..by which I actually mean a pair newish releases that I've been playing on repeat lately:
Moore released By The Fire last month, and from the first listen it felt like a familiar extension of Sonic Youth - particularly their more hook-driven moments on Dirty, Goo, and Rather Ripped, as opposed to something more meandering and experimental.
Like Rather Ripped, I think the accessibility of this record owes a lot to the drums for just being nothing too fancy for a straightforward rock foundation. And although the 9 songs range from 5 to 17 minutes long, I found them all to be surprisingly accessible- their length driven more by pattern repetition & melody, and less by noise & improvisational jammy expeditions (with maybe the exception of the first 8 minutes of Locomotives). Some might be disappointed by this accessibility, but for me this is exactly the Thurston Moore record I want to hear right now.
Although Oceanator's debut came out back in August, I didn't check it out until last week for some stupid reason. But's it's been pretty much on repeat ever sense. Fuzzy, deliberate, catchy, melodic - I'm still forming my thoughts on everything going on here, but maybe I should just suffice it to say it's wonderful and special and you should check it out for yourself. It's (once again) exactly the kind of record I'd love to make myself if I had this kind of creativity and talent. So I'm glad that Oceanator brought this music into existence for us, and on funfetti vinyl no less :)
Homicidal Horticulturist is short but packs in a lot, and still makes space for the really interesting drum part on the chorus to shine though. The drums throughout the record are worth listening to closely. Here is a catchy jam channeling Pavement and again bringing great lead guitar hooks to bear. On it's heels is the also extremely catchy Real Allies. "Kill your enemies without making any real allies" Emory sings, right before unleashing the dueling guitars.
The Seven Seas depicts a relatable scenario from days gone by - "Tonight there is a show, seems like I outta go, but the effort that's required to untangle all the wires ... it's all imaginary when you stay home alone." Another highlight track is No Damn Good because it is just so damn good. Finally, Sojourn Suspect shifts gears with the groovy acoustic Downstream, which is reminiscent of some of the best stuff from Band of Horses. It's an excellent, interesting, and fitting closer.
I couldn't help but feel some envy while listing to Sojourn Suspect. This is very much the kind of music I'd like to be making. Recording everything by myself lately has me aware somewhat of the process, and appreciating how natural Emory's end product sounds here - everything blends just right, like it just came together with ease. The musicianship is top notch and shines through on each track - solid performances of great songwriting and exceptional creativity across the board.
I'll definitely recommend Sojourn Suspect, especially for fans of Bent Shapes, Dares, Tijuana Panthers, and (of course, Repeating Cloud label-mates) Lemon Pitch. Worth mentioning is that these are all bands I had to see live to be won over. Well, due to circumstances I haven't had that chance yet with Sojourn Suspect, but this record is so well done that it stands on its own. Hopefully these circumstances are fleeting, and Sojourn Suspect sticks around a lot longer.
*Update 12/24/2020* just noticed that David Lowery added In The Shadow Of The Bull to his bandcamp page over the summer (previously only available on limited edition CD) so I recommend checking it out and following him for timely info on any other music he releases.
I've been pretty into David Lowery's songwriting (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) since buying "Kerosene Hat" on CD as a high school kid in the mid-90s (and also as a college kid on a European study abroad in the early 00's). The mix of dry humor, harsh irreverence, and wistful vulnerability in Lowrey's lyrics always resonated with me. And the pairing with Johnny Hickman's smooth and skilled lead guitar work made their band Cracker stand out among their '90s alternative/grunge peers. Then at some later point I discovered that magic of Camper Van Beethoven, but that could be a topic of another blog post. Anyway, I saw Cracker play a few times in Atlanta when I was in college, and then more recently they seem to come around to Boston to play every year in January with Camper Van on the bill as well. So I had the chance to see them again last month and it was great hearing them again live.
