August 13, 2009
I want to personally apologize for my recent lack of posting. Graduating from college is a funny thing. The bulk of my attention is currently being swallowed up by the independent record label that I run called BIG BULLET RECORDS.
We have some very exciting things going on, and it would delight me to the fullest if you’d pay a visit to the BIG BULLET RECORDS website.
Thanks for your time, and I will continue to post reviews/news here whenever I get a free minute.
Tucker and Nation Full of Ivy
June 29, 2009
As everyone’s favorite season begins to unfurl, I offer you my summer playlist. I tried to keep it short and sweet.
Summer Playlist – Vol. 1
1. The City’s Summer – The Honorary Title
2. I’m Shakin’ – Rooney
3. Montanita – Ratatat
4. Indian Summer – Pedro The Lion
5. Wet Hair – Japandroids
6. Lovelettertypewriter – Mineral
7. Do The Panic – Phantom Planet
8. This Love Is Fucking Right – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
9. The Sun Woke The Whole State – Limbeck
10. Bastards of Young – The Replacements
11. Campfire Kansas – The Get Up Kids
12. Tall Green Grass – Cory Branan
May 15, 2009
Sometimes a band or musician simply comes along at the perfect time, and such is the case with Canadian indie-rock duo Japandroids. This drum and guitar outfit has delivered a raw, passionate, garage-rock masterpiece with their new album Post-Nothing.
Maybe it’s because I will be a college graduate this summer, which entails all sorts of scary life-related decisions and problems, or maybe it is the fact that at some point we all were sixteen, driving fast in the summer with the windows down and the music deafeningly loud—whichever the case, this record hits me like a punch in the face, and I’m sure many people will feel the same.
Opening track “The Boys Are Leaving Town” perfectly captures that terrifying yet exciting feeling of leaving home for the first time. The line “Will we find our way back home?” is shouted repeatedly during this song’s sing-along climax. The following track is “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, which is rightfully the lead single from Post-Nothing. No song in recent memory has captured the bitter sweetness of growing up quite like this one. The following lines will quickly become your favorite ones to sing at the top of your lungs: “We used to dream, now we worry about dying/I don’t want to worry about dying/I just want to worry about those sunshine girls.” This is the song that should be played at high school graduations across the country. Who could disagree with lines like “You can keep tomorrow, after tonight we’re not gonna need it”?
These catchy, gut-wrenching lyrics are really what make Japandroids special. Many bands are doing the whole two-man band thing these days, and Japandroids’ energy and sincerity sets them apart from these cookie-cutter bands. It is also hard these days for a band to be this emotional and punk-influenced without getting pinned with the horrid “emo” tag, but Japandroids do a good job of being aggressive and up-front enough about how passionate they are, which keeps their street cred appropriately intact.
In the end, Japandroids have delivered a 35-minute summer masterpiece of a record with Post-Nothing. While the second half of the record doesn’t match the blistering pace of the first one, the songs are still good and true to the overall carpe diem theme of the album. So roll those windows down, turn your stereo up as loud as you can stand it, and get ready to spend your summer with Japandroids.
April 29, 2009
Quirky indie-Appalachian warbler Will Oldham recently unveiled his twelfth release under the moniker Bonnie “Prince” Billy. The new record, entitled Beware, picks up on the playful country embellishments of last year’s Lie Down In The Light, but it almost takes a few steps backwards conceptually.
While he has made no qualms about his current love affair with traditional country and folk music, Will Oldham teeters a bit too close to the edge at times on Beware. Whereas last year’s exceptional Lie Down In The Light showcased this new infatuation honestly and effectively, Beware borders on the exaggerated at times, with country arrangements that are at times too playful and over-the-top. Songs like “You Can’t Hurt Me Now” feature high-flying fiddles and an almost faux Gospel choir that tend to take away from Oldham’s otherwise poignant and intelligent lyrics.
Speaking of his lyricism, Beware at times takes a few steps backwards to the older days of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s catalog. The jovial country romps are occasionally countered with darker subject matters and non-typical country self-loathing, which is interesting in its own right, but can also detract from the cohesiveness of the album.
