The 1990s were, musically, the decade that began with a bang and ended with a whimper. The dawn of so-called grunge quickly paved the way for all kinds of "underground" music to get radio play and to be on mainstream store shelves. But for whatever reason, compelling music was soon driven back. Partly because these acts continued to grow, leaving behind the sounds they had made trendy (Pearl Jam, anybody?); and partly because the evil powers at major labels poured all their resources into pimping young girls and boys, so as to put pop back on top. "Underground" music resorted back to being niche, but for the occasional breakout act. No one seemed interested in inheriting the best early-to-mid-'90s components of music, and bringing them to the mainstream again.
I can't say for sure that Wickhead, who hail from Johannesburg, South Africa, sought to wear the '90s mantle into the 21st century. They probably didn't. But End Is The Beginning, their first international CD, intrigues me because it shows this is a band who has learned all the right lessons from the decades before them. There's a definite influence of the '90s and even the '80s, but the elements have a modern--rather than derivative--feel.
Lead singer Bronic's voice has more in common with Robert Smith than Rob Halford--mostly lovely while following melodies that could be at home on theater or club stages, while screaming with the best of them. Guitarists Mark Van Heeden's and Randall Knight's thick, chunky riffs are the meat of the music, possessing the listener as soon as they kick in; they're the reason the band gets categorized as "metal," although I would call them "hard rock." The rhythm section (KJ Forde, drums; Jay Hart, bass) balances radio-ready sensibilities with hitting hard, proving themselves with a 6/8 time signature on one song--a more "metal" one at that!
End Is The Beginning is a group of tunes that would be at home both on the mainstream airwaves, or sharing the stage at underground clubs with less commercially viable musicians. Ultimately, what I like about Wickhead is that I could listen to the CD, or go to a show, with friends whose music tastes aren't as divergent as mine, and we'd all enjoy ourselves. IIn a way, Wickhead is a bit like J-rock, a genre in which the heaviest instruments are always countered by sweet, pretty vocals.
CONTEST: Email contests AT podbop DOT org with your biggest fear and we'll pick one random winner to recieve this disc! Contest ends on Friday 1/19.
My father and I sat down during Christmas break to take in Chicago Public Radio's This American Life: Stories of Hope & Fear. It's a 2-disc compilation of highlights from the ongoing weekly program that reaches 1.7 million listeners a week since 1995. While both of us were familiar with the program, neither of us had ever listened to it on the radio, so we went into this with no expectations. The format is simple and easy; Ira Glass, the interviewer, helps a person along in narrating a personal story.
What really caught my eye with the packaging and PR email I recieved was the soundtrack that these stories laid over: Thurston Moore, Blonde Redhead, RZA, Calexico, Philip Glass, Morcheeba, Mogwai, Tom Ze, Tortoise and others. Unfortunately, they are only brief cuts that tied various segments together, or served as background music to portions of the narratives. Don't buy this for the bands or their music, you'll be disappointed.
The first disc is entitled "Hope" with 6 stories ranging from 6 to 20 minutes long. Don't let the title fool you too much though. Both of these discs lie on the melancholic side of life (with interjections of humor and wit). The stories covered everything from living in the slums of NYC, telling ill-timed comedy karaoke, what it's like to be a man (when you were a woman) and doing drugs and sleeping around as a early teen in Miami. My dad and I agreed that the disc's highlight story was also it's longest, "The Babysitters". If you thought you told a fib or two to your parents growing up, listen to this tale of just how far one could go with a tall-tale.
Facing shopping suckage this Christmas Eve? Here's a last-minute gift idea that's truly for "all ages": Brats On The Beat: Ramones For Kids.
This combination compilation/tribute/children's album came out on Go-Kart Records last month (so recently that few record store employees had heard of it, I found while trying to get a copy). The concept, by Jennifer Finch of L7 and The Shocker: Be kid-friendly, not condescending, by using real-life punk singers and real-kid backing vocalists, as well as musicians from real bands like the Gabba Gabba Heys, Goldfinger, and Eagles Of Death Metal.
Does it work? Well, from the opening lines of "Blitzkrieg Bop" I was dancing around like a crazy lady in my PJs--not like I would at a show, but like I used to as a preschooler with my Chipmunks albums.
Brats succeeds for a coupla reasons. The Ramones are beloved because, as a punker friend once said, they proved anyone could play music even without skills, so their easy tunes translate well for children. Also, the album's creators made sure the music comes off as real, not as bland karaoke-quality versions led by a "dumb" singer that smart kids can see right through.
