Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Miho Hatori - ECDYSIS

Download: Miho Hatori - "Barracuda"

Miho Hatori's new record "ECDYSIS" caught me completely off-guard. I've always been familiar with her work with Cibo Matto and that one Smokey guy - and have always liked them. But to be honest, I never really thought they got out of the whole New York indie scene thing enough for me to really pay attention to what they were doing.

Hatori's new disc first caught my attention at Treehouse when it first came in. I spun the record in the store two or three times over the weeks that followed its arrival, and I always wanted to listen to it when I came in next. So, I caved a bought the album and have yet to regret it.

The first track that really hooked me was "Barracuda," which is the hot track on the record by a long shot. Most of the album is a bit on the random side (which is actually pretty cool in the case of Hatori), but this snuck its way into my subconscious. The Murder City Devils meets Lifter Puller meets Sex in the City organ line immediately calls for attention, and then Hatori's super cute Bjork-ish voice seals the deal. The song has a samba-esque beat that is rather infectious and even moves my white ass to dance a bit.

Over the course of the album, Hatori leaves her Bjork influences behind and embraces some surprisingly exotic beats - she even incorporates spoken word with some smooth city-beat music. Enjoy!

(Ian Anderson)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lily Allen - Alright, Still

Download: "Everything Is Just Wonderful"

This is a totally hot album. Due to the common trend of one or two good songs per pop album, I wasn't expecting much when I picked this up, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Allen is beyond cute and is also incredibly vulgar, which makes for an interesting twist to her already rather sharp wit (for example, in "Shame for You," she breaks out this gem: "Oh my God you must be joking me/ If you think that you'll be poking me"). She plays off of some pretty big back beats that are often groovy and even sometimes straight reggae.

This 21-year-old Hammersmith, England native signed to Parlophone last year and has done nothing but build buzz since. This is my favorite track off of her new album Alright, Still, which finally hits the U.S. today. Much of her popularity has been attributed to the wonderful world of MySpace, but after hearing this album, I think she might have ended up there eventually on her own laurels. Alright, Still is so far my favorite of 2007 and is full of hits: at my last count, eight.

(Ian Anderson)

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Squareshooters' Final Show Tonight

Download: The Squareshooters - "Don't Answer"
Download: The Squareshooters - "$10 Camera"

The Squareshooters will be playing their final show tonight (Friday, January 26, 2007) at Big V's, everything starts at 10 p.m. and it's an ID show.

This isn't a break up about how much they hate each other, it is a break up decided by the responsibilities of growing up. I spoke with a very sick and sleepy Sam Gerard on the phone last night, who made the following statement:

"Mostly, it's like, I can't play those songs any more. I don't want to be in a band that sounds like Modest Mouse anymore. I feel constricted by it. I have to write Squareshooters songs that sound like Pavement. There's just a time when you get bored with it, and it just happened like that. I want to do something new. I'm finally happy doing music stuff, the happiest I've been in a year, in a long time."

The Squareshooters released two records as splits on Afternoon Records and Squareshooter Records, the EP ...Get Kicked Out of High School and their recent full-length that came out in August 2006 I Am The Keeper.

"$10 Camera" was my first love in the Squareshooters universe. Sam came to a show at the Triple Rock about three years ago and handed me a four-song demo that had nothing but their cute little arrow-through-a-square logo on it. To be perfectly honest, I didn't like it. In fact, I was about to give up on it after the third track when "$10 Camera" came on and it completely blew me away. The Squareshooters then spent 10 agonizing months cranking out their EP with off-and-on recording sessions, while Sam seemed to show up with newer, better songs every week.

The EP came out and it seemed like the local kids really picked up on it -- in fact, I know of a pretty good story about a Squareshooter-induced riot breaking out at a YMCA in Hudson, Wisc. when the show ran long and the Squareshooters couldn't play. I'm serious, eight squad cars showed up to break up the crazed crowd of kids and Joe Schweigert (the SS guitarist whose 21st birthday was a mere few hours away) got a minor. Big things were to come.

The Squareshooters then hunkered back into the studio to cut I Am The Keeper before their east coast tour this last August with One for the Team. Keeper was a gem of indie-rock classics that seemed to get passed the radars of local indie-heads. Flat out, Keeper was one of the best and most underrated releases of 2006 and I am sad to see the band break up. However, there are rumors of new bands afoot, so hope is not lost.

(Ian Anderson)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

EMI Merges Capitol and Virgin

EMI, the number three major recording label in the world, announced today that they will be merging Capitol Records and Virgin Records in the U.S. to create the Capitol Music Group. This merger has wide-spread implications, but when you get down to it, the major music industry is having a bad seven years and is having a rather hard time adapting to the concept of digital downloadable music. Who knew?

For the full article from Reuters, click here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Apostle of Hustle

A revelation: Ian's a communist. Despite his prodigious entrepreneurial talents, Mr. Anderson let the red menace get to him in his younger, punker years. Back in those chaotic days, he was shilling the first Aneuretical mix tapes for sexual favors during the day, fighting for the proletariat by night. The ascension of John Ashcroft, September 11 and the introduction of the Patriot Act forced him to scale back his revolutionary activities, but his inner-pinko remains committed to class conflict, even if it only emerges in subtle ways.

For instance, this summer, Ian and I had separate blogger accounts for Sliver. If I posted something to the news section, blogger would give me due credit for my effort, and vice-versa for Ian. But right before I left for Dublin, Ian "assimilated" our two accounts, and now, whenever anything gets posted, we both receive credit (i.e. POSTED BY IAN AND PETE). Considering I've spent the past five months working on little besides permanently damaging my liver, the unified front Ian's been maintaining makes me feel a little guilty, because I received credit for a bunch of work I didn't do. So I wanted to come out and say it: I've been a lazy bastard. In my defense, it's hard to be proactive in a country that privileges whiskey consumption over work.

