Archive for the ‘MUSIC’ Category
Did you hear them?
Love Is Simple by Akron/Family – Despite the complexities of sound on Love Is Simple, the Akron/Family effortlessly simplifies love and music to the sheer moment of Zen. Love is utilized as a motivation for protest, for action, for peace, for dance, for pleasure, for fun. Love Is Simple spins you right round (like a record, Baby) as the songs spiral out to a strange netherworld and then return to a naturally familiar place (‘to all of the places that I have known’), like a journey through a musical labyrinth.
Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective – Their most consistent, accessible and best (!) album to date, the Animal Collective intricately entwines their atypical experimental tendencies with traditional pop sensibilities. Still remaining as fresh as molasses in January, Strawberry Jam sounds totally otherworldly when compared to anything else from 2007. Also worthy of attention is (A.C. member) Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album Person Pitch.
Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird – Bird’s minutely (and tactfully) orchestrated and composed songs drip with pure unfiltered beauty; combined with the unbridled emotional intensity of his vocals, every listen to Armchair Apocrypha practically brings tears to my eyes. Extra kudos for Bird’s powerful live performances during which he has proven himself to be a force not to be reckoned with (case in point: the recently released live CD of his critically acclaimed performance at the 2007 Austin City Limits Festival).
In Our Nature by Jose González – González proves that he is still worthy of the (yet-to-be-officially-deemed) “second-coming of Nick Drake” moniker, as he is truly the psych-folk savior that everyone has been waiting for since Drake’s death in 1974. Most importantly are the political and social critiques bubbling beneath his dreamy vocals; González is obviously fed up with this ball of confusion – the state of the world of today – and no, he’s not going to take it anymore.
Modern Love & Death by Hail Social – Modern Love & Death rids Hail Social of any of their previous hair band tendencies as they opt for a strange sort of disco hybrid. On paper sounds like an absolutely atrocious concept; on disc the result is stunning with dance beats and infectious bass lines leading the audible assault. Modern Love & Death reveals that Hail Social has developed a uniquely fitting sound and vision for themselves; something very few bands are able to do, especially on sophomore releases.
There’s No Home by Jana Hunter – Like an abandoned southern mansion, There’s No Home is as dusty and musty as it is learned and wise. Hunter is an old soul, a disoriented and misplaced time traveler trapped in the 21st century, whose dark and eclectic nature is reminiscent of the old-time blues ladies of the deep-south.
Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman – Like a tall iced drink or a brisk sea breeze, this precocious Swede’s songs are welcome refreshment – with a smooth coolness that denotes something modern, deft and imaginative. Part crooner, part vaudevillian, part deejay and part lo-fi indie-pop star; the resulting mixture is sometimes a convoluted mess but Lekman pulls “it” off more often than not. Verbally crafted with enough tenacious prose and panache to qualify for publication in Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Night Falls Over Kortedala finds Lekman at his lyrical zenith.
At My Age by Nick Lowe – Nick Lowe cements his position on the aged altar alongside the esteemed short-list of musicians (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Ornette Coleman, Wire, Gang of Four) who have proven to still be able to churn out relevant albums well beyond their 50th birthday. At My Age is a far cry from the youthful tenacity of his 1978 debut Jesus of Cool, but it is equally essential. Lowe’s voice has aged liked the finest of wines and his composition and production skills have yet to falter.
Kala by M.I.A. – The most vital political figure in the music industry today (step aside Billy Bragg – sorry, comrade!), “Maya” Arulpragasam’s (a.k.a. M.I.A.) follow-up to her stellar Arular (2005) effortlessly one-ups its predecessor. Admittedly, even if her music was total shite, M.I.A would have still made this list merely for her intelligent opinions on politics, economics, class and culture. Fortunately, her compositional techniques (a.k.a. beats) are just as provocative and advanced as her lyrics. Joe Strummer would be damn proud!
Wincing the Night Away by The Shins – At this point in their career, it seems The Shins can do no wrong. They broke the all-too-common “sophomore slump” by topping their amazing 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World with 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow. It took another four years, but The Shins ushered in 2007 with the luscious grandeur of Wincing the Night Away. To paraphrase Sam’s infamous line concerning The Shins from the Zach Braff film Garden State: “You gotta hear this one [album] – it’ll change your life!” (Now if I could only pass my headphones from this page to your ear…)
Gone Faded by Soft – The first American band to truly “get” to the soul of shoe gazing, Soft delicately attacks their debut by endlessly tinkering with the finer nuances of the productions. Every bending, reverbed out note is tediously laid down to perfection; every lyric is masterfully echoed and blurred. Yet it is the infectious pulse of the rhythm section which makes Gone Faded more authentic than any previous American attempts at the Brit-monopolized genre.
Waking the Mystics by Sophe Lux – I imagine a young Todd Haynes (I’m Not There) creating saccharine melodramas with Barbie dolls on his bedroom floor as his sister, Gwynneth, peacefully sits beside him daydreaming of theatrically elaborate songs with equally enamoring narrative skills. Gwynneth Haynes’ (vocals, guitars, piano and producer) childlike naivety shines with unbridled creativity and imagination on Sophe Lux’s Waking the Mystics. Gwynneth shares in her brother’s love of rich political and philosophical undertones, affinity for the 1970s, and rampant subversiveness, creating music completely contrary to today’s musical palate. Waking the Mystics plays like a glam rock mini-opera in humble reverence to David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, and Lou Reed, tinged with hints of Broadway, vaudeville, folk and psychedelia.
In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars – A singular album penned like a great Parisian post-WWI existential novel, it is as if Celine (circa Journey to the End of the Night, before his anti-Semitic tendencies began to hinder his craft) was reincarnated in the 21st century to draft an album chock full of perfect pop singles. It has become a rarity in this modern world of downloadable music for bands to concern themselves with creating an entire album that stands alone as a single cohesive unit. In Our Bedroom After the War proves to be an exception to that rule as the songs gain profundity within their track order.
