from Survival. Buy here)
Eef Barzelay
Stream :: Apocalyptic Friend
(from Lose Big. Buy here)
Previously on PHW :: Eef Barzelay - Lose Big

Damien Jurado
MP3 :: Gillian Was A Horse
(from Caught In The Trees. Info here)
Previously on PHW :: [mp3] Damien Jurado - “Gillian Was A Horse”

Sigur Rós
“Inní mér syngur vitleysingur”
(from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Buy here)
Previously on PHW :: [mp3] Sigur Ros - “Gobbledigook”

The Low Low’s
MP3 :: Modern Romance
(from Shining Violence. Buy here)

Spoon covers The Smiths' "Panic"

Yesterday being the last day of school, after work I went out with my co-workers for a few celebratory cold ones. There’s nothing better than those first few minutes of summer vacation, but my mood was quickly deflated when I entered the bar - an outdoor place with a DJ playing incredibly loud and obnoxious dance/house/club music right in our faces. Not to sound all old or anything, but that music (or at least the stuff that gets played by DJs with lots of hair product and unbuttoned black shirts ) sucks. It was headache inducing and pretty much prevented any of the bar’s patrons from, you know, talking to each other.

I (not so) sarcastically suggested to my drinking buddy that we should request “Panic” by The Smiths - with the infamous chorus of “hang the DJ hang the DJ, hang the DJ hang the DJ”. We didn’t, but I did come home last night to find a Spoon cover of the song over at You Ain’t No Picasso. It’s a fairly straight cover, and like practically everything Spoon does, it’s pretty brilliant. Along with the fact that I have about 80 straight days of sleeping in ahead of me, it got my head back on track.

MP3 :: Panic (Smiths cover)
(by Spoon)

Eef Barzelay - "Lose Big"

As the principal creative force behind the now retired Clem Snide, Eef Barzelay has already left behind quite a noted legacy. From their moody, quiet 1998 debut, You Were A Diamond, to 2005’s cathartic End Of Love the band showed off their penchant for deliciously weird Americana. Barzelay’s nasally vocals and bitingly sardonic lyrics were always at the fore - dual instruments that determined how much love you were willing to give the band. Their high point was 2001’s The Ghost Of Fashion - a swaggering set of horn-driven folk-rock that reveled in its derision of celebrity (non)culture and consumerism that still sits high among my favorite albums of the decade.

Save some of the heartfelt love songs on 2003’s Soft Spot, Barzelay has always kept a good distance between the song and the writer. With Lose Big, his second foray into the world of solo artist, that has started to change. Lose Big finds Barzelay becoming comfortable penning some of the first personal songs of his career, and the results suit him just fine. These are some of the best songs he’s written since End Of Love and should catapult him back into the indie-spotlight.

My favorite song so far is the album’s unabashed centerpiece - the haunting “Apocalyptic Friend”. It’s a slow-burning mini-epic that finds Eef in full on spiritual questioning mode. Listen to that one here. Other highlights include “The Girls Don’t Care” - a playful tune about what it takes to appeal to the female fans, and “Lose Big”, which was inspired by his experiences watching the workings of music industry (and the people trying to make it there) up close after his move to Nashville. Overall, Lose Big is a more band oriented record than 2006’s Bitter Honey (thought there are a few acoustic tracks towards the album's end), and fans of Clem Snide will find plenty to take their minds off losing one of their favorite bands.

MP3 :: The Girls Don’t Care
MP3 :: Lose Big
(from Lose Big. Buy here)

And the video for “Lose Big”:


[video] Port O'Brien - "I Woke Up Today"

Port O’Brien first caught my ear last year on the strength of their Nowhere To Run EP, which featured an infectious little sing-along called “I Woke Up Today”. The song was spruced up a bit for the band’s latest full length, All We Could Do Was Sing, which saw release last month. The new version features a driving, insistent beat that elevates the communal nature of the group vocals. The video above is the band’s first official one, and captures both the nautical themes that are so important to the band, as well as the child-like glee that comes from shouting those lyrics for 3 and a half minutes. Sounds to me like they’re having fun.

MP3 :: I Woke Up Today
(from All We Could Do Was Sing. Buy here)

Port O’Brien are coming to New York this summer with Bodies of Water:

August 13 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
August 15 - Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall

[Interview] The War On Drugs

As we approach the end of June, the official halfway point of 2008, it’s safe to say that Wagonwheel Blues, the striking debut from The War On Drugs, ranks pretty high among my favorite albums of the year. Singer/songwriter Adam Granduciel and band have crafted a record full of thick, noisy, passionate rock ’n roll that echoes the heroes of classic rock radio while still managing to sound refreshingly original. I caught up with Adam via email and he was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about the band’s interesting name, the creative process, and his many diverse influences:

PHW: Hey Adam. First off, what was the reason behind naming the band The War On Drugs?

