Monday, April 30, 2007

Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55

Charlotte Gainsbourg
5:55 (Vice, 2007)
Grade: B

Download: Charlotte Gainsbourg - "The Operation"
Download: Charlotte Gainsbourg - "Tel Que Tu Es"

Charlotte Gainsbourg possesses a softness and gentle grace that I cannot even begin to understand. I find myself repeatedly fascinated by these magical women who make a form of music all their own. Not only is Gainsbourg one of (if not the) most prominent actresses in French film today, but she also happens to be the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jan Birkin (very cool), and may be most well-known for singing on "Lemon Incest" when she was but 13.

I happened to fall in love with her in "The Science of Sleep" after I connected a bit too much with the protagonist for my own comfort, and decided to check out her album 5:55, which came out in the states last Tuesday.

The always hip and cool dynamic French duo Air composed and performed most of the music on the album, while Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame, see the review we posted last week of his new album) wrote the majority of the lyrics. All of this is fronted by a very dreamy and wonderfully mumbly bilingual performance by Gainsbourg.

Most of the album is driven by piano, light acoustic guitar, synthed strings and a few shakers, which makes for a very cool, very patient pop album -- there are also brief electronic moments that keep things lively and interesting. The main focus of the album really is her remarkable voice, which makes anything sound good, so, really, she could be fooling everyone.

In short, Gainsbourg's music is just as spacey and absent-minded as she appears to be, but also as beautiful.

MySpace Page
Buy the album from Insound.

(Ian Anderson)

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Live Bjork From Coachella, "Declare Independence"



Like you fine folks, I was too poor and too not willing to travel out to listen to indie-rock in the hot Californian sun to go to Coachella this year (or past). Luckily, I managed to find this excellent video of Bjork performing one of the new songs from her album Volta . The song is called "Declare Independence." Weep for the fact that you couldn't go, then enjoy this video.

UPDATE: And, by special request, here is Bjork performing "Earth Intruders" from her recent gig on Saturday Night Live.



(Jonathan Graef)

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Things to Do This Week (4/27 to 5/3)

Friday, April 27
Xiu Xiu
at the Whole - 8pm, 18+
Download: Xiu Xiu - "I Love The Valley OH!"

Saturday, April 28
Heiruspecs
at the Triple Rock - 5pm, AA; 9pm, 21+
Download: Heiruspecs - "Meters"

Kid Dakota
Ice Palace
Parts for All Makes
at the 7th St. Entry - 9pm, 21+
Download: Kid Dakota - "Ivan"

Wednesday, May 2
Amy Winehouse
Patrick Wolf
at the Varsity Theater - 8pm, 18+

Thursday, May 3
Ben Gibbard
at the First Avenue Mainroom - 6pm, 18+

(Ian Anderson)

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Live Review: Art Brut, Subterranean, 4/20, Chicago, IL



(Eddie Argos)

(Photo by Autumn Notter)

Even though Art Brut's song "Bad Weekend" contains the lyric/rallying cry "popular/ culture/no longer/applies to me," if the UK band continues to give performances as funny, charming and hard-rocking as they did last Friday at Chicago's Subterranean club, they will end up becoming popular culture. Surely, that will be some kind of glorious, and ironic, head-trip.

The band, led by the slyly self-deprecating singer Eddie Argos, played a confident set which was about half of the still wonderful, still funny songs off of Bang Bang Rock and Roll and half new material from the forthcoming It's A Bit Complicated .

Art Brut played in front of an engaged and captivated audience, and the band responded well to the crowd's energy, even playfully toying with hecklers. New material like the opener "Pump Up The Volume," where Argos wonders how he can tactfully break away from a kiss to turn up the radio (he doesn't) stood out from the old by being more melodic, more midtempo, and having a more grown-up prospective than the songs on Bang Bang Rock and Roll.

The punk edge that made "Formed a Band" and "Modern Art" so thrilling has been tamed a bit. The new songs seemed more cautious, less aggressive and contained less of the puppy dog enthusiasm that gave the first album so much of its charm. The wit remains, and it's not as if the band has totally lost its punch - another new song, "Direct Hit," saw to it to provide the joyful rock that the band is known for.

If anything, seeing the band live allows the listener to gain an keen insight into the band, and one that proves the UK group cannot be dismissed as an ironic piss-take. The insight gained is that the band is absolutely sincere about being tongue-in-cheek. Or, perhaps more accurately, that Art Bryt use tongue-in-cheek to make sincere points about things like adolescent love and obsessive fandom.

It is the band's sincerity that makes them so personable love, and Eddie Argos lead his band by cheerfully exclaiming "Go Art Brut! Go!" or by telling the audience to stop listening to people in bands because, with the exception of The Hold Steady and Mountain Goats, they are all full of shit.

That very well may be the case. However, when being full of shit involves tagging "You Sexy Thing" onto "Rusted Guns of Milan," (which is delightfully sick when you think about it), or jumping up and down in the crowd for "Modern Art" (my favorite moment in the concert came when Argos delivered the line "So I'm in the Pompidou/that's in Paris" by pointing to an audience member like a teacher delivering a stern lecture), then I think I'll keep listening anyway.

If the songs performed from It's A Bit Complicated can stand up against the likes of "Emily Kane," "Good Weekend" and "Moving To L.A" (and new songs like "Nag Nag Nag Nag" and "Late Sunday" absolutely do), then Art Brut are going to have to tell a lot more people that they're full of shit.

Of course, because Art Brut are such magnetic performers and terrific songwriters, no one is going to believe them. But we can certainly be charmed by the effort to convince us otherwise. Watching their performance last Friday, I know that I was charmed, and I know that many other people will be the next time Art Brut will hit the stage. Which, if It's A Bit Complicatedis a hit, will be a lot sooner, and for a lot bigger audience, than you think.

(Jonathan Graef)

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The Hold Steady - Live At Fingerprints

Grade: B+

One of the most surprising things on the new Hold Steady live EP is how well their songs translate to acoustic settings. It turns out that their music isn't all about the distortion or the Springsteen glockenspiels, the heart of their songs is Gideon, Charlemagne, Holly, or whoever you're learning about. Craig Finn likes a good story, and he yells them just as well in an intimate setting.

There are only five tracks here, but they fairly represent the band's sound: "Cattle And The Creeping Things" from Separation Sunday; "Citrus," "Chips Ahoy!", "You Can Make Him Like You" from Boys And Girls In America, the unreleased "You Gotta Dance With Who You Came To The Dance With." It's a well-chosen set list, but it's interesting that the one song that doesn't quite work - the out-of-tune and sloppy "Chips Ahoy!" - is one of the highlights of Boys And Girls. Chalk that one up to overconfidence.

Finn's affable onstage persona survives the transition to a Long Beach record store, especially as he explains their new video for "Chips Ahoy!", in which two band members appear as, respectively, a pool-cleaner and pizza delivery man: "Cinematic history will tell you those are the two most getting-laid professions there are." The crowd is appreciative and into the songs, appropriately quiet as the band scales back their sound to match the setting.

