Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Intermission Programming

Well, having felt kinda like crap the last couple of days, all I've really done with free time has been to laze around watching South Park Studios

Body is well on the mend now, however, so in the meantime here's where that world intersects with music; a truly bizarre sight as tens of thousands of festival-goers at Glastonbury in 2002 sing back to an established soul musician about sucking balls. Naturally.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Cover Up: I Am The Dot Hits The '70's

Americans may well be more familiar with the name Carole King than I, given her greater success on these shores. On examination of some song titles, however, it turns out I'm more familiar than I thought....You've Got A Friend, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Natural Woman; all are songs I likely know from movie scores but for which the singer was never highlighted, as happens a great deal.

Well, Colorado's I Am The Dot has bridged that particular knowledge gap - there are many more - for me by covering the popular singer's tune of choice (according to Last.FM), It's Too Late.

MP3: Carole King - It's Too Late

MP3: I Am The Dot - It's Too Late (Cover)

Where the original relies on whisper-light instrumentation to emphasise King's lush, melodic voice, I Am The Dot punches up the keys - as evidenced in the very first bars - and adds multiple layers to the vocals. This contemporises the song no end, fitting nicely alongside other tunes from the Dot canon and lending the whole thing a woozy feeling that fits somewhere on the edges of the current chillwave surge.

One's take on the role and success of covers in music no doubt varies according to familiarity with the original artist and openness to newer styles. I, for one, prefer to see an artist apply their own sheen to the original rather than simply hack out a slightly altered version, so in this case it's a pleasure to hear the approach altered and the song given a new spin. Granted, some of the charm of the subtle original instrumentation is lost, but we can always go back to King's version for that, non? 

What are your takes on this cover comparison and, indeed, covers in general? Always interested to hear what listeners belive makes a successful cover song!

Friday, 23 April 2010

(Dragon) Slaying Tunes: Happy St. George's Day

Forever in the shadow of the almighty drinkathon that is St. Patrick's, St. George's Day is nonetheless a day for us English folk to reflect on all we have and celebrate the finer of those things. Along with Sunday roasts and morning tea, our music surely ranks high on the list of proud exports.

So here, with little rhyme or reason other than their nation of origin, are a bunch of jolly free English tunes. These will be added to as and when I come across new ones that fit the criterion. Sit back, sink a Bombardier, and enjoy.

MP3: The Futureheads - Struck Dumb (via Dovecote Records)  
MP3: Stereolab - Three Women (via Insound)
MP3: 65daysofstatic - Crash Tactics  (via Last.Fm)
MP3: Morrissey - Maladjusted (via Insound)
MP3: Ladytron - Black Cat (via Insound)
MP3: Fanfarlo - I'm A Pilot (via Last.Fm)
MP3: Jarvis Cocker - Angela (via Insound)
MP3: This Beautiful Thief - Everyone Loves a Tryer (via Last.Fm)
MP3: Field Music - Measure (via Insound)
MP3: ¡Forward, Russia!- Breaking Standing (via Insound)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Streaming Conciousness: The Hold Steady

In these days of viral album leaks and varied product dates, pre-release streams of entire albums are becoming increasingly popular. What this means for us is a valid, legal opportunity to reflect on the album before it hits the world, before the in depth follow up that naturally results from spending many intimate hours together after its release. 

It's timely, then, that NPR is offering long-time H-T-A favourites The Hold Steady's new record in full stream here, up until the moment it comes out on May 4th. Entitled Heaven Is Whenever, let's have a listen and see if it might actually be right here, right now.......

As this one kicks off with Sweet Part of the City, an air of an old style country-rock (or, indeed, a contemporary indie copycat) pervades, with even singer Craig Finn's normally predominant vocal subsumed by the wide-open rural guitars. This feels quite removed from the expected, but not unnatural and certainly not unwelcome, with the sound swiftly enveloping the senses.

Soft In The Center is far more familiar and will serve as a moment of relief for stalwarts alarmed by the opener. Suitably calm and reflective in its middle, this is a solid, toe-tapping Hold Steady track, if a little at odds with Sweet Part. Weekenders continues this reacclimatisation, offering a bold chorus and sweet melodies to sew everything together. It is another, however, that on the initial spins doesn't come across as one that will fight for a place in the live set.

