Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Plants And Animals Set To Deliver The End Of That In February

Well, color us damned excited.  Out of nowhere, notice arrived in our mailbox this morning that HAD faves Plants & Animals are set to release their third full length this coming February.  In the meantime, they've delivered the first tune from the disc ("Lightshow", below), and it doesn't even remotely disappoint. Loaded with the band's signature rhythmic interplay, the track really calls attention to the strengths that make them such an awesome live act.

Frankly, we've had the song on repeat since we got it, and it's among their best.  We couldn't be more excited for this new disc.  What's more, the band has a December 7th show at The Rock Shop - you can bet your ass we'll see you out there.  In the meantime, enjoy the new track.

mp3: Plants And Animals - Lightshow

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

M83 - Hurry Up We're Dreaming

We always like to spend holiday weekends with a new record.  It gives us a chance to really dig into the meat of the record, and moreover, it gives us a really clear sense of space and time for that first listen.  So it was that we pulled out M83's latest Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. last night and gave it a spin.  Suffice it to say, we were not disappointed.

The two disc opus, which was recommended by HAD friend Nabocough, dropped back in October, and had largely evaded our view.  Well, we stand corrected.  The disc is a perfect blend of pop, dance, and straight ahead rock, that manages to simultaneously be nostalgic and completely new all at once.  It's like discovering a great lost record, from a band you never knew you liked in the first place.

Now, we're sure the M83 faithful will be scoffing at this, saying they knew it all along, etc. etc., and that's just fine.  The fact of the matter is that this record is going to be far more important to those who aren't already worshipping at the altar of these Frenchmen.  They've no doubt (judging by reviews) been making killer records for years, and that's fantastic.  But Hurry Up, We're Dreaming features such a diverse palette of textures and melodies, it's more than likely to take M83 into the mainstream.

We're not saying you have to like the disc, but we are saying it's a damned well-crafted piece of pop, and we're loving every minute of it.  There are worse ways to spend your holiday weekend listening hours, but why bother?

M83 are in New York tonight and tomorrow.

mp3: M83 - New Map

Friday, November 18, 2011 Brings Back Video Watching As It Should Be

Amongst the children of the 80's and 90's, there is almost always one universal lament when the topic comes to music videos:  the demise of MTV.  The television network popularized the medium, and managed to do so while seeming mainstream and edgy at the same time.  They managed this balance for the better part of 15 years, before pop culture got the best of them.  Once that happened, they headed for a downward spiral of reality shows, and barely any of the thing that had made them great: music videos.

With the arrival of the internet, and real streaming video, there was a feeling that this didn't matter as much, because people could choose their own content.  Any video you wanted, any time you wanted.  But the fact of the matter is, that didn't help, because much of MTV's influence was curatorial.  What most people really want is to sit down and watch music videos they haven't seen before, and be exposed to something new and exciting. In short, the internet really only solved half the problem.

Enter  the new site is an attempt to harness the power of "any video, any time", and wrap it in the feeling of good curatorial sense.  The site takes on a fantastic full-screen experience and a minimalist interface to create an immersive, sit back and relax vibe.  The user can search's library of videos for new content, but really that's still the same old thing with a new wrapper.  The real fun comes when channels are used.

Channels are predefined by curators, or users, and consist of what are essentially video playlists.  However, as one watches videos, you can "love" them, resulting in a body of user metadata relating to video preference.  Then it's just one click to a checkbox, and starts "auto-DJ"ing for you. This is where it really starts to feel like the MTV experience:  new music that you've never heard, but with shared genre and influences.

Granted, there are still kinks to work out.  Video quality varies, ads sometimes randomly appear, and HD has to be toggled by the user.  But, for the most part, has nailed a new user experience (or rather, recreated an old one) in the online world. We've just started curating our own channel, and from there, the sky's the limit!  You'll be saying "I want my!" in no time.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

We first picked up Jim O'Rourke's 2009 record The Visitor for largely ancillary reasons to the music itself. First, we admired his work with Wilco so readily, we figured there had to be something rewarding in his own output.  Second, the record is somewhat unusual in that it was never released in mp3, by O'Rourke's choice.  It was only released on CD and vinyl, and required (gasp) actual physical interaction.

