Friday, March 30, 2007

eMusic Wants You To Ask Ted Leo Something

Download: Ted Leo - The Ballad of The Sin Father"

The indie downloading site is launching a new feature titled, you guessed it, "Frank Stallone."

No, wait, that's not right. Let me try this again.

The indie downloading site is launching a new feature titled, you guessed it, "Ask the Artist" (theeEERRReeee we go). The first artist to partcipate in this feature is, you guessed it, "Frank Stallone." Goddammit! No! No, it's not! It's Ted Leo!

Ted Leo is the first artist to take part in the feature, the purpose of which (to quote eMusic) is to "remove the wall between performer and audience and allow you to pitch your questions to the artist...".

Just be sure to email your question for Mr. Leo by April 16th, 2007 and eMusic may pick yours as one of 12 questions to ask the South Bend, Indiana born singer-songwriter whose latest release is Living with the Living (scroll down to read David Brusie's review). The feature will appear on eMusic homepage the week of April 30th.

By the way, did I just write an entry that was essentially an in-joke to myself and anyone else who watched SNL in the mid-90s?

[Jonathan Graef]

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


(Photo from

Download: STNNNG - "Dead Sex"
Download: STNNNG - "Grand Island, Neb."

Recently, MFR sat down with Jesse Kwakenat (bass), Jeremy Ward (drums) and Adam Burt (guitar) from Minneapolis quintet STNNNG for a Q and A at the Triple Rock Social Club about their most recent album, Fake Fake, ; their upcoming tour; the Minneapolis music scene; and their explosive live shows. The first tour date (the band has a few one-offs before the offical tour, including a show this Saturday, March 31st, in Eau Claire, WI) is April 20th, in Lawrence, Kansas. Click here to see if STNNNG is coming to a town near you

Minneapolis Fucking Rocks : I noticed that the main difference between Fake Fake and Dignified Sissy is that the songs are more atmospheric, in terms of the guitars having more delay and reverb. Do you think joining the band, as bass player, made you want to write more songs in that style?

Jesse Kwakenat : I think…I think one of the big changes was that Jeremy and I started writing together, right away, even without the guitars. I think [the rest of STNNNG] were ready for a big change and, by adding the bass, I think it made them kind of want to start from scratch. I think that even if you take the bass out on second record, it’s a very different record from the first one.

Jeremy Ward : Yeah, it’s a lot worse, if you take out the bass (laughs).

Jesse: [The bass] just gave the guitars more room to do double-stops against each other.

MFR: Yeah, that’s what I noticed too. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the higher end of the guitar, like in “Grand Island, Neb.,” or “Dubbed Warehousing.” It creates an atmosphere of menace, which makes it a lot more intense record .

Jesse: I really like a lot of Nate’s [Nelson, guitar] lead parts. I think on the first record, since he was holding down the bottom end, there’s these weird hooks underneath. And on the second record, a lot of the hooks are back on top, because now he’s playing these high parts.

MFR: In rehearsals, do you feel pressure to keep the intensity that your live shows are known for?

Jesse: I think...for us, we have a vibe in practice. Sometimes it can be a bit crazy, and sometimes [it can be] a little more chill practice; [that] can be a variable. But for shows, I think not having a setlist…(to Jeremy) I don’t know about you, but when we play shows, I’m pretty casual about it. I don’t really have to psych myself up. It’s just that when it starts, it starts, and we never know what’s gonna be played that night. We never know what’s gonna happen. You just kind of go with it.

MFR: So you improvise the whole live show?

Jesse: Yeah. I mean, there’s no set list or anything. Maybe somebody starts a song, maybe someone calls out a song. But we never have any format.

Jeremy: I had done that in my previous band too. I don’t really like setlists because I feel like if a show’s not going well, or whatever, you look at the list and go, “oh, fuck, we got all these songs to play still.” I feel like you can’t change it as much. Whereas, if you don’t have a setlist, you can kind of do whatever you want.

Adam Burt : Well, especially if you're playing, like, ten songs a set. My last band, we had really long songs. We’d always plan it out and say, “we’re gonna do these five.” It’s nice, for us, not to have to keep one.

MFR: Maybe this is a more appropriate question for Chris [Besinger, vocals/lyrics], but a lot of your songs seem to be from the point-of-view of characters, like “Dead Sex” being about the roach from the “Metamorphosis” thinking about how he can make the best of his situation.

Jeremy: I’ve heard him say this before, so I feel comfortable [paraphrasing]…he said something like…he kind of accidentally wrote theme lyrics for the record, where [the theme is] kind of people changing into things or things changing into people, and things aren’t what they really appear to be. That’s kind of why the artwork looks like it does too.

Jesse: I know that there’s an idea that a lot of the things on the record are two different things at once. Like Jeremy was saying, it kind of lapsed in with the artwork and the whole idea that it’s…just depending on how you view it or much you know about it or how you’re looking at it, it’s two different things.

Jeremy: Or how closely you pay attention. I’ve seen people say that it’s a self-titled record. And if you pay attention to it, it’s not. I’ve heard people say that the liner notes are really hard to read, but if you closed the jewel case, it’s really clear…

Adam: Or that there’s no song titles.

Jeremy (joking): …they’re on there, but we’ve kind of made it a pain-in-the-ass to see them.

Jesse: It seems like a few people have taken it as being a little bit insulting that you have to look for the song titles, but it’s really not.

MFR: It’s a way to try to engage the listener to read more deeply into the songs.

Jeremy: Right.

MFR: Since we were talking earlier about themes, something I noticed about both records is that they feature people who are in extreme denial about how bad their circumstances have gotten, or they revel in how bad their circumstances have gotten. What about that theme fascinates you?

Jesse: Well, I have my own personal take on it, but since I don’t write the lyrics, I can’t sit here and pontificate on it.

MFR: What’s your personal take on it then?

Jesse: Uh…To me, personally, [the lyrics are] kind of representative of a lot of stuff that seems to be very prevalent, from a media perspective, right now. For me, personally, it seems like all these people have these outwardly angry views, and they're so adamant about this stuff, and they turn out to be doing the exact same thing they hate so much, whether it’s Haggard [Ted, a vehemently homophobic preacher who recently admitted to, then being cured of, being gay - ed] or people like that. And I don’t know by any means if that’s what Chris is getting at. It’s his own thing. But to me, when I listen to the lyrics, that’s kind of my take on it.

Adam: I love that he gives a voice to these really despicable people…instead of what you’re used to hearing, indicting them or accusing them.

MFR: Is that the point of “New National Anthem”? To give a voice to the voiceless?

Jeremy: I don’t know. I think that song is [is an example] where people took it more seriously that Chris even really (laughs)…I don’t think it was really intended as a political song.

Jesse: I think there’s a degree of…I think when, the stronger [your] stance [is], there has to be a little bit more of a degree of tongue-in-cheek with it. You have to be able to laugh at things, and you have to be able to take stuff a little more lightly, because I think things get too serious, sometimes.

MFR: Based on your musical and your lyrical content, you might say that you are cynical, or apathetic or nihilistic…

Adam: (deadpan) …dangerous…


MFR: …but in talking to you right now, you guys don’t seem like that at all.

Adam: Naahhhh.

Jesse: I think if you see the live show, it’s pretty evident of how we roll. The live show…we’re laughing with each other, and at each other, and we’re having fun with it. I think that that’s the idea; the more serious it gets, the more you have to laugh at it.

MFR: Do you think that sense of humor prevents you from going crazy when you’re paying attention to what’s going on politically, either nationally or locally?

Jesse: I don’t know if that necessarily has a direct connection to our band, specifically. But from a personal perspective? Yeah. I think you have to be able to detach a bit and laugh at the stuff. Because if you really, if you really get yourself sucked into how maddening things are, you will go nuts.

Jeremy: Getting back to the lyrics, I don’t really think Chris is like, “oh, Bush is pissing me off.” (laughs)

MFR: It’s interesting you say that, because as I was listening to “Grand Island, Neb.” I thought it was an allegory, with the row boat captain being like, “you see in years time, I’m right”

Jeremy: I think that kind of stuff has an influence, but I doubt it’s a conscience, “This [incident] relates to this [song], specifically.”

Jesse: You can apply that to so many different scenarios, that someone with so much conviction is driven by something that’s so futile. From my perspective, it seems as if the captain recognizes, or is extremely cognizant of, the situation, that there’s no water. But he’s like, “These sad fucks just don’t get it… I realize what’s going on…Just do what I say.” There’s so many different viewpoints you can take on that.

