some fine indie folk: horse feathers; or, as my friend said, I am now sockless because they are knocking my socks off

October 6th, 2008


the Horse Feathers’ House with No Home

Horse Feathers is almost nothing like the screwball early Marx movie they’re presumably named after. In the last few weeks, Justin Ringle, Peter Broderick et al.’s album of melancholy and meticulously gorgeous indie folk has hit me with some gravity.

With a heavy blanket of melancholy over the record, the people behind Horse Feathers split their energies between interesting and full-but-not-overreaching orchestration, distinctive and breathy vocals, and just plain good songwriting. It’s unusual for an indie folk band to succeed at all three of these as well as this band does. The resulting album is consistent across the board, more in feel, quality and sound than particular instrumentation. While not having a completely new sound, that doesn’t stop this album from being really good.

Horse Feathers – Curs in the Weeds (mp3)

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Horse Feathers – Working Poor (mp3)

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As someone summarized:

If you like gorgeous folk, then this album is for you. If you don’t, well, The Hold Steady released something not that long ago.

The band is in the extended area twice this week. They’re in Santa Cruz Tuesday at the Crepe Place and on Wednesday there’s this show that I’ll be attending:

10/8 Horse Feathers, Lady Genius @ Rickshaw Stop, 8pm, $8, 21+

The record is available at insound. They’ve also done a Daytrotter session and you can download 6 mp3s from their virb site (via MOKB).

Check for their tour dates (England, East Coast, and Midwest) after the jump.

(full disclosure[1])

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tom thumb’s the taxidermist

September 22nd, 2008

Growing up on the east coast and going to school in Boston, I spent some time on Cape Cod. One family vacation there was the idyllic Kennedys-throwing-football-in-a-picturesque-compound sort of Cape Cod experience (with the compound, of course). But not all of Cape Cod is like that, there are small, out-of-the-way towns and there’s the off-season. I’ve walked on the beach with a jacket on and it pouring down cold rain. I can imagine the middle of the winter there is frigid and the winds whip around with abandon, the sort of time where even leaving the house seems like a steep proposition, only to be done when necessary.


promo shot

While Andy Arch, who records as Tom Thumb (myspace), doesn’t live anywhere permanently, his home base is in Cape Cod and most of his most recent record, the Taxidermist was recorded in a beach house there during the winter months. Just as one isn’t surprised that sunny sounds of the the Morning Benders come out of Berkeley, I’m not surprised that Tom Thumb’s music comes out of a winter on Cape Cod.

The Taxidermist toes a line between various genres. On some songs, like “Providence”, Arch takes indie folk and orchestrates around it in a way that’s reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens. Other songs (“Asleep in the Sawmill”) are closer to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska in feel, if not in sound–middle Americana if you will. Other songs have a bit of a looped, electronic feel–“Lord, Release Me” is a repeated chant that reminds me of George Harrison and Rhythm of the Saints-era Paul Simon more than Americana or folk.

Overall it’s a good album and a worthwhile listen. If I have one complaint it would be with consistency; while this album has a number of true gems and a few more good songs, it’s unfortunately not without a couple mediocre songs in the mix as well.

The Taxidermist is available digitally and as hand-made hard copies. You can also stream the whole album on the artist’s website.

Tom Thumb – Providence (mp3)

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Tom Thumb – Gypsy Curse (mp3)

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Bonus mp3, from a previous EP, Lifeboat:

Tom Thumb – Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen cover) (mp3)

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geographer, cotillion @ cafe du nord: photos, review, etc.

August 19th, 2008

On Sunday night, I caught Geographer (myspace) and Cotillion at Cafe du Nord.

Walking in during the Cotillion set, there was already a fairly sizable crowd for a Sunday night. People were milling about and chatting in the back and the atmosphere was pretty jovial. Given that it was a Bay Bridged presents show, those guys and some of the other local blogerati turned out.

Alexi, Blythe, and Burton of the Botticellis are all in Cotillion, a band which also boasts members of Bright Eyes and Judgement Day. Given the shared membership, there are some shared sonic similarities with the Botticellis, but it really is an entirely different vibe. Reverb certainly isn’t as evident. They also have a trio of backup singers.

It was the release show for Geographer’s debut full-length, Innocent Ghosts, and a big portion of the crowd seemed to be out for the event.