The result was that two years ago, we picked up a thick slab of vinyl with a bit of excitement and a heavy dose of curiosity. However, things being what they are, the disc languished in its cellophane.  First, we didn't have a turntable hooked up.  Then we were moving and there were boxes to unpack.  Until, finally, last week we opened the record.  We've been spinning it ever since.  It's as novel as it is exceptional.  Which is to say, in both cases, extremely.

O'Rourke entreats the listener to "Please listen on speakers, loud." in the record's jacket.  And yet, this Ziggy-esque request is not (presumably) for quite the same reasons.  O'Rourke's record is not a rock album, per se, and it is certainly not glam.  Rather, one can assume that the high volume request is firmly seated in the desire of a mixologist's wish that his music be delivered in the same form he created it.  In O'Rourke's case, this means the delivery of a dynamic, lush, and modern form of chamber music.

That description may seem a bit vague, but once you hear the record, it feels startlingly accurate.  All of the instruments on the record are close miked, and this intimacy extends across the entirety. It gives the songs character and warmth akin to a jazz record. The interplay gives the impression of a group of tightly knit musicians making music in the privacy of bedrooms or dens, away from the prying eyes of the public.

The Visitor serves to solidify O'Rourke's place as a character unto himself, truly owning the word unique.  This music is neither easily defined nor categorized.  Instead it is a brand all it's own, enjoyable to listen to a hundred times over, and full of nuance and subtlety.  It is a treasure waiting to be discovered in the shelves of record shops, and a reenforcement that maybe it's time that you put down your iPod for an hour or two, and give the old turntable a spin.

mp3: You didn't read the first paragraph, did you?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Beatles and Jackie Lomax - "Sour Milk Sea"

Last week as we were scouring Beatles bootlegs on youtube, which we are wont to do from time to time, we stumbled across a gem we had never heard before.  "Sour Milk Sea" was written by George Harrison and demoed during The White Album sessions.  Bearing a strong resemblance to melodically to "Savoy Truffle", the song never made the final cut.

It was, however, handed off to another Apple Records artist, Jackie Lomax.  Not only that, but one better:  three of the four Beatles (Lennon was absent) joined Lomax in the studio for the recording session along with Eric Clapton.  The supergroup nailed it, and created the original version of the song.

However (and this is where it gets good), they also released a vocal-free mix that featured just the instrumentals.  Through the wonder of the internet and modern technology, a kind soul has generated an "outfake" that is as good as the original in quality, but features Harrison's demo vocals.  Essentially a new Beatles studio track, a la "Free As A Bird" or "Real Love".  Happy humpday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Music - Churches, "Save Me"

It's no secret that around these parts we love Caleb Nichols.  In fact, we love him so much, we've released two records by his band Grand Lake over the past two years on our own record label!  So when we got word from Caleb that he had started a new recording project called Churches, we got more than a little stoked.

After having spend the last 6 months on the road with the likes of WATERS and Release The Songbird, Caleb returned to the west coast with newfound inspiration and headed into the studio with some of his tourmates to get the new material committed to tape.  The result is two incarnations of the track "Save Me", one the "original" and one the "remix".

From the first moment the track is unmistakably Nichols, with his well hones vocals diving into a strong vocal over a twangy guitar.  However, the chorus is where things really get mixed up a bit.  Clearly the time on the road has been feeding some of Caleb's love of balls to the wall rock, and it shows.  The chorus is an epic cacophony of distortion and crashing symbols, while at the same time staying true to the song's melodic potential.  We likey.

The remix, by stark contrast, is almost unrecognizable as the original.  Drenched in sped up vocals and looped beats, it's exactly what a remix should be:  awesome in its own way, and begging to be listened to just as much (if not more) than its seed.  Combine that with a vibe that is simultaneously 80's retro and futuristic in one breath, and well, we're sold.

