Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Doleful Lions...

Here's yet another release by the good folks at Parasol Records. This one arrived in my mailbox about 3 or 4 weeks ago and has been getting sporadic play mostly due to the fact that it both frightens and confuses me. I guess those reactions should be considered major accomplishments given that I'm a cynical fuck who automatically believes he's heard it all before and that it was done better by someone else. I've got no history with Doleful Lions, and by that I mean before Shaded Lodge And Mausolem arrived I'd never heard them or heard of them. My ears were clean white virgins to their sound. And a discomfiting sound it is. The band is a duo based in Chicago that seems to mine a slightly twee style of pop territory: lots of acoustic guitars, gentle vocals, mellowness occasionally broken by a fuzz laden guitar and uptempo beat. The first track "Sham Magic in the Night Gallery" is a great slice of jangly guitar pop. The drums are tinny and buried in the mix but it works well with the song as the drums seem to echo the six note guitar line that keeps popping up all clean and handsome amidst the less realized production. It's a nice juxtaposition and a great song. But things get creepier from there. The rest of the songs are almost all simple relatively unadorned acoustic guitar ballads that are essentially folk in style despite some bleeps, drones, bells and hisses. Lead singer/songwriter Johnathan Scott writes lovely ballads and sings in a semi-baritone that seems to be half nasal and half oboe. And it starts getting weird. Evidently Scott has an obsession with black metal band Von and he tries mightily to invoke their shadow in his lyrics. The lyrics of all the songs conjure up visions of dungeons, satan, sacrifices, ghosts, darkness, creeping voids, holy men, clerics, wizards, etc. You know, the kind of Dungeons and Dragons stuff that's either laughable or stupefying. Doleful Lions seem to land somewhere in the middle. The music is quite good though I could stand for a bit more stylistic variety (oh, there's the cynical bastard again) through the 10 songs, but it's growing on me more and more.

2 songs from Shaded Lodge And Mausolem:

Sham Magic in the Night Gallery

Tommy Tells of Ghostships

2 bonus songs from black metal band Von:

Satanic Blood


Friday, May 27, 2005

Esopus Magazine...

Something a bit out against the grain in celebration of the long weekend of drinking that will soon commence. There's a magazine called Esopus that's comes out of New York and is geared towards art and culture. It's not the kind of thing that I read necessarily with an frequency but it caught my eye about 5 months ago because one of the components of the magazine is that there's always a CD with it. On this CD were a number of bands including the Bapitst Generals of whom I'm fond. Now this isn't a music magazine as much as it's one of art and I like the fact that it recognizes a legitimate component of both art and pop culture to be the genre of music we refer to as "indie" or "alt". The issue I currently hold in my hand is #4 for Spring 2005. It's got a short story, an amazing essay by a cook regarding her time spent learning her craft in Italty, a pull out art poster, a removable foldout of photographs of wood carvings of all the prez's of the US done by a southern folk artist, photography, etc. It's all visually striking and well written. Also included are a series of essays by readers regarding imaginary friends that they had as children. The stories are funny and creepy and interesting. On the included CD 13 musicians have put these readers tales to music. The musicians include Vetiver, The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, Jon Langford, Grant Hart, The Caulfield Sisters and others. The songs range from cute to wonderful. I'm posting one song today in the hopes that you'll be interested in purchasing the magazine which can be ordered from the website or found at various bookstores the most prominent of which is Barnes & Noble. It's really kinda cool. Have a great holiday to all those in the US, to all others don't work too hard on Monday. Out.

From Esopus Magazine #4 Spring 2005:

Lisa by The Prayers And Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers

Thursday, May 26, 2005

More Court & Spark...

If you've read Bars & Guitars with any degree of regularity you know that I have a huge soft spot for The Court & Spark. A local San Francisco band that's made a great noise on the alt-country scene for quite awhile now generally playing mellow acoustic based compositions that recall both the American tradition of breezy southern California country made popular by Gram Parsons and a more urban folk that's modern touchstones reside in alt-country (Uncle Tupelo, Neil Young). Last year's Witch Season (which can be purchased here) was one of my Top 10 and continues to age well. Seeing the band open for Magnolia Electric Co. a few weeks ago was a bit of a relevation. They were without pedal steel player Tom Heyman and it forced the band into a much more uptemp rock style which suited them very well, especially within the evenings context which was dominated by Jason Molina's Magnolia Electric Co. and the band's newly electrified sound.

