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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.

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    Monday, April 30, 2007

    The ten best Constantines songs

    10) "Why I Didn't Like August '93" from The Believer June 2005 compilation
    The Constantines love to perform covers and this take on Elevator To Hell is probably my favorite of theirs. (Though their version of The Clash's "Police On My Back" has to vie for a close second.) I largely appreciate this song for its lyrics, which summon up too-clear associations of a specific and complicated chunk of my early twenties. But the band adds some great personal touches like the "Ahhhh" backup vocals that always earn a smile and the great poppy interplay between the guitar and the drums. Of all the songs in their catalogue, this is the one that could've, in some more interesting universe, gone on to be a radio hit.
    * MP3: "Why I Didn't Like August '93" - The Constantines

    9) "No Ecstasy" from The Constantines
    From that opening rollicking drumroll, the track kicks off urgently and never looks back at the collateral damage. It makes perfect sense as it's all about the charge of rebellion, of growing up too fast, of getting far away from the curfews and detention and unending tedium of ordinary life. As the lyrics sagely recommend: "If all roads lead home, then build a new highway, build a new highway, build a new highway, and you run run run run run away." To the hectic rhythm of a conspiring guitar, that sounds like the most seductive plan that's ever been proposed.

    8) "Blind Luck" from The Modern Sinner, Nervous Man EP
    "Blind Luck" is probably the best early indicator of the direction the Constantines would eventually take with Tournament of Hearts. It's more melodic and almost bouncy at times, even as the subject matter sticks to the defeated and downtrodden. It also hints at the focus on the working class Bry Webb would later take on. But even without its predictive power, "Blind Luck" remains an important deviation, confirming that the band had a range of talents and influences it was only beginning to tap into.
    * MP3: "Blind Luck" - The Constantines

    7) "Hyacinth Blues" from The Constantines
    One of the great slow builds of our time, "Hyacinth Blues" starts out simmering and staggering before it finally explodes into a catatonic spelling bee. Every letter thrown out is another indictment, another damning epitaph, another shattered camera lens or torn-out microphone wire of the circling media vulture. It's also a nightly call-to-arms to the audience, to shout out alongside the band and register your rage in one tidal wave voice: "O-V-E-R-D-O-S-E."

    6) "The Young and The Desperate" from Fits & Starts demo
    Although never officially released, this song contains all the wild-eyed restlessness and clench-fisted dissent that'd later spill over into the self-titled debut. "This is not our country!" howls an apoplectic Webb for every outcast, exile and heretic who's had to observe his surroundings from the refuges of night-hour parking lots and back alleys. His use of the collective "we" and "our" in this "love song for the dispossessed" is especially inspiring, considering that he's the only one of us who apparently knows how to breathe fire.
    * MP3: "The Young and The Desperate" - The Constantines

    5) "Shine A Light" from Shine A Light
    Without "Shine A Light," I wouldn't know what 2003 sounded like. Without the syncopated handclaps and thumping bassline, the fuzzed-out intro and the chorus that dares you not to sing along, I wouldn't have had a custom-designed anthem to light that fire under my feet. Barreling into the solitude of a late Virginia summer, Shine A Light and its title track took over my CD player so definitively that they're tattooed on most of that half-year's memories. Even now, almost four years removed, I can't help hear it without nodding along and tapping out the bridge and contemplating giving up sleep until I can leave some permanent and frenzied dent on the world.

    4) "Soon Enough" from Tournament of Hearts
    The Constantines have always been eminently quotable, but they've never hit upon a truth as simple or crystallized as the one at the core of "Soon Enough": "Work and love will make a man out of you." Dressed up in its finest country duds, it's almost profound enough to make the paycheck chase, forced co-worker chitchat and other daily humiliations feel bearable. It's also the Constantines' most visible symptom of an older, wiser band growing out of their idealism. On their first album, they would've advised ditching the job and running away; by their third effort, they're stuck punching the clock alongside us.
    * MP3: "Soon Enough" - The Constantines

    3) "St. You" from The Constantines
    "St. You" will be the exit music to the film I've been writing in my head for years. Someone will be galloping off into the fuschia-streaked sunset or there'll be a last devastating aerial shot of an unsuspecting cityscape. Maybe there'll be a closeup on the lead actress's green eyes, closing in tighter and tighter until we fade into the oblivion of her pupils. It doesn't really matter what the closing image will be, because "St. You" is so steeped in pain and desire that it will crack hearts open upon contact. As the credits roll on by, the crowd will just sit there slack-jawed, soaking in this flawless song that explores the complicated communion between love and suffering.

    2) "Young Offenders" from The Constantines
    Sweat was glazing all five of their faces at the end of another draining set. Their postures hung down a little more drooped. They looked sort of like marathon runners limping into their last miles. Even the crowd was exhausted from all the screaming and singing along thus far. But then the Constantines reemerged for an encore, with Doug MacGregor smacking out a driving beat to initiate "Young Offenders." The band gave it all they had again; the crowd joined in reflexively. Then Webb choked out a rabid "Can I get a witness?" and suddenly, it all felt so holy, like an uprising, like gospel in a mosh pit church, like a baptism by sweat in which we were all being restored.

    1) "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)" from Shine A Light
    A concentrated blast, these four minutes distill everything that makes the Cons so great: the rough, nasty crunch of guitars, the life-on-the-line vocals by Webb, the proclamations of revolt and/or passion, the breathless momentum that drags you complicitly into the heart of the mess. This song sounds like shredded knees and busted lips, like student rioters and police batons, like Bactene swabbed on fresh scrapes, like absolutely anything is possible and within reach, even for a wild bunch of hapless punks like us.
    * MP3: "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)" - The Constantines

    [Buy The Constantines]
    [Buy Shine A Light]
    [Buy Tournament of Hearts]

    Constantines Week!

