Posted by: on October 9, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Jay Reatard, Matador Singles ’08 (Matador Records, 2008)

MP3: “See/Saw”

Over the course of the year, Memphis’ fuzz-punk purveyor Jay Reatard has been something of an indie-tabloid fire starter. Last April, at a typically wild gig in Toronto, Reatard punched a “fan” directly in the face, after said fan spilled beer all over Jay’s beloved effects pedals. At this Summer’s past Pitchfork Music Festival, Reatard joined King Khan and Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox for an impromptu set (thrown together while awaiting the arrival of Cut Copy). However, instead of thrashing away at his trusty Flying V guitar, Reatard was instead seen screaming nonsense into the microphone and eventually sticking a flower up his ass — birthing the appropriately named supergroup “Buttflower” in the process. And just recently, in an interview accompanying a blistering 3-song set for AOL’s The Interface, Reatard claimed that he felt no connection to the current political climate, and that he spends too much time in other countries to even care (at one point even saying, “Obama your momma”). Apparently, disenchantment is the new Obama t-shirt.

Anyway, whether or not we condone these types of behaviors is somewhat secondary to how much we have fallen in love with the hyperized pop/punk that Reatard has now become almost legendary for producing. Like a Buzzcocks-obsessed version of Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard, Reatard’s prolific nature has led him to release countless albums and singles over the years, with outfits like the Reatards, Lost Sounds, Final Solutions, as well as under his own name — most notably the 15-song onslaught that is 2006′s Blood Visions. This past summer, In The Red Records released Singles 06-07, a sort of retrospective housing Jay’s 7″ chunks of wax released over those same years. Running from garage-y punk to out-and-out jangle-pop, the album was not only a great introduction to the Reatard, but the first indication that the guy was capable of more than appropriating a spot-on British accent. In turn, the collection hinted at the possibility that the sound of future releases might be a bit harder to pin down.

The reception and quality of both releases also got him signed to Matador Records (longtime home to Guided by Voices, oddly enough). With the indie giant now behind him, Reatard was given the green light to continue his obsessive habit of releasing 7″ singles, and before year’s end, six of them existed on record store shelves and with online retailers alike. Keeping in mind the current climate of the record industry, though — and the fact that, “Hey! Nobody buys music anymore!” — the fact that Matador would get behind such an idea in the first place only seems to promote Reatard’s viability as a songwriter, and not some silly punk kid from the South with too much time on his hands.

But with all things hair-brained and risky, the reason to do it really comes down to simplicity: in this case, for lack of a more intelligent descriptor, the songs contained on Matador Singles ’08 (the collected version of the aforementioned Matador singles) are good as fuck. Lo-fi, yet hardly crude, quick in pace, but nowhere near forgettable, Reatard continues to prove that he’s on a roll, perhaps rejuvenated by the signing to a new label and his new-found status as punk’s next savior. Touching on everything from Superchunk-esque indie punk (“See/Saw”), caffeinated acoustic pop (“Screaming Hand,” “No Time,” “You Were Sleeping”), to organ-laced sock-hop jams (“You Mean Nothing To Me”) and Wire-ish reverberated art-punk (“Trapped Here,” “Dead On Arrival”), Reatard manages to nod to everyone from ? And the Mysterians, Supergrass, and Buddy Holly, to kiwi-popsters like the Go-Betweens and the Bats — even throwing in a paranoid cover of Deerhunter’s excellent “Fluorescent Grey” for a welcome curveball.

So whether or not Reatard’s public persona is growing continuously viral, with Matador Singles ’08, there’s no question that his music is continuing to be increasingly vital — and we can’t wait to hear what comes next. Hopefully Buttflower makes an apperance. — Ryan Allen

Jay Reatard plays the Magic Stick w/ Cola Freaks & Terrible Twos on 10/15.

