Hopefully one of my guest contributors will see this as an grand opportunity for a blog coup d'etat ("gosh, Kate has such awful taste in music...") - both claim to have posts in the works. Anyway, all of these tracks are at least "highly rec'd!"
Hums to you all,
Sun Kill Moon - Carry Me Ohio
Randy Newman - Dayton, Ohio 1903
Limbeck - In Ohio Some Steps [download or die!]
The Avett Brothers - Letter to A Pretty Girl
Ralph Stanley & Charlie Waller - Banks of the Ohio
The National Lights - O, Ohio
Cut Off Your Hands - Oh Girl [highly rec'd!]
Cut Off Your Hands - Still Fond [highly rec'd!]
Buy Shaky Hands EP from Amazon.com
(I have no idea how to purchase their newest EP in the states)
Cut Off Your Hands' Myspace
Cut Off Your Hands "You and I"
Okkervil River "Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe"
I know I haven't done a very good job blogging about Okkervil River's newest album, The Stage Names (released August 7th), but that doesn't mean I haven't been digging it.
Okkervil River - Unless It's Kicks [highly rec'd]
Buy The Stage Names from Insound
I posted about the Wombats' upcoming single for "Let's Dance To Joy Division" two days ago, but I didn't realize there was already a music video for it.
Repost: The Wombats - Let's Dance to Joy Division
(original post) The song is, of course, [download or die].
Band of Horses - Is There A Ghost? [download or die]
Pre-order Cease to Begin at Insound
If you like Band of Horses, I'd say you're pretty much guaranteed to love this track from Middle Distance Runner's upcoming EP. They're DC-based, and I believe once-upon-a-time I caught them live by sneaking into Iota; I had to, seeing how it's a 21 and over sort of establishment...
(thanks for the track goes to Joe over at Instrumental Analysis)
Middle Distance Runner - The Sun and Earth [highly rec'd]
Middle Distance Runner's Website/Myspace
On a really random note, Middle Distance Runner needs to get some better press photos. Just thought I'd mention that.
Hailing from L.A., the Deadly Syndrome seem to have that typically Californian attitude about their music that's both blazing with energy and incredibly blasé (maybe it's just a stereotype, but it made for a good pun - and, honestly, I'll say just about anything if it makes a good pun).
Some evidence (from their myspace):
Influences: Silence, obviously. Otherwise what would we have to fill with our lovely tunes? Well, your hearts and minds, but you get the idea. Next up we have Ebola - not only for being scary as shit, but for showing us the true meaning of deadly. Moving on, here at the DS we're big believers in Chaos Theory, some of our lesser known influences are an acorn falling from an oak tree in Ireland, circa 1312,...[it goes on like this for a good bit]So the story goes: I really like their song "Eucalyptus." I also really like their song "Winter in You." The two songs sound like they could have been written by two different bands with no connection whatsoever; the same goes with their other songs I've heard. So here comes the comparison: sometimes they sound just teeny-tiny little bit like Modest Mouse. Their debut album, The Ortolan, will be released on September 11. To which I say: bitches ain't shit.
The Deadly Syndrome - Eucalyptus [highly rec'd]
The Deadly Syndrome - Winter In You
Pre-order the Ortolan from Amazon.com
The Deadly Syndrome's Website/Myspace
How to make a cool Deadly Syndrome Show Ghost. See photo on the left.
Labels: deadly syndrome
Just a note: I've been packing and finishing house-type projects for the past few days because I'll be leaving for Oberlin on Saturday (the joy of the 9-hour drive!). I'm seriously looking forward to getting back to Obie-land, where hippies and hipsters roam free in their natural habitats. The posting will be sketchy for the next 5 or 6 days, but stick with me - things should get back to normal by next Tuesday. There's no lack of bands I'd like to post about, just a shortage of time.
Noah & the Whale
I've been smiling at these British fellows' music all week - it would have been perfect for the Life Aquatic. Think low-fi goodness geared towards sing-a-longs, complete with handclaps and tambourines. The band's first single (it's of an EP length) is due out September 24th.
[the 1st track is highly rec'd!]
Noah & the Whale - 5 years time
Noah & the Whale - Jocasta
Pre-order 5 years time single
Noah & the Whale's Myspace
Or, The Whale
Good alternative country and folk rock (whatever term floats your boat) seems to come from all directions - in this case it's from San Francisco, and it's accessible and unpretentious, catchy and enjoyable. I'm thinking it'll be perfect for the long drive to Ohio, especially since I'll be with my favorite Bob Dylan fan.
Or, the Whale - Call and Response
Or, the Whale - Fixin' to Leave
Buy Light Poles and Pines at the band's myspace
Or, The Whale's Website/Myspace
Bonus: White Whale - O'William, O'Sarah
Andrew Bird - Fiery Crash
This is my favorite song of the blog year thus far. I'm always been amazed at the way Andrew Bird makes lines like "beige tiles and magazines / Lou Dobbs and the CNN team" work as part of his narrative. In the case of "Fiery Crash" the narrative is a sarcastic one. The world could end any moment now, so "to save all our lives you've got to envision / the fiery crash." The song plays as a big musical joke on the current terrorism-fearing security complex: it's "just a nod to mortality / before you get on a plane."