    Photo by Ben Norton

    Let's not waste any time equivocating here: the Constantines are my favorite band. It's a decision that I reached a while ago, but it was once again cemented when I saw the quintet of Bry Webb, Steve Lambke, Dallas Wehrle, Will Kidman and Doug MacGregor blister through another excellent set last week. That concert officially put me into the double-digit count, an event I figured deserved a little fanfare on this site. After all, ever since I got their debut, The Constantines, way back in 2001, their music has left a deep and formative imprint on me. Whether it's onstage or on record, these guys rock harder and smarter than anyone else, bringing a tireless intensity that's mostly absent from music these days.

    All through the week, I'll be celebrating their impact with a five-day tribute to Canada's favorite prodigal sons. I'll be kicking off by discussing my ten favorite songs of theirs, and in the next days, I'll be revisiting a Cons concert from last year, reviewing their most recent show, posting video of their new material, and most importantly, sharing my sit-down interview with lead singer Bry Webb. If you already know the band, hopefully you're pretty excited about all of this, and if you don't, consider this an introduction to music you absolutely need to hear.

    Friday, April 27, 2007

    Shake down all my walls: Day For Night MP3

    Photo by Howard Lam

    I'm all about the subtle, the quiet waves, the slow reveal. But then I sometimes find myself wanting music that knocks me back on first listen, as immediate and audacious as a knife wound. I crave cranking up the volume to full blast and headbanging away to some monstrous riff. Day For Night, a three-piece from New York, is just what I'm looking for, an aggressive shake out of the spell of lethargic, grey-skyed afternoons.

    The band specializes in fierce, outsized rock, with galloping guitar lines, penetrating drums and anthemic scope. Singer Kali Holloway sounds like some mercenary banshee, bringing a real driving force to the proceedings. At only three songs, their self-titled EP registers more of an impression than you'd expect, delivering just as much muscle and velocity with later listens and capturing a lot of the energy and fire of a live performance. It's music as hurricane wind, either take shelter or get blown away.

    Day For Night will be playing at The Annex on May 10th.

    * MP3: "Silver Beach" - Day For Night from Day For Night EP [Buy it]
    * Band Website: Day For Night

    Thursday, April 26, 2007

    Listening booth #13

    Photograph by Marco Cassè

    * MP3: "Dumb Animals" - Handsome Furs from Plague Park [Buy it]
    * MP3: "I'll Kill Her" - Soko [Visit her]
    * MP3: "Jesus For The Jugular" - The Veils from Nux Vomica [Buy it]

    Check out more photography by Marco Cassè here.

    "Fire Escape"

    Photo by Mary K. Baird

    Shoulder to window to back
    in psychic union, I’m eyeing the roiled
    bed and aftershock bookshelves,
    you’re mapping the topographies of
    balconies and lives behind shutters.
    I imagine the glass as your rigid
    spine, a grand piano of bones
    and the melodies it’ll yield.

    Nightly smoke break. You’re
    cross-legged and shamanistic on
    the metal slats of a peeling ladder,
    exhaling telegrams on the wind.
    Sticky breath and broiled lips
    too remote to taste, I hate
    your momentary obliviousness
    to blackened lungs and me.

    Pivot away, I’ll paint your face
    with twelve expressions, a mouth
    imperceptibly coiling in private joy,
    eyes harboring silvery flares, skin
    star-frosted like a mirrored pool, before
    you can climb through the dusky
    rictus, with a downward glare
    and a secondhand kiss.

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, Shearwater and Xiu Xiu @ Bowery Ballroom, 4-8-07

    It was a tripleheader designed to raise indie-fanboy goosebumps. With a lineup this spoiled for talent—Casiotone For The Painfully Alone opening, Shearwater batting second, and Xiu Xiu headlining—I made sure to snag a ticket on the day of the sale date. I would've happily have gone to see any of the artists individually; in fact, I'd narrowly missed seeing all three back in my San Francisco era due to extentuating circumstances. This time around, I had the date prominently circled in my calendar to make sure there'd be no way to miss this show.

    Owen Ashworth, the man behind CFTPA, was already in the middle of his first song when I walked in. He was hunched over his setup of electronic instruments, pressing buttons and looking engrossed. He didn't look up to sing either, keeping his head ducked down. In one sense, the shy persona fit his music perfectly, because both come off as insular and private l and are about the inability to connect to others despite how much you need to. But as he'd complete a song and mutter "Thank you" bashfully, it also seemed like he was lacking a performative element. I liked watching Ashworth sing well enough, because I'm a fan of all his albums (notably his most recent, Etiquette). And that's not to say that I didn't also get chills of self-identification as the opening notes to "Bobby Malone Moves Home" began. However, aside from a decent Prince cover with Xiu Xiu's Caralee McElroy, there wasn't much added that night I couldn't have gotten from playing the albums at home.

