Monday, 28 February 2011

Beat Me Black & Blue, The Minutes Turned To Years

After getting all worked up about the debut album from Dublin's The Minutes this time last year, this.... then silence. I neglected to check back in and it turns out the Irish trio were still tinkering with the details.

I'd blame myself but it's really the fault of this fast flowing digital age of music. There's simply too much music running through the inbox. So, in summary, damn you internet, Napster's to blame, let's go back to the good old days of limited supply music and major label rapery. 

Photo credit: Dave Costa
Sound like anyone you know?

Incoherent ranting aside, the band are very much alive and kicking, heading to SXSW again in March ahead of the release of Marcata on May 13th. If saying it isn't enough, I offer you the following video evidence of The Minutes playing Black & Blue and Believer on Irish TV's 'Ceol ar an Imeall' programme.

So learn from my mistake and keep an eye on the band as they hop over to Texas and back again. The cracking song Black Keys will be released as a single late in March, so there's plenty to come from these chaps in the next few months. 

'Time is a great healer', or some such bollocks.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Cross-blog Interview: Danny Ross Mixes Business & (Live Album) Pleasure

Ramblings within these digital walls rarely stray from the purely musical, long-winded enough as they already are in discussing the tunes alone. Today, though, I wanted to break into the business side a touch, with a dash of historical reflection - well, the last decade anyway - and take a peek at promoting music in this crazy digital world, up to which we willingly hook ourselves every day. 

Still here? All two of you? Great! 

The thing is, any music blogger worth their salt will have a strident opinion on where the music industry is heading. We exist on the very plane that is supposedly destroying all music - if you subscribe to the Pravda-esque, myopic evidence of the RIAA, at least - by encouraging the free digital spread of music. 

Rather than having to construct my own coherent arguments, however, I thought I'd pass the soapbox to H-T-A regular and fave Danny Ross, a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn who sees both the challenges and opportunities of the digital era. In another realm, I write over at Above The Static about web presence development and the best ways to gain visibility in an increasingly noisy online environment. Given the 'synergy' (haaa! there's your business angle folks...who calls bullshit bingo?) between the two topics, I posed Mr Ross some questions that would be applicable to both blogs. 

Here you have the abridged, music entertainment version, where as you can pop over here to Above The Static for the full interview. Catch Danny Ross at his Mercury Lounge headline show in NYC this weekend, Saturday at 11pm. As he points out, it's a live recording, so channel your Public Enemy and bring tha noize....

H-T-A: The music industry has changed fundamentally in the past decade, with artists both independent and on major labels expected to take on more of the promotional side than ever before. What’s your perspective on these changes and how have you had to adapt, if at all, to meet expectations?

Danny Ross: The changes in the industry have been simultaneously both great and awful. Great in that the gatekeepers have fallen, and now every artist has an equal opportunity to make their claim in the musical pantheon. 

Anyone these days can make a record at home and distribute their album all over the interwebs through CD Baby, Tunecore and BandCamp, and then market it all over Facebook. Artists today have amazing unprecedented access… which is the reason why it’s also terrible. More albums have been released in the last year than ever before in history. 

So how do you break through? First and foremost, having the best live show in town to accompany your great record. Make it obvious to the handful of folks in the crowd that they need to come back and bring their friends. The best PR is word of mouth...then second, developing a true personable relationship with your fans– through email, Facebook, or a high five after the show – showing a true appreciation for each and every one.

H-T-A: Your show at the Mercury Lounge in NYC this Saturday will be recorded for a live album. Why did you choose this format for your next release and can you share a few of your favorite live albums with our readers?

DR: Yes, we’re recording a live album with the nine piece band and horns this
Saturday February 26th 11pm @ Mercury Lounge (FB Event Page). If you’re in NYC, you should come!

Thing is, I spent a ton of money and time making the record One Way to be exactly the way I wanted. Which is what an artist should do. It was a hugely ambitious project based on my favorite artistic statements in popular music history and I assumed that effort would be enough to garner a large amount of attention on its own. But in the end it was ultimately a vanity project. 

Fact is that recorded music by unsigned independent artists A) cost a ton and will not make back a dime and that B) people generally don’t listen to it. That’s why I believe the live show has to be the first piece of the puzzle for new artists, and a live record is a way to capture that unique energy and release something people will be talking about.

