The February Mixtape

Though the onslaught of great new music continued this month, February 2009 had much more rewarding pleasures in store for me. On Monday the 9th my twins arrived - a few weeks sooner than expected but safe and sound nonetheless. My time since has been filled with surreal moments like the one pictured, with lots of late night feedings, burbings, and dirty diapers too. I guess in a way those moments are pretty surreal as well. Here is some new music I’ve been listening to with “my girls” this month, all released or heard for the first time over the last 28 days...

MP3 :: My Maudlin Career / Camera Obscura - (original post)
MP3 :: Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In) / Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - (original post)
MP3 :: 18 Wheels / Evening Magazine - (original post)
MP3 :: Lust For Life / Girls
MP3 :: Norman Bleik / I Was A King - (original post)
MP3 :: Lalita / The Love Language - (original post)
MP3 :: The Lions / Soft Black - (original post)
MP3 :: Me No / Clem Snide - (original post)
MP3 :: Cloud of Evil / Blackout Beach
MP3 :: Middle Cyclone / Neko Case - (original post)
MP3 :: James Blues / J Tillman - (original post)
MP3 :: The Poet / Matt Singer - (original post)
MP3 :: Future Primitive / Papercuts
MP3 :: Red Oak Way / Lotus Plaza - (original post)
MP3 :: Paragon Point / Tim Hecker - (original post)

Wilco - New DVD, New Album, Some Thoughts

Looks to be a pretty big year for Wilco - the fathers of “dad rock” are slated to release the DVD documentary Ashes of American Flags on April 18, to be followed in June by a brand new studio album.

First of all, the DVD was filmed during their 2008 tour in support of Sky Blue Sky, and has just won “Best Cinematography” at the Big Sky Film Festival. It makes its Chicago premier on March 9. Though it can’t possibly match the dramatic story arcs of the band’s last documentary (I Am Trying To Break Your Heart), it is sure to be filled with great visuals, impassioned live performances, and revealing interviews with all band members, as evidenced by the trailer.

As far as the next album goes, Rolling Stone (the cutting edge magazine that just gave No Line On The Horizon 5 stars!) reported yesterday on the June release of an as-of-today untitled Wilco album. Basic tracks were recorded in January at the studio of Neil Finn during a trip to New Zealand (which also produced this video), and was overdubbed back at Wilco’s Chicago Loft studio. Word has it that the band is embracing the studio once again as a creative tool - meaning the album may be more Yankee Hotel Foxtrot than Sky Blue Sky. Though knowing Wilco, the new record will probably sound little like either of them. Songs confirmed for inclusion are "Wilco, The Song," "Deeper Down," "My Country Has Disappeared" and "Sunny Feeling."

I’ve been a fan of Wilco since the beginning, and they are without question among my favorite “all time” bands. That being said, I feel this new album has to jumpstart a new phase of artistic growth and adventurous music making to really solidify their place among this generation’s very best bands. By my count, they’ve made 3 classic records - Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - each of which followed a clear trajectory of improvement from the one before it. But with A Ghost Is Born and Sky Blue Sky there has been, IMHO, an evident decline over the past 6 or 7 years in studio quality - (read this post for my exact issues with AGIB). Wilco has been around for a long time now, since 1995, and don’t appear to be going anywhere soon - their current lineup has proven to be the most stable in their, er, troubled history. It would be a shame for Wilco, and more specifically Jeff Tweedy, to allow the band to drift into mediocrity after such a tremendous creative period (‘97-’02). I think a good comparison would be to R.E.M. - a band whose greatness is not in question due to their extended run of excellent-to-classic albums (Murmer through Automatic For The People, arguably even New Adventures In Hi-Fi), but who, since then, have released a string of lazy albums that just sound like a much lesser version of the old stuff.

