Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Pattern Against User?

A few recent posts have included links direct to ultra-ace labels who see no problems in offering their visitors free MP3's of their bands. This got me to thinking about the motivation for doing so, then onto comparing this approach with those that don't sanction it......usually the majors, though they're not alone in this miserly outlook, with other indies following suit on occasion.

I suppose the reasoning could be made that others stream releases/videos etc, whether directly or through MySpace, so the savvy online fan can still enjoy their music before committing to buy. Some users still have slow connections, however, or simply like to have the portable mp3 file with them in their daily to-and-fro-ing (I plan on campaigning for that to be an acknowledged verb......right after I get the faltering 'U' readmitted to the US lexicon). Am I the only one that has playlists featuring songs by artists whose albums I fancy buying? I'm appalling at remembering the titles that so wowed me only the evening prior, so I can just whip out the iPod and remind myself what I was digging and pick it up. If your release isn't on there, it's not getting bought.

Anyway, I wanted to celebrate those generous (catch the U.....pretty, isn't it?) souls at some of the labels that have two key criteria: 1) Free MP3 page (duh) and 2) a quality roster that keeps me coming back for more. Hey, ho, let's go:

Recommended Artists: Where does one begin.....Okkervil River, Black Mountain, Bon Iver, Parts & Labor.....and they just signed up Dinosaur Jr, oh my.

TEMPORARY RESIDENCE - Home / MP3's Recommended Artists: Grails, Explosions in the Sky, Maserati, Mono, Lazarus.

DEFINITIVE JUX - Home / MP3's Recommended Artists: Aesop Rock, El-P, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Hangar 18, Dizzee Rascal.

> Note: Not all artists have MP3's but good shit like those below do. Have a dig around.
Recommended Artists: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Tiger Army, The Coup, The Weakerthans.

Taking a second away from the labels, Insound also has a pretty fantastic range of free tracks up for grabs here.

Support these good folks if you can. Hit their sites, avail yourself of their worthy efforts and find a couple of artists that you may not have heard of beyond those mentioned above. A good label is like a seal of quality on an artist and I've found that those above (and many others....more posts to come, I predict) definitely deliver in that area. Much love!

---------------- Now playing: Two Gallants - Las Cruces Jail via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Faith Some More

Well, these things tend to happen when one ocean hops and here's the latest instalment: Faith No More, complete with tapped-in-the-head icon Mike Patton, will reunite for a European date only tour this summer.

No specific dates or fests at this point but a firm rebuff on the chance of US dates. These things do have a tendency to snowball into full blown recording/touring affairs (as I'm hoping is the case with Far after last autumn's narrowly missed UK stint), yet the likelihood seems less worthy of optimism given the combative history of the band members. Still, one can chance to hope.

In the meantime, if you haven't stumbled across these boys in your many ventures down musical memory lane, this provides just the jolt to do so. Introduce yourself, right on.

MP3: Faith No More - Introduce Yourself
MP3: Faith No More - Epic


Sunday, 22 February 2009

Skye's The Limit

Just a quickie tonight (insert Carry On humour here) but certainly none the worse for its brevity, involving as it does Mastodon.

I've already strictly restrained myself by flagrantly stating that newie 'Crack The Skye' might be the album of the year, so why not continue the unfettered hyperbole (this is a blog, after all) by getting all rigid for the launch of the album mini-site.

The artwork appears as strong as ever and there are some wonderful pre-order options
here. Release date is 3/24/09 (23/3/09 - Euro folks) which should be thrice underlined in diaries, unless you've sensibly taken advantage of said pre-order or something similar.

In the meantime, Divinations was unveiled earlier this year as a single and is sounding suitably epic. Judging on one song is usually a bad idea, so suffice it to say this does seem to showcase Mastodon exploring whilst retaining their core of intricate, weaving riffs and conceptually rooted lyrics. There's also talk of Neurosis influences throughout the release, which is enough to make me rush for the lavatory. Which is a pleasant way to end the post and the week, non?

