May 31, 2007

William Schaff

Besides the obvious reason, the music that is, for being excited about Okkervil River's new album "The Stage Names" due out in August, there is another one. That is, the wonderful artwork of William Schaff. Schaff has designed all the previous album artwork for Okkervil River and once again he has produced great work. I think the top one will be inside the cover and the one underneath is the actual cover. Whichever, they are both wonderful. Schaff is based in Providence, Rhode Island and his many wide ranging pieces of art cover the huge gamut of human experiences and emotions. Often dark, but always highly original, his work is definitely checking out. You can view his work at his Flickr page. If you like something perhaps you could contact him and see if you can obtain some artwork for yourself.

His artwork in the past for Songs:Ohia and Godspeed You! Black Emperor was also truly stunning. Here are a couple of my favourites.

May 30, 2007

Andrew Bird - Spare-Ohs

This is great too. The wonderful Andrew Bird playing live in Paris.

Cold War Kids - St John

Are you going to Cold War Kids on Friday? I am, here is a great version of St John recorded a little while ago for the wonderful Blogotheque show.

May 28, 2007

Plague Park-Handsome Furs

"Plague Park" is a statement of epic proportions. Its heart and scope can not be summed up by mere words or measured by man made ratings. It is not a piece of music to be dissected or analysed. It is music to be felt not merely thought about. It is music that reacts with the heart in a way that makes most music seem trifling, ineffective and unimportant. If you search for music that means something, and sometimes you don't know why, then "Plague Park" is for you. It is not difficult music but it is music that is difficult to make. It is not complicated but it is complex. Put it this way. When it is over you are sad that there is no more. You want to hug someone. Why? Because great music exists to make you feel this way.

Oh, I guess I will try to write about it. Handsome Furs are Dan Boeckner and his partner Alexei Perry. This is their first creation. Although all of these songs would fit on any album of Dan's "other" band Wolf Parade, they make sense to exist here. Perhaps they would sound even better with the fully fleshed sounds of a band. But then you would miss the magic that is created here. These songs are stark and desolate, emotional mini epics. Like little darts in the heart, they hurt but don't maim you. The combination of drum machine and guitar on every song actually accentuates the raw feelings and heartfelt missives throughout "Plague Park".

If the first song "What We Had" doesn't hook you in right away, then my ramblings have been for nought. As with every song a drum machine starts the beat then the guitar chimes in and Dan's glorious, enveloping voice comes in. "What we had don't mean a thing.." hurls from the back of his throat. Each song has the same feel but is unique in its own way. Melodies are in plentiful supply and the rhythmic beats and clanging guitar chords will shake you to the core. Truly every song is great. "Hearts Of Iron" makes you weak at the knees. "Handsome Furs Hate This City" could become their show anthem. I can just imagine fans singing "We Hate This City, Filled Its Drone" at the tops of their voices. Although "Sing! Captain" could also do nicely as a Furs anthem, with its images of desolate city landscapes and isolation. In fact that seems to be the theme of most of the songs. People stuck in places they don't want to be in, feelings of terror and dread. Sometimes the only hope is to cling to the ones you love and know. Oh, what else, "Snakes On The Ladder" is all glorious desire, "Dumb Animals" is an epic of lost causes and no hope. "Dead + Rural" is probably the lightest song, almost poppy in nature and then we close with "The Radio's Hot Sun" which seems sunny and short in comparison, a perfect way to end. Dan and Alexei have created music that is truly special. The combination of Dan's jaw droppingly real voice and the couple's music, which also sings, I find irresistible. If a better album is released this year, then I for one will be surprised but also delighted. For this is music of the highest order. Something to grow inside of you and something to make your heart beat stronger.

B(oot)log have a recording of a Handsome Furs show recently at Massey Hall, Toronto.

MP3: What We Had
MP3: Sing! Captain
There's a town, just a little town
Raining cloud, a hollow sound
When our lovers gather round
And if they're cold
Then they're cold
Feed them wine, feed them chrome
We hate this place here
It's our home, It's our home

And your car-collapsing trees and I
Could turn them back to sound
With the torches in our hands we will reduce it
To the ground

I stood outside in the bright black night
Beneath their buzzing power lines
And I saw a number in the sky, in the sky
And if there's a God, he's a little gun
And he holds you closely inside these walls
But he hates his babies most of all

And your car-collapsing trees and I
Could turn them back to sound
With our torches in our hands we will reduce it to the ground
In the parliament there's a little
Hands that are reaching out
You can try and try and try but baby there's no way around

Sing Captain
Sing out loud
Sing, but we're bound
Sing Captain
Sing out loud
Sing Captain
We're Bound

Buy this record from Subpop or Amazon.
Arcade Fire at Sasquatch

Bits of pieces of Arcade Fire from Sasquatch Music Festival over the weekend. A bit rough in parts but you get the idea.

May 27, 2007

The National - Start A War (live)

This is newer. A track from "Boxer". Yeah this is why I love music.

Baby We'll Be Fine (live) by The National

Yeah, it's a little old. But what a great song. One of the finest from "Alligator" (although there are many).