    The contrast was all the more glaring when Shearwater took over. Originally an Okkervil River side project led by Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg, the band has become more and more driven by the latter with each subsequent release. On the recently rereleased Palo Santo, their best album to date, Meiburg's stamp is especially indelible. Live, he was even more dynamic, drawing out every impassioned wail and incensed coo. He commanded the stage no matter whether he was on keyboard, guitar or banjo, closing his eyes and looking up cringingly at particularly pivotal moments. With a flop of dirty blonde hair, a choirboy face, and a bleached spotlight worshipful enough to be a halo, he looked angelic. Yet his high-note howls and defiant strumming made him sound more like he was fighting to keep his soul. Throughout the Palo Santo-intensive set, it was impossible to look away from Meiburg, who resuscitated even the songs I tended to skip. Everything in this band's hands became louder, livelier, more pressing and more necessary that night, until Shearwater ultimately clinched its position as the best performance I've seen this year.

    Sandwiched into the front row, I watched the only-here-for Shearwater fans filter out after the middle set and the cultic, sing-along Xiu Xiu fans advance forward. It was a telling exodus as Xiu Xiu is clearly not for everyone. Messy, therapeutic, damaged and equally sadistic and masochistic, they're not for most people, although I count myself among the serious devotees. After all, I like the messiness, the confrontation, the avant challenge and boundary demolishing involved. In person, Xiu Xiu mastermind Jamie Stewart didn't disappoint, walking onstage with heart-patterned shoes and a guitar emblazoned with an Anne Frank sticker. Backed by his cousin Caralee McElroy and drummer Ches Smith, Stewart tore straight into a weird, discordant riff. It was post-industrial electronic maybe, or the scrambled outtakes to Inland Empire, or Philip Glass's nightmares. Whatever it was, it had to also be considered Stewart's attempt to externalize the chaos, to take all the internal rubble and render it into something approximately as scarred. It was as amazing and powerful as I'd hoped, as long as you were willing to buy into the conceit. Judging by the stunned, solemn silences that lapsed between songs, I'd say the crowd did.

    Fifteen minutes into performing, Stewart was already sopping wet. He'd given the first three songs his all, goosestepping across stage, beating the shit out of a drum, singing like he feared for his life. But like every Xiu Xiu album, the moments of energy had to be disrupted with slow, difficult experiments. The mood-shifter of choice this time was The Air Force's closer "Wig Master," interpreted here by McElroy and punctuated by a flute solo. It wasn't until the momentum was turned back up though that my favorite moments came. The band's rendition of "I Broke Up" was fantastic for example, sounding just as perverted and dysfunctional as the lyrics demand. "Yellow Raspberry" was hard to forget as well, with its menacing, stampeding and militaristic percussion. The people around me were singing along to lines like "You became a bag lady's son/ beating off nonstop to the escort pages" angrily, triumphiantly and finally cathartically, glad to be in a place where noise was beautiful and for one night, we felt like no one was alone.

    * MP3: "Bobby Malone Moves Home" - Casiotone For The Painfully Alone from Etiquette [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Red Sea, Black Sea" - Shearwater from Palo Santo (Misra version) [Buy it]
    * MP3: "I Broke Up" - Xiu Xiu from Knife Play [Buy it]

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007

    Video Tuesday #33

    "Dumb Animals"
    Handsome Furs

    "Mountain Cats"

    "All Is Full Of Love"

    "End to End Burners"
    Company Flow

    "1 2 3 4"

    "Untitled #1 (Vaka)"
    Sigur Ros

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Regarded as great: Clean Guns MP3s

    The mixtape is a vital part of hip hop culture. Analogous to the EP in indie rock, it's an extra opportunity for rappers to experiment, branch out their styles, collaborate with other musicians, and connect with fans on a more immediate basis. A great mixtape, increasingly appearing digitally rather than lining the tarps of Midtown street slingers, can also function as a welcome stopgap between formally marketed releases. But with the ease of delivery, the filler quotient frequently rises and raps unworthy of proper-album release clog an art form already fattened with skits and twenty-song tracklists.

    Leave it to Clean Guns to get it right. After 2006's terrific, criminally slept-on Sometimes There is Trouble, the Philly duo fires back hard with Living In Harmony, a mixtape that demonstrates how it should be done. At twenty-six tracks, it's scattered with highs ("Watch How It Go Down," "Regarded As Great," "Fire in the Booth"), but the album is strong enough that those apices will be different for everyone. What remains permanent throughout this expansive and exhaustive work are Knowledge Don and Zilla Rocca's tight, terse flows, the seamless contributions of potent guests like Black Russian and Professor Anarchy, and the commitment to quality.

    At first, I had trouble hearing the midsection of the album where Clean Guns have the gall to rhyme over very famous productions ("Renegade," "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)," "Dead Presidents" et al.). But after a while, the intent became clear to me: as they acknowledge their influences, they're also showing how much they can step up to these iconic tracks and meet their challenge. Their rhymes don't erase the memories of antecedents, but function much like Living In Harmony itself—as valuable addenda, as extensions and reinventions, as declarations of the duo's skills and prowess. Yet again, Clean Guns have asserted their strength and their status as a group very much on the rise. Already, Living In Harmony has me hungry to hear what they'll tackle next, but as an album and as a mixtape, it stands ably on its own two as well.

    * MP3: "Watch How It Go Down" - Clean Guns from Living In Harmony
    * MP3: "Regarded as Great (The Setup)" - Clean Guns from Living In Harmony [Buy it]
    * Band MySpace: Clean Guns

    Tags: , , , , ,

    Friday, April 20, 2007

    Review #5: Woke on a Whaleheart by Bill Callahan

    Woke on a Whaleheart - Bill Callahan
    (Drag City)

    After being sucker-punched by 2005's A River Ain't Too Much To Love, I thought I'd learned my lesson with Bill Callahan. He's repeatedly been the Lucy to my music critic Charlie Brown, tricking me into thinking his albums can be easily digested. And I'll promptly lunge into them headfirst, forming preconceptions that I'll imagine I can adhere to. I'll decide that the songs sound kind of homogenous, that this new effort in no way approaches his previous glories, only to later land on my back with a thud. Yet, once again, I found myself speeding inevitably into judgment, declaring Woke on a Whaleheart disappointingly bland after the first ten spins. I pressed on though, in multiples of five, confident that there must be deeper layers I was missing. After all, my favorite albums of Callahan's, Red Apple Falls and A River..., both required similar displays of diligence and faith.

