Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Philo, they've got Trouble With Girls...

I recently received this gem of a record from the good people at Parasol (and I mean that, really good people). The band is called Philo, the album is The Trouble With Girls. It came out in 1998 and I can't find any sign that Philo is still playing. It's too bad, they play a really interesting mix of power-pop, country laments and straight up rock. They're a three piece but get a good bit of help from friends playing mandolin, Hammond, and steel guitar. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Janet Bean of the fabulous Eleventh Dream Day lends some vocals to one of the songs. Philo offers a really good mix of heartbroken ballads and all out rockers. When they rock they lay it on thick with big tasty riffs of lightly fuzzed electric geetar. The album is only 9 songs long, but lately I've been praising the virtues of less is more. Too many bands I've been listening to (some forced some by choice) decide to go with 14 tracks when their records should've been ten. I don't want filler. I only want the best stuff. The Trouble With Girls feels just right in that regard. I don't think there's a throw away in the bunch. I'm not sure who's going to end up liking this record. It's probably too rock for those who tend to stay on the more Americana side of things (perhaps if you're a big rockabilly fan this might please you) and not nearly hip enough for the indie rock crew. Tragic that I feel the need to place a nice label on these guys or any band for that matter. Bad habit I need to break. But music needs to find its audience. I'm enjoying this in much the same I've been enjoying the new A.C. Cotton record, it just grows and grows on me. Here's Philo:

Last Dart Leaving (Down)

No Roses

As Faithful (As He Can Be)

The record can be purchased from Parasol.

Monday, November 29, 2004

It's time for more Unbunny

Hello all. Hope everyone had a good thanksgiving and, like me, stuffed themselves to near puking with good food and company. I myself spent so much time with the King of Beers that I'm now a member of the royal family. It happens that way when you spend holidays in the mountains. Sometimes there's nothing better to do than open one up. Of course, if it's before noon beer must be mixed with Snappy Tom or some spicy V8 to insure adequate vitamin C intake.

Anyway I've been listening to alot of Unbunny of late. I've been enjoying Jared Del Deo's music so much that I went out and bought his first and only album for Two Ton Santa called Black Strawberries. I wrote about the most recent Unbunny album Snow Tires not so long ago, but I've found Black Strawberries to be easily its equal. Black Strawberries feels somehow more raw than Snow Tires although I can't say exactly why. It may be that Del Deo is a little more apt to venture into "jammier" territory on this record, letting the sparks fly with some Neil Youngesque guitar solos on certain songs. But the backbone of this album (as is the case with Snow Tires are Del Deo's plaintive singing, introspective lyrics and solid songwriting. If you've remained unconvinced by my earlier glorifying of Unbunny either here or at Stylus Magazine then perhaps these tracks will embolden my case.

All tracks are from Black Strawberries which can be purchased HERE. Enjoy. It's nice to be back.


Freezing Scene


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A.C. Cotton

This is just a good old rock n' roll band from Portland, Ore. They're called A.C. Cotton. They play heartfelt rock in the mode of the Replacements, The Jam, Kevin Salem, Dumptruck. They add a nice touch of Americana on some songs; by that I mean a little twang, some slide guitar, you know the drill. They are relentless tourers and supposed to be quite good live. Check them out if you have a chance. I'll be reviewing this for Pop Matters in a few weeks but I've been enjoying the disc so much I wanted to share. All these songs are from their most recent album Notes For The Conversation. Pick it up HERE

All Drawn Out

Over And Done

Right At Home

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Landing Gear down...