When it doesn't quite work - the aforementioned crowding of "Chips Ahoy!", for example - the results are striking. There isn't any bombast to drown out the glitches, and the missteps are distracting. But if history has taught us anything, it's that the Hold Steady can do no wrong, and even these mistakes make the band more endearing.

Live At Fingerprints isn't the best acoustic Hold Steady recording I've heard - that award goes to "Stuck Between Stations" on Live Current, Vol. 2 - but it's great to hear the band giving it their all again. Even when not at their best, the Hold Steady makes other bands sound lazy.

Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare



Download: Arctic Monkeys - "Brianstorm"
Download: Arctic Monkeys - "Do Me A Favour"
Download: Arctic Monkeys - "Fluorescent Adolescent" (Live at Melkweg 2007)

Arctic Monkeys
Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino, 2007)
Grade: B

With their first album, the Mercury-prize winning, hyped to the heavens, fastest-selling UK debut album of all time, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not , the Arctic Monkeys came off like a tribute band who actually learned a thing or two from the band that they tried to emulate. In this case, the band being emulated is the Buzzcocks. Like the Buzzcocks, the Arctic Monkeys wrote snarky little poppy and punky (but not pop-punk, thank Regis) about the travails of English youth seeking the almighty Good Time.

But now the lads are older, if not necessairly wiser, and they find themselves in the unenviable position of recording a follow-up to a record which caused magazines like New Musical Express to declare the Arctic Monkeys the New Musical Emmanuels. It's no surprise that Favourite Worst Nightmare is more mature than its predecessor. What is surprising though is how much more mature it is, musically speaking, and how in other places, the Monkeys become even more snarky and the bratty than they were on Whatever .

The result is a record that is more varied and rewarding than the first one, but still has some faults - namely, the too-clever-for-their-own-good lyrics. Though its the best song on the album, the combination of "Flourescent" and "Adolescent" should make you want to vomit in terror.

The album begins with its weakest tracks, four rock songs that all sound like some weird, and probably unintended, combination of "Gel" by Collective Soul and any theme to a 60s-era tv show about espianoge. "Brianstorm" (grrrr! stupid puns) is tight and snappy, without a doubt, but its pummeling drums and minor-key riffing fail to distinguish themselves from any of the best tracks off of Whatever . Ditto for "Teddy Picker," "D is For Dangerous" and "Balaclava." Though these songs all have individual virtues, the good parts of those songs (danceable beats, catchy riffs) do not necessairly add up to a satisfying sum.

However, what these songs do prove is that singer Alex Turner has a second life as a crooner/lounge singer if he so chooses it. That laid-back, introspective quality proves itself to be the band's strongest asset when the band takes its sonic depatures - namely on "Flourescent Adolescent," "Only Ones Who Know" and, especially, "Do Me A Favour."

That last song is the best song on Favourite Worst Nightmare , and, time permitting, maybe the best song Arctic Monkeys have written. It's certainly the best song they've done in terms of lyrics. The song's refrain - "Do me a Favour/and tell me to go away/Do me a favour/and stop asking me questions" - is either a portrait of a devestating break-up or an insight into the psychology of a band dealing with instant fame.

Meanwhile, "Flourescent Adolescent" sounds like a hybrid between girl-group pop and the bleary-eyed still-drunk-at-3am rock of the first two Strokes records - it basically is the soundtrack to the calm, fatalistic regret one has after a hot and heavy night out on the town. "Only Ones Who Know" is also a surprisingly stark ballad which does a solid job relating the fact that the Monkeys are maturing musically.

After that peak, the album plateaus with more songs with meat-and-potatoes riffs that start to sound the same after a while, but still are eminently listenable. Overall, Favourite Worst Nightmare is like a party with participants who still want to continue the celebration, but also realize that the night will soon come to an end, and that it's time to wind things down a bit and reflect on the night's events. It may not be time to go home, but we can't stay at the party either. Fortunately, the Arctic Monkeys recognized that fact as well, and have made an decent album which many will blast before, and after, they themselves get blasted.

(Jonathan Graef)

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The Show is the Rainbow , Gymnasia



Download: The Show is the Rainbow - "Do The Skinny"

The Show is The Rainbow
Gymnasia (Strictly Amateur, 2007)
Grade: B+

The Show is The Rainbow, aka Darren Keen, is a one-man band/live-show extravaganza, incorporating 80s-style Run D.M.C rapping with a confrontational punk attitude, sound effects that could have come from the NES version of The Legend of Zelda, drum machines, and noisy guitars with filthy, hilariously obscene lyrics. He manages to combine the profane with the good-natured, so that even if he offends you with, say, talking about sucking one's cum, you can still have a good time partying at one of his insanely explosive live shows.

One might think that the appeal of an act like The Show is the Rainbow would be all due to novelty - sure, the style is charming, but it's also lacking in any decent tunes that remain discernible after the initial curiosity factor wears off. One listen to his third release, Gymnasia, disproves any of these potential criticisms.

Songs like "Do The Skinny" (posted above) and "I'm The Decline" attack the listener with an assault of Keen's frenzied, almost screaming, rapping, with stuttering beats, dissonant guitar-chords and the aforementioned video game effects. The effect that Gymnasia has on the listener is an strange, but exhilarating one. The album reflects the chaotic nature of the live show, but also demonstrates the knack that Keen has for irresistible pop hooks.

"Gothic Cajun," for instance, begins with loopy programming effects and a drum machine that sounds like it should be dropping bombs before detouring into so many directions that trying to keep track of everything becomes an overwhelmingly awesome version of musical chairs. But instead of chairs, its with sounds.

I'm not sure if that made any sense whatsoever, so I will rephrase that last statement. The biggest pro, to the point where it becomes an slight con, is Keen's creativity with his computers and with his ability to manipulate sounds. He clearly is a master, but sometimes it can be a bit hard to tell where the songs are going. That, in turn, can make listening to the album a little frustrating at times.

However, that frustration, can, in and of itself, lead to an amazing experience. The breakdown in "Cajun" that ultimately leads back to the main refrain is jawdropping. but at the same time, you'd just wish the song would stay in one place for a while so you can finally get ahold of the wickedly funny words. But when you're listening to a record with a lot of boundless creativity, frustration is bound to happen.

That's small potatoes, though, as Gymnasia is still a really good record, even after the initial shock of the eclectic songs and sounds wears off. That's the key difference between an act with nothing but a gimmick to offer, and an artist trying to make all of the different ideas many ideas in his head gel. With Gymnasia, The Show is The Rainbow gets pretty damn close to fulfilling his stated desire to make a great record.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers


Laura Veirs
Saltbreakers (Nonesuch, 2007)
Grade: B


Download: Laura Veirs - "Don't Lose Yourself"

Laura Veirs, the former Minnesota resident whose tour with Sufjan Stevens and appearance on the Decemberists' Crane Wife made her smart-folk royalty, is confusing the hell out of me. On her latest, I don't know if she's supposed to be the gentle folkstress we've all come to know, Emily Haines or the dude from the Shins' name is.

