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    Location: Brooklyn, NY

    The MP3s available here are for sampling purposes. Please support the artists by buying their albums and going to their shows. If you are the artist or label rep and don't want an MP3 featured, let me know. Links will otherwise stay live for about two weeks before they vanish into the ether.

    If you'd like to send music, art, writing or promo material for consideration, email me at nerdlitter[at]yahoo[dot]com. This site is designed in Firefox and may not look optimal in other browsers. You can get Firefox here.

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    Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    Good clean fun: Clean Guns MP3s

    Photo by Ben Carter

    It's 1998—my friend Alex and I are listening to CD after CD. Jewel cases and upturned discs litter the floor all around us. We're taking turns at DJing, trying to one-up each other with every spin. And then at some point, he puts on Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, and I lose automatically. The level of wordplay, the raucous double entendres, the confident but relaxed flows of the two eponymous MCs, their overwhelming respect for the genre and their hunger for greatness all hit me at once. It blows the mind of the fifteen-year-old rap ignoramus I was back then, raised on top 40 radio and warmed-over alternative rock.

    It's been a long time since I've been able to go back to that distant, balmy afternoon. So much hip hop I've heard of late has been self-consciously slick, all presentation over substance. The stalwarts who cut their teeth on corners are too rich and too busy hanging with Chris Martin now to document real life. And only a depressingly select few up-and-comers can stretch their skills far enough to sustain a full-length LP worth hearing.

    Enter Clean Guns from South Philly, PA to remind me of why I fell in love with hip hop in the first place. Their new album, Sometimes There Is Trouble, is fresh and thrilling, rife with unexpected sounds and scintillating thoughts. The duo's members, lifelong friends Zilla Rocca and Nico the Beast, have clearly been deeply influenced by rap's greats, but they also add a lot of their own to the equation. Taking a little from Cannibal Ox and Company Flow (including their name from a "Simian D" lyric), mixing in a bit of Wu-Tang with some Heltah Skeltah, sprinkling on some Nas, Jay-Z, and Immortal Technique et al., they've distilled their influences' best elements and veered off from there.

    The album's opener, "Blast Off" is a terrific introduction to their sound, full of swagger and dynamic, nimble rapping. With its malevolent piano loop and menacing worldview, it's also the track that'd fit seamlessly on a Defintive Jux comp. After that, Clean Guns branch out further, seemingly intent on fulfilling their label Beat Garden's mission statement: "Many styles. Many styles." Over the course of twelve tracks, Zilla's production samples everything from Waking Life to Cesaria Evora, the Highlander soundtrack to a Polish classical string CD he checked out of the library. Their raps get cynical and raw, they get philosophical and funky, they get celebratory and sentimental. No matter what the mood they set or subject they broach, it works. There's not a weak song in the pack and not a moment of filler, a near-miracle by hip hop standards. At the moment, my favorites happen to be "These Words I Write" and the surprisingly affecting "Ode To The Dead," but all of it is straight-up quality.

    One of the most evident characteristics of Sometimes There Is Trouble is the immense love behind the project. Zilla and Nico got started around age fifteen (the magic age, it seems), making "bullshit cassettes on a karaoke machine." They've been honing their skills ever since, paying their dues and soaking up the riches of hip hop culture. And yet, even with the seriousness pervading much of their album, you can tell how much fun they're having too, what a passion this is and what a culmination of hard work these songs represent. Somewhere in America right now, there's a fifteen-year-old who thinks all rap is stale and bloated and materialistic like I once did. He needs to hear this album right away, but then again so do you.

    Pick up your copy of Sometimes There Is Trouble for an astoundingly worth-it eight bucks here.

    * MP3: "These Words I Write" - Clean Guns from Sometimes There Is Trouble
    * MP3: "Say Goodnight" - Clean Guns featuring So-S@y from Sometimes There Is Trouble [Buy it]
    * Band MySpace: Clean Guns

    Tags: , , , ,

    Listening booth #2

    4 Nations by Scott Erwert

    * MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Preorder it]
    * MP3: "No Pussy Blues" - Grinderman from Grinderman
    [Buy it]
    * MP3: "The Seedling" - Benoît Pioulard (Bonnie "Prince" Billy cover) [Buy other Benoît Pioulard]

    More Scott Erwert art here. Contact him for prices.