Camping out in the twin cities area for the last decade or so, Landing Gear has seen some industry up and downs. Originally signed to a label in the mid '90s as Hovercraft (they had to dump that name because another band was using it) they played the old disappearing act after their debut came out. Lead singer/songwriter Jay Hurley reformed in 2000 as Landing Gear. Now here we are 4 years and 1 EP later they've finally gotten around to releasing their first proper album. Entitled Break-up Songs for Relationships that never Happened the album is so full of fat hooks you could go fishing with it. They are harmonies galore and they make me smile. Landing Gear is a pop band first and foremost, there's no political sloganeering or a general sense of self-importance from the band. Just really well written ditties that will stick in your head. It's with both head-scratching and a who-cares-shrug that I must report that their song "Atmosphere" was featured in an episode of the WB's "Roswell". While that may not exactly cement their indie ethos with the hip kids, I suppose it is a testament to the bands ability to write a catchy song. There are so many bands out there right now that preach proficiency over songcraft or image first before making people nod their head to the beat, that I find bands like Landing Gear to be really refreshing. I file this under guilty pleasure. It's so delicious but the hipsters will only listen to it by themselves in their cars and not tell their friends. So I'm telling you. Here's three:


Columbus, OH

Surprise, Surprise

Monday, November 22, 2004

Top 20 Singles 2004 ?

I recently had to compile a list of my top 20 singles for Stylus Magazine, something I don't have a firm grip on since I'm not usually a single driven listener and never, ever listen to the radio. Ok, I go a little MTV/VH1 time now and then to see what the kids are up to. Here's my list (remember this is mine, not the final Stylus List which involves compiling all the reviewers lists) let me know what you think:

(in no particular order):

RJD2 & Ric Ocasek: Through the Walls
Tube & Berger w/ Chryssie Hynde: Straight Ahead
Annie: Me Plus One
Groove Armada: I See You Baby (old song rereleased this year, still great)
Sage Francis: Slow Down Ghandi
Beastie Boys: Ch Ch Check it out
Modest Mouse: Float On
Morrissey: Irish Blood English Heart
Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out
Bjork feat. Kelis: Oceania
Outkast: Roses
Snow Patrol: Run
Green Day: Boulevard of Broken Dreams
The Go! Team: The Power Is On
Junior Boys: High Come Down
Destinys Child: Lose My Breath
Gwen Stefani: What Are You Waiting For
A.C. Newman: Miracle Drug
Arcade Fire: Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)


A long time ago I listened to "new wave" music. I dyed my hair silly colors. I wore relatively silly looking clothes. I put lots of band pins on my shirts. I had lots of Echo & The Bunnymen, Madness, Specials and Sex Pistols posters on the walls of my room. I got a fake ID and went to DC area clubs and drank Whiskey sours (don't ask why, just let it be) and danced like a spastic 17 year old. It was around this time of my life that I started listening to a band called The Sidewinders. These guys were kind of "off genre" for me when I started listening to them. They were decidedly more melodic and songwriterly than alot of the punk rock I was listening to and not as dance oriented as a lot of the ska and new wave I was pogoing about to. I think in a lot of ways (and hindsight is 20/20) these guys were the first flagstone in my appreciation of the alt-country/indie rock style. Not that The Sidewinders are particularly country. They hailed from Arizona and got lumped in with this really weird "desert rock" sub genre. I guess their music has a certain southerwestern flavor but nothing like, say, Calexico. They put out 2 very good pop rock albums and then broke up. The singer and guitarist went on to from The Sand Rubies (more desert references) who stuck me as a kind of bloated guitar heavy version of The Sidewinders. The guitarist Rich Hopkins went on to form a band called The Luminarios but frankly I'd stopped paying attention at that point. So today I give you The Sidewinders. One song from each album and one song from an acoustic only EP. I've got a soft spot for this stuff. I really think it stands the test of time, as I still put on Auntie Ramos Pool Hall every now and then. The albums are still in print and can bought HERE

From the Sidewinders first album Witchdoctor:


From the 2nd album Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall (I recommend this album highly):

We Don't Do That Anymore

From a Sidewinders EP an acoustic version of "We Don't Do That..":

We Don Do That Anymore (Acoustic Version)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Old SF bands