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Posted by: on September 30, 2008 at 11:47 am

Brightblack Morning Light, Motion To Rejoin (Matador Records, 2008)

MP3: “Hologram Buffalo”

If you live in a solar powered tent-like structure in the middle of New Mexico and spend your days meditating over your Native American heritage, reminiscing about your connection to nature, and writing long, slow motion jams celebrating the Earth and your quest for freedom, congratulations, you are probably Brightblack Morning Light. But for those unable to live a 24/7 hippie life of Zen and healing crystals, the music of Naybob Shineywater and partner Rachael Hughes offers a portal into that world to be entered at will by simply allowing their music to enter your world. Awash with mood altering shimmers and dream-like gliding riffs, Brightblack Morning Light proves that being in touch with the Earth doesn’t necessarily mean keeping your feet on the ground. Motion To Rejoin, their third full length and second for Matador, takes psych, funk, Native American instrumentation, 60′s soul, gospel and more and throws it all into Brightblack Morning Light’s cauldron of mysticism. Like most good recipes, this one takes its sweet time brewing to perfection, and the results must be savored slowly to truly enjoy. Each song floats and swirls like the smoke from a smudging stick, offering emotional and spiritual purification. Brightblack Morning Light are offering up a chance to get back in touch with the environment, to help you remember what it’s like to actually go outside and marvel at nature’s mysteries. Unless you’re far too jaded, consider accepting their Motion To Rejoin. — Laura Witkowski

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Posted by: on September 26, 2008 at 9:00 am

Kings of Leon, Only By The Night (RCA, 2008)

Like the rest of America, we’ve always had a mild curiosity, but overall “meh” attitude towards Kings of Leon. When they first hit in the summer of 2003, with Youth & Young Manhood, they were sporting Allman Brothers locks, their sisters’ jeans, and spiky guitars laced with a Southern twang that pegged them as a hick-version of the Strokes (or, perhaps, if My Morning Jacket had jumped in a time machine and relocated to New York City in 1978). But like a lot of new bands that were sprouting from the underground in the early parts of the Millennium, Kings of Leon seemed like another flash in the pan, with more “rock critics” (‘sup, Jenny Eliscu?) focusing on the Followill boys’ tweed jackets, long locks, and chest tats rather than the fact that, well, besides having chiseled jaws and cool clothes, that their actual songs were sort of ho-hum. Passable. Kinda cool, but not terribly exciting.

Thankfully for Kings of Leon, England usually disagrees with what most of the American music buying public thinks (how else can you explain the Libertines?), and once in a great while, they choose a group from our side of the pond to praise, champion, and essentially claim as their own (‘sup, Strokes?). So starting with their debut, and even more-so upon the release of 2005′s Aha Shake Heartbreak, Kings of Leon went from being on a few critics’ “cool lists” to sharing tea and crumpets with Oasis, with their mugs plastered on the cover of the NME every three issues or so (splitting time with the Libertines, presumably).

Still, America shrugged its shoulders. Maybe it’s cos the dudes are all brothers (well, the drummer is a cousin), and American brother-bands just aren’t taken seriously over here (the Brits have Oasis and we have, uh, Hanson?). Or maybe they’re just too goddamn good looking. Or perhaps it’s because their brand of rock and roll isn’t as easily digestible as, say, Kid Rock’s, who somehow gets away with combining Southern-rock clichés with recycled RUN DMC beats.

Whatever the case, KOL must have realized that a little change was in order. Starting on last year’s basically awesome Because of the Times, and on into the new Only by the Night, the down-home, “aw shucks” country boy thing gets pushed to side a bit, and as a result, a more succinct, melodic, and bold side of the band has come forth. Examples? How about we start with “Be Somebody,” a tune strewn with electrifying U2-ism’s in the guitar work, with brooding singer Caleb Followill’s chugging baritone going on about “loosening” his tie — which, really, is just what this band needs. Elsewhere, “Closer” bumps on with a sexy swagger that is at once grungy, spacey, and soulful, and at 3:16, when the song is left to breath for a moment…well, it’s nothing short of spine tingling. “Notion” nods to the Leon of old, but takes the path of trusted rootsy rockers Petty and Springsteen — less “Bonnaroo” if you will — with plonky pianos and crunchy-vs.-ringing guitar jangle that comes off effortlessly. Hell, even the wonky Johnny Greenwood-esque guitar lead sounds right here. The anthemic “Use Somebody” reaches for Arcade Fire/Coldplay levels of grandiosity, but brings things down to Earth with a little bit of restraint, and the ability to know that three minutes and fourty-five seconds is long enough to make your point. “Crawl” combines religious sentiments with a killer bass riff that could have been lifted from DFA 1979′s last album (or, more accurately, Joy Division’s whole catalouge) and drumming that nods to Led Zep’s “Kashmir,” as Caleb taunts “the crucified USA” to “learn to crawl” before he walks away. Hm, looks like even they realize America needs to play catch up when it comes to their own band.

