Graves: Summr Bummr
Greg Olin's work as Graves exudes a stoner surfer genius. His jazz-chord folk songs are loping, temperate and bittersweet -- beach bonfire music made in a cloudy basement. The breezy, subtle complexities of his arrangements and his hyper-mellowed vocal delivery have an obvious kinship with other Pacific Northwest artists like Little Wings and Mt. Eerie. But his lyrical couplets have always set him apart. Here, on Summr Bummr, these golden couplets are mopey, mystic, absurd and enlightened -- usually at the same time. On album standout "Natural Way" (which sees a mid-album instrumental reworking as "Natural End" and a loose, late-set re-imagining as "Natural Weigh"), Olin both sulks and opines about a break-up: "You should have broke my nose one more time/Just so we know what's yours and what is mine...I get so much more done in my day now/Now that there's no one in my way now." These shrugging triumphs set to sleepy, pleasing guitar strums are Grave's modus operandi.
Across Summr Bummr, with its reemerging song titles and themes like the aforementioned "Natural Way" and the blinds-drawn earworm two-fer of "O O O Around the World"/"O O O Around the World Again," it's hard not to read the album as a trudge through a cruddy summer vacation, a thesis on "Summertime Blues." But Olin said the collection of songs simply just fell together as friends pitched in over the last year or so. Recorded at his Portland home and at a friends beach house on a 1/4" Tascam 388, the album certainly carries an air of in-the-moment pop-improvistations. "A few of [the songs] were just made up on the spot," Olin said. "The whole process was loose. I hope that comes through in the music." That's probably very likely, but again, it's hard not to see a narrative arc here. Album closer, "Weed Out The Trips" wraps up this would-be storyline quite well. It finds our anti-hero in no better shape than we found him, still lost and bursting with ennui as Olin's bed of guitar strums sound like soft church bells in the distance. "Your mom calls in the afternoon/Wondering if you'll get your 'Thank You' cards out soon/Those are stamps you'd hate to lick/So don't and weed out the trips."
Bad Weather California: Demos & Lives Takes
Bad Weather California -- the minute-men of the 2010s -- are taking misfit culture back to the streets. A working class band that is in it for life and not just for this week's blogosphere, they're post-internet. Cyber-punk was a futurist's fictional fantasy and here BWC are, living in that digital future, a punk band that doesn't sound like one. These recordings mark the first time the band brought their legendary live energy and chaos into the studio. Rough, raw and ready, one can almost hear the concrete floors they slept on the weeks before the session. As with all St. Ives releases, the album is limited (only 267 pressed!) and each album cover has been hand-made by the band. To up the ante,10 out of the 267 jackets printed have actual BWC blood in the ink!
Jorma & Movie Bare: Lollipop Gold
Winter death brings us future life, and thus sprang forth Lollipop Gold. Recorded on 8-track, 1-inch tape in a warehouse in Indianapolis, just a few months after the scheduled producer passed away in the studio, this record was made with lonely grit and a determination to do something unusual for that beloved lost friend and for the band itself in the middle of a cold Midwestern winter. Like multiple transmissions of alien radio channeled through a dysfunctional family band, the 17 songs on Lollipop Gold are as strange a mix as you can find nowadays coming from one body. Formed from the bellybutton of Marmoset songsmith Jorma Whittaker with a little help from friends, this cauldron of material was brought into light with a distinctly male/female, death/life, able/unable articulation. Comprised of half boys/half girls, some band members literally divorced while the band recorded. Jorma & Movie Bare are bound to be your fave new misanthropic do-gooders this side of nowhere, if you can find them. As with all St. Ives releases, Lollipop Gold is a limited edition (250 copies) with art hand-wrought by the band.
Mike Adams at His Honest Weight: Oscillate Wisely
Michael Dwayne Adams has a unique gift for crafting engaging melodies while applying some well-oiled decision-making skills. Not since Low's Secret Name has an album so easily lent itself to being the perfect accompaniment to either having a full-blown existential crisis or simply making out in the backseat at the local drive-in on a rainy night. The wit and candor of Roger Miller and Morrissey... the faint-inducing crooning of Roy Orbison and Chris Isaac... the ethereal transcendence of Talk Talk and Starflyer 59... the dash-pounding drive of Neu! and The Ramones... the pop ingenuity of Badfinger and Big Star... they all seem to be present in one way or another on Oscillate Wisely. And, not unlike the Cocteau Twins' Tiny Dynamite EP, these captivating jams are blanketed in rich sonic whirlpools that make you feel as though you've finally mastered the art of lucid dreaming. As with all St. Ives releases, Oscillate Wisely is made in limited edition hand-wrought (by the artist himself) packaging using only salvaged materials.