On top of all the musical goodness, Nichols has taken a unique perspective on releasing the track: in addition to falling under the "name your price" model, half of all Churches proceeds will go directly to 826 Seattle, the Pacific Northwest version of Dave Eggers' awesomely lovable tutoring charity.  We've posted the track below, because we think you need to hear it, but if you find yourself, we highly recommend ponying up a bug or two for such a worthwhile cause.  Not to mention some damn awesome tunage.

mp3: Churches - Save Me

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kurt Vile - "My Best Friends" Live At Webster Hall, Video

This weekend our good pal Gretchen Robinette made her way to Webster Hall and caught Kurt Vile's Friday night set.  We were bummed we couldn't make it from the get-go, but we were even more bummed when we caught wind of what had transpired.

Vile dug out the fantastic "My Best Friends" and delivered a killer full length version of the tune on solo acoustic guitar.  Luckily for us (and you), Gretchen managed to capture the whole thing in epic HD goodness, and you can check it out above.  Super awesome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Sea And Cake Played Bowery Ballroom - Pictures, Review

Last night at Bowery Ballroom, The Sea and Cake delivered a lengthy set, complete with two encores, to a crowd of devoted fans. The show was part of their most recent North American tour, and was devoid of all pomp and circumstance. The band was traveling with no merch, and had a stage show that (as per usual) consisted of no more than four dudes playing their songs on stage.  The caveat was thus: those dudes can play their music very, very well.

To say that The Sea and Cake can deliver a bulletproof set is an understatement.  They are a well honed band to the nth degree, and their live show is akin to a more visceral version of their recorded takes. All the parts are there, and the arrangements are rock solid, but with just a touch more spice than one finds on the stereo.  In particular, John McEntire's drumming takes on a whole new character in the live environ.  When paired with Eric Claridge's unrelenting bass, it serves as an underpinning for the band as a whole.

However, by the end of the set, the well oiled machine had upped the pace to a frenetic hum, and the band began to, for lack of a better term, rock out.  It was probably the most high-energy we've ever seen this bunch, and they seemed to be truly enjoying themselves.  Hearing Archer Prewitt start to really tear into his guitar, one got the feeling that you were looking in on the more raw side of the band, the side that might bear its teeth at rehearsal space's or writing sessions behind the privacy of closed doors.

One thing remained true for the duration of the show:  these are a group of musicians who are more than able to deliver on the promise of their craft.  For the whole of the set (which consisted largely of newer material, with the occasional dip into the back catalog),  tune after tune  emerged in tip-top shape, and fell readily upon the ears of a crowd of highly enthusiastic fans.  There was no trick, no illusion, no attempt to create something that wasn't actually there.  Instead, it was completely heart-on-sleeve rendition of songs that were carefully crafted amongst the talents of the four men on stage. And therein lies the beauty of a Sea and Cake show:  it's all about the music.

More pictures in the HAD Archive

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Features Played Mercury Lounge - Pictures, Review

Last night we stopped in at the Mercury Lounge and caught an early set from Nashville indie rockers The Features.  The band delivered an evening of music that definitely left a satisfied audience, and kicked and screamed its way through the breadth of their catalog.  Through a mix of frenetic drumming, loping bass lines, and good old fashioned rock and roll, the unrelenting output emphasized the fact that they have the musical chops to truly deliver. 

Unquestionably, The Features are a rock solid unit.  The songs' parts are tightly integrated, and the band clearly have had enough time on the road that comfort on stage isn't even remotely an issue.  This comfort also allows the band to expand their palette as they play, and dabble with the sonic textures that make up their distinctive sound.  The result was a set that managed to do the dual-duty of emulating the records' highly recognizable arrangements, and at the same time expanding on them in the best way possible.

While singer Matt Pelham definitely has the vocal and guitar chops to run a stage show all by his lonesome, the rhythm section was the contingent of the band that really won us over.  Over the course of the set, the bass and drums came together in a way that simply isn't present on the band's records, and it served the overall sound very well. While their records are certainly fueled by driving rhythms, the live environment allowed the band to cut loose, and really emphasized just how rollicking this band has the potential to be.