In any event, I'm back in Minneapolis now, and I've finally got the opportunity to write about Apostle of Hustle. The brainchild of Andy Whiteman – one of Broken Social Scene's 2,000 guitarists – Apostle of Hustle play BSS's brand of sweeping space-rock, only the trio tones down the bombast and adds a little Latin flavor into the mix. I picked up the group's first record, Folkloric Feel, right around the time You Forgot It In the People was getting (deservedly) pimped by Pitchfork. Folkloric Feel is a fine record, but it's peanuts compared to the band's newest effort, National Anthem of Nowhere.

Chock full of minor-key melodies and coated with snowy guitars and synths, Whiteman & co. eschew the big, cathartic rock of the last BSS record for weird space-pop and funky Cuban beats. National Anthem of Nowhere doesn't get released until March 6, but until then, peep this:

Apostle of Hustle - National Anthem of Nowhere

New Bright Eyes B-Side

Download: Bright Eyes - "Tourist Trap"

I've been a Bright Eyes fan ever since I learned how to cut my hair in cool and interesting ways. I've been with Conor Oberst on his first handfull of releases, but he lost me with his double release in 2004. Don't get me wrong, they were good, but they weren't amazing. Lifted was amazing. Letting Off The Happiness was even better. But Digital and I'm Wide Awake just didn't hit home as much as his previous works. Yeah, yeah, that's the indie-music snobbish thing to say, but it's the truth. The new records just didn't feel like the Bright Eyes I used to know.

So, with that in mind, I'm crossing my fingers as hard as I can that his new record will be a bit of a throw-back, but will also show growth beyond Digital and I'm Wide Awake.

Rambling aside, here is one of the new B-Sides off his forthcoming EP Four Winds, which will be out March 6.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Christians and Lions

Download: Christians and Lions - "Stay Warm"

I've been wanting to write about Christians and Lions ever since their amazing record "Gimme Diction" hit the streets - which so happens to be one of the best unsung records of 2006. I actually met the brothers grimm Sam and Ben Potrykus almost three years ago when they were in Sharp Teeth, having connected with these Bostonian fellows through a mutual friend and we instantly fell in band love.

The comparisons to Bright Eyes will never stop, but we should all try. These guys have so much raw power and purity - that's right, I said purity - that their sweet and soft songs are almost magical in their originality and stark honesty.

I first saw them perform at a last-minute summer gathering at friends house in St. Paul as Sharp Teeth. Although they weren't as functional as they are now in this new incarnation of Christians and Lions, but Ben and Sam's talent were undeniable. Later that summer, I saw a breathtaking performance in their Boston home. About 30 indie kids were wedged tightly in an awkwardly shaped hall/basement area at the bottom of their two-story house in Braintree, Mass. I could tell simply by the look in all of the nervous indie kids' eyes that they knew what I knew: these guys were fucking sweet.

This is "Stay Warm," my favorite song off the record - it's just so damned cute. If you dig it, for sure order "Gimme Diction" through their myspace page here.

We All Have Hooks For Hands

We All Have Hooks for Hands is one of the best bands I have heard in a very long time. There are nine of them and they play a strange gang-style form of indie-rock that I have never really heard done before.

They're from Sioux Falls, S.D. and sound like it. They've captured something very unique and the world should expect something from them in April 2007.

They just signed to Afternoon Records, so we won't say much more. But check out their MySpace page HERE.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

The Shins - "Wincing the Night Away"
Grade: B

I received an advanced copy last week and decided to write a "first listen, first impression" piece.

I'll be honest. I'm a bit worried about this record. Don't get me wrong, it's going to be huge, but it has lost something special.

The record begins with a Tiki Obmar-esque trance behind distorted vocals and faint organs. "Sleeping Lessons" evolves out of this gradual crescendo to reveal an even better James Mercer than ever. Furthermore, the album is of dramatically higher fidelity and is superbly produced. But, in the end, this may be the record's greatest weakness.

Mercer still specializes in his Brian Wilson meets Morrissey stylings both in melody and songwriting. "Phantom Limbs" is still the clear single and the best song off the record. Throughout the record, Mercer weasles in a seafaring theme that is rather charming and discusses the likes of tides, waves and finding sea legs.

However, Wincing marks the abandonment of the Byrds-y twang that we've seen in passed records, and embraces a cleaner, more polished sound that loses a bit of the energy I was hoping for.

"Sea Legs" may be the weakest track as it starts out so funkaliciously that I half-expected Avril Lavigne to begin singing while heavy strings back up somewhat over-the-top distorted guitars.

"Turn On Me" picks it up a bit and conjured the thought, "Finally, a classic Shins track."

In the end, there is nothing startling about the record. It simply doesn't freak me out (like Oh and Chutes did).

For now, Wincing is getting light to medium spins on my record player. I am hoping to grow to love it, but I have some doubts.

Oh, and I'll post an mp3 asap.


Last weekend, Target Market were in town to play a few shows, particularly a show at the Triple Rock on Saturday at my birthday party. Whilst in town, Nathan of Target Market (lead singer) and I had a heated conversation in regards to "Dreamgirls," the new Jamie Foxx/Beyonce movie. He loved it, I didn't. But I did love something: Beyonce. She killed it.

Nathan continued to explain to me is deep-rooted love for Ms. Beyonce and I caught a glimpse into his world of diva-love. Suddenly, I was inspired.

So, like you do, I went out and bought one of her records. Being fairly foreign to the R&B world, I just grabbed one that had a song I recognized, "Crazy In Love." Turns out, that is the only good song on the whole damn album -- which was nominated for a grammy mind you. One good song. That's it. WTF?! Understandably, I was incredibly disenchanted. Forlorn even. It doesn't stop there.

I then purchased the new Riahanna record because that "S.O.S." song is totally the shit. Turns out, only good song on the whole damn album.

Honestly, where do you multi-platinum selling artists get off making crappy records?

Basement Shows/Influenza/Perkins

There is something completely unique about basement shows. Perhaps it's the close, almost too intimate quarters that brings people together, but the energy at a basement show is like nothing else.