Mastodon Official

MP3 - Divinations

Now playing: Mastodon - Blood and Thunder
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Beneath the Bling

"Shots big enough to tear the fuckin' wall out
I'll have your punk ass on the dance floor tryin' to crawl out
I had bad luck, then my luck changed up
You see the Range, you see the rims all blinged up
You ain't hear what I charge for 16, I'm makin' a killin'
These other rap niggaz just catching feelings"

Surrounded by Hoes - G-Unit

As a casual listener, I struggle sometimes to class myself a fan of hip-hop/rap. Not due to the fact that I don't know what I like, more that what I like seems so far removed from the artists and music people generally associate with the genre. The sample above is just one of endless examples we could pluck from the mainstream chart toppers, a style that I can't see myself ever falling for. To my ears, the bling and bitches raps sound like parody....a jazzed up reinvention of a lifestyle that few of the artists actually live. More basic than that, isn't it just dull subject matter once the first few gangstarz have ploughed that furrow? It's not hip-hop that flips my switch, put it that way.

Moving on, the reason for this round-the-block preamble is to present the voice of hip-hop that makes perfect sense to me. Artists that have an alternative flow, unorthodox beats, and who rap about the world in which the other 99.9% of us reside. My knowledge is horrendously limited, made up as it is of only minor dabbles over the years, but I do have a much loved core of tunes and rappers that I come back to time after time when the guitars have melted my synapses to goo. So, against my natural instinct, I'll stop babbling about the point I'm making and let the music do the talking (the ideal summary being made by Akala on Where I'm From). Et voilà:

Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass

- Where I'm From

Atmosphere - The Rooster

Brother Ali
- Uncle Sam Goddamn

Cadence Weapon - 30 Seconds

The Coup - Snag you some MP3's for We Are The Ones and My Favourite Mutiny here

Dälek -All of Gutter Tactics. Can't wait? Buy it here then.

Sage Francis - More Epitaph smartness....pick up Civil Obedience here

Saul Williams
- Convict Colony

Another good reference is the Def Jux stable, home to many of those above (Jukies!) and plenty of free tuneage. I've been listening to the new Dälek outing plenty this month too, which has guided me back to the genre and caused much reflection on what I actually dig in hip-hop. As with metal, one of the main attractions is the experimenting and diversity flowing beneath the mainstream example of the music. Hopefully I'll get some of that elaborated upon in a future review of Gutter Tactics.

As always, there are exceptions that prove the rule. I find that some well known hip-hop acts, like the Wu Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Lil Wayne and a few others, have grabbed my lug holes down the years. These generally add something over and above their single scoring progeny, though, with the lyrics finding their way beyond just bling. Are there others? Am I being entirely myopic in my take on this particular genre affectation? That's what the comment buttons are for, I suppose. In everyone's least favourite examination terminology: discuss.

Now playing: Brother Ali - Uncle Sam Goddamn
via FoxyTunes

Friday, 20 February 2009

You Can Make Us Line, But You Cannot Take Our FREEEEEDOM

Having just moved to this relatively expensive city (relative, that is, to the UK where most everything is more expensive....except chips), frugality has been the name of the game as we adjust to life here. Accordingly, paying $30 to see a decent gig has become temporarily unattainable and the mixed bag that is the 'free show!' has regained a certain allure.

Given that the free show possibilities thus far have afforded the opportunity to see anything from thrash legends to one of my artists of 2008, the qua
lity is certainly not an issue. The price to you then, squire? Time. Having turned up late to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (or its hipper, Adam West-Batman influenced abbv. BAM) last Saturday we learned a valuable lesson: don't. The early bird really does catch the worm in the case of NYC free gigs and the later you arrive, at best the longer you'll queue or, at worst, all you'll see is a tantalising escalator to the show, then jumped up security telling you to bugger off home.

It's for this reason that we rocked up to Santogold's free show at the SoHo Apple shop almost 2 hours early to scope things out, then returned to queue with 300 odd other folk a good half hour before the start. Vindicated, as shortly after this they started turning people away.....success!