Perhaps the biggest complaint with Beware is the same issue that Oldham has subjected himself to during his tenure as Bonnie “Prince” Billy—Oldham rarely ever makes a record with the same people twice. The stripped-down mastery of previous releases such as I See A Darkenss and Superwolf presented an effective medium for Oldham to showcase his lush songwriting, and last year’s “Lie Down In The Light” perfected his new obsession with lofty traditional music, thanks in part to the beautiful female harmonies of Ashley Webber. On Beware, Oldham has yet again surrounded himself with a new cast of musicians, which certainly adds new elements to his music, while simultaneously detracting from any sense of surrounding consistency.
But then again, this is part of the mystique and charm of Bonnie “Prince” Billy. The fact that Oldham can be consistently prolific, no matter the surrounding cast or their familiarity and chemistry with him, is utterly astounding. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds though; Beware is still classic Bonnie “Prince” Billy in many ways. The lyrics are often self-reflecting and desperately internal, as Oldham seems to sing increasingly about his lonely position as the perpetual harbinger of indie-folk music. It is a weight that Oldham has grown to appreciate, or at least accept as permanently his own.
Key tracks include the whimsical “I Am Goodbye”, and the somber “Heart’s Arms”. The latter of which finds Oldham vulnerably asking, “Why don’t you write me anymore?/Have you found something as good just next door?” Oldham has really begun to master his song variety, seamlessly balancing upbeat pop-type songs with his more introspective slower ones.
The truth is that at the end of the day Will Oldham is still arguably the best contemporary indie-folk songwriter around, so even if Beware isn’t as complete as some of his previous releases, it is still good. Oldham has built a career around being unpredictable, and it is this youthful spontaneity that keeps the 38-year-old so relevant today.
March 30, 2009
Hell has officially frozen over—Lucero frontman Ben Nichols is now an actor.
MTV has developed a new series based around the Memphis music scene called $5 Cover, and Nichols has landed the leading role. Appropriately enough, the smokey-voiced singer will play himself—in fact, other Memphis artists will also have cameos, with each episode culminating in a live performance at a crucial Memphis venue.
This isn’t too terribly weird when one considers that Lucero has been receiving more attention lately. That added to the fact that the band obviously has a penchant for cinema (they have two very awesome documentaries out there) means that this should make sense, but c’mon…MTV? Really?
Anyways, for what it’s worth the show looks pretty rad. The dialogue is apparently improvised for the most part to give the show a more realistic feel, and to accurately portray the Memphis music scene. No word yet on when the show will start airing or exactly how many episodes Nichols is actually in (he is listed as the “main love interest”), but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
There is a cool teaser clip on the page featuring behind the scenes banter with Ben. Check it out here.
March 25, 2009
It is usually difficult for a band to toe the line between commercial success and underground integrity, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have made it look pretty easy for some time now. The little art-rock band that could has more than established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in recent years, with two critically acclaimed albums and a slew of successful EPs. On It’s Blitz!, the group’s third full-length release, we see a band that continues to deliver, and has matured substantially in the process.
Most people will walk into It’s Blitz! expecting another garage-punk tour de force, and as a result most people will be sorely disappointed. This is definitely a record that requires a few listens before an honest judgment can be placed upon it. The differences between It’s Blitz! and previous Yeah Yeah Yeahs records are stark and abundant, but it is not exactly fair to expect a band to continue to put out the same album, especially a band as talented and unpredictable as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The record begins with two pure dance tracks in “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll”. Initially it is hard to come to grips with the blatant dance-pop direction that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs exhibit here, but this is not exactly thoughtless indie club music. At the core of these synthesizer heavy tracks are well-constructed pop gems. In “Heads Will Roll”, lead singer Karen O delivers the line “Off with your head, dance ‘til you’re dead” with a defined confidence and urgency that is often lacking in similar dance songs of this stature.
Karen O and company follow their foray into the underground dance world with the hypnotically beautiful “Soft Shock”, a dreamy little number that features some impressive reverse guitar work from guitarist Nick Zinner. “Soft Shock” is followed by the mandatory slow love song, “Skeletons”, which finds Karen O at her most vulnerable. In many ways “Skeletons” resembles the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s previous hit single “Maps” from their first full-length Fever To Tell, but this time around the band trades the grungy guitars for a lush soundscape of synths and strings.
