Paavoharju - Laulu Laakson Kukista

For the better part of the past 15 months I’ve done quite a bit of my music listening late at night with a pair of headphones - a direct result of sharing a living space with a girl. Not that she doesn’t dig my music, but our place isn’t conducive to listening to Portishead and watching Privileged at the same time. Plus she goes to bed earlier than me, so there's a few good excuses to keep it down.

As a result I’ve gotten into the routine of winding down the evening with something more nuanced, ethereal, or just plain ambient. Music that fits that late night, solitary mood that dark apartments and headphones go with. Earlier this year the slot was filled with Beach House’s Devotion (shoot, something else I overlooked at list time), and For Emma, Forever Ago. Over the summer it was often older gems like Dummy, Yo La Tengo’s Painful, and Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children. As the year was winding down I started going to Portishead’s Third on an almost daily basis, then Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill more recently.

The past few nights though my late night listening has been Paavoharju, and the strange, beautiful sounds of their latest, Laulu Laakson Kukista. You may have seen the name Paavoharju, not to mention that arresting artwork, at various other places. Coke Machine Glow had it in their Top 10 of the year recently, as did a handful of the music blogs I trust most. I picked it up over at emusic the other day, and it’s turning quickly into one of the better investments I’ve made over there.

Laulu Laakson Kukista mixes folk influences with ambient sounds, vinyl scratches, electronica, and field recordings/found sounds to create a wholly unique sonic environment. Add to that the alluring female vocals (all in their native Finnish) and you’ve got a record that sounds dense, eerie, and inviting. This isn’t music for everyone, but open-minded folks looking for something unlike much they’ve heard before will almost certainly get swept up into this one. Here’s a sample, but Laulu Laakson Kukista is an album best experienced in its entirety.

MP3 :: Kevätrumpu
Stream :: Uskallan
Stream :: Kirkonväki
(from Laulu Laakson Kukista. Buy here)

2008 In Review, Vol. 11 - Last Minute Finds/Songs

Nothing like a late night beer buzz and some new tunes to make an evening at home enjoyable. Not that evenings at home aren’t always enjoyable, but you know. The other day I posted about a bunch of albums that I’d either missed or slept on over the past 12 months. Tonight I’m jamming to a bunch of songs of the same kind that have turned up on various other blogs/sites over the past 2 or 3 weeks. Could be that if I’d heard these a few weeks or months ago they’d have made it unto my own favorite songs list, as it is they’ll have to settle for this little wrap-up post. And all 5 are of the straight ahead rock and roll variety. Enjoy…

Delta Spirit
MP3 :: Trash Can
(from Ode To Sunshine. Buy here)

The Moondoggies
MP3 :: Changing
(from Don’t Be A Stranger. Buy here)

Jay Reatard
MP3 :: Always Wanting More
(from Matador Singles ‘08. Buy here)

The Gaslight Anthem
MP3 :: The ’59 Sound
(from The ’59 Sound. Buy here)
-------------------------------------------- Plants And Animals
MP3 :: Feedback In The Field
(from Parc Avenue. Buy here)

New Music - Dan Auerbach

Nonesuch Records is getting ready to release the debut solo album from the vocals/guitars half of The Black Keys. Dan Auerbach wrote most of the songs that will appear on Keep It Hid during the recording of Attack & Release (which is pretty dang good) and the songs reflect "a mixture of things I like to listen to, psychedelia, soul music, country harmonies". Those are Dan's words, as evidenced by the italics and punctuation unbecoming of an ELA teacher such as myself.

Nevertheless, Nonesuch has made 3 of the album's songs available for download over at their site. I’ve been playing the first track, “Trouble Weighs A Ton”, pretty much all night. It’s a simple acoustic blues tune that sounds instantly familiar - its themes of regret and moving on given weight from Auerbach’s gruff, seasoned vocals. The straight-forward, dirty blues of “I Want Some More” and “The Prowl” will sound more familiar to fans of the Keys. Keep It Hid drops 2/10.

MP3 :: Trouble Weighs A Ton
MP3 :: I Want Some More
MP3 :: The Prowl
(from Keep It Hid. More info here)

[mp3] The Black Lips - "Starting Over"

Now that we can (just about) close the book on the music of 2008, here’s a taste of something to look forward to from 2009. The Black Lips, the throwback garage punks behind 2007’s very excellent Good Bad Not Evil, will be releasing 200 Million Thousand on 2/24 through Vice Music. “Starting Over"'s chiming opening chords could easily be mistaken for vintage R.E.M. or even The La's, but as soon as the drunken Shane MacGowan-doing-Motown vocals kick in all bets are off. It's pure Black Lips, if a little slower and more melodic.

MP3 :: Starting Over
(from 200 Million Thousand. Info here)

MP3 :: Cold Hands
(from Good Bad Not Evil. Buy here)

2008 In Review, Vol. 10 - Last Minute Finds/Albums

The thing I love most about Year-End List Season is not seeing what order everyone put the same 40 or 50 albums. It’s discovering (or re-discovering) some albums/songs that I missed out on or overlooked during the past 12 months. 2008 was no exception. The following 5 albums are ones that I either slept on or heard too recently to consider for my own lists. All are excellent and deserving of some extra attention.