Adam: No real reason friend Julian and I came up with it a few years ago over a couple bottles of red wine and a few typewriters when we were living in Oakland. We were writing a lot back then, working on a dictionary, and it just came out and we were like “hey good band name” so eventually when I moved to Philadelphia and got a band together I used it. It was either that or “The Rigatoni Danzas.” I think we made the right choice. I always felt though that it was the kind of name I could record all sorts of different music under without any sort of predictability inherent in the name...kind of mysterious—but you HAVE TO have the “The” in there...

PHW: The first thing I noticed about Wagonwheel Blues was how fully realized it sounds - not at all like a typical debut. How did that come to be?

Adam: Thanks man. Well the songs on this album each have their own little time frame spanning over the last 6-7 years. Boulders, Farm and Urgency were all started in the 2006 sessions with the Cobbs, Barrel of Batteries is from 2001, Buenos Aires from 2005 and Needle, Reprise, Coast and Reverse the charges were all done in late 2007/early 2008. Songs went through tons of transformations and approaches. For a long time we were doing a version of ‘Needle’ that was real slow and about 9 minutes was great live, usually just myself and Kurt, but it didn’t seem to have the same impact when it hit the tape. The version of it on the album was done in one session about one week before I had the record mastered. I did the organs at home over the sampler and all these loops and then brought the reels to Jeff’s (we have the same tape machine) and did the drums and vocals the next morning. All of a sudden this new version made so much sense to me. All the songs were recorded to tape, sometimes dumped to pro-tools and overdubbed, then moved back to tape and mixed. ‘No Urgency’ was done in about 5 different studios. Songs were all mixed by different people...myself, Jeff, the Cobbs and Brian McTear—all with different gear. Most of it ran through Jeff’s SSL G-series bus compressor which adds an amazing shine to all of it. There are sounds on these songs from over 8 years of home recording...bits and pieces here and there...dumped from cassettes, minidiscs, samplers, rough mixes run thru amps and sampled etc...but most importantly all the performances are fresh and invigorating. Everybody was really getting behind each song when we were working on them. In the end, every song ended up with it’s own special energy and charm while many of the themes seemed to have remained fairly consistent in a way...

PHW: I don't get the sense from your music that you guys are a new band. There seems to be too much, I don't know, vision, behind what you're creating - how long have you been playing together?

Adam: I met Kurt in 2003 and we began playing together constantly...not so much in band form but just staying up late fingerpicking, strumming, making recordings in my house, his house, sharing books, gear and records. We’d go on week long recording benders—15-20 hours a day or the time we started making The War On Drugs recordings together that show up on this album playing together had become so natural. I’m so comfortable with Kurt’s, Dave’s and Charlie’s sensibilities towards music that I feel at ease letting them do what they want in the studio and live. ‘Show me the Coast’ was pretty much recorded live by myself and Kurt in 1 take at Jeff’s studio....2 guitars and vocals over the sampler....all pretty much improvised then I overdubbed the snare and we each added another guitar and piano. The whole recording of that song took about 6 hours. The version on the album is actually a rough mix from the end of that night’s session. That’s the kind of song that just can’t be written beforehand, you can’t plan the has to exist in that immediate form. Then, live we can take it to new heights. AND WE DO!!

PHW: Giving away the Barrel of Batteries EP for free seemed to be a smart strategic move with the full length coming out so soon after. Was that your decision or your label's (Secretly Canadian)?

Adam: That was their idea and at first I was a bit hesitant cuz the Ep just felt a bit old to me but they really latched onto those recordings from the start so they thought it would be a good idea. It really was a great idea and definitely helped get the word out about the full length. The original Ep had an acoustic version of ‘Arms like Boulders’ and they decided to use the Brian McTear mixed version of the full band one...a different mix than the one on the album. Those guys have been real champions of all the recordings I’ve given them over the last year or so and I’m just real fortunate to have them be the ones putting out my records....they’re the best dudes around.

PHW: It's well documented that Springsteen and Suicide are big influences on The War On Drugs. What other music inspires you guys?

Adam: Yeah totally...We listened to the Velvets’ Quine Tapes on the last tour—a different Sister Ray as we entered each city. But yeah...Neil Young, Coltrane, Dylan, Classic rock radio stations, the blues, The Fall...tons of stuff, always searchin and diggin. New stuff: Blues Control from Queens, Wooden Shjips, Carter Tanton’s entire catalog. I’m also real into the recordings of Tom Dowd—an Atlantic engineer in the 50’s-80’s. Invented the faders...recorded Coltrane, Coleman, Clapton, Ray Charles pretty much anyone on Atlantic in those days...all the good shit. Modernized everything. Everyone should watch this movie about him called “The Language of Music: Tom Dowd.” It’ll blow your mind...his level of invention for the history and future of recording. With the Drugs it’s always fun goin on the road and record shopping in every city...maybe finding something for the car ride you haven’t heard in years...Dave picked up Incesticide on the last tour and that was sweet...especially since the exhaust system had fallen off my car and it was the loudest 14 hour drive from Chicago to Philly of my life.