Adam: I like that it’s not heavy-handed. It just operates so well as a story itself, and there’s nothing too obvious about what it may or may not be getting at, or [what it's] trying to convey.

MFR: Are you nervous about [touring]?

Jesse: Nahhh. That is probably the most natural thing [for a musician]. I would much rather be on tour. I don’t know how it is for all bands, because STNNNG is the only band that I’ve toured with to this extent. But it really is a smooth operation. There’s not a lot of headaches.

Jeremy: You get to play in front of people who haven’t seen you a thousand times already.

Adam: Van rides can be kind of fun, sometimes. Just cuz’ it feels so absurd to be sitting in a van for ten hours straight that we just kind of make it fun.

MFR: So you don’t get into fights or anything like that?

Jesse: No. We really don’t. I think everyone has that mindset, you know, you’re in the van too much [and for us] the tension level is way down when you’re in the van. If something starts to heat up, it really never gets to a point of being a bad thing. It just doesn’t.

MFR: Reading about you guys, you frequently get compared with Jesus Lizard and Shellac. Are you comfortable with that comparison? Is there a band that is an unsung influence on you guys?

Jesse: [I]t surprises me sometimes that we don’t hear Polvo that much, as a comparison. To me, the guitars and the bass [are very similar]…I’m a huge Polvo fan and it seems to me that a lot of times that would be a very easy comparison. You know, the drums in Polvo are a little more straight-ahead, but the guitars and bass sound a lot like that. And I never see that comparison.

Jeremy: Well, my issue with that, more than anything, is that…I’ve seen every noise-rock band get compared with the Jesus Lizard. And it’s just fucking lazy…especially when they limit it to two or three bands, it doesn’t really capture everything [about how a band sounds]. I mean, I’ve seen other things [where] they’re maybe thinking a little more critically about the music. I’ve seen us compared to the Minutemen, which is…

Jesse: Awesome.

Jeremy:...I don’t see that around as much, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me in the same way. I mean, we like both of those bands. But it’s like…I don’t know why it is, but it’s more flattering to me. Maybe it just seems less obvious.

Jesse: See, to me, the Minutemen [comparison] is way more flattering because the Minutemen were totally the odd-ball out on their label, and in their scene, and in all of that. And I like the idea that anyone would tag you with that.

Adam: They’re not all lot of bands that really sound like [the Minutemen] either.

Jesse: Yeah. They found this big audience…and everyone liked them because, “oh, they’re just the Minutemen.” They’re doing their own thing.

Jeremy: And I would say that Chris’s vocals have more of a D. Boon thing to it, than a David Yow thing, for sure.

Adam: Right.

Jeremy: I mean…(jokingly) “he’s as crazy as David Yow”. So yeah, if they want to say that, feel free.

Jesse: Crazy as David Yow, with a D. Boon delivery.

Jeremy: I’ll take that. It’s a little more critical.

MFR: Can I steal that?

Jeremy (laughs): Sure

MFR: The thing that Jesus Lizard and Shellac have in common is that they’re both from Chicago. You guys record there. Do you notice a difference between playing in Chicago versus playing in Minneapolis?

Jesse: I think we get great responses in the Midwest.

MFR: But why do you think that is?

Jesse: I really think that there are regional mentalities. I think that there’s a west coast (mentality)…I’ve been out in San Francisco a bunch, and they’ve got an awesome music scene. It’s got something that it’s own little thing. Same thing out in the East coast. I know it seems like it always gets beaten into the ground, how great a scene [Minneapolis has] and stuff. But it’s hard not to say that because you grow up musically, hanging out with all these dudes and you see them go into three or four different bands. A lot of the bands you see right now that are doing well, you’ve seen them in the band before, and the band before that… I think that you get to where you’ve all been around each other in these different modifications of bands with different members. I think that [different] sound infiltrates other bands.

MFR: I read on your website that the vinyl is coming out…

Jeremy: Well, it came out, but then got recalled because the people who pressed them fucked them up, and we didn’t have a chance to realize that until the day of [the release].

MFR: How did they fuck it up?

Jeremy: Well, we ordered 140 gram vinyl and got regular vinyl. The labels were on the wrong side. And the mastering on one side didn’t sound very good. We were told that it was because it was a shitty test press vinyl, but it came back sounding the same way (as we sent it). Which is why there’s a test pressing…

Jesse: Vinyl is a tough animal to work with. I think there’s a big commitment to the vinyl sounding right and we could have let it slide a bit. I mean, it wasn’t as if the vinyl was obviously, completely, flawed. It was to us because we know that it was supposed to sound a lot better than that. I think it was important to us, that if someone bought one of our records, that they get a good record. If I have the chance to buy the record from the band, I’m gonna buy the record. I think that all of us care way too much about it to allow people to get a mediocre vinyl. So it was worth the effort, even though it’s been a massive pain-in-the-ass. It’s totally worth it.

Jeremy: You kind of want to reward LP listeners, versus, like…”Why should I buy the LP over the CD?”

MFR: Can I be the millionth person to ask you if punk is dead?


Jeremy: I think genres are dead. Fuck a genre.

Jesse: I mean, I understand the need for it. I think that when you’re starting out getting into music, like when you’re really young, those genres serve a little more purpose. Because you start to hear a band, and you’re like, “what other bands sound like this?”

Jeremy: Genres are blueprints for making really unoriginal music…

Jesse: They are.

Jeremy: …so punk is dead, metal is dead.

Adam: Whenever people ask me what kind of music my band plays, I just say “loud.”

Jesse (agreeing with Adam): “Loud rock”

Adam: I don’t even say “rock.” I just say loud.

Jeremy: I tell them that we’re loud and annoying.

Jesse (to Adam): And when they ask what you sound like, I just tell them, “Nirvana” (laughs). I honestly do! Because who doesn’t know that band!?

Adam (joking): Well, we do sound like them.

Jeremy: That sounds lazy.

Jesse: LAAaaaaZzyy. (laughs, points to himself) Right here. But I mean, seriously! Someone at your office asks you what you sound like, and they’re listening to god knows what

MFR: Norah Jones.

Jeremy: I wish they were listening to Norah Jones.

Adam (to Jesse): I wouldn’t be able to say “we sound like Nirvana” without…

Jesse(interrupting):...Oh, I do it all the time. Because, seriously, someone’s aunt asks you, and she lives in western Wisconsin…

Adam: …I just couldn’t say it with a straight face.

MFR: Reading about you guys, the Star-Tribune called you “Rock’s Answer To Tourette’s Syndrome” Why do you think people associate psychological and emotional disorders with your music?


Jesse: I think the live show plays into that. It’s a frantic live show. You want to be able to describe the excitement of it, whether it’s right or wrong. (To Jeremy) I don’t know, what do you think?

Jeremy: Um…the music sounds normal to us, but it’s probably a mindfuck to somebody else, depending on what their musical background is.

Jesse: It’s normal for us. The way that we play, the way that we fit together, and the way we operate is very normal to us. If you were in another town, and we rolled into your town to play a show, I could see how we would catch you off guard a little bit. Because its so high energy and its so aggressive in the way it works, but to us, it’s not.

Adam: We’re not like, “we’re gonna be crazy!” or “we’re gonna write a song’s that’s crazy!”

Jeremy: Everyone’s opinion is based on what they already know anyway

MFR: I imagine that a hostile reaction is better than no reaction at all.

Adam: Oh yeah.

Jeremy: If someone hates you, and they’re talking about it, [the other people reading are] gonna find out about it anyway. It’s like…"ok, I really hate this band, and I’m going to talk about them all the time, [about] how much I hate them." Its like, “well, thanks for talking about us, dude,” because no one’s ever heard of us before…

MFR: That’s basically what the entire blogosphere is about…

Jesse: Right. Right. But I think that I like being in a band like that, to be honest with you. I’ve been in the other type of band, you know, where people don’t have a reaction. I think it helps a lot that we’re confident with each other, all five of us. I respect all the other guys in the group as players. I think that it makes it very easy, because you go into every situation with total confidence. You don’t really think twice about it. It’s not like, “Oh, I hope it doesn’t fall apart.” It’s a total, “this is what we do.”

MFR: I read that the goal of the band was to start the ultimate basement party band.

Jeremy: Yeah, I took that off the website a long time ago. I got tired of people copying that (laughs). That was probably the original intent. I think that any goals or objectives or whatever, things change over time.

Adam: It’s not like we play too many basement parties; they’re pretty rare.

MFR: Are you guys playing in bars now?

Adam: Sometimes we play with other bands at house shows. I really enjoy house shows a lot.

