The August Mixtape

This month’s mix of the best new music holds together quite well as a compilation, if I do say so myself. It‘s been a quiet summer around here at the luxurious PHW headquarters - with 6 month old twins to take care of there hasn’t been a lot of time to get outdoors as much as my wife and I would have liked. There have been a lot of lazy (but still plenty hectic) days around the house filled with dirty diapers, hungry babies, and the occasional stolen nap. While I wouldn‘t trade the time spent with my daughters for anything, there was always the sense of missing out on the beaches, boardwalks, festivals, vacations, and concerts that have been a regular part of my summers since forever. Hence kind of feeling like a deadbeat. Hence also the “title” of this mix - which is also a nod to the grainy, lo-fi beach music circulating this summer (not to mention this comp featured over at Aquarium Drunkard recently).

Luckily the comfortable feeling of semi-isolation I‘ve experienced lately have been well-soundtracked. “Island, IS”, by Justin Vernon and his friends in the Volcano Choir side project, seems predetermined to bleed into Au’s “Ida Walked Away” and the Afro-pop of The Very Best’s “Julia”. Some of those aforementioned blurry beach jams come next, followed by the latest free Radiohead tune, a batch of skuzzy garage rockers, the supersonic sheen of The Big Pink, and finally a run through a pair of lilting folk tunes, the last of which is the elegiac title track to the upcoming Simon Joyner record. It’s actually quite a seemless little mix - much more than just a collection of the month’s best music…which it also is. As always, thanks for reading and ch-check it out:

MP3 :: Island, IS - Volcano Choir (original post)
MP3 :: Ida Walked Away - Au (original post)
Link :: Julia - The Very Best
MP3 :: Feel It All Around - Washed Out
MP3 :: Deadbeat Summer - Neon Indian
MP3 :: Despicable Dogs - Small Black
ZIP :: These Are My Twisted Words - Radiohead (original post)
MP3 :: Bowie Knives - Mazes
MP3 :: You’re A Target - No Age (original post)
MP3 :: Girl In Love - Smith Westerns (original post)
MP3 :: Cone Of Light - The Almighty Defenders
Link :: Dominos - The Big Pink (original post)
MP3 :: Ravens - Secondstar (original post)
MP3 :: Out Into The Snow - Simon Joyner (original post)

And check out the rest of the year’ monthly mixes:


A.A. Bondy - When The Devil's Loose

Back in early 2007 I caught A.A. Bondy opening up for Bright Eyes at NY’s Bowery Ballroom. Despite never having heard or heard of Bondy prior to that evening I was pretty sure I was hearing something special. Armed with an acoustic guitar, a small arsenal of harmonicas, and a batch of truly resonating folk songs, Bondy treated the Conor Oberst fans who showed up early to a remarkable 45 minutes of music. Many of those songs soon found their way onto his terrific American Hearts LP, originally released by Superphonic Records later that year (and featured among my favorites of ‘07) and then reissued by Fat Possum in 2008. American Hearts has demanded many return listens over the past 2 years and has only grown in stature as one of my favorite records I’ve come across since starting this blog. Natch, I was excited a few months back to hear that Bondy would release the follow up, When The Devils’ Loose, on September 1, again through Fat Possum.

Like its predecessor, When The Devil’s Loose once again draws heavily from the vast pool of traditional folk and blues music. Bondy’s influences (Dylan, Young, Guthrie, etc) and contemporaries (Felice Brothers, J Tillman, Roadside Graves) are easy enough to recognize in his songs - he’s not so much trying to re-imagine the great American songbook as continue its story. And that he does, once again, with startling results. “When The Devil’s Loose”, “A Slow Parade”, and “The Mercy Wheel” all benefit from their fuller arrangements, swaying with lilting, narcotic grooves. The elegiac piano ballad “On The Moon” is a drop-dead gorgeous love song, while the harrowing “Oh The Vampyre” imagines its narrator as a restless, displaced creature of the night. “Mightiest of Guns” comes closest to recalling American Hearts’ starker solo moments, while the buoyant near-pop of “I Can See The Pines Are Dancing” sounds like nothing he has done before. Bondy’s aching voice though, full of grit and disarming Southern cracks, is still his most potent weapon. When The Devil’s Loose is another stunner from Bondy and comes filled with the kind of authentic, slow-burning hymns that do the American songbook proud.