For some reason I've been thinking a lot about the bands that I was really into not long after I moved to San Francisco. Despite some contentions otherwise SF has always had a vibrant music scene. For a long time SF was really only associated with the progressive House music movement and while we've produced a lot of kick ass DJs from Felix the Dog to Ellen Ferrato, my musical roots in SF extend to the vibrant alt-country movement that sprang up around 1996-98. There were some many good bands at the time and, you have to rememeber, the whole alt-country thing seemed unstoppable. Uncle Tupelo hadn't broken up yet and the sound those guys were making over in St. Louis really reverberated here. Some people called the alt-country movement artificial. Sure there's some truth to that, most of the singer songwriters back then didn't really have the kind of upbringing that gave them an authentic voice when it came to singing about the hardships of prison or what being a sharecropper did to your hands. But none of the good bands really posed that way. They simply took the music and made it applicable to their life, loves, heartbreaks and tendency to have a bit too much to drink. I've picked three bands that I dug up about 2 weeks ago to listen to. They're all bay area bands, 2 have broken up and 1 has moved the operation up to Oregon though I don't think they're producing music anymore. Here's what I got:

The Old Joe Clarks were anchored by husband and wife team Mike Coykendall and Jill McClelland-Coykendall. Mike was a pretty amazing songwriter. He wrote beautiful heartbreaking stories accented by harmonica, banjo, autoharp, clarinet, melodica and lap steel. They release two wondeful albums of lilting melodic Americana which can be bought HERE. Both are excellent but the first Town of Ten is really excellent. Taken from Town of Ten:

Breaking Ground

Granfaloon Bus lasted a bit longer. They made a weird conglomeration of eccentric pop and Americana. The songs are very good and I often think about Granfaloon Bus when I listen to critical darlings like Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle. The Bus broke up in 2003 after ten rockin' good years. This is my favorite song of the album Good Funeral Weather. That album is hard to find but Exloded View (album the 2nd) can be bought HERE. Listen to the words, great writing:

I'm A Leaf

The final band may be the best of the bunch. The Buckets (and i've got no links, they've got no website and I can't find hide nor hare of the original record label Slow River Records, help me out if you've got info) were absolutely amazin live. The combined great songs that made you want to laugh, dance and drink all at the same time. They played a kind of barroom brand of alt-country that featured equally a love of beer and love of donuts. Every now and then they get together and play a show. It's always a great time. From their album The Buckets:


Thursday, November 18, 2004

20,000 Streets Under The Sky...

I've been a fan of Marah for a very long time. It's been a relationship of ups and downs that's for sure. In 1998, pretty much the center of my alt-country phase, I picked up the Marah album Let's Cut The Craps and Hook Up Later Tonight. I thought it was about one of the best things I'd ever heard. There was (and still is) so much honesty and energy in the songwriting. The band's main core are the brothers Bielanko, Serge and Dave. They write powerful songs involving guitars, banjos, drums, bass and Dave's bleeding throated vocals. Marah are from the city of brotherly (that's Philadelphia if you dropped out of school in 2nd grade) and fiercely proud of it. Their songs are filled with the denizens of the city and their exploits. Marah is the kind of band that really punches you in the gut. When they do everything right their songs are powerfully explosive. The songs ride on a thick bed of emotion. The music recalls early Bruce Springsteen (they often site Bruce as an influence)but replacing sax with harmonica. It's in a lot of ways straight ahead rock and roll in the best sense of that phrase. Over the years they've shed a lot of the alt-country trappings. Marah followed up Let's Cut The Crap... with 2000's Kids In Philly a rocking trip through the alleys, ball parks and cheese steak stands of their hometown. Then something terrible happended. The boys enlisted the producer of Oasis for their 2002 album Float Away With The Friday Night Gods and came up with Oasis lite. There was maybe one strong song on that album. Despite loads of good songwriting the album is buried in grandiose production that ruined the bands ability to pull you into their songs. It's become apparent that Float Away... had tons of potential as the bands live performances of those songs have been stellar.

