Thursday, May 08, 2008

Catch-Up Playlist (Or: Finally, I Can Clean Up My Desktop!)

(Mason Jennings)

Good news, everyone: Your favorite pretentious internet writer has found himself some employment. The bad news? Uh, MFR hasn't exactly been a hotbed of breaking news. As if it ever was. HA! However, since I have some time off before I start my new job on Monday, I thought I would take the time to make a Catch-Up Playlist of all the tracks that have broken since I started a brief temp job last Thursday (as well as some others that have been sitting on my desktop for a long, long time). There's going to be some commentary with all of the tracks, but not a whole lot*, as you've undoubtedly heard these songs already. Think of it as a more scatterbrained "50 Words or Less" feature. All of the MP3s have been organized into different categories for your exploring convenience.

And with that out of the way, here we go:


Download: Mason Jennings - "Fighter Girl"
Download: Aimee Mann - "Thirty One Today"
Download: Brendan Canning - "Hit The Wall"

On a local note, singer/songwriter Mason Jennings debuted a new song from his forthcoming record In The Ever on I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. The song all but invites comparisons to another famous Minnesotan musician who sang with a seemingly lackadaisical drawl and wrote folk-flavored tunes. Obviously, there's none of Zimmy's revolutionary edge, but the song is perfectly pleasant listen for the end of spring time. But amiability doesn't equal greatness, and while "Figther Girl" is totally listenable acoustic-guitar driven folk-pop, it also won't change the world either.

A similar reaction can be elicited from singer-songwriter Aimee Mann's new song, "Thirty-One Today". Mann is too gifted a songwriter to create anything actively mediocre, but those listeners familiar with her past work won't be blown away by the additions of pseudo-New Wave keyboard flourishes. The lush nature of that instrumentation does juxtapose nicely against the bitter refrain.

That contrast also serves to fuel Brendan Canning's brilliant new song, "Hit A Wall", from his set-for-July entry in the Broken Social Scene Presents Series. The song absolutely reaches its dreamy pinnacle when the lyrics turn to loss and regret with the lines "use to have it all/then it went away." Maybe the narrator "Hit a Wall" regarding his personal life, but s/he should be at least consoled by the fantastically romantic sound collages sountracking the story. I used to think Kevin Drew was responsible for BSS' grandiose sounds. Now, I'm not so sure.

Gaze off your shoes and stay a while

Download: Grizzly Bear - "While You Wait for the Others"
Download: This Is Ivy League - "The Richest Kids"
Download: Nine Inch Nails - "Echoplex"
Download: No Age - "Eraser" (Live in Juan's Basement)

For a more retro kind of wistful, retro ethereality, new songs from This Is Ivy League and Grizzly Bear recall such musical luminaries as the Beach Boys and The Zombies. But while the former is a well-written homage, the latter, much like Garth Marhenghi, points the way forward for humanity. "Others" is the logical step forward from Yellow House and the Friend EP, and perhaps one of the best songs of the year.

While Grizzly Bear and This Is Ivy League may be two bands that try and dabble in transcendental pop, there are darker forces at play in the second single, given away for free, from Nine Inch Nails' website. The song, "Echoplex", starts with jagged, treble-heavy guitar-and-bass lines before adding various atmospheric touches while repeating lyrics fraught with frustration ("my voice just echoes off these walls") until they become a cathartic mantra. The effort is relatively subdued, and continues in the more mature direction that Reznor has taken in the 21st Century; there are tiny bursts of Eno-esque sonic experimentation. All in all, this is a solid, if a little perfunctory at times, track.

While we're on the subject of being perfunctory, the performance that Noo-York ambient-punkers No Age gave at Juan's Basement of "Eraser" (the studio version of which we told you about a while ago), from their new record Nouns, matches the recorded version perfectly. Perhaps watching the band perform live in the flesh would have made the listening experience much more visceral, but on this rendition, the changes are minimal at best. Good stuff, to be sure, but is it necessary?

Its been a long time since you've rock and rolled

Download: Pharoahe Monch - "Broken Heart"
Download: Stereolab - "Three Women"
Download: Os Mutantes - "Mutantes Depois"

"Echoplex", and the album from which it comes, The Slip, has been receiving enormous attention for its unorthodox release method. Is this the end of the old model, or will the CD become the Hillary Clinton to MP3's Barack Obama? Just like in real-life politics, it may be hard to say.

One thing's for certain though: After the experience rapper Pharoahe Monch with his labels (nine years between his debut album and last year's stunning comeback Desire) may want to take notes on the new model. Perhaps he already has, after debuting a new tune via hip-hop blog Nah Right.