MP3 :: When The Devil’s Loose
MP3 :: I Can See The Pines Are Dancing
(from When The Devil’s Loose. Buy here)

Read PHW’s 2007 Year In Review feature/interview with Bondy here.

Check out Bondy on tour:


[mp3] No Age - "You're A Target"

Sub Pop has released a song from the upcoming No Age EP, Losing Feeling. “You’re A Target” is a sturdy, driving rock song and is easily one of the most accessible tracks the noise/lo-fi band has yet produced. Losing Feeling drops Oct. 8.

MP3 :: You’re A Target
(from Losing Feeling. Info here.)

Stream Losing Feeling in its entirety here.

[mp3] Langhorne Slim - "I Love You, But Goodbye"

Here’s a new one from the upcoming Langhorne Slim album, Be Set Free, which sees release through Kemado Records on Sept 29.

MP3 :: I Love You, But Goodbye
(from Be Set Free. Info here)

[mp3] Simon Joyner - "Out Into The Snow"

One of the upcoming Fall releases that I am most looking forward to is the latest from Simon Joyner. Out Into The Snow is Joyner’s 12th studio recording and first for the folks at Team Love. In addition to the previously released single “Roll On”, the label has just made the ghostly 7 ½ minute title track available as a free download. It’s a starkly beautiful folk song and a fine introduction to the fractured, dream-like narratives that populate the album.

I had, until recently, never heard of Joyner and am in particular looking forward to the free 9-song retrospective that Team Love will release tomorrow (Wed. 8/26) on their website, with all songs hand-picked by Joyner himself. Additionally, those who pre-order Out Into The Snow on vinyl will receive a free 7” with 2 exclusive non-album tracks recorded at the same sessions as the album. More on Out Into The Snow soon.

MP3 :: Out Into The Snow
MP3 :: Roll On
(from Out Into The Snow. Pre-order here)

[video] Camera Obscura - live @ Route Du Rock

Here’s Camera Obscura performing 3 songs ("French Navy", "Honey In The Sun", and "James") from this year’s excellent My Maudlin Career for the folks at Grandcrew. The set was recorded outdoors and acoustic at Route du Rock, Saint-Malo in France.

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

[mp3] Times New Viking - "Move To California"

Earlier last month we got the first listen to the teeth-rattling first single, “No Time No Hope”, from the forthcoming Times New Viking album, Born Again Revisited. Now that release day is fast approaching (September 22, Matador Records), the band and label have seen fit to drop a second sneak peak - the equally scuzzed-out power-punk of “Move To California”. I don’t know what this means, but enjoy the tune. Also look for the 7” vinyl, which hits stores on September 8 backed by 3 songs, 2 of which are rarities from the Stay Awake Revisited cassette. As usual Matador has some pretty sweet deals for those who order early.

MP3 :: Move To California
(from Born Again Revisited. Pre-order album here)

A Response to Pitchfork's Top 500 Songs of the Decade

So now that Pitchfork has gone ahead and informed the musical community what we should consider the best music of the past 10 years (Pitchfork’s Top 500 Songs of the Decade), it’s time to reflect on their choices and respond. I’ll admit it…I like Pitchfork a lot (they’ve gone a long way in recent years to rehab their image as snarky, self-important elitists into simply elitists who know they’re important). I also love lists, so I enjoyed hearing/seeing/reading what they had to say. It’s a very interesting list to either peruse or to study, and there are a crapload of great songs from off-genres for indie-rock diehards to discover. Yeah, there are some inconsistencies between their list and their recently released book, some oddball choices, some surprises, some unsurprising placements, plenty of snubs (ha ha Arctic Monkeys!), and a disproportionate amount of rap and pop than what is covered by their site on a day-to-day basis. But overall they kicked off what will undoubtedly be the biggest “list season” of them all with a fine read.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite songs of the decade that were not included on their list. I was most surprised by the absence of a single Drive-by Truckers song, but would have been most pleased with the inclusion of "Farewell Transmission", "Gimme Back My Dog", "Flashes And Cables", or one of the Marah songs that I've included. And just to clarify one thing, this post is kind of being thrown together without a lot of thought and is not meant to be my official “best of the decade” list by any stretch. Just some of my favorite songs and artists that didn’t make their cut. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch. In no particular order:

I‘ll Be Around - Bobby Bare Jr. (mp3)

One / Horoscopic. Amputation. Honey. - Califone (mp3) (mp3)

Flashes And Cables - Centro-Matic (mp3)

Farewell Transmission - Songs/Ohia (mp3)

Arizona - Constantines (mp3)

Vancouver Divorce - Gordon Downie

Naked As We Came (mp3) / Southern Anthem (mp3) / The Trapeze Swinger - Iron & Wine

Faraway You (mp3) / Walt Whitman Bridge - Marah

Lua - Bright Eyes (mp3)

Wolves - Phosphorescent

Taking The Farm - The War On Drugs (mp3)

Kathleen - Josh Ritter (mp3)

Gimme Back My Dog - Slobberbone

Biomusicology - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

10 A.M. Automatic - The Black Keys

A Damn Good Disguise - The Mendoza Line (mp3)

Zip City - Drive-by Truckers (mp3)

Scared Straight - The Long Winters

Moment In The Sun - Clem Snide

What else did Pitchfork overlook? Please leave a comment!


[mp3] Volcano Choir - "Island, IS"

During last week’s run of exclusivity with the work of Jason Molina, I missed out on posting a handful of tracks that I wanted to get to. This new song from Volcano Choir is one of them. Prior to ever retreating to the Wisconsin woods to record For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon, he of Bon Iver and owner of the ultimate lonely heart, recorded an album with his friends in Collections Of Colonies Of Bees So the songwriting and the album, titled Unmap and due 9/22, actually predates his rise to indie-prominence over the past 2 years. First single “Island, IS”, with its gently persistent percussion and electronic blips, would sound like an intruder on the hushed indie-folk of For Emma, save for Vernon’s familiar vocals. Put simply, he sounds as dynamic as ever. Listen.

MP3 :: Island, IS
(from Unmap. Info here)

The Smith Westerns

Chicago’s The Smith Westerns self-titled debut (available through Hozac Records) is more proof that high quality audio fidelity matters little when a band writes great songs - and this record is absolutely full of them. Top to bottom The Smith Westerns is a pure delight - a throwback, super lo-fi, garage-pop gem full of big riffs and unforgettable choruses. As you can see by this video, The Smith Westerns are nothing more than a bunch of kids - I mean, seriously, they look like they’re 3 weeks away from starting their Junior year. And yes, that puts them at the perfect age to write dumb songs about girls and nights and hearts (which they do, quite well, in abundance). But there’s no reason why they should do so while so successfully channeling the cocksure strut of prime T. Rex. But they do that well too.

My one caveat with The Smith Westerns is that I hope they don’t cling to the lo-fi aesthetic in the future. I mean, it’s a perfectly endearing novelty to hear a bunch of wildly talented children bash out some bratty exuberance on some shitty home recording devices, but many of these songs deserve a better fate. If I was 16 again I’d want songs like “Be My Girl” or “My Heart” on the radio, blowing dust off the AC/DC posters in my room. As a thirty-something, I want to see a convertible full of starry-eyed teenagers zip past me with the windows down, their arms raised, shouting “Tonight” or “Girl In Love” at top lung. I want The Smith Westerns to do that rarest of rock & roll tricks - that is, write the song that everyone can love. Maybe next time, or the time after that, or the time after that. For now, The Smith Westerns are for us - the ones who can dig their glistening melodies out from under the warm blanket of fuzz.

A limited edition double A-Side 7” single featuring “Be My Girl”/“Girl In Love” is available now from Transparent Records and can be purchased here (via GvB).