My favorites: "I Just Want To Have Something To Do," with Emily Wynne-Hughes of Go Betty Go; "We Want The Airwaves," sung by Spooney of Gabba Gabba Hayes; "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," featuring Josie Cotton; and "Bop Til You Drop," with the slighly spooky vocals of TSOL's Jack Grisham. Except for "Sheena," which is just plain fun, the other tracks have a bit more sophisticated arrangements than the songs that stick to the Ramones' tried-and-true three-chord tricks.
(Speaking of alliteration, everyone's bound to love "Spiderman," even if they don't care for any other Ramones or punk song in the world.)
I'm not sure, though, that grown-ups would want to listen to this CD over and over without the shorties by their sides. The kiddie backup singers, while in-tune and, more importantly, filled with the spirit of the Ramones, could become grating to some. Others might find them simply hilarious.
The hilarity could've been racheted up 12 notches if the album's creators had decided to cover "The KKK Took My Baby Away." Instead, there's nothing here to offend stuffy parents, paving the way for cool aunties like me. I can't wait to find out how my toddler nephews like this.
(Listen to a few tracks on the album's MySpace page.)
An album made with nothing but voices and instruments made out of ice. What better time to write about this album than December?
It's actually the second album from Terje Isungset composed of ice sounds. Here's a bit of info from the Norwegian label's website (called All Ice Records, releasing only 1 album a year of ice-music).
In 2003 Terje Isungset did an ice concert at the Ice Hotel in North Sweden. The quality of the ice that year harvested from Tårnelven was exceptional. Ice Hotel let us store a block of the river ice for possible future use. In 2004 Terje returned to record the second ice CD. Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi was naturally selected as the site. The block of ice from the previous winter was still there, safe and secure! In addition 32 igloos were left over from a wedding of a Polish rock star. They became the most amazing recording studio. Tor Magne Hallibakken used one igloo as his control room, placing Sidsel Endresen in another and Terje Isungset in a third. Stable weather at -10 to -20 degrees C was perfect for the project. The studio space was -4 - 6 and perfectly silent.
Definitely drawn in by the premise of this concept album, I was curious to see what kind of music can be made with an Iceofon, Ice Harp, Ice Horn, Ice trumpet, Ice percussion, and an Ice bass drum carved from one block of ice. The only non h20 elements are a bass drum pedal, fish line for suspension and the strings on the ice harp (but of course).
It's ambient and quiet. On the third track, Morning, gentle taps on the iceofon are accompanied by haunting whispers and howls from Terje. On the fifth track, Ice Beauty, the ice harps tones are stretched across the sound of a block of ice being dragged across the ground. It's like you can feel the cold and desolation of the frigid winters of Norway. The sixth track, Iceman 2, gets even more primal, with straight up grunts and moans that would probably aggravate the Geico cavemen (and not be especially enjoyable to listen to by the 21st century homosapien).
It's an album that will garner interest as a unique approach to ambient/avant-garde music. After a few listens however, the novelty wears off and you're only left with something you can impress your friends with (instead of actually enjoy on a day to day basis). That said, I would still jump at the chance to see him live at the annual Ice Festival every January in Sweden.
I've been keeping C.J. Boyd's The Greatest Weight to myself for way too long. It's one of my favorite albums of 2006 and I waited until December to write about it. I discovered it while bringing a pile of promo CDs with me for the drive to and from Orlando early this summer. It provided the perfect soundtrack for the lonely drive home as my mind wandered. Soon after, Daniel and I each took a week off of our day jobs for a "Podbop Week" where we developed the version of the site you see now. I listened to the album on repeat many, many times that week. I listened with headphones, which revealed undiscovered intricacies that relaxed and invigorated me (at the same time!) as I programmed.
C.J. Boyd is a solo bassist who, according to his website, "combines the improvisational prowess of jazz, the grace of classical music, the punch of progressive rock, and a rhythmic edge culled from all over the world." The Greatest Weight is his sixth full release (including his orgy-tastic side-project, The C.J. Boyd Sexxxtet) and is being touted as his finest work. C.J. makes the album filling with his use of looped electric bass and multi-tracked harmonica. The real beauty of this album comes in his power of restraint. The songs are sparse, ambient melodies, where each note plucked and plunged into your ears is delicate and important. They slow down to quiet, floating drones only to pick back up with rhythmic digs that pull you back into your shoes.
In general, I love instrumental music, and I love ambient tunes that I can listen to while I'm sleeping, concentrating or relaxing. The problem, especially with ambient music, is some of it is...too ambient and just gets boring. C.J. balances the line perfectly with five tracks that don't distract, yet keeps your attention the whole 65+ minutes. Definitely recommended whether you are soul-searching or creative-brainstorming.