It remains a mystery to me why when music critics (bloggers are guilty too) talk about the National, for example, their music is spoken of as innately political. When Andrew Bird in the artist in question, we get the "multi-instrumentalist", the man who whistles, who recorded his album in a big barn, spending months by himself without any music but his own. No mention of his commentary on the current state of world affairs.
(Update: I forgot to mention - Happy birthday John McCain!)
Labels: Andrew Bird
Two Hours Traffic - Stuck for the Summer [alt link] [download or die]
Two Hours Traffic - Nighthawks (highly rec'd)
Buy Little Jabs (eMusic also has it)
Two Hours Traffic's Website/Myspace
Two Hours Traffic "Jezebel" - the music video is funny in a cheesy way.
Let's dance to Joy Division!The Wombats - Let's Dance to Joy Division [download or die]
and celebrate the irony
Everything is going wrong
But we're so happy!
Pre-order the single!
The Wombats' Website/Myspace
The Wombats - Patricia the Stripper
The Wombats - Moving to New York
BONUS: Scissor Sisters - Paul McCartney
But it's a shame when Ryan Ferguson, formerly of No Knife, releases his first solo album and no one except 3hive (not bad, but still) seems to give him notice. His music fits nicely into the label record stores will place him under - "Pop/Rock" - but if you go into his music with that term in mind you may find that it surprises you.
The ground he covers is well-tread; "Remission" deals with forgiveness, "X's and O's" with the classic motif of obsessing over someone you've barely met. The record feels like a matured version of today's pop punk bands, the same material covered in a more thoughtful way, for an older set. The music is familiar, good for head-bobbing, I've even caught myself starting to sing along. Good in a straightforward sort of way.
Ryan Ferguson - Remission
Ryan Ferguson - X's and O's
Buy Only Trying to Help from Amazon.com
Ryan Ferguson's Website/Myspace
MOKB posted the music video for "None Shall Pass" by Aesop Rock, and it is so kick-ass!
...anyway, I'm in a bit of a rut lately with the music I've been posting here, and I'm attempting to finish up things here and pack to go to Oberlin on Saturday. Packing is one of my least favorite activities in the world, so...
NPR has a recording of Josh Ritter's concert in Philadelphia on August 24th.
YANP posted some YouTube videos of Tapes 'n Tapes playing new songs. Exciting, no?
Eardrums Music compiled its mixes for each day of the week.
I love Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Sitting Here Listening to This Recording, although it can be a bit pretentious at times. More specifically, I wish I had written Molly's post on Jose Gonzalez, because it's that excellent.
B-fork, even though everybody loves to hate you, you all sure know how to write completely kick-ass negative reviews. Take This is Next (the Indie Now! compilation) and Under The Blacklight for example.
A: I have no idea. But it's the name of Eskimo & Sons' first EP, so maybe they know.
Sweet piano and guitar pop is the way of Eskimo & Sons, Danielle Sullivan's dulcet vocals providing the driving force of songs that are effortlessly perfect, with instrumentation that, rather than striving to keep up, only seeks to complement. It works! This is a feat all indie pop bands strive to achieve, but few pull off to quite this degree. Apparently the boys in the band begged and begged Danielle to join their ranks, and goodness, I'm so glad they did. Hailing from Portland, Oregon...they're not Canadian!
(If you read this shit regularly, you'll know that I write about Canadians and Swedes constantly, and being neither Canadian nor Swedish, why I do this is a mystery to me. If you don't read TGH regularly, now you know.)
Eskimo & Sons - No Shit (highly rec'd!)
Eskimo & Sons - The Blizzard
Buy How does it feel to be crushed by one man with the strength of a million? EP
Eskimo & Sons' Website/Myspace
Snowden - Anti-Anti [download or die]
Iggy Pop & the Stooges - I Am A Passenger
The Format - Do You Believe in Magic? (cover)
David Bowie - Suffragette City (m4a, sorry)
Tap Tap - 100,000 Thoughts
Minus the Bear - Throwin' Shapes
Elefant - Misfit
The Acorn - Plates and Saucers
Violent Femmes - Blister in the Sun
We Are Scientists - It's A Hit
The Fake Fictions - Time Machine
The Spinto Band - Japan is an Island
Paul Simon - Kodachrome
M. Ward - Helicopter
Repost: The Teeth - The Coolest Kid In School (highly rec'd)
After Justin Rice said this was his favorite song in the world at the moment in the interview I posted earlier this week, I started listening to this song obsessively. I'm starting to feel like the Teeth makes punk for the type of depressed kids who show up in Belle and Sebastian songs.
9.13.07 - London, England - Barfly
9.14.07 - Birmingham, England - Sunflower Lounge
9.15.07 - Leeds, England - Royal Park Cellars
9.16.07 - Manchester, England - Night & Day
9.17.07 - Nottingham, England - Red Room
9.18.07 - Rotterdam, Netherlands - Rotown
10.3.07 - Brooklyn, NY. - Europa - w/Twin Thousands
10.4.07 - Troy, NY. - Revolution Hall - w/Ted Leo Rx
10.5.07 - Montreal, Quebec - Main Hall - w/Ted Leo Rx - Part of the Pop Montreal Festival
10.6.07 - Ottawa, Ontario - Barrymore - w/Ted Leo Rx
10.7.07 - Toronto, Ontario - The Mod Club - w/Ted Leo Rx
***10.8.08 - Cleveland, OH. - Beachland Ballroom - w/Ted Leo Rx and Man Man***
It's the same day Of Montreal is coming to Oberlin, so there's no way I'm going, unfortunately.