Read & Burn 3 E.P. by Wire – Read and Burn 03 is the Wire album I have been waiting for since 1980. It is the album that a multitude of lesser-skilled musicians have attempted to create; yet despite the 28-to-30-year-old blueprints laid out before them, no one has been able to master the domain quite like Wire.
Best soundtracks: There Will Be Blood by Jonny Greenwood; Once by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová; Control by Various Artists; I’m Not There by Various Artists; Juno by Various Artists
And now for a history lesson…
2007 celebrated the anniversaries of two of the most significant years in modern music: 1967 and 1977. Then, I got to thinking about 1987 and 1997; which it turns out also produced many albums that rank amongst my all-time favorites. So in reviewing my favorite albums of 2007, I decided to put them in a historical context by also listing my favorite albums of 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997…
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1967 are:
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; David Bowie – S/T; Tim Buckley – Goodbye and Hello; The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday; Captain Beefheart – Safe as Milk; Miles Davis – Sorcerer; The Doors – S/T and Strange Days; Godz – Godz 2; Tim Hardin – Tim Hardin 2; Bobby Jameson – Color Him In; The Kinks – Something Else by the Kinks; Claudine Longet – Claudine; Love – Da Capo and Forever Changes; Nico – Chelsea Girl; Harry Nillson – Pandemonium Shadow Show; Phil Ochs – Pleasures of the Harbor; Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn; The Rolling Stones – Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request; 13th Floor Elevators – Easter Everywhere; The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico; Scott Walker – Scott; The Walker Brothers – Images; The Who – Sell Out
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1977 are:
David Bowie – Low and Heroes (both collaborations with Brian Eno); The Clash – S/T (U.K.); Cluster & Eno – S/T; Elvis Costello – My Aim is True; The Damned – Damned, Damned, Damned and Music for Pleasure; Brian Eno – Before and After Science; Peter Gabriel – S/T; Goblin – Suspiria (soundtrack); The Jam – In the City and This is the Modern World; Kraftwork – Trans-Europe Express; Fela Kuti – Zombie; Iggy Pop – The Idiot and Lust for Life (both collaborations with David Bowie); The Ramones – Leave Home and Rocket to Russia; Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77; Television – Marquee Moon; Ultravox – Ultravox! and Ha!-Ha!-Ha!; The Voidoids – Blank Generation; Gary Wilson – You Think You Really Know Me; Wire – Pink Flag
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1987 are:
The Bats – Daddy’s Highway; Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded; The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; Dead Milkmen – Bucky Fellini; Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses; Dinosaur Jr – You’re Living All Over Me; Dukes of the Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot; Echo & the Bunnymen – S/T; Guided by Voices – Devil Between My Toes and Sandbox; Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs and Stories; Jane’s Addiction – S/T; Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands; Meat Puppets – Huevos; My Bloody Valentine – Sunny Sundae Smile E.P., Strawberry Wine E.P. and Ecstacy E.P.; The Pastels – Up for a Bit With The Pastels; The Pixies – Come on Pilgrim E.P.; Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show; R.E.M. – Document; The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me; The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come; Sonic Youth – Sister; Spacemen 3 – Perfect Prescription; Style Council – The Cost of Living; U2 – Joshua Tree; Yo La Tengo – New Wave Hot Dogs
Some of my favorite albums (in alphabetical order) from 1997 are:
The American Analog Set – From Our Living Room to Yours; The Apples in Stereo – Tone Soul Evolution; Comet Gain – Sneaky and Magnetic Poetry; Cornelius – Fantasma; Cornershop – When I Was Born for the 7th Time; Elf Power – When the Red King Comes; Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Barafundle; Grandaddy – Under the Western Freeway; Ida – Ten Small Pieces; Lenola – The Swerving Corpse; Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West; The Mountain Goats – Full Force Galesburg; Quickspace – S/T; Radiohead – OK Computer; Elliott Smith – Either/Or; Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space; Supergrass – In It for the Money; Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever; Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
Legendary bassist to play at Strummerville benefit on Saturday
A key figure in the history of music, Joe Strummer, died on December 22, 2002 of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect; he was only 50 years old. Born John Graham Mellor; the co-founder, lyricist, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the seminal punk band The Clash (and later of The Mescaleros) adopted the moniker “Joe Strummer” to describe his destined role as a rhythm guitar player (naturally left handed, Strummer opted to play guitar right-handed, restricting his abilities to mere strumming).
Seventeen years earlier (on December 22, 1985), the co-founder, co-lyricist and guitarist for the Minutemen, Dennes Dale Boon (a.k.a. D. Boon), died at the ripe young age of 27 in a car accident. Boon started the Minutemen with his best friends Mike Watt (bass) and George Hurley (drums) in early 1980. They released four LPs and seven EPs, all amazing, all vital, with a majority of their repertoire clocking in around the one-minute mark. Watt went on to form fIREHOSE (with Hurley); he has also played bass for Porno for Pyros and the recently revitalized Stooges, while juggling several of his own musical endeavors.
Two days after his 50th birthday, Watt will be performing in Los Angeles with his trio Hellride (featuring drummer Stephen Perkins [Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros] and guitarist Peter DiStephano [Porno for Pyros]) at the Strummerville Benefit concert.
Joe Strummer’s wife, Lucinda Tait, established Strummerville shortly after Strummer’s death. The Joe Strummer Foundation “seeks to reflect Joe’s unique contribution to the music world by offering support, resources and performance opportunities to artists who would not normally have access to them.”
True kindred spirits (though they never met), Strummer and Boon shared a seemingly limitless knowledge of politics and keen ability to coherently siphon their political ideologies into song. It’s only fitting that Watt jam politico on the Strummerville stage commemorating the two late great punks on the anniversary of their deaths.
We could go on and on for hours regarding the significance of The Clash and the enormous hole that Joe Strummer’s death left in the world. Instead we opted to chat with Watt, getting his thoughts on Joe Strummer’s legacy and the politics of music.