Shearwater - Rook

Jonathon Meiburg left Okkervil River upon release of Rook, the latest effort from his own (now full-time) songwriting project. Hopefully that turns out to be a smart move - Rook is a far more fluid, cohesive statement than The Stand Ins, and is probably as good as any other album Will Sheff & co. have made save Black Sheep Boy. I did post about this back in the spring after hearing the title track, and I did pick it up after it was released, but then for some reason it just kind of fell by the wayside. I started listening again last week and now wish I hadn’t screwed up by leaving it off my favorite albums list - it would be a sure-fire Top 15 if I was to redo things today.

MP3 :: The Snow Leopard
(Buy here)

Women - s/t

No Age’s Nouns was an album that made an immediate impression on me but faded from my listening as the year went along. That might have been because Women’s self-titled Jagjaguwar debut started filling my need for noisy art-rock in a much more satisfying way.

MP3 :: Black Rice
MP3 :: Group Transport Hall
(Buy here)

Grouper - Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

Grouper is the work of Liz Harris. Her music is made for late nights - full of whispers and strange, introverted melodies embedded between a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds. A truly haunting, meditative collection of songs.

MP3 :: Disengaged
MP3 :: Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping
(Buy here)

School Of Seven Bells - Alpinisms

This is another female fronted album that mixes acoustic and electronic music, but School Of Seven Bells has a decidedly more pop focus than Grouper. I’m still getting to know Alpinisms after having it sent to me a couple of weeks ago, but so far I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

MP3 :: Conjurr
MP3 :: Chain
(Buy here)

Meursault - Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues

The gent who runs the very excellent Song, By Toad blog just sent me an email about 2 weeks ago pointing the way towards Meursault, a band whose album he put out this year. It’s no wonder that the howling, boundless energy of songs like “The Furnace” remind me of a more electro-minded, less sexually-depraved Frightened Rabbit - both bands hail from Scotland. This is another record, had I had time to fully immerse myself in it as I am now, would have likely been a Top 20 for me. It’s really good.

MP3 :: The Furnace
MP3 :: A Few Kind Words
(Buy here)

[mp3] The Sweetbriars - "Virginia This Christmas"

The Sweetbriars, the alley cats behind one of my favorite records of 2008, as well as a handful of other recent posts here at PHW, sent along this newly recorded holiday song as a gift to their fans. Could be the first ever Christmas song with the phrase "raising hell and starting fights" in it. I’m also wondering if they got Clarence Clemens to contribute some background vocals? Nah, couldn’t be. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!!

MP3 :: Virginia This Christmas

Stream :: No Way Home From Here
(from Please Pass The Revolution!. Buy here)

2008 In Review, Vol. 9 - Raise High The Roof Beam

If you’ve been paying attention than you’ve read about Raise High The Roof Beam a few times on PHW this year, including once already this month. But I’m betting 2009 brings them much wider acclaim. A Chicago collective led by singer-songwriter Thomas Fricilone, Raise High The Roof Beam recently released an EP called The Buildup that, if it gets to the right ears, should propel the band to the next level. It’s a highly enjoyable mix of folk rock and indie-pop, all sung with an emphasis on loose harmony and played with an ear for the dramatic. I’m very excited to hear what this band is capable of next.

Turns out I didn’t have to wait very long. Fricilone sent along the band’s latest recording to go along with this Year In Review post - a brand new track called “A Letter To Noelle”. The plan seems to be to release this song along with a handful of others in early 2009, with a full length record later in the year.
(from The Build Up. Buy here)

MP3 :: A Letter To Noelle

Aloha to everyone out there in the cyberspace superhighway! We hope everyone had a great year, we know we did, here's what we've been up to:

Raise High the Roof Beam formed as a full band in February of 2008, pleasantly pushing ourselves through the winter cold, we spent many nights in a costume house, practicing in an area no bigger than a large bathroom. Through those winter nights, we were able to form a sound reminiscent of 60's beach parties. Scott Westrick, the drummer, with his shimmering cymbals and fast dancey beats, helped capture and shape our sound immediately.

Our spring was spent playing a show a week in the Chicago-land area. We played everywhere from a bar with jello wrestling every Wednesday, a dirty old basement, to a person's living room. Each show was different and memorable and we loved every moment of it. Thanks to Aly Barohn, keyboards and backing vocals, who was not only able to shake her hips while slamming on the plastic ivories, but also helped us all find some fashion sense.

The beginning of June brought us to a new practice space with high spirits for our upcoming recordings. The space was a vitamin and wheat factory in the middle of Garfield Park. Filled with strange rooms and even stranger smells, we began to call it our home. With Long hallways, rooms filled with tile, and completely dead rooms we were able to find the perfect sounds for recording. Sweetly sweating through the summer months, we were able to record our first EP, "The Buildup." Six songs that helped shape and define the summer of 2008. Well, for us at least....

Fall was a transitional time for the band. Our guitarist, Wes Tucker, and bassist, Brian Jennings, both left the band. Not long after they left, however, their spots were filled by our current players, Josh Lambert on guitar and Will Wood on bass. Both terrific players and excellent song writers, they have changed the band's sound for the better. Josh, the rock and roller, has given the band an energy we had yet to see. Will, the composer, has helped us write and sing some of the best harmonies we have accomplished thus far.

Although these last winter months have been cold, we have kept ourselves warm with energy and excitement. Once again moving to a new space in Thomas' attic, we have begun recording our first full-length album with plans to release several songs a month to keep our fans on their toes. Our first small release will be in January and will feature one or two songs from the upcoming album.

2009 will be a big year for us and we can't wait to get it started. Hopefully a trip to SXSW and summer touring will be our biggest endeavors. We hope we will soon be able to grace a stage in your area and see your smiling faces.

