Thursday, July 27, 2006

Velvet Teen...

Santa Rosa, Ca.'s own The Velvet Teen has quietly returned with a loud album. If Out of the Fierce Parade was the band's indie rock guitar attack, and Elysium was their piano based change of pace with overtones of epic lyrical turns, then the new record Cum Laude is a swing back towards the guitar heavy indie rock the band founded itself on. Noisier than any other record that Velvet Teen has made, there's still a heavy melodicism contained here. My only complaint is that the vocals (and consequently lyrics) are lost in the feedback and volume. I loved Elysium because of the lyrics and the band's ability to make quieter songs interesting on a record that relied on the piano like most records rely on the electric guitar. Is Cum Laude a return to roots? A new direction? A backpedaling away from the sonic introspection of Elysium that may have alienated a few fans? You'll have to decide.

From Cum Laude:


In A Steadman Spray. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


It's the heat, man. It makes it hard to blog when it's so hot outside. I start sweating just looking at the keyboard, then the little computer fan comes on and I'll I can think of is cold beer and mojitos, so it's pretty much over at that point. But with a nice cooling trend on the horizon here in the bay area I think I can force out a post.

I know a lot of mp3 blogs have been hitting up the new David Bazan so I'm not breaking any new ground here. But Fewer Moving Parts has really grown on me. Let me state from the outset that I was never a huge Pedro The Lion fan. In fact I only own Achilles' Heel, which I like well enough but doesn't slay me. But there's something about Fewer Moving Parts that gets me, maybe it's the acoustic renderings of the electric songs together in one package. Don't know. But I find Bazan more affecting here than every before. Maybe it's the weather.

2 songs from Fewer Moving Parts:

Fewer Broken Pieces

Fewer Broken Pieces (acoustic)

Note: if you're an eMusic subscriber (and you should be) Our Lady of the Highway has been added to the database. Even better is that Beauty Won't Save Us This Year is a FREE download. Kill You With Numbers is also available. Get them.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Our Lady of the Highway...

There are certain local bands that I seem to champion. It's not that I feel a particular loyalty to my "scene", it's because I honestly believe that these bands are making music of immense quality and deserve recognition. At the head of this list of bands are Enablers, whose remarkable Output Negative Space is one of my favorites of 2006, and the increasingly prolific Our Lady of the Highway. For those of you that read Bars & Guitars regularly you've already heard me rave about About Leaving and the sophomore follow up Beauty Won't Save Us This Year. 2006 finds OLOTH getting ready to head to the East Coast for some high profile gigs in New York and Philadelphia to support their most recent release Kill You With Numbers. The new record shows a clear development of the band's sound as they expand their sonic palette further with keyboards, electronics, and atmospheric effects. But at their heart these songs remain distilled essences of Dominic East's heart. As always the lyric content is decidedly broken. Broken in the sense of the heart, damaged in the sense of how we remain after the tears have fallen. East's lyrics are served well by the band's expanded sound, though there always remains the suspicion that ultimately these songs beg for just his voice and guitar. The nice thing is the way the band (it's core of East and guitarist Andy Gerhan now together for over 10 years) is so effortlessly complimentary to East's voice and words and vice versa. While this is probably much more of an "indie" rock record than their past efforts, the thread of alt-country remains in the touches of violin, harmonica, and the gentle acoustic numbers. In listening to Kill You With Numbers I've found that I'm hearing the sound of a band hitting its stride. After defining themselves with the gentle heartbroken melancholy of About Leaving, then over reaching a tad in trying to break the curse of the sophomore record with Beauty Won't Save Us This Year, Our Lady of the Highway has expertly crafted an album that lands squarely in between those records. Kill You With Numbers is a mature, heartfelt set of songs that comfortably rock 'n weep. Very recommended.

1 song from Kill You With Numbers:

Go Home

Check out the website for an intriguing subscription plan the band is offering.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

new Pernice Brothers track...

Pernice Brothers have posted a new track from their upcoming release Live A Little to be released fall 2006. It's exactly what you'd expect from one of our finest songwriters: pitch perfect guitar pop delivered with Joe's trademark laconic vocal style. Head to the website and put your name on their mailing list so I don't have to be solely responsible for getting such wonderful sounds into your ears.


Also check out the video for the same song which is funny as shit. If you've never ridden rollers before it's way harder than it looks.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Halou hails from San Francisco and plays a very electronic based pop music that recalls elements of both straight electronica (think Tricky, Massive Attack) and, at least on this outing, elements of straight indie rock a la Garbage or Mazzy Star. Their new record Wholeness & Separation is a sprawling 14 tracks of ethereal, atmospheric, crashing, glitchy, pop. The band's anchored by the delicate vocals of Rebecca Coseboom. Rebecca has a light touch, a voice that seems to float above the programmed loops and organic instruments. She's breathy but not in a wimpy way, she pushes back at the instruments as necessary creating a lovely contrast. I think a lot of people are sleeping on this one because it's not exactly electronica or dance and it's not exactly indie rock either. Perhaps it's not finding the right audience. Give it a try I've become quite fond of it.