"Noise" is an original piece of cinema. Thoughtful, sometimes disturbing, often confrontational. It will pose many questions and sometimes deliver few answers. If you are looking for a comfortable night at the cinema, then perhaps give this a miss. If you desire cinema that makes you think and feel then "Noise" is a film you must see. Representing the directorial debut of Matthew Saville, "Noise" is easily one of the finest Australian films of recent years. Set in suburban Melbourne the film opens with a young woman entering a train carriage only to realise she has stumbled across a massacre that has just ended the lives of seven people. Switch then to Police constable Graham MacGahan (Brendan Cowell). On patrol elsewhere in the city he collapses in a heap. We later learn he suffers from Tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears). Instead of receiving sick leave he is sent to a lone caravan for late night duty interviewing anyone who might have information about another murder that has taken place. A woman's body was found in a ditch. Her death may or may not be connected with the deaths aboard the train. However we learn through the course of the film that the murders simply serve as a backdrop to the struggles the characters in the film are undergoing. This is not some simple police murder mystery. It is rather an engrossing meditation on the frailties of human life, the fear and isolation that we feel in even the most common situations. This is portrayed in superb fashion by Brendan Cowell in the lead role. His character is leading a life of quiet desperation. His problems with his hearing only accentuates his feeling of isolation. He has no passion for his job (although he is actually quite good at it) and there is tension at home (although his wife turns out to be more then we thought). Cowell is outstanding. Vulnerable yet strong, ironic yet caring, his performance is full of grace and power, displaying many subtle touches of humour and compassion. The rest of the cast is also excellent in portraying all the richly drawn characters on display. Intense and slowly paced, I still found myself engrossed by every small and large action on the screen. This film will leave you searching for many answers (the ending comes quite abruptly). But I view it as a small slice of life in a period of time that these people's lives intersect and intertwine. Uniquely Australian, it is full of many dry portions of colloquial humour without ever reaching into cliche. This is a film that intrigues and delights, easily holding your attention through out.

May 25, 2007

Boxer-The National

Assured, mature, honest, dramatic, elegant, mysterious. These and quite a few adjectives I could use to describe "Boxer" the new opus from The National. I confess here and now that I slept on their 2005 release, the magnificent "Alligator". It always shows that you should never make an instant judgement on any piece of music. Well right now I love "Alligator" and even though "Boxer" doesn't quite hit those giddy heights, give it time maybe it will. This is a record from a band in full flight, mature and confident this isn't easy pop music or crash and burn rock. It is music to savour and get to know. If you commit to it, it will surely fill your mind and heart with strange feelings of delight and wonder.

By now you have probably heard the opening track "Fake Empire". All full of languid elegance and striking images it is a mighty fine song. And the horns are truly superb. In fact the opening quartet of songs are strikingly magnificent. "Mistaken For Strangers" and "Squalor Victoria" are songs to rumble down deep inside you and make you scream out loud their magnificent choruses (who said there are no "Mr Novembers" are on this platter). The rest of "Boxer" then resumes its stately elegance. "Slow Show" and "Green Gloves" are deep, resonant songs that get better with every listen. "Apartment Story" and "Start A War" are other songs that hit hard with me. This band has a knack for producing music that is sombre but never depressing, heartfelt but never sentimental, music that settles under your skin and won't leave. I do feel that the first half of the album is more striking than the second (''Guest Room" is probably the only song not to hit a chord so far), but as with "Alligator" I am sure that every song will slowly attach itself to me. Having said that "Racing Like A Pro" (featuring Sufjan Stevens on piano as does "Ada") is already a song that I enjoy immensely. The band's playing is quite assured on this album, with Bryan Devendorf's drumming a definite highlight. However the greatest weapon The National have is the glorious, magnificent voice of Matt Berninger. His baritone voice is like an instrument in itself. Deep and powerful it's beauty can not be denied. Also the orchestrations by Clogs' Padma Newsome holds all the compositions together beautifully. "Boxer" is like a fine bottle of red wine, great to drink now or tomorrow, but it will probably get even better with age.

Something to savour lyrically are the wonderful images contained in many of the songs. Here are a few I am really enjoying-
Tiptoe through our shiny city with our diamond slippers on
Showered and blue-blazered, fill yourself with quarters
You know I keep your fingerprints in a pink folder in the middle of my table
Underline everything, I’m a professional in my beloved white shirt
You could drive a car through my head in five minutes from one side of it to the other
One time you were a glowing young ruffian
Stand inside an empty tuxedo with grapes in my mouth

MP3: Fake Empire
MP3: Mistaken For Strangers
MP3: Slow Show
The Science Of Sleep

The Science Of Sleep is the latest film by Michel Gondry. His previous effort "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" was to my eyes a near masterpiece. A contemplation on love lost and found, it was heartbreakingly tender and highly original. Now whilst his new film has its moments it does not reach the same heights. Essentially it tells the story of Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal), who returns from Mexico to live in his childhood home in Paris after the death of his father. Stephane is an artist with a hugely vivid imagination. Unfortunately his mother places him in the employment of a company that produces calendars. Stephane feels frustrated by his inability to put his creative talents to work in this environment. His frustration mounts when he meets and then becomes infatuated by his neighbour Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Unfortunately Stephanie, a wildly creative person herself, does not reciprocate his feelings. This is, in a nutshell, basically the story of the film. It is mainly concerned with images, ruminations on life and the interactions of the characters in the film. In fact a lot the film takes place in Stephane's dreams (including his own fictional TV show) and sometimes you are never sure what is real and what is not. Whilst never being totally confusing I found it tended to sometimes give you a disconnection from the characters. This movie was also written by Gondry and maybe that is the slight weakness. "Eternal Sunshine..." was the work of genius writer Charlie Kaufmann and I think he is definitely more adept at hitting all the right emotional highpoints and never letting the fantastic stray too far away from the realistic. Having that said The Science Of Sleep is still a highly original work that manages to stay mostly entertaining throughout. Gondry's images are strikingly original and Bernal and Gainsbourg are charming in the lead roles. This film is more of a charmer that gently entertains than one that pierces a deep hole in your heart.

