PHW Songs of the Month - 2/08

My biggest surprise of February, song-wise, was just how blown away I’ve been by the first single from the upcoming sophomore release from Tapes ‘n Tapes. “Hang Them All” sounds to me like it could be the “Float On” or “The Funeral” of 2008 - a soaring anthem that strikes all the right chords, and could wind up propelling these guys from over-hyped backlashers to the indie-rock A-list.

MP3 :: Hang Them All
(from Walk It Off. Out 4/8 through XL Recordings)

Throw Me The Statue’s buzzy and melodic “About To Walk” has been around for a while now, but it’s new to these ears. Originally released as a single late last year, the song is the centerpiece of Moonbeams, the band’s debut full length for Secretly Canadian. Propulsive drums, delicious melodies, and bedroom electronics all held together by surging acoustic strums - this song out-Shins just about the entire indie-pop universe.

MP3 :: About To Walk
(from Moonbeams. Buy here)
-------------------------------------Last but certainly not least is “Saro”, or sometimes known to folk music historians as “Pretty Saro”. The elegant, beautiful arrangement of this traditional ballad, whose origin has been traced back to the mid 1800s, mixes strings and horns with Samamidon’s hushed vocals - a hypnotic setting for the story of an immigrant who has left his true love behind.

MP3 :: Saro
(from All Is Well. Buy here)

Previous :: PHW Songs of the Month - January


The National Design A T-Shirt For Charity

If you happen to be in the market for a new t-shirt of your favorite band then look no further than the Yellow Bird Project. These fine folks from Montreal have asked some of the biggest names in indie-rock to design a logo for a t-shirt for them to sell - with all proceeds going to a charity of the band’s choice. So far Wolf Parade, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Rilo Kiley, and The Shins have participated, along with many others.

Pictured above is the latest addition to the line, a new one from The National. For just 25 bucks you get a brand spankin new shirt and the chance to help out the people of SAFE SPACE - a New York based charity, which works with disadvantaged families and children to prevent foster care placement, and allow children the opportunity to grow up and live a safe and healthy life. They do this by working closely with over 20,000 families across NYC, and offering programs and services which serve to strengthen them, and promote self-sufficiency.

By the way, have you seen the video for Boxer standout, “Apartment Story”? It nicely echoes the very cool cover art, but apparently the T.V. told all the good looking young folks (showered and blue blazered, natch) to sit around for ¾ of the video looking elegantly bored, only to finally get up and start dancing at the end. Making cum on a different day, like this one. Love those happy endings.


New Music - Hanne Hukkelberg

Check out the latest from charming Norwegian singer/songwriter Hanne Hukkleberg - a melodically fascinating track from her new album, Rykestrasse 68, which comes out March 4 in the U.S. “Cheater’s Armoury” is sweet and feminine and catchy and all, but to me it stands out for more than that. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there's forces at work here that are reminding me of Tom Waits - maybe it’s the delicately stomping kitchen sink percussion that‘s echoing something from Mule Variations. Maybe it’s the poetic way she’s calling out religious hypocrisy, though off the top of my head I can’t think of why that would remind me of Waits. Whatever it is though, the song houses a beautiful mix of disarming melody, weepy pedal steel, and some gentle, righteous, anything-goes percussion.

MP3 :: Cheater’s Armourey
(from Rykestrasse 68. Info here)

PHW Album of the Month - 2/08

Technically speaking, my favorite album released this month is Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, but since it's a re-release of an album from last year, Beach House’s brand new best new music christened Devotion is the PHW Album of the Month for February, and it may be just as deserving. The spooky, slow burning “Gila” first caught my ears way back in late 2007 and I’ve been waiting (not so) patiently to hear the rest of this release from Carpark Records ever since. OK, maybe not ever since, since I cheated and have had it for a few weeks, but you know what I mean.

Quite the opposite of last month’s favorite (the whiskey-and-sin-and-redemption soaked 19 songs of Brighter Than Creation’s Dark), Devotion is an album that allows you to play the songs straight through from start to finish - completely engulfing you in its warm, hypnotic mood. There is no filler here, just 11 haunting torch songs filled with ghostly organ and (perfectly named) Victoria Legrand’s muted vocals. Multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally adds all sorts of beautiful flourishes to the songs, including the sonar-like guitars on “Gila”, that deepen and fill out the dream-like, hazy chamber pop of this very promising young band.

MP3 :: Gila
MP3 :: Heart of Chambers
(from Devotion. Buy here)

And here’s the first video, for “You Came To Me”:


Two other records released this month that I’ve enjoyed very much are Samamidon’s collection of traditional folk songs, All Is Well, and the Team Love released self-titled debut from Flowers Forever - both of which I’ve posted about before (here and here). I’d highly recommend either to any regular reader of this blog. Look for songs from each in a day or two to be included among my favorites of the month.

The Superfantastics :: Choose Your Destination

The music of The Superfantastics, a fresh-faced young duo from Halifax, Nova Scotia, can only be described as power-pop. Along the same line as some of the classic forebears of the genre - Big Star and Teenage Fanclub - The Superfantastics excel at memorably blissed-out, guitar heavy jams that you’ll find yourself inevitably providing poor harmony for (re: you’ll be singing along). Just remember to turn them up and keep yourself down.

Their new EP, Choose Your Destination, is 5 exceedingly catchy songs (about 13 minutes when all is said and done) that show a great sense of melody and tight, spirited songcraft. The EP is the follow up to their critically acclaimed 2006 debut, Pop-Up Book.

