Archive for March, 2012

As you can tell, so far I have not been one for having much of a schedule for these entries – weekly, monthly, whenever – instead I’ve been checking in whenever I seem to have enough to talk about. Which is the case again, and which explains why, though the last one was subtitled “March edition,” this one’s also from March. So sue me.

When I returned from my Denver-by-way-of -NJ trip a few weeks ago I’d just seen an awesome show, and arrived home to some new sounds delivered by (gasp!) snail mail. I’ll start there.

Ever since I happened upon The Decemberists several years ago, relatively late to the game in the eyes of most purists, I’m sure, I’ve hoovered up everything I can find by the band and its various offshoots – Black Prairie, we’re looking forward to your latest output – so I was excited to hear We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, a collection of performances from the last tour, in support of  the very strong latest disc The King is Dead. I even saw that three of the cuts were recorded at the show I’d seen on that tour at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta (a gorgeous looking and sounding venue), which made me even more psyched.

So I was a little disappointed to find myself, well, disappointed at many of the tracks. The mix wasn’t quite muddy, but it does sound imbalanced in places, with drums overpowering all else one moment, and Colin’s vocals dominating at others. Some of the harmonies, usually close to flawless, weren’t. Sure, you expect the live experience to be a little more raw and unpolished than studio sessions – that’s part of the fun – but I don’t remember things like that standing out as they do here in the shows of theirs I’ve seen before, so I’m puzzled as to why some of these specific versions were chosen for this compilation.

That’s not to say there are no bright spots for fans new and old. Suicide pact perennial favorite “We Both Go Down Together” shines, and even though I already have multiple versions of that one, this one’s a keeper. Ditto for “The Bagman’s Gambit,” which has never been one of my favorites but which is given a poignancy here that I must have been missing in previous listens. “Rise to Me,” “Calamity Song,” (one of the Atlanta tunes), and concert closer for most of the tour “June Hymn” were all in fine form on this collection, too. It’s not that the others sucked, really, but that I was surprised that the questionable mixes and tired harmonies were acceptable and deemed worthy of release.

I rambled on for way too long last time about the Girlyman show, I know. At that show, though, I bought a few discs (and got a free one in a nice B2GO variation) and have now had time to listen to them properly. The latest, Supernova, succumbed the day after the show as I was driving through the beautiful Rockies on the way to Vail.

I’ve since listened to that one again, along with a slightly older one, and – ecstatically – to the collection of their infamous Tuning Songs. Several times a show, it seems, whenever one of the girls has to pause for a tuning break, Nate Borofsky shows off his considerable improv/songwriting skills to the delight of the crowd and the fake consternation of his bandmates, who always join in on the made-up-as-they-go harmonies. Great stuff, that being the free 3rd disc, and not a dud in the bunch – over 20 examples that give a little glimpse into the between-song banter that’s always so light and airy, in stark contrast to the depth and weight of set list itself. Again, can’t wait to see them in May at Eddie’s Attic here in town.

I’d been hearing/reading about Of Monsters and Men all over, it seemed, when I finally heard one of their tunes on a recent Paste mPlayer. From what I’ve read they killed at SXSW, leaving lasting impressions with some heavyweights there, and if “From Finner” is indicative of their entire canon I can see why. Totally infectious, it pried a tweet out of me last week on St. Pat’s (‘Diggin hard on “From Finner” by Of Monsters and Men on this fine Sat afternoon.’ – I’m so proud of my command of the vernacular…) and still feels like that, some 30+ listens later.

I’d been purposely avoiding any teasers for Jack White’s first solo record (really? his first?) for a couple of reasons. I’m the first one to defend his unorthodox approaches to music and life, but several of the last few ventures have not been particularly thrilling for this fan. Also, I kind of wanted to wait for the release and hear it all at once, total weirdness submersion in a normality deprivation tank of his devising. But, alas, my willpower is not so strong, and when I pre-ordered Blunderbuss I got an auto-download of “Sixteen Saltines,” which I think is just about perfect. Strange, nonsensical, and vaguely dirty, it’s vintage White, and the combo of raunchy guitar and twisted carnival organ that he’s been perfecting with The Raconteurs and Dead Weather dovetail seamlessly. If this song is a bellwether for the rest of the album, and everything I’ve read tells me it very likely is, we’re in for a treat, and I can forgive things like Insane Clown Posse collaborations and just move on.

One of the better Daytrotter sessions I’ve grabbed of late is from The Boxer Rebellion. I love it when bands go into the Horse Shack and rework their own songs a touch, and even more when they choose interesting covers that matter to them, and put their own spin on them. TBR does both (they provide a haunting, low key cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” the original of which I always thought was a little too fey,) and that makes it one of the finest of these healthy experiments I’ve heard to date.