May 24, 2007

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah @ Enmore Theatre

"Now they are child stars, child stars, child stars, child stars, child stars...With the sex and the drugs and the rock and rock and rock and rock and roll Hey!" Yeah, it was stuck in my head before hand and it is ensconced now. And with good reason. After canceling their Australian tour last year Clap Your Hands Say Yeah triumphed and thrilled at the Enmore Theatre last night. Trust me, this band is no fad, they are not going away anytime soon. It seems that most everyone loved their first album and that their recent second release has been met with mixed reviews. I however love both and whilst I believe that their debut has the more obvious, catchy songs, "Some Loud Thunder" shows a band evolving and developing more complex songs. So it proved last night that the earlier songs were probably better received but I was satisfied with everything they played.

It was however a slightly subdued start. Even though I love "Over And Over Again" it didn't start the night with a bang and the next song "Mama...." is my favourite song off the new album. However it's a real slow burner and might have been perfect later in the set as a come down song. Also the sound seemed a bit muffled early on. However the rest of the set list was almost perfect in its order. "Some Loud Thunder" sounded so much better live then on record and "Satan Said Dance" was predictably popular. However after hearing the rest of the set it strikes me that this song is really quite lightweight compared to their others. Perhaps in time they will drop it. It was on the next song that things started soaring. "Is This Love?" took the roof off, Alec Ounsworth's vocals were superb as the irresistible chorus excited everyone. There was no let up after this, everything just flowed perfectly. "In This Home On Ice" was perfect, "Yankee Go Home" was thrilling. The extended jam on "Goodbye To The Mother And The Cove" was awe inspiring and developed even further when Alec pulled out the megaphone. Everyone was then jumping and clapping with delight during "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth". If this didn't make you dance, well, nothing will. Then the show stopper, "Details of The War". Such a beautiful song, delivered with grace and beauty (and harmonica, go Alec). Then "...Young Blood" closed, all yelps and cries, it was a joy to end with. A 3 song encore rounded off things nicely with a majestic "Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away" and a storming "Heavy Metal". The band was focused and tight throughout. Not much chatter, just letting the songs speak for themselves. Alec Ounsworth is just incredibly intense on stage. He lives the songs and his voice has quite an impressive range actually. When he reaches deep down he really finds something. Shouldn't we celebrate a voice that is so unique and can express itself in so many ways. If we need cardboard cut out voices there is always 2DAY FM to listen to. A great night, one of the best shows of the year in a year of many live highlights.

Btw, I don't have photos as the band made a request for no photography at the show.

Set List
Over And Over Again (Lost And Found)
Mama, Won't You Keep Those Castles In The Air & Burning?
Some Loud Thunder
Satan Said Dance
Is This Love?
Gimmie Some Salt
In This Home On Ice
Yankee Go Home
Goodbye To The Mother & The Cove
The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth
Details Of The War
Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood - MP3

Clap Your Hands!
Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away
Heavy Metal

May 23, 2007

M. Ward - Chinese Translation

This is truly sublime. M. Ward on the Conan O'Brien show with the amazing talents of Neko Case and Jim James (with new haircut).

Ben Gibbard w/ Vanderslice, Lewis, and Bazan @ Fillmore

Talk about talent. This is unbelievable and such a beautiful song! Such Great Heights. Apparently Ben Gibbard's solo tour has been highlight after highlight with a slew of great covers. Please tour here Ben and if you want to bring Jenny that is cool as well.

May 22, 2007

Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe-Okkervil River; plus other news and links, or how to get things off my chest

Yes, Okkervil River are great. Their music is timeless yet modern. Ferocious yet gentle. Heartbreaking but joyful at the same time. Their new album "The Stage Names" is released on Jagjaguwar in August. Here is a taste of the record in "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" which I have heard in various live forms but in recorded fashion it sounds great. The drumming and clashing guitars are great and Will Sheff's trademark passionate vocals are in full effect.
MP3: Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe
MP3: The President's Dead (single released this year)

I think I might have mentioned that Spoon's record to be released in July "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" is seriously great. They have once again produced the goods. Britt Daniel's wonderful voice sits nicely on top of the band's irresistible hooks. This band can truly do no wrong.
MP3: The Ghost of You Lingers

So that's two major bands with super exciting albums due out. But the last week hasn't been too shabby. Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky" is just wonderful and this week I got my hands on The National's "Boxer" which is nearly as glorious as "Alligator" and "Plague Park" by Handsome Furs. Seriously "Plague Park" might just be the album of the year for me. Every single song packs a wallop and then some. Also I have the self titled debut by Voxtrot which I have only listened to briefly but am enjoying so far despite seeming indifference around the blogosphere.
MP3: What We Had- Handsome Furs

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah play tomorrow night at the Enmore Theatre and I am super excited. It seems like ages ago since "Some Loud Thunder" was released but at the moment it still will go down as one of my favourite releases in 2007. Naturally I love their first album, so to see these songs played live will be something that I can't wait to see.
MP3: Yankee Go Home

Blogfresh Radio is a great idea. A weekly show that you can listen to online, it features interviews with many bloggers talking about the latest music. I feel funny writing about this because I have appeared on the show four times now and it's hard to write about yourself, let alone hear your voice online. Anyway it's a great place to check out what is fresh in the music world every week.

Emotional Karaoke is an interesting site. Entirely devoted to The Mountain Goats, it tackles a song by them every day, although apparently the writer does not intend to write on every song ever penned by John Darnielle.

Check out an excellent review of Ben Gibbard's show in Austin last week by A Camera in the Crowd. His cover choices are always spot on.