Los Angeles Journal: Do you remember the first time you heard The Clash?
Mike Watt: Yeah, it was a single about pirate radio. There’s an antenna on top of the building and it’s about some guy running the play-lists. The pirate radio station was on a boat – that was such a great thing to write a song about. It was called “Captial Radio.” They were idealizing this pirate station on a boat that was outside jurisdiction so the deejay could play anything he wanted. The other guy would give you all the hits to play and keep you in your place; this whole idea that music was connected with hierarchy and the way that people were organized by economics and political structure. We were trying to put together The Minutemen that way. D. Boon wanted the guitars to be all treble so the bass guitar would no longer be in the background, and bring the drums way up. This was a concept of putting non-musical ideas such as democracy into music. Those cats in The Clash were in on that too. Then, the other side of that single is an interview [with Tony Parsons]. They’re riding on a subway talking about how they got the band together. It was a really weird trip. Like when me and D. Boon first saw The Germs, we thought “we could do this.” It was very empowering. Even though it was so alien and foreign and different – the way they talked and their slang and their references. We heard it and thought we could make a band, too.
LAJ: What does Joe Strummer’s music mean to you?
MW: I put him in a Minutemen song called “History Lesson Part 2” along with Richard Hell and John Doe. Strummer was an early punk rock hero to me and D. Boon. We really only ever knew the early Clash singles and the [eponymous] green album. A lot of the English punk bands were that way. We liked their first album and then after achieving success they turned into, according to us at the time, regular rock bands. Looking back now, I think we were kind of silly. I still don’t really know The Clash music after that. We really liked that green album. I came to find out later on that Joe Strummer said some really nice things about The Minutemen. Wow! We didn’t even know that he knew we even existed! Then he ended up dying on the same day as D. Boon, 17 years later. The Clash songs wondered out loud about why things were the way they were and the way power was divided up amongst people. I think The Minutemen really shared in that. They had two guitars in the band, which was kind of different for a punk band in those days. That organized things differently, gave it a different sensibility. There were just certain things…We thought for sure that Joe Strummer sang with a cigarette in his mouth, [Paul Weller] of The Jam too; then, when we saw The Clash live, Strummer talked between the songs and it was like, “Wow, he sings like he talks.” That blew us away. We saw The Clash play at the Civic Auditorium [in Santa Monica] with Bo Diddley and The Dils. That was the only time we saw them. It was pretty intense. They were playing all of these songs that we didn’t know, since they had made another record [Give ‘Em Enough Rope] by then. That was [February 9,] 1979. And the Clash concert was where we met up with Black Flag. They were handing out flyers. That started that whole trip, making records and touring with them. It was a really profound gig for us. It was like the biggest punk gig, probably a thousand people. In those days that was huge. It was so crowded that I couldn’t get back to the toilets to take a piss. So I pissed right there where I was standing – not on anyone though! We were all shoulder-to-shoulder and no one even knew. I just pissed right there as the gig was going on. And I remember Joe Strummer’s eyes being so white. In arena rock gigs, if you were ever lucky enough to get close, everybody had red eyes. That really tripped me out to see how white Joe Strummer’s eyes were and how intense he played too. He had his own way of playing that was really interesting. And all the slang they used. We didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about because it was so specific. It made us realize that we could sing about San Pedro. Nobody knows about our fucking world either so maybe that’s what they do in this punk thing, just talk about stuff that’s so close to you because it’s intense on you.
LAJ: What’s your favorite Clash song?
MW: I love “Remote Control,” “Hate and War” and “Janie Jones.” There’s something about “Janie Jones” that is so fucking intense. ‘You’re going to tell them exactly how they feel / pretty bad!’ That is so trippy, a guy singing like that. I heard later that Strummer came from a privileged family. That shows you in the human condition there is so much common ground. You could come from anywhere. I mean, keep it real. What is reality? Art is about transcendence and things. You don’t pick where you’re born but you can pick what you do. Wherever he came from, I don’t give a fuck, I’m just listening to his tunes. His songs touch me, and I come from…wherever.
LAJ: Are Strummer’s songs still relevant today?
MW: You know that green album was made 32 years ago. Wow, it could have been recorded next week. It’s almost like The Stooges’ Fun House to me, the way it touches me. When I hear, ‘We’re a garage band!’ [“Garageland”] – that is a song for me now. It holds up great! All of it. All of it. I hadn’t heard that record in a long time, but when I listened to it to prepare for this gig it was like the same rush as when I first heard it. I’m not jaded by it. I haven’t figured it all by now. It still has this spirit in it. And the bass lines too. Fuck, I really love the bass lines!
LAJ: So, what can the Strummerville audience expect from your set?
MW: Well, it’s going to be the old stuff because that’s all I know. We got eight songs from the early singles and the green record, like “1977,” “Complete Control,” “Janie Jones” and “Career Opportunities.” They actually sang about work! The Minutemen all came from working families. My first gig was T.Rex and I don’t remember a lot of songs about work coming from Marc Bolan. There were some from Credence Clearwater Revival, you know, they were probably the only guys singing about work back then. The Clash just came at the right age when we were thinking a lot about those things.
LAJ: And there haven’t been many bands since The Clash and The Minutemen that have sung about work with such profundity…
MW: There’s another English guy that sings with a British accent, in fact we have the same birthday [December 20, 1957], Billy Bragg. He’s from the old days, too. We talked to him after a Minutemen gig one time. He and D. Boon had no problem. They could just sit in the same room and talk politics on the same level. But you’re right. There isn’t a lot of that anymore.
LAJ: Do politics belong in music?