Saltbreakers, Veirs' fifth studio album hit shelves earlier this month. Most of the album is really good. Veirs' voice and lyrics lend themselves very well to mellow folk. On this album, she embraces the ocean, framing most of her intensely personal lyrics in maritime metaphors. While such metaphors are her strong suit, they also cause her to get written off as just another lit-folk act. For the most part, the high seas treat Veirs very well, but about halfway through the album, it's easy to start feeling seasick.

The first five tracks on the record are really good. I especially like the bizarre vocal articulations on "Drink Deep." I think they fit nicely in with the whole freak folk thing without getting too gimmicky. And "Drink Deep" is followed up by "Wandering Kind," which blends indietronica with more recognizable Veirs songwriting. It's a song that's upbeat while still maintaining a heavy folk feeling.

"Nightengale" marks where the album starts to fall apart – or, alternatively, the listener starts to fall asleep. It's just a little too "New Slang"-cum-Metric On "Phantom Mountain," the whole watered down New Wave/Metric thing pops up again. I understand and respect the desire not to be typecast, but invading someone else's niche – especially one that has been so played out over the past couple of years – really isn't the way to do it. After all, innovation and originality in the face of being written off as a stale is what gave us Achtung Baby and Monster. If Veirs was a little more willing to step off both the path that she has beaten and the path beaten by other female-fronted acts, this record could have been a lot more fun.

Saltbreakers is, overall, a pleasant record to sit down and listen to. If you aren't paying close attention, most of the flaws just kind of fade into the background. But if you give it more time and attention, the lack of originality and ocean-overload are enough to cause discerning folk listeners to shelve the record as study music.

(April Wright)

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin on Boris Yeltsin

Stereogum ran a short piece on what Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin has to say in regards to Boris Yeltsin's death. Read it here.

(Ian Anderson)

Technorati Profile

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New Pornographers Album Artwork and Release Date



Download: New Pornographers - "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism"

From Strange Glue Music comes album artwork and a release date for the Porno's fourth album entitled Challengers, the follow-up to the rightfully praised Twin Cinema record. Challengers will be released on Matador Records on August 21st, 2007. No word of what the first single will be, but as soon as we can find out, we'll let you know.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Chicago F'in Rocks: The Jai-Alai Savant



Download: The Jai-Alai Savant - "Scarlet Johansson, Why Don't You Love Me?"

I saw The Jai-Alai Savant (pronounced hi-a-lie- sa-vant) open for Art Brut at Chicago's Subterrenean club this past weekend, and the Savant were totally rockin'. Like their fellow Chicago compatriots The Eternals, The Jai-Alai Savant take the bass-heavy sounds of dub reggae and filter it through post-punk. Essentially, The Jai-Alai Savant sound like a dance-punk version of The Police.

Their performance on Saturday was energetic and charismatic, with just the right blend of confidence and self-deprecation. Everyone looked good on the dancefloor, and The Jai-Alai Savant were more than happy to supply the tunes for the party. Special shout-out goes to bassist Nash Snyder for laying down some particularly sick bass lines.

If you go to the band's MySpace Page, you can stream other songs from their brand-new album Flight of the Bass Delegate , including the single "White on White Crime." Stream the rest of the album here, through the band's webpage.

And, apropos of the song posted in this entry, here is a picture of the lovely Ms. Johannson herself:



Why don't you love us indeed...

(Jonathan Graef)

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!!! - Myth Takes



Download: !!! - Must Be the Moon
Download: !!! - Myth Takes
Download: !!! - Infinifold

Grade: B+

It's hard to keep up with new music. The blogosphere (my favorite buzzword, btw) just swells with new bands, new songs, new MUST HAVE or YOU=LOSER albums. You try amd keep up, but at the end of the day, you realize you want to have friends and also receive natural sunlight, and you start to overlook stuff. Case in point: the new !!! album. I was under the impression that this album still hadn't been released yet, but according to the world wide web, Myth Takes came out on March 5, 2007. Go figure.

But it's a good thing that this album is already available to the public, because this album is good! Like really good. The last !!! album, Louden Up Now, had these big, sprawling disco-punk jams that were spread out over 6, 7 or 8 minutes. I always thought that was awesome, because my friend Joe and I had a radio show at the time (Stayin' Alive in the Land of Tears and Darkness, or S.A.L.T.D. radio), and everytime we ran out of stuff to say or talk about we'd throw on one of that album's epic tracks and go grab a cup of coffee, or take a piss, or something.

This new album, Myth Takes, finds !!! focusing their sound. Sure, they cut loose on a few tracks, like the excellent "Bend Over Beethoven," but mostly they stick to writing really smart dance-punk. Short, concise and sexy, the best tracks on Myth Takes prove that !!! are spaz rockers with a purpose. They even get all soft and sentimental on "Infinifold," which may be the album's best track. Built off a few gentle piano chords, distortion and little electronic pings and swells color the background while Nick Offer laments the fact that "nothing's gonna change nothing." It's a bonafide ballad, and, suprisingly, !!! pull it off without sounding ironic or cloying.

But "Infinifold" is unique. The better disco-punk numbers that make up the rest of the record are pithy, incisive slabs of evil dance music, like the title track, "Myth Takes," or even the lengthy "Must Be the Moon." With songs like this, it finally seems like !!!'s live prowess is beginning to catch up to them in the studio.

(Pete Farrell)

New Headlights Video


I love this song. Low budget video, but it gets the point across that they're cute and know how to ride bikes.

MySpace Page

(Ian Anderson)

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Monday, April 23, 2007

New Harry Potter Trailer


Wicked.

(Ian Anderson)

Labels:

Two Live Beirut Tracks and a New Glass Candy Demo


Download: Beirut - "Mt. Wroclai" (Live)
Download: Beirut - "Brandenburg" (Live)

Free Indie posted these two live Beirut tracks last week and they've been burning a hole in my pocket all weekend. I missed Mr. Condon last time he was in Mpls (at the Triple Rock mind you) and judging by these boots, I won't miss him again.

Beirut on MySpace

----


Download: Glass Candy - "Rolling Down The Hills"

The second track that has been on heavy rotation is the new Glass Candy demo the band just posted on their MySpace page last week. I've been a big Glass Candy fan for a long time, but to be honest, this new track has missed the mark. The music and instrumentation is top notch, but the vocals are clearly out of tune -- correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure I'm not. Otherwise, I'm down with the Blondie revivalism, but I think they need to get a new vocal take to spearhead this one.

Glass Candy on MySpace

(Ian Anderson)

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Live Review: The Decemberists/My Brightest Diamond: April 19th, Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL



(Colin Meloy)



(Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond)



(Shara Worden and bass player)




(Chris Funk)



(Colin Meloy, Nate Query, and Chris Funk)

A seemingly agreeable (but in retrospect, inaccurate) statement was made right before The Decemberists took stage for the second of two shows at Chicago's historic Riviera Theater. The DJ, from Chicago album-alternative radio station WXRT, who introduced the band said the following : that the Decemberists were deserving of praise because they realize that "not every creative idea has to be distilled in 2 minutes and 35 seconds" and that the band's live performance would not be musical "fast food (but rather)...this is the feast."