Slow Club‘s session is equally entrancing and shouldn’t be missed.

But the best DT session, and most immersive musical experience I’ve had in the last few weeks, has been from Wye Oak.

I wrote about them when compiling my list of 2011’s best albums, and promised a detailed recap of their incredible show in a future, as yet unrealized, review of the best concerts I saw last year. (In my defense, they were all pretty damned good – I wouldn’t have bought tickets and gone if I didn’t already like the bands, and the disappointments were so few and so small as to have already been forgotten. Therefore, they were practically impossible to rank or score; they crossed genres and styles and venues and moods, and couldn’t really be compared as much as reported on, which I may yet do.)

Of the 18 shows I saw in 2011 theirs was probably my favorite of the year. Notice I didn’t say “best,” though it could probably be considered in the top 2 or 3 on that list, too.

The Tabernacle is one of my favorite Atlanta venues, as well. Good size, great history (as its name implies it’s a huge old church from the 20’s or 30’s and still looks it) and it it serves loud bands well, even when they’re not being loud. When writing about Civilian, one of my very favorite albums of last year, I briefly described that show and how suprising it was to find that they’re a 2-pieece, with “Jenn Wasner playing all the masterful, many-hued guitar sounds, and the equally incredible Andy Stack playing drums, keyboards and working the BGVs – all at the same time. To see his left hand and foot playing a staggered stack of keys while his right appendages played a small but explosive drum kit left me reeling.” It’s impossible to describe the  thickness and tangibility of the waves of sound Jenn produces from one guitar, and it’s never more powerful than when she revs it from zero to 60 at the end of a quiet verse, filling the air with sometimes angry, sometimes plaintive, always compelling volume and texture.

Their Daytrotter session, which has mysteriously vanished or I would link to it, is maybe the best one I’ve heard so far. A few songs I wasn’t aware of – and which promptly forced me to find and buy their previous album, so mission accomplished, everyone – some that I knew well, and a gorgeous cover of Neil Young’s “Pocahontas” – all the ingredients providing what these sessions should be: both new and familiar, adding to your appreciation of the artist, never rehashing what you may have already heard in the same ways you’ve already heard it. Until hearing “Pocahontas,” (never one of my favorite Young tunes, and I have many,) I never heard the now-obvious parallel between the fuzz-drenched, distortion-heavy sonic assault of Jenn Wasner and that of Neil Young, one of the sloppiest excellent guitar players I’ve ever loved. Staying in tune, not generating feedback, and keeping things neat and tidy have never been high priorities for Neil – to great effect – and while Jenn eschews the sloppy she’s every bit the aural architect as her shaggy predecessor, welding many-roomed mansions as glowing and as alive as his, on her very own (but neighboring) hill.

Don’t miss it – if you can find it. If not, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. . .

Good handful of new (to me) stuff these last few weeks. Hope you find a few new gems to polish on your own, either from this recap or from elsewhere. (And share with the class, please!)

I’ll start with some great new finds, and end with a recent live show that was totally transformative.

Amy Helm is probably tired of being the main, first reference when describing the collective of which she’s a part. Or maybe she isn’t. Ollabelle’s newest, Neon Blue Bird, is fantastic with or without that lineage. Songs like “Be Your Woman,” “Wait for the Sun,” and an inspired and interesting rendition of “Swanee River” made this one a staple on my high-rotation list after the first listen. Their Daytrotter session is outstanding, as well. Do yourself a favor and check that out first- if necessary, as proof enough that you need to buy their other stuff post-haste.

Feist’s Metals album is another very pleasant surprise. I don’t know that I had an opinion about her or her work prior to seeing her on Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special a few years ago, but she got points in my book for that appearance, for sure. This album, tho, positions her well for a lasting and valuable contribution to the thoughtful performer zeitgeist. More than a few songs channel my (admittedly limited) memories of Tori Amos, mainly but not exclusively with Metals‘ “Graveyard.” That’s far from a criticism, tho: those reminiscences coupled with such strong outings as opener “The Bad in Each Other,” “Anti-Pioneer,” and “Comfort Me” leave me with the impression that she is most definitely someone who simply (Ha!)  gets it- always an important barometer in my estimation.

The Morning After Girls renew my faith in heavy guitar rock. That’s not all they do, of course, but all too often the power chords can be all that’s there. I was first aware of them via a Paste sampler, I think, where “shadows evolve” (lower case intended) gripped me from the opening bars. Nothing for a few years and then I come across Alone, and everything I loved about “shadows…” is there again, a dozen times stronger. If all I’d heard was “Death Processions” I’d have felt more than justified in buying the whole effort, but the rest is just as visceral, just as crank-it-up-NOW, as anything I’ve heard in years.

