Friday, August 7, 2009

#31 (Heal Ya-dition)

Science has proven time and again that souls may be mended. All that is needed for a lil soul regeneration is either an inspirational book or a joyous song.

And so it was good news for all of our souls when Californian Alex Ebert dissolved his decidedly less jolly band, Ima Robot, refashioned his new-wave mullet into long hippie locks, and picked up a deca-collective of buskers, wayfarers, and fun-havers (hippies). Ebert also collected a pseudonym (Edward Sharpe) and dubbed his posse the Magnetic Zeros. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros make light-hearted uplifting music with few strings attached. Their debut album Up From Below is as organic as it is uplifting.

In 'Janglin,' the group shows its effusive collective energy and delivers a pair of memorable hooks (along with an opportunity to yell "HEY" in the middle of the chorus). Let Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros "heal your janglin soul."

Friday, July 24, 2009

#30 (Percussion Concussion Edition)

White Rabbits offer their ingredients for their beverage: Percussion Concussion

Drums. Plural.
1 Rhythmic Motif
1 Harmonic Motif
Bassy Piano
Radiohead inspired guitar sound & guitar line
Dry hand claps
1 BreakDOWN
3 chilling harmonies

Mix. Repeat. Enjoy. White Rabbits, "Percussion Gun"

Friday, July 17, 2009

#29 (Simple As Sin Edition)

Simplicity is no sin. Campbell's Tomato Soup on a cold day, the aesthetic beauty of a Stop sign...Then there's Bowerbirds. The North Carolinian guy/gal/guy trio play lovely, simple music. Crisp snare drums, dry acoustic guitars, desperately harmonized vocals, sometimes upright bass, sometimes pianos, and sometimes squeezebox coat their rural soundscape.

After their lovely debut Hymns for a Dark Horse, Bowerbirds are releasing the follow-up Upper Air. To this humble listener, the standout is "Northern Lights." And while I've listened to this song at least 10 times today, the only thing I can properly say about it is: "all I want is your eyes PLINK-plink. plinky-plink." Enjoy an autumnal song in summertime...

Friday, July 10, 2009

#28 (More Than a Doppelganger Edition)

English singer-songwriter Nick Drake passed away thirty-five years ago. Drake was never properly embraced in his time. His first three recordings on Island Records sold less than 5,000 copies each during the time of their release. Posthumously, his impressive catalog has come to be revered as it should have been originally. Exhibiting fingerpicking prowess, subtle and crisp arrangements, striking melodies, and a feathery vocal delivery, Drake and his songs have become iconic.

For all those Drake aficionados that never got to see him perform, along comes Alexi Murdoch. While I will never directly compare the two, fans of Drake or songwriting in general should take notice of Murdoch. The Scottish-born songwriter often makes listeners do a doubletake, or simply assume they are listening to a rarely heard Drake song.

It doesn't help that Murdoch's most well known song, Orange Sky, sounds strikingly similar in name and content to Drake's most well known song, Pink Moon, and the two-chord strumming on Drake's Northern Sky. Murdoch also shares Drake's introverted nature, living in a secluded environ, and rarely touring.

Apart from the similarities, Murdoch's work deserves attention in its own right. His guitar playing and songwriting chops are strong and growing. He recently contributed the music for Sam Mendes's Away We Go. Better yet, he's here now (even if secluded). Let's listen to Murdoch's "All My Days" live from NYC's Mercury Lounge...

Friday, May 29, 2009

#27 (I've Got the SPIRIT Edition)

Spritely Spirits Skip Swiftly in Sanguine Summertime, said Solomon sans subtlety.

DELTA SPIRIT comes from San Diego and produces a shimmering Americana soul-rock with twinkle, bounce, pep, and other nouns that sound like detergents. Their 2008 self-produced debut Ode to Sunshine delivered short, explosive pop gems with rootsy n' rustic production. Since the album's release, the band has hit the road with the likes of The Shins, Dr. Dog, and Cold War Kids. They will continue with The Shins this summer before hitting the festival circuit. Their live set has been acclaimed as one of those that simply must be seen to believe. No place on Ode to Sunshine does the spiritsplosion occur more dramatically than on the 2:36 "Trashcan."