    I also pressed on because I was starting to catch more and more details with each subsequent play. As the album's opening piano tinkling foreshadows (and the cover art totally contradicts), there's an emphasis on subtlety here above all else. The set of three gorgeously sustained violin notes contrasting with all of "Diamond Dancer"'s quick, flitting strings, the clips of canned laughter that punctuate countrified spiritual "The Wheel," cryptic lines like "Christian, if you see your papa, tell him I love him" that wink toward religious subtext, the way Callahan's baritone hugs and coils around unexpected words. Indeed, the cardinal rule to remember while listening to Callahan is that subtlety does not equal simplicity.

    So now that I've heard it over a hundred times, I can confidently assert it's a very good album. It's wise and thorough and graceful and comfortable, the music equivalent of a calm river or a later Wordsworth poem. And yet some hindrance keeps me from giving it my full adoration. It's the last descriptor—comfortable—that, I think, troubles me the most.

    In his peaceful, untroubled storytelling, Callahan can sound almost monastic. He's figured out the answers so now the questions don't affect him. For all the strength of Woke on a Whaleheart, it's also such a direct, natural extension of its predecessor that it sounds practically hereditary. For example, from the genetics of "The Well" and a splice of "In The Pines," he's reinvented "The Wheel." For anyone who's been following Callahan's trajectory from Smog to (Smog) back to Smog and now to this alias-free identity, the fact that he has a fairly narrow style is not news. Still, I can't help wishing that Whaleheart posed a few more challenges to both me and its composer.

    Once I get past the comparisons though, past the rankings and the accounting, I'm taken back in by the peacefulness. I'll find myself recharmed by his haiku-like aphorisms and reinspired by the inspiring arrangements. This is a work that flows, that assuages and eases, that isn't trying to outshine anything else and doesn't care where it lands in the pantheon. That's both its strength and its flaw, because of course, Bill Callahan's music is never just one thing. Similarly, Woke on a Whaleheart turned out to be little like I was expecting early on, until at this far-removed point, I'm left with this: it's rich, fluid, meaningful, admirably subtle and ultimately just a little too comfortable. 7.3/10

    * MP3: "Footprints" - Bill Callahan from Woke on a Whaleheart
    * MP3: "Sycamore" - Bill Callahan from Woke on a Whaleheart [Buy it]

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Listening booth #12

    Photograph and dolls by Jaz Graf (via Juxtapoz)

    * MP3: "The Dress" - Blonde Redhead from 23 [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Silent" - The Field from From Here We Go Sublime [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Hi, Remember Me?" - My Brightest Diamond from Cross-Pollination: The Mixtape, Vol. 1 [Download the album]

    To see more work by Jaz Graf, check out her i-dolls series here and her page here.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    The greatest #3: Paris, Texas

    I've never seen a blue as blue as the ones in Paris, Texas. Stretched across Technicolor skies, painting the ephemera of road signs, coloring in the getaway car that skirts down desolate highways, the blues in this film are kinetic, overwhelming, hypnotic, alive. From the opening frames, which find a disoriented, disheveled Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) stumbling across the desert, they hypercharge the scenery with an almost shocking beauty. And yet blue is simply one shade in Wim Wenders' palette, which also worships red and green as if they were just invented.

    It's fitting that our protagonist Travis starts out mute, as if he's just sharing my wordless reverence for Robby Müller's cinematography. Every shot Müller captures is so stunningly exact—the white clapboard houses dotting the sandy landscape, the lineup of shoes above a sunlit vista, the Houston hotel room at night, anything involving Nastassja Kinski—that his work could just as easily be a series of photographs. At times, the languorous pace even suggests that medium, as the camera drifts in and freezes on another gorgeous target.

    But while the visuals are undoubtedly my favorite aspect of Paris, Texas, the film has much more to offer. Ry Cooder's steel-guitar score echoes the characters' abiding loneliness and Sam Shepard's spare script (via a Kit Carson adaption) delivers a weighty subtextual punch. Stanton as the drifter suddenly no longer adrift, Kinski as his estranged bride Jane, Hunter Carson as their son Hunter, and Dean Stockwell as Travis's brother Walt all provide terrific performances as well, raising the stakes on a film already steeped in pathos.

    The roles are especially difficult because the characters all have such fractured relationships. For example, Travis's unexplained reappearance after four years means that his eight-year-old son now has to choose between staying put with his old family and uprooting for an untested one. Travis, in his renewed search for his wife, has to deal with the messy circumstances he discovers her in. Like the dingy roadside signs, sparse rest stops and existentially blank stretches of mile they pass by, these people can't help traveling in their own isolated orbits. (This is even made literal in one scene where Hunter and Travis walk home on opposite sides of the same street.)

    Still, for all of Paris, Texas's allegorical proportions and distancing effects, its moments of connection are genuinely affecting. The Henderson family reunion is not as happy or simple as we'd like it to be, but it feels real given the traumas involved. It's also pretty amazing to look at, with Kinski saturated in luscious reds and Stanton hunched over, barely visible in the shadows. A different vantage point betrays the illusion; she's actually sitting on a set that's only half-built. As they catch up through a one-way mirror, Stanton's face superimposes onto her head, creating a very creepy juxtaposition. But it's also a shot that's unforgettable, heavy with meaning and full of blues, much like Paris, Texas as a whole.

