PHW's June Mixtape

Here’s a mix of some of the songs and artists I listened to a lot this month. The songs come from a diverse batch of artists, including returning indie-heroes from the 90’s Polvo and Spiral Stairs, the multi-talented Mos Def, the gritty indie & folk-rock of Handsome Furs and Roadside Graves, and 3 of today’s finest singer-songwriters in A.A. Bondy, J. Tillman, and Simon Joyner. Be sure to also check out upstart Zach Vinson’s soaring “Christee Christee”, one of the catchiest indie-pop tunes I’ve heard this year, and the brand spankin’ new blissfully fuzzed-out garage rock of Real Estate and Smith Westerns. Good stuff.

MP3 :: Radio Kaliningrad - Handsome Furs (original post)
MP3 :: Roll On - Simon Joyner (original post)
MP3 :: Far And Wide - Roadside Graves (original post)
MP3 :: Christee Christee - Zach Vinson (original post)
MP3 :: Maltese Terrier - Spiral Stairs (original post)
MP3 :: Beggars Bowl - Polvo
Link :: Quiet Dog - Mos Def (original post)
Link :: Life In Marvelous Times - Mos Def
MP3 :: Be My Girl - Smith Westerns
MP3 :: Green River - Real Estate
MP3 :: Earthly Bodies - J. Tillman (original post)
MP3 :: When The Devil’s Loose - A.A. Bondy (original post)
MP3 :: Beach House - The Cave Singers (original post)
MP3 :: Ruby - Roadside Graves

Lots more where this came from:


Wilco (the Album)

Ladders are sometimes easy symbols for the arc of a band’s career, but for Wilco the metaphor fits like a glove. From the underdog country-rock of A.M. through the ambitious, myth-building Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco (and their ever-evolving line-up) was clearly a band on the way up. Being There and Summerteeth, the albums in between those two, found the band confounding the expectations of both critics and their sometimes overly pos(ob)sessive alt. country fan base. Each of those early albums only hinted though at the heights that would be reached on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the career highlight perched at the top of that proverbial ladder. YHF is the band’s infallible manifesto - a stunning mix of Jeff Tweedy’s avant-garde folk songs with abrasive studio experimentation that works as both a forward-thinking artistic statement and an audacious rock and roll record.

Since then Wilco has gradually come back down to Earth. The weary, drug-addled A Ghost Is Born didn’t show signs of a fading muse on Tweedy’s part, but the many questionable production and arrangement choices detracted from an otherwise strong set of songs. All signs suggested that Wilco was poised to return to top form after Tweedy cleaned himself up and recruited the gifted Nels Cline and Pat Sansone into the band. But those expecting another brave new world had to settle for Sky Blue Sky’s familiar folk rock leanings. Though the album attempted to combine the straightforward song craft of their early days with the accomplished musicianship of their best line-up, it sounded more like a big step backwards. After pushing boundaries and carefully avoiding tags for most of their career, Wilco had released an album that often came within inches of being pegged as “soft rock”.

Which brings us to now. Though a marginally better record (thereby dismissing the ladder metaphor, dang it), Wilco (the Album) picks up pretty much where Sky Blue Sky left off. It’s the first album since A.M. that sounds like what a Wilco-novice might expect a Wilco album to sound like. The songwriting largely continues the last album’s polite, conventional folk-rock style to occasionally satisfying ends. Repeat listens fail to reveal much in the way of hidden layers - this is an upfront, pleasant set of songs that can, for the most part, be absorbed and digested in one listen. Once a band that did not fear deconstructing their more direct songs to find other exciting arrangements, Wilco songs now employ a safe, predictable professionalism. At times, as on “Wilco (the Song)” and “You Never Know”, this works perfectly, but the album’s back half drags as a few songs fail to fully distinguish themselves.