As we delve deeper, the stark Rock Problems fits comfortably with the more established style of last album Stay Positive, the previously covered Hurricane J is sounding more powerful, packed in as it is now near slower numbers, and Barely Breathing jumps out as an odd, jaunty number that holds a different kind of eccentricity than we're used to, even without departed keys man Franz Nicolay. 

Penultimate number Our Whole Lives comes across as a growing choice cut, featuring a driving riff and a typically insidious lyric in "We're good guys, but we can't be good our whole lives". Finally, closer Slight Discomfort hits true to its name, cautiously inching along to an intermittent piano line and particularly introspective guitars. This one follows the band's tendency to close out on a pensive note, proving they haven't strayed quite as far as we may have initially suspected.

Part of the joy of journeying with The Hold Steady lies in the lyrical couplets that lie unassumingly in wait, gradually attaching themselves like limpet mines and exploding into the mind, never to be forgotten. Repeat spins should elicit just how many of these Heaven Is Whenever will deliver and it may be therein that the success or failure of the album will lie. What we can judge at this point, though, is that some new influences have been taken in and mixed to good effect with more traditionally loved elements, such as the sing-alongs and the high energy bar-rock riffs. As such, there exists more than enough evidence so far to surmise that plenty of fans will take this record into their hearts. 

For some comparison, here are a couple of older tracks from the back catalog. The Swish is a prime example of the much-loved period before Finn really started to fully sing, where as Chips Ahoy! is The Hold Steady at one of their most catchy, radio-friendly moments.

MP3: The Hold Steady - The Swish (via Insound)
Taken from the album Almost Killed Me

MP3: The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy! (via Insound)
Taken from the album Boys & Girls In America
Buy it at Insound!

So how does it compare? Are you feeling the new one, or longing for the band playing one of those earlier albums? Leave a comment or hit us on Facebook for some further discussion.

Monday, 19 April 2010

#MusicMonday - Songs in 140 Characters (Or Less)

"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences; what others say in a whole book."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Before heading into the nuggets of truth contained within this #MusicMonday, I should point out that the H-T-A Facebook page is now the go to place for our links to free MP3 lists. 

Tons of musical freebies popping into your stream every morning sound like a bonzer idea? Then you should most certainly click that wee 'Become A Fan' button somewhere down the right hand column here. Talk back on there, too. Your tune opinions are bound to make far more sense than my gibbering. Cheers!


MP3: Blur - Fool's Gold (after e-mail sign up)
A restrained return that was always going to be crushed under the weight of expectation. Solid enough, like a more seasoned Coffee & TV.

MP3: Danko Jones - Full of Regret
Some bands don't need to develop their sound, especially not flagrant, balls out rock 'n' roll bands. Volume up, pedal down, drive like you stole it.

MP3: The Wind Up Birds - There Won't Always Be An England
Quintessentially English, with knowing irony, this spoken-word lament comes on like Mike Skinner sans laptop. Commendable but no World Cup anthem. 

Rooftop rendition of a nostalgic, delicate song that builds with quiet confidence. Hail summer if this is what occurs when sun hits Brooklyn.

MP3: 65daysofstatic - Crash Tactics (via Last.Fm)
Skittering, expansive static w/ a greater electronic bent this time, Sheffield's best kept secret continue to sonically mock genre boundaries.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Storm In A Teacup: More From Olney Clark

After speaking on the subtle charms of their lead off track/video Josefin The Writer, Scotland's Olney Clark have wasted little time in catching our attention again with another one/two for Tea & Thunderstorms.

Easing out with an intricate intro that recalls the delicacy of Band of Horses, Grant Olney's hushed tones soon emerge to lend a unique appeal to the song. As with Josefin, the melodies are light and have a heavenly, dream-like quality, though the tune itself has a greater buoyancy overall, aided in a particularly rousing manner by the violin and piano sections that weave in and out of conciousness. 

On reflection, it's a natural development from song to song and, indeed, the two sit neatly alongside each other at the beginning of the band's self titled album, fresh out this week. 