    Video Tuesday #22

    Sigur Ros

    "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"
    Of Montreal

    "Heart's A Mess"

    "I'd Rather Dance With You"
    Kings of Convenience

    "Bizarre Love Triangle"
    New Order

    "Is A Woman"

    Monday, January 29, 2007

    The writing on the wall #10

    Black and white #1

    A new feature highlighting black-and-white photography.

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Bell @ Sidewalk Cafe, 1-6-07

    Writing about a show twenty days after it hapened? Surely, that's got to be against some unspoken blogger commandment or at least cast some serious doubts on my time management skills. But no, it was just my recalcitrant computer first, then my uncooperative camera next, that slowed my step. After clearing those obstacles, I thought about scrapping the writeup to focus on concerts I'd seen more recently, albums currently closer to my ear. I mean, twenty days—nearly three weeks—on a blogger's timeline is more like three months. But there's something about the Bell performance that still resonates. There was a quality about it that convinced me that it was worth coming back to.

    I went to the show for two reasons. First, it was part of my effort to dive back into New York's local music scene. Also, I'd been reading really effusive praise about Bell on Ear Farm, and wanted to see what the clamor was all about. So I met up with Matt from Ear Farm on a chilly night in January to judge firsthand. Around nine o'clock, after weathering a mediocre opener (and later followed by an awful successor), Olga Bell and her band claimed the tiny stage. Olga was backed by Jason Nazary on drums and Mike Chiavaro on bass, but it was her singing and piano playing that rightfully led the way.

    Introducing songs, Bell came off as sweet and endearing, and those characteristics often found their way into the music. Her predominant style was a jazzy pop-rock; it was most obviously reminiscent of another Sidewalk Cafe alum, Regina Spektor. I also caught shades of Extraordinary Machine-era Fiona Apple and acoustic Bjork. And similarly to those singers, Bell's greatest asset for me is the credibility that she invests in her songs. It was evident that she was feeling the full force of her words throughout. Whether it was striking a tone of joy or hitting a stretch of longing, she sold the message like a true believer.

    The band also did three covers, which helped to further confirm their talent. First was a sadcore transformation of The Go-Go's "Vacation" where "Vacation, all I ever wanted" took on new levels of weary craving. Bell sounded a lot like an overworked clock-puncher whose days off are long in the distance. They also did an apparently-trademark take on Skee-Lo's 1995 "I Wish," which came off not ironic so much as playful, and a simple, lovely interpretation of Bjork's "Unison." As with her own material, Bell sang the central line, "Let's unite tonight," with an inspiring devotion and desire.

    Unfortunately, the set was second in a four-band lineup and it only lasted about forty minutes. I could've happily listened to a set twice its length. At least, I rationalized, it'd leave me coming back for more. And sure enough, even after twenty days, even after I've encountered technical difficulties and an onslaught of new music, it's still on my mind.

    Bell will be performing a song at Covers For The Cure at Joe's Pub tomorrow and a free set at Rockwood Music Hall on January 31st.

    Check out Matt from Ear Farm's writeup of the night here.

    * MP3: "Expanding River" - Bell
    * MP3: "Moon River" - Bell
    * Band MySpace: Bell

    Tags: , , , ,

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Listening booth #1

    Painting by Matthew Feyld

    * MP3: "Heretics" - Andrew Bird from Armchair Apocrypha [Buy other Andrew Bird]
    * MP3: "The Troglodyte Wins" - Busdriver from RoadkillOvercoat
    [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Stand" - The Bees from Octopus [Buy it]

    More Matthew Feyld art here. Contact him for prices.

    Trailer park #8

    A film by David Fincher
    Opens Mar. 2nd

    A film by Danny Boyle
    Opens Mar. 16th

    Tears of the Black Tiger
    A film by Wisit Sasanatieng
    Now playing (limited)

    The Lives of Others
    A film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
    Opens Feb. 9th (limited)

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    Behind the blog: Music Is Art

    One glimpse is all it takes to tell you that Music Is Art is something special. You can start by judging this blog by its cover—it’s one of the best-designed, most aesthetically aware music blogs around—but there’s much more to it than just a pretty template. For one, Danielle, the “dreamer/designer” behind Music is Art, focuses not only on excellent music, but on art, photography and writing and how they all intersect and inform the music. By sharing the sounds and sights that inspire her, she's inspiring a growing number of readers on a daily basis. By documenting artists’ creative processes, she's, in the process, creating a pretty substantial, always-evolving work of art herself. Here's my interview with the woman behind the blog:

    NL: What inspired you to start your blog?