In essence, the Decemberists played a show that was both a wonderful confirmation of those statements, but were also a stinging rebuttal to those on-stage comments.

The Decemberists are, indeed, an intelligent and ambitious group of gifted musicians and their performance this past Thursday (4/19/07) was a feast for the ears and the eyes. The band opened with an impeccacble version of "The Crane Wife 1 and 2" that started out slowly and steadily. Singer Colin Meloy's guitar sounded crisp and each new instrumental component (guitar, cello, keyboard) was assuredly added to great effect. The song then built to an explosive gallop that was beautiful, cinematic and transcendent. And that was just part one - part two was executed flawlessly as well. The band's harmonies gave me goosebumps and Chris Funk's (he of somewhat accidental "Colbert Report" fame) work on guitars 12-string and pedal was icing on the musical cake.

Or, to put it in a much more direct way... it was fucking awesome!

So, as the DJ correctly predicated, the band gave us fans in the audience a musical feast. Consider my belly full. DJ 1, Haters 0.

But after the next few songs that the Decemberists played (highlights from all three of their albums, but mostly focusing on Picaresque and The Crane Wife), I realized something. The DJ's, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, statement about The Decemberists being great because they don't distill their ideas into two-minute pop songs, is largely incorrect.

What makes The Decemberists so great, both on record and in concert, is that they combine the chops and instrumentation of prog-rock with the humanity and warmth of folk and alt-rock. The end result is that their music is ambitious, but not pretentious or cold, like the worst of prog-rock. The Decemebrists proved that argument with a immaculately recreated version of "The Island."

But even after all of that, I honestly feel that The Decemberists are at their best when they write and perform 3-and-a-half minute folk-rock songs about sadness, love and loss.

"Summersong" and "O, Valencia" for instance - both are terrific songs, and both are as straightforward, verse-chorus-verse, as you can get. And both songs were definite highlights of Thursday night's show. So I feel it's not so much that The Decemberists are great because they refuse to distill their creativity into two minute pop songs, but rather, the band is great because they know which ideas are best contained to two minutes and which ideas should be expanded to twelve.That's a crucial difference, and one that makes The Decemberists a band that is both accessible and ambitious - sometimes even in the same song.

The band, after roughly six years together, is extremely confident and comfortable with each other, based on singer Colin Meloy's gently audience-bating stage patter (he jokingly accused members sitting in the balcony of being lazy crowd-participates) and good-natured ribbing of his bandmates. This confidence made for a fantasic and charming live performance - the way that Meloy lead the audience in the final refrain of "Sons and Daughters" was particularly noteworthy, along with the encore performance of "The Mariner's Revenge," which was awesome, theatrical, and hugely, hilariously entertaining.

After the show, I felt like I had seen the rare piece of art that was both deeply intelligent and massively engaging on an emotional level as well. The Decemberists may look like bookworms, but they entertain like the best of any of the arena-rockers, all without compromising their artistic ethos for approval of the masses. For any lover of music, it was an absolutely terrific show.

Opening for The Decemberists was My Brightest Diamond. I am probably one of, oh, let's say three, people on this green earth who did not like her massively-praised 2006 album Bring Me The Workhouse. I thought that, as talented a singer as Shara Worden is, her opera training actually worked against her, in that her songs pulled their rock punches when they should have gone all out instead.

Thankfully, her live performance showed no such restraint, as Shara kicked out the jams by emphasizing the more energetic cuts from Workhouse and embracing a more guitar-oriented live sound. Also, she quoted Pearl Jam's "Black," which made this Pearl Jam fan's day. All in all, I was pleasently surprised with the amount of rock Worden brought. I hope she does so more often on her next studio record.

(Jonathan Graef. All Photos by Autumn Notter)

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Friday, April 20, 2007

42 songs for 4/20



Whether you know (or, more importantly, care) or not, today is an unofficial holiday of sorts. Hopefully, these songs will serve as your soundtrack.


(Jonathan Graef)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

WLUW Record Fair



(photo from www.diytrunkshow.com)

Download: Andrew Bird - "Trimmed and Burning" (Live on WLUW)
Download: Call Me Lightning - "We Be Dragons" (Live on WLUW)

This past weekend, I attended the WLUW Record Fair for the first time. WLUW is a community-run radio station which broadcasts from Loyola University, located in Rogers Park, IL. As you can guess, they play an eclectic array of music, and this is why the station needs to be supported. And how do they raise funds in order to maintain their fabulous independence in the face of the bland corporatization of mainstream radio? If you said "hold a record fair," you are muy correct. If only I could give you a prize.

This is the fair's fifth year, and the goods were aplenty. Local labels such as Minty Fresh, Flameshovel, SickRoom, and the legendary Touch and Go, all had booths, as did many other local record stores selling vintage albums. I saw a underground compliation from the sixties featuring the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Velvet Underground going for 100 bucks.

I foolishly didn't bring enough cash to buy all of the vinyl goodies that I wanted, but I did manage to pick up a few excellent items. One such purchase was the double-disc "Live at WLUW," which features local and national independent artists playing live in the WLUW studio. The compliation itself is three years old, but man, oh, man there is some amazing stuff on it. Namely, the tracks of Mr. Andrew Bird playing "Trimmed and Burning" and MFR favorite Call Me Lightning playing "We Be Dragons," both of which are posted above.

Click here to listen to WLUW over the web.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis

Grade: A-

Pulp's Jarvis Cocker has always had an effortless way with melodies - melodies that sound like they've always been there, familiar and simple, but new and original. He's like Elvis Costello in this way, and it seems inevitable that he'd release a Costello-like record. Jarvis is that record, a more personal but characteristically witty version of a Pulp CD.

It starts out phenomenally, with the catchy and exuberant "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time," a reverb-heavy pop confection that kicks things off perfectly. "Black Magic" is next, and in chord structure and strained "aaaaaah" background vocals, it's effectively a "Crimson and Clover" rewrite, which would be lame if we all didn't secretly want to hear Jarvis Cocker cover Tommy James and the Shondells.

These are a couple of the highlights, and the rest of it is typical Jarvis Cocker, which means you get plenty of nasal Bowie imitations, sharp lyrics, and subtly catchy melodies. It’s a shame that another highlight, the hidden track “Running The World” – with its refrain “cunts are still running the world” - doesn’t have language that earns it full billing. (You’ll hear it, however, during the end credits to the movie Children Of Men.)

The songs that don't quite work here - the overblown rocker "Fat Children" comes to mind - still earn Cocker grades for effort. The record - and all of Pulp's output, really - walks that age-old fine line between clever and stupid, and Cocker knows exactly how to err on the side of clever.

Jarvis Cocker's first solo album has its flaws - it is a frontman's first solo album, after all - but overall, Jarvis is the Pulp record you've been waiting for.

