PHW Songs of the Month - 9/08

Gentleman Jesse & His Men
MP3 :: All I Need Tonight (Is You)
(from Introducing Gentleman Jesse. Buy here)

The debut record from Gentleman Jesse features cover art that instantly (and purposefully) recalls Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model - a fitting reference point for this endlessly cool collection of gritty garage-pop anthems. In a year filled with fine debut records (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, The War On Drugs, & Titus Andronicus, to name just a few), Gentleman Jesse has reached the same heights. Don’t think twice about picking this one up.

Jenny Lewis
MP3 :: Acid Tongue
Stream :: the whole album
(from Acid Tongue. Buy here)

Low Water
MP3 :: Voodoo Taxi
(from Twisting The Neck Of The Swan. Buy here)

Deerhoof - Offend Maggie

Offend Maggie is my Deerhoof breakthrough. I’ve mentioned in the past how I’ve always admired Deerhoof’s ability, musically speaking, to sound so avant-garde and arty and still rock so freakin’ hard. But then there’s Satomi Matsuzaki’s anime squeal of a voice, an instrument often so distracting that it made listening to The Runners Four or Friend Opportunity seem like more of a chore than something done out of pure enjoyment. Offend Maggie is the first of the three Deerhoof records I’ve heard that I can say I sincerely enjoy straight through - and I don’t know exactly why that is. It still sounds just like Deerhoof - it's weird and abrasive and stylistically all over the map. Maybe the guitars, especially on album opener “The Tears And Music Of Love”, are just, I don’t know, crunchier. And Matsuzaki’s voice sounds like a natural part of the beautiful clatter surrounding it. The only thing I don't understand is why they whited out my face on the cover. It’s out on October 7, with a free digital download with a vinyl purchase.

MP3 :: Offend Maggie
(from Offend Maggie. Buy here)

Check some older tunes:

MP3 :: +81
(from Friend Opportunity. Buy here)

MP3 :: Wrong Time Capsule
(from The Runners Four. Buy here)

MP3 :: Milking
(from Milk Man. Buy here)

MP3 :: Sealed With A Kiss
(from Apple ‘O. Buy here)

MP3 :: Holy Night Fever
(from Reveille. Buy here)

The Future of Pop Headwound...

Consider this a “State of the Blog” address:

I want to start this little spiel by saying thank you to the many casual and regular readers of Pop Headwound - though I don‘t really know who any of you are, my Google Analytics page tells me that you do exist, you come from all corners of the world, and that several hundred of you are stopping by this site on a daily basis. It might seem obvious, but I have always relished the opportunity to introduce people to new music, whether that was making mixtapes back in the day, or spinning CDs on campus radio, or just passing word on to friends of what they themselves should check out. Pop Headwound has been a very natural evolution of that love, and I’m glad to have guided some of you towards music that matters in your life.

I’ve been writing the posts for PHW by myself for the past year and 10 months. Over that time I have been exposed to countless exciting new bands and have been reminded of many forgotten favorites, both through my own research and that of other like-minded bloggers. I started out in January of 2007 full of awkward moments - posting as often as I could about every band I could squeeze in between work, sleep, and a social life. Eventually I think I got the hang of this, and gradually there were some improvements made - more concise writing, easier links to other sites and mp3s, and finally a cool header photo up there that I took myself (hey I’m no pro, but I really love that pic - it’s the stage floor of a Here Lies Pa (now defunct) show from 2 Springs ago). PHW became a grown up music blog.

And then I discovered a strange thing. I found that I went through alternating phases of interest in this blog - sometimes the writing was full of pure excitement, and sometimes it was kind of a drag to do. Don’t get me wrong - I’ll stand behind every band and/or song that has been shared on this blog. It’s just that some of them I’ll stand behind with more enthusiasm than others. I guess as a music fan I love reading 2 kinds of music criticism - the well written review of an album the author loves, and those where a bad band gets torn to shreds (seriously, you know it’s fun). But it’s the ones that fall somewhere in between that get severely tiresome, and over the past few months I’ve been inundated with emails from bands, promo companies, and record labels asking to listen to and write about bands that don’t excite me either way. I feel like I’ve wasted countless hours listening to music that I either don’t like at all, or worse yet, am completely ambivalent towards. And the fact is that I don’t really want to do that anymore.