But maybe I’m being too cynical…

You know, I have a pretty big music collection but I actually don’t own all that many live records. Would love to get some suggestions from your readers, but some favorites of mine include Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band‘s Live 1975-1985, Sam Cooke‘s Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963, Otis Redding‘s Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go, The Band‘s Rock of Ages, Bob Dylan‘s Bootleg Series 4: Live at Albert Hall 1966 and Wilco‘s Kicking Television.


H-T-A: What are the next steps for your musical career? How do you see new media playing a role?

DR: Because I’ve chosen a route that emphasizes word of mouth and personal conversations with fans, new media will become even more essential in my game plan over time.

As I expand from New York into Boston, Philadelphia, DC and beyond, I’ll be using Facebook to discover who I know in each city. I’ll then communicate with those folks about how to best turn out their friends and their friends’ friends. They can check out my entire last set on YouTube, listen to my whole album on Bandcamp and be ready for the gig.

Next thing you know, you have a packed house in Boston’s Middle East on a Sunday night in February. Then the only thing left to do is play the best live show in the history of rock music.


Thanks to Danny for taking the time to answer our questions and offer a valuable artist’s perspective. If you have thoughts on his approach – or indeed can recommend a great live album – pass it on through the comments or on Facebook.

If you want to prove to Mr Ross that he is indeed a fearful old cynic, you can purchase his music here.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Tune For Tuesday: Gruff Rhys - Sensations In The Dark

A finely balanced tightrope walk along the line of smiley happy pop and indie rock this week, courtesy of the charismatic lead singer of Welsh niche legends Super Furry Animals.

Gruff Rhys is a man with a flair for both a catchy tune and entertaining the audience, so the video that accompanies new song Sensations In The Dark is an haphazard collection of live performance, night club deviance, and a sombrero topped horn section clad in full scuba gear...of course. 

The tune itself features all the oddball charm of its creator, understated in many places but with an endearingly cheesy piano in the background and the aforementioned brass flourishes adding a little extra colour. 

It all adds up to just over three minutes of lovable indie-pop goodness that bodes well for the singer's new album, Hotel Shampoo, due out in the US on May 3rd. 

Embarking on a mammoth tour of North America during May and June, there should be a chance for most of us to catch the renowned live persona in our own back yard. I did so with his 'day job' last time the Super Furries hit NYC and was thoroughly converted. Well recommended as they are, those tour dates in full...


Wed 18 Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
Thu 19 Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
Fri 20 Washington, DC @Red Palace
Sat 21 Carrboro, NC @Local 506
Sun 22 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
Tue 24 Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge
Wed 25 Birmingham, AL @ Bottletree
Fri 27 Austin, TX @ Mohawk
Sat 28 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
Tue 31 San Diego, CA @ Casbah


Wed 01 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
Thu 02 San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop/ Popscene
Fri 03 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
Sat 04 Vancouver, Canada @ Biltmore
Sun 05 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
Wed 08 Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
Thu 09 Chicago, IL @ Schuba’s
Fri 10 Pontiac, MI @ Pike Room
Sat 11 Toronto, Canada @ Horseshoe Tavern
Tue 14 Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
Wed 15 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge


Friday, 18 February 2011

Travel In Style: Amtrac Eases Us Into The Weekend

A little bit of dance music goes a long way around here. I'm far from a connoisseur, or even a big fan of the genre. Still, I grew up with such music in the clubs of South West England. Ever so occasionally the need for pulsing beats and high energy electronica will leap to the front of my mind, then, and I need a fix. 

Now arriving on platform Friday morning, the 11:13 Amtrac service....

From the smooth opening into the twisted, skittering beats that follow it, Where You Go is a supreme journey into the weekend. It has the light style to ease you out of the hectic pace of a busy week, then pumps itself back up to a suitably pulsing Friday night soundtrack. Rather than demanding all of your energy at once, it coaxes you into its rhythm and draws your seratonin to the fore. 

Anyhow, you don't need to listen to me waffle along on the ins and outs of a genre in which I rarely dabble. Simply start spinning and see where the musical journey into your weekend takes you. If it's to a better place, you can learn more about Kentucky native Caleb Cornett, the creative mind behind Amtrac, on his website and listen to more tunes over on Soundcloud


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Tune For Tuesday: Arc In Round

Despite the various service interruptions that have plagued H-T-A the past few weeks, A Tune For Tuesday has risen above the mess and emerged unscathed most weeks. If you'd care to peruse past selections, have a peek at this compilation tag.