Beyond that though, the first thing you’ll notice about Wilco (the Album) is the top notch production values. Credit Jim Scott for that. A veteran producer the band hooked up with late last year while in Australia, Scott had a hand in mixing several of Wilco’s earlier albums. There is a vibrancy in the sound permeating these 11 songs, no doubt a result of additional studio over-dubs, that has been lacking over the past few albums. The huge open chords of “You Never Know” explode from the speakers, sounding like George Harrison or Tom Petty (or The Traveling Wilburys?), while the AAA radio-friendly “I’ll Fight” soars over a catchy acoustic guitar riff, pedal steel, and organ. And the electric guitars in both “One Wing” and “Bull Black Nova” hit with every inch of their intended gut punch. The improved sonics are a welcome change, but occasionally mask some of the album’s flaws. “Country Disappeared” has some nice piano and harmony parts, but the song could ultimately be used as a lullaby. It goes nowhere very slowly. And with its chiming guitars and heavy drums, “Sunny Feeling” has a Summerteeth-like power-pop sheen, but the cloying chorus quickly gets tiresome.

From Being There through A Ghost Is Born, Tweedy’s often non-linear lyrics were marked by personal angst, domestic violence, self doubt, and a crumbling sense of national pride. Starting with Sky Blue Sky and continuing here, Tweedy is focusing on songs filled with a sense of acceptance and the power of music (specifically their own) to bring people together. “Wilco (the Song)” may be on the slight side but is still a ton of fun. As far as self-referential rock songs go, it’s the complete opposite of those Replacements songs (“Talent Show”, “We’re Coming Out”, “Treatment Bound”, etc.) that were basically just about themselves being fuckups. Though there is the occasional dark cloud intruding on his sky blue sky, overall life seems pretty good in Tweedy’s world. “You And I” was recently ripped by Coke Machine Glow (their assessment is too harsh, but there’s plenty of truth in it), but it’s one of Tweedy’s most direct love songs, and “You Never Know” basically says that they’re going to leave the kicking and screaming to the younger bands. Album closer “Everlasting” mirrors the sentimental theme of Sky Blue Sky’s closer, “On And On And On”. In both there’s a submission to the inevitable, but a heartfelt declaration that love will withstand death and decay.

The highlight of Wilco (the Album), and the only time the band truly leaves their comfort zone, is “Bull Black Nova”. It’s a schizophrenic classic rock song that combines a heavy kraut-rock groove, piercing guitar work, and some atypical, character-driven lyrics. Like “Misunderstood”, “Via Chicago”, and “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” before it, this song will challenge listeners with a potential new direction for the band. How much you like Wilco (the Album) may depend on how much you miss the band that used to fill their albums with this kind of tension. This is a polished, mature sounding record that is full of good songs, but is also neck deep in conservatism. Personally, I can appreciate the fine song craft that is all over Wilco (the Album), but I really miss the band that so often dared me to follow them down the road less traveled.

Stream :: Wilco (the Album)

Sigur Rós release 2 exclusive live performances

nýja lagið from on Vimeo.

It’s been ten years since the release of Sigur Ros’ seminal breakthrough album, Agætis Byrjun. To commemorate, the Icelandic post-rockers have released two exclusive live performances from the original launch party concert at the Icelandic Opera House on the night of June 10, 1999. The spacey, beautiful “Nýja Lagið”, a song that did not make the album and soon disappeared from live performances, is performed on the above video, and “Hafssol”, originally from their debut Von, is available for download here (just supply a valid email address).
And while we’re at it, here are two tracks from the enigmatic follow up to Agætis Byrjun, simply titled ( ):

MP3 :: Untitled 4
MP3 :: Untitled 8
(from ( ). Buy here)

[video] The Jackson 5 - "I Want You Back"


Deer Tick visit Daytrotter

While I’m a little disappointed with Born On Flag Day after a handful of listens, Deer Tick recently cut another fantastic Daytrotter session. Highlighted by a slowed-down version of War Elephant stand-out “Dirty Dishes” and an amped up cover of Springsteen’s “Nebraska” the set sounds great and is well worth checking out.