PHW: One of my favorite aspects of Wagonwheel Blues is how it walks the line between something that is easy to hear what influenced it and something that has a unique sound. How did you manage that?

Adam: Well we’re all huge fans of classic songwriting/songwriters so we definitely put The Song first but then there’s always that huge appetite for experimentation, especially improvisation, that is at the forefront of our recordings. I always try and keep the sessions pretty loose...”yo kv, go do a guitar on this.” So he gets a sweet chiming tone out of the amp and just feels the song...maybe it’s the first stab he’s had at it but those are always the keepers—the first impressions. The ‘Taking the Farm’ guitar was a first take and KV didn’t even know the changes but that sort of looseness is what often nails the spontaneity of a performance and the heart of a song. Much of the vocals were semi-improvised…‘taking the farm,’ ‘no urgency,’ ‘show me the coast’ and ‘needle in your eye.’ I’d maybe have a few things written down...a couple lines I thought worked...and would do one or two takes and that’s it. I love hearing mistakes in records—an out-of-tune guitar on a Dylan song, missed cues, flubs, laughs, obvious punch-ins and gives the music a very human character so I’m never really concerned with getting ‘the perfect guitar part’ or ‘the perfect set of lyrics.’ Honesty and spontaneity in a performance translate better than anything....

MP3 :: Taking The Farm
(from Wagonwheel Blues. Buy here. Original Post here)

MP3 :: Arms Like Boulders
(from the Barrel of Batteries EP. Download here for free. Original Post here)

New Music - Destroyer/Wye Oak

I hope y’all are doing the right thing these days and supporting your local independent record stores. God knows they need it. My favorite place to buy music is Music Matters on 7th Ave (b/w 13 & 14th St) in Park Slope - a small place that has a great selection of new indie music, plenty of other genre choices, and a wicked awesome selection of new and used LPs too.

Record Store Day did a lot to help bring business to these dying breeds. If you didn’t get a chance to pick up a copy of Merge Records’ contribution to the cause, you’re still in luck. The label has long been a supporter of independent record stores and showed their support by giving away a special split 7” single featuring new music from Destroyer and Wye Oak. These songs will be of interest mostly to collectors and obsessives of both band’s music, and in that way make them the perfect accompaniment for the day they helped celebrate.

MP3 :: Madame Butterflies
(by Destroyer)

MP3 :: Prodigy
(by Wye Oak)

Download both from the Merge Records site here

[mp3] Damien Jurado - "Gillian Was A Horse"

Damien Jurado will return this September with Caught In The Trees, an album that took an entire year to record and finds the songwriter turning inward for his lyrical inspiration. After adoring his traditional folk masterpiece, Where Shall You Take Me?, I have to admit that I haven’t kept up with Jurado much over the past few years. I was lukewarm about 2005’s On My Way To Absence, and then very indifferent about And Now That I’m In Your Shadow from 2006, his last 2 studio efforts. By the sound of “Gillian Was A Horse”, the first single from the new record, he just may be back on track. The song begins with acoustic strumming that immediately recalls his late 90’s classic “Letters & Drawings” before detouring into a spirited, piano-driven country rocker. The song is brimming with the promise that Jurado, no lie detector and no bullshit talker, will be making waves again this year.

MP3 :: Gillian Was A Horse
(from Caught In The Trees. Info here)

And here's one song each from his last 4 records:

MP3 :: What Were The Chances
(from And Now That I’m In Your Shadow. Buy here)

MP3 :: White Center
(from On My Way To Absence. Buy here)

MP3 :: Texas To Ohio
(from Where Shall You Take Me? Buy here)

MP3 :: Paper Wings
(from I Break Chairs. Buy here)

[mp3] The Broken West - "Perfect Games"

The release of The Broken West’s debut, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, last January coincided with the start of this blog, and was featured in one of my very first posts. Not that my posts are often very professional sounding now, but it makes me cringe looking back at some of those awkward first steps. I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way since then, but the truth is I still just kind of throw some thoughts together with an mp3 or 2 and hope a few people discover something they like. Sure, technically speaking I feel like I'm better at what I do here, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with a lack of artistic growth as long as you’re doing something that some people find interesting, right?

The first single from The Broken West’s soon to be released sophomore record, Now or Heaven, shows that the band hasn’t changed much over the past 18 months either. The production is slightly more polished and the rythym section is tighter and more insistent, but otherwise the glistening, sun shining in your eyes power-pop of their debut hasn’t been tampered with in the least. “Perfect Games” is a pure West Coast sing along; a rousing, harmony laden run through the byrds and the bea(tle)s. They may be looking for flaws in the diamonds, but there are none to be found here. Now Or Heaven comes out September 9, again via Merge.