The show itself was at first a bit bizarre, with electronics gurus turning into bounc
ers for a brief hour or two (and performing a far better job than many 'professional' doormen I've encountered) and various Apple gizmos flashing in one's peripheral vision as the lights dimmed for the performance. With that, Brooklyn's own Santi White took the stage as either Santigold or TAFKA Santogold, as you prefer, to muted but appreciative whoops. Except for the lad next to me, who moaned about his poor view...........really?

The jaggedly remixed version of
'You'll Find A Way' got things off to a decent start, then really kicked into high gear with a vibrant 'LES Artistes'. In fact, much of her self titled 2008 disc was covered in what I counted as a generous 8 song set, including encore. 'Shove It' and a pounding first outro of the advertiser's wet dream 'Creator' provided the other notable highlights in a fun and friendly post-work/pre-weekend session. Perversely, I was turned away from her show in Liverpool last year.....despite offering real money and it was particularly sweet to get this one gratis.

So, lessons learned (1. Show up early, 2. Don't moan like a spoiled little child if your view isn't perfect, 3. Apple employees are better show stewards than no-necked apes in Northern England), we wandered off having the art of a free music show down to a near tee. Now to see if that free comedy and beer night in Brooklyn can possibly NOT be too good to be true.......?!

Santogold MySpace

Buy Buy (UK digi)

MP3: You'll Find A Way (Remix)


UMF Miami (Bicentennial Park, Miami, FL) - 3/27/09

Bonnaroo 2009 (Manchester, TN) - 6/11/09
KCRW's World Festival (Hollywood Bowl, L.A., CA) - 6/21/09

Now playing: Stonerider - Rush Hour
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Release Season

So this week appears to mark the start of the 2009 release rush, what with any number of exciting efforts from Asobi Seksu through to William Eliot Whitmore (couldn't find a Z relevant to this site....sorry). Not to overlook some fantastic releases already this year from A.C. Newman, Animal Collective, Bon Iver, and Dälek, but this is where we really hit the period of "what the hell am I supposed to spend my credit crunch depleted music budget on with all this out?!?". Unless you're one of the pay nothing for any form of music consumption crowd, in which case I would suggest to you that Kurt Cobain had a solution tailor-made for your existence.

Here are some of the releases I'd certainly deign worthy of a second glance this week:

....And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
- The Century of Self

- Are Trail of Dead releases eagerly anticipated any more? Even if not, this is purported to be one of their better efforts after the fair to middling
So Divided from 3 years ago. The artwork is also supposed to have been intricately drawn in biro by the always shy & retiring frontman Conrad Keely. Just in case such things are of heavy influence in your purchasing decisions.

The Appleseed Cast - Sagarmatha

- Emo/indie post rock/whatever veterans return with a nigh instrumental effort. They've chopped and changed styles over the years and always come out on the right side of adventurous, with first hints of this one sounding unlikely to change that consistent quality.

Asobi Seksu - Hush

- This one got my $$ (along with a catch up purchase
of Dälek), so I'll save any thoughts for the inevitable review (expected Feb 2010, on current form). Suffice it to say Citrus was supremely gorgeous, so expectations are high for this one.

Beirut - March of the Zapotec & Realpeople Holland

- I'm not really much of a Beirut convert, so I can't impart much knowledge on this one other than a) it has a rather clumsy title and b) it nicely continues my (soon to be destroyed) alphabetical release flow. Some mates greatly enjoy them though, so be aware that it exists.

Fake Problems - It's Great To Be Alive

- I know of these fellas mainly by virtue of their sonic similarities to older Against Me!,
which is of course a good thing. However, it does mean that my collection of their music is piffling at best. Something that this release can hopefully remedy. Their alt-punk, sometimes rockabilly style if really quite appealing, so I feel confident that this one will be worthwhile.

Morrissey - Years of Refusal

- All I'm saying is that they could have made more effort with the baby's quiff for a bit of comic effect, that's all. Mozza's always up for a bit of a giraffe, isn't he? What's that? Oh.

Thursday - Common Existence

- I don't know what to expect from these lads now, after War All The Time reeled me in but A City By the Light Divided threw me back into the uncertain waters.
The first cut, 'Resuscitation of a Dead Man', does sound much more driven and anthemic though, so perhaps I'm back in the boat for this one.