At the show I saw the merch table had copies of David Lowery's "In The Shadow Of The Bull," a 2019 limited edition release of 1000 copies that was listed as "Out Of Stock" when I'd looked for it online a while back. I'd also noted that the songs didn't seem to be available to streaming anywhere- a bit surprising perhaps, but maybe less so if you're aware of Lowery's views on how modern music distribution affects artists' rights and livelihoods.
But a few copies the CD were available at the merch table that night - at a price considerably higher than I'm accustomed to paying for music anymore - but also it was autographed. I've also become accustomed to hearing music online before I purchase it, but that wasn't an option here. So I bought it, purely the on the blind (deaf?) faith in the artist's reputation. And I found my faith to be rewarded, because "In The Shadow Of The Bull" is definitely something special.
In this stripped down set of 7 songs, Lowery takes a look back across various periods of his life and captures moments from 1963 ("Frozen Sea") to 2010 ("Yonder Distance Shore"), with vivid reflections of his family, his friends, his loves, and his losses. Two songs that stood out immediately were "Disneyland Jail, 1977" - which warns of the dangers of doing mushrooms on Space Mountain (and passing out drunk on the monorail), and "Mexican Chickens, 1989" - which laments being too foolish and selfish to see what he had in someone before leaving her behind. I think the lyrics of this one are amazing and devastating.
An appeal in the liner notes asks the listener to be part of this project: "Please do not make copies, share on social media, or upload ... Think small. Ubiquity is overrated." And it all made sense, why the price of entry was so high, and the contents behind the gate not visible from the outside. I feel part of something now, something more like the way music was back when I was a kid in the early/mid 90s getting into a lot of the music I still love today.
So anyway, to weakly tie this back in to our band, here's a video of us playing CVB's "Take The Skinheads Bowling." Enjoy! <3 cg
When I saw the reincarnation of Pedro The Lion at Brighton Music Hall last summer, founder/frontman/songwriter David Bazan introduced the rest of the band and commented something to the effect of "We were all here in this room a few months ago playing pretty much the same songs, we just weren't calling ourselves Pedro," (and I nodded in recollection, since I'd been there to see that 'David Bazan w/ full band' show as well). He paused, then added with a smirk, "It's the same band, but more of you came out to see us play tonight," as if to suggest there might be something else in the name itself. And that night Pedro The Lion gave us a preview of their still upcoming Phoenix with a live version of the new song "Quietest Friend," and at the time January 2019 seemed ages away. But would it be worth that 5 month wait (or over 14 years for those holding out for a follow-up to Achilles Heel)?
Well, yes. I'm in love with this record actually. After the instrumental intro Sunrise, the song Yellow Bike strikes an uncharacteristically sweet note for Pedro The Lion, connecting his first time as a child riding on two wheels to his journey as a solo musician, on the road and longing for the camaraderie of playing in a band again. It's a new day indeed. Even so, the next track called Clean Up revisits familiar sonic territory, echoing songs like "Foregone Conclusions" from Achilles Heel. Powerful Taboo finishes off the otherwise upbeat sounding Side A with a bit of a breather, and brings a guitar part that is somehow both creeping and soaring. Lo Tom fans rejoice: this is a song that sounds like it could have just as easily fit on the 2017 release from that Bazan/Walsh/Martin/Many collaboration.
Model Homes was the first pre-release "single" to really jump out at me. As with "Powerful Taboo," the guitar on this song emotes nearly as much as Bazan's voice, with an undeniable ache and longing among wide open tracts in the sound. Following Piano Bench (a brief lead-in that evokes Leonard Cohen), Circle K lyrically circles back to 2000's Winners Never Quit, except this time it's a kid with a spending problem in the snacks aisle that the Good Lord smiles and looks the other way from. Quietest Friend describes a memory of a careless betrayal in a fifth grade lunch room, framing a possibly universal experience in a way perhaps only David Bazan can. On Tracing the Grid, Bazan pauses to explicitly acknowledge the mark his hometown made, and to note the stories told by his aunts and uncles that stuck in his mind though the years.