This passed weekend, One for the Team played with Target Market and Battle Royale in the Art House basement in Northfield, Minn. and it was insane. People freaking out everyone getting gross and sweaty and having a blast. Shows like these compel me to think about touring the country and only playing in basements. Call it a romantic vision, but I think there is something to it. The question I ask is as follows: is it better to meet as many people as possible for only brief moments, or meet a few people, but really get to know them?

Second, have you noticed that the Perkins slogan is "Always Something Fresh and New"? And in turn, have you, yes you, ever noticed anything new or - god forbid - fresh from Perkins? No. Hell no. I think this is a genuine case of false advertising. If I didn't love their French toast so much, I'm sure I'd do something about it.

Lastly, I caught the flu this week and fallen behind on a few reviews I've been wanting to post. Namely, the new STNNNG and Christians and Lions records should be up soon, both total knock outs and worth picking up.

Being Sick and Whatnot

Inspired by my sickness, I did some late-night-I-can't-sleep-'cause-I'm-sick-research and wrote up a little something on how to prevent catching a cold. I know, I know, but there are some good bits of knowledge.

Being sick isn't fun. Let's face it, the runny noise, the hand full of Kleenex, the chapped lips and clammy hands don't quite add up to us at our most attractive. As winter approaches, so do common illnesses like the flu, colds and even just plain old allergies.

If you're anything like me, I can't stand needles. Therefore, flu shots are out. So, without this immunization, am I left defenseless? Well, no, not really. To avoid these winter-season ailments, I have some sage-like advice.

First and foremost, wash your hands. You would be amazed as to how many germs and bacteria are exchanged simply with our hands. Everything we touch throughout the day - people, objects, food - all have easily transmittable germs, some of which can cause colds. Actually, there are over 200 known viruses that can cause colds and most of which can be killed by just simple use of hot water and a bit of soap for 15 seconds. Touching your face, nose, eyes and mouth with germy hands greatly increases the chances of disease to enter the body. Don't make a germ's job easier.

Take vitamins. Even before the cold is on your radar, take vitamins consistently - especially vitamin C, which is the best helper for immune system. If you miss out on vitamins before you catch the cold, it is not too late to start. Increase vitamin C intake while having your cold will boost you immune system and will help wash away waste. The Naked juices in the cage are particularly helpful in this area.

Don't share towels. Even if your roomie swore he or she "just washed it," don't use it. Germs can live for hours in cloth towels, and your shower towel is no exception.

Live healthily. Drink more water, get enough sleep, eat properly and maintain a steady exercise routine. We are supposed to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. When you're sick, drink even more because water helps flush your body of harmful toxins. Sleep is always important. While you are asleep, your immune system maintains a high level of activity to protect you from illnesses. Believe it or not this helps. However, don't go overboard. Some studies suggest that too much sleep actually make cause more harm than good. So keep it within reason. Eating healthy is always important. Having enough energy is why we eat, and when we're sick, our immune system goes into overdrive, and therefore, we need more energy. I've always been under the impression of "feed a fever, starve a cold," but that is wrong - always eat. Lastly, maintain a consistent workout routine. Try to work out three to four times a week, even if it is a light jog or only 20 minutes of activity, something is better than nothing.

Lastly, hold back on alcohol intake, especially when you're sick. Alcohol doesn't help with dehydration, and dehydration may decrease your resistance against bacteria and other germs.

Halloween/Hold Steady/Cinemachanica/STNNNG

The Hold Steady played in the First-Avenue Mainroom last Tuesday and changed the world. First off, they sold out the Mainroom - which is a big deal - but it was also just the first of two shows, which makes it that much more impressive. Craig Finn is absolutely one of the most - if not the most - charismatic frontmen currently active.

The audience was completely captivated throughout, hanging on every word. The last time I saw the Hold Steady was at CBGBs last September at CMJ, so I was very impressed with the rapid improvement of their live show. I'm not saying that they were ever bad live, they were just completely on that night.

I can only imagine what will happen next with the Hold Steady. At times, I debate whether or not Finn and Co. will be able to top Boys and Girls, but I thought that after Separation Sunday.

Jon Graef wrote a great review of the Metro/Chicago version of the show in our show reviews page, check it out.

I also received a few cool records in the mail that I am looking forward to reviewing. Namely, the new STNNNG record from Modern Radio seems to kick ass. I'm a bit nervous that it's not going to live up to the expectations Dignified Sissy garnered, but I can't wait to listen. I also picked up the Cinemachanica and Ho-Ag records, so I'll be running something on them soon.

Early this week, I will be putting up a feature on the Awesome Snakes, a review of the new Bridge Club album and a few other tokens of musical hipness.

Lastly, earlier this week, Ross Raihala from the Pioneer Press wrote to me asking about my worst Halloween memory. After sending it off to him, I thought it was so funny I figured it was worth posting here.

"When I was a kid, say, eight or nine, I was that chubby kid in class that was obsessed with the Minnesota Twins; specifically Kirby Puckett - I have over 500 Kirby Puckett baseball cards, honest. As a result of my passion for Puckett, I dressed up as ol' #34 for Halloween for like five years in a row starting at age four. It was great, I loved it. I wore the pinstripes and everything. However, on the fifth year, I was made fun of by a group of neighborhood kids because I was a chubby white kid and, well, Kirby wasn't. Honestly, this hadn't occured to me until that exact moment and I lost control. I started crying and shouting things like "'The Love of the Game' was the best book I ever read!" and "Kirby wouldn't care what I look like 'caue he's from the Southside!" and so on. But those kids were so mean, that they pushed me over and took my candy laughing as mean Halloween kids do. But they didn't take just my candy, Ross, they took my dream of playing centerfield for the Twins. And that was my worst Halloween ever."

Motion City Soundtrack/Hold Steady/Velvet Teen/Cardinal Sin

This last weekend I saw Motion City Soundtrack for the first time and was very impressed. I know many of you groan when I start to talk about pop-punk, but these guys are a bit different - a little more authentic. Not to mention that they write damn catchy songs. Anywho, inspired by the show, I wrote a feature-length review of the their last record Commit This To Memory and got an interview with Justin Pierre (the lead singer). So, once I'm finished, I'll put that up.

