Archive for the ‘Laconic indie’ Category

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Lord knows, I’ve tried

November 24, 2008

Jason Martin’s Starflyer 59 project has been the little band that could for 15 years now.  From early days as “the American My Bloody Valentine” through to recent low-key pop albums, they’ve attracted a pretty solid fan base and can generally be assured of positive write-ups with each new album.

For me, they peaked with 2003’s Old – which is unfortunate because their subsequent albums have been a little bit paint-by-numbers.  In particular, 2006’s My Island was lacklustre, if lifted by a couple of brilliant tunes.  Their latest, Dial M, has the distinctive 2000s Starflyer sound.  It’s all mid-tempos, simple drumbeats, laconic vocals and new-wave inspired guitars.   His lyrics are lightly self-mocking (“the kids want a faster beat” he sings).  It’s not a complete return to the Golden Age, but it’s got definite charm.

Sure, Jason Martin could record his after-dinner digestion sounds and I’d probably listen to it, but this one gives me hopes for a Starflyer resurgence.

Starflyer 59 – “M23”

Starflyer 59 – “Altercation”

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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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Pagan paens

July 26, 2008

If you’ve had your ear to ground, or really just if you’re on the internet, you’ve probably heard some of the buzz around Seattle’s Fleet Foxes.  They’re pretty much seen as the saviours of hipster folk pop – if that’s a genre urgently in need of saving.

For the most part, they’ve made a very pretty, bucolic album.  It sounds a lot like My Morning Jacket circa At Dawn or any other number of countrified acts that love their pop as much as they love steel guitars.  It’s not going to blow many minds that have experienced MMJ or the first Band of Horses album, for example.  But again, it’s mighty pretty-sounding.

The real stand-out to these ears, and the main point in the case for Fleet Foxes’ continued existence, is track two, “White Winter Hymnal”.  It starts off a bit like a fireside round singalong, a bit Brian Wilson, a bit hippie commune.  It’s the sense of unironic, Age of Aquarius exuberance that lifts up my spirits when I hear it.

Title notwithstanding, it doesn’t sound especially wintry.  Maybe it’s the sound of Spring, when the weather is just warm enough to get out and about in nature.  Fleet Foxes have given me just the song for emerging from hibernation.

Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal”

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The valley of the low son

July 24, 2008

If it’s hard living up to a famous parent, try living up to Bob Dylan.  Of course, Jakob Dylan must have given up ages ago.  Twelve years back he was a one hit wonder with The Wallflowers, now mostly forgotten.  Everyone would have written him off ages back, which at least takes away the pressure to perform.

It’s into this world of low expectations, that Dylan’s solo record of 2008 emerges.  Seeing Things is pretty unassuming, too.  No big rock numbers a la The Wallflowers.  No obvious tributes to dad’s heyday.  Dylan has recorded an acoustic folk album with a very moody, gothic sensibility.

The most obvious touchstone is Crooked Fingers’ darker-than-dark Americana.  Dylan even has the same semi-forced, awkward intonation and accent as Eric Bachmann and he loves to overuse the same words like “evil”.  Sometimes he’s more bluesy and catchy (like on “All Day and All Night”), but it’s a very restrained album and not a very happy one.

I’m not sure how many people are going to embrace this disc, but I hope it finds its market.  There’s certainly a place in my CD collection for a talented singer and guitarist who wants to explore the dark side.

Jakob Dylan – “Valley of the Low Sun”

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(Good) Cover Version

July 1, 2008

Covering obscure songs is an odd choice in some ways. After all, it doesn’t have the instant-recognition factor that will lead to major sales. And the fans that know the song are probably so damn precious about it that they’ll hate you for attempting it.

That was what happened to Mark Kozelek’s Tiny Cities (all Modest Mouse covers) and to a lesser extent the Twilight Singers’ She Loves You (various artists). They couldn’t ride the gimmicky wave that say Cake’s “I Will Survive” owned, and they managed to piss off a few indie purists along the way.

I think the new covers album by avant-folkie Adem should manage to get away with it, but only because the quality is really high. The choices for his album Takes are pretty left-field and mostly from the 90s/early 00s. Nothing too sacred there – but maybe the hipsters will still hate it.

A couple of favourite tracks of mine that he’s attempted are Pinback’s “Loro” – hardly a cult classic, even, but a great song – and Low’s “Laser Beam”. Pinback is pretty easy to pull off and to be fair, Adem doesn’t really change things. Low is harder, mainly because “Laser Beam” is such a classic example of Mimi Parker’s astonishing vocals. Still, he gives it a woozy soul that works almost as effectively. With this album, the initial impression may be that he hasn’t done anything remarkable – but each listen will turn up different angles.

Really, you should have a listen to all of it. There’s some Yo La Tengo, some Smashing Pumpkins and a brilliant Aphex Twin reworking.

Adem – “Loro”

Adem – “Laser Beam”

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Evil albums

June 10, 2008

I’ve been avoiding this post because it actually breaks my heart a little bit. I’d prefer to write a post complaining about the lack of a My Morning Jacket album in 2008, rather than having to write about the album that they’ve released.

Kentucky country-rockers MMJ won me over with It Still Moves in ’03 and Z in ’05 and made me look into their backcatalog with the barnstorming live set Okonokos. But honestly, the new album Evil Urges makes me wonder if this is the same band. I mean, they were never a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll band and they’ve mined some weird territory before, especially on Z, but it was alway good.

Now in the first three tracks we’re given barely warmed-up Prince parodies (“Highly Suspicious” – I’d rather not talk about it all) and only tolerable MMJ-by-numbers (“Evil Urges”). It all just seems lazy and contemptuous.

Still, it’s rare that a competent band produces an album that’s ALL bad, so we get the minor blessing of a pretty song like “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1”. Albums like this are what iTunes was invented for.

My Morning Jacket – “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1”