MW: Shit yeah, why not?! Music is for expression, which is nothing that we ever thought about before punk; then we realized that songs really could be a vehicle for your expression. You could get stuff off your mind. Everything under the sun you’re wondering about. Of course there’s an art to it, right? That’s up to the individual. But when you talk about the common ground of the human condition, politics is about power and I don’t think that’s a problem that’s ever going to get solved. I don’t know if songs can solve political problems but it lets the mind out to trip on those troubles anyway. A good band is a conversation between the instruments, and between the listener and the dude making the song. Why should it just be [Bill] O’Reilly and [Sean] Hannity on the radio? What?! They’re the only ones who get to talk about this shit? Why can’t people make songs about it and freak on it that way? Or like [John] Coltrane doing “Alabama.” That has no lyrics! He did it all with just a title, but in the music there is a definite awareness about the way that the power is being dealt with. I’ve never been ashamed. I’ve never grown out of that. I feel the same way about music now as I did when I was a kid.
Stummerville will be on Dec. 22 at The Key Club (9039 Sunset Boulevard), doors open at 8 p.m.; tickets for the benefit art $25. In addition to Hellride, Love and Rockets, Zander Schloss & The Wilderness Years, La Plebe, Three Bad Jacks, and The Devildolls Rock ‘n’ Roll Street Gang are scheduled to perform Strummer’s oeuvre.
Totally wire(d) can’t u c ?
Giving peace another chance
Mia Doi Todd was born and raised in Los Angeles as the only daughter of a Japanese-American judge and Irish-American sculptor. Having commenced training as a classical violinist during her adolescence, Todd began writing songs on guitar during her undergraduate studies at Yale University. She released her debut album, The Ewe and the Eye, during the spring of 1997 just prior to her graduation. Inspired by the ever-burgeoning lo-fi, indie-folk movement spearheaded by Elliott Smith, The Ewe and the Eye and her next two releases (Come Out of Your Mine and Zeroone) were minimalist affairs predominantly featuring her earthy poetic vocals and impeccable acoustic guitar playing.
In 2002, Todd’s musical horizons expanded immensely upon signing to the prestigious Columbia Records’ subsidiary Columbia Jazz. During her brief tenure there (Columbia Jazz soon closed their doors) she released one intricately composed and lavishly produced album, The Garden State. Todd then moved on to the boutique electronica label, Plug Research, to record the experimentally tinged Manzanita (2005) and an album of remixes, La Ninja: Amor and other dreams of Manzanita (2006).
In March 2008, Todd will release her seventh full-length, Gea on her own label (City Zen Records). Gea takes equal parts from the minimalist first half of her career plus the more experimental and lavish songs of the latter. Meditating on the organic vibes of peace and love, Gea exists as a nonviolent attack on the noise, war and destruction engulfing us today.
Comparisons to Chan Marshall (Cat Power) seem too obvious; maybe at this point in the game, as Todd matures and proves time and time again that she is willing to take chances and dive headfirst into uncharted musical terrain (unlike most of her more timid female peers), Yoko Ono would be more precise.
The Los Angeles Journal spoke with Mia Doi Todd about peace, politics and creativity as she prepared for her upcoming Los Angeles performance on December 12 at Tangier.
Los Angeles Journal: How has the current political climate influenced your songwriting?
Mia Doi Todd: My last album, Manzanita, has an overtly political theme. On [Gea], I digested all of that information and nothing had changed at all, which made me feel very hopeless. So the attempt for [Gea] was to absorb the creative energy of the earth – Gea being the female, more peaceful and loving, creative energy – and find hope. You can [interpret] my songs in either a microscopic or macroscopic way. They could be about a couple or two nations having a battle of some kind. “In the End” [from Gea] was a response to things in my own life, first of all, and secondly the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the [U.S.] government just couldn’t meet the needs of the people and turned a blind eye towards them. So, “In the End” could be Mother Nature speaking to humankind about the impending ecological disasters. Humankind is really not seeing this or doing anything about this. We are just speedily heading towards disaster; yet Mother Nature is still loving…still loving.
LAJ: Can you as a songwriter help slow down the timeline of the impending ecological disasters or, better yet, put a halt to it?
Todd: I feel very hopeless about that sometimes. But I just saw this documentary, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, and it was so inspiring. It really set a fire under me to do what I can through song. Pete Seeger and Joan Baez and the folk movement played a big part in ending the Vietnam War. I have always thought that you can reach a lot of people through song. And if you’re touring, you get to see real situations; you get out of the bubble of your own community. LA doesn’t represent the United States as a whole, and certainly not the world as a whole. You get to be this traveling bard who exchanges information. You have the opportunity to speak to young people who will be living in this world a long time, if it lasts. With my music, I don’t think it’s all overtly political; but just being sensitive and having an individual viewpoint is important these days. Mass media is attempting to homogenize the cultural landscape; just having that individual voice makes me feel like I am doing something positive. In [the song] “Gea” there is a line, “freedom from oppression, self-expression for everyone everyday’” – that is an ideal to me. It’s sort of a mantra if you repeat it enough. Positive thinking can go a long way. It would be so easy for many governments to take a stronger and more positive role in energy policy and begin to have an immediate impact. It’s not too late. It is hard for a singer-songwriter like me to do too much; it is the political leadership, leadership that needs to do it. Being a role-model as a musician can be a great thing, just to inspire people to feel empowered in their own life; but it is up to the higher powers to make the changes.
LAJ: What effect do you want to have on your audience?
Todd: It would be nice if I could open up a bit of their mind and/or soul and create a meditation space where they can see things in their own life for a moment more clearly. There’s so much noise and distraction in the world. My music is intended to be calming and settling.
LAJ: Do you meditate?
Todd: I do.
LAJ: How often?
Todd: Not enough. I aspire to meditate a lot, every day. I do a lot of yoga, which is a moving meditation. And I sit and breathe, and I have a special meditation cushion that I sit on.
LAJ: How does meditation influence your creative process?