Those who fell in love with the old Yeah Yeah Yeahs will find great comfort in the ripping anthem that is “Dull Life”. Here the band balances out the dance tracks and slow songs with what is potentially the most aggressive song they’ve ever recorded. Zinner takes the foreground here, reassuring everyone that no amount of synths can replace the angular perfection of his guitar playing.
Perhaps more shocking than the addition of the opening dance tracks is the fact that It’s Blitz! boasts a staggering amount of slow pretty songs. The record closes with “Hysteric” and “Little Shadow”, two tracks that showcase Karen O’s hauntingly delicate voice. Known for her theatric stage presence and scratchy yelp, Karen O sheds that reputation here, instead delivering her lines with a soft, sweet confidence that establishes her as a very capable singer. In “Hysteric” we hear the lines “Flow sweetly, hang heavy, you suddenly complete me” in the chorus, which may be the most sincere thing that Karen O has ever sang.
“Little Shadow” closes out the record in appropriate fashion with slow, pulsing drums backing Karen O as she beckons “to the night, will you follow me?” — and she is incredibly hard to resist. With It’s Blitz! the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have delivered a focused, emotionally charged record that is as diverse as it is precise. Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase have introduced an abundance of heart and integrity into an otherwise lifeless and fashionable genre—rarely has electronic music been so moving.
March 9, 2009
Brooklyn-by-way-of-Georgia rockers The Weight are almost ready to unveil their new record. Four brand new tracks were recently added to the band’s Myspace page, and they are nothing short of glorious.
The textbook punk-influenced country of The Weight’s first record Ten Mile Grace was quickly replaced with anthemic American rock-and-roll on last year’s Are Men. This new batch of songs is familiar enough, with plenty of pedal steel and Southern heartache, but the band has definitely established their own sound. Everything is soaked in just the right amount of reverb, and front man Joseph Plunket has officially arrived as a songwriter.
A line like “I don’t get that shit for free, so baby quit texting me,” would be slightly absurd in any other song, but in prospect single “Coca Cola” Plunket follows it with, “A penny for your thoughts, no that wouldn’t be a problem/You got your problems honey, don’t charge them to me.” Part of The Weight’s charm lies in Plunket’s sharp wit and penchant for humor, but the light-heartedness is always properly balanced with strong songwriting.
Perhaps my favorite thing about The Weight is that they are a lot of fun. The band’s live shows are notorious for turning into giant drunken parties, and the right amount of that atmosphere bleeds into these new tracks. Having recently signed to New York’s own Tee Pee Records, the band will surely get larger distribution for the new record than they did with Are Men, which was partially self-released through homegrown Brooklyn label Colonel Records.
Start stockpiling your refrigerator with Budweiser, because when this thing comes out you will be partying for quite a while.
March 3, 2009
And so it goes that even a relatively small indie singer-songwriter can’t feel safe anymore. Brooklyn-based indie-folk troubadour Kevin Devine had his upcoming record “Brother’s Blood” leak yesterday. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this and I’m going to avoid getting on a soap box here, but please let me just give my take as someone who is involved in an indie band and the environment around this type of ordeal.
It is completely flattering to think that someone absolutely cannot wait to hear your record, so much as to download it illegally two months ahead of time. Whether or not this is the “moral” thing to do I’ll leave up to you, but just know that Kevin Devine is by no means rich, he may in fact simply be living semi-comfortably these days. He is a very modest guy who actually still sells his own merch at shows, drives himself around in his car, plays his ass off, etc, etc. That being said, I hope that if you do or did in fact download “Brother’s Blood” that you at least still purchase the physical record when it comes out (or on iTunes, whatever) and try to catch him live when he comes around your area for the supporting tour. I know that I will do the same, regardless of whether or not I come across the leak (I’m still debating if I should even bother).
Yes, it’s true: I am very sympathetic to Kevin’s situation, but I know that he himself is finding it hard to deal with it as well. Check out his latest blog post over at his Myspace page to get his take on everything. Also, to get my take on Kevin in general, check out my old show review from last year.