MP3 :: Be My Girl
MP3 :: Girl In Love
(from The Smith Westerns. Buy here)

[video] Free Energy - "Free Energy"

What is it with self-titled songs this year? Whatever, more vintage rock & roll fun from Free Energy, this time with a basement concert complete with kegs, sparklers, smoke machines, balloons, and a ton of big wide smiles. The song was produced by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and is available as a 7” here. Stuck On Nuthin’, their DFA debut, is apparently due in early 2010. Check out the strutting, Thin Lizzy-esque “Dream City”, which will be on the full length.

MP3 :: Dream City
(from Stuck On Nuthin’. Info here)

[video] The Big Pink - "Dominos"

While “Dominos” may be a little slicker than the general PHW-fare, there’s no denying the ultra-catchy sing-along first single from The Big Pink’s forthcoming A Brief History Of Love. Plus, you know, naked lady ice sculptures. Win, win. 4AD has the goods on this one, but the record drops September 7th. Give the band your email and get a free download.

MP3 :: Dominos
(from A Brief History Of Love. Buy here)

[video] The Walkmen - Live from the Guggenheim

“In The New Year"

It Came From Brooklyn: The Walkmen // In The New Year [Part 1 of 3] from Ray Concepcion on Vimeo.

“On The Water”

It Came From Brooklyn: The Walkmen // On The Water [Part 2 of 3] from Ray Concepcion on Vimeo.

“Red Moon”

It Came From Brooklyn: The Walkmen // Red Moon [Part 3 of 3] from Ray Concepcion on Vimeo.

Three beautifully shot live videos of The Walkmen playing songs from last year’s unforgettable You & Me captured last week at the Guggenheim. The show was part of the “It Came From Brooklyn” series and the video shot by Ray Concepcion. Via Stereogum.

[mp3] Radiohead - "These Are My Twisted Words"

Those tricky dudes in Radiohead are still trying to find new ways to fool the internet, though it looks like the rumored Wall Of Ice EP was just that. Their latest attempt is the sneak attack release of a new single - “These Are My Twisted Words” - today over at Dead Air Space. No decision necessary in how much to pay for it - it’s a free track available to anyone and everyone.

Johnny Greenwood had this to say about the track:

So here's a new song, called 'These Are My Twisted Words'.
We've been recording for a while, and this was one of the first we finished. We're pretty proud of it.
There's other stuff in various states of completion, but this is one we've been practicing, and which we'll probably play at this summer's concerts. Hope you like it.

While you’re visiting Dead Air Space be sure to download the other new Radiohead track “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” - the tribute song to the recently deceased Patch, who was the oldest living WWI veteran in the U.K. (he was 111 when he died). Proceeds go to the British Legion.

Link :: Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

[video] Pink Mountaintops - "Execution"

The sounds of Pink MountaintopsOutside Love (PHW review attempt) continue to thrill, and now the sights that go along with it do as well. Here is the video for fuzzed-out, Phil Spector-meets-The Jesus And Mary Chain rocker “Execution”, wherein a bunch of chicks take over “vocal” duties from Stephen McBean. Which is sort of ironic after McBean did the same/opposite in the “While We Were Dreaming” video a few months back.

MP3 :: Vampire
MP3 :: While We Were Dreaming
(from Outside Love. Buy here)

[video] Magnolia Electric Co. - "Farewell Transmission"

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really enjoyed putting together “Jason Molina Week” for you here at PHW. I literally have not listened to a note from any other songwriter since Sunday evening - a head first dive into the artist‘s back catalog unlike any I‘ve done in a long time. Molina, with his practically limitless supply of great songs, was the perfect choice.

I think it’s very appropriate that the week comes to a close with what is undoubtedly my favorite Jason Molina-penned song. Sometime before the end of the year, just like everyone else with a music blog and the ability to type words, I’m going to put together a list of my favorite songs of the decade. “Farewell Transmission” will be very, very high on that list.

MP3 :: Farewell Transmission
(from Magnolia Electric Co. Buy here)

MP3 :: The Long Dark Blues
(from Magnolia Electric Co. demos. More info here)

[video] Magnolia Electric Co. live on APT

We Have Signal: Live From Birmingham - Magnolia Electric Co. from We Have Signal on Vimeo.