On Tuesday, I interviewed the Hold Steady which was, well, awesome. They will be in Minneapolis on Oct. 24 and 25 and I will put up a review of the record with the interview earlier that week. I caught Craig and Tad right after the Twins game, and man, Tad was worried because he knew Craig would be in a bad mood all night because of the loss. Hilarious.

I also finally picked up the new Velvet Teen record Cum Laude at their show last night at the Triple Rock. It's pretty good, although it will be hard to tear me away from their earlier records.

Tomorrow night is the Cardinal Sin's Last Show Ever. I cannot stress enough the ultimate coolness of this band. If you haven't heard them before, definitely check out the show tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 9 at the Triple Rock), they will be missed.

Lastly, prior to that show, I will check out Ben Kweller's in-store performance at the Electric Fetus, so I'll have some words about that next week.

Until then, go buy the new Hold Steady record.

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls In America

Graphic by Julie Boehmer

From left to right: Franz Nicolay (keyboards), Tad Kubler (guitar and of Song of Zarathrustra fame), Bobby Drake (drums and of End Transmission fame), Galen Polivka (bass), and Craig Finn (guitar, vocals and of Lifter Puller fame).

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls In America
Grade: A+

By Ian Anderson


(Quick, click on the link to download "First Night" in order to appropriately set the mood as you read this article.)

After spending five minutes gushing to Craig Finn about how much I loved Lifter Puller, how much I love the Hold Steady, how much I love the new record and, in turn, him, he finally summed it up for me: "Yeah. I'm really proud of it and I'm really excited about it and I'm glad everyone is excited ... and I'm glad you like it, Ian."

The Hold Steady's new album Boys and Girls In America is the best record of the year. The album embodies everything that was great about Lifter Puller with the extra panache and classic rock bombast of the Hold Steady and fulfills all of the hopes we all have had for Craig and Tad from the beginning. Each track is a well-crafted pop song that contains killer riffs, killer hooks and damn good lyrics. The Hold Steady have always been great, but they never quite locked in all three great aspects of the band at once, until now.

Produced by John Agnello, who worked with the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Drive-By-Truckers and even, yes even, Andrew W.K., the record has a broader, thicker, and more sonically satisfying sound that is appropriate for the streamlined simple-is-more feel to the record - and may very well result in a wider appeal and easier accessibility.

Boys and Girls, although a party through and through, is much more personal than any of Finn's past efforts. The main themes step away from his examination of other characters and seems to focus on himself. Part of this I attribute to what inspired him to write the album in the first place, a line from Jack Kerouac's "On the Road": "Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together." According to Finn, the record is simply about love and guys and girls and relationships.

"[The album] is based loosely on one sentence from Kerouac," Finn said. "When I first read it, I didn't get it. I re-read it at 32 and found it to be tremendously funny. It's both maudlin and sad in a Morrissey kind of way, but it was also funny and overdramatic, but also truthful. At that age, the moments of joy and elation are the most in life and the lowest are the lows. It's the kind of thing that when I'm 35, I don't understand love and relationships any more than I did at 15. This is a situation that age doesn't even help. So I wrote songs from different angles on that one topic."

This personal quality is enhanced by Finn's shift from his patented stream-of-conscious style of writing to a more repetitive, fan-fare-esque fashion that really captures the attention of the listener. Here, I will admit that I have always enjoyed that off-the-cuff style of Finn gab, but I must say that having sing-along choruses does make the record a bit more of a party.

"I sort of made a personal decision lyrically to make repetitive choruses, which is something I haven't done before," Finn said. "There are some more real, actual repetitions for people to hold on to. Trying to get across a sense of celebration and a sense of joy and the 'woah-woah' choruses convey a sense of fun and joy that really add a lot."

A prime example of this transition is "You Can Make Him Like You," which is my favorite track off the record. With a chorus that hooks with the line "There's always other boys / there's always other boyfriends / there's always other boys, you can make them like you," the song is just infectious. Finn is always a step or two away from a clever turn of phrase, which is why he's so cool - and this works throughout the entire album.

"We wrote 'You Can Make Him Like You' in the studio," Finn said. "It just sort of fit the flow and it was a fun straightforward song. I liked the idea of it and it was kind of funny and it appealed to me because it was a song I could laugh at."

This sense of humor permeates throughout the album and adds to the already party atmosphere. This riotous tone is compounded by the blue-collar modern-day Born to Run vibe the record projects, which is perfectly appropriate to the anthemic nature inherent in the band.

Another element that really brings out a new side to the band is a greater integration of keyboard player Nicolay, who, having joined mere weeks before Separation Sunday, never really had a chance to get in the game on the ground floor. Now, presented with the opportunity, he really stepped up to the plate.

"We were more aware of space," Finn said. "[We wrote] this record with him; piano is such a dynamic instrument and we allowed space for that. Franz is a really good musician that hangs out with more trained musicians and he kind of lined up the string sections too."

"Essentially, you want to grow as a band and progress in your craft and instrument and songwriting process," Kubler said. "This [record] is much more deliberate. We wanted to bring out the hooks with less-is-more. I wanted to create more space for Franz to come through as a musician. We wanted to give him space to carry the melody of the record. At times we'd say 'Let's just take out the guitar.'"

It's clear the writing process has become a collaborative effort, which definitely plays to the strengths of each member - and it is just as clear that the guys took their time in the studio.

"We just wanted to try new stuff," Kubler said. "It was the first time we ever worked with a producer. We wanted to create a space in the studio where we felt comfortable thinking above and beyond the habits and routines we developed in our songwriting. - 'to really explore the studio space.' We feel as a band that we accomplished the big rock record [with Separation Sunday], we wanted to see what else we could do."

The famed Finn-penned characters of Holly, Charlemagne and Gideon take a step back on this record, leaving the concepts behind on Separation Sunday. "I just made them up," Finn said. "They're loosely based on things and people and are composites of people. Gideon isn't this one guy I knew, but is a type of guy I knew. But those characters aren't doing anything in these songs - it's not a concept album, it's a scene. They all appear in "First Night," which is an update on what they're up to, but they don't have much to do with the rest of the album. The reason why I didn't write another linear album is because, if I did, I would have to do that for every album for the rest of my life."