You may have guessed from the picture introducing this post that my life has gone through some pretty big changes recently. I’ve never used PHW as a personal forum at all - I’ve hardly shared anything about my personal life in its contents and I like it that way. It’s always been strictly about the music and promoting young bands and reviving interest in older favorites. But, as of September 20th, I am now a married man. And my beautiful new wife is 3 and a half months into a twin pregnancy that has given me a completely new perspective on this gift of life. (CLICHÉ ALERT) Time is a precious thing. Certainly too precious to spend trolling the internet sifting through band after band trying to find that one unknown that will set the blogging community on fire. (For the record, I’ve never set the blogging world on fire - the closest I’ve come is posting some rarities from Wilco, Spoon, and Iron & Wine - any of them you could probably find in dozens of other places). So, to make a long story short, my priorities are shifting, and that might mean a lot less time devoted to making PHW your one-stop source for the best in new independent music.

BUT, it does not signal the end of this blog - just a shift away from the grind of listening to tons of mediocre music on a daily basis. I’ve invested far too much of myself into this blog to just let it go - and though I’m officially a grown up now, my passion for music isn’t going anywhere. Pop Headwound will still be updated on a semi-regular basis, and will focus strictly on music and bands that I am truly passionate about. No matter what they might say, any music blog operated by one person that posts daily couldn’t possibly be passionate about everything. I don’t want to do that anymore. I would guess that the average post takes 2-3 hours of my time, many take much, much more. I still do want to share the music that matters to me with you, but I just can‘t devote that kind of time anymore. I hope you’ll continue to check in, and keep this ongoing musical conversation between strangers going. Peace.

[mp3] Proof of Ghosts - "I'm Coming Home"

Proof of Ghosts is a Toronto band who have an eponymous album out now that I should have mentioned a few months ago. It's been hibernating in my home stereo for a long time after the first listen, and since I hardly ever fire up the old 5-disc changer anymore I'd forgotten about it. That’s certainly not a knock against the music though, more just plain neglect on my part. Last week I was listening to something else, which ended, and on came their CD. The second time around it made an immediate impression, especially the building folk-rock of “I’m Coming Home”, which climbs into its winding chorus and becomes a song you’ll be hard pressed to forget.

MP3 :: I’m Coming Home
(from Proof Of Ghosts. Buy here)

Frightened Rabbit Do Daytrotter

Frightened Rabbit was featured on Daytrotter last week, bringing their unique brand of driving, emotional Scottish rock and roll to the online hub of live music sessions. The band keeps things rather low key with particularly sweet versions of “Poke“ and “My Backwards Walk” from The Midnight Organ Fight, one of this year’s very best albums. They also perform 2 of the stand outs from Sing The Greys, their 2007 debut.

MP3 :: Be Less Rude / My Backwards Walk / Poke / Square 9

New Sounds Goin' Round....

Jenny Lewis is making her solo return after last year’s disappointing Rilo Kiley effort, Under The Blacklight. If there was a high point on that record though it was certainly “Silver Lining”, a gospel tinged ballad with a particularly memorable video that showed off Lewis' honeyed vocals. Acid Tongue is her second solo record, and from the sound of the title track she’s realized her voice is most effective in a minimalist setting with touches of gospel and traditional folk. Here’s to hoping the rest of Acid Tongue is as sweet as this first taste.

Stream :: Acid Tongue in its entirety at Lewis’ myspace
Deerhoof return soon with Offend Maggie, likely another album I’ll want to enjoy more than I actually do. How’s that for optimism? I’ve bought the last two Deerhoof albums, The Runners Four and 2007’s Friend Opportunity, in the hopes of having something finally click. Musically I’ve enjoyed aspects of both very much - you‘ll hardly find a more compellingly noisy rock band. But that voice. Yikes. I don’t get it. I want too, but I just don’t. Anyway, here’s a chance for another try:

MP3 :: Offend Maggie
(from Offend Maggie. Info here)

TV On The Radio - Dear Science,

Last week came the first opportunity to stream the first tracks from the forthcoming TV On The Radio album, Dear Science,. This week, well, they’re all out there. Everywhere. I’m not going to tell you where exactly, but c’mon, we both know you know. I’m also not going to tell you how to live your life, but I’ve been through the album three times in the past 2 days and can, without hesitation, recommend that you purchase this record on the very first day it is available (9/23 mfer's!).

2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain wasn’t the first time I heard TVOTR, but it was the first time I listened intently. And though I finally did warm up to that album, it took me a while….like a few months of trying. It was such a dense and claustrophobic sounding record that it took probably 8 to 10 listens before I had it figured out, but once I did it became one of my favorites of the year.