Interestingly, the crowd was still most closely tied to the tracks from the band's first full length.  While the other material was rock solid, and had crowd support, it was the earlier singles that really made the deepest impact.  It certainly was no fault of the band's, and many of the newer tunes had arrangements that were more inspired than their earlier counterparts.  The gap in audience recognition brought to mind the latest challenge for this Nashville quartet:  They've proven their a rock band to be reckoned with, now they just need their fans to realize that's just one piece of the puzzle.

More pictures at the HAD Archive

Monday, November 7, 2011

Crooked Fingers Played Mercury Lounge - Pictures, Review

Before we say anything else, there is this:  You must see Crooked Fingers on this tour.  Over the past ten years we've seen a number of shows from Eric Bachmann's band, and never before have they been as on top of their game as they are now.  Not only is the new record is fantastic, but the band is rock solid, and Bachmann is delivering balls-to-the-wall performances that are as endearing as they are jarring, as fiery as they are touching, and as lucid as they are blurry.  In short, on Friday night at Mercury Lounge we saw one of the most dynamic performances in recent memory, and perhaps the best ever from Bachmann.  And yes, we realize that's saying a lot.

The show began with a stirring rendition of Bachmann's solo piece "Man O' War" on solo acoustic guitar.  The band sang backup, with the exception of a momentary guitar solo to replace the piano from the original track.  The gentleness of the delivery was underscored by the clarity of the lyric, and the unquestionable perfection of Bachmann's voice.  When the song finished, the immediate yelp from the crowd was a stark contrast to the quiet during the delivery, and it was clear that it was going to be a good night.

Over the next two hours, Bachmann hammered through Crooked Finger's catalog, dipping way back for "Crowned In Chrome" and "New Drink For The Old Drunk", and delivering brand-new barnstormers like "Bad Blood" and "Went To The City".  Interestingly, the performances were so well constructed, and the band so tight, that the highly loyalist crowd was just as engaged by the classics as they were by the new material.   It was a night of fantastic music, plain and simple, and Bachmann was clearly as delighted with the music as his audience.

Following the wrap of the regular set, Bachmann returned to the stage with guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Liz Durrett, and the two did an off-mic duet of "Your Control" that simply took our breath away.  The soul that was squeezed into that three minutes of music was palatable, and would have been worth the ticket price alone.  Luckily, it was nowhere near alone, and the band returned to the stage for a stirring, massive rendition of "Typhoon" before they left the stage for good.

The fact is that there are good musicians, and there are great musicians, and Eric Bachmann is quite obviously the latter.  For over twenty years he has been delivering songwriting that is as quirky as it is comforting, and he's always done so to the beat of his own drummer.  On Friday night he proved that not only has the undertaking proved worthwhile, but that he is at the cusp of a new era of greatness that may see his labor of love be at its best yet.  And, like we said, that's saying a lot.

Crooked Fingers are currently on a US tour.

More pictures at the HAD Archive

Friday, November 4, 2011

Atlas Sound - Parallax

Deerhunter's Bradford Cox has been banging around his side project Atlas Sound for a long time.  And for the most part, it's always felt like that: a side project.  Whether it be the stark arrangements, excessive use of electronic drum kits, or the constant giveaways/ep's/home recordings, it's always felt like the product of an at-home pursuit.  Not that this was always a bad thing:  the recordings gave insight to Cox's songwriting, and delivered a different perspective on Deerhunter's sound.  It's just that there was always a feeling (much like a Keith or Mick solo record), that you were hearing a piece of a whole that would be much more enjoyable once reunited with its compadres.  Always, until now:  with Parallax everything changes.

From the first moments of Atlas Sound's latest, it's clear that Bradford Cox has put more effort and care into this release than any of the previous records.  Or at least it feels that way:  the disc is expertly produced with tracks that feature layer upon layer of carefully orchestrated sounds that give each track a distinctive character and lilt.  Instrumentation has been stepped up to a degree that indicates either Cox has gotten much better at overdubbing, or additional musicians were brought in to lend a hand.  The presence of a real-life drum kit on the record is a welcome addition, and along with the pristine recordings of the other analog elements, really serves to help the sound emerge from the realm of "bedroom musings".