Wilco are still a fantastic live act, no doubt, but the past 2 studio albums just haven’t lived up to what I've come to expect from this band. Sky Blue Sky, to me, sounds like an album made specifically for aging public radio listeners who wished those youngsters in Wilco weren’t so damn noisy. I used to think the “dad rock” moniker that I teased about to begin this post was unfair. Wilco has put out some pretty challenging and adventurous music well into their upper 30’s, but Sky Blue Sky was just too domesticated to distance the band from the tag. At this point as elder statesmen of indie-rock, do they still have it in them to really dare their audience to follow them along for the ride - as they have so successfully in the past? Remember what the alt-country purists thought about Summerteeth, or what Reprise thought of YHF? Can this new album do for them what In Rainbows did for Radiohead - make it clear that there's still music in them that is nearly as vital and engaging as their best work. I really hope they can.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading my ramblings. Here's a promising new song Wilco has been playing live for 6 or 8 months now.

MP3 :: One Wing (live from Lollapalooza, 2008)

Record Release! Soft Black - The Earth Is Black

PHW favorites Soft Black, the NY based songwriting vehicle of Vincent Cacchione, will be celebrating the release of their truly brilliant new album The Earth Is Black with a record release show tomorrow night (Friday, 2/27/09), at Death By Audio. I reviewed The Earth Is Black right here last month and have been listening repeatedly ever since. It’s easily one of the best records I‘ve heard so far this year, and that’s saying a lot considering the otherworldly amount of great new music 2009 has already bestowed upon us. If you’re a regular reader of this blog I can’t recommend The Earth Is Black highly enough. Soft Black will be joined by their Plays With Dolls labelmates Werewolves and Everybody Knows on what promises to be a night filled with great rock n’ roll.

MP3 :: I Am An Animal
MP3 :: The Lions
(from The Earth Is Black. Buy here)

MP3 :: Pearl With No String
(from Blue Gold. Buy here)

[mp3] Neko Case - "Middle Cyclone"

As you are almost certainly well aware (and as previously reported here and in a million other places), Neko Case is set to release her latest studio album, Middle Cyclone, next Tuesday (March 3) through Anti. To celebrate, the label has released one of the highlights for free download - the plaintive title track. We all know Case can flat-out wail with the best of them, but “Middle Cyclone” shines more for its quiet understatement than any attempt at vocal (s)heroics. It’s a vulnerable cry to be loved, and stands in stark contrast to the brash, tongue-in-cheek “People Got A Lotta Nerve”, which surfaced last month. Word is that Middle Cyclone continues to explore new sounds for the ever-evolving Case, and at a sprawling 15 songs long there is certainly space for her to pull out some new tricks. Can’t wait….

MP3 :: Middle Cyclone
MP3 :: People Got A Lotta Nerve
(from Middle Cyclone. Buy here)

[mp3] Evening Magazine - "18 Wheels"

Evening Magazine are a Philadelphia indie-pop collective who have recently released their debut EP, The Ride Across Lake Constance. “18 Wheels” is the melodic first single, fleshed out by the shared male/female vocals of David Disbrow and Julianna Zinkel, hand claps, and the subtle background horn section. The song evokes some vintage American highway imagery, making it a perfect candidate for your next road trip mixtape, er, playlist.

MP3 :: 18 Wheels
(from The Ride Across Lake Constance. Buy here)

[mp3] The Love Language - "Lalita"

I first heard The Love Language a few weeks ago after reading about them on I Guess I’m Floating, and, well, nothing was lost in translation. “Lalita” is a lo-fi sonic blast of fuzzed-out pop perfection and one of my most played songs of the past couple weeks. The Love Languages’ self-titled album comes out through Bladen County Records on St. Patrick’s Day, and if the rest of it has only a bit of this track’s restless enthusiasm and shout-along hooks then it will be money well spent. Looking forward to it. Head over to IGIF for another excellent track, “Stars”, or their myspace to stream a bunch of other songs from the album.