10.22.07 - Chapel Hill, NC. - Local 506 - w/Le Loup
10.23.07 - Atlanta, GA - Drunken Unicorn - w/Le Loup
10.24.07 - Orlando, FL - Taste - w/Le Loup
10.26.07 - Baton Rouge, LA - Spanish Moon - w/Le Loup
10.27.07 - Austin, TX - The Mohawk - w/Le Loup
10.29.07 - Phoenix, AZ - Modified - w/Aqueduct and Jacob Ide
10.30.07 - San Diego, CA - The Casbah - w/Tristeza and Aqueduct
10.31.07 - Los Angeles, CA - The Echo - w/Tristeza and Aqueduct
11.1.07 - San Francisco, CA - Rickshaw Stop - w/Aqueduct
11.3.07 - Portland, OR. - Holocene - w/Aqueduct and Saturday Looks Good To Me
11.4.07 - Seattle, WA. - Crocodile Cafe - w/Aqueduct
11.6.07 - Salt Lake City, UT. - Kilby Court - w/Aqueduct
11.7.07 - Denver, CO. - Hi Dive - w/Aqueduct
11.9.07 - Grinnell, IA - Gardner Lounge/Main Hall - w/Aqueduct
11.10.07 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry - w/Aqueduct
11.11.07 - Chicago, IL. - Schubas Tavern - w/Aqueduct
***11.16.07 - Washington, D.C. - Black Cat - w/Aqueduct***
(more tour date details here)
I'm not bragging or anything, but I also recently realized that Dar Williams and Animal Collective are coming to Oberlin during the first week of classes. Okay, I am bragging. Be jealous.
Draw a distance. Draw a border. places humorless, tension-fraught lyrics, written in complete sentences, over the backdrop of a vast musical landscape, with instrumentation that is imposing enough to advertise that the band's music must have some deeper meaning. The combination is a dangerous one, as likely to result in utter failure as success. The Details achieve the latter on a little less than half the album, but considering the scope of their attempt, I'd say that's worthy of notice.
The album concerns itself a good deal with the consequences of war and the politics behind it - personalizing all three, a formula that has been successful for the National and (occasionally) John Vanderslice. This doesn't work for the Details, who are at their best in songs that deal solely with the personal, not the personalized. Slow numbers don't work too well for them either, though oftentimes their best songs begin in quiet and build to a climax. They're Canadian, and I'm starting to wonder... maybe there's a Canadian musical conspiracy going down? Like Mike over at Obscure Sound, I wouldn't be surprised if they made it to radio.
The Details - Always, Always, Always, Never.
The Details - Capture and Develop
Draw a distance. Draw a border. will be released on September 25th.
The Details' Myspace
On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto, as it turns out, is not a planet. It was a terrible, terrible day for our solar system.
Clare & the Reasons - Pluto (highly rec'd)
Blair - Halfmoon (Pluto EP)
...it says so on her myspace, Blair named her first EP after Pluto was deemed a "Dwarf Planet." Dwarf planet my ass. Previous post on Blair.
My favorite portion of Holst's "The Planets" (he didn't include poor Pluto):
Montreal Symphony Orchestra - Mercury, the Winged Messenger
***I probably would have read more nerdy physics books if I hadn't gotten caught on a biography phase, which meant reading Howard Sounes' Dylan biography, Adam Feinstein's biography of Pablo Neruda, Bob Spitz's Beatles biography...then The Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum, which isn't a biography at all. I managed to finish Robert Caro's book on Lyndon B. Johnson, Master of the Senate last fall before I became too overwhelmed with school work and stopped reading for fun for 6 months.
........DAMN, I'm a fox.
It was probably around the time of More Adventurous (data to back me up), because then she went and made an country album with the Watson Twins, which I thoroughly enjoyed, whether I wanted to or not. I think the idea was, "I'm so hot, not even a good girl persona can contain my hotness. Vegas is in the south, right? Just because I grew up in L.A. doesn't mean I can't be a bona fide country singer."
As for Under The Blacklight:
In early Rilo Kiley albums, Jenny Lewis always had this sweet, slightly affected, innocent-sounding voice. That got thrown out the window. Awkward sexuality? Flushed down the toilet. You wanted it, you got it. And "Silver Lining" is the consolation prize for those of us who didn't.
(Update: It seems a lot of the people who commented on this post somehow missed the last sentence. Or the sarcasm. More importantly, the point. I don't like to use the phrase "sold out", but in the case of Jenny Lewis, if the shoe fits...)
Rilo Kiley - Smoke Detector
Rilo Kiley - Silver Lining
Buy Under the Blacklight from Insound
Rilo Kiley's Website/Myspace
older, better Rilo Kiley:
Rilo Kiley - Portions for Foxes
Rilo Kiley - The Execution of All Things
Rilo Kiley - August
I've been living in a cesspool of mediocre music lately thanks to all these lovely submissions I keep getting, and Yoni Gordon came along a few days ago to pull me out of the pit. Get this: the man is the living reincarnation of the not-dead-yet Ted Leo. He must get sick of the comparison, but it's unbelievably true.