Here's the music of 2008 that has inspired us throughout the year:

Best Albums:
Man Man -
Rabbit Habbits
Fleet Foxes
She & Him -
Volume One
Vampire Weekend
Noah and the Whale -
peaceful, the world lays me down
The Streets - Everything is Borrowed

Next Biggest Female Pop Star:
Katy Perry

Favorite Up and Coming:
Jared Mees and the Grown Children

Band We Wish Had Made An Album This Year:
LCD Soundsystem

Best Chicago Act:
Raise High the Roof Beam!

Thanks so much to Pop Headwound and everyone out there who listens and accepts new music into their lives.

Happy Holidays.



My Favorite Albums of 2008

Personally, 2008 was a year that will always stand out. I got married in September, which was closely proceeded by news that we’ll be parents to twin girls. Naturally, music took a back seat to these events this year, but I still found time to write about a crapload of it. These are my 20 favorite new albums I’ve heard since I did this last year:

20. Centro-Matic -- Dual Hawks

Dual Hawks is a rare breed - a split LP released in conjunction from Will Johnson’s two primary songwriting outlets, Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel. The 11 songs that comprise the Centro-Matic half don’t so much employ a unique brand of rock ’n roll as absolutely own a very well-worn form of it - the feedback heavy, Crazy Horse-like sound the band has been perfecting for over a decade now.

MP3 :: I, The Kite
[website] [original post]

19. Sigur Rós - Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

The impossibly beautiful voice of Jón Þór Birgisson is one of the most divine instruments in modern music, sort of like a child-alien singing in a cathedral choir. On the Icelandic band’s latest album his vocals soar as high as ever, but it’s the new pop-rock direction the band employs on its first half that excites just as much. The translation of the album’s title, With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly, couldn’t be more appropriate.

MP3 :: Gobbledigook
MP3 :: Inní mér syngur vitleysingur
[myspace] [original post]

18. Times New Viking - Rip It Off

The warped fuzz of Rip It Off will assault yer senses, but it’s the sparkling melodies bursting out of the noise that will keep you coming back for more, as they have for me all year.

MP3 :: (my head)
[myspace] [original post]

17. Titus Andronicus - The Airing Of Grievances

As you’d expect from the title, there’s a lot of angst on The Airing Of Grievances - imagine a more muscular, Springsteen-esque take on the pre-I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning Bright Eyes albums (the ones where he tore his throat yelling and cursing into basement microphones) and you‘d have a good idea what these cathartic little anthems sound like.

MP3 :: Titus Andronicus
[myspace] [original post]

16. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna is an experimental, trancy art-dance record that mixes an inordinate amount of influences within its 45 minutes, and winds up being one of the best off-genre (meaning: not straight rock) releases I’ve heard this year. I don’t really “go out” anymore, but I bet I’d like this album even more if I did.

MP3 :: First Communion

15. Destroyer - Trouble In Dreams

Trouble In Dreams doesn’t quite equal the career defining epic that was 2006’s masterful Destroyer’s Rubies, but for me it found its legs as the year progressed. Chalk it up to Dan Bejar’s ability to make his surrealistic poetry endlessly compelling (“it's not that I quit/ it's not that my poems are shit/ In the light of the privilege of dreams/ alive she cried once now alive she screams”), and for his band’s ability to frame those words in such grandiose, elegant folk music.

MP3 :: Foam Hands
MP3 :: Dark Leaves Form A Thread
[myspace] [original post]

14. The Black Keys - Attack & Release

Attack & Release is The Black Keys sounding as primal as ever, but the production Danger Mouse lends has led to a crispness not yet heard from Dan Auerbach and Patrick Karney. Attack & Release doesn’t necessarily show a great deal growth in songwriting since their earlier efforts, but it does show more consistency - and in turn is their strongest work to date.

MP3 :: Strange Times
[myspace] [original post]

13. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

Fuck Buttons stood out among the surplus of inappropriate named “fuck” bands in 2008 by creating a sonic environment that straddles the line between aggressive and tranquil - a world of beautiful noise that’s utterly hypnotizing and impossible to leave.

MP3 :: Sweet Love For Planet Earth
[myspace] [original post]

12. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

At Mount Zoomer doesn’t go for the throat like Apologies To The Queen Mary, but it’s another very solid record from two songwriters who seem more and more interested in their own solo projects than the band that made them the darlings of the indie world a few years back. Everyone likes to shine the genius spotlight on Spencer Krug, but once again, for me, the best songs comes from Dan Boeckner. The muscular urgency in songs like “Language City” make it hard to wait for the next Handsome Furs album - which is actually just around the corner.

MP3 :: Call It A Ritual
MP3 :: Language City
[myspace] [original post]
11. The War On Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues

Wagonwheel Blues is an exciting mix of sounds and styles - with elements of pure Americana, the 80s American underground, psyche-rock, and electronic flourishes providing a perfect match for Adam Granduciel’s expressive vocals. A truly promising debut rock record.

MP3 :: Taking The Farm
[myspace] [PHW Interview]

10. The Sweetbriars - Please Pass The Revolution!

The Sweetbriars keep things pretty simple. Small town folk-rock and power pop influences collide with huge choruses, making Please Pass The Revolution! a blast to play loud and shout along with. Any fan of mid-90s Jayhawks or Tom Petty should fall heads over heals for this record.