Hudson Bell: Out of the Clouds
From fuzzed-out pop to countrypolitan swoon, Out of the Clouds is Hudson Bell 's fourth proper album, nine songs in all: seven with lyrics, two without. Hailing from San Francisco, the band's sound, at once fresh and familiar, rides the half-pipe between lyrical hammockery and mighty, epic stand-offs; a bit of Willie, a bit of Cluster, the spectrum between ? this is HB's most sonically diverse offering to date. A visual-inducing album informed by film, the cast includes phantom ships, gunslingers, classic monsters, reindeer, spelunkers... Physical pressing is limited to vinyl only. Silver/Chrome painted recycled sleeves with front and back stickers, plus a different line of lyrics scrawled onto each. A true American hybrid brought to you by St. Ives Records, limited to just 250 physical hand-made copies.
Viktor Sjoberg: Breakfast in America
Viktor Sjöberg was born outside Gothenburg, Sweden in 1981 and has been crafting and releasing vaguely popular music since the late nineties. In later years he has been travelling the world performing with Jens Lekman and this record was largely recorded during these journeys, featuring Lekman and many other of Sjöberg's musical friends.
"Breakfast in America" is based around a musical theme which was constructed by stealing some chords from a very famous pop song. It draws inspiration from the classic west coast AOR that Sjöberg grew up on and filters it through drone techniques, sample manipulation and jazzy pop sensibilities.
"Breakfast in America" tells a story of love. The setting is Anywhere, USA.
Big Search: Lay Of The Land
Matt Popieluch, frontman for Secrely Canadian artist Foreign Born, has been making music as Big Search since 1999. After making significant aesthetic breakthroughs in his dorm room at San Francisco State University, he embarked on a four-track recording spree that lasted the remainder of his collegiate experience, resulting in several 90-minute "albums" destined for the vacuum of obscurity. The first official Big Search album Mysticism vs. Classicism was recorded in Popeiluch's garage in a house he shared with Luke Top (Fool's Gold) and Jason Quever (Papercuts). This was the very same garage and time period in which Cass McCombs' A and Papercuts' Mocking Bird were recorded. In 2004, Popieluch formed Foreign Born with Lewis Pesacov (Fool's Gold) and moved to Los Angeles, where he played his first true shows at Big Search and Mysticism vs. Classicism saw limited release on Luke Top's short-lived label Grand Gallop. Hereupon, Lay of the Land began to take shape.
Tammar: I Live Here Now
With the release of "I Live Here Now," Bloomington, Indiana's Tammar gets the Peel Session that, in another place and time, would have surely been due. Captured over three live performances at Bloomington's Russian Recording in July/August of 2009 and mixed by Zero Boys' Paul Mahern at Echo Park Studios, this collection of post-punk anthem variations is a testament to why Tammar is one of the midwest's most exciting bands, be it in the live setting or when laid to tape.
Like a less austere, more exuberant Section 25, the Factory Records sound is maybe the lowest hanging, most easily plucked fruit on the Tammar tree. But for the eager ear, there are a variety of flavors at play: Dave Walter's triumphant vocal explorations serve as a welcome renovation of Yoko Ono's most melodic moments or James' early 90s work with Brian Eno, always finding that golden hook through his phrasing and rephrasing. The subtle layers of Sarah Wyatt Swanson's drums and Josephine McRobbie's percussion as they build and build through each song are at once tribal and deft. Evan Whikehart's triumphant guitar progressions take The Edge to the art spaces and basements where that true "edge" really exists. And the elastic low-end of Ben Swanson's analog keyboard serves as the strange, dark foundation for all these songs.
Engineered by Mike Bridavsky & Dave Vettraino, Bloomington's Erin Tobey also appears as guest vocalist.
Man Forever: Man Forever
Recorded by Kid Millions (Oneida) over a weekend after seeing the Fireworks Ensemble's performance of Ulrich Krieger's transcription of Metal Machine Music, Man Forever is the maelstrom on the surface of a river. Kid Millions writes:
"A few months ago I went to see Fireworks Ensemble perform Metal Machine Music, I read the liner notes for the show, listened to the original record and learned how the piece was originally recorded. During the performance I was inspired to record an album right away. A conversation I'd had a year or so ago with Brian Chase (from the YYYs) about just intonation tuning with drums popped into my head and I visualized a monolithic recording that would utilize the rich tonality of carefully tuned acoustic drums, played powerfully and multi-tracked at different speeds onto the Ocropolis (Oneida's Brooklyn Studio) 16 track 1" tape machine. I asked Brian Chase to come to the studio and help me tune my drums so I could capture my ambition for the piece. Richard Hoffman (Sightings) added some bass to the final mix. The tempo is something like 180BPM. The piece moves fast at an almost imperceptible rhythm. It feels overwhelming and fluctuates constantly. Turn it up!"