January 29, 2009
Though I try not to cover local media too extensively on this site, sometimes things are just too cool. Shepherd University alum Matt Walker has been running a stellar radio show called Ghost Don’t Walk on 89.7 WSHC in Shepherdstown for some time now. The times are certainly forcing everything to adapt or die trying, and independent college radio is no exception. Walker is currently busy working on a podcast extension of Ghost Don’t Walk to replace the traditional radio version. I recently caught up with him to talk about the show.
NFI: Talk a little bit about the idea behind Ghost Don’t Walk. For those who may not know, you focused on experimental music, correct? Did you ever venture outside of that genre? Also, how long has the show been running?
MW: Ghost Don’t Walk was essentially just an extension of my late-night listening sessions I had with myself. I found that there was a lack of public sources to listen to experimental music as a whole. Sure there were specialized blogs about noise, ambient, or free-jazz, but none that ventured into tying them all together. I mean, I blatantly saw a thread between the skronking sounds of 60s free-jazz, and then the over-modulated noise of artists like Wolf Eyes. It just made sense to me.
The overall idea was to create an atmosphere, but at the same time expose listeners to sounds that they might not be familiar with. I think one of the underlying modus operandi for the show was to ask the question of what is music. For every person it’s different. I really wanted to expand and perhaps challenge the listener to make those decisions.
The problem was, giving the “experimental” genre boundaries for the show. I had a very loose definition for the most part. I used the term experimental, but that is such a large umbrella genre word choice. I think the meat and potatoes of the show was definitely ambient, free jazz, and noise. Everything else just kind of fit in the cracks. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hear something like post-rock played, or a more adventurous pop song played. If I felt like a band was trying to break the mold of what was accepted, I’d usually give it a spin. Hermit Thrushes was one example of this. Indie rock sounds, but with just enough noodling and expanding to make it out of the jungle that is indie pop rock.
The show ran on air from the summer of 07 through December 08. I think it had a run of about 60-some shows, each running 2 hours. Within that time I had some specials focusing on No Wave, Sonic Youth, jazz, and then even some album premiers and label focuses which were always fun to do.
NFI: What was your relationship with WSHC? Were they accommodating to you? Did you feel like you had a good listenership while at WSHC?
MW: WSHC is a cool little station. My relationship goes back to when I attended Shepherd University (then College). I think ‘SHC was the whole reason I jumped at the chance to attend. When I was in high school music was my life. Unfortunately for me, no one else really liked the same music. When I got to college and saw that they had shows playing the music I liked, and I could hold a conversation with others who had the same passion, I was hooked.
By my sophomore year I was assistant music director, then music director, and eventually station manager. When I graduated I was so burned out from the station, I vowed never to set foot in there again. Forward 5 years and I was sweating to get back. Luckily I still had some contacts in the department, and was let on-air again.
WSHC is great for several reasons, but one of the biggest is that its 950 watts, which means you aren’t broadcasting only to the campus. On a good day it reaches 20-some miles in all directions. Thats way more power than most college radio stations in the country. Also, WSHC has so far resisted the urge to sell out like many other stations. There might be more mainstream music on its airwaves, but the basic ideal of college radio still remains.
I had great penetration when I did the show at the station. The thing is though, I really had to hustle to get listeners. If you depend only on people stumbling on yr show, its probably going to fail. Unless you have a lot of friends. The big way I got listeners was through myspace. I feel like if I would’ve started the show a little later, it wouldn’t have worked out like it did though. Myspace is now so passe with people, that many people have abandoned it. When I started the show though, myspace was still “the thing” and was a burgeoning way for bands to get their name out there. Coming from a music director position in college, I knew how to get promos sent to me, and that made all the difference in the world. Once I had done 20 or so shows, thats when bands started contacting me to send me promos or demos which was flattering to say the least. Myspace was such a great network to work within, and I think it still is better for bands than facebook, but on a strictly social level, its lost a lot of steam.
NFI: You have conducted several on-air interviews with influential regional artists such as Baltimore’s Human Host. What was that like? Are there any other artists that you had on the show that you’d like to talk about?