Stream :: No Way Home From Here
[myspace] [original post]
9. Gentleman Jesse & His Men - Introducing Gentleman Jesse

Gentlemen Jesse is one of those bands that doesn’t play a single innovative note, but does the same old same old so freakin’ well that it doesn’t even come close to mattering. In this case it’s late 70’s styled power punk that sounds like it’s coming from straight out of a broken down garage on the wrong side of the tracks.

MP3 :: All I Need Tonight (Is You)
[myspace] [original post]
8. Constantines - Kensington Heights

With a mix of bracing, twitchy anthems like “Hard Feelings” and slow building, tension-filled ballads like “Time Can Be Overcome”, Kensington Heights, the fourth straight knockout from Canada’s best rock band, comes together to produce the band’s most accessible album yet. One of the best rock records of the year.

MP3 :: Hard Feelings
[myspace] [original post]

7. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes / Sun Giant EP

Fleet Foxes’ stunning Sub Pop debut does a fairly common thing - it mixes traditional folk sounds with heavenly vocal harmonies and douses them in reverb. But while the method may not be unique, the results are - the album manages to make each of its small, simple songs sound like widescreen epics.

MP3 :: White Winter Hymnal
MP3 :: He Doesn’t Know Why
[myspace] [original post]

6. Portishead - Third

I only caught up to Third over the past 6 weeks or so, and since then have been completely absorbed in it. But the album itself must have been simmering for a long, long time - what with over 10 years since the trip-hop legend’s last. Third, though, is so much more than a neo-classic band reuniting to cash in on their past. Like Dummy and Portishead, Third is filled with icy cool electro-torch songs - only now they sound eerily futuristic, with harsh blasts of electric guitar and long, spaced-out instrumental passages to embed Beth Gibbons’ otherworldly vocals. Another truly hypnotic record.

MP3 :: Silence
MP3 :: The Rip
5. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Technically speaking, this was released late in 2007, but as only a handful of songs were on my radar until Jagjaguwar’s February re-release I decided to include it on this list. Scattered throughout the history of rock and roll are a handful of classic albums recorded straight to tape in an artist’s self-prescribed isolation - Nebraska and The Creek Drank The Cradle spring to mind immediately. You can add For Emma, Forever Ago, the result of Justin Vernon’s secluded winter in a Wisconsin cabin, to the list. Thank you Emma.

MP3 :: Skinny Love
[myspace] [original post]
4. TV On The Radio - Dear Science,

Like Microcastle, Dear Science, is an instantly enjoyable album from a band that in the past has sometimes been a bit more challenging than necessary. As those thumping first beats and doo-wop “bom-bom-bom-bom-boms” of “Halfway Home” suggest, Dear Science, foregoes any such games, and the result is a terrific art-pop record from a band that is seemingly predestined for greatness.

MP3 :: Halfway Home
MP3 :: Golden Age
[myspace] [original post]
3. Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

Microcastle, as well the Weird Era Cont. bonus disc, strikes a much greater balance between noise and song than did last year’s challenging Cryptograms, finally allowing the genius hiding behind Brandon Cox’s often offsetting cyber-persona to shine. “Nothing Ever Happened” may well be the indie-anthem of the year, an “All My Friends” for its disaffected little brother.

MP3 :: Nothing Ever Happened
[myspace] [original post]
2. The Walkmen - You & Me

Along with 2004’s Bows & Arrows, The Walkmen have now, very quietly, created 2 of my favorite albums of the decade. I think of You & Me as this year’s Boxer, a record that surprised a lot of people who must not have been paying very close attention to what came before. Also like Boxer, You & Me is the band’s most cohesive and beautiful collection yet, and features a singer who has developed a pinpoint command of his words and delivery. Its woozy grandeur and nocturnal aura are the perfect soundtrack for headphones, street lights, and city cement. Just don’t say you were surprised. You & Me was meant to be.

MP3 :: In The New Year
[myspace] [original post]

1. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

Scott Hutchinson, bless his soul, doesn’t try to do anything different than what nearly every other great young rock n’roll singer before him has done - document the broken hearts and sexual frustrations of a 20-something male. But the ways his stories unfold - so incredibly visceral and with such a thick Scottish howl - make them unforgettable. I listened to The Midnight Organ Fight more than any other album this year because, quite simply, it’s everything I want in a rock n’ roll record - loud guitars, great songs, and a singer who means it.

MP3 :: The Modern Leper
MP3 :: I Feel Better
[myspace] [original post]

2008 In Review, Vol. 8 - Wynn Walent

Very late last year I was introduced to the music of Brooklyn singer/songwriter Wynn Walent. Though his latest release, the Upon Leaving EP, was technically released in ‘07, it wasn’t until early ‘08 that I really dove in headfirst. Walent has the rare gift to create music that sounds timeless. His songs are beautiful and ragged - truly the ancestors of the spirit of Big Pink. The EP’s 6 tracks combine the fine instrumental interplay of his band, The Folks, with the complex everyman narratives and delicately gruff vocals of Walent himself.

One of the songs, “A Question Of Water”, actually made such an immediate first impression on me that it ended up in among my favorite songs of last year, despite my only hearing it a week or 2 before that post. And “Olivia, The Dear” was a touching little folk song before seeing the cute homemade video that came out a few months later (see below). Be sure to check that out below. 2008 was fairly quiet for Wynn on the musical front - he spent much of the year working for the Obama campiagn - but hopefully he’ll be back in force in ’09. There are a bunch of new songs streaming at his myspace that show some promise of what might be in store.