MP3 :: Lalita
(from The Love Language. Info here)

New Music - Swan Lake

Fans of Wolf Parade, Destroyer, The New Pornographers, Blackout Beach, Hello Blue Roses, Frog Eyes, and Sunset Rubdown (exhale…I think that‘s it…) have a new album to look forward to - Swan Lake’s Enemy Mine. The combined musical super-powers of Dan Bejar, Spencer Krug, and Carey Mercer have once again joined forces…you know, because their other bands don’t keep them busy enough. Jagjaguwar will release Enemy Mine on March 24 and have graciously released 3 free mp3s from the album - one from each member on lead vocals. Mercer fans get “Spanish Gold, 2044”, Krug fans get “A Hand At Dusk”, and Bejar fans, like me, get “Spider”. Fans of all three get Christmas morning. Those who pre-order starting tomorrow will get an immediate digital download of the album.

MP3 :: Spanish Gold, 2044
MP3 :: A Hand At Dusk
MP3 :: Spider
(from Enemy Mine. Pre-order here)

Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

Anyone remotely interested in either ambient or electronic music should keep an ear out for the upcoming Tim Hecker release, An Imaginary Country. I’m not familiar with Hecker’s back catalog, so I can’t really get into how this release varies (or doesn’t) from the Canadian sound artist’s previous efforts. I can say though that An Imaginary Country is a hushed, gentle exploration of slowly evolving synthetic sounds that is as equally beautiful as it is entrancing - the soundtrack to being lost at sea in a peaceful, ghostlike fog. I don’t have a lot to compare it to in my personal library besides maybe Endless Summer, but even that seems like a too-easy cop out from a guy who doesn’t usually listen to this kind of music. To my untrained ear, An Imaginary Country sounds like a more minimalist version of the Fennesz classic, foregoing the acoustic guitars and hissing noise effects for something calmer, colder, and more eerily distant. Really, the song titles kind of tell the story here - “Sea of Pulses”, “A Stop At The Chord Cascades”, and “Currents of Electrostasy” all capture the atmospheric, serene nature of the album much better than I ever could. An Imaginary Country is available from Kranky on March 9.

MP3 :: Sea of Pulses
MP3 :: Paragon Point
(from An Imaginary Country. Buy here)

2 New MP3s from The Floodlight Collective

Last week I posted about the upcoming album The Floodlight Collective from Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt’s solo recording project, Lotus Plaza. At the time I didn’t feel right posting any tracks from the album, as I wasn’t sure which would be designated as free and legal mp3s by the label. Just got the go ahead though from Kranky to share album opener “Red Oak Way” and “Whiteout”, so here they are for you to sample. Most of the rest of this is just paraphrased from my previous post, but fans of Deerhunter’s excellent Microcastle will find plenty to love in the way Lotus Plaza expand on that band’s lush, atmospheric indie-rock. The opaque pop melodies float gorgeously in a densely layered aural haze, as the album’s 10 tracks sound best when played straight through like one uninterrupted song. If his contributions to Deerhunter weren’t enough to do so, The Floodlight Collective ably proves Pundt a top-notch sonic craftsmen on his own right, and a true talent on the indie-rock scene.

MP3 :: Red Oak Way
MP3 :: Whiteout
(from The Floodlight Collective. Buy here)

[mp3] Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - "Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)"

Here’s a brand new one from Casiotone For The Painfully Alone’s forthcoming album Vs. Children, due from Tomlab Records on April 7th. The 5th proper album from Owen Ashworth‘s recording project, Vs. Children continues the shift away from the strictly bedroom electronics of early albums towards the warmer, more natural musical settings that took flight on 2006‘s Etiquette. Piano, organ, mellotron, and acoustic percussion frame most of these 11 tracks, along with Ashworth’s signature droll, disaffected vocal style. He’s helped out by a handful of PHW favorites, including Papercuts’ Jason Quever (co-producer), and The Donkeys (his backing band on 3 songs).

The first single, “Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm”, is an excellent place to get your feet wet, as the song’s barroom piano, stomping drums, and memorable lyrics (“with the money in the backseat baby we could buy a house/and raise a little family on Schlitz and Mickey Mouse, well Hallelujah”) eventually gives way to a surprisingly odd (and oddly welcome) segue into “When The Saints Go Marching In”. At just under 2 minutes, it’s seems like just a simple, charming little song, but on repeat listens the touching story of a couple on the run from the law and at the end of their criminal career comes to a vivid life of its own. Listen.