    MIA: I’ve always had a fascination with music and believed in the combination of music, words and art. An idea for Music Is Art has been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time. My friend Erin Caruso is an amazing photographer and really pushed me to start sharing all the things that I loved. I’m constantly changing places or directions, and it’s been a special way for me to keep in contact with distant friends.

    Photo by Erin Caruso

    NL: Are those areas—words, music and art—things you've studied or work in or are they all just passions of yours?

    MIA: I used to perform theatre and play and sing music growing up, but my own passion of music and art has always just been my personal way of surviving.

    NL: How do you find the music that you feature?

    MIA: I’m always searching. Most of the people I feature are artists that are scattered from special music blogs, forums, messages that I stumble upon. Others are old secrets that I’ve been listening to for years.

    NL: What about with the art that you feature?

    MIA: There are some great online sites like Fecal Face and Juxtapoz that provide intricate interviews with thousands of new and undiscovered artists daily. Strangely, MySpace has been another great avenue. There are so many amazing visual artists out there, it’s quite mind-blowing.

    NL: What kind of feedback have you gotten from people you've featured?

    MIA: The feedback has been so meaningful. I actually just received a really beautiful email from an artist yesterday that I featured a few weeks ago. They were so kind and appreciative of the recognition they told me they were honored.

    The Trouble With Insects by Ray Caesar

    NL: What about feedback from readers?

    MIA: Just to know people believe in it, in a way that I might not, means a lot. Music Is Art has become pretty personal to me, those who have actually taken the time to create their own works of art, photography and poetry and send them to me in inspiration because they somehow don’t feel alone. It makes me feel like people actually get it.

    NL: Are you surprised by the response it's received?

    MIA: Yes, I didn’t expect anything. Back in the beginning, when I only had ten readers a day, that was personally considered a lot. Now to have close to three thousand, well that almost scares me.

    NL: Three thousand a day?! Really? Holy crap. How much time do you spend putting a post together?

    MIA: Sometimes it can take half an hour or it can take a few hours. Depends how I’m feeling.

    NL: Yeah, absolutely. What have been some of the posts that still stick out for you?

    MIA: My interview with Lisa Papineau, who’s gifted with an amazing voice and talent to contribute with different musicians. Having different visual artists like Joshua Petker and Kris Lewis share what music means to them while they’re creating art. Guest postings by My Brightest Diamond and Inlets. And a series called song // context // result which associates music with memories.

    NL: I'm glad you cited the Lisa Papineau interview. I was going to bring that one up too. That's one of my favorites as well. So how did you get your site looking so good? Do you have a design background?

    MIA: Thank you. No, not really any design background, I’ve just always had some strange knowledge for html and seemed to have a special love for colors, collaging and rearranging. You should see how I decorate a room!

    Why I Do What I Do by Tara McPherson

    NL: What are some of the albums you're most looking forward to this year?

    MIA: I’m hoping 2007 brings us the new Radiohead and Portishead albums. That would make me very happy, as well as My Brightest Diamond's forthcoming album. Also, the third release by the band OURS. Lead singer Jimmy Gnecco is an eclectic artist who not only makes beautiful music but genuinely appreciates all his fans.

    NL: I don't understand why Portishead is taking so long. It's been ages.

    MIA: It’s been too long.

    NL: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?

    MIA: I love Joshua Petker, Ray Caesar, Michael Hussar and Tara McPherson. There’s also this great project called You Are Beautiful where different people from all over the world try to photograph those three words in different ways (drawn in the sand, on posters along subways, etc.)... it’s a strong positive message of sorts and a good feeling, when there doesn’t seem to be much of anything.

    Photo by Alex Synge, from You Are Beautiful

    NL: Huh, that's pretty cool. Do you know about Learning To Love You More? I like that project a lot.

    MIA: No. What’s that about?

    NL: Every so often, they post an assignment and then people will send in their response to it. They'll have some really interesting ones—describe your ideal government, take a picture of your parents kissing, draw a constellation from someone's freckles, things like that.