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

MP3 :: Where Are You Now
MP3 :: Paramedic
(from Wynn Walent. Buy here)

Wynn passed along this detailed account of what he was up to this year - including his time spent volunteering for the Obama campaign and some demos he wrote and recorded as the year went along:

Hi folks. Hope all is well with each of you. I wrote a bit below about what my year was like...

January - In January I left NY. I'd worked at a non-profit in harlem for the last four years ( -- they're amazing if you ever have some time to volunteer somewhere I then did some work for Barack Obama in the south carolina primary. we ended up at the staff party the night of the primary and Mr. Obama came and spoke to the about 200 of us. he quoted Bobby Kennedy and talked of ripples creating ripples. it was pretty beautiful.

my good friend bryan and i drove around long island once last summer after moving out of our apartment. among other things, we discussed the idea of bryan drawing a video to the song, olivia the dear. he finished it and posted it in jan of this year and you can see it below…

February - I spent february in LA with some good friends. i drank a good amount of red wine. i played a few shows. i did some demo recordings. one, recorded with Pres Maxson, can be found here....

MP3 :: The Well Is Always Dry

March - I went on tour with Cheyenne in march. Cheyenne is in many ways my favorite band. they are truly wonderful people. in addition to playing shows throughout the country, we spent a week together in norman, ok. they worked on a record there, and i drank tea, started writing a book, and played the piano in the student lounge, which was empty because it was spring break. I re-read Catcher in the Rye and The Old Man and the Sea. I wrote 'lily please' about a 7 year old girl i met who was a friend of the band. I also finished "eating the ocean" and began playing it on the tour.

MP3 :: Lily Please
MP3 :: Eating The Ocean

April/May - I left straight from the tour to take a job working for barack obama in Oregon. we drove from nashville to denver to portland to salem and i stayed there for about two months. i worked every day, for 16 hours or so, and then went to the same two bars to play pool or shuffleboard. i listened to beau jennings' (cheyenne) solo record "holy tulsa thunder" quite a lot. it's a great record and i highly recommend it.

June/July - For june and july i volunteered at an orphanage in the dominican republic ( i taught a music program, played soccer and baseball a lot, helped build a baseball field, and ate all of my meals with a group of 16 teenage dominican boys. while there i finished this song below. i brought an old classical guitar that had been my aunt's to use with the kids. i often walked around the house and grounds playing the intro of the song below and then singing silly lyrics in spanish. To describe how beautiful it was there would take too many words for this posting.

MP3 :: The Bells

August-October - I worked for Barack Obama in Florida. so many amazing people, so devoted and willing to sacrifice-another really beautiful experience. i have friends that are skeptical about obama. most of them are people who are too upset by the many miserable things that our gov't has been involved with to believe that real change can come from within the existing system. i don't see it that way, though i do understand. i'm not under the impression that barack obama is perfect or can immediately eliminate the injustices that we are a part of, but i think his election was about the best thing that could have happened to the world. a gigantic step in the right direction. i think progress will be incremental, or it won't happen at all. i'm glad i was there.

there was no time to write or play music really, which was alright. but one night i went to a bar near my house and it was pretty nice outside and i was kind of secluded, so i got my guitar from the car and wrote this song below…it's called "victor and them boys"

MP3 :: Victor And The Boys

November - We won the election if you didn't hear, and it was one of the happier nights i can recall. after the election i stayed in florida for a bit to close up my office and hang out with some of the volunteers and other staffers. other than that i spent the month in richmond and ny my two quasi-homes. i read the return of the native by Thomas hardy-which I recommend, though not enthusiastically as I might recommend other books.

December - It's Dec. 10 and I write from my parent's house in richmond. i'm currently taking a break from reading the way of a pilgrim, the russian folk tale that franny is always talking about in franny and zooey if you've read that. (that's an example of one I enthusiastically recommend by the way) i'll spend dec. in both ny and richmond and am playing a show in ny on the 20th at parkside lounge (with casey shea and copper sails-great bands).

I've also started writing my book again, which incidentally has nothing to do with any of this.

In the coming year i may end up back in ny, or in dc, or in charlottesville va, or in central America, or most likely in all of those places from time to time. i'm figuring it out. i'm not sure what role music will play, but i have lots of songs that I hope to put together at some point. potentially with some good friends of mine in Norman, Oklahoma.


2008 In Review, Vol. 7 - The Sweetbriars

The Sweetbriars’ Please Pass The Revolution! - a tight, concise folk-rock record with strong hints of power-pop and garage rock - was one of the nicest surprises sent to me in 2008. Central Pennsylvanians Earl Pickens (an established solo artist and vet of NY’s anti-folk scene with an ear for simmering country-pop melodies) and Bruce W. Derr (a formerly hard living rock ‘n roller with an ‘anything goes’ recording philosophy) met and started playing music with one another just last winter. The two found an instant chemistry with each other’s styles and decided quickly that an album was in order. The 10 songs were (mostly) written and recorded together in a whirlwind few weeks, and the result is an album where the careful, classic song craft of Pickens meets the whirling spontaneity of Derr, without either being sacrificed. Please Pass The Revolution! is simply an old fashioned rock record - guitars turned loud, emphasis on harmony and fun, no sign of irony or pretense. Listen.
Props to Earl for sending the funniest Year End Reflection yet:

Hey Popheadwound,

Thanks for inviting us to contribute to your Year End List Extravaganza. Aught eight was a banner year for The Sweetbriars. Easily our biggest year yet in terms of creative output, commercial success and critical acclaim.