Punk rock (I'm talking about the music, not the ideology, angry-comment-leaving people) lives on despite the modern heresies of "pop punk" and emo on one side and extremists of hardcore ____ and ____core (fill in the blank) on the other. I'm talking 70's punk, angry and head-bobbingly good.
Yoni Gordon & the Goods - The Runaway [highly rec'd!]
Yoni Gordon & the Goods - Up the Punks [alt link] (m4a, sorry)
Buy Buried in the Basement from Amie Street (also iTunes, I hate to admit)
Yoni Gordon & the Goods' Website/Myspace
Yoni Gordon & the Goods playing "In A Jam/Blow It Away" live
Belle and Sebastian - Stop, Look, and Listen
Right Away, Great Captain - Night, Marry You
The only ocean I’ve ever lived on is hot in the summertime, painfully hard, full of steel and glass and rubber, those strange machines that live at sixty miles an hour. For the past few weeks I’ve lived on an island on the 81 coast, the shores are green but the sprawl is ugly. There are bays and harbors everywhere, with white lines for buoys. It makes DC look like
Before you listen to this song, try this: imagine you’re on a ship, your crew mates at close quarters, friends by the force of proximity, and the person you care about the most lives entirely in your imagination for months on end. You tell yourself stories, you write songs because to utter the words out loud would force you to confront the part of yourself you had to cut off and put away to live. The alternative is to stay in bed all day. The Bitter End lives in this imagined world, and the resulting music is brilliant.
Josh Ritter - The Last Temptation of Adam
Ever since my little sister heard of someone getting stuck in an elevator she's avoided them as much as she can. I've always thought getting stuck with someone for long enough without hope for an end - in an elevator, on a desert island, in a car on a road trip - would forge an interesting friendship, the kind that most commonly occurs when you've grown up with someone.
"The Last Temptation of Adam" takes this idea and places it in the Cold War in the wake of the Atomic bomb. I think I understand the title, being one of the last two people on earth would be a little like being one of the first two people on earth, and therein lies the temptation. When Josh Ritter sings "Our love would live a half-life on the surface"...well, don't we all have some memorable half-life's of our own? I'm sure I still have some of the resulting radiation poisoning.
Buy the Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter from Amazon.com (released August 21)
Josh Ritter's Website/Myspace
I became hooked on the New Pornographers as a teenager at a time when I was trying to maintain the delicate balance any ambitious teenager with strict parents strives for, knowing that to escape you first have to succeed academically. The New Pornographers were both subversive and almost garish; I saw them as being more sophisticatedly rebellious than 70's punk or anything played on the radio, and it didn't hurt that you could throw a one-person dance party to them. Mass Romantic and Electric Version were filled with great rock numbers, suitable for a good head-bobbing any day.
The change in Challengers began as an experiment in Twin Cinema, which contained the first successful New Pornographers' songs that were slower, their appeal more subtle. My favorite song off the album today is still "The Bleeding Heart Show," which I wrote my one year anniversary post about last year. "Streets of Fire", "These Are the Fables", and "Bones of An Idol" should have been the other warning signs for Challengers, but at the time they were hailed as signs that the New Pornographers had developed their sound - we still had enough high-quality rock numbers to balance them out.
Bill (who, again, I'm in debt to) quoted this paragraph from Carl (A.C.) Newman's interview with B-fork a few months back, but I'm going to quote it for an entirely different purpose:
It definitely sounds like something that, when it's quiet, I think it's much quieter than it ever has been, to the point that there are actually songs that don't really have any drums. Or, a song that has no drums for the first half, but then the drums come in, and even then they don't come in that much. There's a little more instrumentation than we've really tried having before. We brought in a string quartet, and there's actually flute on it, there's going to be a little bit of trumpet. I feel like I kind of shied away from that in the past, but I thought, why not try it now? There was a long stretch there where I thought there were too many bands with strings and horns and flutes. Then I thought, I like those instruments, so I brought them in. Not that there's going to be that much of it on the record, per se, but you know, just wanted to add a few more colors to the palette."Why not try it now?" is really just a cop-out for, "Well, I didn't want to try to sound like The Arcade Fire when it was all the rage, but I think it's safe to try it now." Is he trying to conform? As it turns out, in the same interview, Newman calls Mass Romantic "a strange, garage-y, really dense record" like it's a bad thing, and says of the New Pornographers "I don't think I ever really wanted us to be a pop punk band; I never even really wanted us to be a power pop band. If we're any kind of power band, I kind of want it to be a power folk band." Why this didn't bother me when I read it a few months ago is a bit of a mystery, I think I was still just excited that there was going to be a new album at all.
Back to the point - let me just point out a few things real quickly: being a power folk band doesn't mean cutting down on the drums! If anything, The New Pornographers have moved from being a rock or power pop band to being a orchestral pop sort of band! They can't be the Beatles! No one, no matter how hard they try, can be the Beatles. I don't even like the White Album. Challengers needed, say, at least two numbers that simply rocked and were 3 minutes long, and I think I could have gone for it. Exchange "Go Places" for something more like "Use It" and "Failsafe" for something more like "The Laws Have Changed" and the album would have been one of this year's best releases. Instead the album feels like the New Pornographers want to be some other band besides the New Pornographers, leaving a strange aftertaste in my mouth.