    MIA: Sounds very interesting. I’ll definitely look into that.

    NL: What about some of your favorite historical artists?

    MIA: Historical... van Gogh, Modigliani, Dali, Degas.

    NL: And what are some of your favorite movies and books?

    MIA: My favorite movie is American Beauty. Then everything falls after that. Amelie, Magnolia, Requiem for a Dream, Waking Life...

    NL: I love Waking Life a great deal. And what about books?

    MIA: For books, an author like Anaïs Nin showcases some of the most personal and elegant words I’ve ever read. She's one of those writers that I can easily understand; that doesn’t happen very often. Also, some other favorite books are Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock and Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself and Brave on the Rocks: If You Don’t Go, You Don’t See by Sabrina Ward Harrison, which provide some of the inspiration that I hope one day Music Is Art will lead to.

    NL: I'll have to check some of those out. So now that I know some of the favorites, tell me a little more about yourself.

    MIA: Hmm, I just turned twenty-five; it’s amazing to think I’ve lived a quarter of my life already. What else would you like to know?

    NL: What would someone reading your site be surprised to find out?

    MIA: I didn’t like high school so I graduated when I was fifteen and went for college. I wanted to immerse myself in music and be around people who loved art just as much as I did. Then I worked for an active rock Boston radio station and learned about the music business a little too much. I began to lose my desire and started to crave the idea of traveling. New Orleans was my first place that I ran away to when I was eighteen and lived on and off of Bourbon Street. That was an experience that I’ll never forget. After that, I just started going towards random cities I always wanted to visit. Boston, New Orleans, Seattle, Austin, and now NYC.

    NL: What's drawing you to New York now?

    MIA: It’s been a place I’ve always wanted to be a part of, but it just never seemed like the right time to settle. Having conversations with different artists and musicians who live in New York, to dive into my creativity, there doesn’t seem like any other place for me to be than to be there right now.

    * MP3: "Only You" (French version) - Portishead [Buy other Portishead]
    * MP3: "I Want None of This" - Radiohead from Help: A Day In The Life [Buy it]


    Minor breakdown.

    All these faint euphemisms
    to salve gravity’s lashes, iambs
    to stitch the welts on
    lips, tendons, vertebrae,
    but what tender voodoo can undo
    the undoable now?

    Not poetry, not your most
    liberal fingerprints, not heads
    welded together in statuesque ache—
    So I lost six days, my love,
    in that black, putrid chantry,
    so I knelt on stone-shredded knees
    shadowing the silhouettes of shadows

    It was nothing really,
    I tripped back like a flung door
    into sewn scabs, trusted drugs,
    the dribble-grey hole of my own invention,
    every backbent wing a confidant,
    every inscribed letter an epistle.

    Momentary lapse.

    Forgive me for saying what
    I most needed to say, murmured,
    murdered into the spire that’s
    slitting up your righteous lap, shiver-shook
    and glacial, bloodletted and blue,
    the leached light squirming in

    So I lost six days, my love,
    like an icicle loses its fang,
    venom drained, half-mugged and half-
    surrendered, half-gnarled by the thaw,
    but don’t even my lies happen
    to be true now and then?

    Disconsolate dawn
    takes the reins from roughshod night,
    the damage becoming clearer, more
    foolish, in its chronic bath—
    so now I have that junky grammar
    scrawled on my skin again.

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Video Tuesday #21

    M. Ward

    "So Begins Our Alabee"
    Of Montreal

    "Set Fire To The Face On Fire"
    The Blood Brothers

    "Yea Yeah"
    Matt and Kim

    "I Still Remember"
    Bloc Party

    The Postmarks

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Benefit show tonight @ Northsix

    A few of my favorite things: independent music, drinking Brooklyn Lager, and, like, helping people and stuff. So lucky for me that tonight is Jezebelmusic.com's Annual Benefit Concert for Common Ground. It's at Northsix in Williamsburg and features a whopping eight bands for a mere fifteen bucks. The roster includes a bunch of artists I've never heard of (Black Bunny, Jaymay, Leah Siegel, Lowry), some whose names are familiar (Via Audio, Sexy Champions), and a few I'm actually vaguely knowledgeable about (Proton Proton, The Black Spoons), so anything can happen. But with that much music to choose from, you're bound to love something you hear.