Todd: My creative process usually comes in spurts. Sometimes I need a long time to not be creative in order to gather energy. Right before I wrote most of the songs on Gea, I did a short meditation retreat at Green Gulch Farm, a Zen center just north of San Francisco. We were meditating quite a lot, rising every day at 4:00 a.m. to meditate for two hours. Everything there, including cooking and working on the farm, is a form of meditation. It was my birthday present to myself. It was so invigorating. I came back and wrote all of these songs. I thought I had nothing to say. Before that point I was ready to give up music. I had a bunch of guitar parts, but nothing to say. I came back from the meditation retreat and bam, bam, bam, I was ready to record Gea a couple months later. So meditation must have a great creatively invigorating effect!
LAJ: Which comes first: lyrics or music?
Todd: Usually I find things I like on the guitar, and I find progressions and then melodies reveal themselves. Then I “la, la, la” sing along with my guitar. It takes a while to be able to sing while playing guitar, so I find ways and rhythms that work. Then I try to find a phrase that fits in that particular meter perfectly and that leads to eventually finding a verse or a chorus. A song can write itself very quickly once you find certain inroads.
LAJ: At what point do you decide its time to record the song(s)?
Todd: I’m so old-fashioned. I like to know all the chord changes, all of my lyrics and how long the instrumental parts will be. I’ve always written all of the songs and felt like I had an album, I even ordered the album, before I tried to record it. Then I would record for just a couple weeks.
LAJ: Is there a particular author that influences your lyrics?
Todd: Yeah, Hemmingway was a big influence on Gea, especially for the song “Sleepless Nights.” I was really into Hemmingway last year; I read everything I could find by him.
LAJ: What is your attraction to Hemmingway?
Todd: The way he gets to the heart of interpersonal things so concisely and linguistically. I could identify with a lot of his characters and his point of view.
LAJ: Is the sadness in your songs directly related to your life?
Todd: Sometimes, but as you said earlier, the situation in the world seeps down into your psyche very easily. I’m mourning for the loss of species and all sorts of things…
LAJ: What role does your stage performance take in your music?
Todd: [Performing] has always been my favorite part. I feel like more of a live artist than a recording artist. I’m much more comfortable with things being infinite. When you sing the song live, you don’t have the pressure to get the best take ever. It depends though, I’ve had terrible times performing for audiences that really didn’t care; drinking and talking at the bar very loudly. Sometimes it can be a nightmare. But it can also be such a beautiful thing. To change the atmosphere in the room, to make it a sacred space, to make something happen in the minds and hearts of the audience is powerful. Live music can do that in a way recorded music cannot. Just like seeing a movie in the theater, even though it’s cheaper to rent the movie at home. It’s the experience.
LAJ: Will you be performing solo?
Todd: No. This is special because for the last couple years I’ve been playing with a percussionist, Andres Renteria. He and I have really worked well together, we have a great musical camaraderie. Our great friend and violist, Miguel Atwood Ferguson (who also did the arrangements for and played [viola and violin] on Gea) will be playing with us also. That will be a real treat for us. He adds so much. He is so sensitive and so talented. This will be only the second time that I’ve played live with him.
LAJ: Gea is scheduled to be released in March 2008. Do you consider it to be a seasonal, Spring album?
Todd: There are some songs on Gea for each season. People have often associated my music with autumn; it is melancholy and reminiscent of how you feel when the wind gets chilly and the leaves fall. On Gea, “Big Bad Wolf” is an autumn song but “River of Life” may be more of a spring/summer song. When I was making Gea, I didn’t want to make any more sad records. I was trying to have this feeling of rebirth for myself as well as the audience. That is what people need at this time, to have this feeling of hope.
Invisible republic revisited
Written and recorded last winter in the basement of Erick Jordan’s parents’ house in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains while Jordan and his band, The Rosewood Thieves, were patiently waiting out a snowstorm; Lonesome is eerily reminiscent of some other basement tapes that were recorded by Bob Dylan and the Band. The similarity to Dylan’s infamous recording sessions is due in part to the immediacy of recordings, the spontaneity, the feeling that the musicians are just having fun while passing some time. The nonchalant air of their three-day recording session is what makes the six-song Lonesome EP something special. The musicianship is impeccable, as if Jordan (vocals and guitar), Mackenzie Vernacchio (organ), Paul Jenkins (guitar and bass) and Mark Bordenet (Drums) have been playing together forever; yet the songwriting itself does not sound spontaneous at all. The songs, with their lackadaisical 1967-1974 vibe, sound as if they have been passed down through the decades; perfected yet never permitted the permanence of being placed on tape.
Then there is Jordan’s gravely voice, which sounds as though it is emanating from an old soul, aged well beyond Jordan’s mere 21-years. His vocals are akin to Dylan’s but with proper diction and an ever-so-slight country twang; while his lyrics are simple yet earnest, profound yet understated. The narrator of these songs could only be old and weathered, a recluse inseparable from his quiet country home; someone who in his day had seen and done it all, who had experienced immense sorrow and great happiness – not a young songwriter from the hip urbanity of Brooklyn.
The Lonesome EP is The Rosewood Thieves’ follow-up to their From the Decker House EP (recently re-released with three bonus tracks) and a precursor to their much anticipated premiere LP which is currently in the works.
The Rosewood Thieves are bringing their east coast take on their lazy west coast sound of yesteryear to Los Angeles for two performances: December 11 at Bordello at 9:00 p.m. and December 12 at Silverlake Lounge at 10:00 p.m. For more information concerning either performance: http://www.foldsilverlake.com/
This is not a folk song
An acoustic guitar alone doth not make a folk singer, and thus begins my treatise to dispel the myth that The Cave Singers are a folk band. Then again, Louis Armstrong once said (or debatably, the original quote should be attributed to Big Bill Broonzy): “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” Maybe he was right…
As a minimalist acoustic trio, featuring Derek Fudesco (Pretty Girls Make Graves and The Murder City Devils) on guitar, Pete Quirk (Hint Hint) singing and Marty Lund (Cobra High) on drums; The Cave Singers sound like an “unplugged” (I’m thinking of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York performance in particular – finally released on DVD in November 2007) version of the heavier/electric bands from whence they came. The individual members of The Cave Singers (as with Nirvana’s Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl) were born to be loud and intense. Amplifiers cast aside, The Cave Singers may not be loud but their intensity never diminishes; in fact it seems to be intensified in order to make up for the lack of amplification.