"We wanted to break the mold and grow as songwriters and maybe the next record will continue in the progression," Kubler said. "We've developed a profound respect for each other - like a platoon. We have so much fun doing what we can do, and it's contagious. Here a five guys who genuinely have fun together."

Another change that this album marked was the move from Brooklyn-based indie-trend-setters French Kiss Records to the much larger Vagrant Records.

"Vagrant are our best friends," Finn said. "And French Kiss, those are some of the only guys I hang out with in New York. Vagrant has a way of reaching people outside of the box. With French Kiss, there was limited capital. Separation Sunday seemed like a dog on a chain: it had momentum but could only go so far."

The switch to Vagrant will allow the Hold Steady to reach a greater audience, which isn't losing sight of the band's indie-cred, but rather, bringing more people into the know.

"A part of the closure of the artistic circle is getting feedback from the audience, and the bigger that is, the better it is," Finn said. "I have the most punk-cred than anyone I know my age. I want people to not feel excluded in any way."

Boys and Girls In America is a profound record that accurately captures the romantic feelings of the road, youthful optimism and the inevitable frustration that comes with those romantic misconceptions. Finn's self-aware writing brings out a characteristic intrinsic in the very fabric of naive love, which, he explains, never gets over the naive part even as you get older.

Oh, and Craig, can you send me one of those Hold Steady beer coasters?

The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine

Graphic by Julie Boehmer

The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
Grade: A

By Ian Anderson -

I have had the good fortune of following The Thermals since the band's infancy and have enjoyed watching them grow from an underappreciated, noisy post-punk rock band to an almost-as-appreciated-as-they-should-be, noisy post-punk rock band. They're a loud, abrasively energetic band with enough cool to lasso the everyday listener without alienating the indie elitists. They work hard: spending nearly the whole of the past three years on the road touring obsessively, and that hard work is finally paying off. Not to mention that they have made one of the best records of the year.

The Thermals are infectious, a fact evidenced by their history. Their first album, More Parts Per Million, was an underappreciated gem that was fortunately noticed by the right people. It was a loud, chaotic and fun debut that guitarist Hutch Harris and bass player (and now drummer, too) Kathy Foster recorded on a four-track in 2003. Sub Pop Records quickly pounced on the Portland-based band per suggestion and helpful nudge by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie fame just four months after they formed, and released More Parts Per Million.

Fuckin' A, The Thermals' second full-length release was recorded and produced by Christ Walla (another Death Cab cutie) and finally brought the band's image to fruition. Although of a much higher audio fidelity than their first album, The Thermals still hadn't betrayed their sense of reckless abandon and boundless energy - and this stays true for their latest release The Body, The Blood, The Machine.

However, there were some changes. Perhaps most prominent was the decision to have Foster play both bass and drums, which made the process a bit more exclusive. "It was natural," Harris said. "We've been playing together for 10 or 11 years, it's nothing new. It's just going back to something we're familiar with. We wanted to see if we could do it just the two of us: if we could do it, we could pull it off in the future. It was also a lot of fun to record with less people - it makes it an easier job. It was this tiny little secret club and that made it a lot of fun."

But fun doesn't mean less effort. Every move was predetermined and calculated many times over. "We had to move fast and bust our ass," Harris said. "We didn't have a lot of time in the studio, but we spent a lot of time writing. We made a lot of demos and we were really ready when we got in the studio." This careful time of development was a clear marker in the evolution of the record as The Body has a far more clear and deliberate direction than any other Thermals release in the past.

Produced and recorded by former Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, The Body is a throwback to the classic D.C. sound, but doesn't lose perspective on the band's previous works. The production is less scattered and more focused, the drums are louder, the guitars are still loud, and the vocals rest on top of the mix rather than are buried deep within it. The recording is crisp and, despite its polished quality, doesn't ignore the dirty nature of the band. The Body is also a big step forward in terms of songwriting and musicianship. The songs are catchier, wittier and possess that extra something that separates the middleweight bands from the heavy-hitters - The Thermals fall into the latter category.

The best songs on the record are a perfect one-two punch of "A Pillar of Salt" and "Returning to the Fold" and would make an excellent seven-inch. "A Pillar of Salt" is the sure-fire hit on the record - expect to see it on a Lexus or Apple commercial sometime - complete with hydrolic drums and the catchiest lead-riff on the record, this song could be the back-to-school hit of the year.

"There is a story in the record," Harris said. "It isn't really a concept, but there is a story being told. ["A Pillar of Salt"] originally was called 'Escaping'. And ["Returning to the Fold"] is the returning. It's the exodus of the record, escaping from the fascist Christian government."

"Returning to the Fold" is a slow-burner that has a surprisingly undeniable groove for a band dubbed as just a post-punk outfit. The song is about the hesitant return to the Church and faith. With lines like "I forgot I needed God like a big brother," the song owns an odd air of Orwellian paranoia. But lines like "But I still have faith, wait for me" indicate a conflict within Harris between embracing his instinct to return to his faith and another instinct to completely disregard it.

"['Returning to the Fold'] is a little more complicated," Harris said. "It's about hating the Church and running away from the Church, but still loving God and Jesus. It's losing the faith in the Church but still keeping the faith you have."

The lyrical content of the record also sets it apart from the rest of the Thermals' catalog. Both deeper in content and meaning, it was clear that Harris was making a point with the record. Plus, the lyrics are slightly Mountain Goat-ish with a dash of Pavement, which always makes for a good story. "I tried to work a lot harder on the lyrics," Harris said. "I spent a lot more time on them and worked on them until I really liked them. I wanted them to be a step above the other record. At the end of it, I was really glad that we did."

But in seemingly stark contrast, Harris' topics have shifted from politics to God. But Harris doesn't think the contrast is so stark. "For me, [talking about God] is still talking about politics a lot. A lot of the decisions [President] Bush makes are based on faith. I'm not really sure if I believe he is a Christian, but religious groups influence a lot of his decision making."