The opening track on Side C recalls a story told by his Uncle Ray, a first responder to a grisly scene on the Black Canyon Freeway. "Compartments came apart then," Bazan sings on Black Canyon, a song that coils around sonic and lyrical themes similar to "Priests and Paramedics" from 2002's Control, and is as incredible and devastating as any other from Pedro The Lion. Yet somehow "Black Canyon" manages to strike even closer to home. Seriously holy fuck. "Tell your stories," Bazan urges. Hell isn't other people- it's isolation from them, and the burden of carrying terrible secrets alone. The intensity carries into My Phoenix, a rock anthem with possible echos of "Magazine" (also from Control), as if anyone at this point needed a reminder that Pedro The Lion is back with the intention of leaving a mark. This is a song that deserves to be played again louder just to pay attention to the drums. All Seeing Eye follows that crashing wave by stripping almost everything back out. What remains sounds reminiscent of Bazan's synth-laden solo work on Blanco (2016) and Care (2017). And the final track, Leaving The Valley, concludes with words recalling the opening track on Curse Your Branches, Bazan's first solo LP from 2009: "If I swung by tassel to the left side of my cap, after graduation will there be no going back?"
David Bazan has released a lot of great music since 2004's Achilles Heel, including the brilliant (yet rather hushed) Care/Blano pair and (possibly my favorite) the plugged-in tight rock album Strange Negotiations. But Phoenix marks a grand and worthy reclaiming of the Pedro name which an even fuller embrace of color and vulnerability. Here Bazan wields the resurrected Pedro The Lion with what sounds like a reinvigorated spirit to go louder, longer, bolder, and possibly better than anything in his career thus far. <3 cg
We took a band survey for our favorite music of 2018 and here's what we came up with-
5. Interpol - Marauder
I used to love Interpol when I was in college, but had kinda written them off after their droning and disappointing 2010 self-titled. I even skipped their 2014 El Pintor, despite hearing good things about it. But the buzz about Marauder was that they found it again, and after listening to it a bunch this fall I have to say I agree. It's a great record, and I was particularly intrigued to learn that while recording Marauder they eschewed the conveniences of digital and recorded right to tape. Being in the studio ourselves around this time made me appreciate what going analog must mean for the recording process and respect Interpol all the more for the recording they made. (CURTIS)
4. This Will Destroy You - New Others (Parts 1 & 2)
This Will Destroy You releases the kind of albums that take me a long time to digest. I finally felt like I was just barely getting to that point for their 2014 release Another Language when I learned I'd be preordering their latest, New Others Part One. It was everything I could hope for from a TWDY album, and another I knew I'd be digesting for quite a while. The title should have been a clue for something, because less than 3 weeks later they surprised all of us with the release of New Others Part Two. God damn guys. You're killing me with your amazing music. (CURTIS)
3. Failure - In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind
It isn't every year that Alex's favorite band releases a new album, particularly since that band is Failure. And Alex calls Failure's latest "absolutely amazing."
"I love it more than I can tell you. Giant inspiration for me right now and giving me so many song ideas to mess around with." (ALEX)
2. The Breeders - All Nerve
I had no idea how much I'd been missing the Breeders until I heard the first 40 seconds of "Nervous Mary" (track 1 from All Nerve). And this isn't just rounded-off rehash of high notes from a career long ago- this is fresh and exciting and essential, with edges that are sharp as all fuck. The music/structure/attitude all resonate with my core instincts of what more music today should be doing, and what we are striving for as a band. So hearing it excites and delights and inspires me that this album exists, because I believe it's very similar to an album we would have made if we only could. (CURTIS / ALEX)
1. ELEGANT PARTY ANIMALS
Naturally. What did you expect? ;)
It may not be All Nerve by The (fucking legendary) Breeders. But it's ours.