MW: One of the main ideas also behind the show was exposing local talent. We live in an area which is so fertile for music, though scenes are few and far between until you hit the metro areas. Being from Baltimore I had some contacts, and been to shows, so MT6 Records was a strong place to start with interviews and live in-studio stuff. Thats really where Human Host and for the final show, Bad Liquor Pond happened. Mike from Human Host contacted me about coming in, and I gladly agreed. He talked up the Baltimore scene, and then did some in-studio improv, which is absolutely the best for a show. Having something unique is especially gratifying for me as a fan of music, but also as someone putting things out to the world.
I’ve also been really lucky to be friends with/fan of/supporter of Magnanimous Records in Shepherdstown. Curt and Dani Seiss are amazing people and their label is just as exciting and liberating for a listener as anything you would want to find in a record store. From the beginning they championed the show and supported it with promos, giveaways, and also sending bands my way. I had Polyphasic down for an interview, did a phoner with Mao II, had Luke Hazzard aka Ourson down for a show, and attended Sonic Circuits in DC for Element Kuuda‘s US debut. Its amazing that this label in Shepherdstown is putting out all this vital music that is under radar locally. They actually just put out an amazing re-issue of the long out of print Mandible Chatter record, “Grace”. Thats pretty monumental. The ebay prices for that record prior to re-release were outrageous!
There is more to come from Matt Walker and Ghost Don’t Walk in Pt. II of the interview.
January 23, 2009
While seemingly worlds apart, the genres of country and punk have become an incestuous pair in recent years. Maybe the whole outlaw mentality of good country music is sympathetic with the social isolation often associated with punk music. Whatever the motivation, some damn good music has spawned from this awkward love affair. The following is a short list of some bands that successfully incorporate ideals from both genres. Check them out if you are a fan of one or both types of music, or if you just like to get drunk.
“Bloody knuckles and a broken nose, all of that before I ever got home/I fought in bars, fought in the streets, four more years of fighting ’til they’re done with me.”
The drunkest band in Memphis is quite a title to earn, but these boys are probably more deserving than most. Notorious for playing until they literally cannot stand anymore, Lucero bring an unprecedented punk energy to country rock. Quitting their respective punk bands to form a country band, Ben Nichols and the guys have played their asses off for years to finally earn a bit of comfort and respect. Recently signing a deal with Warner Brothers, Lucero is certainly trying their damnedest to break the stereotypes placed on them from the beginning. In truth, Nichols and company have indeed straightened up a bit. They do their best to finish shows in a respectable fashion (i.e. not falling into the crowd from intoxication), and have evolved their sound into a unique brand of Springsteen-esque rowdy rock and roll.
“I’m thirty-seven, and I don’t feel old/Still listening to punk rock, still like my beers cold.”
No genre (or combination of genres) is immune to tragedy. Boston-based Lenny & The Piss Poor Boys are a testament to this unfortunate circumstance. After releasing an absolutely stellar debut album, the band lost their bassist Jon Johnson in a vehicle accident. Heartbreak and misfortune aside, we can at least focus on the amazing music that the band was able to make in its short-lived prime. Lenny & The Piss Poor Boys is an almost perfect album in every way. Full of smokey sing-along choruses and sharp pedal steel, no album so seamlessly meshes country and punk. Within you will find stark imagery of bar fights, substance abuse, and even a heart-wrenching elegy in the form of a Ramones tribute song.
“If no one’s on your canvas, I’m achin’ to be.”
By definition, The Replacements were neither alt-country nor punk, but you’ll hear their name come up in many a discussion regarding both genres. Spending most of the 80’s playing their asses off to punk crowds, The Replacements quickly earned their famous “play loud, play drunk” reputation. Paul Westerberg used to make fun of the fact that The Replacements thought they were a punk band for a while (see debut Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash). The truth was that The Replacements were nothing more than a great rock band that acted like punks. But, as so many educated books and films will tell you, punk is as much an attitude as it is a musical style. So where does the country influence some into play you ask? Well, in the band’s later years, on album’s like Don’t Tell A Soul, songs like “Achin’ To Be” with its steel guitar sweetness sound like they could easily fit in on a Whiskeytown record. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Westerberg even joked about the later years: “By the end, they wanted us to play punk rock, because it was coming back in style, but I was more interested in upright basses and steel guitars. We never were in stride with what was hip at the moment.”
I’ll probably add some more to this as I think of more bands.