That awesome tinny beat that pervades the song is in fact intoned on a trashcan lid. The parallel bass line (in the right ear), and the electric guitar (in the left ear), along with the toy piano call and response hook, drive this propulsion force forward. Singer Matt Vasquez mixes some real dirt and grit into his vocal stylings. The result is a perfect summer song, upbeat in its power.

Enjoy, please. And as a bonus, another Delta Spirit treat off Ode to Sunshine.

This post represents episode 3 of publishing only on bands playing at Bonnaroo, leading up to the festival June 11-15, 2009. Delta Spirit plays Thursday, June 11th. For those interested, I will be tweeting reactions and reviews live from the festival at @nickofcarlo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

#26 (What the Puck Edition)

Put it on ice, friends.

Hockey is a fun up and comer that has more buzz than material. The four-piece puts dance and some 'tude in their step while offering throaty vocals (not Tom Waits throaty. Maybe raspy). Without a full-length at the moment, the band is building up to their first release, Mind Chaos, late in 2009. They play a slew of summer festivals including making a stop on the farm at Bonnaroo.

This post represents episode 2 of publishing only on bands playing at Bonnaroo, leading up to the festival June 11-15, 2009. For those interested, I will be tweeting reactions and reviews live from the festival at @nickofcarlo.

Have a loungey and languid long weekend,

Friday, May 15, 2009

#25 (Look At Me Edition)

We're making moves, ladies and gentlestuffs!

Congratulations to Passion Pit for being the first band to be featured on And If Glory Had a Baby twice. The young men from Massachusetts follow up their debut EP Chunk of Change with their first full-length album entitled Manners. Sure to be a full-on dancer, the album has all the bass and bravado to get the kids up and out their chairs. Their first single "The Reeler" has the requisite snare snap to go with some digi-horns and another killer high-pitched chorus. The bass tone owns more fuzz than these youngsters' faces. Saccharine? Perhaps. Appealing to your sweetest tooth? Absolutely. Enjoy.

In a countdown to this year's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, this week marks the first post in which I will feature only Bonnaroo artists from now through the event. Passion Pit has nabbed a coveted spot in the schedule, as the last band to play on Thursday June 11th's opening night.

For those interested, I will be live Tweeting updates and recommendations from Bonnaroo (June 11-15) at @nickofcarlo:

Friday, May 8, 2009

#24 (The Fierce Urgency of Nice Edition)

The Rest are a seven piece ensemble (pronounced "onsombluh" though not from Quebec) from Ontario. The band just released its second full length, "Everyone All At Once" to little notice--thus far--in the US. Their bombastix, theatrix, and maple-leaf fountainhead(atrix) attract Arcade Fire references aplenty. There's something there. The guitar chug anthemix, the desparate urgency in the singer's voice, and both bands' penchant for parenthetical titles makes for a good comparison. The Rest plays with nontraditional forms. Please listen to their song "Walk On Water (auspicious beginnings)." They build gradually throughought the song to an apparent crescendo but then... woah... 2:09... CURVEBALL! Fear not, crescendo aficionados. Your time will come. And it does, it's just postponed by some fun island lightheartedness. 3:40 allows for a brief, emotional respite, then BLAM TO YOUR FACE for some concentrated G-G-Guitar Chug. Notice us, Americans, they plead. I have. Maybe the rest of us will soon, too.
Willfully Walking on Water,

Walk on Water (auspcious beginnings) - The Rest

Friday, April 24, 2009

#23 (More Sigh Than Sing Edition)

Laura Gibson

We're trained as listeners to appreciate singers who project, who have voices that abound, that can break glass, that can match Pavarotti in operatic resonance. Virtuosos, most say, have lions' voices. Life and music are not always declamations, however. Sometimes a sigh steps over a shout. Such is the case with the following two songs off recent releases from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Laura Gibson. Both Karen O of the YYYs and songwriter Gibson suspend on a wispy cloud of vocal ether far above the grounded instruments. Enjoy their transcendence and enjoy the temperate temperatures.

Plentiful Penumbrae,

Friday, April 10, 2009

#22 (Daring You Not To Bop Edition)

I quintuple dog dare you, gentle(wo)men, to listen to the following songs and not bounce, nod, juke, shake, shimmy, and/or bop. Roughly half of the songs that end up in this space are the result of recommendations from friends. This is the first case where three friends recommended the same band in one week. With that sort of groundswell, I really had no choice.

