Thursday, August 17, 2006


I've been trying to outrun "twee" since 1998. See, I ran this little label, and when a double cd, triple lp compilation called Pop American Style came out in the summer of 1995, it put said label on map. While it was nice to have indiepop types embrace the label, it was expected from me to release badly tuned, badly sung, sincere pop music. To host house shows. To make small talk with people who think music started with the first Talulah Gosh single
. To wear badges. It was very hard, I have to say, having grown up with a vast interest and knowledge of every genre of music, but perhaps only the best 7% of each (yes, I'm the decider). I was sucked into a cuddlecore whirlpool that was hard to get out of.

Blah blah, that all said, a record released in February this year has seeped into my heavy rotation, against my wishes, and if you're one of those indiepop types holding out hope that someone can still make a heartfelt record without aping Belle & Sebastian, here's to you. Sheffield, England's Monkey Swallows The Universe comes in and single handedly saves the genre with their quaint folky melodies. I don't know when they popped up on the radar, I don't know if they've even infiltrated that community or made a dent in the UK, but I have no doubts once they hit the road, they will certainly swallow the universe.

"Jimmy Down The Well" may channel Amelia Fletcher in some regards, there's even a recognizable stolen Heavenly chorus in there, and yes, perhaps some stolen B&S trumpets (sounds more like Love to me), but the song sounds fresh and would benefit from some real production. The gem here, however, is "Sheffield Shanty" which trumps "Jimmy" with a plaintive acoustic guitar and a lilting refrain. Make sure you catch the little tribute to Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" at the end there.

Monkey Swallows The Universe may not be the Marine Girls. They might be better.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

JUNIOR BOYS "So This Is Goodbye"

Recently, I was lucky to see old pal Torquil from "up and coming" band, Stars (I hope you think that's funny!). He was scheduled to do a very special guest DJ set at Union Hall after his band slayed the sweaty crowd at Siren 2006. Little did I know that he would take the whole thing over with his enthusiasm to make the kids dance. Three hours! Wow. Halfway through the Manhattan fueled evening, he let me in on a little secret. "Skip, do you Junior Boys?", he whispered. "No, I don't, any good?", I purred back. "Oh Skip!"....

Now that I have certainly discovered Junior Boys I understand his need to champion them. Like a perfect hybrid of his beloved Stars and UK's Hot Chip, Junior Boys quietly blip and bleep their way through their newest album "So This Is Goodbye", after releasing several 12 inches. Like Stars, they are from Canada, but unlike Stars, their emphasis is more on electronics, less on lyrics. On first listen, the entire album just passed me by, dynamically not challenging me to take a time out to really listen. However, that changed as certain songs started to pop out at me towards the middle of the LP.

Here's one of my favorite tracks. "So This Is Goodbye" is out on September 12 on Domino.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

THE ISLES "Perfumed Lands"

The connotation "local" as in local bands has always seemed derogatory to me. I bet to most bands too. NYC bands don't seem to suffer from the tag as much, maybe the romantic notion of having a band in the biggest city in America warrants a bit more credit. The spotlight shines brightly here, but it's also a cruel and fickle one. If bands don't gain national notoriety within a short time, people seem to think something's wrong, while other cities nourish their babies and send them off all polished.

The Isles haven't been around all that long, they haven't had time to suffer the pitfalls of being a Brooklyn band, but their sound has certainly been mined previously. For the past few years, tons of other "local" bands either ape Joy Division/The Cure or Talking Heads/Blondie with unpalatable consequences. Few sound good. I seem to have no problem with, however, bands stealing the jangly Marr-esque guitar action. Seems more timeless? The only press I've read on the Isles are that they are Smiths clones. Not at all. Yes, they have the aforementioned Rickenbacker arpeggios, but I hear other "lost" classic bands from the mid-80's too like the Lucy Show, Let's Active, Style Council even. But indie because John Leckie didn't get to them in time. A Rough Trade band perhaps. 2006's The Railway Children with a pulsing bass that keeps you dancing. That's it.

Not so coincidentally, they've also found a way to have a release on a UK label, but not US yet. It IS 1986! Perfumed Lands is probably the best "local" release I've heard in some time. It's interesting. You might think you know what you are getting, but some of the songs take a bit of a turn, much to the listener's delight. Just when you are cursing them for ripping off a guitar line from "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", they bust in an give you the unique and moody "Post Nobles".

The Isles play at Union Hall in Brooklyn with another favorite of mine, The Mugs, on Friday, August 18.


Monday, August 14, 2006

SPARKLEHORSE "Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of The Mountain"

Amazing what a day on the beach can do for your physical and mental state. I spent Sunday down at my old stomping grounds (what the fuck are stomping grounds?) and am a lovely hue of hairy crimson pink
. It's rare you can get a sunburn that doesn't hurt. I'm not sure what vitamins the sun gives us, but I needed them, desperately. Island Beach State Park is better than I gave it credit for, abandoning it some 19 years ago, cursing the Jersey Shore all these years...