That brings us to 2004 and the release of 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. A true return to form the record is rollicking good fun, Dave's tales of everything from Transexuals to simple broken hearts are well accented by the bands driving guitars and galloping beats.

Todays tunes are taken from 20,000 Streets Under The Sky. Buy all of Marah's music Here

Apologies, I just realized that these files are in Apples AAC format and I've no time to convert them. So if you've got iTunes you're good to go, just download link to disc and open. Otherwise I'm sorry. It won't happen again. The entire staff humbly begs your forgiveness.

Feather Boa


Tame The Tiger

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Paper Hearts Review

Oh yeah, be sure to check out my review of The Paper Hearts EP Hard To Smile on the opening page of Stylus Magazine

The General Excellence of Joe Pernice & Co.

A while ago I wrote and posted a song by Joe Pernice for the simple sake that I loved his stuff. But now I've got cause to post again because, while there's no brand new album in sight they are getting ready to release a live DVD called Nobody's Watching. which can preordered at their store (you can buy all their stuff there).

I've been thinking alot about Joe Pernice lately, not in the least because he was such an ardent Kerry supporter and did what he could from his perch of minor indie rock stardom to get out the good word. He's also a huge Bosox fan and, I'm sure, was overjoyed to see his boys break the curse and win some rings. He actually penned a song inspired by Manny Ramirez during the run up to the World Series. I think you can still purchase if for a dollar at Pernice Brothers.

Pernice has consistently produced some of the best, most intelligent pop music under various guises over the years. Originally his band Scud Mountain Boys (who I've mentioned here before and if you haven't looked into them shame on you) gave us one of the best albums of the 90's in Massachussets. Unfortunately the Scuds were shortlived, but Joe went on to make progressively better and better albums under the monikers Pernice Brothers, Big Tobacco, and Chappaquidick Skyline (I think I misspelled that). His most consistent output has been under Pernice Brothers. All the albums have been produced by PB bassist Peyton Pinkerton, each getting more notice than the last. At this point I'd call the Pernice Brothers critical darlings, they're just waiting for everyone else to notice. Joe's songwriting has wavered between orchestrated chamber pop to alt-country to straight ahead guitar pop filled with echoes of The Smiths, Elvis Costello, and Matthew Sweet.

Joe Pernice and his various iterations (particularly Pernice Brothers) are so good that I feel like it's my duty to convince everyone to buy his stuff. If you've never gone out and bought anything I've recommended here (and I hope you have), this is the stuff that's worth the effort. Here's a butt load of Pernice in various guises:

From the Pernice Brothers album Yours, Mine, & Ours:

Baby In Two

From the Pernice Brothers album Overcome By Happiness:

Overcome By Happiness

From the Pernice Brothers album The World Won't End:

Our Time Has Passed

From Big Tobacco (a one off side project from Joe Pernice):

Bum Leg

From Scud Mountain Boys Massachussets:

Grudge Fuck

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Enablers Review

Check out my review of Enablers at Stylus Magazine. Always glad to get a good band some exposure. It makes me feel important.

The Review


Well, I survived Las Vegas. It wasn't for a lack of trying to do myself some serious damage. It's the lack of sleep that gets ya. You just can't tell what time it is inside the casino. So the rule of thumb I figured out was add 3 hours to whatever time you think it is and add 30mins for each beer you've drunk to whatever time you think it is. There just aren't enough hours in the day.

So when in Vegas I could've seen Morrissey for $100 a ticket and spent my evening depressed. Or I could've gone to see Elton John for $250 a ticket and spent my evening confused by that pudgy little nebish. The only clear option was going to a strip club, but that's another story entirely given that my mom sometimes reads this blog.