The first track off the album (and my favorite) is "Bonfire," a warm, 20-minute welcome into the rest of the album. On the other side of things, is "Thoughts Of Youth," the shortest track off the album at 4 and a half minutes with a lighter and slightly more playful tone.
Coupon code & December tour dates after the jump..
Claudio Sanchez (lead singer/songwriter of punk-prog outfit Coheed & Cambria) has a new solo side project called "The Prize Fighter Inferno" which, in his own words, "is kind of the original idea for Coheed & Cambria." I saw Coheed & Cambria last year in St Petersburg and was just blown away. Claudio is an incredibly talented guitarist and his 10+ minute instrumental jams on stage were nothing short of brilliant. It's interesting to see his other talents as a musician.
The three Coheed albums that have been released all tell a story; the last told the tale of (Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV: Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness) the character Inferno (often referred to as Jesse, his real-life brother) dying. In a increasingly popular move (think Star Wars, the new Bond flick) Sanchez prequels the three chapters with this album about two sons who have been given a calling by God to be the new 'dealers of death'. Admittedly, he says some of the songs are 7-8 years old so maybe it's more of a finally-done project than jumping on the bandwagon.
Regarding his new solo band, Sanchez says "side projects should be very left field. I knew some of the material I was working on for Inferno wasn't fit for Coheed, but I wanted to release it." It's definitely a change of pace and quite surprising to hear a bit of The Postal Service (the epitome of acoustic/electronic imo) from this rocker, but he puts his own spin on things with his unique voice and notoriously apocalyptic lyrics.
"The Going Price For Home" is the first track off the album, and sucked me right in. It's a lovey textured beep ballad about coming home after a journey. Other highlights off the album include "The Margretville Dance" (one of the more upbeat, even dancable tracks and myspaced) and the downbeat, beautifully depressing "Wayne Andrews, The Old Bee Keeper."
"Your Love" is a cover of the '80s band Outfield's classic hit. It's off his demo tapes and isn't as indietronic as his album release but his stripped down rendition is comely in it's own right (and reminds me of being at a middle school dance).
The Beatles' "Love" came out last week and consists of 26 tracks of ever so slight reshapings of classic hits for the Beatles Cirque De Soliel show in Vegas. Overall the album is a nice little change-up for the same tracks we've all been listening to for decades, but definitely not a replacement. And as a sign of the times, you can go listen to some tracks from the new album on The Beatles' Myspace. They even have some pretty cool wallpaper and screensavers too.
Their promo people sent me the following track by track notes by George Martin (producer of almost every Beatles' record) and his son Giles Martin (an established producer in his own right). Both of the Martin's played co-producer on the new album. I think they are supposed to be used for quotes and such, but I enjoyed the insight so much, I'm reposting the whole thing here.
LOVE ALBUM TRACK BY TRACK NOTES
BY GEORGE AND GILES MARTIN
George: "An inspired offering from John when we recorded it for the Abbey Road album. He had heard the opening of Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" and then evolved a pattern of arpeggios on his guitar that laid the foundation for this song. Listening anew to this track, with the harmonies that only John, Paul and George could provide, one realises what great vocalists they were."
Giles: "Dominic Champagne, the LOVE show director, had been listening to the Anthology albums and loved the a cappella version of "Because" and asked whether it could be in the show. The vocals are recorded three times with John, Paul and George singing their respective parts at the same time. The sound of their voices around one microphone is magical."
The other 25 tracks after the jump..
I'm a big fan of instrumental covers of songs I already know and love. Radiohead seems to be especially a popular choice among cover bands. Probably because they know there are so many die hard fans out there that will snatch up anything with their name on it.
Christopher O'Riley (a brilliant pianist) and The String Quartet have both put out two albums each full of Radiohead covers. I think Christopher O'Riley's albums are more accomplished, but both are worthwhile as slightly less distracting, but still lovable, renditions of music that you can listen to while concentrating or falling asleep.
There's a new kid in town called Rockabye Baby and they are out to do baby approved versions of everything you love. They've got Coldplay, Metallica, Pink Floyd, The Cure, The Pixies, Bjork and of course.. Radiohead. Their picks are interesting and I can see many people plunking down the change out of curiosity.
Unforunately, they fail to deliver. The quality is excellent, the renditions are fairly accurate, but while piano and string versions of Radiohead can be carried out to produce excellent, listenable albums, I just don't find listening to glockenspiel music that sounds like it's coming out of a hand driven song-box very appealing. Maybe your 6 month old will enjoy it, but for those without chillin's, you can skip this set.
