August 31, 2008
The Handsome Family
Through The Trees
1998 | Carrot Top
The Handsome Family, a husband/wife duo from Albuquerque, NM, sounds like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” set to music. Their sound, all acoustic guitars, autoharps and cellos, is what “alternative country” means to me. Through The Trees is a sordid collection of songs about the underbelly of American life.
Brett Sparks writes the music, revolving mainly around his gently but firmly strummed acoustic guitar. Lead electric guitar, unadorned even by reverb, moves the rhythm along with a gently propulsiveness not unlike Luther Perkins did for Johnny Cash’s Sun Records singles. Rhythm proper is provided by a drum machine, which should belie the Handsome Family’s americana sound, but rather, this idiosyncrasy instead adds to their charm. Rennie Sparks, an author in her own right, pens all of the lyrics, although it’s hard to tell which member is responsible for the dark themes prevalent on Through The Trees. On the one hand, Spark’s words, with choruses like “This is why people OD on pills/ and jump from The Golden Gate Bridge,” seem to be the source for the band’s dark sound. After all, the words, unadorned by music, would still be dark, Gothic and about death, right? But then Spark’s weird, acoustic/electronic music sounds so organically a part of the lyrics that it’s nigh impossible to pick them apart. Maybe the Sparks’ are so in tune with each other that they work subconsciously, getting their demons out together, neither acting as progenitor of the darkness.
File Through The Trees, and indeed any other Handsome Family record, directly between American Recordings-era Johnny Cash – Brett’s deep baritone is a dead ringer for Cash’s, minus about fifty years, and I See A Darkness-era Bonnie “Prince” Billy – lyrical kin, somber songs that are somehow uplifting at the same time.
by Brook Pridemore
August 30, 2008
The Secret Life of Sofia
2008 | self-released
It is rare when I find myself without a real opinion about something. The Secret Life of Sofia is one of those rare occasions. There is nothing in Seven Summits that offends my sensibilities, or puts me off in any way. However, there are also no moments of awe, no songs I keep coming back to, or even many surprises to find here.
I don’t mean to imply this is banal, Top-40 music either – this is an intricately crafted record performed by talented musicians. Certain tracks, like my personal favorite “Government Lakes,” have interesting melodies, clever guitar work and sterling production – for the four minutes or so of each song, the results are pleasant. The longest track on the record, “Sheet Stealer!” is unique in its mid-song tempo and mood shift – otherwise many of these tunes set their mood and execute it ably.
The record does manage to get more interesting as it progresses, with “Sheet Stealer!” and “Weathering” making a really nice mid-album pairing – “Weathering” features a nice, droning analog synthesizer throughout that pushes the typical Sofia sound further than elsewhere on the record. “Evidence” too shines through as a real slow-burner that builds evenly to an emotionally satisfying ending. On a whole, I would have liked some judicious editing on some of the introductions and endings of various tracks that tend to meander for longer than necessary.
However, the aftertaste is non-existent. The aforementioned “Government Lakes” is the only track of the eleven featured here that I have thought back on with any sort of enthusiasm – its opening melody is catchy enough to get stuck in my head – sometimes for hours on end. This is not a good thing, nor is it necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of this record it is a singular thing – a singular memorable moment.
by Brian Salvatore
August 29, 2008
In the habit of sharing music on your website? Be careful. You could be arrested.
27 year old Kevin Cogill was arrested at his home on Wednesday for posting nine unreleased tracks from the long awaited, decade-in-the-making Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy (pictured) on his blog, Antiquiet. For this violation of federal copyright laws, Cogill’s bail is set at $10,000.
Prosecutors believe Cogill’s actions could mean a “significant” financial loss for GN’R; Antiquiet received so much traffic after the songs were posted that it actually crashed.
Although the pre-release streaming of Viva la Vida didn’t bother Coldplay, Guns N’ Roses and hard-rock peers Metallica are having a hard time adapting to the modern age. Seems that the cobwebs are blurring their vision.
2008 | Park the Van
In the beginning I was a little on the fence about Dr. Dog. It’s that never-ending struggle about bands like The Strokes who clearly wear their influences on their sleeves, and whether these types of bands deserve any merit. Yes, I did eventually come around to the Modern Age EP but really how hard is it to create a great song when you’re stealing from the greats? Of course it’s not as criminal as what P. Diddy did in the 90’s, taking songs that were already hits (“Let’s Dance”) and creating, well, new hits. Why, Sean Combs, it’s so crazy that it just might work and fuck me it did! Certainly, Dr. Dog doesn’t completely fall into either category but you can’t deny that their music sounds a lot like the Beatles. Then again I don’t think Dr. Dog denies it either.
Their latest album, Fate, kicks off simply, but one minute into “The Breeze” you can feel where the title comes into play. Light piano and harmonies worthy of the Beach Boys flow over each other like a light wind, creating a perfect summer song. Toby Leamen and Scott McMicken take turns at the songwriting helm, giving each song a slightly different dynamic while still retaining the common thread; punchy pop songs with a sixties twist. The two also trade off vocally, one vocal sounding a bit Conor Oberst and Daniel Johnston (“The Old Days”/“The Rabbit, the Bat and the Reindeer”) while the other is all blues and not surprisingly Lennon-esque down to the smoky growl (“Hang On”/“100 years”). There’s even a little Tom Waits thrown into the mix, musically and vocally on “The Beach.” And from lyrical standpoint I think Fate is stronger than 2007’s We All Belong. There is enough originality and strength to the songwriting where the heavy Beatles influence can be excused even if there’s a little “Hey Jude” present in “Form” (listen to the piano progression before the refrain).