    * MP3: "Canción Mixteca" - Ry Cooder from the Paris, Texas soundtrack [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Paris Is Burning" - St. Vincent [Visit her]

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Goes Cube @ Mercury Lounge, 4-6-07

    Holy shitty fuck fuck. I can’t hear at all. I’m pretty sure I could before I walked into this venue and now it’s all screaming guitar feedback and tinnitus. I must’ve stood too close to the speaker as Goes Cube unleashed that last monstrous onslaught of noise upon the tightly packed crowd. I must’ve wandered too curiously up to the stage as singer-guitarist David Obuchowski thrashed away at those last devastating chords. At this point, I’m just amazed that I wasn’t ricocheted back twenty feet through a wall "Song 2"-style.

    Because Goes Cube is kick-your-mother-in-the-face LOUD. If I were to list ten adjectives to describe them, loud would appear on said list at least four times. Other fitting alternatives might include brutal, raucous, massive and volatile, if they were preceded by a whole slew of superlatives. Because the trio, rounded out by Kenny Appell on drums and Matt Frey on bass, never held a thing back on the night in question, knocking out each song with the breathless momentum of a first-round boxer.

    All said and done, it was an assault worthy of serving as this Brooklyn band's long-awaited homecoming. According to Matt’s informed report, it was quite possibly their best show to date, which is a boast I’m inclined to believe. On a performance level, the set was unbelievably tight from start to end, and for something so blisteringly hardcore, the music had an abundance of craft and depth. For all the focus Goes Cube receives for sheer volume, they’ve clearly invested even more energy into honing their musicianship.

    However, the climactic moment of the evening came at the end of the set during “Goes Cube Song 33.” Obuchowksi, swinging his dark mane wildly, jumped into the crowd, jammed for the front row and promptly smashed his custom cherry-red Squier Stratocaster into splinters. He’d already proven himself to be a rock star with his command of the stage, but this piece of theatrics was that extra confirmation. Somehow, it even personified the ethos of the band perfectly: to maximize every moment, to amplify the excitement level, to destroy anything that stands in their way. Apparently, this evening, that meant my ability to hear any decibel level below a scream, but considering it was this band on this unstoppable night, I was more than happy to make that trade.

    * MP3: "Goes Cube Song 27" - Goes Cube from Beckon The Dagger God EP
    * MP3: "Goes Cube Song 30" - Goes Cube from
    Beckon The Dagger God EP [Buy it]
    * Band Website: Goes Cube

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Give it to me: Please Dept. MP3s

    Photo by O.E. Montoya

    My roommate Jason and I were playing Boggle again. Sheets of torn-out notebook paper surrounded us, full of scratched-out words and little haphazard digits. As per usual, as we pored over the mysterious 4 x 4 cube, I was subjecting him to my stack of promo CDs. After scribbling down the fatal combo of hero, heron, heroin, heroine into a frayed margin, I'd shake my head and skip a track. By the end of the round, I'd remove the failed album and pick up the next jewel case on deck. Then we'd compare words, total the damage and repeat the process all over again.

    But as we were playing along to Please Dept.'s A Fast One On Julian, Jason cut off his furious scrawl. He stared at the stereo like it'd just suddenly started working and his mouth curled into an eager smile. "This is good!" he commented, still kind of shocked this could've come out of my slush pile. I kept on anagramming up points (arts, tars, star, rats, tsar) but I nodded knowingly, as I'd been looking forward to getting this album for a while. Two games and three songs later, he did it again with an even wider, back-teeth-on-display grin. "No, I mean, this is really good!" he said.

    I agree in full. I first caught Please Dept. at the Neon Lights show back in February, and everything I loved about them there lives on on record. A Fast One On Julian is an eleven-song beckon to the dance floor (or at least the bar area), replete with shimmer, swagger and charm to spare. It's pop that pops, with spiky electronic peaks, bursts of caffeinated bounce and manic keyboard flourishes. It's fun, casual, cool and instantly likable too, and at an economic twenty-six minutes and change, I'll often turn it on again as soon as it's over. Delivering so much pleasure in a short span, Please Dept. would be ideal for parties, low-key hangouts, summer lazing, hijinks in fast-moving cars and of course, that neverending hunt for elusive eight-letter words and CDs that pay off on their promise.

    Get A Fast One On Julian for only $4 (and $1 S+H) here.

    * MP3: "A Big Deposit" - Please Dept. from A Fast One On Julian
    * MP3: "Sailor's Mouth" - Please Dept. from A Fast One On Julian
    * MP3: "This Drift Is It" - Please Dept. from A Fast One On Julian
    * Band MySpace: Please Dept.

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    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Listening booth #11

    Silkscreen by Michael C. Hsiung

    * MP3: "Apistat Commander" - Sunset Rubdown from Xiu Xiu: Remixed and Covered [Buy it]
    * MP3: "Fractured Skies" - Parts & Labor from Mapmaker [Preorder it]
    * MP3: "Sea Lion Woman" (Chromeo Remix) - Feist [Buy other Feist]

    To purchase this print or others by Michael C. Hsiung, head here. You can also see other work by him here.

