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Matt Costa: "Mr. Pitiful" single

Since October, I've been enjoying the first single from Matt Costa's upcoming album, Unfamiliar Faces (see previous post), to be released January 15.

"Mr. Pitiful" sees Matt Costa shifting from the guitar-based folk music of Songs We Sing to piano pop; whether the rest of Unfamiliar Faces will share in this change is yet to be seen. Though the song is a well-orchestrated piece of pop, it lacks the subtlety of even the weaker tracks on Costa's debut. With songs ranging from "Astair" to "Yellow Taxi" to "Cold December," Songs We Sing resided in a bleak lyrical landscape, capturing the idea that change, even for the better, always leaves something behind.

However the album ends up, I don't think Matt Costa has lost the songwriting ability that I've come to love - he's merely lost touch. He's contributed beautiful, stand-alone tracks to great soundtrack after great soundtrack since Songs We Sing's release in 2005 - I just hope the pop bliss of "Mr. Pitiful" isn't representative of the rest of Unfamiliar Faces.

Matt Costa - Mr. Pitiful [Unfamiliar Faces]
Matt Costa - Acting Like A Fool (highly rec'd!) [Matt Costa EP]
Matt Costa - The Road [A Brokedown Melody Soundtrack]

Pre-order Unfamiliar Faces from
Matt Costa's Website/Myspace

The Alarmists

The Alarmists - Light A Smoke [highly rec'd!]

Let's run down dark alleys holding hands, through the smell that lingers around restaurant kitchen doors, through the steam arising from the sewers. The night is ours, we're ignorant and unafraid.

Tomorrow morning the daylight will return to these streets, the wet asphalt will sparkle with rain to replace the winking stars. We'll be free of this city, riding in cars, on airplanes and trains. We'll have escaped, and the smoke will trail behind us like a cloak.

...And we'll celebrate with power chords. Fans of Bloc Party, watch out.

The Alarmists - Hired Gun
Buy the Ghost and the Hired Gun at (also iTunes)
The Alarmists' Website/Myspace

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John Bustine

John Bustine - Miss Amputee, West Culver County [alt link] [highly rec'd!]

Like the best of unhappy folk singers, John Bustine's rough-hewn voice wages war against the cheerful tones of his guitar strings, who love nothing more than the feel of his fingers and pick. I can imagine him somewhere in DC, sitting in a bar, drink in hand, his back against the wall, ignoring the yuppies and saying nothing.
You took your heels, your stitched up sleeves,
and your phantom pains on an unpaid leave;
but whatever led you to believe
there was more to life than this?

So go on, god speed:
go sail the mountains or climb the seas;
go be everything you deserve to be
as a statewide finalist.
John Bustine - This Guitar Says I'm Drunk [alt link]
Buy Waltzes and Pleas from Gypsy Eyes Records
John Bustine's Myspace

(Note for John Bustine: You don't have to be made of money to have a website...)

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Saturday Shuffle

I'm not sure if it's worth distinguishing these tracks considering how all of them are [download or die] worthy...however, I will note that my father loved the Sea Wolf track when I played it driving back from the airport three days ago.

Sea Wolf - I Made A Resolution
Randy Newman - He Gives Us All His Love
The Bicycles - B-B-Bicycles
The Cars - Just What I Needed
Hot Hot Heat - Oh, Goddamnit
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Pangea
The Raincoats - Lola
Califone - The Orchids
Apples in Stereo - Energy


Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra

Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra - Old People Don't Whisper

With its understated, playful use of the conventions of swing music, “Old People Don’t Whisper” is a song that pokes fun at itself with undeniably charming results. The line “we’ll just talk louder year after year” is followed by an articulation of the bass and brass section that edges on perfection. Just wait until you catch your reflection in the mirror, wielding an ear trumpet and a smile.

Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra - Bossy Man

Buy Mr. Softy from CD Baby
Ethan Lipton's Website/Myspace

BONUS: Louis Armstrong - Willie the Weeper

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The Wombats "Moving To New York"

Remember the excellent video for "Let's Dance to Joy Division"? Well, I like this new one too...especially how Matthew Murphy talks to his hampster.

A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation
was released on November 7th, and the single for "Moving to New York" is due out on January 14th. The band will be touring the UK through December.

The Wombats - Moving to New York
Buy A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation
The Wombats' Website/Myspace

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Ben Lee: so "Ripe" it hurts.

Heads up promo people: I don't like getting CDs in the mail (though there have been a few exceptions...). But someone somewhere was nice enough to put Ben Lee's newest album in the mail. My first thought: you can't go wrong with with a guy who toured with Ben Kweller (who I have the biggest crush on) and Ben Folds, right?

This statement turns out to be a bit wrong.
I normally don't go out and insult people who send me their music, but I think Ben Lee and his album sales and his handsomely-label-signed face can take it. Now, this is pop, so what's the problem?

Ben Lee, your cliches are killing me.
Take the first track off Ripe, "Love Me Like the World Is Ending."

Problem #1: The title.
Was this written for a "the-world-is-ending-so-let's-have-sex-now" action movie? Because it sounds like song in a bad romantic comedy, to be played during that scene where the lead character is running at his/her love interest having just had some earth-shattering realization. It's raining, Hugh Grant / Meg Ryan's (why have these two never been in a movie together?) hair is flying all over the place, etc. etc. etc.

Problem #2: The lyrics.
"This is the first day of the future" or "This is the last day of existence"? When did you become "welcome to existence" Switchfoot?
I hear the line "I wear a pair of socks you left here." and I think, okay, this could be cute... but then it's followed by, "But i know, i know, i know, nobody could ever fill your shoes." And then, the god-awful please-send-me-to-hell-now chorus which couldn't spare the word "baby" for someone else's beaten ears. It just had to tack it on.

Let me just say, in pop terms, "Love Me Like the World is Ending" actually sort of works...relative to other tracks on the album. It sounds earnest, though I secretly hope for the sake of future albums that Ben Lee is cringing while he's singing that song.
...and "Sex Without Love" and "Birds and Bees" are much, much worse.

"Numb" is by far the best track on the album, and is ...kind of nice. (Like your next door neighbor's daughter who always waves and smiles, but then she pops her collar and the next thing you know you're imagining your hands around her throat. Never mind.). However, by the time you tragically arrive at #6 and Ben Lee sings "I refuse to go numb," I'm starting to think there's some big painful cosmic joke that I'm not in on. Irony is death.

Ben Lee - Numb
Ben Lee - Love Me Like the World Is Ending
don't Buy Ripe at
Ben Lee's Website/Myspace

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Expecting Rain

Expecting Rain - Birthday Girl [highly rec'd!]
Lately it seems all good things folk- and country-related on TGH come out of Ohio. Expecting Rain, hailing from Columbus [correction: Cleveland], is no exception. "Birthday Girl" begins with a simple strummed chord on an acoustic guitar and I teeter on the edge of "oh no, not another Creedence Clearwater-wannabe" until the good-naturedly pop-py piano enters in, soon to be joined by Nick Tolar's simple, warm tenor. The country instrumentation develops ever so carefully, and the refrain of "Birthday Girl" is ever-so-slightly sweet without delving into bubblegum cliches.

Expecting Rain - Not Otherwise Specified [highly rec'd!]
download Saint Cecilia Sound System as a zip file
Expecting Rain's Website/Myspace

By the way: Happy Thanksgiving! Just think, the turkey could have been our national bird...
1776 Original Soundtrack - The Egg (and the Eaglet)

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Joe here!
So I promised some more music--here's the first of the lot.

Catherine and Allison Pierce, Wikipedia tells me, used to record folk rock. Their records didn't sell well and their label was prepared to drop them. They thought they were on their way out, and decided to have fun with their next album.