MP3 :: Turn On Me
(from Choose Your Destination. Buy here)

You can hear a whole bunch more at their myspace, natch. Upcoming tour dates for Eastern Canada there as well.

Wilco :: A Ghost Is Born, Re-Imagined

I got some very thoughtful responses to last week’s post on The Replacements - Tim Re-Imagined, so I though I’d dig out another album re-imagining I posted last year on Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born, touch it up a bit, and see what people thought of it now that there are actually people reading this blog.

In 2004 Wilco released A Ghost Is Born, the long awaited follow-up to their universally acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The album came at the peek of public interest in Wilco, as everyone was anxious to see what the band would produce after what many considered one of the finest albums of the young decade. To most, it didn’t disappoint. Yet again Wilco seemingly had a world of positive critical feedback in its pocket, and the album debuted high on the charts, breaking into the top ten in its first week. The album garnered almost universal applause, even scoring two Grammys along the way. By all accounts it was a huge hit in the indie-rock world, with Wilco ending the year headlining a show with Sleater-Kinney and The Flaming Lips at Madison Square Garden.

It’s hard to complain about an album that yielded such a positive response. When it first came out I remember thinking immediately that it wasn‘t as great as YHF, but maybe I‘d feel differently if I gave it time. But not only did those initial feelings never change, eventually I begin to feel that while I loved most of the songs, I didn‘t really enjoy listening to the album. The tired, dry versions of many of the songs didn't compel repeated listens, and eventually I just stopped trying altogether.

Recorded during a tumultuous time in the life of lead singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy, the band, and especially Tweedy, sound exhausted on many of the key songs. Several of the songs were performed live for a long time before they were recorded and wound up in completely different versions than fans anticipated on the album. Deconstructing the songs on YHF was a brilliant move, as the songs were rebuilt into shapes that were more pleasing than their demo form. The same thing that worked so well on that album seemed to suck the life out of the Ghost songs. People described how “warm” the record sounded, most likely due to the spontaneous recording techniques and the minimal overdubs. Listening now I can’t help but feel the record sounds just the opposite. It has a coldness to it, a distance, that sounds like it was recorded by expert musicians who were somewhat detached from what was going on around them.

This was, and is, especially frustrating for one simple reason: the songs themselves on A Ghost Is Born are every bit as great as those on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Tweedy may have been suffering at the time, but he channeled all his pain into the lyrics to brilliant effect. Lyrically the album raises the already high standard he set on YHF and 1999’s Summerteeth. These songs deserved the spirited musical accompaniment that those from YHF got, and only a few times did that happen.

The different versions of the songs that appear below are of course not the exact versions I would want on a studio album. My idea is that there would be studio versions that use these arrangements/impassioned performances to a better result. So, again with a tip of the cap to the “Playing God” column over at Stylus, I present “A Ghost Is Born - Re-Imagined”. Taking live tracks and alternate songs from the time period of the recording, I’m presenting to you how I wish the album would have been released. Hope you enjoy:

1. “At Least That’s What You Said” - The album version is safe in large part for the breath-taking guitar solos that Tweedy unleashes during the second half of the song. This performance is head and shoulders above everything else that follows as far as a passion goes, and proved to the world that Tweedy was a highly underestimated guitarist for far too long.

2. “Hell Is Chrome”

3. MP3 - Spiders (Kidsmoke) (LIVE) - It seemed everyone had an opinion about the drastic reincarnation of this song from the live performances to the studio one. At some point during recording “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” was transformed from what sounded like it could be a modern-rock radio hit to a huge, Krautrock-influenced monster (check out “Hallogallo“ by Neu! to see what the band was listening to at the time). The result was perhaps the most divisive part of the album. There is no doubt that the album version is tremendous, but early live versions had all the same aspects that make the album version great, and contained more melody and, well, fun. This version is from the summer of 2003.

4. MP3 - Muzzle Of Bees (LIVE) - I feel this song suffered the most between early live performances to studio, as it went from a spry, bouncy pop-rock song to a long, slow, droney one. The studio version does build up to a memorable finish, but you have to sit through the first 4 minutes to get there. Enjoy it here in its original form, again from the summer of 2003.

5. “Handshake Drugs” - live version from Kicking Television. I’m cheating here technically, because this version has Nels Cline playing guitar, and he wasn’t officially in the band until after AGIB was released. Whatever. The album version lacks the spark this song had live before the album and then again after - it‘s now my favorite moment of the live Wilco experience.

6. “Wishful Thinking”

7. “Company In My Back” - This is one of the very few studio versions that improves the live versions from before release.

8. “Kicking Television” - from the live album. This is not really here for any other reason than the original album is 12 songs, so this one ought to be too. I just like it better than “I’m A Wheel”, and the studio version of this song that’s out there lacks the ferocity of this live take.

9. “Theologians”

10. MP3 - Less Than You Think (LIVE) - another live version, again from the summer of 2003. Forget what I wrote about “Spiders”, this song was the most divisive on the album, what with 12 minutes of effin’ drone. The song started out as a really beautiful little folk song with nice harmonies. Seriously, how the band allowed the album version to see the light of day is beyond me.

11. “The Late Greats” - the album version is more concise than the live versions that appeared before the album came out, making it a shorter, livelier song.