MP3: Olney Clark - Tea & Thunderstorms
MP3: Olney Clark - Josefin The Writer
Taken from the new album Olney Clark, out now - BUY

Once more, a fair amount of praise should also be aimed at the creative skills of Hanei Seida, who crafts the animated video that accompanies the new track. Neatly capturing the momentum of the song, it conjures part surreal, part childlike imagery that adds an extra dimension to the narrative. As something that many music videos fail to do time after time, it's a pleasure to see some thought and effort go into this side of the art as well. Kudos, folks.


Monday, 12 April 2010

#MusicMonday - Songs in 140 Characters (Or Less)

"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences; what others  say in a whole book."
- Friedrich Nietzsche 

Lack of action for the past few days but back to regular programming now.....sonic snippets aplenty with another #MusicMonday....

Longstanding H-T-A faves return with an even more expansive slice of shoegaze flirting w/ Jane's Addiction. Sweepingly gorgeous, as ever.

Plodding garage, with initial abrasive energy quickly fading into a kind of messy, dated aural soup. Ground well worn.

Spacey, trippy electro that reminds me somehow, somewhere of the Airwolf theme. Confounded by that but loving the bongos after 2 mins.
Newly available freebie from cracking debut Post-Nothing. Timely, raucous reminder of a 2009 summer anthem, as that of 2010 looms.

P4K friendly 'chillwave' with something of a distinctive air, helping it rise above the pack. Quietly enticing. 

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Dumb Luck: The Futureheads Prepare New Release

Living in the U.S. does so remove one from the UK hype bubble, perpetrated chiefly by the NME mob. Often this is a good thing, given that mag's insatiable proclivity for building up the next big British debut, only to then rip the rising stars to shreds on their sophomore release. 

It does also shadow some of the build up to releases of established Brit acts, though, which is precisely why news of The Futureheads' new effort is just reaching H-T-A shores.   

The Sunderland band's fourth outing is mooted to be somewhat darker and generally tougher, which is borne out by the bristling attitude of lead track Struck Dumb. Throwing out lyrical couplets like "the negativity, is ruining your sleep....so say hello to something only I know", the group sound like they plan to exorcise some demons on new album The Chaos, due out in May back home and early June for North America.

MP3: The Futureheads - Struck Dumb
Taken from the forthcoming album The Chaos

Buy it at Insound!

What it might give up in the poppier melodies of past tunes like Skip To The End (video below), this one makes up for with a renewed vigour and attitude. Coming from a band that have an air of The Clash about them, I'm feeling this direction and would certainly take a White Riot over Rock The Casbah moment, given the option. It does of course remain to be seen whether the whole album shoots from the hip in this vein but for the moment it's a satisfying indicator.

The Futureheads tour the UK in support of this album come May, after which it seems plausible that a couple of US dates could be squeezed in to promote it here ahead of the festival season. If so, expect a report in these pages once all the angst has been wrung from the new tunes. Perhaps.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

LIVE REVIEW: Doug Keith @ Mercury Lounge, NYC

On an evening topped by two songwriters steeped in alternative and punk rock roots but now pursuing more mainstream rock sounds, it's up to opening band We The Living from Nashville to push the full alt-rock envelope. Although I only arrive in time to catch their final song, Sound of Love, it's an anthemic number with a strong emphasis on soaring guitars and a memorable vocal hook. For a one song showing, the band certainly kick things off effectively.

Next up is Doug Gillard, probably best known for his guitar work in  longstanding alternative icons Guided By Voices. Truth be told, he looks and sounds somewhat isolated in a still filling Mercury Lounge, with undoubtedly well-written and crafted songs losing some of their power in such a setting. An appreciative crowd applauds politely to acknowledge the skilled playing and effort, nonetheless, so the set is at least comfortable.

Tonight's headliner Doug Keith takes the stage with  complete backing band, allowing the now fully assembled crowd a more rounded view of those tickling their ear drums. Opener We Left Everything is a clear indication of the additional power the full band offers in a live setting, taking the reflective calm of the record opener and injecting a pulsing energy to great effect. Title tune The Lucky Ones follows, displaying a similarly bristling confidence that goes down perfectly with the audience on its release day.

MP3: Doug Keith - The Lucky Ones
Taken from new album The Lucky Ones, out now - BUY

Keith has a husky, pleasant voice that resonates warmly through the majority of songs, lending an authority to the erudite tales he weaves. The Echo Will Fade has hints of country-rock within, both in the guitar licks and the same confident vocal, without ever sounding overly down home or contrived to that end. Older songs like Wasn't Born To Follow stand up strongly alongside the newer material, although the latter stands out pour moi, given repeated listens of the pleasing new record in the week leading up to this show.