Jeremy: It kind of depends. I think that when we’re on tour, I’d prefer to play in a club. Around town, it’s fun to play house shows. And it’s fun to play house shows, here and there. It just depends on the city, and like, whether there’s a loud, obnoxious band scene or not. It’s not going to be fun to play a house show with pop bands, and no one gives a shit. It’s all relative.

MFR: What are some of your favorite local bands that are playing?

Jeremy: I know Nate likes Sarah Johnson.

Jesse: Nate likes Sarah Johnson.

Jeremy: We played with this band, the Diealones, who I thought were pretty good.

Adam: I like MC/VL.

Jeremy: Otherwise, a lot of the local bands I like have been playing for a few years. Like Kill the Vultures or Signal to Trust.

Adam: I like Arctic Universe.

Jesse: Arctic Universe is pretty awesome. Skoal Kodiak is fucking awesome. That’s an awesome band.

Jeremy: Chambermaids, for sure.

Jesse: The cool thing that I really like is that a lot of bands are a little bit more focused than they have in the past. I’m not saying they’re all professional or careerist. But it’s cool to see bands focused and really trying. Personally, for me, it’s cool to see Gay Beast really trying to do what they’re doing. They put on a good show, the songs are cool, and they’re really working hard on it. It’s nice to see other bands really working...

Adam: It’s kind of this weird mentality of us music nerds…

Jesse: …all trying to be a good band, not just this off-handed thing. To me, that’s exciting. That makes me excited to be doing what I’m doing.

MFR: So it’s sort of like music for its own sake?

Jesse: Music for each other’s sake. It’s kind of awesome to see all these people trying…I’m excited that all these bands…they like what you’re doing, and you can go to their show and get excited for them. You’re like, “wow, you guys are really, really getting this.” That’s the most exciting thing.

Adam: Even if the majority [of people] in attendance are people in other bands or whatever, it doesn’t diminish it at all, for me.

Jesse: That makes me excited, honestly, when you see people from other bands that are there. And if they’re getting into it, that’s a big thing, for me. I guess that’s what excites me about playing locally.

MFR: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you want to make known?

Jesse: I think the one thing I would add is that, for us, we got a lot of stuff going on tourwise; all the new songs are very different. So right now, as far as trajectory [goes], we got a lot of stuff going on.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Eclipse Records Featured in the Pulse

Eclipse Records is now up and running at its new location on University Ave. in St. Paul. Above is Joe Furth, the man behind the magic and the fight to keep independent music stores alive in Minnesota.

Steve McPherson, the music editor of The Pulse of the Twin Cities, wrote a feature on the store last week, read it here.

(Ian Anderson)

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Karl Rove Getting Down With His Bad Self

Yes, this is real. Yes, it's as bad as you think it is. Get ready to see MC Rove fuckin' shit up old-school.

(Jonathan Graef)

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The Fall - Reformation Post T.L.C.

The Fall
Reformation Post T.L.C.
Grade: D-

The Fall is fantastic. They've been through many incarnations, with Mark E. Smith as the only constant member, and despite the chaos, they're one of indie rock's longest standing and most well-respected acts. Hell, at this point they're more than a band. They're an indie-rock institution, albeit one that's suffering a bit of old age.

Their talent and status make this a hard review to write. I really wanted this album to keep up the winning streak they've been on lately.

Reformation Post T.L.C. is probably going to go unnoticed with all the hullabaloo about Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird and Ted Leo eating up the press. And that's all right, because this album isn't so good.

I didn't say it's a bad album, though. I'm not totally convinced that it is. The band sounds great. They pull in everything that I like about the Fall: The tight bass lines and correspondingly well-planned percussion and the furry-but-angular guitars.

Too bad Smith isn't right there with it all.

He does some really cool things with his voice on Reformation, I'll give him that. Smith roars a bit, and sounds like an amusingly drunk drifter in a seedy bar. But he takes all of that too far, to the point where it sounds like he just wandered into the rehearsal session of a better band and started ranting into one of their microphones.

This is most obvious on the aptly named "Insult Song." That song has a great groove and could have been sweet, but it sounds like Smith told the band to play the same thing over and over and just let him do the talking. Too bad they consented.

When I sit down to write a record review, I listen really intensely to each song over and over. Reformation has songs that I can't listen to more than once. It has songs that for how well-written they are, how tight the bass is and how driving the drums are, I can barely finish. It has songs that I restart over and over because I consistently find myself drifting off in the middle.

But I still won't write Reformation off as a total waste. The first four songs on the record are fun to listen to. "Over! Over!" is one of the best dance songs of this year. In high school, I was a total punk and New Wave nerd, and "Over! Over!" totally takes me back to a time when I worshipped the Talking Heads like gods. "White Line Fever" tickles my Rolling Stones sense; I could see unwinding to this song on a Friday night. And "The Bad Stuff," a neat little audio collage, picks up the slack on the second half of the record.

Reformation has some really cool moments. You just have to be patient to find them.

(April Wright)

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The Eternals, Heavy International

Download: The Eternals - "Patch of Blue"

The Eternals
Heavy International (Aesthetics)
Grade: A-

If the Liars ever get into dub, and start throwing down some scary-tight bass lines, they might sound an awful lot like Chicagoland trio The Eternals. On their third LP, Heavy International, The Eternals mix the robust bass lines of reggae with the radical politics of punk, and the experimental, genre-bending sounds of their best indie peers like TV on the Radio.

After a spoken-word intro (which I’m willing to bet is a sample from some uber-obscure cult classic just waiting to be re-discovered), The Eternals kick off the album with an odd, frenzied, and utterly hypnotic track called “The Mix is So Bizarre.” The shuffling drums, menacing bass and attack-dog vocal attack of singer Damien Locks is, initially, very off-putting. Also, the fact that The Eternals have very little regard for traditional song-structure doesn’t help their first-time listening cause either (by the time the flying-saucer mimicking keyboards arrive in the first jazz breakdown, you’ll be wondering just what the hell the band is going to do next).

The Eternals shift styles with ease so uncommon that it borders on frightening. However, trying to navigate their stylistic maze is also very rewarding. For example, while Locks may bark in one song, he may also settle into an eerie falsetto, as he does on “Patch the Blue.” The track begins with a rattling percussion sample and a staccato bass line, before harmonizing, echo-laden vocals sing an off-kilter melody. At the end of the phrase, the drums kick in with a syncopated snare hit and they send the snake-charmer groove of the "Patch the Blue" into overdrive, and the song stays that way for its duration.

As Heavy International marches on, The Eternals' music starts to make sense in its own fragmented way. When the record is enjoyed on a more casual level, the sensation of having the musical wind knocked out of you at any given moment becomes an adrenaline pumping experience. If studied more carefully, then Heavy International becomes as engaging for the mind as the trickiest of Sudoku puzzles.

If there was ever an album made for repeated listens, it's definitely this one. The problem, though, with this listening experience is that the album becomes exhaustingly unpredictable. When you hear songs for the fifth or sixth time, it still seems like you are just discovering them for the first time, due to the dense layering of the tracks. That, in and of itself, can be incredibly awesome and annoying.

It’s a good thing, then, when The Eternals slow down – and they do frequently on Heavy International’s more straightforward second half, because the listener can finally catch his/her breath. But just because the band slows down the tempo doesn't mean that The Eternals lose their musical focus. The band still manages to come up with some sounds that can only be described as being from another galaxy on tracks like on the title track or "Too Many People (Do The Wrong Thing)."

In essence, Heavy International is like listening to genre-hopping as a confrontational manifesto. Some parts may infuriate you, but they also will challenge you. And, ultimately, you are convinced by what you are hearing and take up the proverbial cause of The Eternals. Or, at the very least, you will be convinced of the fact that this is an amazing record.

MySpace Page

(Jonathan Graef)

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Let Low eat cake!

I don't think I have to tell you how awesome this is.

(David Brusie)

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Cover Art

This has jack squat to do with music (though it would make for a bitchin' album cover) but, given that anticipation is so high for this book, I figure a post is justified. Here now is the cover for the last Harry Potter book. Enjoy!:

(Jonathan Graef)

Ted Leo, Living With The Living

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Living With The Living (Touch & Go)
Grade: B-

Honestly, I was ready to hate the new Ted Leo record, if only because of its hideous album art. I mean, look at it. What was he thinking? The covers of Hearts Of Oak and Shake The Sheets are iconic, perfectly representing the songs within. But this cover? It looks like it was designed by a fourth-grader with construction paper and a glue stick. Sadly, the album's second half has the same problem.