Today it seemed appropriate to shine the spotlight on a band I've been passing over for many weeks despite their addictive sound, Philadelphia's Arc In Round. The delay is entirely arbitrary, having developed a backlog of great bands to feature. Now caught up, I'm happy to offer up the hypnotic delights of the band's lead track Spirit, from their forthcoming s/t album.

MP3: Arc In Round - Spirit
Taken from Arc In Round, out May 10th in US  |  OFFICIAL SITE / BANDCAMP

Sidling up on a skewed pop melody, the song veers off into a more introverted section not long in and continues to switch perspectives at will. With several layers working together, there is a confounding feeling of claustrophobia woven into the expansive sound conjured up by Arc In Round. One of the chief delights of this tune is the constant twists and turns it makes without ever losing its way to the final destination. As the track concludes, you feel both uplifted and pensive...Spirit has made you reflect but whatever decision you've come to feels like a positive one.

Arc In Round are one of a cluster of semi-shoegaze bands on the East coast managing to dredge a wall of sound and extract stirring melodies from the gorgeous sonic melange swirling beneath them. Pennsylvania cohorts SOARS - with whom the band will tour in March - and Brooklyn's own Grooms are two that spring to mind right away. It's an exciting development and one that I'd love to see burgeon into other takes on a genre that is often emulated but rarely evolves the blueprint laid out by groups such as My Bloody Valentine and Ride.

The Philly quartet have a few dates coming up and wil no doubt announce a good deal more as they approach the album release in May. Check them out if you're in these cities:

March 23rd: Bloomington, IN @ the Bishop (w/ Soars)
March 24th: Chicago, IL @ the Hideout (w/ Soars, Reds and Blue)
April 2nd: Philadelphia, PA @ The OX (w/ Grooms, Roommate)

Monday, 14 February 2011

Stream Away: 3 Highly Anticipated Try Before You Buys

More and more album streams are popping up shortly before albums are released nowadays, giving a great opportunity for those of us who still dig the music purchase to ensure we spend our moolah wisely. 

Three particularly worthy albums are doing the rounds at the moment, so check these out if you're looking for something to splash the cash on this week:

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Striding vibrantly back onto the scene with a heavily thematic return, Polly Jean's smart delivery and sass seeps into every aspect of this record. Stirring national identity in a most twisted manner, she delivers upon the album title in spades, then takes the subject matter international. 

Buy it at Insound!

Streaming via the not-quite-out-of-touch-just-yet folks at Rolling Stone, the Scottish purveyors of rock expanse are touching on many sounds and influences this time around. It's early days listening yet as this only surfaced last week but still this one is jumping out of the pack already. 

Buy it at Insound!

Bright Eyes - The People's Key
I don't know if I simply haven't listened closely enough to Conor Oberst's work prior to Outer South, but doesn't he sound a lot more confident these days? The middle of decade stuff just seemed to be, well, 'whingey', which after his introduction to my ears with the dissatisfied howl of Desaparecidos just wasn't my cup of tasty Yorkshire tea. 

On The People's Key, however, he sounds bold, cocksure, and the music follows suit proudly. If you're a fan of the earlier Bright Eyes stuff then do let me know if I'm missing something...either way, I'm loving where he's heading just now.

Buy it at Insound!

Expect full reviews of these albums in the next few weeks. Nice to be able to go ahead and listen all for yourself though, innit? 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A Tune for Tuesday: The Dirty Birds - Dreamcatcher

This week's tune comes from a band I first came across on their debut album, How The Cause Became The Cure, a little over a year ago. They charmed then, with a mixture of jazzy interludes and unabashed indie rock, so it's a pleasure to welcome back Michigan transplants The Dirty Birds and their new EP, Wasteland Blues.

The lead track from this new release, Dreamcatcher, has also been made available as a free download, hence its pick as today's selection. 

Erring very much on the lighter, hazy side of the material from their debut, this one is delivered with whisper-light vocals at first, taking on all the qualities of a (lyrically ambitious) lullaby. This sweet serenity is interrupted only slightly as the song is let off the reins just a touch in the middle, until the final crescendo of pounding drums and vocal harmonies rise to bid us farewell. 