The one major consolation prize we have with this album is more Dan Bejar, which of course makes me incredibly happy (see post on "Myriad Harbour"). Subtle hooks and drawn-out climaxes are great when used in moderation, but when you're as great of a band as the New Pornographers, striking a balance is critical, and on Challengers, the band has failed to recognize that simple fact. I feel the need to add a disclaimer here: for most bands Challengers would be a masterpiece. For the New Pornographers it's a disappointment.
The internet police came and told me to put the mp3s away. Sorry kids. Here's one you're allowed to have:
The New Pornographers - My Rights Versus Yours [alt link]
Buy Challengers from Insound
the New Pornographers' Website/Myspace
More proof (thanks to the Music Slut) with "My Rights Versus Yours"
The Superfantastics - The Only One I C++ Is U++
The Superfantastics - Vantastic
The band's Website/Myspace
When I say boy-meets-girl, I mean early Beatles, The Pipettes (though that's girl-meets-boy, I'd say gender-neutral-person meets gender-neutral-person but that gets a little long), top hits from the 60's. The thing is, Murder Mystery's Jeremy Coleman has a pretty deep voice, kind of like The National's lead singer, or Beck. It makes Murder Mystery's music a little bit unusual, typically the genre requires its singers to either be female or have an effeminate voice, or at least be a tenor.
I'd say check it out just for the novelty. The album's good, but not brilliant. I think Murder Mystery comes off better when you listen to it one track at a time and go "huh, this is a pretty damn good pop song", but maybe I'm still suffering from Junior-Senior-itis.
Let's try YANP's description of another Murder Mystery song:
I picture something like an indie rock episode of Archie and Jughead, where someone makes fun of Interpol for always sounding like New Order, causing the band to nearly come to tears. So the band puts their comically oversized heads together, has a montage where they find some Buddy Holly and Phil Spector records, and comes out with this song, completely shutting up their opponents. Also, there’s some Favourite Sons in there somewhere.Uh.....maybe the someone could be Patrick Wolf?
Murder Mystery - Think of Me
Buy Are You Ready for the Heartache Cause Here It Comes at Insound
Murder Mystery's Website/Myspace
Some background: Bishop Allen began with Justin Rice and Christian Rudder’s friendship at Harvard, and the band is named after the street they lived on there, Bishop Allen Drive. After college, Justin and Christian moved to New York City (where they are currently based out of), recording their debut album Charm School (2003) after recording it themselves. In 2006 they self-released an EP every month, and this year Bishop Allen signed to Dead Oceans. In July, the band released an album mostly made up of songs from the EP series called the Broken String. Justin informed me that he, Cully, and Giorgio are Texas natives, all from different cities; Darbie is from New Jersey and Christian is from Cleveland, Ohio (yeah Ohio!) but has also lived in Mexico City and Arkansas. Bishop Allen’s current line-up is its third, but this group has been together since at least the beginning of the 2006 EP series.
TGH: What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Justin: I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I remember my Dad standing in front of the mirror shaving, belting out Otis Redding songs loud as an opera singer. I lived on the Led Zeppelin box set when it first came out, and I found an R.E.M. record, Eponymous, when I was in fifth grade. In high school, I started listening to Fugazi, and, from there, I moved to Minor Threat and all things Dischord Records-related. When I met Christian, it was right around Halloween, and he was in a one-night-only Misfits cover band. He had carved "Misfits" in his dorm-room door. We were college radio station DJs together. We did a show at three in the morning, playing all kinds of obscure punk records. The Clash, sure, but also the Dils, the Dickies, Eater, The Sick Things. The first underground pop record I fell in love with was Night Club by the Yummy Fur. I walked around singing to myself in a Scottish accent for a year.
TGH: I know your songwriting process with Christian Rudder is innately collaborative but that one could roughly say that, of the two of you, you’re the lyricist. What would you say your half of the process is like?
Justin: Not every song evolves the same way. Some arrive pretty well formed; others we build piece by piece. In general, the lyrics begin with a simple experience or observation, with something I find strangely compelling. "Chinatown Bus," for instance, started when I saw a butcher's knives in Shanghai whose handles hand worn into permanent hand prints. "The Monitor" started when I realized that the Continental Ironworks, where shipwrights clad the U.S.S. Monitor in armor, was a block from my apartment. I then try to figure out why that experience or observation interests me. It's kind of like writing an essay because it's about unraveling a thought to understand its constituent parts. It's also kind of like doing a crossword because the parameters defined by melody, rhyme, and meter tend to be fairly definite, and so I spend a lot of time trying to find the right word or phrase. It takes a while to finish the words to a song, and a lot of it is slogging through possibilities. There is one thing that I think is important to me: I need to write something every day.
TGH: What did you do work-wise before you started Bishop Allen? “Middle Management” would indicate a certain familiarity with white-collar office jobs. I remember reading that Christian was involved with the company that came to make spark notes somehow.