The fun of listening to a Ted Leo record - aside from the inherent fun of it all - is spotting the influences. Hey, that sounded like the Clash! His voice sounds like Joe Jackson! That bassline is from a Booker T. & The MG's song! Leo features these influences without sacrificing originality, largely on the strength of his great melodies. The truth is, those melodies aren't as prominent here. There's no "Tell Balgeary," no "Biomusicology," no "Me and Mia."

There are some good songs, for sure, but they fall on the album's first half. "The Sons Of Cain" is especially fantastic, featuring a frantic tempo, a hyper acoustic guitar part, and a catchy melody. The next track, "Army Bound," channels the Kinks' "Victoria" for the first few seconds, and then Leo makes it his own, singing "In every garden there's a snake now, in every pardon, there's mistake now." These songs stick to his usual formula, and they work.

Though straying from a usual schtick is admirable, Leo doesn't do it very well. Most of the songs on the second half of Living With The Living sag from slowness and overseriousness, and an unfortunate run of these begins with " Bomb.Repeat.Bomb.," a pretentious bit of spoken-word nonsense, which somehow lasts for three minutes. Then we're given "The Unwanted Things," a slow, overlong reggae number, and "The Lost Brigade," a mediocre, unmemorable rock song. Do I have to mention "The Toro and the Toreador," whose melody bears an unfortunate resemblance to that of the theme song for America's Funniest Home Videos?

Luckily, things pick up near the end. For Leo, a faster song generally means success, and "Some Beginner's Mind" and "C.I.A." are solid efforts. "C.I.A.," the last track, is an especially good way to end the record. It starts with an unadorned acoustic guitar, then drums come galloping in, and the familiar Ted Leo sound - all white boy soul, Clash infatuation, and excessive energy - comes rushing back. But all's well that ends well? Not quite.
(David Brusie)

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Low, Drums and Guns

Drums and Guns (Sub Pop)
Grade: B

Download: Low - "Violent Past"
Download: Low - "Pretty People"
Download: Low - "Hatchet"

In truth, I feel that Low are a band for whom I have great admiration, in terms of the creativity of their sound. However, I don't actually, actively listen to them when I want hear something for pure enjoyment. To put it more concisely, I find Low more intellectually stimulating than emotionally appealing.

So, while you will certainly find albums such as Things We Lost In The Fire in my record collection, you won't necessarily find me whipping it out at Friday night parties in order to impress friends (the record, you pervert).

Low are arguably slowcore's defining band, with Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk's haunting harmonies hanging like spectres above the most minimal of instrumental arrangements. When Low started experimenting with their sound on their last record, The Great Destroyer, mainly by turning up the volume and kicking up the temp, I finally found myself becoming more engaged with their music.

The Great Destroyer was the band's first record for Sub Pup. Maybe the changing of labels help give Low the kick in the pants that they needed, because Drums and Guns continues the evolution of the band's sound (with Dave Fridmann continuing his production duties). But they also retain the hymnal, austere quality of earlier works, so much so that I felt like I was listening to 21st century gospel music (with elements of folk intertwined at set at the pace of a dirge).

While music like that is amazing from time to time - particularly on the first track, "Pretty People" - after a few repeated listens, Drums and Guns sounds like the musical equivalent of wailing and the gnashing of the teeth. Again, it's something I don't necessarily listen to frequently. But it is also something I nonetheless find compelling.

As you might expect based on the title, Drums and Guns is all about war and violence, mainly the toll that war can take on the human spirit. Even the soft electronic drum touches that Low add sound like distant gunfire. The album is fulled with world weary resignation from the very first lines - Sparhawk intones that "All you soldiers/are all gonna die" - and on through psalm-invoking tracks like "In Silence" and the introspective examination of "Violent Past."

There is exactly one moment of levity on Drums and Guns, and that's "Hatchet," a song about seeking reconciliation "like The Beatles and The Stones." The song is comparatively upbeat to the rest of the album's material, and "Hatchet" serves as a nice contrast to the bleak nature that fits the rest of Drums and Guns.

Low continue to do an amazing job of expanding their minimal sound, but the bleak and repetitive nature of Drums and Guns makes listening to the album a frustrating mix of monotony and grand reward.

(Jonathan Graef)

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(Photo by Sherry Cardino, taken from the band's MySpace page)

Though they've only put out a few 7" records (their first proper LP is due out later this year on Goner Records), Chicago based trio CoCoComa is quickly becoming a local sensation. Clubgoers are packing the group's shows like sardines. And for good reason:

As you can clearly (well, maybe not-so-much clearly, due to the lighting) see, CoCoComa rock like golden gods of the garage. I read the Chicago Reader's profile about these merry band of garage punk pranksters and decided to check out the band's MySpace page.

The band has four songs posted on the site. Worth noting are the intense rocker "Fever," which is just a few very pissed-off baby steps (and a bump or two up in tempo) away from sounding like Motorhead, and "Premonition," which sounds like Mudhoney co-opting the wavy keyboards of Elvis Costello's "Radio Radio."

Read more about them in Time Out Chicago's "Local Artist Forecast" piece . CoCoComa prove that, while Minneapolis certainly fucking rocks, Chicago isn't doing too badly either.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Antelope - Reflector

Antelope - "Mirroring"
Antelope - "Wandering Ghost"

The first time I saw Antelope was in 2003 when they played at the Triple Rock with Q and Not U and Black Eyes. They were positively magnetic and wrote the coolest songs based on atonal structures and really smooth dance moves. Since that show, I quickly bought everything they had released, two EPs: Antelope and Crowns/The Flock. Both good, CTF was better. After the quick consumption of those two, I heard a rumor that they broke up and wrote these guys off as another sweet-ass Dischord band that broke up before its time. But like most rumors, it just wasn't true and have just released an awesome full-length, Reflector.

The band was formed in Washington, D.C. in 2001 by ex-members of the Vertebrates, Bee Elvy and Mike Andre and El Guapo's Justin Moyer. So they're a bit of a D.C. supergroup. They recorded Reflector in Nov. 2006 at the Dischord House with Ian MacKaye. Pretty cool.

Here's "Wandering Ghost" and "Mirroring," both a bit repetitive but it gives you an idea as to how they function. Pay close attention to the interplay between the bass and drums, drums and guitar, and guitar and bass -- you can even ignore the vocals, they just function as window dressing. Each plays off the other effortlessly when what they are doing is actually rather difficult -- and creative as all get out.

MySpace Page

(Ian Anderson)

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Single Review: "#9 Dream," R.E.M

(photo courtesy of the BBC)

As promised, here is a joint review (by myself and April Wright) of R.E.M's cover of John Lennon's "#9 Dream", which you can download here. And we do encourage you to download it, as proceeds from sales go to Amnesty International.

April Wright: I am so happy with the way this song turned out. Michael Stipe sounds younger than he has since...he was young (to quantify that, I'd say he hasn't sounded this you since Green).

The arrangement is very true to the spirit of the original song, but it still feels very much like R.E.M. Most obvious is Peter Buck's guitar work, which has that characteristic R.E.M. jangle.

The only thing I'm not happy with on this song are the keyboards, if only because I've been hoping R.E.M. would be moving away from that type of sound.

But let's be real. I can't be disappointed in this song. As an R.E.M. fan, I nearly exploded when I heard Bill Berry would be on this record. Other than the fan club holiday single, he hasn't been recorded with them in ten years. (Berry departed in 1997, following the release of New Adventures In Hi-Fi, to pursue a more quiet life.) This is every R.E.M. fanatic's biggest wish, and we got, if only for four minutes.

Jonathan Graef: April, I couldn’t have said it better myself. "#9 Dream” reminded me of why I loved R.E.M in the first place. Listening to it made me sad, though, because the song also inadvertently reminded me why R.E.M’s recent records have been so lacking lately: Berry’s departure. Regaining that key ingredient seems unlikely, so we fans will just have to settle for this bittersweet gem of a song.

Over at the Onion AV Club, writer Steve Hyden wrote an essay relating his ambivalence about R.E.M’s (once his favorite band) induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hyden’s essay basically asks the same question as Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity did about Stevie Wonder: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins? His answer was, in fact yes, and he uses R.E.M’s post-Berry output as justification for his reasoning.

The fatal flaw in the logic of Hyden’s essay was that many artists have spent decades in the artistic wilderness (look at Bob Dylan’s albums from the 80’s and most of the 90’s) before regaining their artistic vision. In theory, R.E.M is spending their time in the wilderness and could easily regain their essential artist status. In the case of regaining lost ground made by sub-par efforts like Around The Sun, I think that "#9 Dream” is a step in the right direction.