[mp3] Spiral Stairs - "Maltese Terrier"

So, the word today is that Scott Kannberg is releasing his first solo album under his Spiral Stairs moniker. You may remember him from his days as the front man of Preston School of Industry, whose Monsoon is an underrated honey of an indie-rock record from a few years back. Plus he wrote this great tune a long long time ago. The Real Feel doesn’t hit the ground until October 20, but Matador has released the bouncy “Maltese Terrier” as a sneak peak. Have a listen, and remember to support all former members of Pavement, not just Malkmus.

MP3 :: Maltese Terrier
(from The Real Feel. Info here)

Mos Def - The Ecstatic

I don’t listen to a lot of rap or hip-hop, but I’m certainly not against checking something out when I read good things about a song, album, or artist. Mos Def has been on my radar for the past few years, mainly because I’ve always enjoyed his acting - either as a distrusting parole officer in The Woodsmen, as Jack Black’s video store partner in Be Kind Rewind, or as the legendary Chuck Berry in Cadillac Records. His sharp performances in these 3 very different parts got me interested in exploring his original career path - music.

The recently released The Ecstatic is his fourth solo album, and according to all I’ve read so far is his best since his debut, Black On Both Sides. The Ecstatic uses a combination of fresh samples, old-school beats (I‘m told they‘re “old school”, I really have no idea), live instruments, and Mos Def’s wise lyrics to make something that should cross genre borders and appeal to an wide audience. He recently performed “Quiet Dog” on Lettermen, which is a solid tune and a really great performance (see below), but it’s “Life In Marvelous Times” that’s really standing out to me so far. Along with “Quiet Dog”, the song is available to download through the RCRDLBL website. Check it out.

MP3 :: Life In Marvelous Times (follow link)
MP3 :: Quiet Dog (follow link)
(from The Ecstatic. Buy here)

“Quiet Dog” on Lettermen:


[mp3] Simon Joyner - "Roll On"

I love the fact that, despite all the musical exploring I do, there are still very worthwhile under-the-radar artists out there waiting to be discovered.

Omaha singer-songwriter Simon Joyner has signed with Team Love and is preparing for the release of his 12th studio album, Out Into The Snow, on September 15. The album’s closing song, “Roll On”, is now available as a free download. Tonight I’m only halfway through my second listen to the album, but I’m already thinking I’m going to really enjoy sifting through Joyner‘s back catalog. Out Into The Snow is intricate, forward-thinking folk-music with the kind of deeply evocative lyricism that demands the obvious comparisons to the greats of the past.

The press release hits the nail on the head - “sounding sometimes like Doug Yule era Velvet Underground, On the Beach period Neil Young, Happy Sad era Tim Buckley, and Our Mother the Mountain period Townes Van Zandt, the album is littered with characters in transition, moving toward or away from complicated pasts and futures." Keep an eye out for this one:

MP3 :: Roll On
(from Out Into The Snow. Info here)

[mp3] Handsome Furs - "Radio Kaliningrad"

Despite the seemingly endless series of brilliant promo pics, I was originally a bit skeptical about Handsome Furs’ turn toward more pop-oriented song structures. But Face Control has been a real grower for me this year - slowly creeping up my favorite albums of the year list. Sub Pop has made a wise decision by releasing “Radio Kaliningrad” as the second free and legal download. The song is Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry at their very best - actually it’s the track that I think best combines the half-starved desperation and raw energy of Plague Park with the precision of Face Control. Though its restless pace makes for a somewhat unconventional album closer, it ties together many of the album’s recurring images (radios, Russia, isolation, hearts, wires) and ends the record on a (very) high note. We got the radio, blue sky, we got the radio, we never said goodbye. If you haven’t checked out Face Control yet, do yourself a favor and start here.