12. MP3 - Not For The Season (LIVE) - a live version from 10/22/02. Again, I’m cheating here because this song dates back to the YHF sessions, and appeared on Loose Fur’s debut album (with a silly name). But this is one of my very favorite Tweedy songs, and although there are plenty of versions available through bootlegs, Loose Fur, and the Sunken Treasure DVD, Wilco never released a definitive studio version of their own. It was played at many shows between YHF and AGIB, so I don’t feel guilty including it, as it would have made a tremendous album closer.

Sorry to “Hummingbird”. I know it’s a fan favorite, and everyone goes ape-shit at the shows because a guitar-less Tweedy shows off his dance skills - I like the song, especially the lyrics, just not as much as what’s here. Besides, it would make a killer b-side. So, what do you think? Could studio versions of these songs that capture their energy better this album? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

By the way - Wilco just finished up a 5 night run at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre during which they played every song from their 6 proper studio albums at least once. Hell, even “It’s Just That Simple” got some play. Captain’s Dead has night 4 and I Am Fuel You Are Friends has night 5.

Bon Iver :: For Emma, Forever Ago

This is just a reminder that the Jagjaguwar re-release of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago came out this week. It seems everyone in the world, myself included, has blogged regarding this album, and deservedly so. Originally released independently late last year, the album generated an internet buzz, based in no small part to the attention from Muzzle of Bees, who had the distinct advantage of locality. You may know the story by now - guy (Justin Vernon) leaves band, guy moves to a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, guy chops a lot of wood, guy hunts, guy records album by himself during winter in said cabin, guy’s DIY folkiness reminds a some of The Creek Drank The Cradle and becomes an online sensation.

Seriously, this is an undeniable set of songs. Endearing story notwithstanding, For Emma, Forever Ago is an often stark, nakedly emotional, disarmingly beautiful collection of soulful indie-folk; quiet and ruminative in its delivery, powerful in its intensity, and utterly unforgettable. Check it out. Bon Iver is now on tour with labelmates Black Mountain - a very unlikely pair if you ask me, but one that will no doubt run the whole quiet/loud gamut.

MP3 :: Skinny Love
(from For Emma, Forever Ago. Buy here)

New Music - Atlas Sound

Last year Deerhunter couldn’t keep themselves out of the indie-rock headlines. The attention came both for the positive (the strength of the Cryptograms LP and subsequent Fluorescent Grey EP) and negative - some misguided and seriously f*cked up posts over at the band’s blog by lead singer Bradford Cox. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you might want to leave it that way. The distraction probably cost the band a lot of year end attention, as their albums placed very well on a few best-of-the-year lists, but was ignored by a large portion of the blogging world.

A new year has brought a new album, this one from Cox’s lifelong solo project, Atlas Sound. So far the attention the album has been getting has been based on the music, as it should be. Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel scales back on the nervy, droning freak outs of Cryptograms, veering more towards the structured sounds of the Fluorescent Grey EP in mood and tone. It houses a combination of nuanced, near-ambient instrumental sound-scapes and mellow, bass-heavy psyche-pop nuggets - both mixing haunted machine made sounds with haunting human emotion. It may not be a complete departure from his work with Deerhunter, but there are signs of growth and maturity here and some beautiful cascading melodies that demand repeated listens.

MP3 :: River Card
MP3 :: Quarantined
(from Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel. Buy here)

Fans of Atlas Sound are a lucky bunch, as the same blog that was so notorious last year has seen the release of numerous additional free songs and EPs over the past few months. The Orange Ohms Glow EP has been up since earlier this month and is well worth checking out - 5 more new songs and a Joe Meek cover - all recorded alone by Cox.

Deer Tick cover "Beautiful Girls"

I don’t hear much in the way of Top 40 radio,, and I‘m not going to complain about that. If I do it’s usually by accident - something over the P.A. in a drugstore or deli or something. Last June I had to be one of the chaperones at the 8th grade dance for my students, so of course I got a crash course in what the kiddies are into these days. Overall, I wasn’t impressed. There was one song though that stood out that evening - a song a fellow teacher informed me was “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kinston. It only partially stood out because I liked it, but also for the word ‘suicidal’ repeated as a chorus. Nothing like a stupid pop song to make suicide vague and harmless to fragile teenage minds - but whatever, there was “Suicide Blonde” when I was a kid and I’m still here. But anyway, it was embarrassingly catchy - with an almost 60s-like melody on that chorus.

Furthering the increasingly popular trend of semi-ironic pop covers by indie-artists (did Ted Leo start this trend when he covered Kelly Clarkson, or do we go back to The Gourds brilliant re-imagining of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” for the birth of this “genre”?), PHW favorite Deer Tick has released a version of this song that highlights the 60s flavor of the original. Is it any surprise then that he busts into “Stand By Me” as the song fades out? Now if only the DJ would play “Dirty Dishes” at this year’s dance I’ll be all set.

MP3 :: Beautiful Girls (Sean Kingston cover)


MP3 :: Dirty Dishes
MP3 :: Diamond Rings 2007
(from War Elephant. Buy here)

New Music - Throw Me The Statue

Throw Me The Statue will release his debut record Moonbeams, along with its playful and semi-erotic artwork, via Secretly Canadian this week. The “he” I’m referring to is principle statue Scott Reitherman. Here’s the first single, “About To Walk”, and the very Bishop Allen-like “Lolita” - both pleasing stabs at pure bedroom-born Pacific Northwest indie-pop. Try saying that 3 times fast. The songs, and album, combine sleek sounding acoustic guitar and hyperactive drums with introversive blips and bleeps and startlingly delicious harmonies.