Stipe, and more importantly, the band, sounds more energetic than he/they ever have in the past 5 years (maybe even longer). For me, the keyboards were a nice, quick allusion to R.E.M’s recent direction; they did their job and got out of the way. After that, "#9 Dream” is a sweet, sad and poppy reminder of what the band was and, if Berry were to rejoin the band or if the active members of R.E.M. finally get their act together, what the band could be again.

(April Wright and Jonathan Graef)

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The Hold Steady - "Stuck Between Stations"

Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

Modest Mouse
We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (Epic)
Grade: B+

Upon listening to We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, I realized that Modest Mouse, when at their best, lull me into sleepy submission. While I love their punch-drunk, slap-happy, Brock-goes-batshit tracks as much as the next guy, there's something about quieter songs like "The World At Large" and "3rd Planet" that exist in their own universe. You're sucked in completely from the first note.

The new record has plenty of those moments, as well as some barnstormers, which means it's a pretty typical Modest Mouse record. And while this one doesn't top their mainstream (if not artistic) breakthrough Good News For People Who Like Bad News, it brings the band one step closer to aging gracefully.

This is a Modest Mouse record with better eyesight; a good set of indie songs with louder and cleaner production than the band's fans are used to. Lead single "Dashboard" is a bit shameless in its "Float On" imitation, and the horns don't really do it any favors, either. But this is still a Modest Mouse record, which means Isaac Brock is still one wacked-out motherfucker, yelling so loud you can picture him flailing his arms. We Were Dead's first track, "March Into The Sea," starts with an arrangement that hints at a band who has scaled back its sound, but then it explodes, and Brock is screaming "clang clang clang!!" and you're comforted by the fact that your favorite band hasn't changed.

The contribution of Johnny Marr, ex-Smith and the newest Modest Mouse member, is subtle but telling. The reverb-heavy guitar lines on "Parting Of The Sensory" seem like they couldn't have come from anyone else, and they provide the perfect confusion before the song bursts into a hoedown, with Brock singing (I think), "Someday you will die and someone or something will steal your coffin." This sudden genre transformation is a neat trick, and this disc is full of these moments.

My favorite track might be "Missed The Boat," definitely the most "normal" song here, a midtempo acoustic number that gives the record some breathing room. The chorus features The Shins' James Mercer, and it's a perfect collaboration, both because Brock and Mercer complement each other nicely, but also because the song suits Mercer's passionately laid-back delivery.

As for that sleepy submission moment, it happens on "People As Places As People," and while it's a little slicker in sound than "3rd Planet" or "The World At Large," it works the band's old magic. You might even close your eyes, until Brock starts barking a dog, and you'll wake up and realize that what you're listening to isn't built for sleep. It's Modest Mouse.

(David Brusie)


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine

Download: Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine
Download: Sea Urchins - Sullen Eyes
Download: Sea Urchins - Everglades

Remember Sarah Records? I sure as hell don't. But from what my elders tell me, this little label, based out of Bristol, England, used to release absolutely adorable sevin inch singles of twee pop. The songs and artists were low budget, and no one in the Sarah Records family ever had much success, but the label's brand of catchy, wistful pop, makes a lot of Anglophile indie-types weep for joy. They released about a hundred singles, starting in 1987. The records are pretty hard to find, so I've been slowly picking up pieces of their catalog online, approriately beginning with the first single they ever released, the Sea Urchins "Pristine Christine." The recording is slight and the vocals are pretty crappy, but the guitars are nice and jangly and the melodies are gloriously simple.

You can check out the entire Sarah Records catalog on TweeNet. You may have to wait a little while before you can access their server, though. They only allow a certain number of users at any given time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Call Me Lightning - Soft Skeletons

Call Me Lightning
Soft Skeletons
Grade: A-

Call Me Lightning - "Billion Eyes"

Call Me Lightning is the best release from Frenchkiss Records in years. Dynamic, creative and totally freaking sweet, I've been hooked on their Fugazi+Q and Not U+Les Savy Fav sound. So much in fact, that I've been listening to Soft Skeletons, released Feb. 20, and not the Arcade Fire - it's true.

This Milwaukee three-piece pushes the envelope with angular ass-kicking, which is downright infectious.

Here is "Billion Eyes," so far my favorite track off of the record. They were just in town at the Turf Club a few weeks back, I will be bringing these guys up again once they come through town in the future.

MySpace Page

(Ian Anderson)

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Things to Do This Week (3/16-3/22)

Friday, 3/16
The Alarmists
at the Dubliner

Of Montreal
Lonely, Dear
at the Main Room
6 p.m., AA

Saturday, 3/17
Black Blondie
at the Varsity Theater
9 p.m., 18+

Mouthful of Bees
Masses with Masses
at the Art House in Northfield
10 p.m., AA

Sunday, 3/18
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
at the Triple Rock
9 p.m., 21+

Monday, 3/20
Blood Brothers
The Battle Royale
at the Main Room
6 p.m., AA

The Roots
at the Main Room
9 p.m., 18+

Wednesday, 3/22
Dr. Dog
Bobby Bare Jr.
at the 400 Bar
9 p.m., 18+

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Andrew Bird Takes Over The World

I hate to give in to lame cultural nomenclature, but I think that I may be developing a serious man crush on Andrew Bird. Armchair Apocrypha, his incredible new album, comes out this Tuesday, March 20th. If you don't buy it, then you officially love terrorists. Why do you hate freedom, and/or incredible music, you commie terrorist lover? Can't you see that your purchase of Mr. Bird's masterfully layered work of orchestral-pop will help catch Osama and bring together Sunni and Shi‘ite Muslims, all under the banner of peace, love and understanding? Don't you want those things to happen, or are you a sadistic sicko who likes to see the world in constant peril? I think the answer is obvious.

To whet your appetites for all things Bird related, I bring you links to the following:

Click here for the Onion AV Club's interview with Mr. Bird

Click here for Time Out Chicago's cover story

And, lastly, click here to read a review of Armchair Apocrypha by MFR's very own David Brusie

What's that? You say that's not enough? You want some mooorrrreeee, broseph? Fine then!

Here are Andrew Bird spring/summer touring dates, sucka!:

MARCH 16 // Austin, TX,

MARCH 19 // Dublin, Ireland, 

MARCH 20 // Galway, Ireland, 
Roisin Dubh
MARCH 21 // Dublin, Ireland, 

MARCH 22 // London, England,
Bush Hall - SOLD OUT

MARCH 23 // Brussels, Belgium,

MARCH 24 // Gothenburg, Sweden, 
Club Woody @ Pusterviksbaren

MARCH 25 // Stockholm, Sweden, 
Kagelbanan/Sodra Teatern

MARCH 29 // Paris, France, 
La Maroquinerie - SOLD OUT 

MARCH 30 // Amiens, France,
Musique de Jazz et d'Ailleurs Festival

MARCH 31 // Benicassim, Spain,

APRIL 11 // Grand Rapids, MI,
Ladies Literary Club @ Calvin College 

APRIL 12 // Detroit, MI,
The Majestic Theater 

APRIL 13 // Columbus, OH,
The Southern Theater 

APRIL 14 // Newport, KY,
The Southgate House 

APRIL 16 // Nashville, TN,
Mercy Lounge 

APRIL 17 // St. Louis, MO,
The Pageant 

APRIL 18 // Urbana, IL,
The Canopy Club 

APRIL 20 // Chicago, IL,
The Riviera Theater 

APRIL 21 // Milwaukee, WI,
The Pitman Theater at Alverno College 

APRIL 22 // Columbia, MO,
The Blue Note 

APRIL 23 // Omaha, NE,
Sokol Underground 

APRIL 25 // Boulder, CO,
Fox Theater 

APRIL 27 // Tucson, AZ,
The Rialto Theater 

APRIL 28 // Indio, CA,
Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival - SOLD OUT

MAY 1 // San Francisco, CA,
The Fillmore 

MAY 2 // Sacramento, CA,

MAY 4 // Portland, OR,
The Crystal Ballroom 

MAY 5 // Seattle, WA,
The Showbox Theater 

MAY 11 // Minneapolis, MN, 
First Avenue
MAY 16 // Boston, MA,
Berklee Performance Center at the Berklee College of Music 

MAY 17 // New York, NY,
Webster Hall 

MAY 18 // Philadelphia, PA,
Theatre of the Living Arts 

MAY 20 // Washington, D.C.,
9:30 Club 

MAY 28 // Berlin, Germany,

MAY 30 // Coimbra, Portugal,
Teatro Académico Gil Vicente 

MAY 31 // Lisbon, Portugal,
Cine-Teatro São Jorge 

JUN 1 // Braga, Portugal,
Theatro Circo 

JUN 4 // Paris, France,
La Cigale 

JUN 7 // London, England,

If that's not enough for you, then I don't know what to tell you. I mean, other than "you need some serious help."