MP3 :: Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)
(from Vs. Children. Info here)

Clem Snide - Hungry Bird

Rumors of the Clem Snide demise have proven inaccurate, as the Eef Barzelay-fronted folk-rockers are getting ready to release Hungry Bird, their 6th proper full length record, on February 24 (that’s next week). Recorded way back in 2006, Hungry Bird has been on the shelf gathering dust for a variety of reasons, inner band dysfunctions very much a part of it. In the meantime, Barzelay has carved out a nice little career for himself away from Clem Snide, with 2 solid solo albums (Bitter Honey and last year’s Lose Big) and a couple of film scores (Rocket Science and Yellow Handkerchief), as well as offering to write a song just for you. Obviously the band always intended for Hungry Bird to see proper release, and have decided to give it a go along with 429 Records.

I‘ve hands my hands pretty full, literally, for the last week or so but have managed a few quiet listens to Hungry Bird during that time. My first impressions are that the album is a welcome addition to the distinguished Clem Snide canon. The Ghost Of Fashion, Clem Snide’s 2001 classic, remains one of my favorite albums of the decade and the band’s very best. Each release prior and subsequent to it has housed at least a handful of stellar cuts - with Your favorite Music and End of Love also being excellent starting points for curious listeners. Hungry Bird’s opener, “Me No”, is a perfect re-introduction to this band for me, with Barzelay’s endearingly nasal voice mixed high over the band’s slow building urgency. Songs like “Hum” and “Burn The Light” find the band expanding on its folk-driven sound by incorporating languid, almost jazz-like arrangements with very satisfying results. The closer though, “With All My Heart”, is a straight lo-fi folk song and the early album highlight for me. Normally I prefer Barzelay’s writing with a fair amount of his patented detached sarcasm and biting wit, but this simple, aching song is just flat out beautiful with only heart-on-the-sleeve honesty to its credit.

MP3 :: Me No
Stream :: Beard of Bees
Stream :: Entire Album
(from Hungry Bird. Buy here)

[mp3] Throw Me The Statue - "Ship"

Here’s a new track from Throw Me The Statue. “Ship” comes from an EP called Purpleface, which was, until recently, only available at TMTS merch tables. Now it's available in hard or digital copies everywhere through Secretly Canadian, so wahoo! "Ship" is a bit moodier and more understated than their twin breakout blasts of melodic indie-pop, “About To Walk” and “Lolita” from last year’s solid Moonbeams, but Scott Reitherman's skilled songcraft is nonetheless on full display here. The band is currently recording the follow up full length with producer Phil Elk, so look for that later in the year.

MP3 :: Ship
(from Purpleface. Buy here)

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

[video] J Tillman - "Firstborn"

J Tillman’s perfect Vacilando Territory Blues is just full of highlights, and Pitchfork unveiled a video for one of them today. “Firstborn” finds the singer/songwriter (& Fleet Foxes drummer) backed by Casey Wescott and Christian Wargo of Fleet Foxes, and features a typically haunting, sparse arrangement. I find it particularly relevant right now with my my own 2 first borns, just 8 days old, sleeping soundly in the next room as I type this. Vacilando Territory Blues is out now through Western Vinyl and comes with my highest recommendation (read my previous post here) - it’s a truly captivating piece of American music.

MP3 :: James Blues
MP3 :: Steel On Steel
(from Vacilando Territory Blues. Buy here)

[mp3] Camera Obscura - "My Maudlin Career"

It was a little over 2 years ago that I first fell head over heels for Camera Obscura. I only heard Let’s Get Out Of This Country weeks before compiling my Top 10 of 2006, during the very first awkward baby steps of this blog. But the album made such an immediate impact that it found its way in. Looking back at the list now I know it would be higher than its #6 placement - I bet I listen to it more than any other record on that list save Destroyer’s Rubies.