The result, released in March, is Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge, a hypnotic pop record built on dark harmony, darker lyrics, and dark pop-folk instrumentation. Yes, "dark" may just be the best adjective for the record. "Cynical," "aggressive," and "catchy as hell" would also fit well.

This should give you the idea:

The Pierces - Lies
The Pierces - Kill! kill! kill!

Buy Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge from Amazon.
Download Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge from Amazon.

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(source of the title)
Every song in this post is "download or die," but I shouldn't have to tell you that.
Thank you, Ryan Adams. I can't count the nights that I've been comforted by the rough edges in your voice, by the terseness of your words. You turned 33 two weeks ago, so this is my way of saying happy birthday.

Ryan Adams - Wish You Were Here

Yes, Rock N Roll was released in 2003, and yes, I've been listening to this song on repeat for the past two weeks. Some of you who have been with me longer will know that I think you can listen to a song time and time again and never really hear it, that sometimes you have to wake up to a piece of music. For me, it's always unexpected.

There's a certain tension between knowing exactly what you dislike about someone, hating what their flaws do to them, but realizing that the whole package is something you'd ache for if you didn't have it. "Wish you were here" plays on this notion, beginning with a vindictive tone of "Cotton candy and a rotten mouth / You know you're so fucked up" and sliding unexpectedly into "You know I couldn't help but have it for you." The ending is perfect in much the same way:
And if I could have my way
We'd take some drugs
And we'
The word smile becomes a declaration, a biting rebellion against uncertainty. It's what I'm planning on doing while things remain unresolved.

Ryan Adams - Nobody Girl

There's chill that comes each November and creeps into your bones; it's not the cold. It's the loneliness: of the bare trees and the wind blowing at your skin in through your clothes, exposing the weakness in your coat of winter armor. No matter how much time you spend drinking steaming liquids at kitchen tables and in cafes, the chill will be waiting for you when you step out the door. Whether you share someone else's warmth or sleep on your own, there's a certain implicit denial: nothing can protect you from tomorrow.
Well, the night makes moves
And it shatters like broken glass
Better play it cool... better let it pass
Have you been screening your smokes?
And whispers in an all night bar
Better off as the fool
Than the owner of that kind of heart
They don't know you anyway
They don't know you and they don't watch you walk away
What makes "Nobody Girl" perfect is a small twist of logic: Yes, you're fragile. You'll be hurt, you'll be lonely, but it's okay: no one ever knew you anyway.
Sometimes, it's heart-breakingly comforting.

Ryan Adams - Halloweenhead
Ryan Adams - Come Pick Me Up

Ryan Adams' Website/Myspace

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The updates are coming, the music is here.

I keep feeling bad about not writing here more often, but then I think: guess what? It's been a tough semester.

I've been enjoying the new (not-so-new by blogger standards) Sea Wolf, Weakerthans, Maritime, and Georgie James albums a good deal.

Georgie James: Places
I was a little disappointed by the Georgie James album for basically the same reason I initially had problems with the Broken String. With Places, I'd become so attached to the sound of the EPs that the changes in the songs bothered me a bit. And unlike BA's more successful EP compressing attempt, the studio revamp sounded awfully overdone and just a bit too...straight-edge? I like rough edges to my pop.

Georgie James - Places
Buy Places from Saddle Creek
George James' Website/Myspace

Sea Wolf: Leaves in the River
Here's the way I usually get into albums: there'll be a track or two I'll slowly let seep into my music-listening habits. Sometimes it will get to the point where I can't help but buy a whole album; sometimes I'll just settle with a few more tracks from eMusic, iTunes, more sketchy sources. Sea Wolf is a great example of where this method leads to success (see previous posts), and also serves as a case study of why bands should leak tracks before an album's release. Leaves in the River is well on its way to making my list of this year's best releases - my only critique is that the introductions on a number of songs, including "The Rose Captain" and "Neutral Ground" are just a little off, not to mention too long.