This, that great new Tapes ’n Tapes song, and Monday’s Samamidon post (scroll down for both)are helping to make my feelings about the recent lack of inspired new music go away.

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

Baskerville Records, who originally released this album last year, has 3 more mp3s up on their media page. Throw Me The Statue will play the Mercury Lounge in NY on April 9. Full tour dates here.

Video: Spoon - "Don't You Evah"

Brand spankin' new video up at Merge for "Don't You Evah", Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's cover of an unreleased song by Natural History. Spoon has been one of the forerunners among youtube savvy indie-rock bands by making a string of high quality videos over the past few years. This one doesn't have "The Underdog's" circular one-shot studio trickery, but what it lacks in precision is more than made up for by the charmingly fuzzy, glaring lo-fi shots of the band playing live seen here:

(from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Buy here)

New MP3: Destroyer - "Dark Leaves Form A Thread"

I don’t need to understand WTF Dan Bejar is singing about to enjoy Destroyer. He’s made a very successful and respected indie-rock career based largely on riddled surrealism and self-referential inside jokes. In fact I understand very little of the man’s entire lyrical catalog - and frankly I’ve never spent a whole lot of time dissecting lyrics that veer more towards the non-linear and/or imagistic. Just gimme some loud guitars and a singer who means it and I’m good.

That being said, the second free and legal download from Trouble In Dreams is making its way around the blogosphere, and while it’s certainly one of the more immediate and straightforward indie-rock songs I’ve yet heard from Destroyer, I don’t know what the hell he’s getting on about. I do know though that he’s telling the truth, he says such to Susan at the song’s beginning, and he sounds like he means it (check). Loud guitars (check). Pitchfork tried to shed some light, but only made me more confused.

Trouble In Dreams comes out on Merge Records in 1 month (3/18). I’ve heard it. It’s good. Maybe not Rubies good, but good.

New MP3 :: Dark Leaves Form A Thread
MP3 :: Foam Hands
(from Trouble In Dreams. Info here)

New Music - Samamidon

The more I listen to this new record from Samamidon, All Is Well, the more impressed I become. At times reminiscent of Damien Jurado circa 2003’s quiet, haunting Where Shall You Take Me?, the album is a covers collection of American folk songs from the public domain. Samamidon sings in his trademark hushed style throughout, and is accompanied by tastefully arranged strings and horns to go along with the delicate acoustics and piano. The sound is very much not “well”, as the title suggests - it’s full of pain and despair - including “Saro”, a beautifully produced immigration tale (sometimes known as “Pretty Saro”) that may in fact date back to 1749 despite mentioning 1849 in the lyric. Roger McGuinn has more info about the song’s history. Bedroom Community has released the album (it’s out now) and if you enjoy the traditional folk genre you may not hear better music this year.

MP3 :: Saro
(from All Is Well. Buy here)

New Music - Tapes n' Tapes

I’ll admit it - I got caught up in the hoopla over Tapes n’ Tapes 2 years ago. I went out and picked up The Loon based almost exclusively on the hype the band was generating. And for me the excitement lasted about a day and a half. That's when I realized the record was just a good work of tense, quirky, slightly askew indie rock. Something new, but not something great. It was clear it didn’t quite live up to some of the other internet driven sensations that came pretty soon before - namely Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wolf Parade, and Arcade Fire.

While we’re still waiting for the sophomore effort from Wolf Parade, by now it’s popular belief that those other two bands didn’t quite live up the high standards set by their debuts (although Arcade Fire did come pretty dang close). Tapes n’ Tapes will try to change that with the David Fridmann produced Walk It Off, coming out April 8th via XL Recordings. “Hang Them All” is an exciting first single, certainly enough to get the anticipation up for the full length. Here it is in lovely 320 kbps for all you audiophiles out there, and for the really picky the band has a flac version available at their site. What the fluck is a flac anyway?

MP3 :: Hang Them All
(from Walk It Off. Info here or here)

The Replacements: Tim (Re-Imagined)

The American underground music scene was one littered with exciting young bands in the wake of punk rock in the 1980’s. Minneapolis, Athens, New York, and Seattle were just a few of the well known cities bristling with talented upstarts at various points during the decade. Many of these bands took the bait from the major labels and jumped at the chance at the big time. R.E.M. signed to Warner for 1989’s Green after a prolific run on indie label IRS. Sonic Youth jumped to Geffen after releasing 1988’s Daydream Nation. Dinosaur Jr. went for Warner subsidiary Sire in 1991 and released Green Mind. Each of these bands, and many others, achieved varying levels of success after deciding to go to the big time.

In 1985, The Replacements were at their creative peak, and were one of the first underground acts to be lured by a major. 1984’s Let it Be was a quantum leap from their early records. Combining the “power trash” (as opposed to power-pop) they were most known for with a distinct folk influence, as well Paul Westerberg’s sense of angsty lyricism maturing (slightly), the album generated a buzz for the band throughout the country. Major labels came looking, and the band signed to Sire.