Ridden with frustration and impatience, The Body is urgent and pressing and demands attention. Harris lashes out at anyone who will listen because, well, Harris is saying something worth listening to. "It's frustrating to live in the world and have to deal with other people ruining it," Harris said. "It's just a small powerful handful that want to fuck it up for the rest of us. I'm not really religious; I grew up a Christian. I'm not now but may be again. It's not that I've lost faith in God, I've lost faith in the Church. I've lost faith in the Church because it is run by people and people screw things up. I don't know if there really is [a mission statement]," Harris said. "We're ambitious people and we're not out to conquer the world, yet. We really just enjoy being a band and playing shows and making records and writing whatever we want. In the end, people can either take it or leave. In the end, we really don't give a shit."

Love Is All - Nine Times That Same Song

Grade: B+

What makes this record great is that it is just a mess. The record is a chaotic cacophony of spastic instrumentalism combined with just plain old too damn much energy in one room; and the result is, well, awesome. I'm not sure if Pete will agree with me on this one, but this is definitely one of the better recordings that has come out of a New York-based label since Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (although, eek, I think I like this better than CYHSY).

I'm not sure how What's Your Rupture? (the label of which I speak) stumbled upon this Swedish powerhouse, but kudos and good mark. However, Love Is All will never escape the Yeah Yeah Yeahs line-ups with this release, but looking at the poor execution of YYY's latest effort, maybe that's not such a bad thing - perhaps a spin that this is the record the Yeah Yeah Yeahs should have come out with may be in order.

The record is unassailably lo-fi, but it doesn't hurt the feel of the record as a whole. Hiding behind a vale of reverb, lead vocalist Josephine Olausson is great. She mixes sass and sex with ease and finesse, and even pushes some impressive lyrical content that helps put this record out of the realm of senseless dance-pop.

The first thing to notice is easily the saxophone player who spends most of the record floating around somewhere in the distance, but that by no means is the best part, or even the most essential element of the band. The guitar work is superb and very Les Savy Fav-esque at its high points, which of course scores big with me. The songs are well-crafted: enough pop to make it enticing but just enough scruff to keep a good level of indie-cred, some have even dubbed it "punk," but I wouldn't go that far.

"Make Up Fall Out Make Up" drifts a little close to an Arcade Fire cover, and at times the band has some intonation issues (out of tune bass here, another saxophone there) but despite these brief shortcomings, the record is solid throughout.

"Turn the Radio Off" is an amazing song; hands down the best on the record. Olausson's vocals are wandering and beautiful. Laced with a bit of echo and reverb, she steps out of your face and lets her vocals rest in the midst of a dreamy song that slowly waltzes to the finish line. The verses are based on a smooth groove supplied by the bass that is surprisingly boppy, and a simple riff of soft and delicate bells hovers just above the band. The chorus is backed-up by a troop of roomy vocals supplied by the rest of the band which adds to the already desperate environment that accompanies the song. Although it's the only actual slow and somber song on the record, it shows a side of the band that indicates future growth and an ability to do more than just rock it.

I'm impressed.

Here it is for download, enjoy.

Love Is All - "Turn the Radio Off"

The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes

Grade: A-
I'm currently in lower east-side Manhattan on tour, so I apologize for the late-ish update, but it's a goodie.

Doo-Wop isn't a hard thing to do, but it is hard to do well. Balancing simple novelty and actual creativity and innovation is where the difficulty lies. We are fortunate enough to have the God Damn Doo Wop Band here in Minneapolis, but what about England? This is a question I often ask myself: what about England?

The Pipettes are great. They walk the line of cheesy and revivalist with well-constructed songs that, although they may not be the deepest songs ever written, they are amongst the most fun. Instantly contagious, the Pipettes have stumbled upon a rather impressive formula.

Each song on We Are The Pipettes has the spirit of doo-wop inherently there, but also possesses elements of Abba oddly enough - I will admit that "Fernando" completely owns, so I'm down. I really hated most disco and I agree with, well, everybody that mirrored balls, roller skates, and unbuttoned lapels hailed the end of rock music, but somehow the Pipettes have been able to hold my attention without sparking my anti-disco sentiments. Yet.

Part of this is because they write damn catchy songs. "Pull Shapes" is an instant classic that hosts flowing orchestral strings behind the three girls just completely belting it. The drummer pays homage to the stylings of the time, but isn't dedicated to that single feel - often including phatter beats and a bit more creativity to make things a bit more interesting. The song is full of hot breakdowns of "Clap yours hands if you want some more," with white-washings crowds cheering and echoing in the background.

The production is also rather clever. It's clear that the equipment used was as vintage as their sound. Everything is wet with reverb and has a hint of delay to create that older-reel-to-reel feel. The drums are harshly compressed which gives the recording a smashing room feel which creates a consistent and discernable spatial image of the room. The vocals are generally filtered with a dash of delay, but are placed artfully within the mix.

Chaulk full of three-part harmonies and back-and-forth vocal lines, the girls play off of each other as if they've been friends for years, which makes them that much more authentic.

The only weak points are "It Hurts Me So To See You Dance So Well" and "A Winter's Sky" which aren't all that bad really, they just lack in energy which makes the middle of the record drag a bit. However, the pace picks back up with "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me," which will be the hit, hands down - you just watch.

The beginning of "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me" is a chant of the name-sake line repeatedly over a "Micky"-like (or "Holla Back Girl") drum part that makes the song irresistible. The verses are simple doo-wop, off-beat shimmys that conjure images of the doing "the Swim" and, yes, even Winny Cooper from the Wonder Years. However, the chorus is easily the highlight, moving into an expansive - and quite beautiful - part with gentle "ooos" holding up a high, siren-like melody that glides effortlessly over a hall of reverb-soaked instrumentation.

"Tell Me What You Want" is a standard Abba-esque slow-disco burner that is smooth and sexy and very cool. Epic and over-the-top yes, but is still a great song and may even be the sleeper hit of the record.