You can listen to 30 second mp3 samples on their product page.
With beautiful, fun, dancey but heartfelt pop music, The Blow keep improving with their fourth full-length release, Paper Television, coming out October 24th. Here's a track-by-track rundown of the new sounds:
1. Pile Of Gold - Pete Ohs (of my favorite newly discovered music blog at the moment The Anchor Center) says it all in his Video Review (in the style of VH1's Pop-up Video).
Key Lyric: "All the girls are sitting on a pile of gold."
2. Parentheses - With a soft Hawaiin vibe, this should be every English teacher's love song of choice. And if one pair of parenthesis is good, two must be better ))<>((
Key Lyric: "When you're holding me, we make a pair of parentheses."
3. The Big U - Jona Bechtolt (one half of The Blow) brings the beats mixing in some galactic videogame inspired bleeps. An odd love song speaking to a lover (girl? guy?) in love with another man.
Key Lyric: "I consider myself lucky to be let in on your threesome."
4. The Long List Of Girls - Continuing with the pushed-to-the-side, one-of-many-lovers songs on this album, one can't help but think she subconsciously likes being in this position.
Key Lyric: "Rub up on me boy, I'll love you enough."
5. Bonjour Jeune Fille - It starts out with the same verse being sung alternately in French and English and gets dirtier and dirtier from there as she continues to offer her body up for free love.
Key Lyric: "I'll make you into a suit of clothes and wear you."
6. Babay (Eat A Critter, Feel It's Wrath) - Khaela's beautiful voice really shines as she stretches out the Babay chorus. One of the best tracks of the album. It's also the turning point where she starts to realize that the antoganist wasn't playing hard to get, but was generally not interested.
Key Lyric: "Baaaaaaaaaybaaaaayheyayayayayyyy Baaaaybayyy."
7. Eat Your Heart Up - As this heart-broke theme continues she seems to be getting a little agressive now, instead of being content to be one of many like in track 4.
Key Lyric: "Chew it up and swallow."
8. Pardon Me - "Pardon Me" reminds me of Ben Harper's "Excuse Me" (both the beat and song title). While Ben laments the destruction of our planet, Khaela takes on one night stands and being led on. She picks things up, she breaks things down and she even throws in a crunch (literally) that would've been more humoursly placed in the previous song.
Key lyric: "Pardon me but wasn't that your heart / that I felt on the bed / in the bed in between the sheets?"
9. Fists Up - The hurt/broken/bitter stages of love+loss are taking their shape. She describes the difficulties and the pain of losing somebody you aren't ready to lose. It's no wonder this is the longest track on the album (clockin in at just over 4 minutes) as this is probably the most heartfelt and personal on the album.
Key Lyric: "My hopes have lost, my hopes have fried."
10. True Affection - The closing song has a bit of The Knife feel. She tries to be content with her loss, convincing herself she was out of his league. It's not a full resolution, but what in life really is?
Key Lyric: "I was out of your league, you were 20,000 underneath the sea."
Check out a solo set (without Jona's beats, lacking some of the oomph of the record) over on lullabyes.net or grab their entire album Poor Aim: Love Songs (.zip) courtesy of her label until October 24th. Khaela's blog is at thetouchmefeeling.com/ and Jona's is at teamyacht.com. I especially enjoyed Khaela's post on being alone.
CMJ Performance: Friday 11/3, 10pm @ Irving Plaza
A new weekly feature (I know, there's a lot right?) where we feature a band that comes up with zero results on The Hype Machine.
The Hype Machine: 10/19: No blog tracks found for vonneguts
First up is a fun little duo from Portland called The Vonneguts. They caught my eye as I have been a Kurt Vonnegut fan for years and I was interested to hear what kind of music a fellow Tralfamadorian would write. Like the Tralfamadorian's these Vonneguts seem to travel in time to enjoy the happy stuff. They make simple, short, clean-cut bedroom-pop that just catches your ear.
According to their Myspace Blog they have some 7 inches and full-length coming out sometime this fall (which is, like, now) so keep yer eyes open if you like what you hear!
I discovered Six Parts Seven at The Fest II here in Gainesville, FL. It was at the old Common Grounds -- a tiny, smokey and intimate little venue where you could watch your favorite bands rock out while you sat in their lap. Up to that point I hadn't listened to much instrumental music, so I didn't know what to expect when Six Parts Seven came on stage. They played one song and just as I was falling in love, a string broke (or maybe it was a drum head). They apologized and said they couldn't continue playing. One song is all I got! But I was so enthralled I went outside to their van and bought Things Shaped In Passing. To this day that album is still one of my favorite instrumental ambient albums to fall asleep to.