    Even better, the proceeds go to Common Ground's Green Design Initiative, which (cue the press release) "
    embrac[es] environmentally progressive housing construction in building a 263-unit supportive housing residence for low-income or formerly homeless adults, as well as a 57-unit Foyer Program for young adults who are aging out of foster or residential care, are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless." So basically, your money's going further at this show than that six-pack of PBR and pack of Camel Lights you were gonna buy otherwise. (Or fuck it, do both.)

    Doors at 7:30, show at 8. Find out more about the bands playing here.

    * MP3: "If You Loved Me, I'd Be Home By Now" - The Black Spoons from History of Modern Silence
    [Buy it]
    * MP3: "I Heart Failure" - The Black Spoons from History of Modern Silence [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Lock Picker" - Proton Proton from EP #1 [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Plates" - Proton Proton from EP #2 [Buy it]
    * Band Website: The Black Spoons
    * Band Website: Proton Proton

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Let's go!: The Shondes MP3s

    I have trouble reading the newspaper everyday. Each morning is yet another document of worldwide degradations and wide-scale horrors. Rather than finish my coffee and head into the city, I'll want to storm the streets, bombard my Congressmen with letters, organize mass protests until the worst of the problems are solved. But I won't. I'll just drink up the brown-black dregs, board the subway and try to stow away all that anger and outrage in some leftover compartment. I'll spend more energy inventing excuses than affecting change.

    That's why I'm so glad there's a band like The Shondes, purging their outrage with some blistering punk. This Brooklyn-based quartet, named after the Yiddish word for "shame," "disgrace" or "outrage," revels in tackling the political and the radical. Their passionate vocals and triumphant, stomping rock could alone testify to their power, but they go a step further by delivering raw, critical protest music. For example, "I Watched The Temple Fall" recontextualizes the melody of "Lamentations," a text about the fall of the ancient Jewish temple, to condemn the current "apartheid state." It's a song with an unmissable message, but rousingly glorious music to match and lyrics (
    "You watched Schindler's List this morning/ To create generic mourning/ Where the state means salvation") that are as thought-provoking as they are provocative.

    The Shondes follow in the rich tradition of feminist rockers like Patti Smith, Bikini Kill and most closely and excitingly, Sleater-Kinney. However, there are some distinct differences that set them apart. For one, their music loudly and proudly explores their (three-out-of-four members) Jewish heritage while criticizing Zionism and calling for an independent Palestinian state. Three of four are also transgender, doing their part to keep the outspoken lineage of queercore alive. But if you think you have The Shondes figured out, there's also something as subtle as Elijah Oberman's violin, which adds a stirring new voice to the rallying battlecries. It may not be as thundering as Temim Fruchter's drumming, as urgent as Louisa Solomon's bass, or as noisy as Ian Brannigan's guitar, but it demands to be heard all the same, a fact we can all gain inspiration from.

    The Shondes will be playing The Annex on January 21st and The Delancey on February 10th.

    * MP3: "Let's Go" - The Shondes
    * MP3: "The Mother and the Colony" - The Shondes
    * MP3: "I Watched The Temple Fall" - The Shondes
    * Band Website: The Shondes

    Tags: , , , ,

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #15

    1) "Autumn Sweater" - Yo La Tengo from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One [Buy it]
    2) "Underwear" - Pulp from Different Class [Buy it]
    3) "Restaurant Blouse" - VV and Hotel from If The Twenty-First Century Didn't Exist, It Would Be Necessary To Invent It [Buy it]
    4) "Without a Diamond Ring" - Page France from Tomato Morning Tour EP [Buy it]
    5) "Mittens" - Califone from The New Year's Resolutions [Buy other Califone]
    6) "Baggy Trousers" - Madness from Ultimate Collection [Buy it]
    7) "Bright Blue Tie" - The Fiery Furnaces from Gallowsbird's Bark [Buy it]
    8) "Shirt" - Menomena from PDX Pop Now! 2006 [Buy other Menomena]
    9) "Uniform" (Live at Coachella 2006) - Bloc Party [Buy other Bloc Party]
    10) "2 Dollar Shoes" - Rosie Thomas from When We Were Small [Buy it]
    11) "Bishop's Robes" - Radiohead from Street Spirit EP [Buy it]
    12) "Lines In The Suit" - Spoon from Girls Can Tell [Buy it]
    13) "Dress" (Acoustic) - PJ Harvey [Buy other PJ Harvey]
    14) "Famous Blue Raincoat" - Lloyd Cole from Rare on Air, Vol. 2 [Buy it]

    Sick of it all

    So I'm too sick to say anything/eat anything solid today. Regular posting will resume once I stop shivering and my head gets at least five feet away from the toilet. Enjoy these ill tunes in the meantime and thank your immune systems for not betraying you.