It's not just the recordings that make the record, however.  On Parallax Cox's songwriting may be in the strongest form we've seen it.  On the record he manages to pull in the stark ambience of his Atlas Sound writing, and mix it with both sides of Deerhunter: the rock and roll band that can nail a beat to a wall, and the tripped-out psych-rock giants who are masters of the wall of sound.  The result is a record that generates a Pet Sounds-esque lever of stylistic variation, where over time it becomes unclear what style or genre of music is being heard.  Rather, it's a style all its own.

In short, Parallax is not only the best record from Atlas Sound thus far, it's also Bradford Cox's most unified project to date.  It oozes vision and perspective, and demands more than a simple one or two listens to truly appreciate.  There's no question that Cox has been responsible for much of the sound that has emerged from his two bands.  Yet this record brings that awareness to a new level, and begs the question of whether there's any end to the depth of offerings the musician can cull from his bag of tricks.  If things continue in this way, the answer will be a definitive "no" for the foreseeable future.

Parallax drops November 8th on 4AD

mp3: Deerhunter - Terra Incognita

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Crooked Fingers - New Record, Fall Tour

It's been three years since Crooked Fingers last delivered a record to the world, so we were delighted when we got the news that a new one was on the way.  Breaks In The Armor marks Eric Bachmann's first post-Archers-reunion output, as well as his return to Merge Records, and we have to say:  the time away certainly hasn't done his songwriting any harm.

From the first notes of "Typoon", it is clear that with this latest record, Bachmann is at the top of his game.  The starkness and folky vibe that has defined Crooked Fingers from the get-go is still firmly in tact, but with a renewed edge and vigor.  More importantly, the beat-centric arrangments that have always been a Bachmann hallmark are all over the record:  songs are defined by their percussives as much as they are by their melody.

And then there's the melody:  this is where it gets really good.  We don't know if it's a result of the Archers' reunion, or simply the result of time away from music, but the result is palatably different from the last few Crooked Fingers discs.  The experimental Eric Bachmann has reemerged, and there is a fierce variation of vocal and guitar styles all over the record.  Which isn't to say there isn't a "classic" Crooked Fingers vibe as well: "The Counterfeiter" throws back to the band's more familiar material.  And yet, the combination of all of these parts serve to underscore the urgency and immediacy of these new recordings.

A good studio record is all well and good, but what really makes it really great is a solid live show; at least that's the way we roll around here.  That's why we were so excited to learn that Crooked Fingers is on tour this fall, and will hit just about every part of the country you can imagine.  From past experience, we can already tell you their live show is killer, and with this new material, well, we're very excited.

Crooked Fingers plays Maxwell's tonight, and Mercury Lounge tomorrow.

mp3: Crooked Fingers - Bad Blood

Crooked Fingers Tour, Fall 2010
Thurs, Nov 3--Hoboken, NJ--Maxwell's
Fri, Nov 4--New York, NY--Mercury Lounge
Sat, Nov 5--Brooklyn, NY--Cameo Gallery
Sun, Nov 6--Cambridge, MA--TT the Bear's
Mon, Nov 7--Montreal, QC--Casa Del Popolo
Tues, Nov 8--Toronto, ON--The Drake Hotel
Wed, Nov 9--Detroit, MI--Magic Stick
Thurs, Nov 10--Cincinnati, OH--MOTR Pub
Fri, Nov 11--Chicago, IL--Schuba's
Sat, Nov 12--Milwaukee, WI--Cactus Club
Sun, Nov 13--Minneapolis, MN--Triple Rock Social Club
Mon, Nov 14--Omaha, NE--Waiting Room
Tues, Nov 15--Denver, CO--Larimer Lounge
Sat, Nov 19--Portland, OR--Mississippi Studios
Sun, Nov 20--Seattle, WA--The Crocodile
Tues, Nov 22--Santa Cruz, CA--The Crepe Place
Wed, Nov 23--San Francisco, CA--Bottom of the Hill
Fri, Nov 25--Los Angeles, CA--The Echo
Sat, Nov 26--San Diego, CA--Casbah
Mon, Nov 28--Tempe, AZ--Club Red
Thurs, Dec 1--Austin, TX--Mohawk
Fri, Dec 2--Houston, TX--Fitzgerald's
Sat, Dec 3--New Orleans, LA--One Eyed Jacks
Sun, Dec 4--Atlanta, GA--The Earl