I've been saying I wanted to go to Iceland for probably almost 10 years now. Something about it captured my imagination- possibly the scenic streams and waterfalls, the allure of hiking on a glacier, or just it's geographic separation from both mainland Europe and North America. It might have first popped up on my radar after watching Heima (which is Icelandic for "at home"), a beautiful and visually stunning documentary film about Sigur Rós playing a series of shows around their native island during the summer of 2006.
So I'm back home now after an amazing 8 day trip to Iceland. In addition to the magical scenic landscapes, I found that the volcanic island in the North Atlantic holds a lot of sonic wonder as well. It turns out that even after giving us Björk and Sigur Rós, Iceland still has a lot to offer musically.
Lucky Records in downtown Reykjavik offers a nice introduction for mainlanders to some of the local flavor, with entire sections focused exclusively on Icelandic recording artists of all types. And their listening station includes a turntable, so you can sample vinyl in addition to CDs. I left the record store with some newly discovered Icelandic indie electro-pop from FM Belfast and Kid Sune.
In addition to the atmospheric vibes, a lot of what I find appealing about the Iceland music scene is a the strong sense of both independence and community there. One great example of that is the Post-dreifing collective, which I read a feature about in the Reykjavik Grapevine. They are a collection of musicians/artists with unique sound and DIY ethic, working together to create and release and perform interesting music. If our band were based in Reykjavik, I'm sure I'd feel right at home among this group*. Check out Post-dreifing's releases, all free on Bandcamp.
We also had the privilege of getting a private tour of Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik, an amazing space that artists from all around the globe come to record in. Greenhouse is also home to the aptly named Bedroom Community, a music collective/record label with a variety of artists including one of my new favorite ambient musicians Valgeir Sigurðsson. And skimming though the credits on some their various releases gives you the idea of the high-level of collaboration that Bedroom Community fosters across its roster.**
[EDIT: Check out this article on Soundfly about Iceland's music community and featuring some of Curtis's photos from this visit to Greenhouse Studios!]
My one regret from the trip is not seeing any live music while I was there. There were a few shows happening around Reykjavik the week of our visit (and FM Belfast was playing at Havarí almost 600km away on the other side of the island), but none lined up well with the rest of our busy travel schedule. But that's something I look forward to doing on my next trip to Iceland. -cg
*In a way, it kind of reminds me an Icelandic version of the Barnstormer's events around Manchester and seacoast NH.
**For example, see the list of names under Sigurðsson's Draumalandið, and then note how many of those also have their own releases on Bedroom Community.
***Some photos by Angela Mastrogiacomo. For more pictures from this trip, check out my instagram.
Twenty years ago today (May 12 1998) Sonic Youth released their 10th studio album, A Thousand Leaves. This record has a special place in my heart and collection* because, while I had been getting into Sonic Youth a few years already when this came out, this was the first Sonic Youth album that I experienced as a new release, as opposed to the back-catalog of their music I was trying to catch up on, usually by scrounging through the 'USED CDS' section of the local music store**.
Instead, I remember picking up this one new and sealed at Wal-Mart, either the day or the weekend after it came out. I didn't find it to be quite as accessible and aggressive as my other favorites at the time, Dirty and Goo, but it definitely resonated with me, and the way those >9 minute track times just slid by like they were nothing made me appreciate the feeling of getting lost in a great album. And 20 years later, A Thousand Leaves is still having that effect on me.
(*I still have the cd because I pretty much still have every cd I ever bought or stole)
(**shout out and RIP to Backstage Music in Peachtree City GA.)
Aside from the occasional cover song or demo recording, we haven't been all that active this year, for personal reasons that involved a divorce.