Tombs - Winter Hours

- Along with Zombi, this is another member of the Relapse roster releasing an mind-bending take on metal. Always a good thing to start the year off right. Initial listens of 'Gossamer' elicit some very exciting avant-metal
that takes in Mastodon and Isis, whilst always retaining its own thrashing, convulsing identity. I'm excited to take this one in as a whole piece of work after the brief glimpses to date.

Various Artists - Dark Was The Night

- A magnificent roster of artists with exclusives on here, including The National, Spoon, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Yeasayer and countless others to cause Williamsburg to mess its collective trousers. All contributing to this compilation out there to benefit the Red Hot Organization, which helps HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Learn more here.
A more worthy and value for money release will probably not grace the shelves this year.

William Elliott Whitmore - Animals In the Dark

- A missed opportunity when he supported
Murder by Death late last year offered me the chance to at least tune into this gent's dark-hearted brand of Americana. Since then I've had half an eye on the release of his new material.......and here it is, ready to go. 'Old Devils' sounds good to these ears in a MBD crossed with Two Gallants, stylee, so if that's the standard then I'll have this one in my sweaty mitts soooner rather than later.

Purchases can be made here, as well as picking out your favourite artist's release that I've cruelly overlooked. As I get excited about individual releases I'll throw more up here in the way of mp3's and linkage. In the meantime, have a butchers at the artist sites if you like the sound of them.

Now playing:
Isis - False Light
via FoxyTunes

Friday, 13 February 2009

A Bronxxx Story

Earlier this week I'd planned to go for the standard review of the (relatively) new The Bronx album, The Bronx III. There's been an uncertainty as to how it fits in with the previous releases, though, and I felt the retentively anal need to trek back through those albums as well, for purposes of in-depth comparison. Or, more accurately, one basic once over all the way through in a listen. They've entertained me thoroughly live in the last couple of years, so it's the least I could do n'est ce pas?

So there have been various EP's and live releases down the years, but essentially the full lengthers comprise 3 albums release since 2003. Handily, these are entitled The Bronx I, II, and III.......thankfully song titles like They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy) and Transsexual Blackout (The Movement) more than redeem individually the lack of creativity in naming the whole. Thanks to rocksound magazine I was in the loop from the get go....or at least shortly before the album made them I've had time to digest each disc as it's been spewed out. III proved a little more difficult to come by for some reason, so I was about 2 months late on the original November release date. Nonetheless, it's been digested to a sufficient degree now that it can be compared to its forebears.

I (Released Aug 2003) - Sample Tracks: White Tar

This was the raw, wild introduction that I needed to the band. Songs like 'White Tar' and the aforementioned 'They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy)' typify the high-energy, raucous, angry yet fun attitude that they deliver so well on stage. As I recall, I was struggling to find anything at the time that had this snarling, rabid punk-tinged rock and roll, so this release stood out even more. Since Amen had become a revolving door line-up and lost much of their raw power, The Bronx really came in and filled that gap for me with this album. From a pure energy perspective, this album is the pick of the bunch and the songs still stand up now in the face of their more developed material.

(Released July 2006) - Sample track: History's Stranglers

Without the opportunity to catch the band live during these two releases, I pretty much lost track of their activities for some of that middle period. A friend has since mentioned he saw them at this stage and was blown away (the viper mate the VIPER!), which isn't surprising given the comments for I. So it came as something of a surprise to find songs such as 'Safe Passage' and 'White Guilt' closing out II with a hefty dose of melody and choruses that wouldn't initially sound out of place on mainstream radio. On closer inspection, though, the subject matter is still darkly rooted in destitution, drugs, and violence.....phew!

Above and beyond the harmonious efforts, the album had also opened with the powerful double-whammy of 'Shitty Future' and 'History's Stranglers', allaying any worries about a new direction before they'd even arisen. Both songs go together like Tom & Jerry, with all the latent brutality and venom required of such a comparison. This album matched the malignancy with melody and the aggression with anthems, fusing all the qualities of the band together in one unrelenting, satisfying package.