Phoenix is a French rock band that would sound as comfortable in a stadium as they would in a basement rock club. They live within the hi-hat drum snap dance band genre while also working atmospheric synth parts into their cocktail. Vocals? Yelpy and with urgency. My jeans are get tighter, my v-necks deeper cut, and my kicks more neon with every listen of these guys.

Phoenix's fourth studio album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix comes out in the States May 25th.

Boppingly Yours,

Phoenix, "Lisztomania"

Phoenix, "1901"

Friday, April 3, 2009

#21 (Dutifully Duetiful Edition)

Not to get all heteronormative, but I really like coed duets. Usually this format offers artists a way to cover a wide melodic range while also maximizing vocal harmonic opportunities.

"Train Song" presents Feist and Deathcab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard covering Vashti Bunyan's 1966 song of travel, love, and distance. The song has power for me beyond delicate lyrics and a typically transcendent vocal performance from Feist. Namely, I love that the two sing in octaves for the duration of chorus only to add two differentiated voices (one males, one female) during the last line of the chorus. This makes for a striking and unexpected harmony on "it's many hundred miles and it won't be long." The moment represents pure beauty, as does the song.


Feist and Ben Gibbard, "Train Song"

Friday, March 13, 2009

#20 (Get Your Face Outta My PROG Edition)

Four Score and 20 blog posts ago, I kicked off a weekly email to friends with a sip from the golden chalice of classic prog. Today we answer the question, who is progging with the proglords these days? Hmmmmm? Who is?


Late Of The Pier are a four-piece from England who have the most befuddling band name I've heard since '89. Then again, they also title a song "Bathroom Gurgle." Maybe naming just isn't their thing. Their thing is writing exquisitely fun and consistently dancey progressive rock songs heavy on bass, percussion, and synths. Their 2008 album "Fantasy Black Channel" was on many critics' top albums of the year lists. It's understandable why. The band is rare in that they create sonically and rythmically complex music that still manages to be danceable. You don't usually think of proggers getting the dance floor moving. Late Of The Pier pulls it off somehow. Take their song "The Enemy Are The Future." It's almost inconceivable that this could be a dance song, but it is...particularly when you have The bassist and drummer taking the time signature hostage at 1:32...but then 2:30 hits and zoinks, uncontrollable head nodding action! It's dancey prog! Beware the bass sound at 3:30! And somehow we come out of this crazy acid trip with the band sounding like Franz Ferdinand at 4:57. Awesome.

If you don't mind, I'm going to go listen to this song on repeat while watching Bowie's performance in Labyrinth on mute.

Late Of The Pier, "The Enemy Are The Future"

Too much hard work. Not enough easy life.

Friday, March 6, 2009

#19 (Strum Once, Land; Strum Twice, Sea Edition)

There's urgency in your voice, friend, and it's wrought with anguish, and it's imbued with inspiration.

You sound like you're choking on words because you want to get them out so bad. They (the words) fight to be released roundabout your adam's apple, creating a bottleneck (in your neck) of intensely built pressure. When the words do squeeze free they are shot like a musket ball at unsuspecting ears. Much like old guns, the word projectiles lack precision but carry the threat of bayonet incision.

Joe Pug was a playwriting student at UNC about to enter his senior year when he moved to Chicago to try his hand at songwriting. He tried his hand, and the glove fit. His 7 song EP "Nation of Heat" crackles with the raw tenacity of a songwriter freshly unchained. Speaking in the wide strokes of nation, hope, destiny, sin, and spiritual reclamation, Pug is a natural and I wait in anticipation to see what he does next.

Someone once said of Bob Dylan that he used to strum his guitar with such abandon that it would "startle" the audience because it looked and felt like he was attacking the instrument. Mr. Pug lives in that camp as well. Acoustic guitar is not from the string family, he says, it's from the percussion family, and I will beat the crap out of that percussion instrument. Please enjoy two of the better songs I've heard in years.