    * MP3: "Medicine Blues" - Simon Joyner & The Fallen Men from The Skeleton Blues [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Sick of Goodbyes" - Sparklehorse from Good Morning, Spider [Buy it]
    * MP3: "We Share Our Mother's Health" (Trentemøller Remix) - The Knife from We Share Our Mother's Health EP [Buy it]

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    PDX Pop Now! 2006

    I've got a couple of regrets—never took any art history classes in college, too shy around girls in high school, should've tried out for the tennis team—but one of the most glaring is that I've still never been to Portland. So many bands I love hail from there. I used to drink its famed Stumptown coffee on a regular basis. My friend Scott was constantly filling my head with idealized pictures of that woodsy city he grew up in. And yet, due to lack of funds or plans falling through, I never made it up to the Pacific Northwest.

    And then today, citing my love for Talkdemonic, a reader named Jeff sends me a Hello Damascus track featuring Lisa Molinaro on backup vocals. I do a little research and learn it was on the most recent PDX Pop Now! festival compilation. Pulling up the double-disc tracklist, I find a who's who of Portland bands I already enjoy and many more that I've been meaning to check out. There's even Talkdemonic themselves, representing folktronic hop with "Ending The Orange Glow" and Kevin O'Connor-approved band Horse Feathers on there as well. I read more about the three-day festival of homegrown talent they have up there every year, and my longing to check out Portland just gets sharper. For now though, I'll settle for some of that city's terrific music.

    The 2006 CD can be purchased for $7 at record stores around Portland. PDX Pop Now! is also now accepting submissions for their 2007 compilation.

    * MP3: "Randy" - Hello Damascus from PDX Pop Now! 2006 [Visit them]
    * MP3: "Ending The Orange Glow" - Talkdemonic from PDX Pop Now! 2006 [Buy other Talkdemonic]
    * MP3: "Finch on Saturday" - Horse Feathers from PDX Pop Now! 2006/ Words Are Dead [Buy it]

    Tags: , , , , ,

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    The writing on the wall #9

    Nashville series #2

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Most of my fantasies: Smog MP3s

    Photo by Luisa Cinta

    I'm giving serious thought to turning this into a Smog tribute blog. I've already said my share about Bill Callahan's music (here, here, here), but then I'll lower my guard and its quiet graces will ensnare me all over again. The culprit this time is 1997's Red Apple Falls, an old favorite that I'm rediscovering whole new wealth in. When I first got it, I listened to it loyally for at least a week before finally moving on. And sure enough this time around, it's all I've been willing to listen to for the last three days and counting.

    The adjective that the album most calls to mind for me is "crisp." There's a crispness in Callahan's baritone, a rich clarity and purpose that give his words their continual power. His music follows that lead, also tending to err on the side of simplicity. By paring his compositions down to the essential instruments, he wrings the most out of every note and chord change. The other main asset is his lyrics, which may be the easiest and most foolish element to underestimate. Another great example of economy, Callahan's verses are simultaneously direct and cryptic, spare and bountiful. They read simply, but collectively, they're overloaded with moments of surprising, dismantling truth.

    Consider, for example, on "I Was A Stranger," when he sings, "In the last town, you should've seen what I was.../ I was worse than a stranger/ I was well-known." Or among the rare upbeat bounce of "Ex-Con," when he admits, "Jean jacket and tie/ Feel like such a lie/ When I go to your house, I feel like I'm casin' the joint." But as with all Smog albums, there's always one lyric that hits harder than everything else, rings truer and echoes louder. That moment on Red Apple Falls comes for me on "To Be Of Use," when Callahan solemnly laments, "Most of my fantasies are to be of use.../ To be of some hard, simple, undeniable use/ Oh, like a spindle/ or oh, like a candle/ or oh, like a horseshoe/ or oh, like a corkscrew." It didn't strike me until the fifth or sixth listen, but as with all things Smog, it's a sentiment that promises to linger through the weeks to come.