MP3 :: Perfect Games
(from Now Or Heaven. Info here)

[album release] The War On Drugs - "Wagonwheel Blues"

The War On Drugs released Wagonwheel Blues, one of the finest debut records I've heard all year, this week. I have to go to work now, so I can't get too in depth with it, but if you are a regular to this blog and enjoy most of the music I share then I would say it's a pretty safe bet you'll love this album. Follow those "original post" links for more band info.
(from Wagonwheel Blues. Buy here. Original post here)
(from the Barrel of Batteries EP. Download here. Original post here.)

Bob Dylan :: Blood On The Tracks - The New York Sessions, 1974

There’s a perfectly good reason that every time Bob Dylan has released an album of new material over the past decade it gets tagged as his “best since Blood On The Tracks”. Put simply, it's because Blood On The Tracks is the finest collection of songs Dylan has recorded since his mid-60’s heyday - some would even argue it bests those undeniable classics. Whether it does or not, Blood On The Tracks remains one of the most universally praised albums in his canon, as well as, arguably, his most personal. It is also one of the best records of the 1970's -a stunning return to form after a disappointing stretch of early 70’s albums that had many wondering if the world’s greatest songwriter had lost his touch.

One of the interesting things about Blood On The Tracks is that Dylan had recorded it in 1974 in New York, but after hearing the takes decided some changes were in order. He switched studios - finding one in Minneapolis - and re-recorded half of the 10 songs with a new set of session players. He found the original tapes a bit monotonous, but over the years fans have developed quite an affair with them because of their stripped down nature - some would say a more appropriate setting for lyrics of such a confessional nature. Now you get to decide - here’s the Blood On The Tracks’ songs as Dylan originally imagined them while in New York.

MP3 :: Tangled Up In Blue
MP3 :: Simple Twist Of Fate
MP3 :: You’re A Big Girl Now
MP3 :: Idiot Wind
MP3 :: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
MP3 :: Meet Me In The Morning
MP3 :: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts
MP3 :: If You See Her, Say Hello
MP3 :: Shelter From The Storm
MP3 :: Buckets Of Rain
MP3 :: Tangled Up In Blue
MP3 :: You’re A Big Girl Now
MP3 :: Idiot Wind
MP3 :: If You See Her, Say Hello

(from Blood On The Tracks - The New York Sessions 1974)

The original Blood On The Tracks has been remastered and is available here.

[album review] Centro-Matic - "Dual Hawks"

Because Centro-Matic is one of my favorite bands, and because I haven’t seen too much attention being thrown the way of Dual Hawks, I thought I’d post the review I wrote for Treble last week:

Dual Hawks is a rare breed of an album - a split LP released in conjunction from Will Johnson’s two primary songwriting outlets, Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel. The strategic dual release makes sense coming from an artist with Johnson’s prolificacy. By my count he’s now been behind 8 Centro-Matic albums, 4 from South San Gabriel (9 & 3 if you count South San Gabriel Songs/Music as a Centro-Matic release, as it was in the States), 3 EPs, 2 solo albums, 1 split EP (with Vermont), and a smattering of tour and web exclusives. Last year’s Operation Motorcide “EP” consisted of 8 songs and 33 minutes of music not included on 2006’s Fort Recovery, and unsurprisingly did not compromise on quality. All told, Johnson has to be considered among today’s most consistent (and generous) songwriters - it’s hard to pinpoint a single release that does not live up to his very high standards. Ryan Adams, take note.

The problem with accumulating such a voluminous back catalog over a 12 year stretch is that, no matter how good you are, you only have so many tricks up your sleeve. Most of the Centro-Matic side of Dual Hawks adheres to the mid-tempo, Crazy Horse-styled arrangements the band has perfected over the years, and will sound revelatory in its precision to fans of that particular genre who are new to the band. There isn’t a whole lot of difference listening to the 2008 version of Centro-Matic than, say, the 2000 version that created All The Falsest Hearts Can Try. The production has improved (more a result of better resources than a new approach), and the band now believes in concision when selecting what tracks make the cut, but for the most part the songs are interchangeable. But for as predictable as they’ve become over the years, there’s hardly a rough edged, hard-Americana unit playing today that can stand next to Centro-Matic in either quality or consistency - they don’t so much employ a unique brand of rock ’n roll as absolutely own a very well-worn form of it.

Feedback fueled bursts of electric guitar have always dominated Centro-Matic’s more aggressive songs, and on Dual Hawks they erupt at all the right moments, propelling Johnson’s obtuse poetics and throaty growl right along. Long time producer/drummer Matt Pence has once again intuitively captured this trademark Centro-Matic sound on tape, continuing the string of noteworthy albums that now dates back well over a decade. In that sense, Dual Hawks fits right in with an already impressive back catalog. It doesn’t improve on what has come before, but rather adds 11 more songs that will all sound great blaring out of cranked up amps in mid-sized theatres and clubs.