Justin: Christian wrote pretty much everything on thespark.com, which was a Truly funny website. He also helped design all the tests you could take -- personality profilers and whatnot -- which meant a lot of time in an office working out back-end kinks in fairly complicated programs. In the first six months after graduating from college, I worked seven jobs, all at websites, all copy editing. The internet boom was about to bust, and everyone I knew worked in a weird office somewhere. Most everyone I know could see through the ugly optimism that whitewashed the workplace. Unlike thespark, which was actually wonderful, and which Barnes and Noble ending up buying out, everywhere I worked, and everywhere most everyone I knew worked, was clearly doomed to failure. In the end, I landed a job working for Errol Morris, an amazing documentary filmmaker, which eventually morphed into a job as a one-man, traveling-to-find-random-people-for-commercials kind of thing, which I still do a bit to this day.
TGH: Songs such as “Like Castanets” and “The Chinatown Bus” would indicate you’ve traveled a bit as well. Any influences there?
Justin: We've played all over the U.S. a bunch of times, and we're about to do another lap with John Vanderslice in September and October. We've also played in Sweden, and we're going to Europe in November. I also travel alone a lot, which is a good thing to do if you're trying to write songs. When I'm in an unfamiliar place and there's no one to talk to, the voice in my head starts to chatter incessantly, and writing things down is one of the only ways to deal with the odd combination of isolation and internal verbal torrent. "Like Castanets" is about a trip I took to Santiago, Chile for a film festival. I've worked on a lot of TV commercials doing research and "real people" casting for a production company, and I ended up wandering around all over with a video camera talking to strangers. I've been to Tokyo, Sydney, the Moroccan desert, and the West Texas oil fields. Once, on a flight from Paris to Shanghai, two stowaways fell from the wheel wells when the landing gear dropped. I read about it in the paper the next day. They fell through a woman's roof while she was cooking breakfast for her family. They were frozen solid.
TGH: Historical events seem to figure prominently into a lot of your songs, “The Same Fire,” “Don Christopher,” and “Abe Lincoln” being fairly obvious ones.
Justin: I think history's pretty interesting. I especially like it when I can superimpose some historical picture over the present. You can stand in the Lower East Side and picture Bowery B'hoys and Dead Rabbits running blind tigers in old Five Points while some dirty Tammany Hall politician delivers a sack of money to a back-room brothel for Boss Tweed. I don't care as much about historical accuracy as I do about historical imagination. There are a lot of great colors in history, and I've always liked digging in the archives. "Don Christopher," for instance, was inspired by the introduction to Frankenstein, where Mary Shelley mentions, while describing how she wrote the book on something like a dare, "the familiar story of Columbus and his egg." I had never heard the story of Columbus and his egg, but I liked the sound of it, so I looked it up.
Bishop Allen - The History of Excuses
(this song is the one that references Boss Tweed)
TGH: How did you pick which songs from the EPs to put on the album? Did you have any unifying idea you used to pick which songs to put on?
Justin: We started with the songs we liked best. Then we picked songs we thought we could change and grow with a little more time in the studio. Then we filled in with songs that we thought would round out the record. At the beginning of recording the album, we were working with sixteen songs, which we winnowed away based on how things were sounding. Recording is a process of making millions of minute decisions. They all add up to make a record, but it's hard to account for them in an overall way.
TGH: You went into the studio to essentially re-record songs fans already had heard and knew. Did you have any specific vision of how you wanted to change and improve those songs? How successful do you feel you were with re-envisioning the songs that made it onto the Broken String? Which song on the Broken String would you say is your favorite, in terms of the recording?
Justin: Re-recording songs was much harder than we thought it would be. Once we decided to sign to a record label, we knew we needed to make something that they could put out, promote, and get into stores. The lead time for a full-length tends to be around six months. They have to get the gears turning, and there are tons of logistics to work out so that everything happens all at once. So we finished the Broken String in March, just two months after the last EP. Though we thought about writing new songs, we didn't really have the time. Also, we wanted to try to take some of what we had been working on and give it a new depth and clarity. We wanted things to feel different -- we're a band that enjoys experimenting, not a band that wants to do the same thing over and over -- and so we worked hard to dress the songs up, and, in many cases, to rethink them entirely.
I like "The Monitor," "Chinatown Bus," and "Flight 180" best. The drumming has a lot more thunder, for one thing. There are higher highs and lower lows. They feel more musical. I don't think it's ever as rewarding to re-record songs as it is to write new songs, but I think it was good to give some of the EP songs their due.
(previous post on "The Monitor")
TGH: How do you feel your music has changed since Charm School?
Justin: I hope we've gotten better at making songs that are diverse and dynamic, and that we've improved our ability to convey interesting ideas both lyrically and musically. It's hard for me to think about Charm School, or about anything we've recorded for that matter, in any clear-headed way, and so it's hard for me to make comparisons. We wrote those songs in 2002 and 2003, and my life felt very different at that point. I barely remember most of it. Once we finished that record, we had a really hard time writing songs again, and we stalled for almost two years. That won't happen again. Because we've learned how to keep writing no matter what.
TGH: Do you know what you’re going to do after the tour is over? Do you have any sort of mental calendar for your next album, or are you taking the approach of working on some songs and seeing what happens?