I’m happy to report that Dear Science, will not require such laborious listening. There is no mistaking the TV On The Radio sound, but on Dear Science, it’s been polished up - there’s more of an emphasis on clean, discernible vocals (is it just me, or does Tunde Adebimpe almost sound like Matt Berninger on some of these songs?) and near-pop hooks over sonic experimentation and walls of noise. This is the sound of an ambitious band learning to use all of their strengths, and I might go on record as saying it‘s their best yet. Yes, in fact you can quote me on that. What are you waiting for, go quote me already. Long time fans might miss the daring sonics at every turn, but me, I’m just glad to get a new album that I’m digging so much so quickly.

Stream :: Dancing Choose
Stream :: Golden Age
(from Dear Science,. Info here)

New Music - Paper The Operator

You may remember from way back in the way back me posting about Jon & Psalm Sebastian’s power-pop duo from Poughkeepsie NY, musical capitol of the Hudson Valley, called The Color Wheels. I wrote that the band’s self-titled LP sounded a bit like “early Weezer, and just about any good power-pop band of the 90s”, and how it was filled with “loud guitars and sparkling melodies”. Needless to say it was a highly enjoyable listen. Well, I was just sent the brand new EP from Jon Sebastian’s other project, Paper The Operator. Like The Color Wheels’ material, Solemn Boys is a slick collection of fun, energetic songs that’s bursting at the seams with melody, but this time around Sebastian writes from a more adult-oriented perspective (The Color Wheels dealt entirely with the feelings that come with emerging adolescence). It probably veers a little closer to power-punk than his other band, but if you dug those songs than there’s little doubt you’ll enjoy these.

MP3 :: Solemn Boys
MP3 :: Divorce Court
(from Solemn Boys EP. Buy here)

Calexico - Carried To Dust

Some people who have written about the brand new Calexico record refer to it as a “return to form” - which suggests that 2006’s Garden Ruin was some sort of sub-par effort. Though I’d agree it wasn’t their finest moment, Garden Ruin was an ambitious, rewarding attempt to shed some of the Southwestern flavor that had characterized so much of their early work in favor of a more directly indie-rock sound. And in that sense it was a success, though perhaps many longtime fans were disappointed that the band would shy away from what most considered their biggest strength. Garden Ruin seemed to polarize fans despite being, arguably, their most traditionally accessible album (you could easily argue that the In The Reins EP recorded with Sam Beam on lead vocals was more so).

Carried To Dust is that brand new record, and will be released this week on Quarterstick Records. It finds the band returning to the regionality of their earlier work while keeping remnants of the more polished moments of Garden Ruin. Gone are the songs driven by surging electric guitar like “Deep Down”, and in their place are a set that leans heavily towards slow to mid-tempo numbers that make the record a very cohesive, consistent listen. Any fan of Calexico, those that go back to early classics like The Black Light, or those recent converts from the In The Reins/Garden Ruin days, will find plenty to dig into here.

I know it may be corny, and Adam Duritz is about as big a wuss (douche bag) as there is in the adult oriented pop-rock world, but there is a line from the Counting Crows song “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” that Calexico’s best music always makes me think of. In the song Duritz throws the phrase “it’s just a brief interruption of the swirling dust sparkle jet stream” together - and if the man is remembered for nothing else it should be this line (too bad for him he’ll be remembered for lots of terrible things, like dreads and Shrek songs). And it’s a line, whose nonlinear piecing together of several independently evocative words conjures up, to me, the type of dusty, big desert sky sound that Calexico does when they are on their game. Carried To Dust is full of those moments. That wasn’t a very well written paragraph, I know, but hopefully you got what I meant.

Carried To Dust opens with a terrific run of songs - “Victor Jara’s Hands”, “Two Silver Trees”, and “The News About William” - which all possess subtle hints of the band’s Tex Mex roots while sounding nothing if not contemporary. “Writer’s Minor Holiday”, with its heavily reverbed harmony vocals and head-swaying rhythm, has more of an indie-pop feel to it than any other track, and the disarming “Slowness”, featuring a female harmony singer whose name I’m not aware of, is among the band’s most beautiful compositions. As they did prominently their career high point Feast Of Wire, the band interjects instrumentals throughout the record that reflect their Southwest roots. While Garden Ruin was too good a record to consider Carried To Dust a return to form, the new record is certainly among the band’s finest work - a welcome return for fans, and a good place to start if you’re new to them.