The acoustic guitar was probably not designed to be played with such fervor, as Fudesco attacks the guitar strings (again I am reminded of Cobain) rather than picking them with the gentle finesse of a folk or blues artist (unless they’re named Johnny Cash – then all bets are off). Lund’s drumming breaks Invitation Songs even farther away from the traditional folk mold. He utilizes a full kit on most of the tracks, playing with the same vigorous bombast as if he was accompanied by amplified instruments.
There is some traditional authenticity on Invitation Songs that obviously contributes to the false folk moniker. Quirk’s vocals rasp and whine like an old-time Americana singer-songwriter who just hobbled down from his shack (or cave) located somewhere in the solitary midst of Appalachia. The washboards and horns, interweaved within the ramshackle compositions, continue the old Americana vibe. The overall recording of Invitation Songs is reminiscent of Harry Smith’s (the great folk archivist) field recordings, as if someone was capturing the songs at the moment they were being constructed (“Called” is a perfect example of this).
My closing statement of this treatise is such: The Cave Singers openly admit to not having much knowledge of folk music, nor did they ever intend to record folk songs. It seems the resulting sound was just a happy accident, acoustic as it may be. So do not let the so-called folk classification of Invitation Songs dissuade you from giving The Cave Singers a chance.
The Cave Singers will bring their unplugged mix-mash of acoustic (yet, certifiably non-folk) songs to Los Angeles on December 4th at The Echo (http://www.attheecho.com/). Doors open at 8:30; tickets are $10 at the door. Port O’Brien is also playing.
Instead of starting out with a bang (which could have been appropriate considering the album’s title) or a whimper, Stars commence their fourth full-length with a deep ominous base pulsing, pulsing, pulsing…a curious instrumental which fades into one of many obvious singles, “The Night Starts Here.”
You name your child after your fear, and tell them “I have brought you here” – “The Night Starts Here”
During their brilliant career, Stars have incessantly raised the threshold for literary and intellectual lyricism (one of the many reasons they often garner comparisons to the Smiths). Their 2005 lovely political manifesto Set Yourself on Fire (armed with a multitude of fiery quotes aimed at G.W. Bush’s juggler such as “I hope your drunken daughters are gay”) set an utterly unreachable lyrical standard.
Slick girls and sick boys and each one lining up to take it home. They hold tight their coin and they pray no one has to see them fall. I’m there, yeah I serve them, the one with the empty looking eyes. Come closer, you’ll see me: the face that is used to telling lies. – “Take Me to the Riot”
In Our Bedroom After the War ups the pole vault bar even a few more notches, achieving what many musicians (including Morrissey) can only dream of achieving: composing a singular album penned like a great Parisian post-WWI existential novel (even the possibility of the album title ever becoming true seems totally fictional – as if there is really going to be an “after” to this war). It is as if Celine (circa Journey to the End of the Night, before his anti-Semitic tendencies began to hinder his craft) was reincarnated in the 21st century to draft a record full of perfect pop singles. It has become a rarity in this modern world of downloadable music for bands to concern themselves with creating an entire album that stands, with great confidence, alone as a single cohesive unit. In Our Bedroom After the War proves to be the exception to that rule. The songs gain profundity within their track order, thus the album deserves to be digested linearly without interruption (except to maybe flip your vinyl copy midway).
Promises, promises never cease to assist it, now I’m back on my back. Please bite your words. Hurry, hurry to believe, I can always trust, as much as you deserve. – “Midnight Coward”
Now fully evolved into a Montreal-based quintet, Stars were initially conceived in 2001 as a Brooklyn duo composed of Torquil Campbell and Chris Seligman. After releasing their electro-pop debut Nightsongs (featuring a cover of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man”) to little acclaim, they packed their bags and relocated to Montreal along with two new band mates, singer-guitarist Amy Millan and bassist Evan Cranley. Their 2003 sophomore effort, Heart, was their first to be released on the great Canadian label Arts & Crafts. Stars were quickly immersed within the burgeoning fold of the Montreal music scene (Campbell, Millan and Cranley are also members of Broken Social Scene) – the strongest, most unified (not to mention most worthwhile) movement in popular music since the Elephant 6 collective in the late 90s.
In Bermondsey in Burberry, you held me at the barricade, the pigs arrived with tear gas and I wept at the mistakes we made. We stalked the streets like animals and danced as windows shattered. For our island, for the thrill of it, for everything that mattered. – “Barricade”
The aforementioned Set Yourself on Fire lifted Stars to the top of the Montreal brat-pack, proving that they could hold their own alongside Feist, Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire. Set Yourself on Fire was their first fully, realized and orchestrated endeavor which not only accented their political opinions but also their tremendous aptitude in song composition and production.
Today keep your head and drop the gun. There’s nothing more to battle when you’re gone. Walk on. – “Today Will Be Better, I Swear!”
In Our Bedroom After the War was digitally pre-released (months earlier the CD release) on July 10, 2007 via iTunes to the shock and awe of their fans (and to the bitter dismay of grumpy music journalists – none of them had received their review copies yet). This was not only a pre-emptive strike on the inevitable leak to illegal MP3 download sites but also a strong and purposeful statement against the current state of music criticism. The strategy allowed the fate of the album to be determined by the online buzz of their fans rather than self-aggrandizing music scribes monopolizing the realm critical judgment. The statement was justified when the jaded curmudgeons at Pitchfork awarded In Our Bedroom After the War a demeaning 7.4/10 rating. Like an “A+” student who just received an unjustified “C” on a term paper, Campbell blogged a witty and enraged retort beginning with, “I thought since every undergraduate geek living in a state of imposed virginity (i.e. Ryan Numballs) is allowed to effect the critical discourse in this hellish age we call ‘now,’ I too would get in on the moronic inferno and have a bit of a go at blogging myself. I’ll try to be trite, smarmy and reductive, dismissive, self congratulatory and smug, ill informed, ignorant and overly simplistic…”
Wake up! Say good morning to that sleepy person lying next to you. If there’s no one there, then there’s no one there, but at least the war is over. – “In Our Bedroom After the War”
The most baffling part of Pitchfork’s lackadaisically low scoring, is that In Our Bedroom After the War is actually the best album of 2007. It must be obvious to even the most oblivious that Campbell and company endlessly toiled over the writing, composition and production until every aspect achieved absolute perfection. They leave little room for criticism or complaints concerning their many talents and abilities; unless, of course, the music just doesn’t satisfy your personal tastes (and it isn’t my fault if you have bad taste).
