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Music Reviews

Filthy Friends

Filthy Friends

Invitation

Kill Rock Stars

“Supergroup” is such a ’70s concept. In that decade, it was rather assumed that rock bands would have a relatively short shelf life and any time a couple of people from existing bands got together, it was considered a major event. A lot of those ’70s supergroups weren’t all that super. A lot of them were fueled by desperation rather than the love of music. Now we have rock bands that been on the road for 50 years and it’s really not unusual for people to be fairly promiscuous in their collaborations. (How many bands and side projects does Dave Grohl play with?)

I don’t think it’s meaningful to call Filthy Friends a supergroup. Sure, Corin Tucker is one of the singer/guitarist from Sleater-Kinney. The rest of the band are Peter Buck and the touring members of R.E.M. (Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin) joined by Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks. Now, Block and McCaughey also play together in the Minus 5 and Buck and McCaughey play together in the Baseball Project and Rieflin plays in the current version of King Crimson and… oh, you get the idea. This band is like most bands a bunch of friends who got together to make some noise and have some fun.

Invitation is fun. The lead off track, “Despierata”, sounds a lot like R.E.M. with Tucker on lead vocals. The tune was originally part of the 30 Songs in 30 Days project, early shot at the coming reign of the Orange One. (“Holding onto the past won’t make it repeat”). That gets the angst out of the way so the rest of the album is the friends having fun.

It’s fun to hear Tucker get into a swaggering glam rock groove on “Come Back Shelley”. The song’s got a slinky, sexy, come hither feel that calls for a video with that car ZZ Top used to run around with. The title track, “Invitation” has a casual, music hall vibe that recalls the mellower Kinks. “Any Kind of Crowd” has a joyous, anthemic feel that celebrates “any kind of love that can turn you on.” The rhythms on “Windmill” recall a certain kind of downtown NYC jitteriness. When Corin sings, “hang on my friends, we are almost home now. Hold on, dear ones, we are not so lost now” it is reassuring. We maybe going through some weird, super messed up times, but we’ll get through this together.

These are great songs, by some really cool musicians. It sounds like they had a good time making Invitation and they don’t really care if the rest of the world is paying attention. In a way, that makes me sad. I hope that the people, who will love it, find a copy of Invitation in the bins at their local indie record store and the discovery makes their day.

killrockstars.com

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Music Reviews

Twin Brother

Twin Brother

Swallow The Anchor

It’s so much fun to be intense when you’re 20. The world hasn’t beat you down completely, and you still might, just might make the ozone hole go away if you can sing sincerely enough. Not that Twin Brother is about ozone or anything political, they just sound like they should be. The core of the band is vocalist/guitarist Sean Raasch and drummer Tyler Nelson: Raasch has a dramatic and intimidating vocal style that makes the real topic of the band’s music soul. Like all that is good in indie pop rock folk alt bands, love is the real question at hand, and love has not been kind to this man. The playlist rolls by, each tune more depressing than the last, and it’s a good example of blues for Midwestern white people. While the vocals are sad, the backing swells, and there’s a symphonic aura in “Fire Fire Fire” that recalls early Moody Blues. “Way To Be” almost sounds hopeful, Mr. Raasch is hoping to just have a chance to bleed into her shoes. It’s a creepy way to be romantic, but memorable. The title track “Swallow the Anchor” vaporizes that cheerful thought; here he bemoans and contemplates shadows and secret affairs. Is someone not sleeping where they shouldn’t, or is it all a paranoid conspiracy? “Heart and Soul” provides little in the way of an answer, the depression and heartbreak continue and if you ignore the lyrics, this is a relaxing collection of tracks. Technically superior, emotionally wrenching, “Swallow The Anchor” is a platter of broken dreams and lost promise. I need to go cry for a while…

Twin Brother: twinbrothermke.bandcamp.com

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Screen Reviews

The History of Future Folk

The History of Future Folk

directed by John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker

starring Nils d’Aulaire, Jay Klaitz, Julie Ann Emery

Variance Films

While this plot has been done a million times, The History of Future Folk is one of the most charming films I’ve seen in ages. Repeat after me: “Aliens invade earth, aliens fail to conquer us, let’s eat!”

Bill (Nils d’Aulaire) is an army of one, but he’s really kick-ass General Trius from planet Hondo, sent to deploy a virus that will wipe out humanity to make way for a Hondonian invasion — they need a new planet due to a massive comet, or something. But before Bill pulls the trigger on the bug, he discovers humans have a knack for arranging sound. The folks on Hondo never thought of music.