May 21, 2007

Sky Blue Sky-Wilco

To be perfectly honest I find it hard to believe that anyone could not possibly gain enjoyment after listening to "Sky Blue Sky", the latest release from Wilco. Some reviews like this misjudged one are missing the point. Some like this one just get it. Sure we know that this new album isn't "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (few are) or "A Ghost Is Born" for that matter. It doesn't push boundaries like those classics. But Wilco always surprise and delight in some way. For me this is simpler music but it is not simple music. This is a record to be heard in one sitting, many times over and let all the subtle nuances and gentle rhythms tickle your brain and warm your heart. There are definitely are couple of sleepier numbers ("Leave Me" and the title track come to mind) that don't quite stimulate but there is enough here hopefully for even the most die hard fan to enjoy. Actually for anyone who hasn't heard of Wilco (trust me they do exist, I work with them) this would actually be a good album to try to convert them.

"Either Way" opens up and right away I felt comfortable. A gorgeous, lilting song that feels like a Gram Parsons tune, it leads to my favourite song "You Are My Face" which they opened with recently in Sydney. A deceptively simple tune gives way to an almost funky tune at 1.30 in. And if you believe that Jeff Tweedy has lost his ability for beautiful images then try this last verse-
I am looking forward towards the shadows chasing bones
our face is stitched in sewing
our houses hemmed into homes
trying to be thankful
our stories fit into phones
our voices lift so easily
a gift given accidentally
when we're not sure we're not alone

This wonderful song take us to "Impossible Germany" which explodes the other myth. That Wilco have lost the talent to write intricate, experimental guitar lines. The interplay of guitar towards the end is simply stunning. Other highlights abound. "Side With The Seeds" and "Hate It Here" wouldn't feel out of place on a Beatles record with their pop/soul feel. "Walken" doesn't sound very original but it's so damn catchy. "What Light" is just perfectly simple. "Please Be Patient With Me" feels like Jeff has invited us to his back porch for a gentle dash of acoustic guitar. And "On an On and On" is a perfect closer, just an evocative slice of Wilco. This album sounds like a happy album. It has been well reported that Jeff Tweedy has reached a comfortable time in his life with the rehab behind him and he has stated that he has never been happier then now with the state of the band. You can hear it on the record and I witnessed it live. Now does that mean Wilco have lost their edge. Perhaps. But what you receive is instead a sumptuous, warm album that can make you smile if you let it. Nels Cline and John Stirratt have never produced better work and Jeff Tweedy's voice is a wonder. Never technically gifted it just has amazing character. All vulnerable and passionate, I could listen to him sing the phone book. There is no "Ashes of American Flags" or "She's A Jar" on this platter but there is a collection of songs that satisfy immensely. It is mature, assured music that stays in your heart. If you have written off this piece of music after an initial listen, go back, listen again and again and be patient. I ask you for Jeff's sake.

"A soulful, sad, yet ultimately hopeful document largely about putting a brave face in the midst of a dissolving relationship, indulging influences from Bill Fay to Charles Wright to Steve Miller, Sky Blue Sky is the rare, mature album where said maturity is seldom compromised by banality"- Pop Matters review can be read here, the best I have read.

MP3: Side With The Seeds
MP3: Hate It Here
MP3: Impossible Germany
MP3: You Are My Face

May 20, 2007

The Reminder-Feist

Surprises are always nice. I own "Let It Die", Feist's last release and naturally "Mushaboom" was an irresistible slice of pop goodness but the rest of the album didn't take a hold on me. So I wasn't in a rush to buy her just released third album "The Reminder". But after reading so many positive reviews I took the plunge and purchased it. I am glad I did. It is a beautifully realised album full of beauty, soul and grace. Plus there is quite a variety of music on show, from slow burning torch songs to danceable pop tunes to tracks that are jazz or country in nature. All held together by the constant of Leslie Feist's gorgeous, smoky vocals. The Canadian songstress recorded this album in France where she has lived for the last 4 years, although I believe she recently moved back to Toronto. She is helped by a cast of thousands, including her Broken Social Scene mates Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. But she is no mere chanteuse, playing many of the guitar parts herself.

A slow, pretty song "So Sorry" is a nice intro before one of my favourite tracks appears. "I Feel It All" is a jaunty, swinging number which is a great showcase for Ms. Feist's wonderful vocals, which leads into the single "My Moon My Man" which is downright irresistible. This song also shows that Feist's Indie rock roots still come through with its gorgeous guitar lines. At the end of this song you hear a twittering of birds which carries over into the next song "The Park", my centrepiece. This stunning song wouldn't be out of place on a Cat Power record, all aching beauty and heartfelt emotion. The rest of the album continues to delight in other ways. The Nina Simone song "Sea Lion Woman" packs a punch, "1 2 3 4" should be a number one single everywhere with its gorgeous horns and closer "How My Heart Behaves" is simply haunting.
This is an album that suit many occasions, great for danceable pop tunes and absolutely perfect as a late night listen to lie back and let it flow over you.

MP3: The Park
MP3: My Moon My Man

May 19, 2007

Menomena - Muscle'n Flo

This is beyond cool. Recorded live in Brooklyn. Do you think we could get these guys to tour?

May 18, 2007

Sunset Rubdown + Jagjaguwar = Bliss

This is a community service announcement. In a marriage of perfect proportions Sunset Rubdown has signed with Jagjaguwar. My favourite artist (Spencer Krug for those wondering) and the best Indie label in the world. "Random Spirit Lover" is the title of the album due to be released in October which you can read about here. If you don't own 2006's "Shut Up I Am Dreaming" shame on you. It is music of another world. Well after hearing a few new songs through recent live performances this new record has the potential to be off the charts.
The thing that amazes me about Spencer Krug is where does he find the time to write and perform all this music. Between Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes and Sunset Rubdown he never rests. Seriously he makes all other musicians look bone lazy. Also I truly believe Mr Krug is well on his way to establishing himself to being the preeminent talent of his generation. If you don't believe me you just watch his progress.