What came next was Tim, an album filled with what can arguably be said to be the best set of songs Westerberg ever put together. Unforgettable songs like “Bastards of Young” and “Left of the Dial” were at once anthemic, heartfelt, and accessible. The band once again displayed a strong folk influence on several songs as well. “Swingin’ Party”, and especially album closer “Here Comes A Regular”, are heartbreaking looks a loneliness and isolation, and feature mostly acoustic instruments. They even took a stab at pure pop with the first single, “Kiss Me On The Bus”. All this added up to success for the band that was far beyond what had come before. However, as undeniably great as this album is, it is far from perfect. In fact, with just a few touch-ups I could be writing about one of the best rock albums of the past 25 years.

The first problem that props its head is the production on “Hold My Life”. The song makes a fine opener, yet suffers from a production that fails to capture the urgency the lyric deserves. The reckless abandon drummer Chris Mars attacked earlier songs with is missed on this one, as it clicks along monotonously. The same can be said for Bob Stinson’s guitars, which seem too tame here. Live versions of the song from this era achieve the potential hinted at on record.

The other problem with the album, which was a problem with every Replacements album, is the filler. Each record in The Replacements catalog has more than its fair share of gems, but each has several songs that are far below the quality level set by the best ones. Here the filler quota is met by a trio of songs - “I’ll Buy”, “Dose of Thunder”, and “Lay It Down Clown”. All three would not be missed if replaced by some of the stronger songs from sessions surrounding the album.

So, what could have been? Well like I said, one of the great rock records of all time, that’s what. The Tim sessions yielded many lost gems that would have improved the album had they been included instead of a few of the weaker tracks. So the idea is that if they were recorded with the same spirit as those that were released there would be more of a seamless flow than what these mp3’s can provide. This re-imagined version comes pretty close though. With a tip of the cap to Stylus Magazine’s “Playing God” column, my Re-imagined Tim would look like this:

1. Hold My Life (live version) (mp3) - I wouldn’t replace this song with this particular live version from Maxwell’s (4/2/86) per se, but rather a studio one that adheres to its looser arrangement and rawer performance.

2. Can’t Hardly Wait (Tim Version) (mp3) - the Pleased to Meet Me version is perhaps their most recognizable song, and the best version available. However, in ’85 the band wasn’t capable of its slick sound and horn accompaniment, and this primitive version is brimming with the drunken energy that the Replacements were known for at this point. Known as a great album closer on PTMM, this harder rockin’ version helps get “Re-Imagined Tim” off to a tremendous start. And the myth surrounding this version is great - for a long time it was thought lost after the band said they broke into Twin Tone’s office, stole the tapes, and dumped them into the river because of contract disputes. Eventually though it did turn up on Nothing For All.

3. “Kiss Me On The Bus” - album version. I’m gonna leave it as is, as it was a minor hit, even getting played on Saturday Night Live. However there are some demo versions out there that prove this song started out as a real thrasher, a la “Can’t Hardly Wait”.

4. P.O. Box (Empty As Your Heart) (mp3) - This song may be from just after the Tim sessions, but it does capture the sound of earlier Replacement’s albums. A hard hitting power-pop song that certainly improves on the pointless thrash of “Dose of Thunder”.

5. “Waitress In the Sky” - album version. The fun and, well, somewhat mean kiss off to poor stewardess service. A nice change of pace after 4 straight amped up numbers.

6. “Swingin’ Party” - album version.

7. “Bastards of Young” - album version. Again, no need to mess with greatness. Another one played on SNL.

8. Nowhere Is My Home (mp3) - this song was recorded prior to the band’s departure from Twin Tone, and not only improves on “Lay It Down Clown”, but sandwiched between “Bastards” and “Left of the Dial” makes for one of the great 1-2-3 punches in rock history.

9. “Left of the Dial” - I wouldn’t dare

10. “Little Mascara” - album version. It comes close to having the same problem as “Hold My Life”, but the song is a drop-dead classic, so I’ll leave it alone.

11. “Here Comes A Regular” - album version. One of the great album closers ever.

So, what do you think? Does this version of Tim improve on the classic version?

Happy Valentine's Day

How about a round of applause for those photo editing skills? That's what I'm talking about. It's true....Pop Headwound is for lovers. Always has been, always will be. And by “always will be” I mean for the rest of the day today, or until I want to pass along some more new music, whichever comes first. As much as I enjoy a blistering anti-establishment punk-rock manifesto or a swirling haze of cool 60s-pop-inspired indie-rock harmony, where it’s at today is with pure heart-on-the-sleeve balladry. Not the hair-band “power” kind, and not the Hallmark card cheesiness kind, but the kind where a singer has something real and true to say to the woman he loves, and in doing so speaks for all us uneloquented meatheads too self-absorbed to give the girl what they want and need. Something we cannot find the words to express or the courage to muster. The kind that’s the musical equivalent to a big hug, an ear and shoulder at the end of a long day, or some unexpected flowers. This is a somewhat random selection of my favorite love songs. Love, babe, is where it's at. I said remember that.

MP3 :: Lover’s Waltz - AA Bondy
(from American Hearts. Buy here)

This is from Bondy’s fantastic 2007 solo debut - one of my favorite albums of last year - and soon to be reissued by Fat Possum.

MP3 :: Moonlight Kiss - Bap Kennedy
(from Lonely Street. Buy here)

“Moonlight Kiss” and the rest of Lonely Street isn’t as raw and spontaneous as the better Domestic Blues (a true lost classic of the Americana genre, even if he is Irish), but this song is completely beautiful.