The first single from the follow up has been given away for free from the band - all you need to do is give them a valid email address and it‘s yours. “My Maudlin Career” is the song and title track, and documents a weary ending with a typically Spector-esque arrangement. It’s a beautiful track that certainly would fit in on their previous effort - the instantly memorable melody and tasteful, chiming guitars make a fine introduction to one of America’s finest Scottish imports.

But for me the song is just the perfect way to wind down a whirlwind 2 days. Monday morning I became the proud father of beautiful, healthy twin girls. I feel as full and content right now as I ever have. I just hit repeat on this song for the 4th time as I’m typing this post and enjoying a beer. Even though its lyrics are not particularly uplifting, they’re hitting me hard. “I don’t want to be sad again” it’s saying, and right now I feel like I never will. My girls are sleeping and safe and I’m glad I’ve got this tune to fall asleep with before the start of another perfect day.

MP3 :: My Maudlin Career
(from My Maudlin Career. Info here)

My Maudlin Career - April 21, 2009 - 4AD

1. French Navy
2. The Sweetest Thing
3. You Told A Lie
4. Away With Murder
5. Swans
6. James
7. Careless Love
8. My Maudlin Career
9. Forests And Sands
10. Other Towns And Cities
11. Honey In The Sun

Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective

The past 2 years have been pretty rewarding for the members of Deerhunter, and 2009 looks to be no different. But where Bradford Cox has been the band’s de-facto star (and lightning rod) thus far, in the coming months you should expect to hear a lot about guitarist Lockett Pundt. Pundt’s vocals deceptively opened last year’s Microcastle, as he took lead on “Agoraphobia”, a bold move for a band so clearly linked to the persona of its usual front man. The move worked though, as Pundt’s melodic, repetitive phrasings sounded nearly identical to what Deerhunter fans were used to, and jump started an album that many considered among the year‘s best.

Pundt’s solo project, Lotus Plaza, will be releasing The Floodlight Collective through Kranky Records in March. Frequenters of the Deerhunter blog might be familiar with a handful of posted demos from over the past few years, but The Floodlight Collective is the official debut full length from Pundt. Its 10 songs expand on Deerhunter’s lush, shoegazing tendencies and deliver a knockout of an atmospheric listening experience - every bit as shimmering and innocent as the album art suggests. The songs are full of opaque pop melodies that hardly ever emerge from the densely layered array of sounds. Instead, the vocals float beautifully in the trance-inducing mix, just one part of a greater whole. What The Floodlight Collective does make very clear is that Lotus Plaza is not some side project waiting to be ignored, but rather the introduction of a dynamic talent to the indie-rock community.

As of today Kranky has not released a free mp3 from The Floodlight Collective, so here’s a song that was released on the band’s blog early last year. “Dot Gain” sounds a bit more primitive than most of the newer songs, but it’s a fairly decent representation of where the band is coming from, sonically. It’s pretty clear Lotus Plaza and Deerhunter are first cousins, no?

MP3 :: Dot Gain
(from the Deerhunter blog)

New Music - Bishop Allen

You’re probably fixated on the Grammy’s right now (or, if it’s Monday, youtubing all the lowlights…like Bono’s eyeliner or Whitney Houston giving fans of crack jokes more ammo or Kid Rock). But I thought I’d share a couple of new tracks from Brooklyn indie-pop band Bishop Allen. Their new album Grrr… comes out on Dead Oceans on March 10. Both “Dimmer” and “The Ancient Commonsense of Things” downplay the hooks-on-the-sleeve catchiness of 2007’s mega-singles “Click, Click, Click, Click” and “Rain” from The Broken String, but there is a definite sense of new found maturity working here that suits the band well after a handful of listens. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of Grrr…

MP3 :: Dimmer
MP3 :: The Ancient Commonsense of Things
(from Grrr… Pre-order here)