(David Brusie)

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New Rufus Wainwright Video - "Going To A Town"



(Ian Anderson)

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New Small Towns Burn A Little Slower Track


Small Towns Burn A Little Slower - "Help! There's A Con Artist Under My Bed"

I've been a Small Towns Burn A Little Slower fan for five years, so I am always eager to hear what they're working on. They posted this song last week on their MySpace page, and Tommy Rehbein was nice enough to send us a copy to post (which means this is an "Exclusive" - take that Pitchfork).

Knee-deep with catchy hooks, "Help! There's A Con Artist Under My Bed" delivers the great songwriting I expect from this band -- and could even top the success of their last album's hit "Last Blast Off." Not to mention that each and every band member has both a silver tongue and a heart of gold.

They will be on the road a bit over the next two weeks, here are the dates:

04.21 - Papillion, NE @ the Rock
04.23 - Minneapolis, MN @ the Triple Rock
04.27 - Milwaukee, WI @ the South Milwaukee Legion Hall
04.28 - LaCrosse, WI @ the Warehouse

MySpace Page

(Ian Anderson)

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cloud Cult in New York Times and Brooklyn Vegan

Brooklyn Vegan and The New York Times covered the two Cloud Cult shows at the Mercury Lounge in New York today.

Read the Brookyln Vegan piece here.
Read the New York Times piece here.

(Ian Anderson)

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New Interpol: "Pioneer" and "Heinrich Maneuver"



("Pioneer," Live at Capital Music Hall, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 15, 2007)



("Heinrich Maneuver," Live at Capital Music Hall, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 15, 2007)

A reader at Stereogum found these on YouTube and tipped them off about it. These are new Interpol songs which were performed live at their show in Ontario, Canada on April 15th. The audio quality is dubious, but you can hear enough to get the gist of these two new songs sound like - basically, like their old stuff. But it's still pretty good anyway.

It seems like Interpol are going to become the fashionista Ramones, in that every album Interpol makes from now until eternity will sound exactly the same. But at the same time, the albums will be very, very good (well, until old members are replaced, that is). Still, we'll have to wait until July 5th, when Interpol drops their third record, to judge for ourselves.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Stork Patrol



Ok, so until I get a chance to finish up the !!! preview I'm working on later tonight, I thought I'd share The Lonely Island's "Stork Patrol" video, which is pretty much the best thing ever. In case you don't know, The Lonely Island is a three-person comedy collective that does these killer rap parodies (along with other more standard types of satire). Check them out at The Lonely Island

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lily Allen Cancels Tour

So, I was wrong. I've been wrong before, but it still hurts. Lily Allen has cancelled her tour. She posted this on her MySpace page earlier today:

"Hey Guys ,
I'm writing to tell you that I have cancelled many of my May and June tour commitments in America . The reason for this , is because my mummy and daddy are very rich , and I have never been in a position where i have actually had to do any hard work before . I thought that being a popstar meant going out getting trashed with famous people and sleeping in all day . The fact that this is not true has come as a huge disappointment to me , and as a result I am throwing the towel in .

No but seriously , I have been on tour with this album for a year now , I have fulfilled every commitment up to this point . I am tired , but more than that I don't think I have been giving my best performances recently . I have been getting really drunk because i've been so nervous about doing bad shows , and I don't want people spending money on a going to see a show that isnt the best it could be . I am not falling apart at the seems , I am not suffering with exhaustion , I am not pregnant , and I am not going to rehab . I will be here in America , promoting the album and also starting to write the second album , which I am beyond excited about . The LA and New York shows will still be happening , and I am still playing Coachella and Bonaroo and all the other festivals .

I'd like to apologise to anyone who has bought tickets , but you can get your money back , if you take 'em back to the place you bought them from ."

(Ian Anderson)

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New Beyonce/Shakira Music Video



I will continue today's trend of contentless pop music. Nothing like self-referential music to stir the public's emotions.

(Ian Anderson)

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Preview: Bill Callahan, Woke Up On A Whaleheart



Download: Bill Callahan - Sycamore
Download: Bill Callahan - Diamond Dancer
Download: Bill Callahan - Honeymoon Child

Austin, TX, native Bill Callahan has been recording and releasing albums for Chicago's Drag City (under the moniker Smog) for the better part of 15 years. Though Callahan/Smog started out making highly experimental, mostly instrumental, low-fi records that featured songs with a freeform melodic structure, he has slowly (and very surely) grown more professional sounding, with the instrumentation on his albums becoming increasingly more diverse. He has recorded with the likes of Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth, Wilco) and with members of Chicago post-rock legends Tortoise.

A week from tomorrow (4/24/07), Callahan releases his newest studio album, and the first bearing his given name, Woke Up on a Whaleheart. I have been able to find a few MP3 files floating around on the internet and have posted them above. All three tracks are excellent, and you should give them a listen. "Diamond Dancer" has got a rock-steady, almost disco, beat, a slinky violin line, soulful backup vocals, acoustic guitar and harpischord. It is arguably the most verse-chorus-verse-y of the three. "Honeymoon Child" has a similiar, but slightly more driven, midtempo beat that emphasizes the one in the same fashion as "Dancer" does. However, the instrumentation is simpler - the focus point on "Child" is more on the kind of snappy, trebly guitar line that appears in most of the songs featured in Quentin Tarantino movies. A smooth bass line, Callahan's used-to-be-sardonic-but-is-now-gentle croon, and a bed of strings - orchestral and pedal - are also worth noting. In a strange way, "Honeymoon Child" sounds like Leonard Cohen writing a song after listening to hours of Dire Straits.

But the real gem here is "Sycamore," which marries the sweet guitar arpeggios of Big Star with Callahan's trademark deadpan vocals, lyrics which lean heavily on nature and religion, and a folk-derived main chord progression. It's seriously amazing, and will more likely than not become your new favorite song.

As I mentioned before, Woke Up on a Whaleheart comes out next Tuesday, April 24th. Pick it up at your locally owned record store, or order it directly from Drag City.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Avril Lavigne - The Best Damn Thing

Avril Lavigne
The Best Damn Thing (Sony, 2007)
Grade:
Pop Music Scale: B
Music Critic Scale: C-/D+

Avril Lavigne - "Hot"
Avril Lavigne - "Runaway"
*Due to a notification, these songs have been taken down.

If you're new to MFR, you may have begun to see an evolving pattern: everyday, a stunningly well-written piece of music journalism or two is posted, each post discussing the truly great (and not so great) records being made in music today; but every once in a while, this damned Ian kid posts something about an obviously dreadful pop record. This is one of those reviews.

First off, I would like to get this out there: I discovered Avril Lavigne.

That's right, before Sony.

To say the least, I was intrigued by this Canadian "punk" girl. Seriously, I was 15, and she quoted Dillinger 4 as one of her top five favorite bands in RollingStone Magazine -- totally true, look it up -- I was as good as her's.

But then, obviously, the music was dreadful. Did it stop me from buying it? No, of course not.