It's an understated but no less endearing effort when compared to their past material, with a simpler - perhaps more focused - style that is extended through the rest of the EP. With bluesy tinges the band touch on the occasional Black Keys element, at least when those guys tone it down, while elsewhere the lyrical exploration is allowed full room to breath. Dreamcatcher is more an example of the latter...and quite a fine one at that.

For those in the NYC area, the Dirty Birds have a couple of February shows, firstly with lead singer Jared Saltiel showcasing some of this fine new material solo at Spike Hill on Wednesday Feb 16th (10pm), then the full band playing at the same Williamsburg location the following week on Friday Feb 25th (9pm). Free venue, so no excuses even for us cheapskates. Let me know what you think.

Monday, 7 February 2011

REVIEW: Destroyer - Kaputt

As one of many New Pornographers with a fairly regular output all of his own, Dan Bejar's solo outings in Destroyer don't necessarily stand out as much as they would if he were the only member moonlighting. 

Even so, it's been a good couple of years since A.C. Newman and Neko Case went toe-to-toe with impressive individual efforts, so the people are most likely ready for another chapter.

One of the first impressions made by Kaputt is just how schmoooove is its approach. Flowing effortlessly from the speakers, opener Chinatown manages to be both lush and lounge at once, inducing a bizarre sense that this is all quite pleasant but might not sound out of place as background music in a hotel lobby. 

Taken from the new album Kaputt, out now 

 Buy it at Insound!

Next up, Blue Eyes offers a little more in the way of sonic quirks, the lyrical delivery slightly off time and the instrumentation following suit. The brass section also departs from the lounge style into more loose jazz territory, making for a less arse-clenching listen. Even so, the smooth, easy listening element lingers still above the more engaging elements.

In his other gig, Bejar's voice proves the sweet treat on top of many songs. On his own, it can feel a little more like the lid fell off the pot and your dessert is now 90% sugar. This richness certainly gives him a characteristic tone, identifiable within just a few words, but that doesn't save it from over egging the pudding on many an occasion.

That said, when that sweet tone blends well with the laid back, loose jazz elements of the music, as evidenced on Suicide Demo for Kara Walker, the results are altogether striking. Playing up all the positive elements of his compositions - unpredictable delivery, distant brass, and a compelling depth of minimalist instrumentation - this one is a definite highlight of Kaputt.

The lyrics are also worthy of praise, adding extra nuance to Bejar's work

"You terrify the land. You are pestle and mortar / Your first love's new order: Mother Nature's Son" and "Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME / All sound like a dream to me" being a couple of choice cuts that demonstrate the singer's layered writing.

All in all Kaputt is a mildly frustrating listening experience, chiefly because there's so much going for the great songs (Suicide Demo..., Poor In Love) that the frequent cheesy moments - for want of a better term - are a critical detraction. They interject often enough to undermine the finer points of Bejar's songs, making this a flawed but not failed release. It has its moments and some will be able to put the lesser points to the back of their mind, but for this listener they hit front and centre just a few times too many.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Buried Treasure: earthtone9 - arc'tan'gent

Every now and then I feel the urge to foist a classic-yet-under appreciated album on you lovely people, in the form of the Buried Treasure post series. This is one such time...

It's easy for a sound to become dated in a very short space of time, especially in the world of metal. As quickly as exciting waves of genres like thrash and nu-metal rose to tsunami-like proportions, in little time they had crashed upon the shores of the ensuing generation's altered tastes.

Once in a while a select few bands will carve out a heavy niche that garners plaudits above the trends. Tool and Nine Inch Nails have proven to be artists flying the flag for such sounds and, if you find comfort in their forward-looking take on combining alt-rock groove with metal bluster, you probably would have adored earthtone9.

Now long defunct, these firebrands from Berkshire, England, signed off sadly in 2002 but on an undeniable high. The subtle beauty of their final Omega EP contrasted superbly with their magnum opus, 2000's arc'tan'gent. An alternately raging and reflective beast, the album must rank as one of the most unfortunately overlooked works by a British metal act - and there were many - of its time. 

Given the period, the most suitable comparison would be Deftones' White Pony, an album that challenged every facet of knuckle headed nu-metal at the time and set that band up to outlast a genre in its death throes. Multi-layered, spacious and quiet yet holding all the brute force of lesser metal bands, both albums stand out as works that pushed ever possible genre boundary within losing sight of what made it so invigorating in the first place.