Dual Hawks begins with a stretch of rockers that sound instantly familiar. “Rat Patrol And DJs” recalls the lo-fi, bedroom hard rock of their first album, Redo The Stacks, for its first 15 seconds. Then Pence’s drums burst in, reinforcing the fact that Johnson’s song structures haven’t changed much since those early days - and that’s for the better. The chorus is brightened by a tambourine and Johnson’s twisting of the central melody with his best falsetto. “Two Gold Seats Reserved” is most closely related to Fort Recovery’s “For New Starts” - each featuring a winding vocal melody and high, piercing electric guitar lines. “Remind Us Alive” works more of a controlled tempo, but then explodes into an extended solo that dominates the second half of the song - a familiar (and welcome) Johnson trick to anyone who has listened before.

Most of the rest of the Centro-Matic half of Dual Hawks rewards without surprising. It’s the final third of the album that sees the band venturing past the clearly established boundaries they’ve set for themselves. “Counting The Scars” is a stripped down, heartfelt acoustic ballad with some of Johnson’s most straightforward lyrics. “Twenty Four” is shimmering country rock - its themes of lost youth and nostalgia resonate deeply - and is perhaps the most immediate song the band has ever produced. And closer “A Critical Display Of Snakes” is a strong link to the SSG side of Dual Hawks - the whining violin echoing South San Gabriel’s more spaciously arranged sonic adventures.

That said, the South San Gabriel half works as a virtual counterpoint to Centro-Matic in both style and dynamics, if not theme. Where the latter hits with blunt force, an exercise in visceral music making, the former houses songs that gradually evolve through long, slow stretches of time - acting as Centro-Matic’s moodier, more cerebral kid brother. Johnson’s vocals and lyrics inevitably come to the fore in these quieter moments, but his lyrics and melodies are often more opaque when fronting SSG. Musically, South San Gabriel songs unwind with a yawning, spacious elegance - they may not burst out of the speakers with Centro-Matic’s kinetic energy, but there is often a sublime beauty that makes them equally rewarding.

“Emma Jane” opens the album with some gorgeous acousitc guitar/violin interplay. When Johnson’s vocals finally enter after 2 minutes he does his best to not overpower the established mood - opting instead to sing in a near whisper to a lost love. Lines like “remember the nights that we had, the nervousness just ripped through our eyes” hit more for their direct emotion than any kind of hummable melody. “Kept On The Sly” works as a more subdued version of “A Critical Display of Snakes” - gentle acoustics and violins ride over the song’s spry beat, again with Johnson’s vocals almost hiding behind the song’s mood instead of establishing it. “Trust To Lose”, the first released single, begins somewhat reluctantly, with a sort of vaguely Middle-Eastern violin part that gives way to and then intertwines with acoustic strumming, just starting to make an impression before fading out after the 2 minute mark. And that’s the way it goes for most of the South San Gabriel disc. It takes patience, and perhaps a certain quiet, lonesome listening environment, for these songs to be fully effective.

Both halves of Dual Hawks work in their own way as concise, tightly executed albums, with songs more effective for their strength in numbers than for any noticeable sense of individuality. On recent albums, songs like “To Unleash The Horses Now”, “Flashes And Cables”, and “Triggers And Trash Heaps”, among others, stood out, offering the chance for a great single to catapult the band to the deserving next level of fame. To these ears the only song here with the same potential for mass appeal is “Twenty Four”, but with its shambling country rock feel seems unlikely to resonate with the indie-snob crowd. Long time fans of these bands will revel though in the familiarity of these 23 songs, some could even argue that Dual Hawks is the best work Johnson has ever released. Cynics are sure to harp on the fact that it offers nothing new to the long established Centro-Matic/SSG formula. But that’s not the point - no Centro-Matic or South San Gabriel release has ever been a dramatic departure from its predecessor. Instead we get another 11 engaging, gritty rock songs from one, and 12 stately mood pieces from the other - both of which will be championed by fans without significantly expanding the fanbase. They’ll be missing out though, Will Johnson’s dual incarnations are one of rock’s best kept secrets.

In other words, you should check it out:

MP3 :: I, The Kite (Centro-Matic)
MP3 :: Trust To Lose (South San Gabriel)
(from Dual Hawks. Buy here or the special edition here)

Related :: Centro-Matic - Feedback Recovery (a Centro-Matic/SSG primer w/ tons of mp3s)---


New Music - The Dø

Last week I got an unsolicited email from a very fetching French duo. Normally I pass on bands with promo pics that look like Gap ads, but the music of The Dø (that fancy slash through the “o” changes the pronunciation from the traditional “due” to “doe” - as in doe ray me fa sol la ti doe. You know what I mean) was immediately pleasing, and stood out in the sea of mediocrity that emails like theirs normally bring. I found myself listening to their cute and quirky pop songs for a good part of my weekend.