Then a few years passed, I grew up and Avril and I went our separate ways. She married to the short guy from Sum 41 and I didn't. Ya know, the usual dividers. But this is actually what prompted me to see what this new record was all about. I mean, she did marry the cutest guy from Sum 41, so, was there any sort of positive influence? To be honest, I can't really tell, it's still over-the-top pop fluff with some very tame distorted guitars. So, in turn, until I get an angry e-mail from Sony, here are the two best tracks off the record. They're catchy and fun, so, if you're into that. Well, yeah.

In the end, there are four actually worthwhile songs on the album -- good solid pop songs -- but they are surrounded by the standard filler, so the album doesn't come off as an album, but as an excuse for a full-length.

Oh, and here's her video for fun.



(Ian Anderson)

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy Friday The 13th!



All of the kills from the Friday the 13th series in seven minutes. Actually, this clip is an odd viewing experience because the amount of excessive violence in it somehow manages to be both hilarious and really depressing at the same time. Kind of like this article.

So Happy Friday the 13th from Minneapolis Fucking Rocks! Celebrate it by going out and living your life just like you would on any other day.

(Jonathan Graef)

Things to Do This Week (4/14-4/19)

Saturday, April 14
Low
at the First Avenue Main Room
6:30pm - 18+

Antelope
Poison Control Center
at Big V's
9pm - 21+

Sunday, April 15
Blonde Redhead
at the First Avenue Mainroom
8pm - 18+

Tuesday, April 17
Klaxons
at the 7th St. Entry
8pm - 18+

Thursday, April 19
Aqueduct
What Made Milwaukee Famous
at the 7th St. Entry
8pm - 18+

(Ian Anderson)

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Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theatres




Today is the day that the Aqua Teen movie is released into theatres. The film is getting mixed reviews, but I still plan on seeing it anyway sometime in the near future anyway. After all, who wouldn't want to see the mooninites on the big screen? That middle finger is going to be even bigger.

The soundtrack to the film was released to stores this past Tuesday and it includes "The Hold Steady's "Girls Like Status," which is a b-side from Boys and Girls In America . The track was also available on the iTunes version of Boys.

The soundtrack also includes dialogue from the movie and musical contributions from Mastodon, Andrew W.K. and Unearth, amongst others.

If girls really are into status, then Meatwad's outta luck.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stars of the Lid, And Their Refinement of The Decline



Download: Stars of the Lid - "Humectez La Mouture"
Download: Stars of the Lid - "Tippy's Demise"
Download: Stars of the Lid - "Dungtitled (In A Major)"

Stars of the Lid
And Their Refinement Of The Decline (Kranky)
Grade: C+

My girlfriend doesn't like ambient music. Or, more accurately, music that experiments with a lot of soundscapes (i.e., Sigur Ros, Slowdive, and other bands who don't fall under the "ambient " category but, at the same time, rely heavily on ambience to create a certain mood. Mainly, a mood that is conducive to a lot of opium and/or pot use). Her complaint, as I understand it, is that there just isn't enough muscle to the songs. Ambience is all well and good, but bring some of the rock along as well. Otherwise, it'll just get boring.

Needless to say, I did my listening of Stars of the Lid's first album in six years, the two-disc, two-hour And Their Refinement on The Decline on my own damn time. This is because Stars of the Lid are so ambient and soundscapey that they make shoegazer bands like Slowdive look like Black Sabbath by comparison.

Their are some beautiful moments on And Their Refinement Of The Decline, particularly at the ends of each disc, but in order to get to them you have to sit through about 40 minutes of music that sounds like it was composed by your younger brother screwing around with the volume button on a Casio. I don't think I've encountered this much swelling since I was diagnosed with Orbital Celluitis (look it up) in first grade.

Disc one begins with "Dungtitled (In A Major)," a five-minute piece that starts with horns and segues beautifully into a crescendoing string section. All of the instruments hold onto the same chord for what seems like an eternity, each one gradually fading in and out, carefully adding their own shimmering presence in order to form a subtle and satisfying climax.

And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. What starts out as a nifty discovery listening session for the listener (the multitude of instruments on this record is truly impressive) slowly, and I mean sllllooooowwwwwwwllllly, becomes the perfunctory audio equivalent of Where's Waldo?

As you may have guessed, And Their Refinement Of The Decline is so engrossed with its own subtlety that it forgets to make the tracks distinguishable from one another. I know that the term "sonic wallpaper" has been used to derogatively describe pop music in the past, but here, the term applies itself perfectly.

Still, all is not lost. As I said before, there are a few absolutely beautiful, wonderfully cinematic, moments here and they come at the end of each disc. "Humectez La Moutre" recalls Air's work scoring The Virgin Suicides , and "Tippy's Demise" could have fit perfectly with Clint Mansell/Mogwai's work on The Fountain . However, a few undeniable highlights do not excuse a whole lot of tedious listening. Maybe that's the point - that in order to get to the finer moments of life, and in music, you have to work your way through the dull ones. If so, fine.

But do I really need two-discs and two-hours of Stars of the Lid to tell me that?

No. I don't.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Lily Allen Finally Announces Minneapolis Tour Date



Lily Allen announced more tour dates this morning, including a Minneapolis date. Comment back if you want to go with me. I want to rent a party bus and just flip out.

Here they are:

5-13 Seattle, WA - Everett Events Center
5-15 Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern
5-16 Tucson, AZ - Club Congress
5-17 Phoenix, AZ - Marquee Theatre
5-19 Boston, MA - Tweeter Centre (KISS 108 KISS Concert 2007)
5-21 Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
5-22 Lawrence, KS - Liberty Hall
5-23 Chicago, IL - Vic Theatre
5-24 Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
5-26 Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall
5-27 Detroit, MI - Majestic Theatre
5-28 Baltimore, MD - Sonar
5-30 New York, NY - Roseland Ballroom
6-01 Charleston, SC - Center Stage at the Plex
6-04 Cleveland, OH - House of Blues Cleveland
6-05 Indianapolis, IN - Vogue Theatre
6-06 St. Louis, MO - The Pageant
6-08 Dallas, TX - The Palladium Ballroom
6-12 Ft. Lauderdale, FL - Revolution
6-13 Orlando, FL - House of Blues
6-15 Manchester, TN - Bonnaroo Festival
6-21 Bath, England - Bath Pavillion
6-23 Glastonbury, England - Glastonbury Festival
6-29 Werchter, Belgium - Werchter Festival
7-06 Kinross, Scotland - T in the Park Festival
7-07 Paris, France - Solidays Festival
7-13 Barcelona, Spain - Summercase Barcelona
7-14 Madrid, Spain - Summercase Madrid
7-18 Cornwall, England - Eden Sessions
7-28 Yuzawa-machi, Niigata, Japan - Naeba Ski Resort (Fuji Rock Festival)
8-10 Oslo, Norway - Oyafestival
8-11 Gothenburg, Sweden - Way Out West
8-15 Sagres, Portugal - Surf Festival
8-18 Staffordshire, England - Weston Park (V Festival)
8-19 Chelmsford, England - Hylands Park (V Festival)
8-24 Krakow, Poland - Coke Live

(Ian Anderson)

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The 1900s and Chin Up Chin Up make Lollapalooza Lineup



(The 1900s)



(Chin Up Chin Up)

Download: The 1900s - clip of "A Coming Age"
Download: Chin Up Chin Up - "This Harness Can't Ride Anything"

Rejoice, Chicago music fans! The Lollapalooza lineup has been announced, and two of Chicago's finest local bands (The 1900s and Chin Up Chin Up) are taking part. Click here for the full lineup, which includes Pearl Jam, TV on the Radio, Snow Patrol, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Iggy and the Stooges, Annuals, and many, many others. Lollapalooza runs August 3rd-5th in Chicago's Grant Park.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Kurt Vonnegut Dies at 84

Kurt Vonnegut died this evening. Here is the full story in the New York Times: read it here.