MP3 :: Radio Kaliningrad
(from Face Control. Buy here)

Introducing: Zach Vinson

I don‘t know how old Zach Vinson is, but time is definitely on his side. The kid looks like he’s barely old enough to drink and drive, but the mature, polished song craft that’s all over his brand new self-released album Cracked Open makes me think he’s an artist with a long future in front of him. “Christee Christee” is about as sugar-sweet as songs get. It’s a bright, spirited rush of indie-pop perfection that makes me think of a turbo-charged Belle & Sebastian. The video for “So Much To Blame”, another album highlight, is below. Take a listen and get in on the ground floor:

MP3 :: Christee Christee
(from Cracked Open. Buy here)

“So Much To Blame”

So Much to Blame (Zach Vinson) from Zach Vinson on Vimeo.


[mp3] A.A. Bondy - "When The Devil's Loose"

Last week I told you about the upcoming sophomore album from A.A. Bondy called When The Devil’s Loose. Today I can share the title track with you - a lilting, narcotic full band song that sounds as timeless as anything from American Hearts. And props for using the name Delia in a song - easily 1 of the 2 best girl's names in existence. If he drops an Abigail on the record too it's automatic Album of the Year. When The Devil’s Loose arrives 9/1 from Fat Possum. People get ready.

MP3 :: When The Devil’s Loose
(from When The Devil’s Loose. Info here)

[mp3] Bowerbirds - "Beneath the Trees"

“Northern Lights”, from Bowerbirds’ forthcoming Upper Air, is easily one of the prettiest songs I’ve heard all year. So of course I’m happy to share the latest free and legal download from the album. “Beneath The Trees” continues the band’s penchant for using natural imagery in their rustic folk songs - this time an accordian, heavier drums, and shared lead vocals from Beth Tacular and Phil Moore propel the song along. Upper Air comes to you July 7 from Dead Oceans.

MP3 :: Beneath The Trees
MP3 :: Northern Lights
(from Upper Air. Info & Pre-order here)

[mp3] Auld Lang Syne - "My First Soul"

Auld Lang Syne are a folk-rock collective from Rochester, NY. Their latest release is called Midnight Folly and is where you’ll find the standout “My First Soul” - a heart-on-the-sleeve Springsteen-esque ballad that builds to something truly soulful. Midnight Folly is available through Viper Bite Records. Check it out:

MP3 :: My First Soul
(from Midnight Folly. Buy here)

M. Ward, Jim James, & Conor Oberst to release album as Monsters of Folk

The big news today is, of course, the official word that tour buddies Conor Oberst & Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes), Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), and M. Ward (of M. Ward and She & Him) are teaming up for an album of all new collaborative, original material. Dubbed the Monsters of Folk, the “band” will release a 15 song self-titled album in September through Shangri-La. Let’s hope it’s better than Outer South, Evil Urges, and Hold Time. The above video is a cover of Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” recorded live from an Austin City Limits broadcast from a few years ago.

[video] Cursive - "I Couldn't Love You"

The first single from Cursive‘s Mama, I‘m Swollen, “From the Hips”, was such a rip that sharing the second is kind of a no-brainer. Spinner premiered the video today for “I Couldn‘t Love You”, and Lost fans should get a kick out of this one. It features Tania Raymonde (Alex, Ben’s daughter) as a runaway bride with a pissed-off, shotgun-toting groom hot on her heels. Mama, I’m Swollen is available now through Saddle Creek.

Video :: I Couldn’t Love You

MP3 :: From the Hips
MP3 :: Mama, I’m Swollen
(from Mama, I’m Swollen. Buy here)