My favorite track, however, is "ABC," which is a little love song about falling for a nerd, so of course it peeked my interest. The chorus says it all: "He cares about ABC, 123, XYZ, but he don't know about XTC." With lines about how he doesn't care about how she looks, but is always deep in a book, the song is guaranteed to make the hearts of most adolescent boys skip a beat.

A fact which may reveal the true intentions of the band: to simply make everyone fall in love with the three beautiful girls fronting the band. It isn't that hard, trust me.

Superhopper Party Killers

Grade: A
I've been lucky enough to have known Kermit Carter of Superhopper for about six years. They were apart of the whole Malachi Constant/Hockey Night crowd that rocked Eclipse Records (RIP) in St. Paul weekend after weekend in the summer while I was in High School. They were infectious then, but now, they are that and just damn good. Christening their new E.P. Party Killers (Guilt Ridden Pop) with two release shows, an ID party at the Triple Rock last week and an all ages bash at the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) last night, it's clear that something good is about to happen.

With the recent addition of Pete Biasi (of Signal to Trust and Falcon Crest fame and fortune) a new energy has been inspired in the group, which reveals itself in their live show (Bill Muller recorded bass on Party Killers before leaving the band). Drummer Nick Shuminsky is better than ever. I mean, he was great before, but he turns up the ass-kicking on this recording, really showing off his aptitude for four-on-the-floor. And I can even imagine Matt Piasecki (keyboards, back-up vocals) thrashing around while recording his parts; Piasecki is known world-wide for rocking his keyboard like he's operating a massive juggernaut and dancing frantically around stage in shorts and a no-sleeve-t - and sweating, a lot.

They recorded the hot disc at the Terrarium in NorthEast with producer Jason Orris and engineer Dustin Miller - Dave Gardner mastered it of course (scroll down to read more about him). Miller gave me a sneak-peek of "Eye of the Tiger Applies to Everything" (the best track on the E.P. and maybe even the best that Carter has ever written) just after it was recorded and ever since, I've been dying to get my hands on this recording.

With my first listen-through, it is clear that this E.P. stretches beyond any of their past efforts. The recording quality is great and controlled (it's one thing to have a dirty recording, and another to have a great recording, which is later made dirty, this is such a case). Carter's vocals are appropriately crisp and British, which I can't really explain because, as far as I know, he was born and raised in St. Paul - but, Minnesotan's aren't that far away from the island. So, I guess I just talked myself into praising Carter for embrassing his unknown British roots. But let's face it, he's charming and has a great drawl.

Carter spends the majority of the record reflecting on Minneapolis, which is a hard thing to do without sounding either too bitter or too positive, but he straddles this line with expertise neither showing optimism or disenchantment, but rather showing a little glimpse of the shit he's seen and been involved in. The City Pages described it as a run-down of "the scene's never-ending string of destructive, all-night house parties and the characters who thrive on them." Which works, but I disagree with the term "thrive," because I don't really think Carter is saying that anyone is thriving, they're just stuck in it, surviving. Lines like "I don't want any of your cocaine/I just wanna know you're okay," indicate that he neither likes or condones what's going on, but he still loves his friends who are caught up in those "all-night destructive house parties."

But this doesn't account for Superhopper's great sense of humor. Carter does what few writers can and actually conveys sarcasm and wit through his lyrics. His lyrics don't contain hubris or ego, but are comprised of an attitude of "look how ridiculous everyone looks." With song titles like "Eye of the Tiger Applies to Everything" and "Kermit Hates Music," you can't help but fall in love with their attitudes.

Hands down, "Eye of the Tiger Applies to Everything" is the hit of the summer, I honestly can't wait to blast this monster with my car windows rolled down in Dinkyown, nodding my head as if saying "Hells-yeah, you know this is sweet" to the unassuming passer-by. With a riotous chorus of "This is the way victory sounds," I can't imagine anything more kick-ass, and to be honest, I'm jealous that I didn't write this song. The verse's document the rock-and-or-roll lifestyle and how Carter has maybe had his fill ("I can't do this anymore").

Go to Treehouse and buy this, right now.

Haley Bonar's Lure the Fox

Grade: A
Haley Bonar writes beautiful music. It is passionate, intimate and urgent. It is clear that she takes great care and pride in the precision and accuracy of her songwriting. She lets you in to her world of slow dances and low lighting.

She also lets Dave King and Chris Morrissey play on this record, who both do a commendable job filling out each song and adding each of their own little touches of King-isms and Morrissey-isms to each song. King's cavernous drums create the canvas for the room and Morrissey's smooth bass lines step back from Bonar's soft vocals, yet fill in the background giving the record body. Morrissey and King also interplay nicely knowing when to take a back seat and let Bonar's songwriting guide the record, pacing the album patiently - dare I say, appropriately.

The first track off the record, "Fox and Hound," seems to have inspired what is to follow. King rattles goat hooves over his floor tom while Morrissey plays a slow, pirate-waltz-ish bass line, swaying the ship to and fro as Bonar strums artistically at her jangley guitar. But what is the true cake-taker is her voice, which is remarkable to say the least. Complete with reverb-doused vocals haunting the space between her lead track and the rest of the band, there isn't a moment where she isn't perfect.

"Ransom" and "Give It Up" are the two single-worthy contenders. Both have the full band on heal, and Bonar is playing a Rhodes and even has a split-distorted guitar at each chorus. "Give It Up" is notably more upbeat while "Ransom" takes its time to develop - "Give It Up" even has a mild Aimee Mann feel to it, oddly enough. But other than these two, the album is mostly comprised of her and a guitar, which may be what she does best, but definitely what she does with the most heart. She's always scary, always pretty, and always a little sexy, which is a triumvirate of attitude that often proves difficult to pull off - or even impossible for that matter now that I think of it, unless Stevie Nixx counts. Well, no. She doesn't count. Furthermore, Bonar slurs her words smoothly over the soft and slow movement of each song decorating each with a delicate touch that effortlessly brings the work together as a whole. She even sets herself square to a legato cello at moments, making the experience that much more level.