Anyway what I'm getting to here is that I finally got around to listening to C&S's 2004 EP Dead Diamond River about 3 weeks ago and was, not surprisingly, impressed. The material is very similar to what's on Witch Season but more atmospheric and little less straightforward musically. It's like there's a haze over the recording that obscures the songs a little bit if that makes sense. Anyway it's simply more excellence from one of SF's best bands.

1 song from the 5 songs EP Dead Diamond River. Purchase here.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Kelley Stoltz...

SF Local Kelley Stoltz is best known in this town for his amazing shows at Thee Parkside where he would cover Echo And The Bunnymen's Crocodiles in its entirety. He's an excellent singer songwriter with an obvious love of The Beatles and the melodic psych-rock of Captain Beefheart. His last album Antique Glow is just short of a masterpiece. From beginning to end Stoltz pens tune after memorable tune. He's a natural talent that's just now getting going. His last album was recorded to 4 track and Antique Glow was done to 8 track. It's just a matter of time before he's scooped up by a major and starts adding orchestra's to his songs. This is a very worthwhile purchase, the record is strong beginning to end.

From Antique Glow:

Perpetual Night

Jewel Of The Evening

Underwater's Where The Action Is

From Crockodials his cover of Echo & The Bunnymen's Crocodiles:


Rescue. Killer cover.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Maria McKee...

There are certain artists who are simply essential to one's musical make up. They could be the band that played your first concert (Madness), made you believe music could be more than just noise (The English Beat, The Specials). I'm thinking about those early days of youth when you'd wait with your breath held for you favorite band's next record to come out; the days when you'd just sit on the floor of your room listening to records and reading lyrics, convincing yourself that they were singing to you and only you. Well, for me Lone Justice was one of those bands. I can't even count how many times I sang (badly) at the top of my lungs "Ways to Be Wicked", louder as I got progressively more drunk. Oddly enough Lone Justice was my first introduction to country music. Since then the alt-country taste has been firmly planted on my tongue. I followed Maria Mckee's solo work closely, though truth is that Mckee lost me at some point. I thought You Gotta Sin To Be Saved was great and its predeccesor Maria Mckee was full of emotionally vibrant portraits of working class folks, travelling shows and cobwebbed boarding houses. But her ventures into more prog-rock, operatic work seemed less interesting to me. I saw her with Vic Chesnutt at Noe Valley Ministry a few years ago and she proved that she still has some of the best vocal chords around and the ability to make those early songs soar. I suppose it was just a matter of time before she returned to her more country roots. Perhaps it's a naked attempt to capture an audience that may have stopped paying attention, but her new album Peddlin' Dreams is a return to the rootsy elements that her voice seems tailored to. There's more country on this record than the high minded cinematic indulgence of High Wire or Life Is Sweet. Those records had excellent songs on them, but I found them difficult to digest as wholes. Peddlin' Dreams is full of gentle balladry and enough twang to make me pine for my Lone Justice records. Peddlin' Dreams (and all her work back through Lone Justice) can be purchased through Maria Mckee's website.

2 from Peddlin' Blue:

Bar Stool Blues. Neil Young cover.

Turn Away

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Cut Ups...

Ok, you're not going to find this one in any records stores or on iTunes or eMusic. The Cut Ups are the brainchild of the good folks at The Dust Congress, which if you don't read regularly you're really missing out on some great poetry, links, and general commentary. They put out a record on their own newlyl minted Dust Congress Records. It's a decidedly lo-fi affair, sounds like it was recorded around the kitchen table after a few too many macro brews. I imagine it's more a vanity project (by that I mean doing something more for yourself, your enjoyment, your own satisfaction) than one imbued with great amibition, but everything starts somewhere. It has echoes of Silver Jews and Mountain Goats. It's no masterpiece, but it is a sincere and honest moment captured by the best intentions and that has a certain undeniable charm. The songs are also pretty good. They could use some gussying up in the production department, but c'mon what're you expecting. I've found myself playing Hearts Kings Lies far more often than I expected to. The song "Grey Area" has perked up ears here in the office. I'm not sure how Dust Congress is distributing the record but go to The Dust Congress and you'll figure it out. You can probably just email. Support the good people.

from Heart Kings Lies:

Grey Area

How Do You Breathe

By the way, unbelievably beautiful day in Northern California today. Road the dirt in to work and didn't listen to music. That in and of itself is amazing. I'd forgotten how the headlands sound in the summer/spring. Of course, I immediately put on The Sunset Tree when I arrived South Of Market. That's all. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bishop Allen...