    * MP3: "Ex-Con" - Smog from Red Apple Falls
    * MP3: "To Be Of Use" - Smog from Red Apple Falls [Buy it]

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    Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Video Tuesday #20

    "Nothing Like This"
    J Dilla

    "Father to a Sister of a Thought"

    "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time"
    Jarvis Cocker

    "Lake Somerset"
    (Via Merry Swankster)

    "Modern World"
    Wolf Parade


    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    For the record #2

    After another 365-day cycle of hope and hype, of fulfilled promises and glaring failures, I was interested to find out which artist would stand out above the rest for my fellow bloggers. Suffice it to say that the responses I got were full of unexpected picks, and in more than one instance, they sent me back to my music collection for a little reassessment. A big thanks to the participants—Calum, Frank, Matt and Danielle—for the thoughtful choices they offered up. And here's to another 365 days that produces music this varied and memorable...

    Calum from Mocking Music writes:

    My Dad Vs Yours

    Justin Timberlake forced indie kids to embrace their radios. Scott Walker came out of what seemed like outer space to deliver his best album in decades. And Prince proved, much to the surprise of I think just about everyone, that he could still write a relevant pop song. But the band that had the biggest impact on me personally this year isn't a band that made many waves on a large scale—that band is Ottawa's premiere post-rock quartet, My Dad Vs Yours.

    I simply cannot say enough about My Dad Vs Yours. This is a band that is obsessed with challenging what it means to be a contemporary instrumental rock band making music in 2006, but it's also a band interested in making beautiful music. It's thought nearly impossible to artistically push the envelope and make commercially accessible music—but here comes My Dad Vs Yours, interested in both and getting along just fine. Impressed? You should be.

    My Dad Vs Yours are an incredibly important band because they realize and deal with one very important fact: post-rock is dead. Or, perhaps more accurately, post-rock should be dead. The entire genre, though it was created such a short time ago, already seems so stale and uninteresting—yet new quadrillion-piece post-rock outfits keep popping up all over the map, hoping their intensity and musical prowess will compensate for their lack of originality or interesting ideas (and, of course, that just won't cut it). And that's where My Dad Vs Yours come in: they're taking the next logical step. Call it "post-post-rock."

    The band takes the most important element of the dead genre—the ease with which rock instruments, unaccompanied by vocals, can genuinely express emotion—and combines with tight pop sensibilities. That might sound vague, but clarity comes quickly when you actually sit down and hear After Winter Must Come Spring: this is a gorgeous, downright ethereal album, a delightful little treat that doesn't get bogged down by the pretension of your typical post-rock. My Dad Vs Yours have somehow managed to fuse the most interesting qualities of pop music with the most interesting qualities of tired "post-rock," and in the process they've created one of the best albums of 2006. I have highest hopes for 2007.
    * MP3: "Habla Paisano" - My Dad Vs Yours from After Winter Must Come Spring [Buy it]

    Frank from Chromewaves writes:

    Cat Power

    If I were to pick an artist of the year—which apparently I'm doing—I'd have to give a nod to Ms Charlyn "Chan" Marshall, or Cat Power. She'd merit consideration for the title based solely on her releasing one of the finest albums of the year, her Southern-soul-steeped The Greatest. But her 2006 was far more dramatic and eventful than that.

    There were rumours aplenty when she abruptly canceled her tour to support the record in the early part of the year but it wasn't till the interviews began appearing in The New York Times, Spin and Magnet that the full breadth of her psychological breakdown was revealed. And yet despite having very nearly hit rock-bottom, she managed to not only survive but come back even stronger, vibrant and more confident than anyone could have imagined.

    Even her live shows, which had been legendarily scattershot, reached new heights. Although still hit-or-miss, the hits were far more frequent and were even knocked out of the park on occasion—at least the two I saw. So congratulations to Cat Power on a helluva 2006 and a fervent wish that she never has another one like it again.
    * MP3: "The Greatest" - Cat Power from The Greatest [Buy it]

    Matt from Ear Farm writes:

    Man Man


    Who is my artist of the year for 2006? Such a simple question seemingly deserves an outright simple answer. Like this: The Decemberists. Right? They made what I deemed to be my top album of 2006 so there's no good reason to not pick them. Well, except for the fact that I didn't pay attention to anything they were doing/ wasn't thinking about The Decemberists at all until early October when The Crane Wife was released... I didn't even see them live this year. No no, it can't be them.