In the end, with each listen I see myself leaning back, falling on the side of fence of acceptance and running through the fields, screaming, “Yes, yes I really like this band!” Maybe it’s the Bupropion, but I’m trying to remain positive. Better the Beatles than Michael Bolton.
by Justin Weingartner
August 28, 2008
When you hear CMJ being referred to as New York City’s biggest music festival, rest assured you are not being misled. Spanning five days (Oct 21–25) and about 100 venues, The CMJ Music Marathon is a massive, impossible-to-miss event. But with so many bands playing, it’s literally impossible to catch them all. Recently announced additions to the roster include…well…you’ll just have to look and see for yourself! Read more to see the full lineup…
More on CMJ Announces Additions to Marathon Roster
Reporting for NPR, Jacob Ganz referred to the “perfect storm of Internet hype, e-commerce, and rabid fan response” to describe the fast rise of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. But perfect storms are meteorological coincidences, whereas rock bands on the rise – even unsigned, “independent” ones – are the product of human actions. Thus, Internet hype, e-commerce and a rabid fan response require posting MP3s and getting them to the right bloggers, connections with online distributors, and booking the right shows. A band’s success today might not include a label but it will require managers, publicists, and, of course, distribution, all of which was available to CYHSY from the beginning.
|Photo by Davey Wilson|
The truly unique feat of CYHSY was that an unsigned band sold about 100,000 copies of its first release within a year without a label. Today it has sold about 300,000 copies including domestic and international sales; surely the envy of thousands of local bands. Many onlookers believed that the 9.0 rating on PitchforkMedia.com (Pitchfork) was the reason for their success. But it was the road to Pitchfork and its aftermath that reveals the band’s rise to be a product of talent and hard work, but not without help from people in the music business.
In late 2005, when I first heard about the CYHSY explosion, I cynically asked myself: “Is there a music industry person operating behind the scenes”? There were two, both friends of the band from Connecticut College. Dave Godowsky was in the publicity department at Rounder Records, and then Nick Stern was Director of Publicity for Atlantic Records. Some big label industry experience was behind the rise of a band touted as the poster child of the “independent” and DIY music business.
Nick Stern, manager of CYHSY, takes little credit for the band’s success. His role, he says, was essentially giving “advice to good friends from college;” asserting that the band exemplifies the DIY ethos. Moreover, Stern is adamant that “No one can do anything without a great fucking record.” Stern also notes that most bands have managers. But anyone who has a friend in a great band will tell you that most bands starting out don’t have managers or close friends in the business. Furthermore, many in today’s new music business understand that managers and publicists are more important than labels.
More on CYHSY: The Rise of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah; Hard Work and College Friends in the Music Industry Can Really Help
August 27, 2008
|Photo by Ed Templeton|
Hate it or love it (as is seemingly the case with most listeners) No Age is on the rise and regarded quite highly by a growing number of fans. Like it or not, No Age is hitting the road in November for a handful of U.S. dates in support of their latest release, Nouns. Are they as “timeless” as their name could suggest?
Aug 30 | Echoplex; Los Angeles CA
Nov 10 | Market Hotel; Brooklyn NY
Nov 11 | First Unitarian Church; Philadelphia PA
Nov 12 | Black Cat; Washington DC
Nov 13 | Grey Eagle Tavern; Asheville NC
Nov 14 | 40 Watt Club; Athens GA
Nov 15 | Pilot Light; Knoxville TN
Nov 16 | Gargoyle Club; St. Louis MO
Nov 18 | Reggies Rock Club; Chicago IL
Nov 19 | Wexner Center; Columbus OH
Nov 20 | Grog Shop; Cleveland Heights OH
Nov 21 | Lees Palace; Toronto ON
Nov 22 | Theatre Plaza; Montreal QC
Nov 23 | The Grind at Clark University; Worcester MA
Nov 24 | Middle East Downstairs; Cambridge MA
w/ Diplo & Abe Vigoda: Nov 12
w/ Matt & Kim: Nov 20
2002 | My Good Man Records
Both a fine storyteller and masterful guitarist, Richard Julian possesses a low-key complexity reminiscent of Dave Von Ronk. Julian’s Good Life, released prior to his garnering mainstream acclaim, (in part from this album’s reception,) displays this earthy yet polished sensibility in its best light. Julian wisely coordinates his lyrics, ones that range from the wistful to the humorous to the whimsical, with his well-crafted melodies and understated voice, resulting in a sound that emerges as accessible, yet not benign. That said, with this album, he rarely challenges the boundaries of the singer-songwriter genre. Appreciating it requires accepting it on its own terms: a humble pond, shaped by its surroundings, rather than a robust river reconfiguring rock. As is par course for the singer-songwriter oeuvre, heartbreak furnishes the skeleton of a number of the songs, either directly or obliquely. Fortunately, Julian’s personable wit saves this cliché from succumbing to its own cliché of overwrought sentimentality, one that can otherwise often curse a singer-songwriter’s music to getting lost forever in the Great Not Beyond. In “Full Moon Face,” he tells an unnamed woman that even after a couple of days he only knows a few facts about her including that she’s “currently unemployed and his name was Tom.” Other topics, too, surface in his songs’ lyrics, such as refusing to play a Jimmy Buffet song in “Florida” and a day from hell he experienced in “The Wrong Bus.” Julian’s resume includes working with Norah Jones, who sings backup vocals on this album, and other well-known regulars on the downtown scene, collaborating with them, for example, on their side project The Little Willies. However, he still performs frequently in intimate venues, such as the Rockwood Music Hall, and for good reason. His work is personal. Seething and searing this album is not, but if a listener wishes for a collection of folk tunes to enjoy as companionship rather than as wallpaper, this is one to check out.
by Alicia Dreilinger