The Sweetbriars influence was felt far and wide in '08: less than 9 months after we started the band, America elected its first black president. And, just a few days after Bruce and I discussed how much we wished Sarah Palin would go back to Alaska already Sarah Palin WENT BACK TO ALASKA!!! It is rewarding for a band to have such impact on the world, and also on Alaska.

In 2008 what most separated The Sweetbriars from other bands was probably our good manners. For example, we put the word "please" right in the title of our debut album: PLEASE PASS THE REVOLUTION! Not many bands take the time to say please nowadays. Even fewer put the word "please" right there on the cover of their album. The Beatles did it with their first record, but we felt they went overboard with that second "please". You don't want to seem desperate, guys!

Our good manners carry over to live shows, where we count from 1 to 4 out-loud at the start of each song so the audience knows when they can expect more music. Times were tough in 2008, and until Congress comes through with it's proposed Independent Music Bailout package, anything you can do to win fans helps. Please, good manners is a start! Thank you.
Some of the Sweetbriars favorite things about 2008:

Medjool Dates — Tasty AND gigantic. We've heard these referred to as "The Cadillac of Dates", but really they are much smaller and a different shape so this is not a fair comparison. We have no idea what a Cadillac tastes like, but Medjool Dates are DELICIOUS! Seriously, try and get some.

New England — The Sweetbriars toured New England twice this year. This is where we discovered Mejool Dates, in fact. Beautiful place, New England. VERY Newenglandy.

Being an indie rock band — This is where it's AT, y'all. Independence. Creative freedom. The right to choose our own path and follow it to our heart's desire. Sho' nuff, this is what being in a band is all about!!!!!

Trying to get signed — This has been really fun. Sending out PR sheets & copies of our 10-song debut cd, PLEASE PASS THE REVOLUTION!, waiting to hear back from people at various record labels. A lot of waiting. Fun waiting.

PLEASE PASS THE REVOLUTION! — Our 10 song debut cd. We dug it so much we bought 5,000 copies. Popheadwound dug it. You will too. Check it out at Makes a great gift. Think how cool you'll appear giving this to someone. Say something smarmy like, "Oh, you've never heard of the Sweebtriars? Hmmmm. I thought you were cool."

That's it from us. Hope to see you in 2009! Please.

Stream :: Various tracks from Please Pass The Revolution!

“Parade (Meet Me Halfway)”


2008 In Review, Vol. 6 - Forest Fire

The internet’s evolution over the past decade into the primary source for discovering new music (not to mention music distribution) is a polarizing situation to say the least. I love having the ability to sample a song or 2 from a new band without having to wait hours (or days, or weeks) to tape it from the radio. I enjoy the instant gratification a site like eMusic provides when the urge tickles me. I love having my entire music collection at my fingertips wherever I go. But enjoying these advantages means saying goodbye to the way I grew up with music. Browsing record store aisles is now a rare treat. Rushing home from the store on release day with my favorite band’s new CD is a thing of the past. Making mixtapes, the old fashioned ones anyway, is a lost art. Anticipation itself might find itself erased from the dictionary someday in our ever quickening world.

Last year Radiohead pushed forward the notion of how we receive music into our lives in a way the shocked and surprised most of the music buying world. The new idea that people could and would pay what they wanted (or not pay at all) for an album was groundbreaking, and paved the way for smaller bands relying on the internet for publicity to employ similar strategies. Unfortunately for 100% of those bands, they are not Radiohead, and getting people to fork over a couple of bucks is easier said than done.

Enter Forest Fire, a Brooklyn band who released their debut, Survival, earlier this year through Catbird Records. They tried out the same “pay what you want” method that worked out so well for Radiohead. That was very nice of them, but quite unnecessary, as Survival is an impressive little weird-folk record with several striking highlights that deserves to rake in some serious coin. The biggest highlight, and one of my soon-to-be favorite songs of 2008, is the warped, fractured-folk buzz of “Slow Motion”. I described this song once as saying “cut the Velvet’s “Heroin” in half and turn it into a campfire sing along and you’re getting close”. I’ll stand by that tonight, and you need to hear it. And hopefully you wind up paying for it.

Mark was kind enough to get most of his bandmates to contribute to a list of many of their favorite bands, albums, cities, films, etc. of the year. Check it out and click on some of the links to his friend’s bands. Hear some new music recommended by a guy who wrote one of my favorite songs of the year:

Forest Fire's Things in 2008:

Plastic Ono Band
Strong Coffee
Dylan's Desire
Sharon Van Etten
Steven Sebring's Dream of Life
the Patti Smith movie
Job Quitting
Goodbye the Band
London Calling
Shilpa Ray
Strawberry Jam
Dragging An Ox Through Water
Bruce Springsteen 1975 Live at Hammersmith Odeon
New York
Pierced Arrows
Bad Weather To The People
Ignoring Advice
Shaky Hands
Gin Rummy
Indy Media
Dead Moon
Embracing Chaos

MP3 :: Slow Motion
MP3 :: Fortune Teller
(from Survival. Buy here)

2008 In Review, Vol. 5 - Pitchfork Predictions...

Now that the Golden Globe Awards of Indie Rock Lists are done (Stereogum’s 2008 Gummies - brought to you by BECK. The beer, not the aging folkie. Lame much?), we can all turn our attention to the Oscars. Despite the avalanche of year end lists from everyone with a keyboard and too much time on their hands (myself included - next week!), all eyes will be on the most widely read and oft-criticized one of ‘em all - Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of the Year. While under normal circumstances I don’t agree with their overall #1’s (The Rapture, anyone?), last year they totally copied mine.