Bill blows off his mission, marries long suffering Holly (Julie Ann Emery), and spawns a cute-as-a-bug daughter, Wren (Onata Aprile). Bill commutes 140 miles each day to mow grass at an old nuclear missile site and keeps his mission’s secret in a mini-store unit (close to the subway, and reasonable rates). He’s gigging at The Trash Bar (run by Dee Snider) when Kevin (Jay Klaitz) arrives to complete the mission. They wrestle with their love of rock and roll and their duty to Hondo while selling out the house Saturdays.

Both Bill and Kevin seem like completely nice guys, and the entire surreal situation always seems completely plausible. Holly is concerned: either Bill is going nuts or he’s cheating. The boys do their musical acts in their space suits, Bill pointing out they don’t have buckets on Hondo and that’s why the helmet looks so funny. If it wasn’t for the ray guns, you’d class these guys as a low rent DEVO trying to pull off a Steve Martin comedy set. Snider is perfectly cast as a bar owner, Holly is a sort of girl-from-the-next-planet anyone would fall for, and the exciting and spectacular climax makes no sense whatsoever, but is a perfect curtain on this story. The music runs to indie pop with a banjo flavor, and I don’t see why we couldn’t coexist with the Hondonians. We could put them in Portland or Austin and no one would notice anything.

This film is a loving buddy picture with two guys trying to do the right thing, yet willing to take the time to entertain us with something they love to do. This film is wonderful.

The History of Future Folk: www.futurefolk.com

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Music Reviews

Hawthorne Heights

Hawthorne Heights

Hope

Cardboard Empire Records

Four earnest-looking young men have produced a very earnest-sounding album that explores all the usual guy stuff: insecurity, messed up romances, and a world that hates them or at least feels that way. Believing the world hates you is more reassuring than the truth: the world barely knows you exist. So, the best thing to do is pound out some heartfelt rock and roll.

Hawthorne Heights bounces up to the edge of metal, but never crosses over, preferring to stick with downer pop. These guys take life and rock seriously: “Stranded” pours cold water on hope as we hear “I feel a little fire trickling in my chest.” But don’t get your hopes up, as the response is “Oh Lord, where did I go wrong?” I can’t really say, but while he’s bemoaning life, I’m grooving to the guitarist. Next I’ll recommend “Running in Place,” where this mysterious “love feeling” never gets a chance to infect as our singer stands outside someone’s window doubling as a prospective Romeo and a creepy stalker guy. You get the idea — hot guitar work and angst-ridden lyrics make this seven-track collection the sort of thing to listen to when driving fast and wondering why girls won’t talk to you. Have patience, and lay off the Axe.

Hawthorne Heights: www.hawthorneheights.com • http//www.cardboardempirerecords.com

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Music Reviews

Suit of Lights

Suit of Lights

Shine on Forever

Visiting Hours

Gentle and bubbly as a carbonated soft drink, Suit of Lights amuses and entertains like a mime at a birthday party. You’ll smile, you’ll pay attention, and you’ll leave thinking “that was fun, but what just happened?”

This is the band’s third release, and it seems like the lineup is a very fluid concept; there are more past members than current ones. No matter, Joe Darone’s vocals are soft and engaging, and he sings about the sort of things indie bands always talk about: love, life, and the meaning of 3/4 time in a post, post-modern world. “All Roads” slips in and out of minor keys, both plodding and soaring as it sings about “ashes.” Later on in “Everyone Is Happy Now,” Darone makes it sound like no one is happy now, and when he suddenly slips into “Paint It Blood,” I think we may be getting a clue as to just what the real problem is. I’ll leave you to work that out, but rest assured, no matter how badly your psyche is abused, you’ll love the singing and playing, even if you’re creeped out by the mime.

Suit of Lights: suitoflights.com

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Music Reviews

The Walkmen

The Walkmen

Lisbon

Bella Union

Every time I hear the opening bars of “Angela’s Surf City,” the second cut off of The Walkmen’s latest album, Lisbon, I have to stop whatever I am doing and listen. Hard. It is that amazing.

The song is a minimalist masterpiece, from Matt Barrick’s stuttering drumbeat that almost stumbles over itself in its halting rush/stop/rush to get out of the gate and down the road, to its slashing, shimmering guitar washing over the rubble.

And topping it off is the heartache singing of Hamilton Leithauser. The song is so sparse it makes it hard to believe this is a five-piece band and not two guys banging it out on guitar and drums.

The other songs on their sixth album give glimpses of the rest of the band: a strutting bass here, some horns beamed in from planet Calexico (can’t say for sure about that literally, but metaphorically, yes. Most definitely). And thin-boned atmospherics hawking the ghosts of Dick Dale and smashing surfboards with a far-off Iberian Peninsula gypsy vibe chiming through the echo and reverb.