Stars will be shining in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre (842 S. Broadway) on November 10th. Doors open at 8 p.m.; Lloyd Cole will open. All tickets are $25.00.
Adding a little “a” to the city<span clas
Ladies and gentlemen we are floating; floating like an inflatable pink pig high above Battersea Power Station. You might recognize the pink pig (named “Algie”) from The Simpsons “Homerpalooza” episode (remember, Peter Frampton bought the infamous pig at “Pink Floyd’s garage sale”); not to mention Algie’s impeccable placement in Children of Men. Sure, I realize the reference is a bit of “lazy journalism” on my behalf, but if any one album from 2007 deserved a Pink Floyd (post-Syd Barrett, pre-The Wall) reference it would be Citay. Hawkwind’s In Search of Space and Doremi Fasol Latido might be even more noteworthy reference points for the sound of Citay, but Hawkwind didn’t use any props that reemerged in The Simpsons (so who cares about them?!).
Don’t get me wrong. Little Kingdom is NOT an early 70s psychedelic throwback. In actuality, it could only have been made at least 30 years after the fact. With three decades to study and contemplate rock music’s theory and history, Little Kingdom is more like a master’s thesis than a rehashing of a bygone era. It is as if Citay has been gestating this particular sound for most of their musical lives and they finally reached a point in their career that they were able to fully realize and replicate everything from the tones and tunes to the ebbs and flows of their masters.
Inhale, deep into those lungs. Citay’s Little Kingdom is a modern stoner’s paradise like none other (besides maybe their 2006 self-titled debut). The otherworldly soundscape is manifested primarily by guitar virtuosos Ezra Feinberg and Tim Green as they noodle effortlessly and endlessly on intertwining rifts, as if Django Reinhardt is dueling with Leo Kottke while on mushrooms. It is enough to blow one’s proverbial mind, man. Wow! The layers! Snap back to reality. Sorry, the sonic layers distracted me…so intricate and refined…so beautiful…so…yes, besides the brilliant layers of guitars…oh, never mind. And…exhale.
It is worth noting that once upon a time, Citay guitarist Tim Green played guitar in the late great Dischord band, Nation of Ulysses (whose George H. W. Bush era politics make Rage Against the Machine look like Mickey Mouse – I recommend 13-Point Program to Destroy America). Nation of Ulysses once stated (in reference to their lack of musical talent): “All you need is concept. There’s no reason you have to sound like Led Zeppelin.” Oh, the irony (considering every review I’ve read cites “acoustic Led Zeppelin” as a reference for Citay). Additionally, Nation of Ulysses was unwavering and unforgiving on their anti-drug stance (this is not to say that Citay promotes drug use, but Little Kingdom would be a lot cooler if you did.) All of this is meant in playful jest, because I have the utmost respect for Green. Nation of Ulysses molded me into what I am today (politically, at least) and Citay is a damn fine band too. Since eschewing his hardcore revolutionary ways, Green has been part of the cleverly named San Francisco prog-metal outfit, The Fucking Champs, while simultaneously garnering much respect as a recording engineer and producer.
Silent no more
Night Falls Over Kortedala commences with enough epic grandeur and pompous bombast to make Morrissey drop his trousers to the world and blush with envy and disdain. Samples of swelling strings, cut and pasted together in true Jens Lekman style, lead to overwhelming crescendos at each chorus forcing Lekman to literally fight to be heard above his own music track. The inherent struggle in “And I Remember Every Kiss” is enough to put off any new listeners, though his fans will know he is just kidding around. (Oh, you are so silly Jens!) Lekman utilizes this newfound bravado to great affect by recollecting the memory of his first kiss. As the memory fades into distant history, he ponders what it is like to get older (‘Things get more complicated when you’re older. You become a soldier, you get a gun and you name it after a girlfriend’).
The remembrance of past kisses continues on track two with the gay-dance-club-hit-cum-70s-disco-montage, “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar.” Again, Lekman exposes his newly discovered confidence as he shows off his super-keen knack with dance beats. This song is the precise reason Night Falls Over Kortedala reached #1 on the Swedish charts.
On track four, Lekman finds himself as the proverbial “beard” for a lesbian friend while visiting her family in Berlin. Verbally crafted with enough tenacious prose and panache to qualify for publication in Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (‘Hey you! Stop kicking my legs! I’m doing my best, can you pass the figs’), “A Postcard to Nina” is as topnotch as Lekman’s best songs (“Black Cab,” “Higher Power,” “Julie” and “Maple Leaves”).
A collection of recordings 2004-2007, Night Falls Over Kortedala represents the first LP of new material to be released by Lekman since his 2004 debut When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog. Like a tall iced drink or a brisk sea breeze, these precocious Swede’s songs are welcome refreshment – with a smooth coolness that denotes something modern, deft and imaginative. Part crooner, part vaudevillian, part deejay and part lo-fi indie-pop star; the resulting mixture is sometimes a convoluted mess (“If I Could Cry…” is quite a doozey) but Lekman pulls “it” off more often than not.