Some real big hitters are saved for late in the set, as the irrepressible Skip James Radio provides an upbeat highlight of the evening, replete with its memorable refrain of "Phone lines & satellites / Oil paintings of Jesus Christ". Essential tune The Lowest Low then closes proceedings with  a sweet sentimentality and gorgeous melody. The one nagging oversight for yours truly is the absence of the equally sage Don't Let The Darkness Overtake You, especially having come in from a filthy wet, cold and foreboding NYC evening, but for a set heavy on the newies, most of the choice tracks are showcased and the show suffers little for this one omission. 

Release show complete, a good night has been had by all and an engaged audience feeds back their approval of the new opus to a clearly thankful Mr Keith. On the proof of this night, he'll continue to be warmly received as the songs are unveiled to new and appreciative ears around the country and beyond.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Recommendations From Recommended Radio: Bear In Heaven

Some bands you just have to listen to. Not because of catching them live, or seeing an advert, but because the universe repeatedly drops hints into your audio canals and visual cavities that you will dig on this music. In today's case, Last.Fm is the universe and Bear In Heaven is the band.

Having recently joined the rest of the developed world with an internet connection that, like the cheesy Eurodance 90's classic from 2Unlimited, has no limits, I'm finally able to take advantage of streaming facilities such as Last.FM radio. The recommendations page of said service has been touting this band as one I might like for many months now, though of course the music itself holds much more allure than a simple RIYL xyz description. Presumably, then, this is the reason that it foisted 5 varied Bear In Heaven tracks across various channels in just a couple of days. 

MP3: Bear In Heaven - Wholehearted Mess
MP3: Bear In Heaven - Lovesick Teenagers
Taken from the 2009 release Beast Rest Forth Mouth (both at Last.Fm)

Buy it at Insound!

Although one could make a strong argument for an immediate cease & desist on any more Brooklyn indie bands including the genus Ursidae in their title - whether Grizzly, endangered, or inhabiting the afterlife - it can be overlooked in this case. 

Their sound is indeed approaching heavenly, with a pleasant electronic haze that nods to current flavours like Beach House and, further back, 80's electronic influences in Depeche Mode et al. The 'hazy' and 'dreamy' tags are being bandied about aplenty this year - not least of all here, I shall admit - but when the music is absorbing and transcendent, who's to quibble? Furthermore, as the group have been plying their trade since 2003, any allegations involving bandwagons would have to be extremely well argued to stick. And if anything, the early video for Fraternal Noon has a more nightmarish quality to it than anything that could be conjured up by a dream-pop band.

Having been released in 2009, Beast Rest Forth Mouth hit plenty of year end lists. Despite having missed out, it's a pleasure to discover powerful tracks like Lovesick Teenagers and Wholehearted Mess now, shortly before the band arrive back in town next week supporting Cymbals Eat Guitars. Take a listen for yourself and see if this recommendation from a recommendation works its magic as well on you.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

That Pioneer Spirit: Cast Spells

One of the benefits of the #MusicMonday feature here has been covering a greater number of worthy tracks and artists that crop up on the H-T-A radar, without getting bogged down in too many unwieldy details.

As a starting point that's great, but then some the music cries out for more attention and some trademark rambling. Some of it simply won't be contained to 140 characters. 

Some of it is just like Cast Spells.

MP3: Cast Spells - Pioneer Scalps
Taken from the forthcoming 12" Bright Works & Baton

Buy it at Insound!

The latest musical venture from Dave Davidson, better known for his regular gig fronting Chicago's Maps & Atlases, is a simpler affair but no less affecting. Holding focus on the by turns optimistic and reminiscent voice of the singer, the songs gain their own unique identity and stand confidently apart from one another. The recent Daytrotter session demonstrates this extremely well, with the sparkling sheen of Pioneer Scalps contrasting deliciously with the hazier but nonetheless bright Potted Plant.