    Okay, more honestly... Thinking about which musicians stole my interest for the majority of 2006, I'm left with two obvious choices. Not one but two (I'm going to bend the rules a bit here so buckle up). Both were bands that I saw live for the first time at the end of 2005 and both released albums early enough in 2006 for me to have spent the better part of the year listening to them. Oh, and both bands wear all white when they perform. Don't think that doesn't have a lot to do with it.

    You know which bands I'm talking by now, right? One is Graceland-informed, post-Unicorns indie-pop and the other more of a Captain-Beefheart-pirate-ship-party-music kind of thing. One is a collection of extra talented musicians from Canada and the other a band of war-paint-wearing guys from Philadelphia. I didn't even know that I wanted to hear music that sounded like either of these bands but once I did finally hear them they were all I really wanted. Did I forget to say which bands I speak of? Sorry. Obviously I'm talking about Islands and Man Man. I can't say enough about how much I loved both of them in 2006 and I consider myself lucky for having been able to see each of them more than three times this past year. Tell you what—these bands are waaaaay better than the bands that everyone else selected here... unless they also picked Islands and Man Man. If that's the case, I'd like to change my answer to Goes Cube and Mancino. They're likely to be two of my tops of '07 so why not? I don't want to have the same answer as everyone else. Do I? Crap, I hope not.

    Okay, no, I'll stick with what I said first. Not The Decemberists bit but the other part. Where I dodged the question by picking not one but two. Yes, I'm right—Islands and Man Man in 2006. Deal with it.
    * MP3: "Van Helsing Boombox" - Man Man from Six Demon Bag [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Humans" - Islands from Return To The Sea [Buy it]

    Danielle from Music Is Art writes:

    My Brightest Diamond
    Behind the project My Brightest Diamond, Shara Worden has collaborated with the likes of Antony, Rufus Wainwright and Sufjan Stevens. An intelligent graduate of North Texas University with a BA in vocal performance, for the last seven years, she has been a prominent vocal teacher in New York City.

    On the 2006 debut, Bring Me The Workhorse, her violent vocal operatics surrounded different levels of beautiful elements, fusing rock and jazz full-force unexpectedly, mixing within feelings of longing, lust and loss. One of those albums that defined moments of driving and getting lost to nowhere for hours just because everything sounded so good.

    Shara is a true artist that makes you completely understand why you even enjoy music in the first place... Her forthcoming release, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, is sure to bring all the success that's truly deserved.
    * MP3: "Dragonfly" - My Brightest Diamond from Bring Me The Workhorse [Buy it]

    And finally here is my pick:

    Spencer Krug

    It's no coincidence that Isaac Brock produced Wolf Parade's Apologies To The Queen Mary. If anything, it was a torch-passing ceremony, because Spencer Krug is nothing if not the heir to Brock's oversized crown. Consider the mutually quivering vocals, the love of side projects, the tendency to rewrite the common in especially off-kilter ways. Just as Brock taps into the marrow of his dreams ("Sunspots in the House of the Late Scapegoat," "3 Inch Horses, Two Faced Monsters") so Krug steps up, matching image for affected image ("I'm Sorry I Sang on Your Hands That Have Been in the Grave," "Winged/Wicked Things").

    But it's too simplistic to just equate the two despite their common ground. Krug, for one, seems even more committed to telegraphing the surreal, the circuitous, the hallucinogenic. He's also more willing to swim in streams of consciousness and sink under the weight of his own remorse. With the dual victories of Shut Up I Am Dreaming and Beast Moans, he's established himself as a songwriter of magnitude and wild-eyed vision. Penning some of the grandest, most complex elegies out there and singing like something's just snapped inside, he's invented whole new ways to mourn. It's hard to imagine how he could surpass this standout year he's had, but with Wolf Parade returning in '07, we can always dream.
    * MP3: "All Fires" - Swan Lake from Beast Moans [Buy it]