Maybe I’m completely wrong on this, but I don’t think The Dø have made many waves here in the States yet. I’d never heard of them prior to last week. They have had over 2,000,000 myspace visitors though, so somewhere people are listening. “At Last” is the new single from their 2008 album, A Mouthful. A disarming vocal performance from Olivia B. Merilahti (she’s found “a man I can trust, trust with my dust”), a smooth, slow groove, and a seductive, Velvet Underground-esque lead guitar line carry this song. And though not quite as frenetically sample & beat-happy, “Playground Hustle” has all the cheerleader-chanting fun of The Go! Team. Check this stuff out.

MP3 :: At Last
MP3 :: Playground Hustle
(from A Mouthful. Buy here)

New Music - Fleet Foxes

The fact that Robin Pecknold’s lead vocals on the new Fleet Foxes debut record sound so disarmingly similar to both Jim James and Ben Bridwell didn’t go over well with me at first. Musically speaking, Fleet Foxes isn’t particularly close to either band - there are plenty of much more effective comparisons to be made on that front. But damn if those reverbed-soaked vocals aren’t straight up “At Dawn” or “Detlaf Schrempf”.

So I had a hard time getting into this band when songs from their Sun Giant EP started going around earlier this year. But the past 2 weeks have seen just about every noteworthy critical hot-spot and reputable blogger cream their virtual shorts over the self-titled debut, so another listen was in order. And yes, the hoopla is deserved, vocal cloning be damned. Fleet Foxes is not only a remarkable debut, it easily bests the latest from their two "go-to" comparisons. Evil Urges has nothing on this record, and it tops Cease To Begin as well. I’m not going to be so bold as to say that it’s better than the best albums of those 2 bands, but I’m not not going to say it either. Fleet Foxes is that good, and is quickly becoming one of my favorites of 2008.

Sub Pop has just gone and done a real nice thing for anyone out there who still needs convincing. Apparently when the digital version of “He Doesn’t Know Why” hit iTunes, it had some flaws. To make things right the label has decided to make the song available, along with the previously released “White Winter Hymnal”, as a free download. Score. The song absolutely glistens - its soaring vocals are matched by an even sunnier musical arrangement. Pure summertime bliss. The thing is, for such a great song, it doesn’t even stand out on the album. There are plenty more where this came from (including “Your Protector“, which sounds like Band of Horses, oops, covering Wilco’s “On And On And On”, only better). Check out one of the year's most exciting young bands.

MP3 :: He Doesn’t Know Why
MP3 :: White Winter Hymnal
(from Fleet Foxes. Buy here)

[mp3] Dr. Dog - "The Old Days"

A few years ago I saw Dr. Dog open up for My Morning Jacket and was thoroughly unimpressed. I think I had a pre-determined aversion based solely on their less-than-inspired band name, but the music they played that night didn’t help matters. The whole night was kind of a wash actually - MMJ had just dropped It Still Moves, but had also just lost 2 long time band members and were playing with 2 replacements. Between an opening act that did nothing for me and a way-too-loud and not nearly tight enough headliner, I left that night disappointed.

About a year and half later I saw Dr. Dog again - this time opening for Son Volt at a free show at the South Street Seaport. That was 3 summers ago, and I noticed that the band had both improved quite a bit and accumulated a small following that were more interested in them that night than the main act. I did say small, but they sure were fervent. The attention caused me to listen close, and that night I left much more impressed.

Improvement or not though, and despite the positive reviews I started hearing for whatever album they were supporting at the time, I didn’t explore the band’s catalog. The name, Dr. Dog, was still getting in the way. I think I ignored another album since then because of the name, again despite increasing positive critical attention from many of my fellow bloggers.

Yesterday though I decided to let bygones be bygones. I think it was the artwork. A terrible band name for sure, but that album art up there is undeniable. “The Old Days” is the first single from the forthcoming Fate - and it’s good - a melody soaked folk-rock track that has more than a touch of 60’s psychedelia swirling around in it. It’s much better than the band name would suggest. Maybe not as great as the art work would. Somewhere in between, closer to the art. It’s a start, and now I want to hear more.

Fate will be released by Park The Van Records on July 22.

MP3 :: The Old Days
(from Fate. Info here)

Tour dates & old songs are streaming at their myspace

James Hickey - "Kitchen"

I’ve had this song in my digital collection for a few years now and have included it on more than a few mixes I’ve made for friends during that span. It’s a cool little folk song - pretty male/female harmonizing, vague lyrics about doubt and hammering nails in anyone else’s kitchen, and some spacey electric guitar and strings. I really love it - one of a few lost Americana treasures from this decade that I keep bunched together in my itunes.

The thing is, beyond the singer’s name, I know nothing about the song. No album info or title (though I improvised this as a title track), no year, no credits or pictures. I can’t link to the source because I can’t find the guy’s website on Google. Just some photographers and soldiers who share the name. If anyone could help out, that would be great - it’s a terrific song and I’d like to hear more from James Hickey, if he even exists…..

MP3 :: Kitchen
(from ???)