Here is a tentative track listing for Random Spirit Lover
The Mending of the Gown
Magic vs. Midas
Up on your Leopard, Upon the End of your Feral Days
The Courtesan has Sung
Winged/Wicked Things
Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns
For the Pier (and dead shimmering)
The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life
Setting vs. Rising
Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!
Child-Heart Losers

The work of the man (so far)
MP3: Stadiums and Shrines II (Sunset Rubdown)
MP3: All Fires (Swan Lake)
MP3: You are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son (Wolf Parade)
MP3: I'll Believe in Anything (Wolf Parade)
MP3: Apistat Commander (Sunset Rubdown cover of Xiu Xiu)
MP3: Burning Out Your Eyes (Sunset Rubdown, new song live, this looks to be called For the Pier on the new album)
Apostle of Hustle - National Anthem of Nowhere

A great song from a wonderful album. Try to buy this if you can.

May 17, 2007

Feist - I Feel It All (Live)

The wonderful Feist performing on a bus on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

May 16, 2007

Tears of the Valedictorian-Frog Eyes

If you have never heard a Frog Eyes record then you are in for quite an experience. To call their music unique would be an understatement. The good news is "Tears of the Valedictorian" is I believe the band's most accessible work yet and in turn their greatest triumph. I have been a fan for quite a while but even I find that previous albums would place inspirational moments next to songs that were bordering on the unlistenable. To give you a quick history, Frog Eyes is the brainchild of Victoria, BC's Carey Mercer. The band also includes his wife Melanie Campbell and this generation's genius Spencer Krug on keyboards. But it is Mercer who steers the ship, his frenetic, high pitched voice set against a background of swirling, crashing guitars, drums and keyboards. "Tears of the Valedictorian" represents album number 4 and I believe its greatest strength is that the song development has evolved to its greatest level yet. The songs are longer and more epic and the music is now as interesting as the lyrics and vocals.

Opening track "Idle Songs" is a good introduction. Two minutes of breathless, frantic singing above the band's cacophony of guitars and drums. This is a song typical of the band and one of the best songs on the album. Undoubtedly the two highlights are the two longest songs. "Caravan Breakers, They Prey On the Weak and the Old" is a stunning, complex song. The pulsating guitar line four minutes in is truly sublime. I'm guessing by now you might have heard "Bushels". This song is a dark and wondrous journey into the soul of man. It seems to be about a sailor setting out for a long journey whilst protecting his bushels of wheat. This line struck me with its beauty. "Oh, though he had l-l-l-l-lot's to do, he pulled the wings off a thousand feathered singing birds oh to give the earth back its string". To try and decipher Mercer lyrics is a journey in itself. I would say the songs are written in Mercer language. Full of historical references, they relate epic tales laced with the personal and the tragic. I don't know whether these tales are based on truth or a part of a very vivid imagination. Either way they are a thing of mysterious beauty. Other highlights include the wonderful "Stockades" and the twin shots of energy "Evil Energy" and "...Eagle Energy". A major plus for this record is that Mercer allows himself very quite moments of soft beauty, which give you a respite from the frenetic pace and allows the music to breathe a little. "Tears of the Valedictorian" won't be for everyone. Its idiosyncratic nature can make it a difficult listen at times. However this is an album of massive scope and ambition, more rewarding with every listen. In years to come when this year's fashionable pop records are sent to the recycling bins "Tears of the Valedictorian" will be gathering new fans in search of the unique and beautiful.

You can buy this unique wonder from Absolutely Kosher.

MP3: Bushels

MP3: Idle Songs (lyrics below)
O the Roman ambassador
Was torn apart-apart by plaster
And reassembled after:
the 40 years of bombing:
They were wild and they were crying, in the picture
Where the smoke cleared
Tear your body from your beard
And watch as the planes burn the boats from the isle

A board is a board
When the pulpit meets the sword
And the poet has been bored
He's seen Fire and he's seen Pain
And the tedium has stained,
O Virgil, get your rake out there's a pastor to be pulled
And 60 miles west of Rome: "I stopped some dreadful hoard."

And I, I will let my body go,
And when it goes and then it stinks
There will be beauty in its stink
And the last rays of the fink
Will suppose themselves to shine
Upon the corpse of Stinking Gold
That has fallen into brine,
Idle song.

May 15, 2007

Spoon, Things, Stuff and Other Stuff

It's a simple fact of life that Spoon are great. In a sane world every person would be humming their tunes all day long. Well by now you probably are aware that their new album "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" will drop in July on Merge Records. Well for your listening pleasure I have a new track from the album "The Ghost Of You Lingers". I think it's great, just an incessant piano with Britt's haunting vocals. A beautiful, mysterious sound.
MP3: The Ghost of You Lingers

Dead Letter Chorus are launching their debut EP at the Itty Bitty Festival this coming Saturday. I really like this band's music. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control, like work, I haven't been able to catch their recent live performances. And because of a prior commitment I will have to miss the excellent lineup this weekend put on by the boys at Sandwich Club. However I have been listening to the debut single "Fred Astaire" and it is really very good.
MP3: Fred Astaire

All things Wolf Parade related are good. So I was interested to read a recent interview at Chart Attack with Dan Boeckner. Regarding a new album he stated "It will either come late 2007 or early January 2008". I know we all need our fix of Wolf Parade earlier then that but we have to be patient. Thankfully next week sees the release of his Handsome Furs' debut album "Plague Park". Trust me people it is seriously great. Full of raw emotion and aching beauty it will not disappoint anyone.
MP3: What We Had