So, safely back in the Bay Area and praying for a good nights sleep tonight I'm all about the mellow sounds of ambient, orchestrated pop music. To that end I give you oRSo. These ladies and gentlemen (and after a weekend in Las Vegas I've lost all view of what those 2 words mean) are culled from the bands Caifone, Rex, and Red Red Meat. The man behind the whole thing is Phil Spirito who provides a really cool sounding banjo and guitar to the proceedings that give the music a folky feel. oRSo plays an odd mix of orchestrated dream pop tempered with violins, violas, double bass and plucked cat whiskers (that last one I'm not sure about but sometimes I swear that's what I'm hearing). It's interesting stuff, good mellow I-need-something-to-cushion-this-fall type music. Excellent lyrics as well.

These songs are generously provided on their website and are all of their album "My Dreams Are Back and They're Better Than Ever" released on Perishable Records:

Loaded For Bear
Milanesa Two
Xmas Tomorrow (little soul mix)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Blanket Music

I found the record label Hush while doing some research for a review of the Paper Hearts. They have quite an eclectic spread of music but in general they seem to concentrate on intelligent well played mellow pop music. The band that caught my ear is called Blanket Musicfrom Portland and the music does have a certain comfort to it, like a warm blanket during this impending nights of chill. They're kinda all over the place stylistically but they made me think of Luna with an off singer tempered with a bit of bossa nova and Stephen Malkmus. It's clever stuff, very poppy in a smart way. I'm off to Las Vegas so no long editorializing today. Have a good weekend!!

From Blanket Music's most recent record Cultural Norms:

You Shouldn't Have Said That

From their previous record Move:


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Dusk in Cold Parlours

I've been a fan of the so called alt-country for a long time now. There was such an amazing scene in San Francisco about 7 years ago. Bands like: The Buckets, The Olde Joe Clarks, Red Meat, Our Lady of the Highway, Richard Buckner (playing as The Doubters), Court & Spark, Sunshine Club (a bit more pop really), Tarnation, and more that I can't think of at the moment. Most of these bands have broken up, moved away or their sound has changed so much that you can no longer classify them as alt-country. Of course, as any movement wanes or becomes played out what remains is often the cream of the crop. I'd say this is the case with the excellent new album "Witch Season" from Court & Spark, which I've been listening to (along with Apostle Of Hustle) fairly obsessively. The other interesting thing that occurs with the slow deterioration of any musical "movement" is the infiltration of other styles into the original sound, thus creating something both similar and distinctly new. Today I'm going to point my finger at Norfolk & Western, an excellent band from Portland, Or. Their sound is clearly rooted in Americana. They take their name from a defunct railway in Virginia, their cover art is of a piano sitting in a cold bare wood floor room, the feel of the music is old time as well tempered by an ear for new music. I'm tempted to describe them as a barefoot less urban Luna. The thing I like about N & W is the way they've skewed their interest in Americana with a dream pop sensibility. It's not unusual to hear a slide guitar, violin and plinking piano abutt against meandering guitar line that recalls forementioned Luna as well as Yo La Tengo and the Feelies. Here are two songs taken from their 2003 album "Dusk in cold Parlours" which can be purchased here.


A Marriage Proposal

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Great American Show...

So last night I went to see Richard Buckner and Damien Jurado at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall. I really went to see Buckner, of whom I'm a big fan, but Jurado really blew me away. Jurado's a pretty big man, tall and large boned but the keen that came out of his mouth at times was heartstopping. In fact the first time he let out this mid range moan, his head back and mouth wide open, I thought the sound was coming from someone in the audience. I had to look twice to make sure it was him. Jurado plays desolate folk songs, sometimes just him and his guitar, other times backed by a very capable 3 piece band. His stories are about the down and out, the heartbroken, the detritus of tenderness we so often miss and the chunks of denied happiness that we tend to pay so much attention to. It's a similar territory as Buckner, but instead of using Buckner's almost imaginistic lyrics (it often feels like he's made up half the words in his songs, sometimes to great effect, other times leading to much head scratching) Jurado's language is very matter of fact. I wouldn't call Jurado's words literary in the sense of a band like Enablers but more in the vein of classic folk singers like Dylan and Nick Drake.