Roadside Graves - My Son's Home

This week sees the official release of Roadside Graves’ 4th album, My Son’s Home, through Autumn Tone Records. Two years ago No One Will Know Where You’ve Been absolutely floored me with its mix of charging, Springsteen-inspired anthems and poignant folk songs. Compared to the polished Americana of that album, which was among my favorites of 2007, My Son’s Home is a far more raucous and gritty representation of the band’s sound - truer to the rowdy tendencies of their live show than anything they have previously released. It also explores a wider array of styles and influences over the course of its 18 (!) song tracklist. In addition to the already mentioned Springsteen influence you’ll hear plenty of folk, blues, country, and soul, as well as The Pogues, Exile-era Stones, The Band, and Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. The production is electrifying from start to finish - at times the Graves sound like they’re blowing the roof off a crowded, smoky barroom and later like they're serenading the starry sky from a porch deep in the woods. The songwriting of John Gleason is also as strong as ever - religious imagery and themes of conflicted families and war surface regularly and give the album a loose themetic unity revolving around, in their own words, "friends in a variety of familiar settings: the homestead, the battlefield, the country and the city". You’ll be hard pressed to find a songwriter better able to use seemingly minor details to create vivid, realistic characters and convey their heart-wrenching stories. But My Son's Home is no one man show - every member contributes to give the record a truly communal, lived-in feel. My Son’s Home does this consistently from start to finish, and in doing so becomes one of the best albums you’ll hear this summer.

MP3 :: Far and Wide
MP3 :: Ruby
(from My Son’s Home. Buy here)

A.A. Bondy to Release When the Devil's Loose

Yesterday it was J. Tillman, today it’s A.A. Bondy - it’s a boom time for great singer-songwriters known simply by their initials. Fat Possum Records, who last year re-released Bondy’s stunning 2007 debut American Hearts (one of my faves), will release When The Devil’s Loose on September 1. The press release says that many of Bondy’s typically stripped-down folk songs will feature a full band sound this time around. You can check out the new songs “Oh The Vampyre” and “Mightiest of Guns” over at the Daytrotter sesson he cut last year, or hear the title track streaming at his myspace. I know I say this with some degree of regularity, but I’m really looking forward to this one.

Stream :: When the Devil’s Loose
(from When the Devil’s Loose. Info here)

MP3 :: There’s A Reason
(from American Hearts. Buy here)

Bondy’s summer dates:

June 8 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie
June 9 Pittsburgh, PA Club Cafe
June 11 Arlington, VA Iota
June 12 Charlotte, NC Snug Harbor
June 14 Manchester, TN Bonnaroo Music Festival
June 15 Columbus, OH The Basement
June 16 Indianapolis, IN Radio Radio
June 17 Pontiac, MI The Pike Room
June 18 Chicago, IL Schubas Tavern
June 19 Milwaukee, WI Club Garibaldi
June 20 Minneapolis, MN 400 Bar
June 22 Denver, CO Hi Dive
June 23 Salt Lake City, UT Urban Lounge
June 25 San Francisco, CA Café du Nord
June 26 Visalia, CA Cellar Door
June 29 Phoenix, AZ Modified Arts
July 7 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon

[mp3] J Tillman - "Earthly Bodies"

J Tillman’s fantastic Vacilando Territory Blues ain’t even 6 months old yet, but that’s not stopping the Washington state singer/songwriter and Fleet Foxes drummer from putting out the follow up, Year In The Kingdom, hot on its heels. Pitchfork dropped the news late last week that Western Vinyl will release the record on September 22. “Earthly Bodies” is the first legally released song, and over at Tillman’s myspace there are 2 more new tracks streaming - “Year In The Kingdom” and “Though I Have Wronged You”.

Vacilando Territory Blues was the virtual soundtrack to the birth of my twins this past February, as I first heard it just a few days before they were born. Needless to say the album means a lot to me on a deeply personal level and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s honestly one of the best singer-songwriter records I’ve heard in a long time and I’m really really really looking forward to his new one.