(Jonathan Graef)

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do Make Say Think, You, You're A History In Rust

Do Make Say Think
You, You’re A History In Rust (Constellation)
Grade: B

Post-rock may have lost its buzz amongst critics and underground rock fans, but that doesn’t mean the sub-genre as a whole should be written off. While You, You’re A History In Rust , the latest effort from Canadian collective Do Make Say Think (which features members of Broken Social Scene) is certainly no Young Team or F# A# Infinity , You has more than enough merit to it (even if the album is unlikely to become a post-rock touchstone).

I once read a description of Broken Social Scene that referred to the band as sounding like a jam session between Sonic Youth and the Sea and The Cake. At the very least, You, You’re A History In Rust makes it clear to the listener where the Sea and The Cake part of that equation comes in. Album opener “Bound To Be That Way” is ripe with the kind of quiet, subtle, and jazzy instrumental interplay that is the hallmark of Sea and the Cake’s work. In addition, the song has the pleasing major-seventh chord based riffs and understated horn arrangements reminiscent of the slower moments on BSS classic You Forgot It In People .

Like most post-rock, the vocals (a first for the band) on You are hushed and purposefully buried in the mix, as evident in the album’s second track, “A With Living.” The song starts out with a faint guitar riff, drums played with brushes, and quivering, Neil Young-like singing from various guest vocalists before segueing into a thoughtful, atmospheric instrumental passage that carries on until the end of the song.

The rest of the album follows a pattern similar to “A With Living”. The songs start out quietly, build a little bit, then add and subtract different musical phrases and instruments, all bouncing off one another, disappearing and reappearing with ever so-much taste and restraint. The effect is all very pleasant and reassuring but, at the same time, kind of boring.

What You, You’re A History In Rust needs is more visceral moments, like the one at the end of “Executioner Blues”. After six minutes of the typical post-rock give-and-take, it’s nice to hear the band just fucking go for it and build to a noisy, invigorating climax. It’s an excellent change of pace, and it gives the album a much-needed kick-in-the-ass.

The last song, “In Mind,” is also a departure from the rest of the album, in that it follows a fairly straightforward, but not quite “verse-chorus-verse,” template. After 45 minutes of exploring sonic landscapes, it was nice just to hear a direct song with an infectious melody.

You, You’re A History In Rust hardly reinvents the post-rock wheel, but Do Make Say Think have again proved that they are a group consistently capable of making thoughtful, intelligent music. If you’re going to listen to something just for the sake of putting up sonic wallpaper, you could do a whole lot worse than Do Make Say Think.

(Jonathan Graef)

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The Stooges, The Weirdness

The Stooges
The Weirdness (Virgin)
Grade: C-

The Stooges, the legendary proto-punk band who once sang about wanting to be your dog, are back after a 30-year absence. Whether the world realizes it or not, The Stooges’ brand of gloriously sleazy rock is desperately needed. In a world where people freak out over Janet Jackson’s breast being exposed, the crowd-baiting antics of Iggy Pop just might be able to start a revolution.

The Stooges were a band that frightened people to the point where only a few people listened to them back in their original heyday. Dee Dee Ramone has a nice quote about The Stooges in the Ramones documentary End of The Century : “Maybe three people liked the Stooges in the whole area [where The Ramones started], and everybody else was, like, violently against them. So if you liked the Stooges, you had to be friends with each other.”

So the question, I guess, is this: Will The Weirdness inspire the same sort of camaraderie amongst the future Dee Dee Ramones of America?

The answer to this question is, unfortunately, “no.”

The Weirdness is somewhat listenable for a band that’s been out of the loop for so long. However, the songs, save for “She Took My Money” and the title track, are way too slight.

You’ll nod your head with the rhythm, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how good the guitars sound. You’ll roll your eyes at Iggy Pop’s strained lyrics about how his dick is turning into a tree. And then, without having made any impact on you whatsoever, the songs you’ve just heard will be instantly forgotten.

The whole album sounds like it was knocked off in a weekend. While that quality in and of itself can be charming, the insoucience on the The Weirdness just sounds like lazy songwriting.

Another unfortunate aspect about the album is Iggy Pop’s singing. Once Iggy starts, things head south quickly.

When he reaches for the higher notes on songs like “Greedy Awful People”, Pop sounds like a nut-strangled Anthony Keidis. That said, Iggy is much, much better when he’s exploring the lower side of his vocal range, like his crooning on the title track, or his turns on “She Took My Money” and “Passing Cloud”.

The Stooges themselves retain a surprising amount of their original raw power. The guitars sound like they could create their own genre called rock n’ stomp. The rhythm section (with former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt filling in for the deceased Dave Alexander) is incredibly tight. The Stooges also deserve credit for making more of the horn-based noise that inspired previous efforts, like on the closing track “I’m Fried”. But it’s all for naught. There are no memorable songs melodies on The Weirdness , only Iggy Pop’s out-of-tune singing.

On “Trollin’” Pop sings about how “rock critics wouldn’t like this at all.” Oh, I don’t know about that. After a couple of listens, I didn’t think The Weirdness was all that bad. But it could have, and should have, been much better.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bishop Allen - The 12 2006 EPs

Grade: A-

Click Click Click Click (from July)
Like Castanets (from September)
Corazon (from January)
Things Are What You Make Of Them (from Charm School)

The members of Brooklyn's Bishop Allen have giant, giant balls. Sure, their music is sometimes on the twee side, and they probably couldn't take you in a fight, but they decided in late 2005 that they would spend the next year not only playing their fun live shows, but recording an EP per month. These have each consisted of four new songs, with the exception of August, which was an entire live show at the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts (only a couple blocks from Bishop Allen Drive, the band's namesake). Damn.

Bishop Allen consists of Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, with assorted friends thrown in for good measure. Their debut Charm School is one hell of a record, and for this reason, I was skeptical about the EP-a-month project. How would the rapid output match up against the polished, early Modest Mouse-like tracks on the LP? It turns out this wasn't an unsubstantiated worry. There are tracks for this project that sound like the toss-offs they are.

There are also intimate moments that work precisely because they are recorded quickly. "Like Castanets" is basically a postcard sung by Rice, a vivid picture of a seaside town at night. These songs fit their informal context, and keep the listener close. The best songs in the series, however, highlight the band's knack for clever arrangements. My favorite track over the 12 months is "Click Click Click Click," from July. It's a perfect slice of pure pop, a story about going to a wedding that starts with a quiet nylon-string guitar and builds to a driving, head-bopping confection. It all comes together in an instant, and it's exactly what you want a sweet pop song to be.

There are lots of other highlights - the poignant "Corazon," from January; the jangly "Tea For Two" from November - but you'll just have to discover them for yourself. The band significantly ups the ante on December, playing as if they have no choice but to end this series with a bang. "Last Chance America" is passionate garage rock, and "I Get Along" is a midtempo acoustic number that suddenly explodes into harmonized guitars and pounding drums. (It also, perhaps to reward those who have kept up with the EPs, quotes from February's "Vain.")

Rumor is that Bishop Allen is working on their next LP, the long-delayed Clementines. This is good news, but us fans may feel a sense of withdrawal once that record hits shelves. The problem with doing something impressive is that everything else will pale in comparison, but I have faith.
(David Brusie)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bloc Party Producer Set to Helm REM Album

Today, March 12th, is quite the day for REM and, by extension, April Wright. First off, the Athens quartet will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which is a dubious honor, I think, but hey, it's an honor nonetheless) by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. The ceremony airs tonight, 7:30 CST, on VH1 Classic.

Second, NME reports that REM has hired Jacknife Lee (the man behind Bloc Party's half-classic, half-shite A Weekend In The City ) to man the boards for the band's new, tentatively untitled album. More Details Here.

Third, as mentioned in the NME report, the original REM line-up have recorded their first song together since 1996. It is a cover of John Lennon's "#9 Dream," and will be available for download from Amnesty International on Tuesday, March 13th (tomorrow). We'll let you know how the song turned out.