    Trailer park #9

    Killer of Sheep
    A film by Charles Burnett
    Now playing in limited release

    Hot Fuzz
    A film by Edgar Wright
    Opens Apr. 20th (limited)

    The Wind That Shakes The Barley
    A film by Ken Loach
    Now playing in limited release

    Rescue Dawn
    A film by Werner Herzog
    Opens Jul. 4th (limited)

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    The Shondes @ Galapagos, 3-30-07

    Note to self: when I start a band, make sure it's as musically shallow as possible. All the hooks should be immediate and duh-obvious, all the lyrics should vacillate between silly and stupid, and all the songs should be bouncy, pointless trifles. As I learned from a certain band that preceded the Shondes (which I'll leave unnamed), that's pretty much a guaranteed formula for success. All around me on that blustery Williamsburg night, there were twenty-year-old girls fawning, shouting back chorus lines on cue and bobbing their heads like pecking birds. Meanwhile, I was just waiting for the torture to end.

    When it did at last, the groupies filed out into the cold en masse. That left only a scattered handful of people to appreciate the Shondes, who were setting up their equipment at an admittedly audience-unfriendly 2:15. The spare showing wouldn't come as a surprise at any hour though, as the Shondes were the exact antithesis to their leadoff. Where the other band felt frivolous, the Shondes blasted out music that was rich both in sound and content. They delivered serious, heavy political punk that actually required concentration and consideration. Their songs fused the visceral stomp of a protest march with the nuance of UN diplomacy, but they were more intent on affecting change than achieving cheap gratification.

    It's too bad so many people missed out on such a vital live band. In person, Louisa Solomon's full-throated voice rang out even more urgently and bracingly. Even when her messages were inevitably lost under the crossfire of instruments, the passion in her delivery rose above. The band also thrived on the stage, clearly savoring the lively interplay of the guitar, drums, violin and bass. They rocked with a coexisting joyfulness and anger, as both a call-to-arms and a call for peace. Watching their set, the word that kept coming to mind was "righteous." This was righteous music that doesn't compromise or sell listeners short. The Shondes could easily reinvent themselves as another vapid pop band like Scissors For Lefty (whoops, it slipped out) and pack the venues. But they choose to make smart, defiant music for discerning audiences, even when it feels like there's no audience for that sort of thing.

    * 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

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    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Video Tuesday #32

    "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror"
    Jeffrey Lewis

    Patrick Watson

    "Goin Out West"
    Tom Waits

    "The Good Ones"
    The Kills

    "General Principles"
    DJ Muggs vs. GZA

    "Dropp" (unofficial)

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    The Lives of Others

    The most common motion in The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is the flinch. Dissidents brace their bodies, preparing for doors to be battered down at any moment. Innocent bystanders tense up, realizing that they’ve just witnessed something that may ruin their lives. Lovers turn away from touches to protect themselves; speakers recoil upon recognizing their last statements weren’t as meaningless as they should’ve been.

    With the ascension of the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic of the 1980s has become a state of vigilance, paranoia, distance and detention. The country is a population is suspects and everyone can be found guilty of something before long. Artists are assumed to be automatic enemies, who are plotting to push their subversive agendas through subtext. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in his debut feature, plunges us back to this Orwellian setting to brutal, stirring effect, roiling up a biting critique of an unconscionable era.

    The film centers on two men, Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) and playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). Wiesler is a loyal party member and teacher of interrogation tactics, while Dreyman is the only East German writer who’s taken seriously enough to be read in the West. They’re positioned to be polar opposites—Wiesler is small, lonely and bald, equipped with an icy stare, while Dreyman is tall, heroic and confident, in a passionate relationship with his plays’ lead actress, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck).

    Ulrich Mühe as Gerd Wiesler

    Because the state is run by men, and because men are invariably corruptible, Wiesler’s superior’s superior orders him to bug Dreyman’s house and put him under twenty-four-hour surveillance. The Stasi don’t actually suspect him of anything, but the supervisor is in love with Sieland and wants Dreyman removed as an obstacle. That power play is only one of the many ways that von Donnersmarck potently underlines the utter hypocrisy and the arbitrary metrics rampant in the government.

    The more Wiesler (and that other omnipresent spy, the audience) listens in however, the more sympathetic he becomes. After a lifetime of spouting and enforcing abstract dogma, he starts to see the lure of real lives in action. In observing Dreyman’s and Sieland’s relationship, he sees a closeness and intensity that’s rare in a world of identical grey edifices. Much like a playwright who disguises his intentions, Wiesler starts to take liberties in his transcripts and elide damning moments that would end in Dreyman’s arrest.

    Koch and Gedeck as Dreyman and Sieland

    As we also grow closer to both the artist and the agent, The Lives of Others shows just how multifaceted people can be. In keeping with this theme, the film also displays many unexpected sides, becoming at once a political drama, a romance, a thriller and a comedy as black as a military boot. Its crux though, and its chief accomplishment, is its brilliant treatment of art in a hostile environment. It reminds us just how dangerous art has to power to be, even though it is so much easier to remain silent. As Dreyman’s friend Paul Hauser (Hans-Uwe Bauer) scolds him, “If you don’t take a stand, you’re not human.” And yet the artists who have taken a stand, who’ve been taken away or blacklisted or have committed suicide, demonstrate what happens to the brave.

    Nonetheless (or as a result), Dreyman, Sieland and Wiesler decide to be brave even in the face of all that evidence. Dreyman smuggles out an incisive exposé of his country into West Germany, Sieland spurns the powerful Stasi supervisor to remain with her true love and an ever-softening Wiesler takes greater and greater risks to ensure their safety. Even though they all enjoy brief moments of vindication and triumph, tragedy does hunt them down eventually.