"Captain Captain" is breathtaking and the best song on the record. Beginning with an ascending dual melody piano line that crescendos and retards back and forth, she keeps the pedal down creating a feeling of fleeting wishfullness. The song outlines the important moments of a runaway in such a manner that each scene can be easily imagined in slow motion with the frame of each moment faded into the next - I know it sounds over-the-top, but it is true. Bonar's voices is pure and sad, but filled with just enough desperation that she is almost reassuring; reassuring in the sense that if her desperation is as profound as she portrays, then it inherently must be hopeful; which, in turn, makes her music oddly opyimistic despite its overwhelming sense of sadness.

It seems that her gloomy musical demeanor is only matched by her equally gloomy sense of romance. Almost to the point where it is difficult to decipher whether or not she is singing about making love or committing a murder. I've never heard an artist croon the word "happiness" over-and-over with such distinct separation in each utterance: one moment she growls the word, the next moment she lets out a laugh (or a cackle, I can't tell) as she sings it through gritted teeth. It is clear that she means business.

Wishful thinking and unrest are common themes throughout as she stumbles over each relationship - and new town - in her life. She is growing up, but seems to want to do it on her own, apart from her past and far from her home.

Die Electric's Push and Pull

Grade: B+
So, I'll be honest and personal about this: I have a huge musical-man-crush on Dave Gardner. Be it my 400-year-old love for the Selby Tigers or my general awe-struckness at his wizard-like abilities during the mastering process, I've appreciated his work for some time (he also recorded Dillinger Four's Situationist Comedy and both Hold Steady records).

However, until this past week, I had failed to purchase his Die Electric record (Heart of a Champion, 2004), which, in turn, failed both him and myself. It seems that the more I tighten my grasp, the more star systems slip through my fingers, just as the more I claim to possess a universal and comprehensive knowledge of the local music scene, a gem like Die Electric gets by my radar.

So first off, I would like to apologize to everyone I know for not drawing your attention to this killer record sooner.

In short, the record is inspiring. Not only does the production quality exceed any normal punk-rock parameter, but the songwriting keeps the band out of most, if not all, genre confining loop-holes.

The compression on the Misha Dashevsky's drums keeps the record punchy and dynamic as the kick drums tops over Gardner's rumbling, SansAmp-ish bass tone. The vocals, split between Gardner and guitarist Brian Shuey, are appropriately abrasive and biting to match the ass-kicking qualities of the band. Shuey's higher-pitched croon is the perfect counterpart to Gardner's big, soulful growl. The guitars are big, real big -- as they should be, but are even better than previous Selby Tiger efforts.

"You tear me up" is currently my favorite track off the disc, full of all-out bombast and a catchy bass-then-guitar interplay. Shuey yells over Gardner's don't-worry-about-it-baby-I'm-gonna-rock-your-face-attitude and fills in the gaps with distorted taunts and exclamations -- I can readily imagine Gardner pointing at me as he belts the song's anthem (a quick cut to double-time while he sings "You tear me up"), fantastic pencil-thin moustache and all.

The one true failing of the record, however, is its length -- only eight songs, each clocking in at about two minutes. But, I guess that really isn't a bad thing, yet.

We're watching the Saddle Creek DVD, right now.

An Evening With Saddle Creek
Grade: C+
10:48 p.m.
First of all, I'd like to thank Mr. Mark Ritsema (of Battle Royale and Mouthful of Bees fame) for lending this fine documentary to me earlier today. To be perfectly honest, Pete and I have been working on the site for the past 30 minutes, so I actually haven't been paying too much attention to the film, but being the nerd I am with already creepy knowledge of Saddle Creek's history from high school, I'm sure I can fill in the gaps.

But so far, all I've seen are a slew of of bad haircuts and a lot of pensive boys - and I already knew those guys existed. Actually, come to think of it, this label seriously lacked a strong, or any, source of estrogen - probably why all the early records are so filled with rage.

It's getting to the part where the Faint is starting to take off. Blank-Wave Arcade just came out and it seems like things are coming together. I really did love that record when it came out. It puts almost every modern "dance" album to shame that has been made in the past five years.

Oh, oh. The screen just faded to black and the words "Bright Eyes" faded in. Conor's cute, but man, when he was younger he was definitely having issues with his self-image; but it didn't stop him from writing good songs.

11:02 p.m.
They're recapping the release of Fevers and Mirrors, which is my third-favorite Bright Eyes disc. It's exciting to watch the surprise on their faces and in their stories of sort of, "Wait, you want to buy this CD?"

11:07 p.m.
It's moved on to Cursive, who might be my favorite Saddle Creek band all-around. Tim Kasher, although a bit on the irresponsible side, seems to have his shit the most together. Whenever I've interviewed him for any piece (see Good Life article), he's been fairly articulate, and seems like he really has a goal that he can see and is going for, and I can respect that. He's even being self-depricating, claiming that he was an idiot to think he could leave Omaha and simply start a band and make it without his roots. That's something to remember.

11:15 p.m.
The film is now totally talking about Greta (Cursive's cello player), one of the complete highlights of the band and of maybe all rock music everywhere in the world. If Cursive can be attributed with one contribution to the world of music, it could be the use of a cello in a non-wussy, complete bad-ass fashion, and totally pulling it off. Not to mention that Greta is adorable beyond a doubt.

11:52 p.m.
The documentary is now over and the columns page is almost ready to go. The documentary didn't really function as a documentary, but more as a promotional tool for the label - which isn't a bad idea to be perfectly honest. Every was shown in an up-up-up light, with very little regard for the negative aspects of quitting your job and running a label - or any other labor of love situation for that matter. So, I doubt its authenticity and accuracy, but really, what should I expect? It also glossed over Desaparecidos, which is a shame because they're great and could be something big if the band had time.

Well, being that this is our first column, and we wrote it in the same room at the same time stream-of-consciously while watching a documentary, I think we did fine. Every Friday, Pete and I will post 400 words on whatever the hell is on our minds that week, and hopefully it will entertain you, oh interweb reader. Visit frequently, because this site will only get better.


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