MP3 :: Tougher Than The Rest - Bruce Springsteen
(from Tunnel of Love. Buy here)

My favorite Bruce song. Well, this and “Thunder Road”. And “Highway Patrolman”. And “Atlantic City”. And “Incident On 57th Street”. And…..

MP3 :: I’ll Be Your Mirror - Clem Snide
(from Beautiful EP. Buy here)

Eef Barzaley covers Nico from her Velvet Underground days and reveals what a devastatingly beautiful song this is if sung by someone who can, you know, sing.

Stream :: True Too - Earl Pickens

A really great new song from Earl - check out the original post here

MP3 :: Kathleen - Josh Ritter
(from Hello Starling. Buy here)

Name me a better opening line than “all the other girls here are stars you are the Northern Lights”

MP3 :: Reason To Believe - Kelly Willis
(from Easy. Buy here)

I don’t only listen to guys.

MP3 :: Into Your Arms - The Lemonheads
(from Come On Feel The Lemonheads. Buy here)

I wonder how many mixtapes for girls this song has ever been on?

MP3 :: Constellations - Matt Singer
(from All Us Heathens. Buy here)

Matt proves he does sincere love songs just as well as cynical love songs or funny story songs.

MP3 :: My Favorite One - Paul Basile
(from Warehouse Songs Volume One compilation. Info here)

Basile is a Brooklyn local I’ve mentioned on here a time or 2. Here he is showing he can handle a vulnerable, honest folk ballad as well as anyone.

MP3 :: Picture In A Frame - Tom Waits
(from Mule Variations. Buy here)

“I’m gonna love you til the wheels come off….oh yeah”

Gold Soundz: "The Sky Is Crying"

About 8 years ago I went through my “blues phase”, encouraged no doubt by Nirvana‘s cover of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”. In 2000 I hadn’t yet discovered the internet as a source to find new music, and almost believed the cliché that the music worth listening to had already been made. I know, I know…now I’m pushing new music down your throats a few times a week. But back then I was very happy to go digging through the archives, so to speak, to get my fix. I explored all sorts of roots music, from blues to bluegrass; jazz, folk, soul, and classic country. I came away with a ton of new (to me) music - all culturally important and highly enjoyable. Otis Redding, Hank Williams, John Coltrane, and Bill Monroe, among many others, became staples of my listening.

One of my favorites from that era of my evolution as a music fan is Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying”. I didn’t get into a wide variety of blues artists, but the ones I did I dove into head first - Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, & Mississippi John Hurt in particular. There’s plenty I could get into with those others as well, but perhaps that’s for a different post.

Long considered the best slide guitar player of the postwar era, Elmore James’s playing - and his singing - was always incredibly powerful. He has influenced nearly every bluesman to pick up a slide guitar since, and his music is a direct link to the blues-revival of the 1960s. Had he lived long enough to experience it before dying of heart failure, he’d very well be thought of with the same reverence today as Muddy Waters or B.B. King.

“The Sky Is Crying” is the perfect vehicle for James’ groundbreaking slide guitar to be appreciated. It’s a slow blues number with the vivid images of tears and rain to help get its message across - a familiar one to fans of the genre. He saw his baby, and she made him feel good. Now she’s gone, and he’s got a bad feeling she don’t love him no more. Three short verses and some killer guitar are all James needs to get his pain across.

MP3 :: The Sky Is Crying
(from The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James. Buy here)

The late great Stevie Ray Vaughn did this song proud as well. You can find it on the posthumous release The Sky Is Crying. Well worth seeking out.

The songs in these Gold Soundz posts are some of my all-time favorites. Previously:

The Jam - "In The City"
Slobberbone - "Gimme Back My Dog"
John Prine - "Lake Marie"
Neutral Milk Hotel - "Holland, 1945"

Set Out Running

I’ve been really uninspired writing about new music lately. I’ve been guilty a few times of forcing the issue, and that’s just a waste of my time and yours. I can go to other blogs and sense when they’re on autopilot in a second, and I’m sure that’s the sense I’m giving off lately here too. So today, instead of scouring the internet looking for inspiration, I went for a run. And you know what? It can be goddamn cold out there this time of year. Too cold for running on any consistent basis. But every once in a while the fat rolls look a little too, ugh, prominent in the mirror, and it’s enough to get me up from this ratty old desk chair, charg up the endearingly outdated 2G iPod, and pound some frozen Brooklyn pavement. Today it did a body good. Good for the legs & lungs, good for the heart. And best of all, good for the ears. Plus, it was a hell of a day on the old shuffle - a stretch of songs that I haven’t heard in a long while, and may have convinced me to get back out there again real soon, just to see what comes next. Maybe though some good new music is just around the corner and I can keep warm with it instead.

MP3 :: City of Lakes - Matt Mays
MP3 :: Train - Uncle Tupelo
MP3 :: Molly’s Lips - Nirvana
MP3 :: Sundress - Buffalo Tom
MP3 :: Sour Grapes - The Honeydogs
MP3 :: 2nd Ave, 11A.M. - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
MP3 :: Indianapolis - The Bottle Rockets
MP3 :: Down About It - The Lemonheads
MP3 :: Books About UFO’s - Husker Du
MP3 :: Fair Touching - Guided by Voices

New Sounds Goin' Round....

Port O’Brien will release All We Could Do Was Sing this coming May. I wrote about these guys last year on the strength of their Nowhere To Run EP, and since then the band has grown into a full-on folk rock outfit. The album will mark the first proper release from these nautical theme obsessives from California led by former Alaskan fisherman Van Pierszalowski. It will feature a reworked (read: livelier, electric) version of the chanted sea shanty “I Woke Up Today” - a song that originally appeared on the EP and gained the band some nice attention. Thanks to Stereogum for the heads up.