John Hancock: Antenna Death
Thank heavens, for adroit dance music of John Hancock, who, at every turn on Antenna Death, finds the perfect, sexiest balance of slick dance-pop and the rawer funk decadence of yore. It's future-pop that knows the grinding together of hips and the exploration of your own awkward physicality, while not always comfortable, is a part of the greater elation. Dance music is about trading sweat with other humans, not the cold seclusion of space. And Hancock's homebase of Miami is dripping all over Antenna Death. The sites and sounds of Hancock's neighborhood, Miami's Little Haiti, are often manifested through a pop pallet reared on Prince, Funkadelic, the best of Beck, Simple Minds and Jon Secada (yeah, I just said that). He's plucked wholly different but equally delicious fruits, and with them whipped up a fine, fine fruit salad, which you are expected to feed hand-to-mouth to your next lover.
Friendo: Cold Toads
Friendo is a three-piece, guitar-driven band largely inspired by '90s experimental rock, '70s punk and '60s pop. Their songs range anywhere from breezy, effortless jams, to pulse-pounding post-punk gems. The multi-instrumentalist members, including Michael Wallace of Women, love to mix harmony with noise, creating their own seasonal landscape.
The Black Swans: Words Are Stupid
The new album by The Black Swans, Words Are Stupid, is a batch of tunes recorded on 4-tracks and computers in kitchens, basements, and living rooms bound by the central theme of language letting us down and mucking us up. A little bit country and a little bit doom folk, the world of The Black Swans is where humans aren't animals as much as they admire them. A drunk boyfriend goes deaf in Buenos Aires; an artist paints a rooster; couples (don't) learn from the felines and the canines in the comics; cowards climb trees unable to assimilate with monkeys. Throughout, there is a lot of kazoo-ing, the wordless purr of joy. Pitchfork called The Black Swans last album "a sort of blues, full of thoroughly digested worry and world-weariness" and Dusted called their debut "one of the best, most overlooked new folk records of the psych-folk revival". Words Are Stupid is another left turn down the same WTF road traveled by kindred spirits like Hazelwood, Zevon, Robyn Hitchcock, and Michael Hurley. The vinyl LP features 200 different photographs of the same 40 poses from 5 photographers in a field of concrete corn framed in a silk-screened cock-and-balls drawing.
In the fall of 2008, Damien Jurado began a side project, with his younger brother Drake, to run opposite to, yet borrow from, the folk music leanings that he is known for. He wanted to add a dark early 60's garage feel to the songs. Infusing this sound came easily with the addition of his younger brother. With no musical experience other than high school choir (and being mistaken for Damien on the phone) Drake took naturally to drawing out the dark tales from the city where he was born. The songs are compelling in story, but also pay tribute in feel to the real town of Hoquiam.
Gothic folk, personal narratives, and simple strong percussiveelements define the music of Hoquiam. Sparse, desolate, and a place you will find yourself passing through from time to time - both the town and the band.
Sam Buck Rosen: Dominant Mind
When Brooklyn-via-Newburyport, Mass.'s SAM BUCK ROSEN describes his brand of pop recordings as "avant-reggae" or "tropical grunge," it's easy to write him off as being cheeky or cavalier. But damned if his Dominant Mind LP isn't stuffed to the gills with clever incorporations of David Byrne's world music excursions, the first-thought-best-thought dance-pop experiments of Arthur Russell and the playful grooves of The Upsetters. Each ecstatic track is pushed along by Rosen's cock-sure voice, that of a man twice the 21-year-old's age and maybe the best adaptation of Elvis' croon since Chris Isaac (or Roy Orbison?). While Dominant Mind is essentially a collection of Rosen's best work over the last two years -- recorded in a haunted house in the woods of Vermont and in a practice space at Bard College -- many of the songs share the same inspiration: a small self-help book about taking control of one's mind that Rosen found sitting in the garbage. Note song titles such as "Freedom from Domination" and "Don't Let Your Clothes Wear You," each with minimalist lyrics that play as part word collage, part puzzle, part personal revelation. From "Freedom From Domination": "And I take personal issue/With vicious and feeble/Trying to wreck your own pretty is evil/And I lump you in with children and impertinent people."
Old Lights: Every Night Begins The Same
Old Lights is the mastermind of chief songwriter/multi-instrumentalist David Beeman. He is a transplant from southern California to St. Louis, Missouri. Known to date primarily as a drummer with David Vandervelde and a sound engineer for bands such as Cold War Kids, Delta Spirit and Elvis Perkins, he's now recording the songs that he'd been writing on the road, focusing on his own material. Common story, yes, but uncommon songs. Over the course of the next year, he and Gabriel Doiron (who contributed on several songs as the lead guitar player/part time bass player/co-songwriter/co-arranger) built and tore down several improvised home studio's in their respective residences. Heavily inspired by post-Beatles solo records, Beach Boys harmonies, the result is a layered and textured pop album that would appeal to fans of Rufus Wainwright, Badfinger and Okkervil River. Some of these songs were written, performed, and recorded by Beeman alone in as little as 2 hours, with as little as 2 microphones, while others were months long collaborations between Beeman and Doiron with much more effort going into the production. It ends up sounding like the midwest with a little sunny southern California charm.