Here’s a recent episode of Alabama Public Television’s We Have Signal with just under a half hour of Magnolia Electric Co. live footage interspersed with interviews with Jason Molina regarding his songwriting. The setlist:

The Handing Down
Talk To Me Devil, Again
I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost
(slow song - don’t recognize) >>
>> John Henry Split My Heart

[video] Songs: Ohia - "Back On Top"

“Back On Top” is a fine representative of the style and tone Jason Molina more often than not recorded with during his early Songs: Ohia days. It’s a stark, bleak dirge of a song that crawls along at a snail’s pace - in other words, exactly what fans loved about Songs: Ohia. The song is from 2000’s The Lioness.

Here are some other Songs: Ohia tunes available as free downloads from Secretly Canadian:

MP3 :: Cabwaylingo
(from Songs: Ohia. 1997. Buy here)

MP3 :: East’s Last Heart
(from Hecla & Griper. 1997. Buy here)

MP3 :: East’s Heart Divided
(from Impala. 1998. Buy here)

MP3 :: Captain Badass
(from Axxess & Ace. 1999. Buy here)

MP3 :: Lioness
(from The Lioness. 2000. Buy here)

MP3 :: Body Burned Away
(from Ghost Tropic. 2000. Buy here)

MP3 :: Two Blue Lights
(from Didn’t It Rain. 2002. Buy here)

Magnolia Electric Co. - WOXY Sessions

As “Jason Molina Week” here at PHW enters Day 4, check out a truly unique, nearly countrypolitan recent live session Magnolia Electric Co. cut for WOXY and featured on their music blog The Futurist.

MP3 :: Trouble In Mind
MP3 :: Shenandoah
MP3 :: Leave The City
MP3 :: Down The Wrong Road, Both Ways
MP3 :: Live On (full session w/ interview) - (29:42)

{video] Jason Molina - Live, December 2006

The following videos are from a Jason Molina solo show in December 2006 show in Columbia, South Carolina. Completists should take note that there are 5 songs played here that have not, to date and to my knowledge, turned up on a proper LP - “Destiny”, “Patience”, “Astrabel”, “Marsh Fire”, and the “Unknown” song. If anybody out there has the mp3s or a zip of the show I would love to get my hands on it - it’s great sounding show and nice mix of old and new tunes. You can watch the show in its entirety right here rather than as individual tracks.

1. “Destiny”

2. “Patience”

3. “Down The Wrong Road, Both Ways”

4. “Texas 71”

5. “Marsh Fire”

6. “Hold On, Magnolia"

7. “Memphis Moon”

8. “What Comes After The Blues”

9. “Leave The City”

10. “Montgomery/Hammer Down”

11. “Hard To Love A Man”

12. Unknown (new song)

13. “I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost”

14. “Just Be Simple”

15. “Bowery”

16. “Astrabel”

17. “O Grace”


Jason Molina - The North Star Blues Sessions

I’ve spent my week so far listening to nothing but Jason Molina and his various incarnations, and it’s been awesome. I’ve grown even fonder of favorites like Magnolia Electric Co., Trials And Errors, and Didn’t It Rain, and have reevaluated works I never spent much time with, like Pyramid Electric Co. and Fading Trails. It’s also been nice to get away from posting about new music for the past few days, as I was finding myself feeling like I was in a rut on that front.

Anyway, Jason Molina’s “North Star Blues Sessions” originally appeared on An Aquarium Drunkard a few years back. It’s a stripped down, acoustic session recorded live for the “Duyster” radio show on Studio Brussel, FM 94.5 Belgium and finds Molina in fine form, here playing a few songs that would soon appear on What Comes After The Blues and the live Trials And Errors. Note that “North Star Blues” is cut short - that’s not a flaw in the mp3.