MP3 :: I Woke Up Today
MP3 :: Stuck On A Boat
(from All We Could Do Was Sing. Info here)

Last April Dog Day released Night Group, an album that seemingly went unnoticed by most bloggers. Or at least this one. When the band’s reps passed along these 2 tracks last week I hadn’t heard of the band. That’s a shame, because on these 2 songs the band proves itself quite capable with strong indie rock hooks and driving guitars. And no, that’s not Ben Gibbard on vocals.

MP3 :: Lydia
MP3 :: Sleeping, Waiting
(from Night Group. Buy here)

Gold Soundz: "Holland, 1945"

Stereogum had a brilliant post on Friday commemorating the 10 year anniversary of In The Aeroplane Under The Sea, which coincidently is today, 2/10/08. It wasn’t until a few years after it was released that I read about this Neutral Milk Hotel classic, and sought it out. I hit the CD purchasing jackpot by finding a used copy ($7, if I remember correctly) - and wondered at the time how good could it really be if someone had decided to junk it for next to nothing. Turns out it was far, far beyond good - I lived in Maine at the time and spent the looong ride to my apartment in the woods listening to Jeff Mangum’s opus at least 2 ½ times. I think, like anyone, I was caught up in the words - swirling, beautiful images the likes of which I don’t think, to this day, I’ve ever heard equaled.

The Anne Frank connection I’d read about manifested itself to me most concretely with the opening words of “Holland, 1945” - the only girl I’ve ever loved was born with roses in her eyes, but then they buried her alive one evening 1945. I wrote about this song once for an online course I was taking -- don’t remember now what the course was. I’m sure what I wrote then is only surpassed in stupidity by what I'm writing now, but the assignment called for us to respond to a piece of literature or song that was about dreams. Very aware that most of my virtual classmates were certainly not indie-hip enough to know what I was talking about (most of them wrote about poems that were too gooey for Chicken Soup books), I wrote a piece detailing what I took as Mangum’s fascination with Frank. I used the fact that the lyrical imagery was dream-like -- flashing images that appear in the air and disappear just as soon -- and all tied together by one man’s dream of knowing a woman (a girl, really) who'd been dead for 50+ years. It was pretty intense and I was nervous as hell at how it would be received, but soon found the lyrics (which I typed out to accompany the post) hit their mark. By the week’s end my post had the most responses (no doubt because they make you think, unlike all those other poems people selected), and I had gained an “A” for the paper.

Of course the connection to both dreams and Anne Frank becomes more clear in the staggering album closer, “Two-Headed Boy, pt. 2” -- In my dreams you’re alive and you’re crying. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea very quickly became and remains among a very short list of my favorite albums of all time. Listening to it right now I’m amazed at the artistic vision that comes with making an album as singular as this. Every song is tied together meticulously, as Stereogum put it, through organ sustain and held notes and ghosts, creating one of the most riveting and personal exercises in poetic rock and roll ever committed to tape. Essential in every way imaginable.

MP3 :: Holland, 1945
(from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Buy here)

And check out Wakey!Wakey!’s piano led version of “Two-Headed Boy” from his recent weekly covers project. I think this was the best of the bunch:

MP3 :: Two-Headed Boy (Wakey!Wakey!)

Video: Wynn Walent & The Folks

Here’s another new video from local favorite of mine, Wynn Walent. The song, and this animated clip drawn by Bryan Figura, were inspired by a 2nd grader reading a poem in school on the 5 year anniversary of 9/11. The video tells the true story with appropriately childlike pictures - we can’t help but feel for the smiling girl as she proudly holds up her father’s FDNY helmet as a show and tell.

Upon Leaving, an EP collection of Walent’s songs recorded with his band The Folks, is available now and well worth seeking out.

MP3 :: Olivia, the Dear
MP3 :: A Question of Water
(from Upon Leaving. Buy here)

Wynn is about to embark on a full on tour of the U.S. Check him out when he plays your town.

New Music - Eugene Francis Jnr

Besides being known to simultaneously rock an Indian headdress and a flippin’ awesome Captain America shield, I don’t really know anything about Eugene Francis Jnr. Usually I do a little bit of research for these posts. I actually kind of pride myself on it, but right now this guy’s mystery is where it’s at. I could recite some of the info from over at his myspace, but really, if you like the song, then you can go do that yourself.

And you should because this guy’s music has got it goin’ on. I’m feeling kinda lazy today. Check out “Poor Me”. It’s a damn near perfect slice of indie-pop perfection - an addictive feel good anthem for doubting lovers, complete with chiming guitars and cascading synths. I’ll come on hold on if you come on hold on.

MP3 :: Poor Me
(from The Golden Beatle. Buy here)

The Nirvana Covers

The potential that lived inside Kurt Cobain will always be a mystery, but watching Nirvana’s performance on MTV Unplugged from just months before his death, you get a real sense of where it could have gone. I don’t think I need to explain the brilliance or importance of this set - it’s now pretty much a cliché to call the performance a suicide note. But as a 17 year-old, living in an age where the lives of rock stars were whatever Spin or Rolling Stone painted them as, Cobain was always a drug addled belligerent and potential suicide waiting to happen. This performance changed that perception. Here he was interacting with his band with a smile, sitting in a knit sweater among candles and flowers, and playing calm versions of some of his most anguish ridden, personal songs. I thought, like many people probably did, that this performance marked a sea change in his life as an artist - I was very excited for whatever future direction the band took.