1 track from Wholeness & Separation:

Wholeness. This track is a bit louder/harder than some of the other more ethereal tracks. But I like it a lot.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Great Lakes...

It took me a little while to come around to the charms of Great Lakes forthcoming release Diamond Times. The first time I put it on all I could think about was how much I miss Beulah. Let's just say there's a bit of a family resemblance. Like Beulah Great Lakes were part of the Elephant 6 collective responsible for Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and a host of other semi-psych bands noted for their extended memberships and wide array of instrumentation. For Diamond Times Great Lakes has moved over to Empryean Records. What finally got me over my "you sound just like Beulah" block was the moment that I realized that they sounded just like Beulah's best moments. That can only be a good thing. And they really do have their own personality, it just takes a few listens for it to really come out. Great Lakes liberal use of the pedal steel and horns (particularly the horn that Kenny G plays, whatever that's called) are particularly identifiable. If pushed for a more accurate description I'd say that Great Lakes are actually denser than Beulah. I know it seems near impossible but there's really a density to the instrumentation that makes the record particularly enjoyable on headphones. I'm talking layers, man, layers. The two main songwriters in Great Lakes, Dan Donahue and Ben Crum, are obviously capable of writing a variety of song styles as it suits them. But what they do best is craft songs that comfortably straddle multiple genres while developing a unique personality. Diamond Times happily goes from country to country-politan to pop to rock to deformed big band. I guess that just means that indeed Great Lakes are very Elephant 6.

1 song from Diamond Times:


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Midlake Follow Up...

I love to get the email. It's acknowledgement that I'm not alone in all this. After my recent post on Midlake I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from primary singer/songwriter Tim Smith's father Billy Gene Smith. It's got some interesting tidbits about the genesis of The Trials of Van Occupanther. Here it is:

Hi Pete,

I want to thank you for the kind words you had for Midlake. Tim Smith is my son and you can imagine how proud his mother and I are about his music. Ever since the 6th grade he has been totally focused on a career in music. He took sax, piano and flute lessons for years. We sent him to the University of North Texas where he got his undergraduate degree in Jazz Performance. All through jr. high, high school and college he was at the top of his class. He started out loving Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and all the great jazz performers. Some where along the way he bought a guitar and taught himself how to play. I used to tell him great music is a balance of harmony, rhythym and melody. With his jazz he loved the improv stuff which, honestly, I never cared for because the melody was lost. After he wrote the music for their first album, his mother told him to write something she could hum to. He did. The result is Van Occupanther. I asked him a few days ago before he left for Europe again if he had time to write new material for his third album and he said, "Dad, we're just too busy. I want to write, but just don't have time. However, I do have some good ideas. I just need to get to a piano."

I don't know if you know this or not, but Tim writes 95% - 100% of all Midlake's music. He also writes all the musical parts and does all the singing on the album. When I was a kid back in the 60's we had a very good band and even made an album and were very popular in South Texas. Honestly, we couldn't hold a candle to Midlake. All the boys are gifted musically, especially McKenzie. He was in the 1 o'clock jazz band at North Texas. You don't get that position without being very, very good.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate someone else saying what I've been thinking for some time now.

Best Regards,

Billy Gene Smith

Man, that's three posts in a row this week. I'm tiring myself out. I gotta go lie down.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bishop Allen...

bI've posted about Bishop Allen before (I think it was about a year aog) but the excellence of their new song warrants some follow up. If you didn't know, and you should, Bishop Allen (which is a Brooklyn band and not a person, but you can never tell these days, what with the kids and the crazy names) has been releasing an EP of songs every month. When said EP is ready they usually post one free download as a tantalizing taste. The June EP up for sale at the Bishop Allen website features a song called "The Same Fire" which is just great pop goodness and should be enjoyed and treasured for generations (which, as far as music goes, lasts about 16 minutes each these days). Cruise over to the website and check out all the free mp3s. All of which are uniformly excellent.

If you're too lazy here's a link to The Same Fire

Monday, July 10, 2006

Birds of Wales...

Yes, I'm back. I gotta tell ya, the San Juan Islands are some the most beautiful I've seen in this country. It's such an unusual blend of forest and ocean. Very dramatic views, lovely weather this time of year, some good mountain biking, sea kayaking, and some unbelievable food at Inn At Ship Bay. If you're ever in that neighborhood I can't recommend it enough.

My journey was done by car. The drive from San Francisco to the San Juan Islands is about 17 hours give or take a little. The nice thing about the drive is that I recently bought a new car and it came with the XM radio. It's a great time the killer the XM. There are some good stations playing music that I'm more or less unfamiliar with and this gave me a forced chance to get exposed to some new bands. One of the tracks that I heard a number of times and really kind of liked was "My Lady; in July" by a band called Birds of Wales. When I returned from the trip I did a little research and a little listening. Birds of Wales is very folk rock. I'd say they're a little slicker and more radio ready than what I usually like, but there are some fine moments and I still think "My Lady; In July" is a sweet pretty song in a near power ballad kind of way.

Some songs from Birds of Wales:

My Lady; In July

Fall Of The 49