Of course, we’ve all heard lead single “Sex on Fire” by now — with a title like that, how could we not? But even if it functions as the albums “popular” jam, the song still stands out on the album for it’s confident stance and passionate delivery by the whole band. And really, who doesn’t want to lean over to a loved one and shout, “Yo SEX is on FIYAAAAH!” during a nice moment of intimacy? We know we do. Thanks Kings of Leon. Oh…sweet new haircuts, by the way. — Ryan Allen

“Crawl,” from Kings of Leon’s YouTube Channel.

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Posted by: on September 25, 2008 at 11:00 am

Friendly Fires, Friendly Fires (XL Recordings. 2008)

MP3: “Jump In The Pool”

Hailing from the northern suburbs of London, Friendly Fires were apparently born out of boredom. Shocking, considering that their self-titled, XL-approved debut is far from yawn inducing (but we guess that’s how they do in the “northern suburbs of London”). Combining funky rhythms and sweeping synths, at first glance, it seems that these lads are aiming straight for your ass, creating a mood that seems ripe for drug taking, bumps ‘n grinds, and other naughty things. But, while FF do tend to fit into the electronica/synthpop genre usually reserved for mindless romps on the dance floor (think the Presets new-wave sheen mingling with the bounciness of Foals, and you’re close), they pick things up where other more credible influences like the Talking Heads and Public Image Ltd. left off — packing in substance and soul behind into their elastic sound. Lead singer/guitarist Ed Mac brightens every song with hooks so effortless, you’d swear they came from the mind of David Byrne himself, while synth player/guitarist Edd Gibson and drummer Jack Savidge create a seasaw of building melodies that rise with a fury and cascade into a rush of euphoria. Album opener “Jump in the Pool” kicks things off, with chaotic drums and a throbbing bass line, egging you to do exactly what the title demands. “Lovesick” is a sure hit, chock full of sexy, breathy vocals and a synth line that ought to give Fischerspooner and Klaxons a run for their money. And if you’re not sold by the time “Skeleton Boy” rolls around — a track that seamlessly transitions from 70s-disco glitter into to a gorgeous, sing-a-long chorus — then, my friend, you’re probably just afraid of the water. — Elle Sawa

Bonus!: The video for “Jump In The Pool”

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Posted by: on September 24, 2008 at 10:00 am

Tindersticks, The Hungry Saw (Constellation Records, 2008)

MP3: “Yesterday Tomorrows”

The title sounds like it could be a children’s album, and with song names like “Come Feel the Sun” and “Boobar Come Back To Me,” it would be an understandable mistake. But unless your kid wears a smoking jacket, requests Albert Camus essays for bedtime stories and casually throws around phrases like, “This wine has the perfect blend of oaky notes and fruit tones,” The Hungry Saw is probably not for them. Led by the unmistakable gravelly baritone of Stuart Staples, Tindersticks have been making exquisitely dark orchestral pop for the last 17 years or so. In 2005 it looked like it might be curtains for the group, but the band tentatively regrouped last year and The Hungry Saw was born. Their first album in five years marks a resounding return to form. Recorded in Staples’ own exquisite home recording studio in France, the hallmarks that begat a rabidly devoted fan base back in the early 90′s are all present: slowly building, dramatic song structure, gorgeously haunting string arrangements, delicately sustained piano, playful experimentation, and wrenching tales of love and loss, good and evil. “Sometimes I wonder about the turns we took to get here,” Staples croons on the album’s closer, but it’s clear that whatever turns were taken to get to The Hungry Saw, Tindersticks have been led right back to where they needed to be. — Laura Witkowski