(Jonathan Graef)

The Faint - Tonight in the Mainroom

Download: The Faint - "I Disappear"

The Faint are playing an 18-plus show in the First Avenue Mainroom tonight. I had the good fortune of catching up with Joel Petersen on the phone last week and began unraveling the complex cocoon of dance that is the Faint.

The guys have spent the last six months fashioning a studio in a building they just bought and moved into: "Since then, we have been working and writing what will be our next record," Petersen said. "In the building we are constructing a studio, which will actually be a real studio. We had an acoustic engineer come in and everything. We just passed the electric inspection two hours ago."

They broke down and decided to build a studio because it is "the fruition of everything that we all kind of do," he said. "So much of our band has been about doing it on our own. I think the next step is to make our own records and make them truly our own ... It's great not being on someone else’s clock, I think it’s going to be very liberating for us."

All of this is working to their eventual goal of their new record, which will be done whenever it’s done.

“Unfortunately I can only give you a very vague answer,” Petersen said. “It’ll be done when it’s ready. We want to leave a lot of room for experimentation. In the past, we sort of prioritized things to the point where we didn’t get to do what we wanted to do. It’s tough to say exactly, but we hope to start recording in the next two or three months and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Each Faint record has marked a step in the band’s evolution toward a better and better outcome. The new record will likely be no different.

“I think we always have a changing vision,” he said. “It’s what keeps us interested in making music and art and being creative people. As to how it sounds, it’s still a little up in the air. I think these next couple months will be defining what the record will sound like.”

The Faint was last in Minneapolis 18 months ago, and promise to play a few new songs. The Faint are easily the most authentic and influential dance band around, and put on an amazing show -- definitely not worth missing. With them comes Flowers Forever who are a good, solid pop spinoff from Tilly and the Wall.

Doors open at 8 p.m., 18+, $18 at the door, $16 advanced.

MySpace Page

(Ian Anderson)

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Things to Do This Week (3/9-3/15)

Saturday, 3/10

Big Quarters
Martin Devaney
Rank Strangers
at Turf Club, 9 p.m., 21+

The Alarmists
The Death
The Winter Blanket
Jeremy Messersmith
at Uptown Bar, 9:30pm, 21+

Sunday, 3/11
Akron/ Family
at Turf Club, 9 p.m., 21+

Monday, 3/12
The Faint
at the First Avenue Main Room, 8 p.m., 18+

Wednesday, 3/14
TV on the Radio
First Avenue Main Room, 8 p.m., 18+

Thursday, 3/15
TV on the Radio
at the First Avenue Main Room, 6:30 p.m., AA

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Oh no! The kids are listening to the rap music!

I found this on Idolator and thought it to be worthy of sharing. It's a segment on Fox News's "The Big Story with John Gibson" about how two teenagers in Dallas were arrested for giving two toddlers the mari-ja-wana, and videotaping themselves in the process. Wow. As depressing as that story is, it's not nearly as depressing as the discussion that follows between founder Chuck Creekmur and Mr. Gibson. For you see, Mr. Gibson believes that rap music should be blamed for the behavior of the two teenagers, due the fact that some rap music talks about smoking blunts. Mr. Creekmur counters that, while hip-hop glorifies some unsavory behavior, blame should lie solely with the mainstream culture which doesn't give positive hip-hop it's due (in addition to the parents and the major label executives who sign and promote acts like 50 Cent). Mr. Gibson counters by having his head explode.

click here for the transcript

My favorite moments include Gibson referring to his own hip-hop collection (which I bet doesn't include It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back ) and lamenting about how kids aren't listening to music like the Carpenters, like they did back in the day. Speaking of the day, weren't The Carpenters popular in the early 70s? Around the same time that, say, a group like Black Sabbath was popular? And didn't Black Sabbath have a song called..."Sweet Leaf," about a certain form of herbal consolation? Or maybe I'm thinking about The Ramones having a song called "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue."

But no. It's just hip-hop that glorifies marijuana use and bad behavior. Everyone else in the history of rock has only sung about daisies, kittens, kisses and Jesus. Yeah, that's right. That's the ticket!

(Jonathan Graef)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Windmill - Tokyo Moon

Download: Windmill - "Tokyo Moon"

Continuing with my eternal theme of loving singers with strange, high voices, I give you Windmill. An eccentric UK-native by the name of Matt Dillon whose songs are a bit middle of the road indie-rock in terms of the basics, but his lyrics and vocals totally do it for me because of his distinct voice and the way his lines move elegantly in the mix.

This is "Tokyo Moon," Side A from his recent 7" release, which is also the lead track off of his debut album, "Puddle City Racing Lights" out on Melodic Records on April 16. It's a great song and I hope his album will be equally as cool.

MySpace Page

(Ian Anderson)

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Arcade Fire - Neon Bible, Day 3

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible (Merge)
Grade: A

It's a great record. Every detail has been planned to perfection, but not at the cost of reality and rawness. On this record, Arcade Fire watch their footing without losing their ability to dance.

"Black Mirror," Neon Bible's opener, I think is the biggest grower on the record. I came to this record not sure what to think. I kind of turned the buzz machine off and didn't take in any Arcade Fire-related press for about a week before the record dropped. I didn't listen to Funeral. And when I heard "Black Mirror," I was really disappointed.

But, here I am, six listens later (Fun fact: I bought the album off iTunes before my 8 a.m. lecture so it would be all downloaded when I got back), and I like it. I think that's kind of the bottom line to this record. While there are the obvious stand-outs like "Intervention" and "Antichrist Television Blues," there's so much beauty and intricacy on this record that you can't actually take it all in right away.

For example, what won me over on "Black Mirror" was Win's phrasing of the "mine-muh-mine" at about 1:30. I mean, that's some serious David Byrne shit right there. Admittedly, Neon Bible doesn't have as many "Oh hell yes" moments as Funeral, but they are definitely there. The gritted teeth, hypertense ferocity of "Intervention" leaves me absolutely breathless. The resolution of the well part of "The Well and the Lighthouse" is one of the most satisfying moments on a record since "7/4 Shoreline" on Broken Social Scene's self-titled.

But this record isn't a record of "hell yes" moments. It’s a record that celebrates subtleties and nuances. If you're looking for another "Rebellion (Lies)," you won't find it. What you will find is a record with a capability for growth almost as great as the amount of details it contains.

(April Wright)

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Jazz? Nirvana? Whaaa?

Ahoy, mateys!

I was driving to the day job today and listening to NPR (pledge drives: the most necessary, and most evil, of the necessary evils), Morning Edition, when I heard that, on Chicago Public Radio program Eight Forty-Eight, Eastern Blok are going to do a Balkan jazz version of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box," as the final part of the program's UnderCover series. UnderCover features Chicago artists doing renditions of popular songs that aren't in their respective genres.

The program is airing live RIGHT NOW (as of 9 a.m. central time), but the encore presentation is at 8 p.m. central time on Chicago Public Radio.

Click here for the Eight Forty-Eight website and stream away

(Jonathan Graef)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Neon Bible, another view

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible (Merge)
Grade: A

You'd be forgiven for skipping over this review. Since you made your way to this page in the first place, you probably know everything about Arcade Fire and their new album. You probably read Jon's review below. You know the band just played (and unnecessarily smashed a guitar) on Saturday Night Live, you know you'll never see them live, because they only play churches, and you're not famous enough to get in. Sorry.

What I can offer is a personal perspective on the band, since their full-length debut Funeral came out the year my dad died. I got it as a birthday present four months after his death, and it took a while for me to understand what the record gets at: death sucks, death isolates you, but death also, absurdly, provides hope. It makes sense that "Wake Up" is Funeral's most popular track, as it encapsulates the album's magic as a whole: it details the pain of death ("Something/filled up/my heart/with nothing") but gives inspiration ("With my lightning bolts a-glowin'/I can see where I am going"). That's what I needed in 2004. People telling me "it's okay" after my dad died made me angry; the fact that beauty still exists in the wake of destruction comforted me. It's not okay. But it's the way life is, and look how amazing it all is.

Not to get all Natalie Portman on you - what Arcade Fire means to you is your business - but their first record proved to me that music can heal. I wondered if this experience would hinder my love for their follow-up, but Neon Bible, a record less focused on hope than the power of desperation, is undisputedly great. You know a first track with the lyrics "The curse is never broken" won't exactly lead to a record of sunshine, and Neon Bible is indeed bleaker than its predecessor. It's also more universal in scope; these aren't family stories, but worries about personal survival in the wake of general catastrophe.