I found Buckner's set a bit disappointing. He's touring alone and uses a series of digital loopers to instantly record a riff he's playing, loop it, then pick up another instrument, create a new noise, loop that, pick up another instrument and start playing a song. The use of technology is kinda cool, but I don't feel like it serves his songs very well. Add that to the fact that Buckner seemed, at best, disinterested in the show at times and I was left feeling underwhelmed. Many of Buckner's older songs (off Bloomed, Devotion and Doubt and Since) were given short thrift. Buckner seemd to be trying to reconfigure songs like "Gauzy Dress in the Sun," "Song of 27," either that or he was showing his disdain for his older material. He did a breathy mumble on a lot of the older stuff, completely losing alot of the melody that made the songs so striking in the first place. If he's uninterested in his older material I certainly don't begrudge him that, but if that's the case I don't think he should play it. The show wasn't without some striking moments. Buckner's encore of "Souvenir" was excellent, as was his take on the usually acapella "Fater". Ultimately the show just lacked the charismatic energy that I've come to expect from a Buckner show and that lack of energy was in stark relief to the amazing job that Jurado did.

So today we celebrate Jurado with two songs. 1 from his 2000 album "Ghost of David":

Johnny Go Riding

And 1 song from his most recent album on Secretly Canadian "Where Shall You Take Me":

Texas to Ohio

Buy Damien Jurado stuff here

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Old School Dropouts

The Connells first came to my attention years and years ago, probably freshman year of college when I got hold of Fun And Games which is so full of hook filled guitar pop that I thought my head would explode. You must understand that at this stage in my life I worshipped at the alter of REM, Hoodoo Gurus, 10,000 Maniacs, so the Connells just fit right in. Well here we are years later and I still very much have a soft spot for the boys from North Carolina. I've seen them live many times, bought all their albums on whatever format was "it" at the time (I still have my "One Simple Word" cassette), and still think that their material has stood the test of time. Songs like "Get A Gun," "Fun & Games," "New Boy," "Slackjawed," are just plain good. The last release they put out was Old School Dropouts in 2001. That album has its moments certainly but isn't as consistent as much of their past catalog. The Connells are another one of those bands that labored on the far edge of fame, getting lots of college radio play, touring relentlessly and eventually burning out. They did have a minor radio hit with the song "'74-'75" which I actually heard last summer, but then again I was in North Carolina at the time. I still listen to their "New Boy" EP (which has a nice acoustic version of both "Fun & Games" and "New Boy" as well as a couple of excellent unreleased tracks) from time to time and am never dissappointed, I just love the line, "You said new boy get down on your knees, I said I'm trying I'm trying...". I'm a sucker for that stuff.

I really wanted to post "New Boy" but in a hurry to get out the house this AM, didn't grab the frickin' CD. Instead I give you:


Monday, November 08, 2004

Apostle Of Hustle

Well the world still swirls around us doesn't it? As much as we want it to stop it continues on. The Pentagon launches an attack on Fallujah (safely post election) while Talk of the Nation on NPR talks about the legitimacy of our election process given the long lines, questions about voter registration and provisional balloting. So it is deeper and deeper that I escape into the music. I'm not ready to deal with all the crap yet. I'm still having trouble picking up the AM paper, something that was formerly one of my favorite daily activities. So instead I've been listening relentlessly to Folkloric Feel by Apostle of Hustle. I wouldn't call this music comforting, not in a sugary pop sense anyway. The lyrics are dark, the insert drawings are stick figures of muggings and junkies, but the music is so refreshing as it teeters on the edge of challenging and comfortably melodic. The main figure in Apostle is Andrew Whiteman who plays guitar for Broken Social Scene, and indeed there's alot of similar things going on sonically between Folkloric Feel and BSS's amazing You Forgot it in People. If you have any familiarity with BSS and You Forgot it... you remember what a buzz that record created within the critical community. It was a great record, but Folkloric Feel is easily as good if not better. It's a complex record that's doing so many things within the context of any given song that I just space out listening to it in the car, finding myself driving past destinations or sitting in a parking lot waiting for a song to end before I get out. It's a bit criminal that the record hasn't gotten the recognition that You Forgot it... received. I'm only posting one song which is unfortunate, but I don't believe in giving away entire albums because I want you people to buy from these artists. It's unfortunate because I don't think there's one song here that can sum up the general content of the whole album. I guess I just have to say that you need to trust me on this one. It's worth the price of admission.