MP3 :: Leave The City
MP3 :: North Star
MP3 :: Don’t This Look Like The Dark
MP3 :: North Star Blues
(from The North Star Blues Sessions)

[video] Jason Molina on Italian radio

With “Jason Molina Week” in full swing at PHW, here are three songs played for Italian radio in November 2007. According to a (hopefully factual) response on YouTube the songs are:

1. It’s Easier Now
2. O Punishment
3. Rider/Shadow/Wolf

Jason Molina radio session, circa 2004 (via telephone)

Magnolia Electric Co./Jason Molina completists will want to check out this live session recorded sometime between the release of 2003’s classic Magnolia Electric Co. and 2005’s What Comes After The Blues. I first came across it sometime in the Fall of 2004, but unfortunately have no recollection of where I got it from. If I downloaded it from your blog or you sent me the CD and you’re reading this right now..I‘m truly, deeply sorry for not giving you the appropriate props. Anyway, the set finds Molina doing a solo radio promo via telephone - yes, all these tracks are recorded live through the wires. The natural ache of Molina’s voice and the by-now standard lyrical themes (moons, darkness, ghosts, the blues, etc.) combined with the super-lo-fi sound quality of a landline makes this a truly compelling, albeit challenging, listen. It sounds much closer to the Harry Smith Anthology Of Folk Music than music written and recorded in the 21st century.

Especially of note is that none of the 11 songs recorded during this session had ever seen proper release at the time. “Leave The City” and “Hammer Down” would soon be highlights of What Comes After the Blues, and many others would later populate Fading Trails, the Sojourner boxed set, and even Josephine. What this session reveals about Molina the songwriter, perhaps more than anything else, was that after solidifying his band’s line-up for the first time he was writing at such a prolific rate that the band couldn’t keep pace on the commercial side (hence the 4-disc Sojourner to catch up). Who writes songs 2 or 3 albums in advance?

The performances are all great, but the highlight for me is once again “Whip-Poor-Will“, which between this version, the just-posted demo version from Magnolia Electric Co., and the official studio version on Josephine has become one of my very favorite Molina tracks:

Still waiting for you to sing that song again
The one you were singing at the very fall of man
It ain’t Hallelujah but it might as well have been…

MP3 :: Texas ‘71
MP3 :: Lonesome Valley
MP3 :: Hammer Down
MP3 :: Trouble In Mind
MP3 :: Down The Wrong Road Both Ways
MP3 :: Don’t Fade On Me
MP3 :: Leave The City
MP3 :: What Comes After The Blues
MP3 :: Nashville Moon
MP3 :: Down On The Bowery
MP3 :: Whip-Poor-Will
It's "Jason Molina Week" here at PHW - more great videos and obscurities to come all week!

[video] Magnolia Electric Co. - "What Comes After The Blues"

"Jason Molina Week" continues here at PHW with this great looking/sounding video of the title track to What Comes After The Blues (which, as we all know, did not appear until the Sojourner boxed set) from June of 2007.

MP3 :: The Dark Don’t Hide It
MP3 :: Leave the City
(from What Comes After The Blues. Buy here)

Songs: Ohia - The Magnolia Electric Co. demos

So last night after I put the finishing touches on my review of Josephine I started listening to a bunch of Magnolia Electric Co./Songs: Ohia rarities that I’ve collected over the years, and got to thinking that I should make this week “Jason Molina Week” here at PHW. And so it shall be. Every day this week I’ll be featuring an assortment of Molina outtakes, rarities, or videos from over the years - some things I’ve posted before and others I have not gotten around to sharing.

Those who purchased the final Songs: Ohia studio album, Magnolia Electric Co., on vinyl were rewarded with a bonus disc of acoustic demos from the same album. Unavailable anywhere else, the set does exactly what one would expect - it strips down the Crazy Horse-inspired sound that dominated that classic album to show just what a powerful singer and lyricist Molina had developed into at this point of his career.

These songs are interesting to collectors for several reasons. First, songs like “Farewell Transmission”, “John Henry Split My Heart”, and “I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost” appear in very early forms (with their original titles - “The Long Dark Blues”, “You Can‘t Save Everything”, and “I Made The Change”, respectively), with some different lyrics and structures as those that appeared on the actual album. Also, there are a number of quality outtakes from the album that did not, until recently, appear on any other release. “Whippoorwill”, one of his finest songs and finally resurrected for Josephine, is especially poignant here. Finally, we get to hear Molina sing “Peoria Lunchbox Blues” and “The Old Black Hen”, sung on the album by Scout Niblet and Lawrence Peters.

I’m not sure if the vinyl still comes with the CD, so I’m only going to post a handful of the songs. Believe me though - if you dig these the whole thing is absolutely required listening and well worth hunting down.