More rock from Brooklyn NY. I first saw Bishop Allen playing a warehouse with the inimitable Our Lady Of The Highway. They were on a little West Coast mini-tour. They were good. Dominic of Our Lady thought they were really good. I agree. They've got some rave reviews including a 4 Star from Rolling Stone and some nice props from Newsday. First of all Bishop Allen is a band not a person. They're named after the street that the two principles grew up on. On their album Charm School they play a poppy brand of jangley guitar music. Kinda reminds me of everything from Morning Spy and Silver Jews to Pavement. It's very fun and involves handclaps and sing-a-long choruses. The record can be purchased from their website as well as downloaded from iTunes.

All songs available from their website.

From Charm School:

Things Are What You Make Of Them

Busted Heart

Eve Of Destruction

Little Black Ache

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Radar Brothers...

Are you down with The Radar Brothers? If not then it's time to get on board. I wasn't a huge fan of their last record, though I bought it; And The Surrounding Mountains felt like a rocket that didn't have quite enough power to break gravity's pull. But The Fallen Leaf Pages has converted me to the vision. What a wonderful listen. The album is powerful in the same way that Iron & Wine is powerful. It's the ability to demand attention, to make people stop and gawk without having to crank the volume up to 15. It's about subtlety, talent, good hooks. The Radar Brothers seem to be able to translate melancholy into sound, but don't think that every song on The Fallen Leaf Pages is a big cry fest. Lyrically speaking the songs are more slice of life than slice of the wrists. It's also not a musically downbeat affair. I love the way "Papillion" builds upon itself growing from gentle piano balladry to a swirling mix of drums, guitar, strings and a whistling solo that's pretty cool in the context of the song but can't touch Andrew Bird's work with air and lips. The actual growing structure of the song as moves through its 4 mintues and 40 seconds is at least half the fun for me, though the fact that it's hummable and melodic keeps me coming back.

1 song from The Fallen Leaf Pages:


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Very Hush Hush...

This was a rare moment of actually liking a band that randomly sent me info because they thought I'd like it. My disappointment scale in this department is pretty much pinned on bummer. But The Very Hush Hush made an impression. I can't say that I'm always drawn to their style of music. It's thick and atmospheric, dramatic and ponderous. The lead singer delivers in a breathy state of constant decomposition that makes the words near unintelligible. Somehow this fits the songs perfectly. The songs are awash in the hum of guitar feedback and keyboard hush, the drums are pushed to the front of the mix and often serve as the primary catalyst within the song structure. I want to call it gothic in intent but that word is loaded with preconception and I don't want to taint the band. The record is Mourir c'est Facile which I imagine is french (I haven't taken the time to figure it out) and my years of Spanish would lead me to guess it translates as something like "death is easy" or "to kill is simple" but I could be full of crap and it could mean "the cows are spotted' or "stone me you hotentot". The record is being released on Sao Bento but the released date has been pushed back until the fall. In the mean time check out a track.

From Mourir c'est Facile the song is a seven minute opus so I'm only going for one:

The Outskirts

These kids are Bay Area so if you live here go see them live. Check the website.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Jim Roll...

i have to admit that I was once an avowed alt-countryist. It was all I listened to . I was obsessed, taken in. My head only wanted to hear Whiskeytown, Son Volt, Wilco (remember when they really were an alt-country band), Lucero, Tandy, Our Lady of the Highway, the list goes on. As the process of evolution has continued within the confines of my internal landscape I've let a lot of this music gather dust on my CD shelf (it's vast and I often have to spelunk to get to some of the older titles, mucho dust). Lately I've been listening to some old favorites and I came across my old friend Jim Roll who I had a brief obsession with. He put out a record in 1999 called Lunette which is really a very stunning record. His follow up I found to be less interesting, it was called Inhabiting The Ball and may be best remembered because Roll had high falutin' writers Rick Moody annd Denis Johnson write the lyrics for some of his songs. I find the lyrics to often be expectedly literary and entertaining but not necessarily good fits with Roll's tunes.

2 songs from Lunette:

She Aint' Gonna Go

Bleed (if you're bleeding)

1 from Inhabiting The Ball:

You. Lyrics by Rick Moody.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Jandek covers...

The good folk of Summer Step Records have been doing the painstaking work of translating the untranslatable. They recently released the their second album of Jandek covers. For those of you that don't know about Jandek I direct you Jandek. The word recluse doesn't even begin to describe the mystery Jandek. Words are barely worth a toss in trying to describe the music that he makes. It's bizarre often unlistenable, strangley capitivating, always confusing. As a good friend of mine said to me, I don't necessarily like the music that Jandek makes, I like the moods and the atmosphere he creates. Add a healthy dose of legend, a near reverence in snotty indie/underground music circles, and fans from just about every note worthy "alt" band you can think of in the last 20 years and you've got the stuff that a good compilation is made of.