Arcade Fire gets compared to U2 pretty often, but there's a big difference between the two bands: sincerity. Both U2 and Arcade Fire have a broad scope and a "we must succeed in our quest" sound, but while Arcade Fire is selling emotion, U2 sounds like they are selling shoes. Arcade Fire hasn't dropped that intimate sincerity, despite widening their canvas. Amazing songs like "Keep The Car Running" and "Intervention" will remind you why you loved them so much in the first place, and while the other songs won't grab you immediately, they'll grow on you fast. The album also features "No Cars Go," which was featured on their debut EP, and sounds more natural and comfortable in this more cinematic setting.

Neon Bible is no Funeral, but I doubt Arcade Fire will ever top that record. Instead, it's a fantastically solid effort from a band who pays attention to every large and small detail - a Hungarian choir, a well-placed glockenspiel - until it sounds right. I'm relieved to find that their mixture of pain and hope still works on me, and fortunately, I'm still a sucker for the formula.
(David Brusie)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Pete Yorn - 3/2 @ First Avenue

All day Friday, I was filled with doubts about going to see Pete Yorn's show at First Ave. I mean, I've had a crush on this guy since I was 14. What if he sucked? That would ruin my world.

Thankfully, that didn't happen.

Minibar opened up the evening. The name itself conjures up expensive hotel rooms with yuppies raiding tiny fridges for miniaturized alcoholic beverages. They definitely live up to the name– Minibar takes everything good about Whiskeytown, Son Volt and Wilco and sucks the goodness out of it. The guys looked like they were having such a good time, but at the same time, their music sounded so precisely calculated and polished that I have a hard time buying them as genuine alt-country boys.

The second opener was Aqualung. The concept of the band is similar to that of Minibar: get some good influences (Ben Folds, Death Cab, U2) and just squeeze the soul out of them. Aqualung and his backing band definitely had some chops, but unfortunately, said chops were rarely exercised during the show.

Pete Yorn was great, though. The interesting thing is that Minibar is Yorn's backing band, and they sound great with him. My complaint with his albums has always been that they're very produced, very perfect, but Yorn totally thrived on the rough edges inherent to playing live, proving that it's him and not just production that makes his songs great.

I don't go to many shows that have me grinning like an idiot the whole time, but this was definitely one of them. Yorn is mellow enough not to wear me out (by the way, my knees still hurt from seeing the Thermals last week.), but energetic enough to keep me totally enraptured the whole set. (Though, as one of the only people in the audience rocking the big black Xs, I have to admit I was often distracted by the horrible, middle- aged dancing occurring around me.)

Yorn structured his set list really well. He had three studio albums, the second of which (Day I Forgot) wasn't that good. I was kind of worried that his show would lose momentum when he broke out the DIF songs, but it didn't. Probably because he (mercifully) only played a couple songs from that album.

Instead, the Jersey-based folk rocker split the setlist between his first and third albums, both of which are very strong and very fun to listen to. The spacing of crowd favorites like "Life On A Chain," "Undercover" and "For Nancy" gave him time to give some face to lesser-known gems while still holding on to his drunken thritysomething fans who just came to hear the singles.

(April Wright)

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Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible (Merge)
Grade: A

Neon Bible is the most anticipated record of the year, at least in the context of indie-rock. As a result, I’ve been a bit anxious about writing this review. Funeral, The Arcade Fire’s debut album, was rapturously received by any critic with a pair of ears. Any acclaim hoisted upon this album by me will undoubtedly be perceived as nothing but more of the same old critical hype. As a group, the Arcade Fire needs that kind of hype like I need a hole in my head.

But with hype (warranted or unwarranted) comes backlash, which can be equally irrational. The end result of backlash usually involves the dismissal of a perfectly good album just because it doesn’t sound anything like its predecessor. If time is kind to Some Loud Thunder (which it shouldn’t, but I’m no psychic), then I will be guilty of that last offense.

Which brings us back to Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire’s second album. It deserves all of the acclaim that Funeral received. It's as simple as that. With this new album, the Arcade Fire have shifted their lyrical worldview from the personal to the political. However, the yearning, hopeful anxiety that characterizes the best of the band's work still remains. Musically speaking, it’s just not as upfront about it, as Funeral was. Neon Bible , as a whole, is more of a slow burn, with crescendos sneaking up on the unsuspecting listener to wonderous effect.

The album's title comes from a John Kennedy Toole novel about a man who recalls his ten strongest memories, all of which revolve around bigotry of many stripes (racial, political, sexual, etc). With this knowledge in mind, Neon Bible’s lyrics concerning falling bombs ("Black Mirror"), religious uncertainty ("Intervention"), and political confusion ("Windowsill") become even more immediate than they already are.

“Black Mirror”, Neon Bible ’s opening track, is a perfect example of that immediacy, with an ominous melody, cryptic, vaguely apocalyptic lyrics and a pulsating beat, all slowly building to an all-encompassing, magical orchestral climax (listen carefully for the oboe line). From there, the Arcade Fire makes like the Clash as fronted by Bruce Springsteen, augmented with hurdy-gurdy (the excellent “Keep The Car Running”), pipe organ (“Intervention,” a song that should make the Boss jealous of the band’s songwriting skills), military choir and a full Hungarian orchestra.

The result is an album that, at first, seems underwhelming, due to the implicit musical nature of some of the songs. But gradually, Neon Bible reveals itself to be as totally overwhelming and awe-inspiring as Funeral is. If you give Neon Bible time to grow on you, you will be rewarded with the satisfaction of listening to one of the best albums of the year.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Frog Eyes - Tears of the Valedictorian

Download: Frog Eyes - "Reform the Countryside"

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to have my hands on this record yet. According to Absolutely Kosher, the album's not supposed to drop until May 1. In any event, a friend of mine sent this to me last week, and I pretty much haven't stopped listening since. After a slight dip in form with 2006's The Future is Inter-Disciplinary or Not at All, Casey Mercer and Frog Eyes have pounded out another worthwhile batch of chaotic pop sprawlers.

I've always thought that Frog Eyes sound like a fingerpainting. The melodies are splotchy and splattered all over the canvas, but every so often the different noises come together in an oddly beautiful way. At his best, Mercer writes pleasant-enough pop songs, the sort of stuff that my Grandma could enjoy if you stripped away all the keyboards, distorted guitars, compressed vocals and all the other crap he piles on. But the best thing about Frog Eyes is the extra stuff. Most artists ruin songs in the studio, but the sweep and weird layered expanse somehow transforms Frog Eyes' best material, like "Reform the Countryside."

(Pete Farrell)

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

If you're a loser like me, you waste a lot of time at your computer. On Saturday night, I spent some time huddled up at the computer. For once, I wasn't drawing chemical reactions, memorizing birdcalls or slaving away on something for all you lovely readers to wallow your eyes on.

I was listening to the stream of the new Wilco album.

Wilco, being incredibly awesome to their fans, decided to broadcast their new record, Sky Blue Sky Saturday night for a few hours from 10 p.m. until early Sunday morning. I was lucky enough to find out about this a few hours in advance and tune in. If you missed this, please kick yourself now.

I only listened to the record once, to whet my appetite but keep the anticipation high, so this won't be a complete blow-by-blow. But I can tell you that new record is phenomenal. It's not Yankee Hotel, but it presents a world of improvement on A Ghost Is Born.

Sky Blue Sky regresses a bit in the band's sound. It feels like they're sitting in Summerteeth territory, but there's a lot of Mermaid Avenue Vol. 1 (the Woody Guthrie cover album they recorded with Billy Bragg) in there, too. It's earnest, it's clear, and it will be the record of this summer, hands down.

(April Wright)

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Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8

Download: Cloud Cult - "Please Remain Calm"

Cloud Cult's new album The Meaning of 8 will be out April 10, and it will be awesome. Craig Minowa is one of those geniuses that you like to acknowledge publicly as a genius.

I've been hooked on Cloud Cult ever since his emotionally cathartic debut They Live on the Sun and have enjoyed watching their popularity grow over the last two years and I am certainly not dissappointed with The Meaning of 8, which will take the indie-music scene by storm. Plus, I saw their very first show at the Quest in 2003.

The songs are a bit more polished and a bit more deliberate, but they still have the ragged charm and lyrical prowess of Minowa's catalog of efforts.

Click here to stream most of the album or visit their MySpace page for more information. I will definitely be singing this album's praises in a full review the week of April 10, so stay tuned.

Oh, remember if you're in the Twin Cities, the CD Release Party for this bad boy will be on March 30 at the Varsity Theater.

(Ian Anderson)

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