[UPDATE :: Check the comments - James Hickey is actually a West Coast songwriter named Chris Hickey. My bad. Thanks for the heads up. His album is available on cdbaby]

[mp3] Son Ambulance - "Horizens"

I just received a copy of the new Son Ambulance album, Someone Else’s Déjà Vu, the other day from Saddle Creek Records. I was only able to listen to the first 6 or 7 songs so far, but, not previously having heard them, I enjoyed it. There’s a big time 60’s influence happening in the music, but not just the standard British Invasion or garage rock thing - they exist, but alongside some Brill Building pop and a samba, or maybe tropicalia, influence going on too. Lots and lots of cool harmonies as well.

The first single is this track, “Horizens”, which I’ve been listening to on repeat now for about 15 minutes. It’s a pretty, folksy little tune that eschews the longer song structures of much of the album - perfect music for days like today that foreshadow an incredibly hot summer just around the corner. Someone Else’s Déjà Vu comes out July 8.

MP3 :: Horizens
(from Someone Else’s Déjà Vu. Info here)

Hear more at the Son Ambulance myspace

[live news] Chris Cubeta & The Liars Club

Local favorite Chris Cubeta has set up a June residency at The Living Room - he’ll be playing there every Monday night this month. It was a little over a year ago that I first took notice and mentioned him in a Talkin’ New York feature. Since then Cubeta dropped a nice little EP called Change, which features some acoustic versions of his older tunes and a handful of new songs - all played his trademark roots-tinged rock ’n roll. The schedule:

Who: Chris Cubeta and The Liars Club
What: Artist Residency at The Living Room
When: Every Monday in June at 10 PM (June 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30)
Where: The Living Room is at 154 Ludlow between Stanton and Rivington in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Take the J or F to Delancey. 212-533-7235.
Cost: All shows are free. There is a one-drink minimum per set.

MP3 :: Change
(from Change EP. Buy here)

MP3 :: Clementine
MP3 :: Don’t Worry
(from Faithful. Buy here)

And here’s a cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio”:
MP3 :: Ohio

Related :: Year In Review, Vol. 6 - Chris Cubeta
Related :: Talkin’ New York Vol. 4 - Chris Cubeta & The Liars Club

The Smiths :: The John Peel Sessions

I really miss That Truncheon Thing. If you don’t know, TTT was a music blog run by a couple of really cool guys (Frank and Rich) in Atlanta who regularly featured high quality classic bootlegs from some of the most important artists in rock history (The Clash, The Who, R.E.M., Springsteen, etc.). Despite ending a very appreciated year long run back in January, the blog still has most of these bootlegs available for download and are well worth seeking out. {update - nope, they aren't. whoops. I don't know if TTT just recently took them down, but I was pretty sure they were all still there. Anyway, I've re-uploaded them.}

A little over a year ago they featured this collection of songs The Smiths recorded over 2 separate visits to John Peel’s BBC radio show back in 1983 and 1986. The recordings sound great, and are just one example of the virtual treasure chest of goodies still waiting to be discovered over at their page. For more info on these recordings, read what Frank had to say here.

Front cover
Back cover

01 Back To The Old House
02 Handsome Devil
03 Miserable Lie
04 Reel Around The Fountain
05 Still Ill
06 This Charming Man
07 This Night Has Opened My Eyes
08 What Difference Does It Make?
09 How Soon Is Now?
10 Nowhere Fast
11 Rusholme Ruffians
12 William, It Was Really Nothing
13 Half A Person
14 Is It Really So Strange?
15 London
16 Sweet and Tender Hooligan

[album release] Shearwater - "Rook"

In addition to the new Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel release, this week also saw the first new Shearwater album since Jonathon Meiburg left Okkervil River to pursue his primary band full time. I shared the first single to Rook way back in early March, which has had me looking forward to hearing more for quite some time now. The new album does not disappoint those who saw 2006’s critically acclaimed Palo Santo as a great leap forward for the band.

For an album with a running time of a mere 38 minutes, Rook has no problem coming off as carefully orchestrated and expansive. Meiburg’s high, airy vocal style is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley or Antony Hegarty, and the band plays a dense sounding collage of progressive folk and indie rock. Though it bears little resemblance to Okkervil River’s clanging, visceral folk-rock, Rook is a clear winner - a thematically unified collection of songs that work best when played together in one sitting. Matador Records put this one out.

MP3 :: Rooks
MP3 :: Leviathan, Bound
(from Rook. Buy here)

[video] Throw Me The Statue - "Lolita"

Here’s a new video from Throw Me The Statue. “Lolita” is from their 2008 Secretly Canadian album Moonbeams, which also houses “About To Walk” - one of the better indie-pop songs of the year. “Lolita” captures a bunch of those Springtime staples - young girls daydreaming while old men look for them, a young guy running, riding a bike, and kicking pies, and a kid in an oversized hat doing yard work. It starts off all peaceful and dreamy, but by the end everyone’s breaking stuff, except the girl. It could be trying to say something about sexual frustration, or maybe it’s just plain weird. Either way, it’s a cool song.