MP3 :: The Long Dark Blues
MP3 :: Peoria Lunchbox Blues
MP3 :: The Old Black Hen
MP3 :: Whip-Poor-Will
(from Magnolia Electric Co. demos. Buy original album on vinyl here)

Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine

Jason Molina has been one of Americana’s most prolific and accomplished songwriters since his 1996 Songs: Ohia debut. In that time he has released, either under Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., or as a solo artist, somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 studio albums, EPs, singles, and live albums - a remarkable feat for anyone not named Robert Pollard. For a restlessly creative artist who has dabbled in a wide variety of indie and roots genres, Molina’s best albums have always favored a sense of song economy over musical diversity. His best albums are just as likely to be stark and meditative (2002’s haunting Songs: Ohia album Didn’t It Rain) as they are raucous and Crazy Horse-inspired (2003’s Magnolia Electric Co). The commonality shared by those two albums, besides being full of great songs, is their respective brevity - neither contains more than 8 songs or lasts longer than 45 minutes. For all the reoccurring imagery that runs through his catalog, Molina’s biggest asset in creating great albums has always been his ability to self-edit.

The recently released Josephine is another solid addition to the Molina catalog, and one that breaks from these traditions of concision and singularity. For the most part the decision to include so many songs works - in what is easily his most diverse set Molina touches on country, folk, blues, rock, soul, and gospel over Josephine’s 14 tracks and 46 minute running time. The first 9 songs make quite an opening run, and set up Josephine to be at least the equal of What Comes After The Blues, if not his best since Magnolia Electric Co. “O Grace!” and “The Rock of Ages” are soulful, gospel-tinged openers that set the tone with their keyboards and backing vocals. “Whip-Poor-Will”, a terrific folk song rescued here from obscurity (it was an outtake from Magnolia Electric Co.), contains some of his most evocative lyrics, and “The Handing Down” recalls the heavier blues-rock of that same album. After this long opening run of strong songs come a handful of slower numbers where the album loses a bit of steam, but the closing duo of “Shiloh” and “An Arrow In The Gale” bring the album to fitting and memorable close.

Josephine has been highly publicized as being a song cycle inspired by the unfortunate passing of bassist Evan Farrell in late 2007, and indeed his memory (or, in one of Molina’s favorite recurring images, his ghost) is all over these songs. But in a surprising twist from a songwriter who usually favors dark narratives and end-of-the-world imagery, Josephine seems to convey a good deal of hope. Many of the songs deal with moving on and finding hope in places where it shouldn’t be, which is only exemplified by the crisp production of long time collaborator Steve Albini. Josephine sounds fantastic, and combined with Molina’s strongest set of songs in a few years, not to mention the extra incentive to create a fitting tribute to a fallen friend, all come together to make it one of the summer’s better Americana releases.

MP3 :: Josephine
MP3 :: Little Sad Eyes
(from Josephine. Buy here)

[video] Patterson Hood - "Pollyanna"

Patterson Hood and his primary band, Drive-By Truckers, are known for many things - detail-rich songs that document the histories, myths, and secrets of the Dirty South, reckless live shows that revel in triple guitar assaults and Jack Daniels-inspired camaraderie, and, possibly most impressive of all, giving southern-rock some actual street-cred. Hood’s recent solo album, Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs), doesn’t stray far from these templates. One thing he and the band aren’t known for, however, are music videos. In fact I can’t recall ever seeing an actual DBT video. Here though is one for “Pollyanna” from his latest solo effort - a black & white, single shot of the band (The Screwtopians!) performing the song live in-studio. Nothing fancy, just rock & roll. Props for recruiting Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson on guitar and backing vocals.

MP3 :: Pollyanna
MP3 :: Pride of the Yankees
(from Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs). Buy here or here)

[mp3] AU - "Ida Walked Away"

AU premiered a brand new track from their forthcoming EP, Versions, over at Pitchfork last week. I was not a fan of last year‘s Verbs LP, which did lead the band to some nice internet attention (the album itself, not me not liking it), but “Ida Walked Away” is a drop-dead sonic stunner - lots of rickety percussion & electric guitar work surround Luke Wyland’s elastic, high-note-hitting falsetto. The best way to describe this song, that I can think of at the moment, is if Justin Vernon was singing over some early Velvet Underground. Besides the one new song, the rest of Versions collects live material recorded by the band over the past year, mostly reworkings of older songs, and is due out digitally and on 10” vinyl October 8 via Aagoo.