From Folkloric Feel, I really can't recommend this album enough. Mad props to the Big Ticket for turning me on to this months and months ago. I wish I'd bought it sooner.

Energy of Death

Friday, November 05, 2004

Vanderslice & Unbunny review

Hello my friends. The entire staff here and Bars & Guitars would like you to take some time a read our review of Unbunny Snow Tires at Stylus Magazine. It's been one of those long days and I'm way off the back with this post. It's 18:15 West Coast time and I just want to go and drink beer and watch the Warriors play the Utah Jazz. But I'm here for you loyal reader, I'm here for you.

A quick note about John Vanderslice: he's cool because my friend Dave Douglas plays drums for him. His most recent record Cellar Door is a quirky take on pop music. Elements of electronica mix with pop guitars and experimental noises, but underlying it all is excellent songwriting and nose for a great hook. This song is taken from Cellar Door. Enjoy.

They Won't Let Me Run

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Paper Hearts

Here's a nice little slice of Americana. The guysThese guys like to turn the guitars up loud, reminds me of The Bottle Rockets and Slobberbone. According to their website they've broken up or at least taken some sort of hiatus. They did release this EP which came across my desk yesterday: Hard To Smile. It's only 5 songs long so it escapes the number one thing that puts me off Americana music: it all starts to sound the same unless the band is really innovative. I wouldn't call the Paper Hearts particularly innovative. They are, however, very good at what they do. There's some really nice boy/girl harmonies on some of the tracks which lend themselves very well to these tales of heartbreak and drinking. As you can imagine with a title like Hard To Smile it's a bit of a maudlin affair. But there are only 5 tracks on the EP so it's over before you've finished the beer you started into crying into.

From the EP Hard To Smile:


From the 2003 Album Plans For The Past:

I Used To Know

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

All I hear is the Jealous Sound...

Jealous of the victors in this years election and scared of the havoc that they will bring upon our country. That's all I will say though. I really think the wrong guy won, but that's the nature of politics.

I don't remember how I got my hands on my first Knapsack album. It certainly wasn't via radio. But somehow or another these boys from Davis, Ca. led by Blair Shehan found their way into my life when I was living by myself in a small studio apartment right on the edge of San Francisco's Tenderloin. There were days and night when I thought that the only thing keeping my head above water was the wail of Shehan's voice on Day Three of My New Life. I'll grudgingly admit that Knapsack was a forebearer of the whole "emo" sound. I will say that they were mining the pained boy vocal over howling guitar territory long before alot of bands started to cry into their telecasters. Knapsack did really fit the mold though. Shehan's vocal style isn't a shout or a scream, instead it's about as close as you can come to that keening and still be carrying a melody. The music was built on fuzzed up guitars, loud and driving. Knapsack was an excellent band. They followed Day Three of My New Life with This Conversation is Ending Right Now, a more mature outing that incorporated some different instuments, slower tempos and a more pained sound Shehan. It did, however, still rock.