(Ian Anderson)

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Brother Ali - The Undisputed Truth

Grade: A-

Download - Truth Is

Brother Ali has never been one to pull punches, and his audience has always benefited from this lack of restraint. But while he shares some of Eminem's vocal tics, Brother Ali's straightfoward storytelling doesn't reach shrill Marshall Mathers levels. Instead, he talks about his fascinating background - Ali is albino, recently divorced with a son - with nuance and subtlety.

The hype behind The Undisputed Truth, at least locally, has reached deafening levels. It's been a few years since The Champion EP, and fans have done little but bide their time until this record's release. Unfortunately, the record doesn't live up to its hype. Though this album is his best so far, Ali doesn't quite reach his potential. He gets pretty close on most of these tracks - especially on the all-cards-on-the-table "Lookin' At Me Sideways," the driving "Daylight," the maddeningly catchy "Take Me Home" - but the production doesn’t match his ambitions.

Ant from Atmosphere has been Brother Ali’s producer for a few years, and his clean approach has dulled Ali’s bite. This is also the case on The Undisputed Truth, which is full of sharp moments – “I view the future like it’s hindsight,” he proclaims on “Take Me Home” – but is ultimately sonically flat and cold. The disconnect is frustrating, leaving the listener with memories of impressive lyrics but nothing to keep.

Nonetheless, these are some good songs. In addition to the aforementioned highlights, the record boasts the indelible single “Truth Is,” his divorce chronicle “Walking Away,” and “Faheem,” Ali’s ode to his son. This is easily his strongest work to date, but someone please get the man a new producer.
(David Brusie)

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The Best Photo In The History Of Mankind




I'd hate to give American Idol any more press or attention than it deserves, but this article from Salon was too good to pass up. Entitled "Is a vote for Sanjaya subversive?," writer David Marchese asks several renowned pop music critics - including Robert Christgau, Chuck Klosterman and Nelson George - the titular question. The graphic alone (at the top of this post) makes this article worth a read.

The best response, in my opinion, comes from Greil Marcus, who writes the following: "The notion of controversy over people voting for the guy whose hair stands up assumes that the previous winners are not national embarrassments."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cool John Vanderslice Interview About the Music Business


The Merlin Show - John Vanderslice Interview

Thank you Bill Caperton (of Ela fame) for tipping me on this one. Here is the first part of three 20-minute interviews with John Vanderslice on The Merlin Show about the future of the music business and what blogging has done to it. It's pretty cool and Vanderslice is rather articulate - plus, he has some good insight.

(Ian Anderson)

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White Stripes Reveal Album Cover, Release Date




Both Pitchfork and NME have reported that the new White Stripes album, the perplexingly titled Icky Thump , is set to drop June 19th, 2007. It is the follow-up to 2005's Get Behind Me Satan . Let your eyes roll ever-so-slightly north to take a gander at the new album's cover art, which I think is pretty spiffy and retro.

To whet your appetite for all things Stripes related, here's the video from their awesome performance of "The Denial Twist" on The Daily Show from a while back.



(Jonathan Graef)

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Lucky Soul - The Great Unwanted



Download: Lucky Soul - "Add Your Light to Mine, Baby"
Download: Lucky Soul - "One Kiss Don't Make a Summer"
Download: Lucky Soul - "The Great Unwanted"

Grade: B+

Lucky Soul, a group of dashing Brits, play equally dashing and dazzling pop music. Their first album, The Great Unwanted, is one of the best revival records I've heard all year. The band taps into a deep resevoir of pop music traditions, mining Motown, soul and Brit-rock to come up with a record chock full of songs you've (sort of) heard before. But even it all sounds a little familiar, the band's joyful and ecstatic sound more than makes up for any lack of originality.

The sweet swing of "All Your Light to Mine, Baby" sets the tone for the rest of the record. Built around Ali Howard's slender voice, the track is all slick bursts of brass and bouncy guitar bop. The sophistication of the arrangement matches up nicely with the simple, effective lyrics: "Add your light to mine, baby / we could shine." With other bands, the coy lyrics and string swells could feel a little overwrought, but Lucky Soul's swagger saves them from sounding sappy; they just sound like their having so much fucking fun. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the album - it's consistently awesome. I'm not sure if The Great Unwanted will have tremendous staying power, but I'm also not sure that I've heard a better pop record in 2007.

(Pete Farrell)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Rivers Cuomo - Pig

Props to Idolator for cracking this one. Here is "Pig," a fresh track from Rivers Cuomo.

Rivers Cuomo - "Pig"

(Ian Anderson)

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Brother Ali on Pitchfork

Minneapolis-based hip-hop star Brother Ali scored a 6.6 on Pitchfork today. A little low for my taste, but check out the piece here.

Brother Ali - "Freedom Ain't Free"

(Ian Anderson)

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Neko Case Live on Sound Opinions



Download: Neko Case - Margaret vs. Pauline (Live on Sound Opinions)
Download: Neko Case - That Teenage Feeling (Live on Sound Opinions)
Download: Neko Case - Sometimes When I Get To Thinking (Live on Sound Opinions)

Here are a few excellent MP3s of Neko Case performing live on Sound Opinions, the self-described "world's only rock and roll talk show" hosted by Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot and Chicago Sun-Times rock critic Jim Derogatis. The show is broadcasted every Friday night on Chicago Public Radio. This week, Ms. Case herself was the show's guest. Click here to download an MP3 of the episode.

The interview segment of the show is really good, with the funny and lively Case revealing the inspirations for "That Teenage Feeling" and "Margaret vs. Pauline," as well as calling Fox Confessor Brings The Flood her most "smart-ass" album to date.