(Released July 2006) Sample Track: Pleasure Seekers

So what about the newie? Well having to follow such a class act as II was always going to be a challenge I suppose. Go further towards the anthemic or revert to the tried and trusted raw punk attitude? All this while trying to avoid a rehash of the sophomore effort and, inevitably, making just a poor clone that sullies both albums in comparison.

All this is really overthinking The Bronx, because they're not a band that really gives a hoot what we think. They plough a consistently 'anti' furrow that is simply rooted in writing balls out rock songs with an energy that will translate well live. The lyrics on 'Pleasure Seekers' give a nod towards their inspiration when they vent: "All we really want is someone to ignore us, 'cos all we ever get is people who control us". The track is one of a few on the album, the other notables being opener 'Knifeman' and 'Young Bloods', that really jump out at you as being the best of the band. Elsewhere, there are songs that are reasonable, energetic, but ultimately a little anonymous. Not to say bad, just not tunes that keep up the high quality of previous releases or the best of this album.

This more or less summarises the mildly underwhelmed feeling I was left with after the first run through. I knew we had a few outstanding new numbers to look forward to live, but I was also aware that the albums I'd be playing on the way to the gig would be one of the first two efforts
. III is a decent just suffers in comparison to its predecessors. Perhaps more time with it will remedy some of the minor gripes, although I do remember knowing right from the off that the other two would be regularly revisited. Not the case here.

None of this latter negativity, of course, should distract from the fact that The Bronx play riotously enjoyable punk rock music with their own agenda and a live show that could get a trappist monk slamming alongside Matt Caughran in the pit. They're one of the few bands that genuinely make me want to see them time after time after time (say hello The Hold Steady, Mastodon, and Clutch) and, as such, I definitely recommend buying their tickets and plastic. Just that I would buy it out of sync: II, I, III. And outside the standard order is probably just the way a band like this should be consumed.

Official Site

On Tour Now!


.....oh, and this post wouldn't be complete without a look at the superb video for 'White Guilt'. This is how ALL mascots should behave, take note.......

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Trés Bon

Bon Iver - an artist that appeared in many end of year lists, both '07 and '08 due to international release schedule jiggery pokery. Despite this it's been one of those names for whom I've had one mp3 with one play sat on my more, no less.

Luckily for me, even letting For Emma, Forever Ago wash over me without regard has been forgiven, with the recent release of the Blood Bank ep. The title track was indeed the song that lulled me gently into the fragile and gorgeous world of Justin Vernon, the Wisconsonian (may or may not be a valid term.....they're too far away and busy with cheese to worry about this blog, thankfully) behind this lo-fi indie venture. With it's beautifully harmonised dual vocals and a simple, Midlake-esque melody, it sets a pretty scene and conjures up all manner of natural imagery. The tone continues with heartfelt acoustics through Beach Baby and Babys, before the reverb-laden Woods closes things off with the continued refrain "I'm up in the woods, I'm down on my mind. I'm building a sill to slow down the time". This gives a wee bit of insight into the preceding tunes, as they definitely have a removed from daily grind feel to them, which is likely part of the simple appeal.

Jagjaguwar being the wonderful label that they are, they have no qualms in linking to the main track here, for our aural enlightenment. All the more reason to do a bit of shopping here.....or here. I'm glad to have finally come on board the Iver engine and will now slink back with tail between legs to check out the full album from all those years ago.

Now playing: Volcano! - Africa Just Wants to Have Fun
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 9 February 2009

A New York Minute

Yes, yes, these are becoming incredibly New York-centric I agree. Understandable given that it's the biggest change in my life for 4 years or thereabouts, but I have other stuff bubbling away in my grey matter as well.....promise! The wonderful new Animal Collective needs a review, as does the pretty little Bon Iver EP and that elusive The Bronx release from late last year. Soon, precious, sooooooon......

For now, though, some more tunes that have been upturning frowns (well, mine anyway) on the subway rides to and from Manhattan. All have some slight connection to the city, not all totally positive but that's part and parcel of appraising such a vast place. Diversity can be a curse as well as a blessing, yet I'm only seeing the good times right now. And I haven't even been to a gig yet, imagine!