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John Wesley Harding's Cabinet Of Wonders Came To City Winery - Pictures, Review

Last Saturday night, we stopped in at City Winery for the second installment of John Wesley Harding's Cabinet Of Wonders residency. If it's to be believed, the lineup was even more star studded than the last time, and as such the crowd was (or at least felt like) twice as packed like sardines. Harding was in top form, both with his comedic intros, and with his own tunes.  It felt like (although we didn't keep count) that he and his band spent slightly less time in the spotlight than at the last show.

After a few tunes from Harding, the stage opened to Emma Straub, who recounted a tale of traveling with the Magnetic Fields to Montreal.  As the merch-transport team with her husband, the pair encountered any number of difficulties as they attempted to cross the border to our northern neighbors.  The story was a light, if not a tad self-effacing, look into the real world of rock and roll.

Straub was followed by our biggest surprise of the night: The Hold Steady's Craig Finn.  Finn was debuting material from his forthcoming solo work, and it blew us away.  We've never been able to latch on to the hold steady, and felt it lacked something in the musical depth department.  Finn's set was the complete opposite, reminiscent of Springsteen or Dylan, and completely captivating.  It didn't exactly hurt things that he closed with a Jagger solo track, "Evening Gown", and completely ruled every second of it.

Finn was briefly followed by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding, whose vivid and gripping reading provided a stark contrast to the whimsy of Straub's piece.  Unquestionably, Harding is gunning for the "serious" author vibe, and succeeding more than a little bit.

Serious readings beget serious rock and roll, and Hamilton Leithauser was up next, delivering an all-covers set in the absence of his band, The Walkmen.  His Beach House and Kinks covers were rock solid, but our fave had to be the touching and gentle rendition of Sinatra's "When The Wind Was Green". It was a simple and beautiful arrangement, and highlighted to a T the awesomeness of Leithauser's voice.

Up next was a 1-2-3 punch of John Hodgman, John Darnielle, and Eugene Mirman.  Hodgman led off with a satirical list of ghosts to watch out for this halloween.  While not a knock out success, it was quirky and enjoyable, and reminded us that this guy is worth far more to the world of comedy than just being a commercial celebrity.

Darnielle's set followed, and as always, was energetic and loaded with rock solid musicianship.  The Mountain Goats have never been to our taste exactly, but the crowd was clearly delighted, and it can't really be argued that Darnielle is not a force to be reckoned with.  The stage is clearly his home, and always will be as long as he has any say in the matter.

Eugene Mirman's set was, as always, laugh out loud funny.  It was an epic throwback (complete with props) to Mirman's high school days, and it was an utter success.  Just ten minutes of Mirman was enough to make us realize why Harding has chosen him as a Cabinet of Wonders regular, and left us eagerly awaiting more.

The evening closed with an unannounced act, as Roseanne Cash took the stage.  While she didn't have as devoted a following in the audience as some of the announced acts, she was unquestionably revered, simply for her presence and undeniable street cred.  Her set was, as might be expected, an especially straight-ahead country affair, that left us walking away from the evening more than satisfied.

All this fun was followed by an announcement earlier this week that Harding intends to once more take the Cabinet on the road, and we have to say: go, go, go!  It's like no other rock show out there, and truly is a throwback to the variety shows of yore.  It will be unexpected, you will be delighted, and it will be more than worth your time.

Many more photos at the HAD Archive