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Posted by: on September 23, 2008 at 10:00 am

Mason Proper, Olly Oxen Free (Dovecote Records, 2008)

MP3: “Lock and Key”

If there was ever a tactful way to tell someone to “shove it,” Mason Proper has figured it out: with smarmy lyrics over a crisp guitar and dissonant piano. Said shoving all happens three songs in, on the killer “Lock and Key” — just one of the many standouts on Olly Oxen Free, the Ann Arbor quartet’s second full-length effort. Elsewhere, singer/contortionist Jonathan Visger’s morbid fascination with disassembling body parts is as rabid as ever, and tracks like “Out Dragging the River” (re: “Friendship” from the Shorthand EP) show his freaky lyrics continuing to leave a lot to the imagination. Throughout Olly Oxen Free, Visger and the rest of the Mason Proper boys get their freak on — going from a light sprinkle to a downpour to a monsoon and back again within the same song. But instead of going off the deep end, they get the weird out in more subtle ways, choosing not to let their inherent creepiness overshadow their knack for writing catchy tunes — other key tracks “Point A to Point B” and “Only a Moment” amongst them. Indeed, just as “when all else fails, get crazy” seemed an occasional go-to move on 2007′s There Is a Moth In Your Chest, the arrangements are scaled-back this time around, revealing a finely chiseled sculpture that is sure to become a permanent fixture on the Mitten’s indie-rock mantle. So compare all you like — yeah, you’ll hear some Radiohead, some Pixies, hell, maybe a little Grandaddy or even a less wacky version of the Dismemberment Plan. Regardless, Olly Oxen Free is a big, meaty, and, at times, tactfully restrained effort from one of Michigan’s most underrated, and perhaps best, bands.  — Elle Sawa

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Posted by: on September 22, 2008 at 10:00 am

Friendly Foes, Born Radical (Gangplank Records, 2008)

MP3: “Couch Surfing”

Friendly Foes’ Born Radical is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time. From “Full Moon Morning”‘s regal blasts of brass and fuzz guitar to the triumphant seizure and short piano chord at the end of “Rush the Land,” the thirteen tracks on Born Radical are the pinnacle of the Friendly Foes’ one year as recording artists. Ryan Allen, Liz Wittman, and Brad Elliott were never more fearless and unified in their pursuit of magic and transcendence.

Issued in America on September 26, 2008, Born Radical is also rock’s ultimate declaration of change. “We were fed up with being Friendly Foes,” Allen said later, in I’m A Total Asshole, Dude McBookwriter’s Allen biography. “We were not boys and girls, we were men and women…artists rather than performers.”

At the same time, Born Radical formally ushered in an unforgettable season of hope, upheaval and achievement: the early 2000s and, in particular, 2008′s Summer of Drinking Alot. In its iridescent instrumentation, lyric fantasias and eye-popping packaging, Born Radical defined the opulent revolutionary optimism of psychedelia and instantly spread the gospel of love, acid, Eastern spirituality and electric guitars around the globe. No other pop record of that era, or since, has had such an immediate, titanic impact. This music documents the world’s biggest rock band at the very height of its influence and ambition. “It was a peak,” Elliott confirmed in his 2008 interview with himself in a mirror, describing both the album and his collaborative relationship with Allen and Wittman. “Ryan, Lizzie, and I definitely were working together,” Elliott said, and Born Radical is rich with proof: Elliott’s burst of whip-lash drums in Wittman’s “Get Ripped” is simply astounding; Wittman’s impish rejoinder to Allen’s bridge in “Couch Surfing” (“ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba…”) sounds kind of like sheep.

Born Radical is our grandest endeavor,” Wittman said. “The greatest thing about the band was that whoever had the best idea — it didn’t matter who — that was the one we’d use. No one was standing on their ego, saying, ‘Well, it’s mine,’ and getting possessive.” It was Dave Feeny, the Foes’ producer, who suggested they they add pedal steel to “Epic Jamb”, just before the grand finale of the album’s longest song.