Their set up was back to a four-piece, though a different four-piece than when I first saw them in February. They had the same trio we’ve all grown to love–Mike on keys and guitar, Nate on cello and sequencer, Brian on drums–but they’ve added a fourth on bass. Even with the new line-up, they had obviously practiced sufficiently, because they were tight.

I’ve been enjoying listening to Innocent Ghosts. It’s a nice mix of various influences from pop to folk to the electronic touches. It’s a good album, but the band’s live show is great. It’s engaging and fun and I had a good time. Their set seemed to go by in a flash.

I didn’t stay for much of Judgement Day’s crazy string metal, but I did want to note that the violinist’s bowing and fingering patterns reminded me of some styles Anglo-American fiddling. At the very least, the violinist is quite talented.

You can view my photo album online.

(Full disclosure [1,2])

Neil Halstead releases a new solo album, plays Cafe du Nord on 8/26

August 18th, 2008

I can’t believe it took him 6 years to write the same album as Sleeping On Roads. 1/5.

That’s one review of Neil Halstead‘s (of Mojave 3, formerly of Slowdive) new album Oh! Mighty Engine.

Sleeping on Roads is a really solid album showcasing Halstead’s hushed vocals and acoustic guitar, finger-picked or strummed, and interesting songwriting. I agree that Oh! Mighty Engine is very similar to Sleeping on Roads, but that makes me want to rate it highly.

Neil Halstead – Elevenses (mp3)

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Neil Halstead – Paint a Face (mp3)

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Bonus mp3 from Sleeping on Roads:
Neil Halstead – Martha’s Mantra (mp3)

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He’s got a show coming up at the Cafe du Nord in a week or so:

8/26 Neil Halstead @ Cafe du Nord, 8pm, $12, 21+

He’s also got some US festival dates, as well as west coast and British Isles dates coming up in the near future.

Insound carries the album.

little jackie makes catchy retro soul (plus some)

July 19th, 2008

As you probably know I’m no stranger to retro soul sounds, so when Soul Sides wrote (twice) about Little Jackie–a group made of Imani Coppola as songwriter and Adam Pallin as producer–I paid attention.

What I found when I listened to some songs and eventually the album, the Stoop, was catchy melodies over some retro soul music–akin to some of the girl group production from the 60s but undeniably updated. There re also some hip hopish vocals and some other quirks to it. Though this is undoubtedly a mainstream release, it is far from being generic or stamped out by a hit factory. It’s got a lot of style to it.

In a way, the Stoop overall reminds me a Sean Kingston ditty you may remember from last year. Both have retro charms. And both are extremely catchy and fun, and are suitable for light summertime listening. It’s yet to be seen but I feel like the Stoop has more depth than the Kingston song and will stand up to more listens.

“One Love” has got some great production and melodies at every turn. The part that I find really intriguing is the vocals in the 3rd verse, where Imani doesn’t really sing (but isn’t quite rapping in a conventional sense either). They have a heavy swing and lots of style to them.

Little Jackie – One Love (mp3)

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For a few more days, you can stream the whole album at Spinner (update: you can still stream the album, but it’s been moved to here. You can pick the record up at insound.

the Rural Alberta Advantage’s Hometowns

July 9th, 2008

Like a fair number of bands I write about these days, this may not come as a surprise, as I’ve been obsessed, twittered twice and put them on a mixtape, but I thought I should write a bit more about Toronto’s the Rural Alberta Advantage (myspace).


press photo by Vince Wong

The RAA is a trio lead by Paul Banwatt Nils Edenloff and employing his sometimes strained, sometimes relaxed vocals, along with drums, cello, guitars, keyboards and probably some other instruments. After hearing “Don’t Haunt this Place” and a few other songs, I quickly ordered their first full album, Hometowns. Since receiving it, it’s been heavy rotation.

That song is addictive and catchy and generally magnificent. Drums that are tight and interesting, cello, great melodies and harmonies.

the Rural Alberta Advantage – Don’t Haunt this Place (mp3)

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But as great as that song is, I was surprised that the album is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s not often that I hear albums–as opposed to collections of songs–anymore, but here’s one. The songs range from subdued to agitated, the instrumentation and tone from folk to rock.

But I’m asking myself how does it get from that to an album, and a really good one at that? I’m not sure, to be honest. The eclectic feel makes the album pass quickly and suddenly it’s built up from a melancholy mess of song into one piece of art.