And they prove that “Angela’s Surf City” is no one-off fluke. “Blue as Your Blood” with its fuller band sound and “Stranded” with mariachi horns both put some meat on those minimalist bones.

They revert back and forth between the skeletal and the atmospheric throughout most of the album, though, so you have to be willing to listen. They make you earn your audible pleasures as they shift gears through “Victory”and “All My Great Designs” before accelerating into the one song that could even remotely be considered a bouncy pop ditty, “Woe is Me.”

But just in case you forgot what, and who, you were listening to, they crawl through “Torch Song” and the utterly beautiful “While I Shovel Snow” before culminating their journey with the title track “Lisbon.”

Any of these songs could have been done with more polish or pizzazz (or pop) but that would take away from the overall effect of having listened to an album of otherworldly songs while lolling on a beach in Ibiza. The Walkmen have achieved a miraculous study in mood and atmosphere by reducing each song to its basic elements.

Walkmen: thewalkmenmusic.blogspot.comwww.bellaunion.com

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Print Reviews

Independence Days

Independence Days: The Story of Independent UK Music Labels

by Alex Ogg

Cherry Red Books

Indie rock is a hot trend, but what does “indie” really mean? Before it became a marketing slogan, the term referred to all those little labels that didn’t have their own pressing plant. The independent labels were run by record collectors, music fanatics, and specialists who saw and serviced a small niche as a hobby or side business. The labels were scattered through small town and big cities, and occasionally operated out of hair salons or real estate offices. In this extensively researched compendium, Alex Ogg traces the Indies way back to the first format wars. I’m sure you recall the time when the “Lateral Cut Recording” competed with the Edison Cylinder. Even Mr. Edison tried to monopolize the recording industry with his patents and money. He failed, but his idea is still firmly ingrained at the major labels: We control the artists, the means of production, distribution, and how and when you listen. Indie thinks differently — “This is a completely cool record, ya gotta hear it!”

The book begins in America, but quickly moves to the British side of the pond with stories of Chiswick and Ace. These labels came to life to provide record shops with more material to sell. Artist development wasn’t the issue; the recording agreements were typically for one song, a reasonable profit split, and no regrets. As punk appeared on the scene, the major labels were uninterested, and it fell to these guys in record shops to record and distribute the music. The Simple Minds began as Johnny and the Self Abusers, the Buzzcocks first record was intended as a memento of a summer’s work, and even Bowie and U2 began in these scruffy shops. The list of band names goes on and on, and for every name you might have caught here in 1979, there are three or four more that you missed. How could you not buy a disc by The Desperate Bicycles?

Ogg is thorough and focused, splitting chapters partially by time and partially by genre — punk, New Wave, industrial, and Goth are all treated with dignity and detail. The rise and fall of Stiff, Cherry Red, Mute, and 4AD all get fair treatment, as do the stories of bands that hit and bands that missed. The Indies weren’t much better at paying artists than the majors, stories of rip-offs and failed trust are just as gory here as in any music industry tell-all. Vital new bands paid their dues in these indie trenches, and occasionally went on to greater success and greater rip-offs with the majors. The Indies were the farm teams of the late 20th century.

While this book is a dense 560 pages with no pictures beyond label art, it’s an essential reference to the era and very readable. Since Ogg stovepipes his stories, occasionally the same story is told twice from different sources. That’s fine, flip this open and read at random for a free-form history lesson. If you love music, collect vinyl, or might start your own band, you can’t do better than study this history. Sure, you’ll make the mistakes of your predecessors, but if you didn’t, what fun would it be?

Cherry Red/IPG: www.ipgbook.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Prids

The Prids

Chronosynclastic

Velvet Blue Music

Once we’ve finally accelerated far enough and fast enough to break though the bow shock of punk, are we safe in tossing all the shattered musical styles derived from it into one big heap? And if we did, would record collectors still dig through it? I suppose they would, but it’s time for the rest of us to devolve a bit more and appreciate groups like the Prids. They’re making sounds with morosely skipping beats, semi-sad lyrics, and a mixture of upbeat and downer sounds that feels like too much Pepsi mixed with some old school antihistamines. Titles are short, pointed, and not terribly cheery: “Break,” “Fragile,” and “Desolate” carry the feeling forward, and even the multi-word names emote emo melancholy like a teenager’s poetry. “Tonight, October” has deeply harmonic vocals slowly dreaming their life away over an acoustic guitar and what might be a bass uke in the shadows. Even the cover of this disc is sort of sad — a scratched and faded photo that looks like your mom, back in the days long ago when she was still pretty hot. There’s a quote inside the sleeve, and I’ll claim fair use for printing it because it sets the tone as clearly as anything I might imagine: “How nice to feel nothing and still get full credit for being alive.” That’s either existentialism or nihilism, but I always get those two confused.