Oh by the way, my Spencer sources tell me that Sunset Rubdown will have a new record before the year is out, "Random Spirit Lovers" is the reported title. Here is a new track caught at a recent live show-
MP3: The One That Runs In The Wild (live)
MP3: Us Ones In Between (live) (greatness indeed)

I received an email from a band I have never heard of today. Azeda Booth hail from Calgary, Canada and they have a debut EP "Mysterious Body" coming out. Their music is unique, experimental and quite different. Anyway I was struck by its beauty, have a listen.
MP3: Landscape (With Grass)

Do you love the new Feist record? I do, its languid beauty is hard to resist. I am surprised by how much I do like it as I wasn't really taken by "Let It Die". A review will come shortly but if you buy "The Reminder" it will not let you down.
MP3: The Park

May 14, 2007

The Black Keys @ Enmore Theatre

Passion, power, soul, that's what you expect from The Black Keys. At the Enmore Theatre on Sunday night that's what was delivered. "You've got pain, like an addict, I'm leaving you. You got pain like an addict, 10 AM automatic" I was humming before the show and it's still lodged in my cranium. But first things first, they blistered into "Thickfreakness" before playing "10 AM Automatic" and the old theatre was shaking. "Just Got to Be Me" was all pure blues and had me rocking before a couple of newer songs eased things down. Then the unmistakable riff of "Stack Shot Billy" had the venue jumping. Patrick Carney's drumming was punching a hole in my stomach. If this song didn't move you maybe you left your pulse at the door. Plenty more highlights flowed. A soulful "Everywhere I Go" was inspiring. "Set You Free" and "Your Touch", back to back, was punch your fist in the air time and they closed with "Have Love With Travel". A quick encore including the almost poetic "You're the One" had everyone smiling, but ultimately wanting more. A few more songs would have done nicely, but I guess this band is not holding anything back so long sets might be bad for their health. This is a music lover's band. Dan Auerbach has a surprisingly soulful voice and just handles the guitar with passion and dexterity, whilst Patrick Carney pounds the drums like few can. I will actually admit that my conversion to The Black Keys has come late in the piece. I was initially not taken by their seemingly straight forward blues sound, but I have recently invested myself in their sound and the investment has paid off. While they will never reach the level in my heart of, let's say a Spoon or My Morning Jacket, I really appreciate the purity of their music. And to see them live is a living, breathing visceral experience.

Set List (This was done to the best of my knowledge, so I will gladly stand corrected on any errors).

10 A.M. Automatic
Girl Is On My Mind
Just Got To Be
I Got Mine (new song?)
The Depths (I'm sure this is how Dan introduced it)
Stack Shot Billy
Everywhere I Go
Set You Free
Your Touch
Grown So Ugly
No Trust
Have Love Will Travel

You're The One
Till I Get My Way

MP3: 10 AM Automatic
MP3: Have Love Will Travel
MP3: Meet Me In the City (they didn't play this, but I would have died to hear this Junior Kimbrough cover, my favourite song)

For some truly gorgeous photos of the night, please go here and here.

I caught WA band Kill Devil Hills in support and they were very impressive. A six piece, they were channelling Nick Cave through a blend of gothic, country, folk. Mandolin and violin added to their interesting sounds. According to their MySpace they are about to do some dates in Canada. I would certainly like to see them again if they come back this way.

May 13, 2007

The Dolly Rocker Movement/Richard in Your Mind/The Years @ Hopetoun Hotel

The Hopetoun Hotel is one of my favourite venues in Sydney. Intimate and welcoming it has retained its old world charm and is a great place to see a band up front and close. When you can see 3 local bands for $10 it's a winning recipe.

The headlining act were The Dolly Rocker Movement and they were very impressive. With eight members on stage their sound was epic. Echoing the psychedelic sounds of the sixties they still manage to bring a fresh approach to their music. The combination of wall of sound guitars, frenetic drumming, pounding keyboards provided an able canvas for the highlight, the vocals. The two girls in the band were great bookends for Daniel Poulter. Echoing Jim Morrison, he was a whirling dervish on stage, living every lyric and dancing to every guitar lick and drum beat. Also each song was turned into a ten minute epic with extended jams which at times were quite thrilling. The gig was an opportunity to launch their new album "A Purple Journey into the Mod Machine". Certainly a band to catch live, even if you think their style of music isn't your thing.

In support were Richard in Your Mind. I have seen them before and I really enjoy their strange blend of folk and prog rock. Each song is always a little off kilter, but it certainly keeps your ears occupied. I think in time they will hit their stride fully and are a band that I will keep an eye on.

First up were The Years. I can't tell you much about them, but this four piece band's blend of fairly straight forward rock was a pleasant way to start the evening. Whilst never rising to any great heights, they were pretty tight and provided able support for the night.
Stream Boxer Now!

"Boxer", the new album from The National is due out May 22. Right this very minute you can go to their My Space and listen to the whole record free. Trust me, this is greatness personified. I think I mentioned before that I was slow to convert to their last album "Alligator", but lately I have had it on constant play. It's an amazing record of great depth, warmth and sincerity. And Matt Berninger's voice does funny things to my insides. If you don't own "Alligator" buy it now, fall in love with it and then buy "Boxer".

Here are the lyrics from "All the Wine" from Alligator. I post these because I love these words and I love this song.