Horns Of Happiness, The: Weathering Alterations
The Horns of Happiness return to the recorded world with their first release since 2007's What Spills Like Thread EP. Here we find the band in concept mode, balancing its pounding rhythms and airy melodies to create a soundtrack piece entitled Weathering Alterations. The band's normally speedy and structure-damaged tunes begin to stretch out, allowing repetition and space to create new moods. Originally performed as an accompaniment to the J. Shelley Harrison installation piece "Don't Rain On My Parade", the recording focuses on the reaction of the psyche to unexpected changes in environment. While this is not the true follow-up to the band's only full-length album, 2004's A Sea As A Shore, the record is a moody, rocking, and nonsensical song cycle. As with all St. Ives releases, this album is only available digitally and as hand-made limited edition vinyl (only 200 copies).
The Race: Exiles
The Making of ExilesAs told by Craig Klein of The Race.
We were touring on our last record Ice Station (2007, FLAMESHOVEL), and spent several weeks on the road in our van the Black Boat frying in the Southwestern sun in places like Pecos, Abilene, Gila Bend, Imperial Sands, Needles... Exhausted late one night we tried to find a motel room near Odessa. Without so much as looking up from her tabloid the prickly front desk clerk of the lone motel in town says, "Everyone's looking for a room tonight, son. We got all kinds of men, Oil Men, Machinery Men, Construction Men, Company Men and Sorry Suckers like you. There ain't no vacancies. You won't find anyplace short of El Paso."
Hours later and a hundred miles from anywhere and damn if that clerk wasn't telling the truth. We wound up flat on our backs pulled over and delirious on the side of Highway 10 in West Texas staring up at shooting stars during the Perseid meteor showers. That night under the widescreen sky the idea for Exiles came about ? it'd be a kind of Judeo-Goth-Electric-Western, conflating the Acid Westerns and Road Films of the 60's and 70's, with the Old Testament fire and brimstone of long ago. A couple of days later in Tucson over tequila I put pen to paper for the song Clack and headed West from there.
Back home I found inspiration in the photography of Edward Curtis, Richard Avedon and the Farm Security Administration, the stories of Moses and his followers and T.E Lawrence, the films of Warren Oates, Dennis Hopper, Peckinpah, Malick, Jodorowsky, Hellman, Roeg, and in the sounds of Country, Blues and German Electronic music.
I took all the images I could find and collaged the walls of my shitty little studio - a Blue Room packed floor to ceiling, without a window, paint chipped and crackling and a busted ceiling fan. I spent a Chicago Winter ritualistically holed up in there - projecting myself into a burning world. By day I was making exhibits at the Chicago Public Library. After work I'd stick around and look for source material. When I got home I'd eat the same meal every night then get to it. My bandmate Alfredo Nogueira would come over and play his silver slide and help arrange what fell out. We used a lot of those bits we recorded then on the album. The rest was laid down later with Josh Eustis from Telefon Tel Aviv on the boards at Benelli Sound Labs, the studio he shares with Alfredo. It's our 2nd record together. We came up with a palette of sound ? crusty synthesizers, broken guitars, machinedrums, cave vocals, ran it to tape and out came with this record.
Exiles is meant to be an over-the-top experience... sonically, lyrically and thematically conjuring the desert, its dunes, mirages and holy mountains and the outsized personalities of the outlaws, searchers, escapists, wanderers, drifters, pariahs, prophets, misfits, mystics, miscreants and all the other sorry suckers who've called the dusty road home. As dark and serious as it may all sound it was a hell of a lot of fun to make and we hope an enjoyable listen.
Exiles is available as a limited edition vinyl pressing of 220.
Vampire Hands: Hannah In The Mansion
Born like bored bolt of lightning, Vampire Hands are a quintessential kind of midwestern band. All of the personality and insular weirdness present in so many other Minneapolis groups' music, VH has taken all of their combined winters and created a cold and isolated sound that is hard to pin down but still strangely familiar. Their latest release, "Hannah in the Mansion," focuses more on the band's collective obsession with the wilted calypso-cana of Mayo Thompson and the rickety blues of Neil Young than their previous four releases but still maintaining their swirling, modern psychedelic tendencies. Despite recording and touring at a break-neck pace since their inception in 2005, the band shows no signs of slowing down and only expanding exponentially on tapping into their idealized vision of classic American rock.