Archive for October, 2008

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Still fond

October 31, 2008

One of my favourite bands of jerky indie popsters are Auckland’s Cut Off Your Hands.  To my ears, they’ve got more memorable songs and more charisma than a lot of similar bands.  I read a review of their debut album You and I that asked “Do we really need another Kaiser Chiefs?”  Probably not, but Cut Off Your Hands are a lot more than a rip-off of better-known artists.

Oddly, the album doesn’t include the track of the same name, the energetic little number that won over quite a few listeners back in 2006.  That disappointment is only minor, because some of the great songs off last year’s Blue on Blue EP are included, as well as some excellent new tracks.

The band have clearly discovered the 1960s in the meantime, because the new tracks bear the marks of a lot of time spent listening to Pet Sounds.  It works well – these songs are lot sweeter and more endearing than most punky pop of the moment.  There are also a couple of downbeat songs that look at spritual disillusionment.  It’s a creative and catchy disc and I’m putting in an early nomination for Album of the Southern Hemisphere Summer.

Cut Off Your Hands – “Turn Cold”

Cut Off Your Hands – “Heartbreak”

Cut Off Your Hands – “Oh Girl”

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Arena

October 28, 2008

Montreal’s The Stills were in the right place at the right time.  When they dropped Logic Will Break Your Heart in 2003, they sat on top of a wave of anthemic 80s influenced moody rock.  One year after Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights and one year before The Killers’ Hot Fuzz, they were pretty much the mid point between the darker tendencies of the former and the populism of the latter.

That’s mostly faded and fashions have moved on.  So have The Stills, more or less.  They’re still in love with shimmery verses and big crashing choruses.  They remain the quintessential indie arena band – not yet popular enough for the venues their music demands.

This year’s album Oceans Will Rise is full of hooks and drama.  It doesn’t have a stand-out to match their epic “Lola Stars And Stripes”, but if you loved that song there’s plenty in the same vein – like the sweetly angsty “Being Here”.  They also push their sound in a few new directions – even if those directions are still influenced by British bands of the 1980s.  Opener “Don’t Talk Down” is a great piece of Police-ish reggae pop.

The Stills – “Being Here”

The Stills – “Don’t Talk Down”

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Sharing a Gibson

October 21, 2008

When I first saw a live show by Lambchop, self-described as “Nashville’s most fucked-up country band”, they won me over in an instant.  Kurt Wagner’s testicular growl filled the room and his band’s slow-burn take on country pop was nothing less than incandescent.

After watching them hypnotise a room, Lambchop’s recorded output sounded a little bit flat.  They haven’t been helped by a couple of albums that were a bit same-ish, especially 2006’s Damaged.  They’re pretty songs, but they didn’t reach out of the stereo and force you to pay attention.

The best thing about their new album, OH (ohio), is that it’s the closest thing to their live show I’ve heard in years.  The production is warm and immediate.  The instrumentations are subtly complex, but not so subtle that you miss them on first or second listen.  Wagner is his wry, grouchy best.  It’s like they’re putting on a little show in your living room.

The stand-out track for me is “A Hold Of You”, which shimmers like the best moments of The Clientele and is so full of aching emotion you want to play it again and again until your heart calms down.   The whole album is impressive – perfect for late nights in big cities.  They’ve made a believer out of me once more.

Lambchop – “A Hold Of You”

Lambchop – “Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr.”

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The Master of Miserable

October 16, 2008

There have always been two Damien Jurados.  One is the freewheeling troubador, with raucous country pop songs like “Honey Baby” or “Letters and Drawings” off Rehearsals For Departure.  The other is the poet of cheated husbands with short-fuse tempers – or just about anyone whose life is plumbing the depths.

His last album, And Now That I’m In Your Shadow, was all the second and his darkest work in years.  It was beautiful and wise and pristine, but it had the potential to send you into a major depression for months.  Fortunately for my therapy bills, his 2008 album Caught In The Trees is a more upbeat work.  That’s a relative term for Damien Jurado, but his cynicism is at least matched with some lively tempos this time around.  “Gillian Was A Horse” is a pretty good example – stomping along while detailing some pretty shady characters.  Second track “Trials” is a lot slower, but it’s easily the prettiest song he’s recorded in half a decade.

It’s a pretty good place to start if you’re just discovering him – and an even better opportunity to come back if he’s lost you a bit in recent years.

Damien Jurado – “Gillian Was A Horse”

Damien Jurado – “Trials”

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A song to make you weep

October 15, 2008

It’s absurd to think that I only discovered Josh Rouse in June, considering how much I’ve become obsessed with him.  Maybe it’s the easy familiarity of his music.  It’s not Japanese noisenik tech-house or anything – it’s intelligent, laidback pop music of the kind that you and your dad can agree on.  This is a serious compliment, as far as I’m concerned.

He hit the ground running with a stellar run of albums and EPs in the early century – now anthologised in The Rykodisc Years, a pretty impressive double-CD compilation of his work to 2005.  Singles like “Comeback (Light Therapy)” and “Dressed Up Like Nebraska” have been crying out to be on a Best Of since about 1974 or whenever Lindsey Buckingham or the Bee Gees almost wrote them.  They are that good.

There are also some nice odds-and-sods: an acoustic version of “Sad Eyes” (one of my favourite Rouse numbers), a demo of “Christmas With Jesus” and his early EP Bedroom Classics Vol. 1, which stand up pretty well against the “hits”.  It’s a good introduction to Rouse, although you might as well do what I did when I discovered him and track down every track you can find.

Josh Rouse – “A Song To Help You Sleep”

Josh Rouse – “Sad Eyes (Bedroom Classics version)”

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Is this the future?

October 13, 2008

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I go through phases of indifference to music.  While I still listen to it, it doesn’t move me and I’m really only pressing play out of habit.  And then a band comes along and shakes you out of your ennui.  Like the first time I heard Silent Alarm.

New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus have done something like that for me this weekend.  My ipod was skipping through some new music on random and out of my speakers blasted an epic of distorted fury – with a real tune half-hidden within it.

There’s something a little pretentious about this band: barely out of high school, with a band name ripped from an obscure Shakespeare play and song titles like “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus'”.  Lucky they’ve got the chops to live up to their own hype.

They’re like an angrier Broken Social Scene – all shambolic, noisy singalongs with a triumphalist vibe that makes you want to declare a national holiday.

If you’re looking for something to shake you out of your October blahs, I’m happy to give you my prescription.

Titus Andronicus – “No Future Part Two: The Day After No Future”

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Ode to joy

October 5, 2008

While he’s nowhere near as famous as fellow Gothenburg resident Jens Lekman (a Goodnight Believer favourite), Kristoffer Ragnstam is a pop songwriter to watch.  He’s got a knack for writing songs that bypass melody and obvious hooks – but still manage to worm their way into your ear.

Case in point was last year’s “Breakfast By The Mattress”.  It starts off with Ragnstam’s curious falsetto and some noodly drum work.  Then the pieces start to come together and it somehow becomes a delicious bit of retro-pop confectionary.

This year, he’s doing it all again, particularly with a song called “Swing That Tambourine”.  He’s a little bit more obtrusive this time, especially with the rambunctious chorus, but it still avoids a lot of pop music cliches.  This is the kind of intelligent, engaging pop music that Phoenix were doing so brilliantly on their last album.  You’ll be shouting along in no time at all.

Kristoffer Ragnstam – “Breakfast By The Mattress”

Kristoffer Ragnstam – “Swing That Tambourine”