That leads us to Monday morning and how beautiful a new Sparklehorse record sounds after a relaxing day eating fried clams and collecting seashells. Sparklehorse could possibly be the most criminally underrated American band, if that's possible. Mark Linkous has had his hands in many pies over the years (hello Dancing Hoods?!!), but I think he'd be happy to know that it's his Sparklehorse recordings that secretly make music lovers gush, they quietly whisper his name when no one's around.

A disturbing or comforting trend and a certainly not new one: big labels farming out the under 100,000 sellers to the hippest leaf/branch on their tree. For example, Astralwerks will release "Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of The Mountain" on September 25 after several records for Capitol/EMI. EMI have already bumped over Ed Harcourt and others to the hot shit acoustic-electronic label, so why not I guess. Maybe more attention, maybe not. Either way, run out and grab Dreamt because it's gorgeous and ambitious. "Some Sweet Day" will make Jon Brion lovers go bonkers. So go. (Get that?)


Thursday, August 10, 2006

KUNEK "Flight Of The Flynns"

For the rest of the summer or at least until I get back into the swing of things, this blog, originally intended on bringing you flowers from my vinyl garden, will feature new and up and coming bands. That's right. Just until I find a rainy Sunday to rip some more vinyl. That okay?

I have NOT seen Stillwater, OK's Kunek mentioned on many blogs. It's amazing how certain bands have Evel Kneivel-ed their way through the blog community, leaping several hundred bands in the process. Maybe Kunek will be one of those because their brand of "beard" rock is kinda happenin' right now. Or if it's not, it will be. Bands from places like Denton, TX (Midlake) and Bloomington, IN (Margot & Nuclear So And So's) have been holed up in their rehearsal spaces with their Rhodes', their orchestration, mimicking the best elements of Fleetwood Mac.

What Kunek's "Flight Of The Flynns" lacks in real songwriting, it makes up for in mood and soul. It's a pretty record. Maybe an American Sigur Ros or something. Lots of piano, lots of yearning guitar leads, lots of long division drum beats, and plenty of soft rocking. Kunek play Brooklyn's Union Hall on Monday, August 21. You might want to say you saw them then, instead of when they come back opening for Keane or something.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

THE FORMAT "Dog Problems"

I know that I've gone on and on about "discovery is everything" and how endearing it is to remember key people or moments in your life that have influenced you, but I really do hate it when I can't discover a band completely on my own. I guess that's harder to do really, but it was my job for years, so I pride myself on being that guy
. I hate it more when the person who turns me on to it is Graham Smith. Bastard.

I'd never heard of the Format until last week when the aforementioned "coolest person alive" IM'd me twice a day until I listened to "Dog Problems". I know he knows what I like (read: sounds like Supertramp, you're in the ballpark), but I don't trust him to tell me as he is insane mostly. As soon as I heard the pianos, the soulful yearning vocals, the stirring whirring guitars, yeah, I was hooked. The album as a whole is a nice little journey though, some baroque, some straight up power pop, it's lovely.

Sample these two tracks in 320kbps glory. I've purposely not looked up any information on the band other than I know they are playing in NYC soon (Irving?) and that they have a stillborn record on a major a few years ago. Fill me in, please, cause I need to learn.


Friday, August 04, 2006

LOVE "Forever Changes"

Aw crap. Blogs suck. They are so in danger of becoming epitaphs or headstones now. It's so late and I've just come home after a nice night with friends, it's late. And this is so awful. Arthur Lee, we'll miss you. Shit, rrrrrrrrghh.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

STRAWBS "Hero And Heroine"

What makes people, when they get older, lose interest in the things they love(d)? I mean REALLY loved. I can feel myself changing every day and yes, I don't listen to Minor Threat or Bad Brains as much as I used to, but every once and a while, I do get in a mood where I need to rock out. Sometimes I even pogo at Sloan shows like Beatle Bob. I'm not ever going to lose that feeling. I so desperately want to be 80 and reach for a Stereolab elpee.

My father had impeccable taste in music when I was a kid. His record collection littered the house with musically complicated, lyrically simple prog-rock. Yes' Fragile, In The Court Of The Crimson King, The Lamb Lies Down On least he wasn't listening to Englebert Humperdinck or Richard Clayderman or some shit. One record I vividly remember was 1974's Hero & Heroine by the Strawbs. I didn't realize how obscure it was until I grew older.

The Strawbs were British. So my father was a Britpopper? Hmmm. I really just loved looking at the bizarre album covers (post about Fleetwood Mac's Mystery To Me forthcoming) and hearing the funny blips and bleeps, the long division drumming, the classic arena rock guitar riffs. "Round And Round" had all of this and more and probably should've been a hit here in America, not sure why it wasn't.

I don't know where my father is right now. Last time I'd heard or seen from him he was waist deep into an unhealthy diet of Jimmy Buffett and Yanni. So sad. How does THAT happen? Really, I want to know. Because I never want that to happen to me.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

SLOAN "Who Taught You To Live Like That?"

Tuesday is haiku review day:

The new Sloan single
Who taught you to live like that
Is pretty damn hot