MP3 :: Two Silver Trees
(from Carried To Dust. Buy here)

[mp3] The Donkeys - "Nice Train"

I’m sorry, but for the past week or so I’ve been finding it damn near impossible to put much thought or effort into what’s being posted on this blog. When I start putting up videos that have already been posted almost everywhere else = a sign that I’m on cruise control. Work has started, it’s really humid, baseball is far more interesting than new music these days, listening to a lot of 90s stuff lately, getting married in 2 weeks (oh snap!), etc etc. I promise to snap out of it at some point and get back to actually putting some effort into PHW.

For now, here’s a new one from The Donkeys Living On The Other Side called “Nice Train”. I posted their first single - the breezy, melodic “Walk Through A Cloud” - over the summer, and the new one is another fine slice of 60s-inspired indie-pop. Don’t let my lethargic intro up there fool you - this is a quality track, I’ve just got a million other things going on these days….

MP3 :: Nice Train
MP3 :: Walk Through A Cloud
(from Living On The Other Side. Buy here)

[mp3] Times New Viking - "Call & Respond"

Neither Times New Viking nor I would want you to forget about their excellent record from earlier this year, Rip It Off - which was just full of blisteringly loud, joyful fuzz-punk anthems. With “list season” just around the corner it’s getting on towards the time when bands who have released albums this year will try to remind the world of that by releasing EPs, starting Fall tours, and making videos for those second or third singles. Personally, I didn’t need TNV to remind me of Rip It Off - I’ve been listening regularly all year, and “(My Head)” was one of my favorite songs of January - but maybe you did, in which case you‘re in luck. Fresh on the heels of supporting Sonic Youth at the last ever show at McCarren Park Pool last week comes word that the band will release a brand spanking new EP entitled Stay Awake on October 7. It will be released by Matador as a 7” vinyl - 5 new songs. They’ve made “Call & Respond” available as a preview track.

MP3 :: Call And Respond
(from Stay Awake. Info here)

And this just in…..Times New Viking will open for Wire at the venue formerly known as Irving Plaza on Thursday October 9.

MP3 :: (My Head)
(from Rip It Off. Buy here)

[videos] More Stand Ins & Wilco/Fleet Foxes

Just in case you haven’t seen these already on every music blog in the world….

"On Tour With Zykos" - Zykos

"Pop Lie" - Bird of Youth

These are two more covers from the series Okkervil River is putting together to promote the upcoming release of The Stand Ins. “Pop Lie” is being performed by Bird Of Youth, and “On Tour With Zykos” is done by, um, Zykos - who I wasn’t even aware weren’t fictional….

And here’s tour buddies Wilco & Fleet Foxes doing a sublime version of “I Shall Be Released”. My favorite band of the past decade singing with 2008’s “Rookies of the Year” - nice combo.

New Music - Ra Ra Riot

I’ve been on quite the 90s kick the past 2 weeks or so, catching up with old favorites and discovering new ones. Right now I’m jamming to Stereolab’s Mars Audiac Quintet, and next up is Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart - two albums I’ve never listened to before tonight. Thanks Treble. I’ve got it in the back of my head to do my own 50 or 100 favorite albums of the 90s list, but I’m only one guy and that would be a lot of work. Maybe though…

As far as new music goes, I haven’t much to tell you tonight. I have been sitting on this post for a few days though - by now you have very likely heard the tragic story of Ra Ra Riot. On the heels of a self-titled EP the band became a certified blog sensation, and seemed poised for some immediate success. But then drummer John Pike was found dead following a show in Rhode Island last summer, and the band’s future was suddenly in doubt. The surviving members decided to soldier on, and have recently released their full length debut, The Rhumb Line, on Barsuk Records.

The Rhumb Line is a record made in the wake of tragedy, and as such Ra Ra Riot seemed to approach the sessions with an added fervor. Their sound is steeped in indie-rock tradition, but the string section Alexandra Lawn and Rebecca Zeller provide gives the band a distinct sound over many of their contemporaries. The songs recall many of the highlights of modern rock from the past 2 decades without ever sounding derivative, and reestablishes Ra Ra Riot as a young band with a tremendous upside. The first single is cryptically called “Dying Is Fine” and sounds like Arcade Fire covering Dexys Midnight Runners. Check it..

MP3 :: Dying Is Fine
(Buy The Rhumb Line here)