There is no question that Lekman has fun making music, no matter how morose and heartbreaking his subjects may be. Not only is Jens Lekman my favorite new songwriter of the last five years, but also (following in the footsteps of Oh You’re So Silent Jens and When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog) Night Falls Over Kortedala is already pegged as a shoe-in for one of my top five picks of 2007.
They are your biggest fan
Austin, Texas, the self-proclaimed “live music capital of the world,” has given birth to some of the most vital indie rock bands of this past decade, including Spoon, Okkervil River, Shearwater, …Trail of the Dead and Ghostland Observatory. With the release of their debut eponymous full length on The Beggars Group imprint Playlouder earlier this year and a grueling six months of touring, Voxtrot has clearly legitimized their own claim as one of Austin’s finest.
Voxtrot was formed in 2003 by frontman and lead vocalist Ramesh Srivastava during his trips home to Austin during semester breaks while he attended college in Scotland in pursuit of a degree in literature. Together with bandmates Jared Van Fleet (guitar/keyboard), Matt Simon (drums), Mitch Calvert (guitar) and Jason Chronis (bass), Voxtrot released some of the greatest (and most literary) pop EPs and singles this side of Belle and Sebastian before settling down to record Voxtrot.
Their debut LP expands upon the pure pop gems, which made them the darlings of Spin, Pitchfork and innumerable music blogs around the world. No longer direct descendents of The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian, Voxtrot’s horizons has broadened with proverbial water passing under their bridge. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the rich and unrivaled literary tapestry that Srivastava effortlessly weaves song after song.
Voxtrot is wrapping up their long and arduous tour schedule by making up the West Coast dates (as promised) that they previously cancelled upon a request to join the Arctic Monkeys’ tour (an amazing offer they didn’t dare refuse). Voxtrot just returned from Europe and the Los Angeles Journal took the opportunity to catch up with drummer Matt Simon (probably still suffering from jet lag, though you would never know) during his very brief and precious downtime in Austin before Voxtrot departed on their next westbound plane.
Los Angeles Journal: You just returned from your second European tour in four months. How was it?
Matt Simon: We were all wondering how well it would go since we were there so recently. I thought it was a success. We got to play in a lot of places we hadn’t played yet, like Zurich. That show was really good; a lot of people came out.
LAJ: How does Voxtrot’s reception in Europe compare to your U.S. shows?
MS: It depends on the city and the country, even within the U.S. The audiences in LA and San Francisco are far more animated than New York City or Chicago. But overall, people are less inhibited in Europe. They are more willing to dance and go crazy. The U.K. audiences are a little less animated; which is definitely more noticeable when you go from the U.K. to Germany, where you find a much different energy from the crowd. The only shows we ever had crowd-surfers were in Europe.
LAJ: I don’t really think of Voxtrot as a crowd-surfing band.
MS: Neither do we, but the Europeans do. And it always surprises me that there are so many people over there that are really into our music, they know the words and are totally dedicated.
LAJ: The last couple times I’ve seen Voxtrot perform live, the age demographic of audience has seemed really young to me.
MS: We try to do as many all-ages shows as we can because we do appeal to a younger audience than most bands; I’m not sure why that is. We just always seem to get a lot of younger people out. We generally see the 15-30 ages bracket at our shows.
LAJ: And I think your age demographic might start even younger than 15…like middle school kids.
MS: I wonder how people that young find out about us. Maybe the age of people reading blogs is just getting younger and younger, because we’re not on mainstream radio. I just know when I was in middle school I wasn’t going to see obscure indie bands.
LAJ: Does the political climate influence or motivate Voxtrot?
MS: Politics aren’t something that we talk about all that much. We’re all conscious about what is going on, but we aren’t any more involved than the average person. There are some political references on the LP, for instance the song “Easy.” From what I gather, I think [Srivastava] is writing about how it’s really easy to get wrapped up in your own life and deal with your own concerns. You forget to notice what is going on around you. Things keep getting worse and worse, but you don’t notice because you are so distracted by your own problems.
LAJ: Were you confronted while in Europe about being from Texas, the “home” of our much beloved president?
MS: The first thing everyone wants to talk about is George W. Bush, but I have to remind them that he is not actually from [Texas]. But mostly people were just there for the music, because they liked our band. No one was hostile. I have gotten into many long political conversations with European fans, but I’m usually in agreement with them. They usually know more about politics than I do anyway. People are a lot more politically conscious over there.
LAJ: The most recent Voxtrot newsletter states that you’re not going to play any live shows for a while (after the upcoming west coast dates).
MS: We’re going to take a couple months off to concentrate on other aspects of our lives. Some of the band will be living oversees. Everyone will get to do their own thing for a while. We’ll probably reconvene in Austin around the time of the South By Southwest [Music Festival in March 2008] and start working on new material. There will be no major touring in the foreseeable future until we have something else to tour behind. We’ve already done two full U.S. and two full European tours and festivals. If you haven’t bought or downloaded the record by now, you’re probably not going to.
LAJ: What is Voxtrot’s definition of success and have you already achieved it?
MS: If you would have asked me two years ago if I thought we would be traveling around and doing Voxtrot as a fulltime job, I would have said, “no way.” It is pretty crazy. We definitely feel as though we have reached a certain level of success as far being able live off of our music, but I think our current definition of success would be to make a record that we all feel is pushing some boundaries and sounds really good. Just making a really great record, regardless of whatever anyone else thinks about it. I don’t know how you achieve that. I don’t think any of us think we achieved it on our last record. I think we’re all happy with it, but it is not what we envisioned from the start. Which I guess it never is…Personally, I think we’ve achieved a whole lot, a lot more than most bands ever get a chance to. I feel like we’re really blessed.
Voxtrot will be performing on December 2nd at the Henry Fonda Theater (http://www.henryfondatheater.com/2007/index.html). Doors open at 8 p.m.; tickets are $16.00. Los Angeles’ very own popsters Division Day (review posted here: http://www.losangelesjournal.com/new/articles-view-18-511) will open.