Like so many good bands that go without commercial success despite putting out strong critically acclaimed records Knapsack broke up. Out of the ashes Shehan formed The Jealous Sound. When they released their first EP I have to admit that I didn't really get it. I mean the band sounded almost exactly like Knapsack. Shehan sang in the same manner about the same things. The guitars were still loud and melodic. Their didn't seem to be much to differentiate this new band from the old. All that seemed to change between the release of said EP and the release or their first album Kill Them With Kindness. It turns out that The Jealous Sound bought into the whole "emo" thing hook, line and sinker. There's much more polish here than in any Knapsack release, the rough edges are sanded smooth and while Shehan still croons in his signature howl there's clearly an attention to the fact that with a little airplay the big bald guy could be seeing heavy rotation on TRL. Problem is, I like The Jealous Sound. I think it's my baser pop instincts taking over but Kill Them With Kindness is so hook heavy and full of sing-a-long choruses that I almost (almost) forget the glitzy sheen that they've laid onto the whole affair.

I highly recommend both Knapsack albums I mentioned here. Kill Them With Kindess and The Jealous Sound are also recommended but check out Knapsack first.

So here's one from Knapsack, one of their mellower tracks to suit my mood:

Hummingbirds - Knapsack (from This Conversation is Ending Right Now)

And one from The Jealous Sound:

Guard it Closely - The Jealous Sound (from Kill Them With Kindness)

Monday, November 01, 2004

Election is near, very near + 3 from Will Johnson

Hey!! Stop what you're doing! You're not going to find that Arcade Fire live bootleg today, nor will you be stumbling across the b-side to "Hand In Glove", and there's no way you'll be finding that unreleased Pixies album. What you need to do is get ready to vote in the most important election of our lives. Figure out where your nearest polling place is and make sure you are registered. Tell your friends to vote, tell your enemies for that matter. But just vote.

Worried that you're not informed enough to vote? You're on the internet - the information is out there waiting for you. Not a U.S. citizen? Then please call or email all your American friends and make sure they plan on voting. Many artists/organizations are stepping up and helping with the Get Out the Vote campaign, and now so are many of us in the music blogging community.

Of course the national election is of grave importance, but hopefully all voters and potential voters are also familiar with whatever issues you'll be voting on locally. Don't lose site of the myriad local and state measures, candidates and propositions that are also due your attention. Educate yourself in these remaining hours and vote with an educated mind. At the very worst look at the enndorsements of a trusted local paper or, for that matter, a hated local paper. It's a good place to start.

I'm torn about posting any songs today or not. I certainly love to do it, but am I detracting at all from the importance of this election? Probably not, in fact if you've read this far perhaps you deserve a song or two. Also in case we wake up Wednesday morning in a banana republic with the country so divisively torn that it'll seem like civil war is imminent, I think I'll post before I'm recruited into some Terminator like battle for the sole of the country. So I'm going to do a 3 song post today but there won't be anything but encouragement to vote until Wednesday, mostly because I'll be glued to the TV watching returns (also the Warriors home opener is Wednesday night, yeah NBA).

I've been thinking alot about Centro-matic/Will Johnson/South San Gabriel for a while. I think it's for two reasons 1) Matt Pence is the mix man on all the Centro stuff and recently worked on American Music Clubs Love Songs for Patriots and I feel like you can feel his hands all over that record. 2) My buddy Dave Douglas is the drummer for John Vanderslice and he's originally from Denton, tx (home to Will Johnson and all his related projects) and just returned from a month and half tour. It's good to have him back. Will Johnson, Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel albums can all be purchased here here. The common link in all three is Will Johnson's cracked throaty voice. It shouldn't work but it does, and to great effect. He's got an excellent ear for melody no matter what project he's involved with, be it the rocking distorted pop sensibility of Centro-matic, the slightly calmer folk rock of South San Gabriel or his own broken hearted guitar and voice solo work. So until Wednesday here's three from the heart of Texas.

Strahan Has Corralled The Freaks - Centro-Matic

Philo Manitoba - Will Johnson

Smelling Medicinal - South San Gabriel