In other related radio news, both Case and her bandmate Kelly Hogan are going to be the guests tomorrow night (4/10/07) on Chicago station WXRT's The Eclectic Company radio show. Here is the webpage for the show, which airs Tuesday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight. Case and Hogan will be playing some of their favorite songs, so be sure to stream the show, as you'll more than likely hear some undoubtedly great music. Ten bucks says that Merle Haggard's name gets dropped at least twice.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

Bright Eyes
Cassadaga

Bright Eyes - "Four Winds"
Bright Eyes - "No One Would Riot For Less"

Writing about anything that Conor Oberst does (with Bright Eyes or otherwise) is always a delicate process. There are subtleties involved that are not often applied in most record reviews. For instance, I cannot simply compare Bright Eyes’ new full-length album Cassadaga (Saddle Creek) to the rest of the Oberstian catalog (a common thing to do), but I have to keep in mind that this record must be set against all other records being made – not just his own. This is the case simply because Oberst has made a shit ton of records. Seriously, I think the tally is up to 11 (this being number 11):

Commander Venus – “Do You Feel At Home” (1995)
Commander Venues – “The Uneventful Vacation” (1997)
Bright Eyes – “Letting Off the Happiness” (1998)
Bright Eyes – “A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997” (200)
Bright Eyes – “Fevers and Mirrors” (2000)
Desaparecidos – “Read Music/Speak Spanish” (2002)
Bright Eyes – “Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground” (2002)
Bright Eyes – “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” (2005)
Bright Eyes – “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (2005)
Bright Eyes – “Noise Floor” (2006
Bright Eyes – “Cassadaga” (2007)

Not to mention the dozen or so E.P.s and singles.

So, with this in mind, I will give Oberst’s new album two grades:

Grade (within the realm of music): A
Grade (within the context of the Bright Eyes catalog): B+

Bright Eyes is definitely making better music than most – if not all minus ten or so – bands currently producing. However, having been a CB listener for years (this is my seventh Oberst-related review), I can’t help but look back on Happiness and Mirrors as the “Golden Era,” but this is due to the fact that those were the first records I bought that got me into his music and, well, fell in love with (Jon Graef is rolling in his cheez-o-meter grave right now).

Personal anecdotes aside, this is a great record, simply put. The production is better than ever (way to go Mike Mogis), the songs are catchy, the performance is top notch, and the lyrics are of course the continuing trump card of what makes Bright Eyes so powerful.

Oberst’s voice is truly filling out. There are less warbly words (though I like those), less missed notes and a greater focus on not only what he says, but how he says it.

Most press outlets will say something to the affect of “this boy genius/wunderkind is now a 27-year-old man who is exploring his post-adolescent loneliness with a country twang,” but I won’t – oh, and they’ll have to say something about Bob Dylan somewhere in there, that counts as two shots. However, on the correct side of the argument – my side - Oberst has always made great music no matter his age, and people should probably just relax about it.

Cassadaga has two hits, nine goodies, one waltz and one classic Oberst intro. “Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)” begins the album with a phone call and some static. Ambient noise and a pedal high-frequency tone fill the background as we get a glimpse into Oberst’s fascination with Cassadaga, the namesake Florida-based psychic/spiritual community that will soon be flooded with hipster tourists looking for a piece of mind – the same piece that Oberst still seems to be looking for. The song sets the tone of the album and bleeds into a single acoustic guitar gently laying down the foundation for Oberst to quickly list the issues he’ll address on the album.

Throughout the album, Oberst takes a step back for a handful of instrumental interludes, which shows that not only with age is he developing wisdom within his songwriting, but also patience, building and growing moods rather than simply dropping them on the listener.

“Four Winds” is the hit that radio - and probably your parents - will latch onto. Full of endearing fiddle lines and a wonderful standard Oberst rant, the song contains the most single potential and will put the album on the Billboard charts because, well, his rant is far more well-mannered than any in the past and it is surrounded by an undeniably killer chorus. Which is an interesting point to make for the album: most, if not all, the tracks on the album have obvious melodic hooks rather than just lyrical hooks – further evidence of that patience I was talking about.

“No One Would Riot For Less” is another gem reminiscent of Lifted and could replace any deep track on said album. A soft breakdown of the band to just Oberst with his guitar, soft female backing vocals and flighty strings and pedal steel in the background swells into a grandiose string arrangement (compliments of Nate Walcott) only to bust into the most emotionally charged moment on the album.

Oberst spent most of 2006 wandering the country, and Cassadaga reflects that sense of a life absent of roots. Unfortunately, Oberst will not be able to top some of his past efforts, and that’s just the price he will have to pay for making some amazing music.

MySpace Page
Buy it here
(Ian Anderson)

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Son Volt - The Search

Son Volt
The Search
Grade: C-

Son Volt - "Slow Hearse"

Way back in the day, right after the split of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, Son Volt was prophesied to trounce all over Wilco. And that was with good reason: Son Volt's debut was much stronger than Wilco's A.M.

But time and Tweedy make asses of us all.

Eclipsed by the press over Wilco's yet-unreleased Sky Blue Sky, Son Volt's latest, The Search has so far been a fairly quiet release. But I got you Son Volt right here.

The Search sounds so incredibly tired. The album starts with "Slow Hearse," which has exactly zero energy. Farrar follows up with "The Picture" and "Action," which really showcase how ... limited his vocal range is. I think Farrar's voice is the biggest impediment to this record. Farrar has never been a hugely expressive vocalist, but on The Search, he sounds tired on top of it all. It's hard to connect with him because of how flat and stiff he sounds.

Well, that and the fact that he sings about a "burning wall of eternity" on this record. That's just too hard to take seriously. That's not good lyric writing; that's the type of metaphor a fifteen year old uses when describing a long-distance relationship kept alive using AIM. I can just see it now:

DragonFyre1996: how's it going?

PugBug985763: fine, but I feel like theres a burning wall of eternity keeping me from you.

DragonFyre1996: yah, babe. I know.

AIM and LiveJournal are where phrases like that belong, Not on Son Volt records.

Looked at on a whole, this record is pretty middle-of-the-road. A lot of it feels like Farrar is having a hard time getting his footing. The record draws in lots of far-flung influences, like Zep and R.E.M. The problem is that the diversity doesn't really gel, and ends up feeling scattered and disorganized.

"Satellite" is easily the best song on the album. It feels a lot more like Son Volt than anything else on the record. There's a lot more energy and vibrancy on this one track than on half of the other tracks on the album combined. A close runner up is "Circadian Rhythms," which digs a little deeper into Farrar's alt-country roots and sports a heavy R.E.M. influence. Much like "Satellite," what really makes this track stick out is its energy.

Unfortunately, that's the bottom line to this album: Songs like "Satellite" stick out because the rest of the album sounds damn exhausted. However, on a brighter note, Son Volt puts on a blistering live show and can be seen on Monday in the First Ave Main Room.

(April Wright)

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Things to Do This Week (4/6-4/13)

Friday, April 6
The Locust
Daughters
at the Triple Rock - 6pm, All Ages

Snow Patrol
Silversun Pickups
OK Go
at the Northrop Auditorium - 6pm, All Ages

Saturday, April 7
Neko Case
at the First Avenue Mainroom - 7pm, 18+

Monday, April 9
Son Volt
at the First Avenue Mainroom - 7:30pm, 18+

Wednesday, April 11
*Voltage Fashion Show
Featuring:
The Plastic Constellations
The Alarmists
The God Damn Doo Wop Band
at the First Avenue Mainroom - 7pm, 18+

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