Velvet Blue Music: Velvetbluemusic.com • The Prids: www.theprids.com

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Music Reviews

The Silver Seas

The Silver Seas

Chateau Revenge!

Cheap Lullaby

OK, it only took a few seconds into the opening cut of Silver Seas’ new album Chateau Revenge! to fall for this retro-pop band’s infectious harmonies and pop arrangements that evoke the blue-eyed soul of early Hall and Oates and Todd Rundgren.

“Another Bad Night’s Sleep” is immediately infectious, the lyrics self-deprecating (“Couldn’t drink enough to make the world disappear”).

Yes, they’re from Nashville. Yes, they’re a quartet with guitars, bass, drums, and assorted bluegrass instruments (banjos and mandolins that blend into Bread-like string arrangements and pedal steel guitar a la Maria Muldaur). Just listen to the seventh cut, “From My Windowsill.” Or dig the sly references to “the magic chords of ELO” on “What’s the Drawback?” And “Candy” is either an upbeat Barry Manilow (Mandy on uppers?) or a rare Shaun Cassidy b-side.

And I don’t mean any of that in a bad way. The way these guys invent guilt-free hooks with a wink and a nod to some of the cheesiest cliches of the 1970s is, well, a guilty pleasure. Because the lyrics are anything but saccharine sweet. More like vinegar poured into the sugar bowl. This band is smart, and Daniel Tashian is one crafty songwriter.

No wonder Silver Seas was voted one of the best indie bands without a record label a few years ago, after the 2007 release of their critically acclaimed debut High Society (sort of — they had recorded as The Bees but had to change their name due to a legal dispute with the British band “A Band of Bees” which was known as The Bees).

Listen to the lyrics of “What If It Isn’t Out There?” The singer is talking to an ex-girlfriend who decides to move to London and starts a rock band. “I hope you see your name in lights, I wouldn’t be surprised/ But I know it’s hard to find the definition of love,” he sings just as the band breaks into the Bacharach-like chorus.

“Help is on the Way” continues to quote 1970s pop with a reverb-saturated guitar riff right out of a Sergio Leone film. There are also some nicer, quieter moments, like “Jane” and the album closer “Kid,” with its killer couplet, “The prom was a disaster/ now their laughter still echoes in your mind./ You showed up in the morning,/ without warning you became that jealous guy.” And the following line about wanting to stay home or die, well, could he be trying to comfort Morrissey? For a real grin, wait for the cheesy closeout. You will love it. You will think you flashed back to the ’70s in a souped-up Camaro.

And as soon as I finish this review, I am going to click back to the first track of this album and listen to it all over again, just for pleasure.

The Silver Seas: www.thesilverseas.net

Categories
Music Reviews

Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado

Saint Bartlett

Secretly Canadian

Once Seattle spat out its last non-ironic grunge act, it turned back to the musical roots that bring people back to real music when they tire of nihilism and drug hangovers. Lacking a better term, the moniker “indie rock” was stapled on, and artists like Damien Jurado resulted. Jurado sings ballads and love songs with a folk influence and a down tempo brought on by the after effects of an overwhelming serotonin rush. Yeah, his girlfriend left, and he’s going to do his level best to bring you down to his depths of loneliness.

Jurado sounds a good bit like the acoustic years of Neil Young, or maybe Dylan with cleaner diction. “The Falling Snow” is as good an example as you can find — simple guitar, a slow, lackadaisical drum kit with a top hat and cymbal, and Jurado singing with himself not exactly in harmony, but in the same key with a hair’s breadth of phase delay mixed with subtle tremolo. It makes his voice shimmer hauntingly. “Beacon Hill” feels even less produced. It consists of Jurado and an acoustic guitar as he whines for his girlfriend to come back to him. The hollow soul of his misery is even stronger in “Arkansas” where he sings, “Fade out, this is where the credits roll” and you think maybe you should call him, just to head off any unpleasantness with razor blades or dry cleaning bags. Calmly intense, this collection of introspective and personal songs is a relaxing but engrossing journey.

I won’t say Jurado is suitable for all occasions, but his plaintive voice calls out for a pat on the back and his precise guitar says he has potential. Once he gets some therapy and medication he’ll spend a few months of sitting in the dark composing. Then he’ll be good. Not as good as new, but better, seasoned with misery and ready to spread the happiness.

Secretly Canadian: www.secretlycanadian.com