Summer Step Records 2nd tribute to Jandek, entitled Down In A Mirror has everyone from Jeff Tweedy to Six Organs of Admittance to The Mountain Goats to Rivulets to Pothole Skinny covering the myths songs. You don't necessarily need a love or even deep knowledge of Jandek to appreciate these songs, but they can serve as a great jumping off point. Also if you're so inclined check out the Jandek documentary Jandek On Corwood which is in and of itself a pretty darn cool movie.

Here's Okkervil River covering the Jandek song "Your Other Man" from the album Blue Corpse:

Your Other Man by Okkervil River

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I've Got Something to say...

That's a total blog cop out isn't it. But I haven't had time to put a coherent post together but still wanted to stay in touch with you, my people. So I've come up with a some bullet points for you regarding important things we should all be thinking about and listening to.

•If you haven't heard The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday do yourself a favor & buy it. It's grown on me like a noxious weed. My personal kudzo. Fantastic.

•It's important that we each listen to the Mountain Goats once a day.

•This here is cool and you should all make art and send it to them and buy their stuff. On a related note don't be bummed out if your six year old daughter makes a cooler CD single cover than you. It was just beginners luck. Really, I'm sure it was. But I wish I'd made it, Samantha.

•Despite my better instincts this is really pretty cool. Have you check out Arianna?

•And here's the audio track for today. Taken from the out print Redo The Stacks by Centro-matic. Word is they'll be buying the masters back from some crotchedly label that's doing them wrong. This is a song about starfighers and that alone makes it good.

Enjoy your evening:

From Redo The Stacks:

Starfighter #1479

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals Pt. 2...

As I promised yesterday here's another song from the new Ryan Adams, this one from disc 2. I think I'm finally starting to put my finger on the sonic differences between the two discs. #1 is all about the now dated Whiskeytown sound and #2 is all about homage to The Grateful Dead. In listening to disc #2 it's like he's auditioning for Bonnaroo or something. A bit too jammy/noodly for my taste. To each his own...

1 from Cold Roses disc #2:

Dance All Night

This song is not of the psuedo-Dead variety. I chose it for that reason.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals...

Well, in his usual excessive self Ryan Adams has released his 2 disc album Cold Roses under the name Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. He's a big star now, a far cry from the broken hearted weeper that I thought could do no wrong back when I picked up a copy of Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac. That record sheperded me through a break up, my first experience living by myself and the masochistic world of single speed mountain biking. Of course things have changed. Mr. Adams no longer is a poster boy for alt-country. He's a star, he's much maligned, he's hated, he's admired and he really hasn't released a good album in awhile. But Ryan Adams for me is a lot like REM. Even if I don't pay attention much anymore the sentimental side of me always makes me pick up the records. It's like I just want to stay in touch, though not hang out every night anymore. As far as Adams goes, I loved Heartbreaker, didn't care much for Gold, liked Rock And Roll a lot more than most people, and can take or leave Love is Hell (both parts). I wasn't expecting much out of this record. But I like certain songs more than I thought I would. But it seems calculated. Very much an attempt to recreate the sound that put him on the map back in the Whiskeytown days. That doesn't mean all the songs are bad. If nothing else Adams is a literate songwriter who can hit it out of the park when he does it right. And he does hit a homerun or two with The Cardinals. That's more than many songwriters can say.

One from Disc 1 today. 1 from disc 2 tomorrow. It's always kinda nice to see old friends.

from Cold Roses disc 1:

When Will You Come Back Home

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Hold Steady...

I posted about the tremendously fine The Hold Steady a few weeks back concentrating on their last release Almost Killed Me. But now they've released the new album Separation Sunday and despite the strenuous debate it's stirred up I think it rocks. May be as Top 5 of 2005. This album is definitely a bit different than Almost Killed Me in that the instrumentation is more varied. This time out there's piano, light keyboard and even some horns. But don't think for a second that they're not rocking it hard. The basic sound is still down and dirty bar room rock. Lead singer/shouter/mumbler Craig Finn is still crafting tense tails of Carver-esque desperation and excess.