Justin: Every moment of the next six months is planned, which is strange and comforting. We tour the U.S. with John Vanderslice in September and October. November and December, we tour Europe. January, I'm acting in a new movie. February and March, we record our next full-length. After that, we tour the U.S. again. Between now and the Vanderslice tour, we work on new songs every day.
TGH: Are Cully, Giorgio, and Darbie going to stay with you guys? I know Cully and Giorgio are planning to go into the studio to record another album as 1986 after you finish your tour.
Justin: We hope Cully, Giorgio, and Darbie stay with us. They're included in all of our upcoming plans, and we love playing with them. Cully and Giorgio have a wonderful band called 1986, and so we're working to make time for both bands to get things done. So far, so good.
1986 - Better When You're Stoned
TGH: You’ve been touring with Page France and the Teeth this summer. How’s that been?
Justin: The tour was amazing. When you see a band night after night, you really get to know their songs intimately. And, when the bands are as good as Page France and the Teeth, you learn a lot. It was really helpful to see how their minds work, and they continue to inspire us as we sit down to work on new songs. Unfortunately, Page France's van broke down, and they spent a week outside Phoenix waiting for the right part, the computer, to come in, so they missed San Francisco, LA, and Portland. When they caught up with us again, it was a huge relief, like when your broken arm heals and they finally take off your cast. Also note: there's a song on the new Teeth record, "The Coolest Kid in School," that is my favorite song in the world right now.
The Teeth -The Coolest Kid in School
The Teeth's Website/Myspace
(previous post on Bishop Allen, Page France, and The Teeth @ the Black Cat)
TGH: If you had to pick between only touring or only writing songs and recording and the studio, which one would you pick? Which do you like better? How do they interact for you?
Justin: I'd pick writing and recording. It's a compulsion, chasing the perfect song, and it's also what makes me remember to get out of bed. It's vital to me to keep learning, to keep inventing and re-inventing what we do. But I do love touring, and I think it's a necessary part of the process.
When you're recording, you're shut away with no outside contact, and you lose track of the audience. It starts to feel like you're playing guitar alone in your tiny room, and it's easy to feel like giving up. Going on tour, we get to see people react to the songs we make, and it's immediately gratifying.
TGH: What made you decide to sign to Dead Oceans?
Justin: They approached us with a fair offer, and their ideas and aspirations made a lot of sense. We were very cautious. We talked with them over email, on the phone, and in person, and realized, after asking a million questions, that they know what they are doing, and that they can do a better job of selling things than we can. We also like them personally, which is a very big deal for us. Now we're free to focus more of our energy on making music.
TGH: Being often termed a “blog band,” how do you feel like that's translated when you tour and interact with fans?
Justin: We've forged a strange path, mostly without any kind of institutional support, and blogs have helped immeasurably. They tend to be written by people who care passionately about music, and they're not on corporate lock-down like so much mainstream press. I like how democratic they make things. When we were making the EPs, we focused all of our attention on making songs, and almost none on promotion. But bloggers sought out the songs each month, and, when they found ones they liked, made some small fraction of the world aware of what we were doing. The music we make is, to a large degree, about connection, and blogs allow a direct interaction between us and anyone who cares to listen by simply by posting songs.
In a magazine, you can read about a band and imagine what they might sound like. On a blog, you can listen to the music unmediated and judge for yourself.
TGH: Do you have a favorite song you’ve recorded?
Justin: Honestly, I have no idea. I just can't listen to our records. I like playing "Like Castanets" best, especially now that my hand calloused up and I don't rip my fingers to shreds.
TGH: What music have you been listening to lately? Are there any recent releases you particularly like? What are your (and Christian’s, I’m guessing you’d know) favorite bands and albums? I’m hazarding a guess here [my guess was right, Justin was a comparative literature major in college], but also favorite poets and poems? [also books]
Justin: The Teeth record, like I said, has some of my favorite songs right now. I love the Fiery Furnaces. I've listened to Of Montreal a lot over the last few months. The Zookeeper record that comes out soon. Warhorse favorites? The first eight Dylan records. I think Christian's pick is Blonde on Blonde, but I'm a Highway 61 Revisited man. The Velvet Underground box set, pretty much through and through. The Springsteen record Nebraska (which we just listened to driving through Nebraska). Otis Redding, anything and everything. I'm finally catching up with the deeper cuts in the Beatles catalogue, but Christian knows those backwards and forwards.
Poets: I can be fickle and demanding, and no one writes good poems all the time. Anne Sexton. Charles Simic. Baudelaire. Rimbaud. Robert Penn Warren. I'll go for both William Carlos Williams and T.S. Eliot, even though one was pitted against the other back in the day. Christian got deep into the three volume history of the Civil War by Shelby Foote. He read it a while ago, but started it again on this last tour. I can't think of a book I've read twice.
Bishop Allen - Rain [alt link] (The Broken String)
Bishop Allen - Busted Heart (Charm School)
Tour Dates with John Vanderslice
Buy The Broken String and 2006's EP series
Bishop Allen's Website/Myspace
Now, I know you all read this interview and now want to get your hands on a copy of the album version of "Like Castanets", "The Chinatown Bus", "The Monitor", and others. I thought about asking permission to post one of them, and then I realized there's a way you can get it for free that I'm perfectly willing to encourage.