Joe Pug, "Nation of Heat"

Joe Pug, "Hymn #101"

Songwriterly Yours,

PS. Thanks to Pujam and Earl for today's selections

Friday, February 27, 2009

#18 (Beyond Lovely Edition)

Some singers share unfairly beautiful voices. Neko Case (of solo and New Pornographers fame) is one of those chanteuses. I thought when I heard her song "Vengeance is Sleeping" from her new album "Middle Cyclone"--out this Tuesday--that it was beautiful...and then I heard a live recording of her performing the song...and she was even more transcendent than on the album. Neko carries unbridled emotion in her voice and a sharp, at times caustic wit in her lyrics. With lines like "I didn't know what a brute I was" and "I'm not the man you thought I was," Case takes on the guise of a solemn and self-conscious, if guilty, lover. For a woman who once said she could never write love songs, her new album is chock full o' them. That's OK with me though, particularly if she is going to continue to use vocal harmony half-step hammer-ons (1:19 and end of song). For that moment alone (and for a heavy dose of lovely fingerpicking), this song gets the full Friday showcase.


Neko Case, "Vengeance is Sleeping"

Friday, February 20, 2009

#17 (Maximalist Minimalist Edition)

Relatively few people talk about minimalism when they talk about rock n' roll. This is particularly curious given that in many ways, rock is as bare bones as music gets. Songs are usually built off one or two repetitive riffs and arrangements are sparse. Nevertheless, there are rare occasions when bands get categorized with the redundant name "minimalist rock." Television, Talking Heads, and the Velvet Underground all had that name bandied (pun intended) about in talking about their music. So a.) what makes those bands minimalist, b.)who's running with the minimalism thing these days in pop music, and c.) are we really talking about Steve Reich here?

Answers: a.)some combination of hypnotically repetitive melodic patterns beautiful in their simplicity, MARKEDLY sparse arrangements, and oftentimes repeated lyrics b.) Takka Takka and c.)not really.

Takka Takka hone their hypnotix in Brooklyn, making lovely """"""minimalist""""" music that delights with whispered vocals, rhythms and sounds inspired by Balinese gamelan, and guitar that isn't so much strummed as it is carressed. When listening to these tracks, I highly recommend nice headphones so that you can get at the timbre of each instrument: the crispity crisp of the snare drum, the robustness of the bass, the featheriness of the organ, the snappy hiss of the hi-hat. Please enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Takka Takka, "Silence"

Takka Takka, "Everybody Say"

Maximally Yours,

Friday, February 13, 2009

#16 (Blog Launch Edition)

The Harlem Shakes formed when a couple of Yale kids and a couple of NYU kids boarded a sonic Amtrak headed to Jollyville and didn't bother purchasing a return trip. Exceedingly singable (not the Singability to match Bud Light's "drinkability"--that would be gross), frequently foot-tappable, and bouncingly bouncy, the band leads the league in "oooohs" and "ahhhs" choruses and jingly jangles. The Shakes's 5 track EP Burning Birthdays was a great palette-whetter, but also led to years of near signings and delayed record releases. For fans of the band, their March 2009 release of their first full-length "Technicolor Health" marks a long-awaited return. The first single off the album "strictly game" lights a fuse just like previous material, mixing pianos, synths, heavy bass, bachata rhythms and cowbell. The song also places hope at the forefront, singing for a better year in the face of a recession.

Put a little bit of bitter in your pink lemonade:

The Harlem Shakes, "Strictly Game"

Blind Pilot is a two-piece acoustic band from Portland that make you think: "hey, I could have written that song" and "hey I could have played that song on guitar AND on drums" only you've never played guitar before and you've definitely never played the drums. That may seem like an insult but I love the simple nature of their songs. When you have beautiful melodies and evocative songwriting, you really don't need much more. In retrospect, I suppose it's more like "man, I wish I had written that song, because I could have."

Blind Pilot, "The Story I Heard"

"The devil you know is better than the devil you don't" someone once said,

Friday, February 6, 2009

#15 (Attitudes Fortitudes Platitudes Edition)

This morning I woke up feeling lovely, so I had that going for me. We've all spent many days worrying, or anxious, or uncomfortable but on those rare occasions when we wake up uninhibited and unhindered, everything looks fresh all over. I like to think that the following two artists felt the very same way when they wrote the following songs (uninhbited, unhindered, and imbued with spirit-gusto). These songs are also companions in production style.