I'm put together beautifully
Big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth
I'm perfect piece of ass
Like every Californian
So tall I take over the street, with highbeams shining on my back
A wingspan unbelievable
I'm a festival, I'm a parade

And all the wine is all for me
And all the wine is all for me
And all the wine is all for me

I'm a birthday candle in a circle of black girls
God is on my side
Cuz I'm the child bride
I'm so sorry but the motorcade will have to go around me this time
Cuz God is on my side
And I'm the child bride

And all the wine is all for me
And all the wine is all for me
And all the wine is all for me

I carry the dollhouse, safe on my shoulders
Through the black city, night lights are on in the corners
And everyone's sleeping upstairs
All safe and sound
All safe and sound, I won't the let psychos around
All safe and sound, I won't let the psychos around

I'm in a state, I'm in a state
Nothing can touch us my love
I'm in a state, I'm in a state
Nothing can touch us my love

MP3: All the Wine

May 11, 2007

Aria C Jalali!

I would imagine that the emails I receive about new bands and new albums is miniscule compared to the blogs with bigger readerships then myself. However I do receive my fair share and to be honest some are good, some are average and some just ain't my cup of tea. Well Aria C Jalali! is my cup of tea. This multi-instrumentalist does it all, hailing from San Francisco, he is just about to release a debut 7" EP on Filthy Little Angels Records. Blue in colour it will contain 4 songs and is due out on May 21. I recently received some promo copies of the songs and I have been impressed with what has been sailing through my ears. The music is quite melodic and has an experimental edge as well. Sort of like a rough cross between The Strokes and Grandaddy, with a side order of Phil Elvrum thrown in for good measure. His debut full length "Assorted Submarines" is in the works and I am certainly excited to hear what this exciting talent has in store.
MP3: Postmodernism
MP3: Bohemia (With a Sea)

May 10, 2007

Wilco-What Light

Because it's Wilco and you know it's good!

Trailer New CD+DVD of Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Beirut - The Gulag Orkestar

Beirut, Final Fantasy and members of Arcade Fire all on one stage!

The National - Mistaken For Strangers

The first single from The National's new album Boxer.

New Okkervil River

Mark down August 7 on your calendars. That's when Jagjaguwar will be releasing Okkervil River's fourth full length "The Stage Names". Recorded in Austin by Brian Beattie and mixed by Spoon's Jim Eno, all music lovers rejoice. Once again William Schaff has created the album artwork. 2007 is turning into one hell of a year for music.

Track Listing
1 Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
2 Unless It's Kicks
3 A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene
4 Savannah Smiles
5 Plus Ones
6 A Girl in Port
7 You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man
8 Title Track
9 John Allyn Smith Sails

May 9, 2007

Ash Wednesday-Elvis Perkins

If you seriously want to listen to music that pierces the heart with its emotional honesty, that is devoid of all irony and artifice, then you need to buy "Ash Wednesday" by Elvis Perkins. For the first and last songs alone it is worth the price, you will not find two more heartfelt songs in a year's worth of listening. The best news is that the rest of the album is studded with many other gems. Recorded through out 2006 on Analog tape in and around Los Angeles, the album thankfully received a release on XL Records in February of this year. By now you probably know his tragic back story of the deaths of his famous actor father Anthony Perkins and his photographer mother Berry Berenson who perished in the 9/11 attacks. But it does provide an important canvas to the recording of this album as Elvis started writing the songs before 9/11 and ccmpleted them after. In fact the title track came to the singer on Ash Wednesday, February 2002, six months after the World Trade Center disaster. However this is far from a gloom laden piece of work. Although full of hushed tones and periods of quietness it attains many moments of serene grandeur.

The opening track "While You Were Sleeping" is one of those magical tracks that upon first listening already manages to carve out a claim on your heart. A gentle strum accompanies a veritable flood of striking lyrics dealing with life flying past your own eyes. This song builds and builds with such intensity that you will have to pick yourself up off the floor by the time it finishes. There are so many other wonderful songs. "It's Only Me", "Emile's Vietnam in the Sky", the title track, "The Night & The Liquor" will all have you humming to their delicious melodies and swooning to their emotionally laden lyrics. The end track "Good Friday" provides a fitting climax. A sombre song it has an almost hymn like quality. You can feel the outpouring of emotion in this song. Elvis' voice is a great feature too, plaintive and yearning it conveys the right levels of emotion without ever feeling over wrought. I find his songs have this wonderful stretch to them, they keep pulling on you through out, but the connection never breaks and then there is a wonderful release at the finish. This is worth adding to your collection if you yearn for music that is honest, affecting and genuine.

It is now available in Australia on Inertia.
MP3: May Day
MP3: While You Were Sleeping
MP3: Emile's Vietnam in the Sky

May 8, 2007

Alice Springs

Having just returned from my short trip to the centre of Australia, I am pretty sure I would like to return some day. Especially as my stay was brief and most of the time was taken up with work related functions. However my day spent in the West Macdonnell ranges was truly spectacular. The colours of the rock formations are quite exquisite. A mixture of reds and oranges the many gorges and chasms in the ranges will take your breath away. And thankfully there weren't a lot of sightseers so the tranquility could just wash over you. Alice Springs itself felt like a big country town (I think the population is 20,000) with its languid pace and friendly atmosphere. I don't think I could ever possibly live there but it makes a great base to witness the beauties of our outback. Uluru is a five hour drive away, so time prevented me going there but I would like return one day, take in the Rock and also explore further the many other sights in the area. The only disappointing aspect is to see the majority of the indigenous population in a perpetual state of aimlessness. There still seems to be a huge gulf between the white and black cultures and I wish there was some easy way to break the cycle of poverty and despair. I wouldn't even pretend to know enough about the situation to offer a proper opinion, but it just seems sad to me that in the 21st century we seem no closer to the solution of having an inclusive and equitable country.

I have some more photos at my Flickr.

May 3, 2007

I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane...