    With the careful, exact acts of an Aristotelian drama, The Lives of Others delivers many hard truths about dissent and sacrifice. All of their small, defiant actions may have helped undermine the state, but that doesn’t make the costs they’ve exacted any easier to accept. In this smart, searing film full of excellent performances and great direction, it’s sometimes easier to look away from the screen than to anticipate what’s about to come. It’s also easier to miss the parallels between then and now, there and here, dramatization and reality. But then sometimes, you just have to face up to the injustice and confront the awful epilogue of history, flinch and all.

    The trailer on YouTube here.

    * MP3: "Spy On You" - Deerhoof from The Runners Four [Buy it]

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    For the record #3

    Goosebumps sneak up your unsuspecting arms or your stomach takes a nosedive. The ordinary scenery you’re driving by becomes instantly indelible or a moment is forever tattooed with a lyric. It’s hard to say what will happen when you hear that monumental album, but the change will be seismic. It’s a rite of passage every music fan should experience at least once, hearing their preconceptions of what an album can accomplish expanding and exploding song by song. I asked some of my esteemed fellow bloggers—Bryan, Tim, Shane, Chris and Paul—to share the works that've had the biggest impact and influence on the way they listen to music. Needless to say, I received some surprising and diverse answers, including one album I’ll now have to seek out and experience for myself. Here’s hoping some of the music on this list produces the same ear-altering effects for you as it’s done for us...

    Bryan from Subinev writes:

    By the time I got around to hearing Self's debut album, Subliminal Plastic Motives (which is half of where I got the name for my website), I'd been through Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Queen, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Beck, and Green Day, and was getting distracted by what seemed like daily new arrivals of one-hit wonders of the mid-90s alterna-boom. Ben Folds Five were just hitting their stride and I liked this one spooky moment in the single they had out ("Underground") but most of what that band did (including the often annoying vocals, looking back) was just too heavy on the poppy piano side of things for my noise-mongering taste (I'd already discovered the Velvet Underground and Glenn Branca, and decided I should probably go to New York, you know, because that's where everything happened).

    Self's second single, "So Low," started getting serious play on the local radio station and for some time I kept thinking it was a really, really, REALLY AWESOME Ben Folds Five song, until I realized it was a whole different band. The similarity pretty much begins and ends with a very similar part to that moment I loved in "Underground"; here the chaos strips away and it's just voice and piano before what sounds like a spaceship taking off into the pop stratosphere—in this case, with the lovely chorus of "I'm so low that I wish I was dead/ with a knife in my chest and a bullet through my head." I seem to really appreciate songs that sound happy but which talk about pretty grim things, so this one stuck with me.

    Buying the record coincided with acquiring my driver's permit, so that was always the disc I played in the car—I'd usually get all the way through, since if I was driving with a parent, they wouldn't want me trying to change CDs while on the road. It probably wasn't as bad an idea as I'm sure I thought at the time. Once I got my license, the CD stayed in the car and I'd drive around alone at night and sing along to the whole thing. Something about the combination of soft/loud and perfect (I swear, it doesn't get any better) pop songs made for some great singing/headbanging and thus some funny looks from other drivers at stoplights. It didn't bother me, nor did the fact that it was a little weird—pop music from a band nobody knew who were somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee? I didn't really think about people just starting their own label and putting out records, but as I kept digging for information on this mysterious band that I liked so much I found their label, Spongebath Records, and discovered what looked (from 900 miles away) like a vibrant music community. Many hours were spent chatting on message boards about bands I'd only heard about and sometimes never even heard music from, but it all led to discovering more and more new music, and since then, that desire simply hasn't gone away.

    * MP3: "So Low" - Self from Subliminal Plastic Motives [Buy it used]

    Tim from Contrast Podcast writes:

    Picking just one album that influenced the way I listen to music is an almost insurmountable task for me. My taste in music has always been hard to pin down, despite being the soundtrack to almost everything. However, there is one change in my listening habits that can be easily marked, and that's the day I found myself bound to my seat to listen to the whole of an album whilst doing nothing else. That album was A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. I bought my copy (on vinyl) from Ben’s Records in Guildford as a swap for a heap of old classical discs that had come with a stereo I’d acquired. At that point, I was just getting into jazz so it seemed like an obvious purchase but I had no idea what effect that record would have on me. Prior to that point I liked nothing more than to put on odd tunes (I’m a big fan of the 45) and when a whole album was on, it was always there to accompany whatever else I was up to.

    A Love Supreme is an album that demands you listen from start to finish whilst staring into the space just above the hi-fi. You can’t dip in and out of it and I definitely wouldn’t recommend putting side two on without listening to side one first. The only problem is finding the time.

    * MP3: "Acknowledgement" - John Coltrane from A Love Supreme [Buy it]

    Shane from The Torture Garden writes:

    Photo by Ray Potes

    It was the start of my second year of college, and I was convinced I had lost all ability to feel music anymore. It had been months since I had heard anything that could break into the emerging routine of what would turn out to be a dull grey year, marked by failed exams, insomnia and a smelly flatmate.

    I remember reading an article in a newspaper about the revelatory nature of Joanna Newsom's music (this was before I read blogs) and wandering into my local independent to play it over the speaker system. It was definitely something new. A harp faded in like a little wooden boat approaching, and her voice rang and railed, sounding like so many things at once. I had to hear more, and though my friend was shocked by the noise emerging, I bought it immediately. I played it nonstop for the next month, eventually winning over my horrified flatmates. This album opened up new ideas to me, of what songwriting meant, of how to sing, and eventually, online music writing. Though it would be knocked out of regular play by Funeral shortly afterwards, this album was the one that stopped me reading bad magazines and introduced me to that wonderful, blooming excitement of finding something new.