"Broken Heart" is about, well, you know. And yet, the tale of a gal who goes from being voted most likely to succeed to "sucking seeds" (gasp! You've scandalized my virgin eyes, Monch.) is deeply affecting, because Monch, rapping above bittersweet double-stops and a smooth, syncopated bass line, spares no one, not even himself, in detailing the demise of a girl he once knew. "Broken Heart" continues the red hot streak that Monch has been on, with his fiery flow propelling the mid-tempo track to its irresistible conclusion. The fact that the wait between his new material and his last output might be shorter should surely please many hip-hop fans.

While 4 years between albums pales in comparison to 9 years, those who've been waiting patiently for a new offering from Stereolab have still been frothing at the mouth for new material from the English Krautrock-cum-lounge-pop band. With the band set to release Chemical Chords this year, it's no wonder that the first track from it, "Three Women", has been greeted with rabid enthusiasm. And with good reason. Whether you've been with this group from the beginning, or just heard about them through the High Fidelity Soundtrack, listeners should be greatly pleased by the song. That's because the song sounds like pretty much everything else that Stereolab has written. However, when the results have been this consistent over the years, who are we to complain?

The last time Os Mutantes put out anything at all, people who are parents now weren't even born yet. So much can happen in 36 years. And yet, if you happen to be Tropicalia legends, it would seem that the best course of action is to pick up where you left off. "Mutantes Depois" does that and then some. The song is wholly submerged in 60s folk (in the verses) and psychedelia, with the latter rearing its awesome head during "Depois" gloriously catastrophic breakdown. Welcome back, Mutantes. You've been missed.

New Bands (or, at least, new music)

Download: Thank You - "Empty Legs"
Download: The Accidental - "Dream For Me"
Download: Gentleman Auction House - "Book of Matches"
Download: The Music Tapes - "Majesty"

Chicago indie stalwarts Thrill Jockey have made two new MP3s available. They come from acts who will be making their debut releases with the home of Tortoise, The Fiery Furances, and Bobby Conn. Thank You, a trio from Baltimore, don't quite have enough throbbing polyrhythmic insanity to qualify as "math-rock" (or math-metal), but many of the same reference points and touchtones are there. The instrumental "Empty Legs" begins with a drum fill that Max Roach himself might have played, but the track expands into more diverse terrain, including organ fills, intertwining rhythms, and a pulsating bass line. As corny as it is, I'm gonna go there. No, Thank You!

The other TJ track is much more straightforward, in terms of structure and melody. Ironic, isn't it, that they're called The Accidental? This newly formed collective pretty much sounds like band member Sam Genders day job Tunng, but without any experimental, electronic touches. The result is folk music that is ultimately unremarkable.

Much more effective is the new song from The Music Tapes, an Elephant Six offshoot of (former?) Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster. The track suggests post-E6 psychedelic-folk bands like Animal Collective, or even the shambolic, no-fi pop of Chicago group The Bird Names. Lush is most definitely the buzzword here.

Speaking of buzz, St. Louis-based Gentleman Auction House's brand of insanely, inexplicably catchy indie-pop should be setting the indie world on fire in T-Minus Now. The septet, who this week put out an EP titled Book of Matches, makes a huge ruckus while allowing enough space for funk (check out the minimalist, but pervasive, bass groove of the title track) and R&B influences to slowly creep in, giving tracks that otherwise might be average a greater shape and form. I'm very much looking forward to a full-length from this band.


Download: Kidz in the Hall - "Drivin Down The Block" (Remix feat. Pusha T, Big B, and The Cool Kids)
Download: Kidz in the Hall and El-P - "Drivin' Down The Block" (Remix)
Download: Long Blondes - "Guilt" (Pantha Du Prince remix)
Download: My Brightest Diamond - "Inside a Boy" (Son Lux Remix)

Lastly, we have four worthwhile remixes. Some are more "remix-y" than other--the My Brightest Diamond in particular has a field day with the vocal track from "Inside a Boy"--while the most abstract and formless remix comes from the Pantha Du Prince remix of The Long Blondes' "Guilt". At 8 minutes plus, it might test your patience, but the song's slow, deep descent into ambient-ville is a trip worth taking; grows on you after multiple mixes. If you want a more visceral listening experience, the remixes of Kidz in the Hall's "Drivin' Down The Block" should be an ideal summer soundtrack jam. Ditto for Def-Jux head El-P's remix of the tune, in which P adds his trademark futuristic, apocalyptic, and minimalist touch to the track; dig the sudden flourish of keyboard sounds at the chorus, as well as El-P's references to current events.

Most of these songs were made available from Pitchfork, Stereogum, Thrill Jockey, Nah Right, or bands and their publicists.

(Jonathan Graef)

*turns out there was a lot of fucking commentary, wasn't there?

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