Whatever though, I forgive them. I'm not gonna go all Joe Satriani on them over it. About a week or so before they posted that list last year, I had some fun predicting what their top 10 might look like, and wouldn’t you know it - I was right on 6 out of 10 counts! This year I’m hoping to get a passing grade - we’ll see if I can top 6:

My Predictions for P’fork’s Top 10 (in no particular order):

Deerhunter - Microcastle (#1, I bet)
No Age - Nouns
TV On The Radio - Dear Science,
Portishead - Third (could sneak in there as #1 if they would rather pull one over on us)
The Walkmen - You & Me
Fleet Foxes - s/t
Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
M83 - Saturdays = Youth
Lil’ Wayne - Tha Carter III

Some of these are obviously safe choices in a year that wasn't as deep as last. Deerhunter, No Age, and TV On The Radio all received scores of 9.2 (yeah, I’m a loser, I just looked that up), so they’ll likely battle for the top spot. I don't remember any new releases being scored higher, and they tend to stand by their scores, for the most part, regardless of backlash. I do think though that Microcastle is going to walk away with their top spot, and my long shot for #1 would be Portishead - it’s very deserving and a real grower, plus they have a ton of goodwill left over from the 90’s.

As far as the other spots go - Fleet Foxes figures to place high despite the mild backlash sentiment I’m starting to feel around the net. You & Me has been an overwhelming favorite among bloggers and web lurkers and could find itself riding a lot of good will into the Top 10 - it’s a really great record and very deserving of a spot. The Chemistry Of Common Life was released fairly recently and the songs I’ve heard haven’t done much for me. But it seems that the people who like it really really like it.

Beyond those, things get a bit more sketchy for me. I didn’t find myself loving as many off-genre (read: non-indie rock) records as I did last year (hello Untrue & From Here We Go Sublime). But I have been loving the Gang Gang Dance album for a few weeks now, so I’m going with their Saint Dymphna, M83's Saturdays = Youth (or should I go with Cut Copy?), and Lil’ Wayne's Tha Carter III (though I know next to nothing about it other than it's hip-hop and it's everywhere) to round out the 10. You may notice the absence of a certain Vampire album - hopefully that one will stay where it belongs - low on the list. All for fun - we’ll see next week….

2008 In Review, Vol. 4 - Basement Band

New York’s Basement Band caught my ear earlier this year when the sweet alt country sing along “Nine Days” was featured on a compilation for Kill Buffalo Records. Sporadically over the next few months I checked in on the band’s myspace for recording updates, and eventually was pleased to find they had released their debut album. I said it at the time, but it’s worth repeating - Until The Evening Came is a remarkably consistent collection of dusty folk-rock gems, barreling barroom honky-tonk, and soaring harmonies.

“Nine Days” is one of the record’s key tracks. Its multi-part harmonies and breezy country rock sway sound like Crosby, Stills, & Nash jamming with Stranger’s Almanac-era Whiskeytown. “Soldiers” is another highpoint on an album full of them. Its vivid detail of young men going off to war could very easily be set during any point in U.S. history. The song earned lead singer/songwriter Jeff Malinowski a 2nd place finish in the 2007 Williamsburg Songwriters Contest. At a time when top notch alternative country records that recall the genre’s mid-90’s glory days are all but extinct, it’s refreshing to find a band that does it so exceptionally well.
Malinowski was kind enough to put together this reflection on some of his (and his bandmates) favorite music, shows, venues, amps, TV, & pizza joints of 2008. Keep an eye out for the Basement Band in 2009 as they try to spread their wings beyond NYC and the Northeast:

Hey y'all,

So we've had a pretty exciting year. We released our first record which felt great and James has been nice enough to say some really kind words about it here on the blog. We've also gone through some lineup changes but we're all really psyched about where we're headed in 2009. We'll be playing a ton in NYC and hopefully elsewhere so we hope to see y'all at the shows. Here's a little list of some of our fav stuff in 2008.


Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch - this album kick-started an unhealthy Tom Petty addiction I've been battling the past few months. Mudcrutch is Petty's band prior to the Heartbreakers which he reunited last year. The album was recorded over a matter of days in the Heartbreakers rehearsal space, completely live. Mix Magazine has an awesome article on the making of. Because it's recorded live, it's got this amazing vibe to it. Benmont Tench's organ riffs are often reminiscent of Garth Hudson circa "The Basement Tapes" and Mike Campbell's B-bender tele is half singing pedal steel and half "Exile On Main St" Keith. For me, many of Tom Petty's greatest songs are marred by slick 80's production and this album couldn't be further from that so while the tunes aren't as classic as the ones on "Full Moon Fever," they sound great!

Bon Iver - For Emma Forever Ago - Though this album originally came my way in the fall of last year, For Emma, Forever Ago received official release via Jagjaguar records in 2008 and we each went through our own little obsessive period with this record at some point this year. I was initially drawn to it because of the story: Guy holes up in a cabin for a winter and writes & records an album. It's something we've all fantasied about doing. The unique production and beautiful harmonies really make this record stand out but I think what kept me coming back to it were the songs. The lyrics especially, though often shrouded in dense vocal layers, offer such great imagery. In the album closer (and my personal fav track) "re:Stacks" he sings, "There's a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed. He's dangling my keys, he even fakes a toss" and I'm instantly transported to a park bench in the middle of a some freezing Wisconsin snowscape. Looking forward to hearing what the full band version of Bon Iver will sound like on record.

Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: Live from the Canterbury House 1968 - Even though this disc hit stands only days ago, I've got to include the latest release from the Neil Young Archives, Sugar Mountain: Live from the Canterbury House 1968 on a "Best of 2008" list. The show is the earliest document of solo Neil available and is an amazing snapshot of a young artist in transition. Even Neil says during one of his many, lengthy in-between-song rants, "I used to be a guitar player," speaking of his days with the at-the-time recently defunct Buffalo Springfield. He's clearly a little uncomfortable with having all eyes on him but handles it amazingly well and seems to really connect The recording itself is a real wonder. Besides a bit of tape hiss (to be expected with a 40 year old live recording) the quality is pretty amazing. You can hear all the little details of Neil's playing but there's also a great ambience to it that really puts you in the room. I hope Neil's got a whole closet full of unreleased shows like this one.


Levon Helm at Mountain Jam - After a long weekend of sleepless nights and jamtastic southern rock, Levon and his Ramble band gave me quite the pick me up. It's impossible to not be sucked in to all the fun that the musicians on stage and you can tell by their ring leader's huge grin that he's having the time of his life.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals at some little cafe - on the release day of Cardinology, Ryan Adams, alongwith guitarist Neal Casal and drummer Brad Pemberton, played a secret show in the West Village for a crowd of no more than 50-60 people. Now everybody knows Ryan is a nut but, only in his mid-thirties, he's a nut with a collection of songs bigger and better than most songwriters could amass in a lifetime. The vibe was incredibly loose (Ryan borrowed an audience members CD to remember what tunes were on it) and he even took some requests. Fun!


The National Underground - The first time we did a 3 set show at the NU, I thought to myself, "finally, there's a non New York City club in New York City." It's a small, friendly joint in the Lower East Side, right on Houston with decent beer selection, great music, and the best burger in town. For us, it's a place where we can stretch out from the usual 45-50 minute set we're so accustomed to and feel pretty free to play whatever. And we walk away with some dough! We'll be here a few more times before the end of the year (check the myspace for dates) so stop by and check it out.


Carmine's - Graham Ave L Stop - You people who prefer Tony's are ridiculous.


Fender Blues Junior - attention every small club in NYC: please buy one (or maybe two!) of these.

TV (for those of us who watch anyway..):

LOST!!!! and Top Chef

MP3 :: Nine Days
MP3 :: Soldiers
(from Until The Evening Came. Buy here)

2008 In Review, Vol. 3 - Tall Firs

New York’s Tall Firs released their sophomore record earlier this year called Too Old To Die Young through Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label. The connection to Moore is fitting. The Tall Firs’ stoned guitar clatter and creaky vocals recall much of the post-Daydream Nation era of Sonic Youth - when they were scooped up by Geffen Records and expected to produce some modern rock hits.

There is a definite nostalgia at work on Too Old To Die Young for those early 90’s days. With all the 80’s revivalists working today it’s refreshing to hear a band that’s more interested in the merits of Dirty, Where You Been, or going back further, Marquee Moon, than, say, Duran Duran. The band played to larger audiences than ever this year – All Tomorrow’s Parties in May with Deerhunter and The Black Lips, and a McCarren Park Pool Party gig with, again, Deerhunter, Times New Viking, and King Khan & The Shrines over the summer. They toured Europe in the Fall and were written up in Fricke’s Picks in Rolling Stone (he dug them) as well.

Too Old To Die Young’s lead track, “So Messed Up”, has a lot in common, thematically, to “Summer of Drugs” – not coincidentally a Victoria Williams folk song made radio-ready by Soul Asylum for the Sweet Relief compilation circa 1994. Its fond reminiscences to the days of underage drinking and drugging (“we were acid-crazed teenage tweak-outs/the booze fueled days of pills and freak-outs”) takes that song’s nostalgia and fast forwards to the modern day, and in turn becomes a sort of sad commentary on a life that never got over those blurry youthful nights. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year, and not only because of how true it rings. The rest of the album is filled with just as much earnesty, tension, and searing guitar work as a band indebted to the best New York rock of the past few decades.

Tall Firs’ Aaron Mullan sent along the following list of some things he and the rest of the band enjoyed this year. For the record, this is the third of these lists/reflections I’ve posted so far, and all 3 have mentioned Obama’s election as a highpoint of the year. For some reason that’s not at all surprising. Enjoy:

Top 10 of 2008

1) Obama elected.

2) Tall Firs UK Tour. Shredfest, ladies and gents.

3) Jury Duty/No more Jury Duty for 8 years.

Knyfe Hyts. This band is so killer it's completely off the freaking

5) Talk Normal. Same as above.

6) Party Store Records. Home of the 'Coldest Beer in Town' cassette comp
featuring Knyfe Hyts, Talk Normal, Awesome Color, Oneida, Red Dawn II, Tall
Firs and more.

7) Equalizers: API 560 and Pultec EQP-1A3

8) Richard Dawkins 'The Selfish Gene'. Not as nuanced (or original) as the
next few books, but just a strait up Rocker from '76; kinda like the s/t
Ramones debut.

9) The Crying of Lot 49.

10) ATP New York. Even if I didn't get to play in the baseball game.


MP3 :: So Messed Up
MP3 :: Hairdo
MP3 :: Secrets And Lies
(from Too Old To Die Young. Buy here)