There are moments when the effervescence of The Shins pours out of the songs. During others one could be forgiven for thinking that the more chipper sibling of Conor Oberst and Bon Iver is putting his own upbeat outlook onto their mastery of emotional acoustic indie. It's a winning mixture and offers something refreshingly askew of the more mournful stylings of Davison's peers. This makes the more serious message of songs such as A Badge all the more powerful.

The aforementioned EP is out on May 4th and is available for preorder here. Do what I did: keep the MP3 of Pioneer Scalps close at hand for a quick pick me up, check out the Daytrotter pieces for a little more exposure, then before you know it the Cast Spells sound will have taken over a little corner of you heart. 

Long live more Mondays of music......

Thursday, 1 April 2010

LIVE REVIEW: Shearwater @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC

On a cold and rainy afternoon that more befits the recently usurped Winter than the currently unsprung Spring, the evening promise of Shearwater's first NYC gig in some time is a welcome musical hot toddy.

Before the sublime melodies of the Okkervil River siblings, however, the surprisingly intense shoegaze of Baltimore duo Wye Oak succeeds in dropping many a jaw across the Bowery. 

Though the sound is slow, winding, and undeniably gloomy in spots, the emotional intensity connects on every song with impressive results. Nowhere is this more apparent than newer song 'I Hope You Die', which raises an unsuspecting chuckle as announced but by the close has enraptured most of the audience with what sounds to be a heart-wrenching exploration of a suffering loved one. Fronted by the low slung vocal tones of Jenn Wasner and powered by Andy Stack's striking percussion, it only takes a few songs for Wye Oak to suck one into their hazy world. Much more to come, I'm sure.
One wouldn't necessarily expect a great many surprises from the headliners tonight. A band of mostly subtle charms, from the almost angelic croon of Jonathan Meiburg to the calm pleasures of last album Rook, very little about their recorded output suggests an overwhelming live show to bewitch the senses with variety. That, however, is exactly what we get.

Show snaps extracted from Last.FM via widgettery

The first notable variation comes from the instrumentation and, specifically, the unwillingness of any one member to stay behind any one instrument for more than a couple of songs. Meiburg begins on keys for opener - and great new track - Black Eyes, before strapping on a guitar for the following song. Highly conspicuous, 80's hair metal-looking drummer Thor Harris shows no qualms in moving to a bassoon or undertaking a xylophone duel further into the set. Even support acts are roped in, with Wye Oak's drummer adding a beat when needed and the Hospital Ships (who we missed) gent popping up for good measure. Most importantly, it never feels forced for the sake of spectacle and adds immensely to the visual aspect of the live show, which so many indie-rock bands can tend to overlook. Very well done, chaps and chappess.

In terms of song choices, there are very few missteps here either. Now and again Shearwater's music can sound a little samey, with the singing not breaking its standard mould and the pace remaining a touch slow. This is kept to a bare minimum on stage, as Meiburg's voice covers a solid range evidenced best on dynamic run throughs of Castaways and, my personal highlight, Century Eyes. The latter is a short, sharp blast of strident drums and belligerent guitars, picking up the momentum like a shot of adrenaline to the collective arm of the audience. A towering White Waves is another pick for similar reasons earlier in the night.

MP3: Shearwater - Seventy Four, Seventy Five
MP3: Shearwater - Rooks
MP3: Shearwater - Castaways

(All hosted on the Shearwater site Music page)

One could be forgiven for thinking that the band simply conquer their live performances in this way every time they take the stage, a myth that the lead singer dispels midway through the set. Drawing attention to a small lump of tape on his amp, he recalls a technically flawed show the last time Shearwater played this same venue. After battling through that night, he apparently vowed vengeance on the room and placed said tape on amp as the visual cue to return to seek it. Proudly removing and casting it into the audience...does anyone really want manky tape as a souvenir, as an aside...?....it's safe to assume that this particular demon has been exorcised. 

With a late set highlight of the rousing Seventy Four, Seventy Five and  the closing triumph that is Hail, Mary, the band is visibly delighted at a night well played. Equally, the crowd send them off warmly, clearly impressed with a band of high talent and - perhaps - unexpected flexibility to their sound. With a trio of strong albums under their belt and such an engaging live show, the signs for their future are very, very positive. 
With any luck we'll get to experience this again soon. Hopefully, even with nothing to avenge, Shearwater will still play as though they have everything to prove to an audience that is already eating out of their hands.