Get a FREE trial subscription to eMusic, and you get 25 free downloads, and mp3s with no restrictions on them (unlike iTunes). Did I mention that it's free? I have an eMusic subscription and love it.
"Black Dirt" begins as a folk song sang to on a stormy night, transforming halfway through into rock number performed from death (I know this sounds sappy, stick with me). The song documents an imagined murder committed over broken promises and lies, but the song makes a promise of its own:
"But my heart no longer beats"You're a Wolf", which has become popular amongst bloggers, is, like "Black Dirt", a love story gone wrong. If this is any indication of Leaves in the River (to be released September 25), I'm going to love it.
My blood makes black dirt under your feet
Black dirt will stain your feet
And when you walk you’ll leave black dirt in the street"
Sea Wolf - Black Dirt [download or die]
Sea Wolf - You're A Wolf (alt link) [highly rec'd]
Pre-order Leaves in the River from Amazon.com
Sea Wolf's Website/Myspace
Irving - I Can't Fall In Love
Sea Wolf is a side project of Irving's Alex Church. I've only recently discovered Irving's 2006 album Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers (their 2nd), and have been enjoying it a great deal. Irving's myspace.
There are a truly massive number of excellent albums being released today, these are just a few of the more popular ones amongst bloggers.
Buy Ryan Ferguson's Only Trying to Help
(If I don't get a post up on this one in the next few days, please harass me. I'm accepting applications for a personal harasser now; e-mail me and in exchange I'll send you free stuff I get. Just kidding.)
Buy Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight
Buy Architecture in Helsinki's Places Like This
Buy Caribou's Andorra
(previous post, with mp3s)
Buy Josh Ritter's The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
(previous posts - hopefully I'll also get a review up sometime soon)
Buy the New Pornographers' Challengers
("Myriad Harbour" - hopefully I'll be more success in my 2nd attempt at reviewing this album)
Can you guess which one is my favorite? Which one is yours?
New Pornographers - My Rights Versus Yours
Josh Ritter - To the Dogs Or Whatever
Video: Rilo Kiley - The Moneymaker
I'm featured on this week's Contrast Podcast, which has songs about Shapes. Meanwhile, I have a big joyous surprise for you all that should be up either later today or tomorrow.
Labels: release dilemma
A friend showed me this video a few days ago - it's kind of hilarious and I'd never heard of Manu Chao before.
Maybe some more coffee or mate will do the trick?
When I wrote about the new Beirut album, The Flying Club Cup, two weeks ago, I was incredibly frustrated that there hadn't been any leaks yet. Now we've got a live version of this track, at least (Thanks for the mp3 goes to Hate Something Beautiful).
Devendra Banhart - Seahorse [download or die]
I've always thought Devendra Banhart was a little strange, and it's true, he is. But listening to "Seahorse" is like listening to 3 different songs - first you get the quiet, acoustic guitar-playing, muttering Devendra; then comes the psychedelic piano pop "I wanna be a little Seahorse" Devendra, who has multiple incarnations and is a little crazy; finally, you get Devendra of the electric guitar and drums, rocking & rolling like The Black Keys or the White Stripes. He still wants to be a seahorse - but hell, I'd kill to be a sea turtle. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon has me girlishly excited. Listen to some more songs here.
Devendra Banhart's Myspace
(his new website is so cool!)
Sambassadeur - Subtle Changes [highly rec'd]
ME: This isn't Sambassadeur! No way, their last album was practically twee.
NOT-ME: That was sooo obviously Anna Persson's voice. You fail.
ME: Oh, they're Swedish, I should have seen this coming. Who do they sound like now? WHO?
ME: They sound kind of orchestral...like, aww shucks, I give up.
NOT-ME: Ha. The song is called "Subtle Changes"... that's actually hilarious, in an ironic way.
ME: Okay, maybe it sounds like that new The Most Serene Republic song? or Sufjan? maybe it's kind of like when Camera Obscura upgraded its sound between Underachievers Please Try Harder and Let's Get Out of This Country?
NOT-ME: I know, comparing music is soooo rough. And you stink at it.
ME: Why do all these twee pop bands keep making their sound big and complex? It's the fragility ("like a baby bird who has fallen from the nest...") us twee-heads like!
NOT-ME: Get off that twee crack, now!
(Thanks for the mp3 goes to Hits in the Car)
Jose Gonzalez - Down The Line [download or...fail at life?]
I declared my love for Jose Gonzalez a week ago (read it!) and didn't want to post an mp3 and have to take it down immediately. But I don't want to be stingy, and when a track or two leaks off your album, you just have to embrace it. When the whole thing leaks, you have to fight it. This is a case of the former. And In Our Nature will be amazing.
Jose Gonzalez's Myspace
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir - I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way For A Boy
Pop is pop is pop is pop is pop is pop is...it's kind of catchy, but I don't have a lot else to say. I Bet You Say That To All The Boys was a pretty fun album, and this one sounds like it might be even funner. That's not a word. (Thanks for the mp3 goes to MOKB)
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir's Myspace
Randomness: When I read this today, I was incredibly jealous. I want a surprise like that to show up in my mailbox! I mean, I get cool CDs in my mailbox, but if the new Georgie James, Maritime, or Matt Costa album were to appear in my mail one day my life would pretty much be complete.