Detractors of The Hold Steady say that the band plays a fairly typical brand of rock that's not much different from what 1,000 bands are doing all over America. The only thing that sets them apart is Finn's unique voice and lyrics. It's an arguement that cuts straight to the question of "do you listen to music for the melody, the beat, the hook or the lyrics"? In other words if you take away Finn do you have just a typical band? It's an odd arguement since it's the whole package that makes the piece as far as I'm concerned. I mean, keep Finn's lyrics but use a different voice and it wouldn't work. Match Finn's voice and stories with a quartet of stringed instruments and it wouldn't work. Finn belongs at the front of this pretty noise, they need him and he needs them. And by the way I really like the additional instrumentation.

2 songs from Separation Sunday:

Your Little Hood rat Friend. This available on their website.

Banging Camp

You need to buy this record. You really do.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Drive-By Truckers...

Ok, I'll admit this is a lazy post because I imagine that everyone who comes by bars & guitars to sup at the musical bufet knows these fellas pretty well. But it's fucking raining again here in No. Cal and it's May! Do you hear what I'm saying! It doesn't rain here this late. It's just stupid. It's been a weird winter and it hasn't ended yet. Anyway I guess my point in moaning about the weather is that it totally demotivates me, making it hard to garner the energy necessary for a day of work much less put together a relatively coherent post about a band. So I'm just posting this one song from The Drive-By Truckers excellent The Dirty South. If anyone can blow the metaphoric, if not literal, clouds from this damp day in San Francisco's South of Market district Patterson Hood can.

1 song from The Dirty South:

Carl Perkins' Cadillac

Buy The Dirty South over HERE

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Long Winters...

No not the Long Ryders I'm talking about the Long Winters. I've slept on this record a bit since I got it about 2 months ago. It was originally released in 2003 so it's nothing terribly new but for some reason my ears have really perked up to it in recent weeks. I've been putting aside Damien Jurado's amazing On My Way To Absence and digging me some Long Winters. At times they sound like XTC, other times an alt country soul outfit. It's an exuberant set of songs and by that I mean you really feel like songwriter John Roderick loves his material and loves hearing it play. His voice is a bit raw, but I've always like that. I don't see any news of a new record in the near future, though there does seem to be talk of one at some point so I guess they're still a going concern. An interesting sidenote is that Long Winters bassist Sean Nelson was once a principle in Harvey Danger; you do remember Flagpole Sitta don't you?

A couple from The Long Winters When I Pretend To Fall:


It'll Be A Breeze

Purchase When I Pretend To Fall HERE

Monday, May 02, 2005

Christian Kiefer...

Saturday night I saw a great show. At San Francisco's venerable Bottom Of The Hill I took in a bill that consisted of Magnolia Electric Co., Court And Spark, and the Christian Kiefer Band. It was top to bottom a great show. I'm usually a little wary of BOTH shows simply because I don't like to stand for extended periods of time and there's no good place to settle in comfortably for 3 or 4 hours. Plus it gets crowded as hell and has terrible lines of movement from the front (where the bar is) to the back (where the bathroom is). But BOTH books some great shows and Saturday night was no exception.

Court And Spark absolutely killed it. If you haven't gotten into these guys despite my repeated pleadings here at Bars & Guitars you must immediately go and purchase Witch Season without hesitation. C&S is playing a number of west coast shows with Magnolia Electric Co so if you live in Oregon or Washington check it. Aside from having a quiver a tremendous songs that are reconfigured into a more of a "rock" band format they also played a killer cover of Depeche Mode's "Policy of Truth". The band was loose and clearly enjoying the hometown crowd.

Magnolia Electric Co. reminded me of why I like Trials And Errors so much more than What Comes After The Blues. Trials And Errors seemed to indicate to me that Jason Molina and friends were going to be moving in a decidedly harder rocking direction. I thought the sound suited the band very well and especially did many of the songs on Songs:Ohia's Magnolia Electric Co. a great justice. While What Comes After The blues is certainly no folk album it's also noticeably restrained as compared to the loose jammy vibe of Trials. In concert Magnolia Electric Co. is all rock and then some. They didn't play a bad song, the energy was amazing, the players excellent, even the more maudlin songs were recreated as loose (there's that word again) extended rock freak outs. Molina seemed to really be enjoying himself.

The first band on the bill is from, I think, Sacramento. Called Christian Kiefer Band they sounded like a better version of Kings Of Leon. A slightly southern tinged take on rock that recalled The Band or even early Eagles. They had an accordian player in the band so that makes them OK by me. I enjoyed their set but have found their recorded music to be a less than accurate reflection of what I heard. The songs are much more mellow, whereas live that played it loud and crunchy.

Some songs from Christian Kiefer's 2003 album Medicine Show:

Come Up