But why dwell on that shit, right? Because it certainly hasn't stopped the first half of 2017 from bringing a lot of exciting new music to enjoy! Here are my favorites so far-
Japandroids / Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Canadian rock duo Japandroids decided to kick January right in the nuts by putting out a new batch of epic arena rock songs. Some fans might have been put off by the direction this album takes and the additional elements they added to their sonic palate. But I'm perfectly fine with all that, because as much as I adore Celebration Rock, I don't necessarily want to listen to it all the time. Sometimes I want to hear this instead:
Los Campesinos! / Sick Scenes
January's glorious nut punch was followed quickly in February by a sublime bitch slap from the Welsh indie rock powerhouse Los Campesinos!, and I gotta say this is hands down my favorite album right now. Listening to some these songs makes my heart want to explode. As much as I tend to prefer duos and trios and simple musical arrangements lately, these guys brought it hard for this record, getting enough musical mileage out of their seven piece situation to carry them back & fourth across the Atlantic several times. From the tight AF rhythm section to the next-level vocal harmonies, everything recorded here is top notch. And as always for a LC! record, it's lyrically a cut above most everything else I hear going on out there.
Ok instead of going on and on and on gushing over Sick Scenes, let me just wrap up and say I think it's pretty much a perfect record.
TW Walsh / Terrible Freedom
I stumbled across ex-Pedro the Lion player T. William Walsh a few years back when his 2011 record Songs of Pain and Leisure was included in a digital bundle Jilian happened to download. Anyway, I liked it a lot. (And fun fact: he actually mastered our first two EPs.)
He broke new sonic ground last year with his somewhat experimental (and downright excellent) Fruitless Research, and I really wasn't sure if he could follow up so soon with anything nearly as good. Oh me of little faith, because Terrible Freedom delivers, and probably even surpasses everything else he's done to date. A high fidelity record awash with synthesizers and an 80's vibe, I heard someone describe it "like a funky Neil Young," and I can't disagree.
David Bazan / Care
Ex-Pedro the Lion frontman David Bazan (seeing a pattern here yet?) was not resting on his laurels either, following up last year's Blanco, released in May, with his new album Care this year in March. His stuff always takes me more time to process, but it's always rewarding. He knows how to write a song that cuts right into the human condition and, at least for me, often exposes a sadness that I was maybe trying not to acknowledge. The song "Make Music" is a wonderful, albeit heartbreaking, example of this for me right now.
The Prids / Do I Look Like I'm in Love?
I wasn't sure if I'd ever hear anything from Portland dark-pop quartet The Prids again, after their brilliant 2010 release Chronosynclastic, and some extremely trying times in the years that followed. So I was excited to learn about and support the crowdfunding campaign last year to release a new record, and when Do I Look Like I'm in Love? arrived this year, it did not disappoint. I can try to describe it more, or you can just do yourself a favor and listen for yourself.
This first half of 2016 has been a banner year with new releases from all my favorites music makers- TW Walsh set a really high bar for the year when he released Fruitless Research in February. Explosions in the Sky did not disappoint with their new album The Wilderness. Neither did David Bazan's Blanco (despite my initial fears). And of course, Radiohead dunked us headfirst in a Moon Shaped Pool, and it is amazing.
That would be enough for any good year, except I was also already anticipating the mid-June release of Starflyer 59's 14th studio release 'SLOW'. So when my vinyl preorder arrived I put it on the turntable, cranked it way up because I was home alone, and I found it pure bliss from start to finish. The first word that popped into my mind to describe it was "tight", almost as if Jason Martin had crafted each one of these songs with special keys that specifically fit into the various pleasure centers of my brain. I also feel like I connect with it lyrically more than I have the past few albums.
In interviews, Martin has described the somewhat "retrospective" nature of the new album, and I can definitely hear that. So while listening again I decided that it would be a fun game to assign each song on SLOW to the earlier SF59 album that I think it would fit in best with. So here's my list-
...It was when I turned my attention to writing ten more new songs for the NEW “new album” that I thought, “HEY… Wait a minute. I didn’t even get to do a proper round of club touring on all these Bazan Monthly jams.” It hit me that some of my favorite work that I’ve ever done was about to be paved over with whatever ten new songs I was preparing to write and record.