I was completely entranced by School of Seven Bells’ last album, start to finish. From the derivation of their name (from a pickpocket academy in South America) to the Elfin nature of nearly every tune- I could picture the twins wandering through New Zealand forests just out of frame as Liv Tyler slo-moed away from the stately procession leaving Middle-earth. So when I heard that one of those twins had departed, I was skeptical as to how that might affect the sound, the feel of any future work. I’m a bit mystified to find that I really can’t tell a difference between the individual tunes from the new Ghostory and those from Disconnect from Desire. Still as ethereal, as wispy, as dream-like and trance-inducing as ever, I’ve actually rated more songs from the new one higher than those from the previous work. I’m interested to find out what caused the split, what the departed twin is up to, and how everyone’s coping with such a division.

Two singles bear mention this time round, both from recent Paste Magazine mPlayers: Grace Woodruffe’s “Battles” and “I Think I Like It” from The London Souls (which has apparently been around since 2008, so VERY late to the party here.) Embarrassingly, I know next to nothing about either of these artists, just that each had enough to grab my ear and make me want to know more.

Next to last, Zach Rogue’s Release the Sunbird sneaked up on me with an EP release fairly recently called Imaginary Summer. I was completely enthralled by their debut disc, so much so that I’ve evangelized about it to anyone and everyone that seemed remotely interested in hearing great new music (a smaller population than you might think.) This EP is even better than that initial collection. There’s a completely different vibe to it, which I might have normally have seen as a downside, a detriment to what they’d built so lovingly with the first experience. But it feels logical, a natural progression from that first batch. “Sunburn” was the first one to grab me- easily my favorite song of the year so far- followed quickly by “I Will Walk” and each of the remaining three. Not to be missed.

Which brings me to the live show I mentioned at the beginning.

I’ve been trying to see Girlyman since a good friend/work colleague turned me onto them over 5 years ago. I’d only been exposed to their chilling cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” but I could tell there was something magical there.

I added them to the growing list of artists to track- where and when they were playing live, when they had any new releases, the usual.

Turns out whenever they were playing in Atlanta, I was in Seattle. Whenever they were in the PNW I was back in Atlanta. On at least two separate occasions I’d already bought tickets to shows in Atlanta when one of their shows there was announced. I was convinced that I was just not destined to ever see them live.

Cut to February of 2012. Finding out I have a business trip that will take me to both NJ and Denver in March I begin combing the Interwebs for good shows in or near those cities on those dates. I find Bombay Bicycle Club at the Bowery Ballroom in NY- YES!- sold out. No! Jane’s Addiction- new album is VERY good- in Jersey! My flight leaves just before showtime. Wait- there’s an interesting-looking venue about an hour outside of Denver, way up in the mountains, and it looks like they have a show scheduled for the Friday I wrap up there.

It’s Girlyman.

I immediately snag a ticket, and within a day of that discovery I find that they’re also scheduled for Eddie’s Attic in May. Snag, round two.

When talking with fellow music fanatics I’ve always described Girlyman’s harmonies as being other-worldly, but they’re really not. They’re definitely borne of the human experience, and so utterly real and tangible as to peel back any cynicism and ennui that we may have layered up over the course of our lives. At the show at the Wildflower Pavilion in Lyons, CO (part of Planet Bluegrass’ stable of outstanding rustic venues, Telluride included) I was constantly amazed by the light and familiar banter between songs, the silly cabaret they’re so deftly weaving between such heart-wrenching and truth-baring odes to life, and love, and all that really matters.

They relied heavily on their latest recordings in the show, and rightly so. Supernova is deep and heavy and yet those harmonies and that sweetness- no matter who’s doing the driving- combine to form a delivery system that never misses its target. Ty’s “Break Me Slow” is one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard live. Hearing Doris on the new release’s title track, written without her recent medical travails in mind but meshing seamlessly with them, brings such reality home like nothing I’ve ever heard. Nate may be the most obviously enigmatic of the bunch- silly and broadly slapstick between each song, and so adroitly capable of spontaneous “tuning song” ramblings that are near perfect creations of topicality- yet once the songs start there can be no doubting that they spring from a deeply personal space. There’s nothing frivolous about any of their work once they get into it, and the sounds they conjure with those unorthodox vocal chords slice right through all the other detritus in their- and our- lives.

In buying their newest disc, and one other, I also got a collection of those “tuning songs,” and listened to it on the way back from a road trip into the Rockies today. Uber-funny and unfairly clever, they make for a perfect counterpoint to the beautiful weight of the rest of the Girlyman canon. (I also got all three discs signed by everyone, awesome drummer JJ included, and addressed to my daughters, to boot.)

See them if you can. They exemplify all that’s good and important about the live music experience.

Until next time-