J Tillman - Vacilando Territory Blues

J Tillman is a singer/songwriter rooted in the traditional sounds of American folk and blues music. Since 2004 he has released a handful of hard-to-find records, all of which are now available in digital form on Autumn Tone Records. 2008 saw Tillman branch out his talents, as he started drumming for a fairly well-known folk band called Fleet Foxes. Heard of them? He also found time to record Vacilando Territory Blues, an album that is no doubt getting increased attention after a year of touring with and occasionally opening for Fleet Foxes. The attention is well-deserved, as it is his most collaborative and band-oriented effort to date. Though Tillman’s voice isn’t going to move the Blue Ridge Mountains like the high lonesome sound of Robin Pecknold’s, there is a strength and sturdiness in it that lends these 13 tracks a sense of deep honesty and weariness. At times reminiscent of the quietly powerful sound and stark imagery of Songs: Ohio at their very best, Vacilando Territory Blues is one of the more compelling pure Americana releases I’ve heard in quite a while. It is out now through Western Vinyl Records.

MP3 :: James Blues
MP3 :: Steel On Steel
(from Vacilando Territory Blues. Buy here)

[mp3] I Was A King - "Norman Bleik"

I don’t know much yet about I Was A King - this track was just sent along to me the other day and I thought you might dig it. I am. I do know the band is Norwegian, and that there’s a definite power-pop thing going as they rip through this song called “Norman Bleik”. Yeah, I’m hearing a touch of Teenage Fanclub and Apples In Stereo, like the email predicted I might. Their forthcoming debut record will be released by The Control Group on April 7, and features contributions from Sufjan Stevens, Serena Maneesh, Danielson, and Ladybug Transistor. Check it out:

MP3 :: Norman Bleik
(from the “Norman Bleik” / “It’s All You” import 7” + digital single. Buy here)

[video] Constantines - "Young Lions"

Watch the full concert at

Here's a great looking (and sounding) video of one of PHW's favorite rock bands, Constantines, tearing through "Young Lions" live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The song originally appeared on the Shine A Light LP from 2003. It comes from the good folks at Baeble, and if you dig it follow the link to where you can watch the entire show.

Hopefully you've heard Kensington Heights by now, one of my favorites of 2008. If not, you should get on that...

MP3 :: Hard Feelings


Matt Singer - The Drought EP

I’m sure regular readers of this blog are familiar by now with one of my favorite NY musicians - Matt Singer. You may well remember the hilarious “Stacy J” - it got cozy between Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes in my version of the best songs of 2007. “Stacy J” originally appeared on the free Family Records compilation Cross-Pollination: The Mixtape, Vol. 1, which also featured contributions from My Brightest Diamond, Cloud Cult, and another PHW favorite, Wakey!Wakey!, among others. If you still haven’t heard this song about a beautiful up-and-coming musician, her American Idol auditions, poor manners, and restroom promiscuity you should listen to it immediately and be ready to laugh out loud.

Matt’s latest, an EP called The Drought, has been released by Family Records and houses his most accomplished set of songs to date. The recording itself is exquisite - the combination of sparse drums, acoustic strums, jazzy bass, banjo, pedal steel, and piano are spacious and inviting, and leave Singer’s voice enough room to hover above it all. Singer has always shown the unique ability to write songs that are both absurd and profound, universal and personal, and The Drought features 6 of his best. The EP includes a reworked version of “Stacy J” and the equally amusing (and very NSFW) “Dynamic Public Speaker”, but the highlight could very well be “The Poet” - a song that eloquently documents a relationship’s communication breakdown over one of Matt’s most immediate melodies. Listen.

MP3 :: Stacy J (original version)
(from Cross Pollination: The Mixtape, Vol. 1. Download album here)

Matt Singer is a witty human being, and you can now be privy to that in more than just song form. His new blog, My Everything Pill, is very handsome and wants to meet you. Matt’s playing live at Rockwood Music Hall in the Rebel Spirit Showcase this Wednesady (2/4/09) and later this month at Union Hall in Park Slope on February 18.
Matt has also just been nominated to be The Deli Magazine's Artist of the Month. Click here and vote for him...