The bottom line is I love these songs and the energy of these recordings and I want more people to get to hear them. But even more than that, as we were choosing the songs, adding new sonic layers, and remixing everything to put the album together and as I’ve been playing them at house shows, I realized the most exciting aspect of it all: these songs describe something about the mess of very strong feelings that are pulsing through me right now the way that Curse Your Branches did back in ’09. The “Blanco” songs are very personal and important songs to me and I need to spend the rest of this year singing them over and over again.
And I 100% get where he's coming from on that, and it was pretty clear to me that this was about passion for the songs and not him just phoning this one in. Good save, DB. I felt a little bad for even briefly and silently questioning his integrity or work ethic as an artist.
Still, one more thing was bothering me leading up to release of Blanco- if I list my 8 favorite songs from Bazan Monthly, they are (in no particular order, other than appearance in the series):
Comparing this with the tracklist from Blanco, it was apparent that only one of my top favorites was slated to appear on the new album. Or to put it another way, it looked like Bazan's newest masterpiece was going to be made up all the other songs that didn't much stand out to me. It made me ponder what it was about the my favorites that made me more excited about those tracks in the first place. Maybe they're darker songs, or faster tempo, hook driven or more sonically or lyrically accessible to me- whatever it was, I just connected with them right from the first or second listen.
This reminds me of this theory that I have- that, given a list of some listener's most and least favorite songs of their catalog, an artist (knowing and understanding the inner workings of their own music) may have insight to see some specific patterns of that's person's taste. For instance, "Oh, you clearly enjoy my songs in G-minor, but you don't like the songs I write about my mother," or something like that. As an artist I would love to test this theory out myself, but unfortunately the sample size of our listenership is much too small right now, so that experiment will have to wait.
But again, I was left wondering what was it about all my favorite songs that caused Bazan to skip over them when putting together Blanco. And also it seemed maybe a little odd and unfair that he didn't go ahead and include 1 or 2 brand new songs in with the 10. With a lingering sense of entitlement mixed with a feeling of being slightly shortchanged, I decided to wait until I got back from vacation to think about ordering the new album.
Anyway, all this hand-wringing and prejudgment happened before listing to a single actual track from Blanco, with the assumption that I had heard them all already. That started to change when a few of the new tracks started appearing online, starting with Trouble With Boys. In the new recording I heard freshness and life breathed into what was already a stellar song.
And that freshness and new sense of continuity were what I heard in every song on Blanco when I pulled up the full album on Spotify when we got back from our trip. My sense of skepticism and mild disappointment melted away completely and I was ordering the vinyl before that first playthrough was even finished. And all my subsequent playthroughs have a only reinforced how spectacular Bazan / Blanco is, just the way it is. The tracklist gives songs that I overlooked on Bazan Monthly more room to breathe on their own and in Blanco's new context. Here the slow-burn of Both Hands or Oblivion aren't outshined by the firework blast of Deny Myself or Nobody's Perfect. And if there were a new song or two that had fit in well with this context, I trust Dave Bazan in his wisdom would have been damn sure to include them. On the other hand, I gotta remember that nothing wrecks a good album for me these days like one out of place sounding track*. And happily, nothing on Blanco sounds weak or out of place.
And now I even wonder about why it should even make sense to feel slighted that my favorite song isn't being retouched to reappear in album format. Because it takes nothing away from that great track already in my collection, except maybe the (probably unrealistic) expectation that a new recording and production would only improve on everything I love about the song already and basically send it into the stratosphere. So I'll gladly admit, all my worry and second guessing really made no sense now that I think about it. If nothing else, the greater gift really is having those other songs brought out from the background so that they may realize their full potential so I can fall in love with them too.
Sorry for doubting you, David. Can we talk soon about all my favorite songs?
*(I'm looking at you and still cringing, "Run2me" from latest from Smashing Pumpkins. I'm convinced that Monuments to an Elegy is far better with just 8 songs instead of the 9, so GET THAT SHIT OUT OF HERE.)
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