Sea Wolf - the Promise [bonus track]
Buy Leaves in the River from Insound
Sea Wolf's Website/Myspace

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Concert Review: The Blow @ The studenthouse, Copenhagen 11/9

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Studenthouse bar (University of Copenhagen's student bar) and suddenly saw Khaela Maricich doing her sound test on stage. Well, it turned into quite a night. This is, of course, Khaela Maricich aka "Get The Hell Out of the Way of The Volcano" aka "Get The Hell Out of the Way of the Wave" aka The Blow. This small bar was the last stop of The Blow's European tour. On the question of "Why end in Denmark?" (The country is smack in the middle of Europe.) Khaela told me that she actually lived in Demark for a time and knows (some) Danish. (This is more impressive then it sounds, Danish is a really difficult language.)

The show was something amazing. I usually am not a fan of artists who use only recorded beats and their voice at shows, but Khaela made it something special. One thing that sets her apart: her dancing. She was *beep*ing fantastic. It is possibly the first time I've seen good dancing at an indie concert. Also, Khaela weaved in narratives of how to write songs when she wasn't singing. This was a bit silly and often heartbreaking, but it gave such character to the set. We listened and we believed. We tried to figure out what song would be next. We were treated to an a cappella version of "My Sharona" (also awesome). I at least felt like these stories gave me some connection to Khaela. The fact that she probably tells the same story to every audience, and yet I still felt like she was saying something special, is a testament to her ability.

Of course the music was amazing, as expected. We laghed, we cried, we danced our asses off. See her if you can!

I think I have a new indie music crush. (Yes, I know she's gay. I can dream, can't I?)

Recommended reading:
Miranda July interviews Khaela for The Believer June/July 2007 (music issue)
An interview with the song "Hey Boy" <--Highly recommended Musik: Bonjour Jeune Fille - The Blow
Parenthesis - The Blow

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Follow the Lights

Joe here. I've been away for a while keeping up with school, but I've got a handful of new albums to post on now, so you'll be hearing from me a little more.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals are back from a 4-month break (a long time for Ryan) with a new EP, Follow the Lights.

Easy Tiger, released late June (my review here), was a great album, but it was not quite in keeping with the style that Ryan and the Cardinals have been developing since Cold Roses (Ryan has since said that the record was produced under pressure from his label and not the album he wanted to make). Carried through Jacksonville City Nights and in excellent form on Willie Nelson's Songbird (my review here), the Cardinals' sound is something like a mist of guitars adorned by two- or more-part harmony on the choruses.

On Easy Tiger, which was a collection of different styles that Ryan's played from time to time, from the folk of "Pearls on a String" to what the critics like to call "stadium rock" on "Halloweenhead," a minority of the songs (three, maybe four) really sound like a logical progression from what the Cardinals had been playing before. Indeed, on tour Ryan and the Cardinals have been playing the songs from Tiger in a style that makes more sense given their previous albums.

Follow the Lights returns to their style as it has been evolving. From Cold Roses to Jacksonville, they backed off a little on the guitars, and Lights is a clear progression from Jacksonville by way of "Two" off of Tiger. There are only a couple new songs (the others from previous albums or unreleased sessions that get passed around online), "Follow the Lights" and "My Love For You Is Real", but all the songs benefit from being re-recorded by the Cardinals as they refine their style. It's also nice to have a Ryan & the Cardinals recording of "Blue Hotel," a song that Ryan wrote for Willie's Songbird, which he produced and the Cardinals played on.

If you're new to Ryan, or you haven't been sure up to now, Follow the Lights is a great place to start: it's short and focused, it's got a great selection of songs with no real weak points. If you aren't new to Ryan, you need to buy this EP now. Of course, anybody who isn't new to Ryan probably doesn't need to be told that.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Follow the Lights (download or die)
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - This Is It (strongly recommended)

Buy Follow the Lights from Amazon.
Download Follow the Lights from Amazon.

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