Born Radical is not the Number One album of nothing in particular just because of its firsts — it is simply the best of everything Friendly Foes ever did as musicians, pioneers and pop stars, all in one place. A non-existent 2008 print ad for the album declared, “Remember Born Radical Is Friendly Foes.” As Allen put it, the album was “just us doing a good show.”

The show goes on forever. (LOL/ROLF/JOKES)

Friendly Foes’ CD Release Show w/ Copper Thieves & Big Mess • 9/26/08 • Berkley Front

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Posted by: on September 16, 2008 at 10:00 am

Calexico, Carried To Dust (Quarterstick, 2008)

MP3: “Two Silver Trees”

When a band is said to have “defined their sound,” this is usually a public relations savvy way of saying they’ve hit a plateau and gotten boring. But on Carried To Dust, Calexico take the lessons learned from their 2006 effort Garden Ruin –- considered a more straightforward rock record (or as straightforward rock as Calexico can be) –- and build on those strengths while circling back and returning to form. The results, though more subtle in their delivery of beauty and complexity –- are certainly not boring. Rather, this time around Joey Burns and John Convertino might find they’ve pleased both those who lamented the change of pace offered by Garden Ruin, and those who welcomed the growth in scope. The Southwestern roots on which Calexico has built its sound have been strengthened by touring, collaborating and most importantly, seeking out and experiencing music from all over the world. Stylistically they’ve never sounded so melded, yet Carried To Dust is a story of adventure and spontaneity. A genre Calexico hasn’t exhausted just yet. — Laura Witkowski

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Posted by: on September 15, 2008 at 10:00 am

Damien Jurado, Caught In the Trees (Secretly Canadian, 2008)

MP3: “Dimes”

For his eighth album, Seattle’s Damien Juardo has gone from a solo artist to being a band. This is made clear in the “About Me” section of the blog I Am Caught In The Trees which states: “Damien Jurado is a band. This is our blog. Secretly Canadian puts out our songs. We love cooking.” His hauntingly beautiful confessional sound is now rounded out by the addition of band mates Jenna Conrad and Eric Fisher. Interestingly enough they come on board for Jurado’s most lyrically personal record to date. Best known for his largely fictional, yet seemingly personal narrative accounts of love and loss, this time around Jurado’s narratives really are glimpses into his psyche. “The floodgates are open and you’ll see me running back,” he sings on “Dimes.” Alongside a wash of strings, driving snare and lush piano, it seems like he’s talking about his own reluctance to be so personal. Throughout the album Jenna Conrad’s background vocals and harmonies add a beautiful contrast to Jurado’s starkness and when together they sing, “I’ll be sailing on your deep blue eyes,” it’s audible proof that regardless of the vulnerability, he’s clearly no longer sailing alone. — Laura Witkowski

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Posted by: on September 12, 2008 at 10:52 am

Okkervil River, The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar, 2008)

MP3: “Lost Coastlines”

Offered as a sequel to 2007’s The Stage Names, Okkervil River’s fifth full length album The Stand Ins further mines the subject matter of its predecessor: the trials and tribulations of life on the stage. Although thematically meshed with The Stage Names, The Stand Ins works on its own to further showcase one of indie rock’s top lyricists. Will Sheff is at his best when interweaving inner-dialogue with a well-set scene, and the subject matter herein should be something he knows a thing or two about. The album opens with “Lost Coastlines,” a duet between Sheff and his recently departed band mate Jonathan Meiburg. The parting was amicable, but the deeper anxiety is apparent throughout the song’s unfolding (“Sit down on the prow to wave ’bye,’ because there might not be another stop farther on the line”). The behind-the-scenes uncertainty and underdog status of The Stand Ins’ main players pulls you in with a literary intensity that few songwriters can muster. Combined with well-crafted melodies, forward propulsion and driving builds, the music keeps up with and perfectly compliments each story line. Despite the lack of any showstoppers like The Stage Names’ opener, “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe,” The Stand Ins sneaks its way into your consciousness. And when Sheff sings, “I’ve got my ear against the screen. I feel your feelings crackling through every single inch of me. I’m going to make you mean it” it’s clear that he can, and even clearer that you will. — Laura Witkowski

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