The Gaslight Anthem
- Here's Looking At You, Kid

Shootyz Groove - NYC Minute

Keith Caputo - New York City

So get back to New York City.
My heavenly home, crime can be so pretty"

Friday, 6 February 2009

Winterjam/Snowscrapers 2009: East River Park, New York

Just a quick mention for the rather wonderful little freebie that went down this past Thursday night on the banks of the East River. Despite hypothermic temperatures, a hardy crowd braved the numbing Arctic winds to watch an entertaining mix of snowboarding and rocking in the heart of lower-east Manhattan.

Entry was gratis and, despite some arse-clenchingly amateur organization and commentating, the whole event was thoroughly enjoyable.
Black Gold played some passable indie rock shortly after a riding jam session, which featured some daredevil efforts from various snowboard luminaries (it's been 5 years since my last Winter-X-Games in Aspen, so the names mean nothing to me now). The big draw of the night for me was a first chance to see thrash legends Anthrax, even though this was to be the last part of the night and meant a continued vigil by the stage in tundra conditions (people who live in Alaska/Canada/Minnesota etc have permission to mock the city softies at this point). This anticipation only grew as the clowns on commentary passed on the good news that Chuck D would be joining the boyz for a run through of Bring Tha!

Anyway, the riding passed the time nicely even though the Norwegian we were cheering (Euro solidarity, brothers) managed to arse up his final run and came careering inelegantly from the ramp on his buttocks. Not a recognised trick, unfortunately for Terje. When finally we came to the thrash, they delivered a short but worthwhile set, dutifully captured by a YouTuber here:

The band have subsequently issued an apology for the short set, cut early due to delays in the main snowboarding event. I for one still had a great time, though, and will take it as a cue to dig into the band's back catalogue more carefully. So at least it wasn't a complete disaster, eh lads?!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Movin', Just Keep Movin'

Now then, as I write now I can look back one full year and remember hoping I would be exactly where I am right now....happily kicking off life in New York City. For all the wonderful things about life in Liverpool, the job situation and longer term objectives were not going to be served there and we thought let's go big.....really big. So, with the possibilities unfolding in front of us more rapidly than we could take them in, my good lady and I have finally figured out the first step in getting here without living under a bridge and eating out of bins. Good times.

Ta ra la'.................

.........time to be in NYC.

The first thing that's striking me is the sheer quantity of events, jobs, housing.....everything.....that are on offer here. Obviously it's a huge city and this was to be expected, yet actually existing within this environment is something quite beyond that expectation. Between Liverpool and Manchester, I could construct a very appealing and full gig calendar through most of the year. Here, I'm struggling to even be aware of all the possibilities before they occur, let alone getting a handle on the venues that seem to pop up and disappear within the same week, the critical mass of artists apparently residing over ten square feet in Brooklyn, and how a Propagandhi concert can turn into Les Savy Fav on my LastFM without me being an active participant....?! It's all so powerfully overwhelming. And I love it.

Granted, this time next year I'm highly likely to post about the green, wide-eyed and jabbering tourist-cum-immigrant that writes this, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I remember a similar, though much less engulfing feeling upon the first weeks moving into Liverpool, or the Aspen area before it. The beauty of it is the anticipation and the great unknown. Impatience is the shadow of that feeling but I'm taking great care to savour the transition period too, with all the nerves, excitement, and vagueness that entails.

Annnnnnnnd this links to the tunes hoooowww exactly......? Well, in nothing more tenuous than a few songs that have been companions in the transition from the 'pool to the Big Apple. More may pop out through the week, but I'll start out with a couple of Brits:

The Wombats - Moving to New York - Buy

Tellison - New York New York New York - Buy

The former
probably best sum this up, as they're graduates from Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts who did well in the UK and are trying to translate that to US success. And they have a song called 'Moving to New York', which even a chimp could pull out as a cheesy link. Again, I couldn't give a monkeys.

This is all about being happy and following a path that feels right to us, not anyone else. Like smiling on the subway, this isn't a standard action but damn if it doesn't feel like the right thing to do.