MP3 :: Earthly Bodies
(from Year In The Kingdom. Info here)

Earl Pickens & Family cover The Joshua Tree

I’ve been a fan of pretty much every Earl Pickens project I’ve heard over the past several years - from the shimmering alt. country of the Turn On The Radio EP in 2007 to the garage/power-pop of The Sweetbriars’ debut last year to the handful of quirky homemade videos he’s made. Everything he does is marked by a strong sense of melody, a unique and entertaining showmanship, and a genuine love of old-fashioned country music. So it should come as no surprise that the recently recorded full-length countrified version of U2’s The Joshua Tree is such a winner. And that's saying a lot considering The Joshua Tree is one of the oldest CDs in my collection - it was the 4th disc I ever bought (1. Def Leppard's Hysteria, 2. The Soundtrack to the movie Ford Fairlane, 3. Rattle & Hum!) and I shoveled snow all afternoon to earn the cash. Pickens makes sure that the timeless songs from U2’s best album sound right at home as twangy country shuffles & folk-rock ballads.

Billed as Earl Pickens & Family and recorded over a few days in Earl’s living room, the recording re-imagines every song from the classic album - from the Johnny Cash-inspired spoken word intro on “Where The Streets Have No Name” to a folk-blues version of “Bullet The Blue Sky” to an achingly pretty version of “Running To Stand Still” that features Jessie Yamas on shared lead vocals and some fine mandolin work. It’s not really a surprise that mega-hits such as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You” sound great being led with acoustic guitars, banjos, and fiddles, but even some of the lesser known songs from the flipside are brightened up in this sonic setting. And the real highlight may actually be a hidden version of “The Sweetest Thing” tacked on after “Mothers of the Disappeared”, with Pickens bringing out the popular b-side’s hooks to startlingly effective results. I can’t imagine fans of country music finding a better album to sing along with this year.

Stream :: Where The Streets Have No Name
Stream :: Bullet the Blue Sky
(from The Joshua Tree by Earl Pickens & Family. Buy here)

Earl & The Family are playing a WFUV sponsored show at The Living Room in NYC next Tuesday (6/9) where they will play their version of The Joshua Tree in its entirety.

“Where The Streets Have No Name”


[mp3] Son Volt - "Down To The Wire"

Son Volt is returning with American Central Dust on July 7th, an album that will be “an epic lament for the heartland” according to the folks at Rounder. The official Son Volt site says the new album is reminiscent of “the melodic succinctness of the band’s debut album Trace”. Good news, as that album is one of the classics of the mid-90s alt country heyday and is by far the best thing Farrar’s done since he unwisely (but thankfully) disbanded Uncle Tupelo. “Down To The Wire” is the first single, but with the drum-and-electric piano heavy arrangement sounds to me more like the studio-centric songs of his first solo album, Sebastapool, than the dusty, heartland rock and folk of Trace or Straightaways. And while we‘re on the subject of Son Volt, I'm sorry but Farrar has sometimes had the bad habit of sounding like he’s making his lyrics up as he goes along. “Down To The Wire” falls into the same trap. It depends little on melody or rhyming in favor of a stream of frustratingly vague images more than anything remotely concrete or linear. I don’t know…the jury is out on this one. Have a listen for yourself. With 5 classic albums under his belt, he deserves at least that.

MP3 :: Down To The Wire
Stream :: Cocaine and Ashes
(from American Central Dust. Buy here)

[Stream] Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

While you internet-savvy criminal types out there have already been listening to Dirty Projectors’ forthcoming Bitte Orca for a few months (pure coincidence that my header quote up there for the past month is a line from “Temecula Sunrise”, I promise), the rest of you good citizens now have your first chance to listen to one 2009’s best albums in its positively joyful entirety. Hell yeah. NPR has the stream, and call the album “one of the year's most unusual and refreshingly unpredictable records”. Bitte Orca drops next week (June 9) via Domino, and you can pre-order the vinyl (like I did) from Insound right now.

Stream :: Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

[mp3] The Cave Singers - "Beach House"

I’ve spun this song a few times today and am really digging it. The Cave Singers have signed to Matador and will release their second album, Welcome Joy, on August 18. “Beach House” is the first single. Check it.

MP3 :: Beach House
(from Welcome Joy. Info here)