Portugal. The Man are not only one of the few bands that include punctuation in their band name (!!! also comes to mind), but also the only band on the national scene that I know of with ties to Sarah Palin's hometown. The band is four-piece, experimental grime-soul band--just listen--that hails from Wasilla, Alaska--or at least two of its members do. They've been around for a while currently touring to support their fifth full-length album, Censored Colors. Different from many experimental bands who use varied instruments to create eclectic sounds, PTM use very standard rock instruments (drums, bass, keys, guitars), but make those instruments sound all kinds of weird. In the song "Lay Me Back Down" the band uses heavily distorted bass to lead off with the opening riff, then transitions to unaltered twinkly pianos, then layers in guitar pedals that manipulate a traditional six-string into sitar sounds. Then they bring in sonically offered drum rimshots to sound like dried out hand claps, then end with some grizzly bear guitar and twinklepiano together. The results is a monstruous and new sound altoghether.

Hope you enjoy:

Portugal. The Man "Lay Me Back Down"

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson could use some punctuation in his name. The singer-songwriter from Brooklyn used to be homeless and drug-addicted and now chums around with Grizzly Bear and Kyp Malone of TVOTR, both of whom helped produce his debut album. While I don't have the feeling that Robinson was unbridled while writing this song, I like to think that it was a bright spot on a day in which he woke up feeling relatively free. It has to be the twinklepiano. It's back, you see. I know, I know, he has a lamentation about growing old and yelps "I'm not sure that I want to stay alive/it's so expensive, but you can die," but still, you're nitpicking there. This has the feeling of catharsis, and it has the feeling of anthem, and it has the feeling of hope in despair. Tell me I'm wrong.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson "The Debtor"

Aurally Yours,


Friday, January 9, 2009

#13 (Colours Edition)

Fitfully Frantic Friday, Friends,

One of the cooler things in music is seeing an artist you love reference another artist you love. I was particularly delighted when this girl I know passed along a new song from new-bohemian songwriter Elvis Perkins. Something about his lyrics and his melody reminded me immediately of another song from some time ago (one of my mother's favorite songs of all time). It seems that Perkins has written a little tribute to the great sunshine superman Donovan and thrown in a delicious twist to all those folk music historians paying attention. It's amazing all the things that colors can be. Enjoy!

Donovan: "Colours" (1972):

Opening line: "Yellow is the color of my true love's hair."

Elvis Perkins in Dearland: "Shampoo" (2009):

Opening Line: "Yellow is the color of my true love's crossbow." :)

As always, let me know what you think.

Colourfully Yours,
PS. Love you, mom.

Friday, January 2, 2009

#12 (Strut Your Stuff, Womanchild Edition)

As my friend Aaron recently pointed out, Curtis Mayfield is one of those artists that our generation knows is good but fails to appreciate as much as we should. We've heard the name many times. We may know a few of his more famous songs. Few of us, however, have taken the time to dig into his records and explore just how spinetinglingly baddass he is (myself included). In order to whet your appetite for what hopefully becomes a personal investigation into all things Curtis, I am including in this week's email two consecutive songs from Curtis's Superfly soundtrack, "Pusherman" and "Freddie's Dead."

The production and arrangements on Mayfield's tracks are incredible. Few include both strings and horns with the success that he does, blending lush full string chords with hard woodwind and horn hits and rythmic accentuations. I've included the following two songs in a row because it shows the range of Mayfield's songwriting musically and lyrically.

Track one, Pusherman, romanticizes the life of a dopepeddler in the first person. The song is driven by a rich, consistent bass line and flourishes on conga drums and a clean guitar tone.

Track two, Freddie's Dead, contrasts that glorified image of the drug dealer with the stark reality of the addict:
"If you want to be junkie, well, remember Freddie's dead." Musically, the song has its foundation in it's tremendous, sweeping strings. And then at 2:15, Curtis hits you with a key change, and then well, womanchild, Freddie's dead. And then with the bass breakdown, at 2:55, well, Freddie's dead. That bass tone, if a peanut butter, would be Superchunk.

Please enjoy, and don't be afraid to strut.

Peacockerily Yours,