MP3 :: Ida Walked Away
(from Versions. Info here)

[mp3] Sonya Cotton - "Red River"

It’s been a while since I’ve caught up on the happenings of singer-songwriter Sonya Cotton. Her beautiful harmonies provided an eerie weight to the murder ballads on The National Lights’ terrific The Dead Will Walk, Dear in 2007, and her own Out Of The Ocean was a notable release from later that same year. Cotton’s new album Red River, along with its striking album art, will be self-released on September 1. The songs were inspired after several important relationships in Cotton’s life ended and she began having recurring nightmares involving the road kill that she’d see around her home in the Northeast. Cotton’s voice still evokes Natalie Merchant by way of Celtic folk, as on the title track:

MP3 :: Red River
(from Red River. Info here)

Introducing: Mud, Blood & Beer

You’d think with a blatant Johnny Cash-referencing name like Mud, Blood & Beer (“kickin’ and a-gouging’ in the mud and the blood and the beer” - “A Boy Named Sue”), not to mention the longhorn skull on the album cover, that this New York band would fall easily into the alt country area of musical definitions (which is basically what I spent 3 years in the late 90’s listening to exclusively). For the most part they do fit that profile - there are plenty of two-steppin’ drum beats, the kind of guitar playing that sounds like it fell off an early Uncle Tupelo record, and even a reference to a “high, lonesome whistle blowin’”. But what makes this self-titled debut stand out are the merging of these obvious cow-punk touchstones with a clear affection for the jangle-pop of R.E.M.’s IRS years and a pretty strong grip on both insurgency and melodicism - something that many like-minded bands don't balance nearly as well. These qualities are on full display on both the hard-driving “I Am Not The Road” or the windswept melodies of “Fields & Factories”, which with Gary Louris and Mark Olson singing would sound at home on The Jayhawks’ classic Hollywood Town Hall. Mud, Blood & Beer is guided by the strong songwriting of Jason Fine and Jess Hoeffner, who boasts he‘s “been thrown out of literally dozens of bands”. With a debut record this promising I see no reason why that should happen again.

MP3 :: I Am Not The Road
MP3 :: Fields & Factories
(from Mud, Blood & Beer. Buy here or here)

Introducing: Secondstar

A good friend of mine recently passed along Brooklyn singer-songwriter Liam Carey’s latest EP, Teeth. Carey performs and records under the name Secondstar, and the fine songcraft he is capable of delivering was clear on my first listen to Teeth a few weeks back during my late drive home from Keyspan Park. The harmonies that propel “Ravens” and “Tied To The Mast” jumped right out at me, reminding me of one of my (and just about everyone else’s) favorite bands of 2008, Fleet Foxes. Carey doesn’t sing with the same high lonesome, reverb-drenched drawl of Robin Pecknold - his voice is a more subtle instrument that doesn’t battle to stand out over the acoustic guitar, banjo, and light percussion that permeate the EP. But he often does approach harmony in the same multi-layered, hymn-like way that Pecknold did so effectively on the Fleet Foxes’ debut. The vocals and instruments meld together consistently on the 5 songs that make up Teeth to create a warm, intimate sound that only grows richer with subsequent listens.

Teeth was actually recorded last summer in Paris while Carey was living there temporarily to be closer to family. Carey found Paris to have a “small but lively appreciation for American folk music and I ended up playing some really nice shows and befriending some great musicians”. The EP was recorded in his bathroom with the door closed and the refrigerator unplugged to cut down on noise. There he and some friends would huddle around a single mic and play these songs, which Carey describes as being about “getting older, getting married, settling down a bit.” Teeth is a promising effort - I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from Secondstar in the not-so-distant future.

MP3 :: Ravens
MP3 :: Tied To The Mast
(from Teeth. Buy here)