Fast forward four years and here they are releasing their sixth full length, Casually Smashed To Pieces. Over these albums, their music does not waver much. They don't seem to experiment much, for better or worse. They make soft, beautiful, layered melodies -- and they do it really well. Each album blends into the next, and at just over 30 minutes this album breezes by. My favorite track on this album is the 7-minute-long "Confusing Possibilities," which has this great swirling melody that builds up and flurries around the 4:30 mark before bringing things back down.
This is something to put on while you are relaxing at night. Let their music in and let the day's worries out. Because all their music has that same cooling vibe I can recommend three of their best albums -- the newest Casually Smashed To Pieces, 2004's Everywhere And Right Here, and 2002's Things Shaped In Passing -- equally as five-star perfection, but collectively their library does get repetitive.
The first two songs are off of their latest and the second two are oldies but goodies. Also check out their page on Suicide Squeeze for a few more mp3s.
I haven't even listened to it (probably won't ever), but I just had to pass on this gem via Good Hodgkins.
Best Pitchfork Review Ever: Jet: Shine On.
Could the Decemberists take their sea shanty team of five from indie label Kill Rock Star to Capitol Records without sacrificing too much?
The Crane Wife says yes. The songs roll out one by one with distinctive side-of-the-mouth howl and the waves of accordian notes. That's not to say there aren't "sacrifices." You can tell there is more polish and preen (produced by Death Cab's Chris Walla). They sound more accessible. More MTV-ready. Still good, don't get me wrong. I just hear the same transition in The Decemberists latest album that I heard in Death Cab and Modest Mouse' latest relases. It's that calm before the mainstream storm.
The Crane Wife is a Japanese folk tale where a poor man finds an injured crane, nurses it back to health only for it to fly away. The following day a beautiful woman appears on his doorstep, they fall in love and get married. To make ends meet the wife offers to sew cloths the man can sell in town. The only catch is he is never allowed to see her make them. Eventually his curiosity gets the better of him, and he discovers she is a crane who was using her feathers to create the silk cloths. She flies away and never returns. Lesson: Never peek in on your wife?
The opening track "The Crane Wife 3" finds the subject discovering his wife as a crane (and the subsequent sorrow of losing her). I'm still utterly confused why they chose to put part three as first and part one/two as track nine but hey, it's arty to be out of order.
"Shankhill Butchers" is a slower track and especially chilling when you read the background story. This gang literally went around butchering people with knives if they were Roman Catholic. The leader kind of looks like Adam Corolla from Loveline.
"Sons and Daughters", a jingly upbeat ballad Colin Meloy ends the record with a tasty treat. "We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon".
Overall, this record satisfies the tastebuds of most fans, while definitely becoming more accessible to new ones. While I'm not immediately convinced it's top 10 of the year material (I like to give it a few weeks and make sure it's not just a passing taste), it's definitely in the top 20.
Best. review. ever.
On Sigur Ros' album Takk...
Imagine Bono found his Yoko Ono, and she was a humpback whale. And the whale said, "Remember that thing called pop? Forget it. You are among the whales now. Join us." And all the pomposity that Bono had stored in his heart came pouring out in a muddy sonic parade of aquatic nymphs with neurological disorders playing miniature pianos and pan flutes. And the nymphs found Thom Yorke, who anointed them gods, and tricked the whole iPod generation. This album is boring.
- tom d. on 75orless.com
Owen is Mike Kinsella. Drummer of Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc and Owls. Guitarist and vocalist of American Football. And for the past five years, solo singer-songwriter. Previous efforts found him collaborating often with his brother Tim and at times with their cousin Nate. The Kinsella's collective output spans almost two decades and about a dozen bands, largely shaping the Midwestern indie scene.
On November 7, Polyvinyl Records will release Mike's fourth solo full-length, At Home With. As before, delicately plucked acoustic guitar strings dominate the album. Light percussion, haunting cello and gentle piano provide accompaniment. It's the perfect backdrop to his fragile vocals. Somber and brilliant.
Listen to the album in its entirety. You may find it hits closer to home than expected.
The introspective lyrics explore themes beyond the familiar love and loss, though those ideas are not entirely absent. Other songs deal with the trials of touring, self-important friends, broken bones, growing up and the death of a father.
It's the first Owen release he didn't record entirely on his own. This time he had sessions at Sephamore Studios with Nate Kinsella (who also plays on the record) and at Engine Studios with Brian Deck (whose production credits include Iron & Wine and Modest Mouse).
The result is the most fully realized album of Mike Kinsella's solo career.
Track listing and tour dates after the jump.