    * MP3: "This Side of the Blue" from The Milk-Eyed Mender [Buy it]

    Chris from
    Culture Bully writes:

    The album that had the greatest influence on the way I listen to music is Social Distortion’s 1998 live album Live at The Roxy. It isn’t entirely important for its musical influence, as I'd already been a fan of the band for a number of years and was quite familiar with the songs before purchasing the disc, but rather because it drove home the importance of music’s context. Since first hearing the group and taking time to study its history, I've come to appreciate it as one of the greatest punk bands of all time. Not because of an edgy sound that spits acid in your eye all the while telling your mother where to get off, but because of that same question of context. The group did live poor, they struggled and slummed, and in the end came out as champions of a scene that many didn’t survive. Junkies, prostitution, violence—if a band and its music can survive a scene bearing these obstacles only to release a career-capping live record some twenty years later, proof is given to hope and the music carried within gains an unmatched power.

    The album also has a storyline that laments on Social Distortion’s historical heartache, and with a packed house of people who lived it alongside them, who actually remembered “[w]hen that parking lot was a 7-11” and getting in fights with the local high school jocks, there's a feeling of history that one feels without ever experiencing a second of that life. This album changed the way I listen to music not in that it expanded my sense of what music could sound like, but rather in the sense of what music I hold dear to me. The songs that changed my life aren’t ideally artistic, nor are they musically superior to much of what passes through my ears; they are however honest and critical of the world around them and many of which you can find on Live at The Roxy.
    * MP3: "Don't Drag Me Down" - Social Distortion from Live At The Roxy [Buy it]

    Paul from
    Hate Something Beautiful writes:

    Photo by Will Westbrook

    My answer to this question would undoubtedly have to be Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It may be a rote and cliché answer in the indie world, but that doesn't mean that it's not an absolutely amazing album. I had started listening to more "underground" and non-mainstream-rock radio music at that point, but it wasn't until I discovered and listened to Aeroplane that I realized that my preconceived notions of what constituted good music could be expanded.

    Jeff Mangum's lyrics, strange as they may be, made me start appreciating music as not just entertainment but as a real art form, where lyrics didn't have to be about teenage breakups and troubled childhoods. The way that he was able to incorporate so many instruments showed me that music wasn't necessarily just guitar/bass/drums/maybe-synthesizer. I was so mesmerized by the album (and I continue to be amazed every time I listen) that Aeroplane still has an impact on the music I listen to today. It gave me a new appreciation for music that is willing to be different or experimental and started me on my path towards genres of music I would probably not have listened to otherwise—noise, mathcore, psych-folk, and many more.

    * MP3: "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" - Neutral Milk Hotel from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea [Buy it]

    And finally here is my pick:

    I was a pretty cool fifth-grader. Not fourth- or sixth- or seventh- or really anything after that, but in fifth grade, I can say I knew my shit. When a classmate asked what my favorite band was, I replied without hesitating, “Nirvana.” I was ten at the time and most of the kids in the class were still stuck on predigested Top 40 fluff. But I’d recently seen Nirvana perform “Lithium” at the MTV Video Music Awards, and it’d been impossible to shake. The way Kurt Cobain’s voice shifted from soft to thunderous, the way he skirted the edge between mellow and unhinged, the way his movements exactly matched the schizophrenic imbalance of his lyrics held my attention on a level no one else could.

    I got In Utero when it came out in September 1993 (it was the first album I bought on CD), not expecting that it could top Nevermind. But Steve Albini’s claustrophobic production and the band’s self-conscious retreat into inscrutability were even more exciting and challenging for my adolescent brain. I’d play the songs over and over in my room obsessively, studying the words and trying to decode all the complicated messages. I’d continually puzzle over how Cobain could write, “I tried hard to have a father/ but instead I had a Dad” for example. How could anyone want a father instead of a dad, I wondered, still approaching art in a very linear, literal way. And while the lyrics were enlarging my sense of what a song could say, the music was simultaneously doing the same for how a song could sound.

    Oh, that noise, all that sweet eardrum-battering, parent-horrifying, tinnitus-inducing noise. The drastic, throat-scarring screams on “Milk It” or the rebellious, screechy chaos of “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” alone were enough to get my head thrashing in visceral agreement. When no one was home, I'd turn up the volume to ridiculous levels and blare the fuck out of that racket. The kickball games, the jingle-singing ice cream trucks and the Italian housewives babysitting their fat kids in my neighborhood were all immediately put on notice.

    Aside from the obvious paradigm-shredding consequences, another result of In Utero was my introduction to Leonard Cohen. When Cobain sang, “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld” on “Pennyroyal Tea,” it sounded like such an attractive prospect that I went out and bought Cohen’s Best Of. After that amazing success, I went on to explore other oft-cited Nirvana influences such as Sonic Youth, The Pixies, The Breeders and The Meat Puppets. I carried all these great musicians into junior high school like secrets, like currency to pay off the treacherous tolls of puberty and hormones. But no matter what I listened to, nothing ever topped the revelation of In Utero. Nothing else could touch the feel of discovering that one special album, that sequence of songs that confirmed the world was far more complex than I’d ever imagined, messier, more hectic, more frightening, more tragic but of course, far more extraordinary and looming with possibility too.

    * MP3: "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip" - Nirvana from In Utero (Import version) [Buy In Utero]