Well I do know when I will be back again. Dear faithful reader(s) I will be away from the internetosphere (I just made that up) for a few days as my work has given me the opportunity the spend the next 4 days in Alice Springs. It's kinda work related but the majority of the time will be spent relaxing and reviving. I am looking forward to the small break and I have never been to this part of the country before so it should be fun.

Some random thoughts, ideas and ruminations-

When I return I must review "Ash Wednesday" by Elvis Perkins. This album is bookended by two of the most touching songs I have ever heard. Oh yeah, the rest is pretty good too.

Also need to review the following, which I have bought recently- "Woke on a Whaleheart"- Bill Callahan, "Good Morning"- Old Man River and "The Moonstation Houseband"- David Vandervelde.

Hoping that "Tears of the Valedictorian" by Frog Eyes is in the mail. I just ordered it and I can't wait. I didn't know that Spencer Krug was still collaborating with this band. Pitchfork just gave it a 8.5, and I quote "Mercer is stalking the heath of manhood's ruination".

Will be listening non stop to The Black Keys in anticipation of their show at the Enmore Theatre on May 13. This should be another live show in 2007 to savour. They are playing their first show in Australia on this tour tonight in Wollongong.

The Sandwich Club are putting on an excellent night at The Loft at UTS on Broadway on May 19. Named the Itty Bitty Festival it will feature many fine local bands such as Dead Letter Chorus (EP launch), Cuthbert and the Night Walkers, Walrus, Marching Room and many others.

After seeing Wilco, and having my mind blown, I have been delving back into the Uncle Tupelo catalogue. I love most of it, but I just have to make this statement. Jeff Tweedy's voice moves me in ways that Jay Farrar's can never do. Just listen to "Black Eye".

May should see some great releases. The obvious ones being the new albums from Wilco, Voxtrot and The National. But the two ones that have me super excited, from what I have heard are "Mapmaker" by Parts & Labor and "Plague Park" by Handsome Furs.

These 3 films are taking my attention as soon as I return, "The Science of Sleep", "Noise" and "The History Boys". If they are all half as good as "Half Nelson" I will be happy!

Here is some music making my world go round-
MP3: Stitch Me Up - Minus Story
MP3: Fractured Skies - Parts & Labor
MP3: Bushels - Frog Eyes
MP3: What We Had - Handsome Furs
MP3: Alone/Alive - Shapes and Sizes
MP3: On to You - The Constantines
MP3: The Heinrich Maneuver - Interpol
MP3: Mistaken For Strangers - The National
MP3: Nothin' No - David Vandervelde
MP3: May Day - Elvis Perkins
Spoon (SXSW 2007)

The Great Spoon from SXSW this year. "Rhythm and Soul" which will appear on their new album "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" in July.

May 2, 2007

Half Nelson

Last night I saw Half Nelson (yeah, we had to wait this long for the film to be released in Australia) and I can't stop thinking about it. It's a film of quiet brilliance, acted with unequivocal grace and beauty, it will resonate deeply with anyone who sees it. There is not a lot of plot, its mainly about revealing of character, but essentially it tells the story of history teacher Daniel Dunne (Ryan Gosling) and the relationship he has with his students in a predominately African-American Brooklyn High School. One student in particular Drey (Shareeka Epps) becomes pivotal as she forms a friendship with him. Mature beyond her 13 years, Drey knows that Dunne has his own issues in dealing with life. He is an unconventional teacher, trying unorthodox methods to enliven debate whilst trying to teach the students about the Civil Rights movement. Without giving too much away let's just say that his issues are drug related and another major character is Frank (Anthony Mackie) who acts as some sort of bridge between the two worlds of Daniel and Drey. Sure this just sounds like any other story of inner city drug problems and heroic teacher overcoming the odds. But trust me this film, by first time director Ryan Fleck, is far removed from cliche. There is no false bravado, no inspiring speeches, no pivotal scene where problems are solved and a resolution is made. This is just an honest, beautiful story of the struggles of life. The acting is truly superb, newcomer Epps is as stoic a teenager you will ever see portrayed on screen and Gosling confirms his reputation as one of the finest young actors going around. His vulnerable, tender performance will break your heart. A minor quibble is with the photography, it is always pulled closed in and sometimes poorly framed. I suppose to give the film a verite feel, but after a while it becomes less distracting as the power of the story will take over. Go and see this film, it will not disappoint.

I do have to mention the score. It is truly superb, one of the best I have heard for quite a while. And I don't mean in a "gee, these songs are great" kind of away. There are great songs, but a lot of the music is instrumental and it fits perfectly into the quietness of the film. Never intruding into a scene, but just complementing it ideally. I loved hearing Billy Bragg's "New England" but it is the work of Canadian sonic masters Broken Social Scene that steal the show. Using mainly their instrumental work, everything just fits right. "Mossbraker", "Passport Radio", "Blues for Uncle Gibb", "Da Da Da Da", "Stars and Sons" and the sublime "Shampoo Suicide" can all be heard to full affect. However the instrumental and "Bee Hives" versions of "Lover's Spit" will leave you reeling. Truly transcendent. See this film and then buy the soundtrack.

May 1, 2007

Yellow Bird Project

The Yellow Bird Project is a wonderful idea. Based in Montreal, its a non-profit initiative that collaborates with musicians in designing a T-Shirt. You can buy the T-Shirt (I bought this one designed by Stars) and all money goes to the charity of the artists' choice. So not only do you raise money for charity but you will look really cool in a specially designed T-Shirt. Stars' charity is Le Chainon, a womens shelter in Montreal. All the shirts cost $US25.00 and other artists that have contributed are Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Rilo Kiley, Hayden and Devendra Banhart.

Make them your friend at their My Space