MP3: earthtone9 - Tat Twam Asi
Taken from the album of focus here and also 
new compilation 'Inside, Embers Glow...' 
(available as full free download here)

From the tribal drumming of opener Tat Twam Asi, through the angular bombast of Star Damage For Beginners and cosmic dirge of Yellow Fever, the band sound perfectly aligned on arc'tan'gent. Karl Middleton's voice is only marginally below Maynard James Keenan in the range stakes, from soaring to searing, as Owen Packards guitar shears through the mix to provide walls of violently glistening noise. I's a fierce, complete album. One of those that you can listen to from start to finish and still feel just as exhilarated as when the disc began spinning.

It goes without saying that you should check out the free compilation released last year (see above)  to celebrate the legacy of the band. It's well worth picking up this release in its entirety too, though, given how perfectly it all gels together. If you're lucky enough to be over in the UK, you can also catch the briefly reunited band demonstrating just how vital they were at the following locations in May:

earthtone9 UK Tour 2011 w/ The Ocean, Maybeshewill, and Humanfly

17th May – Birmingham Academy 2
18th May – Durham Live Lounge
19th May – Glasgow Stereo
20th May – Manchester Club Academy
21st May – Bristol Thekla
22nd May – London Relentless Garage

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Bugging Out: o'death Stir Again

Some good news that wasn't around as I anticipated the most exciting releases of early 2011: Brooklyn's country-psych-folk-etc merchants o'death are gearing up for a new full length and tour dates to match.

MP3: o'death - Bugs
Taken from the forthcoming album Outside, released 
April 19th in North America / May 2nd in Europe

Setting off on their more restrained footing with a heavy streak of melancholy, this new song quickly takes off on a faster track powered by nervously swift percussion and a subtle dash of banjo. It flies by in just over two minutes, mounted in the regular and immediate lyrical refrain of "I've been wasting most my time, living for the day / When like bugs we figured out, how to make life stay."

Less menacing  than the material I adored on last album Broken Hymns, Limbs & Skin - although the supremely atmospheric artwork does make up for this visually - this is no less intricately addictive and bodes well for the new album Outside  due for release here in April. 

Catch the band on tour out West next if you're on the sunnier side over there. They also return across the country during April in support of the release, with a Brooklyn show scheduled for the Knitting Factory on April 15th. 

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

LIVE REVIEW: Addie Brownlee w/ Martha Wainwright for 'I Beg Your Parton?'

As previewed in these pages earlier in January, New York's Addie Brownlee  gathered fans, country lovers, and the just plain curious together a couple of weeks back to celebrate the musical legacy of one Dolly Parton. Her tribute show I Beg Your Parton? attracted a diverse set of folks down to The Living Room on a freezing midweek winter mean feat in itself. 

The beauty of this show lay in the various elements of Dolly Parton's musical persona and how well Addie Brownlee celebrates each of them. She clearly cares deeply about Dolly's legacy as a serious songwriter, with songs like Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You being key to her formative years, but she's more than happy to celebrate the kitsch side too, with which many of us are more familiar. 

So tonight, alongside heart wrenchingly tender moments such as Jolene, we also get the simpler joys of Dumb Blonde. In bringing everything together so devotedly, Brownlee demonstrates the true value of a tribute show, in its ability to both celebrate and educate.

All of this comes as yet without mention of the supremely talented Martha Wainwright, appearing as a guest in the center of the show to take on Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? and Coat Of Many Colors. Across those songs, Wainwright's voice is stunning in both tone and range, imbuing the first in particular with a sense of . Naturally, she also appears at the end - alongside Jill Henderlight and the bevy of skilled musicians supporting Brownlee in this endeavour - for a rapturous rendition of 9 to 5.

From pain to party, the songs of Dolly Parton are as endearing as the effervescent personality she always seems to display. 

All credit to Addie Brownlee, then, for taking her inspiration and running with it to create such an all-encompassing celebration of a living legend.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A Tune For Tuesday: Martha Wainwright (Live in NYC)

A short and particularly sweet tune for this Tuesday evening, recorded at Martha Wainwright's final residency night at Rockwood Music Hall here in New York City last night. Martha's voice and overall stage presence are nothing short of spellbinding. 

This was introduced as a new song she was trying out on the intimate, appreciative audience. Though the title wasn't forthcoming, it hardly matters when the music is this compelling. Find out more about the singer's next movements here.