Of course, we never got to experience any of that, and MTV Unplugged in New York stands as Cobain’s final artistic gift to the world. The set Cobain decided to play that evening has always been at least as noteworthy, if not more, for his choice of covers than the reworked originals. And of the artists covered, the only one I think I’d even heard of at the time was Bowie, but had never heard “The Man Who Sold The World”. Fans were given the chance to explore all this diverse music, to see what music inspired the man that inspired so many. And I think that’s one of the things I’ve always respected most about Cobain - the way he always, whether in interviews or in performance, found a way to pass on the music that inspired him. And if the strained howl of Lead Belly‘s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” is the true end to the legacy, then I can think of no more powerful, primal way he could have concluded.

MP3 :: The Man Who Sold The World
(by David Bowie. from The Man Who Sold The World. Buy here)

MP3 :: Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam
(by The Vaselines. From The Way Of The Vaselines - A Complete History. Buy here)

MP3 :: Lake of Fire
MP3 :: Plateau
MP3 :: Oh, Me
(by Meat Puppets. from Meat Puppets II. Buy here)

MP3 :: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
(by Lead Belly. from Absolutely the Best. Buy here)

For the complete Nirvana covers, both from MTV Unplugged In New York and beyond, check out a fairly recent post over at Captain’s Dead.

And on a side note, have you seen the handsome new layout over at Coke Machine Glow?

New Music - Weinland

Weinland will release their sophomore album, La Lamentor, on Badman Recording this March. I hadn’t heard the band before they sent along an email and the CD, but I like what I’m hearing very much. La Lamentor delivers an impressive set of dusty folk rock ballads that easily recall the quieter side of Neil Young and maybe even some Elliot Smith. It only took one listen for the addictive melodies of lead singer/songwriter Adam Shearer’s best tunes to find a new home lodged inside my head.

MP3 :: Sick As A Gun
(from La Lamentor. Pre-order here)

Check out a recent interview with Shearer over at Muzzle of Bees.

Stream :: Various tracks at Green Light Go Music

New Music - Earl Pickens

I’ve been a fan of Earl Pickens for a while now. I’ve been charmed by his quirky homemade videos, entertained by his on-stage showmanship, and impressed with the way he knocks out some of the best country-pop songs going with ease. The guy has a shit ton of talent, and if his songs were heard by the right folks he would probably be a very rich man.

Nothing though prepared me for “True Too” - a gorgeous new folk song streaming at his myspace that was recently recorded live. It’s him taking it to the HNL - Ho’ Nutha Levah. The song isn’t available anywhere yet for sale, and there is no word yet if he’s recording the follow-up to last year’s Turn On The Radio EP - but you can bet when he does that this song could get him a lot of attention. Listen.

Stream :: True Too

And while you're at it (and if you haven't already) be sure to check out the (semi) title track to the last year's EP:

MP3 :: Can I Turn On The Radio?
(from Turn On The Radio. Buy here)

Catching Up w/ Art Brut

I caught Art Brut open for The Hold Steady waaaaay back in November and have been meaning to mention them for a few months now. Before that night I had purposefully avoided the band for a pretty stupid reason - I didn’t like their name (I imagined them being painfully pretentious). I still don’t like the name, but that night I saw the err of my ways. They rocked without a shred of pretense, tearing through song after song about the simplest of rock and roll ideas with nothing but unbridled enthusiasm and a clear love for what they do leading the way.

I’ve since picked up both their 2005 debut, Bang Bang Rock n’ Roll - a loud, brash, and hysterically self-centered batch of punk and pub rock neo-classics, and their 2007 follow-up, It‘s A Bit Complicated, which is more of the same, if slightly less notable. “My Little Brother” was particularly memorable that night because I had brought my own little brother to see the show - he’s not a music guy in the least. Even if the band claims to be ‘irony-free’, the line “my little brother just discovered rock and roll” was full of it to me. Then he wound up liking The Hold Steady much better than Art Brut. Oh, the irony, again.

MP3 :: Emily Kane
MP3 :: My Little Brother
(from Bang Bang Rock n’ Roll. Buy here)

MP3 :: Pump Up The Volume
MP3 :: Post Soothing Out
(from It’s A Bit Complicated. Buy here)

Video: Eric Wolfson - "Sleeping Is A Sucker's Game"

Eric Wolfson’s terrific debut album, State Street Rambler, reads like a love letter to his adopted hometown of NYC. It’s full of great songs (including one that easily made my favorites of 2007) that update the volatile folk-rock sound of mid-60s Dylan, also including this one - “Sleeping Is A Sucker’s Game”.

The video features many familiar locales of the Lower East Side Anti-folk movement, and a large part was filmed at the Sidewalk Café, home of NY’s best open-mic on Mondays and free live music just about every other night.

Wolfson is also very active in helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He and Annie Crane recorded a benefit single recently for the people of New Orleans still feeling the after-effects. You can hear the song, “Nowhere To Go”, streaming at Wolfson’s myspace. If you like the song and want to contribute to the continued relief efforts go to his brand new website for more information.

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

Previously on PHW :: Talkin’ New York, Vol. 7 - Eric Wolfson