MP3 :: Lolita
MP3 :: About To Walk
(from Moonbeams. Buy here)

New Music - Soltero

You may have noticed an mp3 slip into my favorites of May that I had not previously mentioned on this page. I really snuck one past you there, huh? I’d just started listening to Soltero’s new album, You’re No Dream, a few days before, which I eventually reviewed for Treble (read here). You’re No Dream is played almost exclusively by Tim Howard - a singer/songwriter who moved into a Philadelphia house, borrowed instruments from friends, and recorded this dark, brooding folk album. The closest relation that I can think of is the trippy, slow-folk of Beach House’s recent Devotion.

“Sinkhole” was the Soltero song I featured recently, which is about as straightforward as Howard gets. Despite its central line - and today, I’d marry you tomorrow - this is more the love song of a manic depressive than a hopeless romantic. The spacey, reverb-heavy chamber folk of “Out At The Wall” is more representative of the overall mood and style of You’re No Dream - it’s a stunningly subtle record that bears repeat listens, and is well worth checking out.

MP3 :: Out At The Wall
MP3 :: Sinkhole
Stream :: Lemon Car
(from You’re No Dream. Buy here)

[album release] Centro-Matic :: "Dual Hawks"

This week sees the Misra Records release of the new Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel split LP, Dual Hawks. The two-CD set is the first full length since one of 2006’s best albums, Fort Recovery. While Dual Hawks doesn’t quite live up to that album’s high standard, the new one finds the band once again mining their by now trademark hard-Americana, with Will Johnson turning in another stellar set of gritty, feedback-fueled roots-anthems. The SSG half is, like their fantastic Welcome, Convalescence, another batch of slowly evolving mood pieces that are more notable for their strength in numbers than individuality. There’s a lot to catch up on if you are new to these bands, but starting with Dual Hawks is as good a place as any, and the Centro-Matic half is as good as any rock album released so far this year, save maybe The Midnight Organ Fight or Kensington Heights.

MP3 :: I, The Kite (Centro-Matic)
MP3 :: Trust To Lose (South San Gabriel)
(from Dual Hawks. Buy the special edition here)

Centro-Matic will be at The Bowery Ballroom on June 13 with Grand Archives

Related :: Centro-Matic - Feedback Recovery (a Centro-Matic/SSG primer w/ tons of mp3s)

[mp3] Bruce W. Derr - "Mr. Personality"

A few months ago I “introduced” you to singer/songwriter Bruce W. Derr, who, as apposed to what this picture suggests, does not have 2 heads. Derr is a resident of Central Pennsylvania with a knack for churning out a handful of pretty rad homemade albums per year. The 10 songs on his The Time Of Day, from this past January, were recorded, mixed, and mastered alone by Derr in one dizzying 24-hour burst of creativity, and houses a handful of my favorite folk-rock songs of the year.

Derr wasn’t quite so ambitious with the schedule for his follow up, which comes a mere 5 months later. Mr. Personality took a whopping 3 weeks to record, and this time features a crew of friends helping out with the playing, singing, and recording. In fact, of the 6 LPs and 2 EPs to his credit, this is the first time Derr has used ANY outside help from fellow musicians.

From what I’ve heard of the new songs over at his myspace, the extra hands allow Derr to take more chances with his arrangements - surprising time changes, some nice harmonies from Jessis Yamas and PHW favorite Earl Pickens, and programmed drums. I’m really liking “Tinges Of Blue” - a spacey country waltz with some pretty sharp lyrics. Here’s the title track:

MP3 :: Mr. Personality
(from Mr. Personality. Buy here)

You may remember that Derr’s “Banker Alcoholics” was one of my favorite songs back in January. Check it out if you missed it the first time around:

MP3 :: Banker Alcoholics
(from The Time Of Day. Buy here)

New Music :: Okkervil River

By now you are most likely aware of the new Okkervil River album that will be released in September - if not check out Treble for more details (tracklist, street date, tour info, etc). In short, Will Sheff originally intended last year’s The Stage Names as a double album, but then thought better of it. The Stand Ins rounds up the remaining songs from that album’s fruitful sessions, and, like the Black Sheep Boy Appendix did a few years ago, will act as its sequel/companion/part deux.

The band recently stopped by WOXY for a live radio session and played a new track, “Lost Coastlines”, as well as a handful of favorites from their last few albums. On The Stand Ins this new song will be a duet between Sheff and now former Okkervil River stand in (and full time Shearwater stage name) Jonathon Meiburg. The amicable split has by no means slowed down the Okkervil machine of late - as they’ve released a free online EP, lined up a slew of tour dates for the summer and fall, as well as recorded a beautiful rooftop video for the (relatively) new Pitchfork TV.

MP3 :: Lost Coastlines (live)
(from WOXY radio sessions. Download the whole thing here)