Banwatt’s Edenloff’s voice reminds me, at times, of Jeff Mangum’s. I hold Neutral Milk in the highest regard and I take any imitation, intentional or not, with a heavy dose of skepticism. As I said to some people when this album first really caught my ear, though, that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve considered liking a band with a vocals that sounds like Mangum. But this album is too good to discount for reasons like that. Or, really, what I should say is that this album shouldn’t be discounted or compared at all–and if it is compared, it should be to say that the vocals work for some of the same reasons Mangum’s do.

the Rural Alberta Advantage – the Dethbridge in Lethbridge (mp3)

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the Rural Alberta Advantage – Sleep All Day (mp3)

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You can buy Hometowns directly from the band.

mini record review: Feed the Animals

June 22nd, 2008

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Girl Talk released his latest album last week. Feed the Animals–yup, wikipedia pretty much has all the samples listed already–came out Thursday and like a lot of the bloggers, I imagine, I downloaded it that night. I’ve listened to it half a dozen or so times since then.

Like Night Ripper, it’s a wildly entertaining album. From start to finish, it’s really fun and I have a big grin on my face.

It’s not flawless–there are samples that annoy me and some good samples used in not the best ways (the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is such is an amazing song and it’s use is so-so). And Lip Gloss with metalish music has been done before and better. But overall it’s great. I think his strength isn’t putting disparate elements together–there are so many good mash-up artists that can do that–but putting so many disparate samples together in a way that’s still good and musical.

You can pay what you want here.

Previously:

mini reviews of 6 albums you can stream now

June 12th, 2008

It really seems like there’s a ridiculous amount of music out there for people to listen to these days. Perhaps the shift to this new business model people are talking about is well underway?

  • Adele 19 (stream it here) Some good songs, a good voice and a nice overall sound but not as engaging as I wanted it to be.
  • My Morning Jacket Evil Urges (stream it here) I don’t like classic rock.
  • Beach Boys U.S. Singles Collection (stream it here) Some of the ol’ favorites on here but there’s also some really goofy gems and some so-so filler on here.
  • James Hunter the Hard Way (stream it here) I love this guy and I love this album. I really recommend it if you’re into soul, the early R&B sound or oldies at all.
  • the Hold Steady Stay Positive (stream it here) Hold Steady has always taken me a while to get into, mostly because the lyrics are what does it for me and I don’t find their music terribly enthralling overall. That said, I’m not sure if this album will grab me on later listens or not.
  • Sigur Ros með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (stream it here) I liked it from the get-go!

horn honking music from Ghana

June 3rd, 2008

The other day a friend of mine, knowing my predilection for African music, gave me a great Smithsonian Folkways disc called Por Por: Honk Horn Music from Ghana by a group called the La Drivers Union Por Por Group.

Using squeeze bulb horns–like car and bicycle horns you’d see in old-time movies–tire rims, drums, other percussion and their voices, the La Drivers Union makes por por music, a type apparently unique to them and perform it almost solely at funerals of drivers in that union (which, I learned from the comprehensive liner notes, often feature caskets that are made to look like the trotros these drivers drive).

George Gershwin, in an American in Paris, used a horn to indicate the traffic and hustle. The way he used it is almost cute, though: a couple honks within a significant piece. One could imagine that it was appropriate to 1930s Paris, though.

In the same way, one can imagine that the constant and overlapping use of horn in this por por music could be appropriate to current day Accra. It’s a din of horns, rhythmic and overlapping with some lines constant and some weaving in and out. Add in to that call-and-response vocals, percussion on all sorts of things like tire rims and traditional drums and you have music that’s both melodic and heavily polyrhythmic.

The LA Drivers Union Por Por Group – Otsokobila (mp3s)

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When I heard about this CD, I thought, “Wow, that’ll be cool.” I feel like one could just let the idea of the music trump the actual music. Having listened to it a few times, though, I have to say that listening to this music is just as cool as the idea of it.

You can get this album from Smithsonian Folkway.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea turns 10, officially the best album in the last 10 years: a personal essay

February 10th, 2008

Neutral Milk Hotel’s (wikipedia) 2nd and final album, In the Aeroplane over the Sea was released on February 10, 1998 making it 10 years old as of today. I can now officially say it’s the best album in those ten years and that it’s probably my most personally significant single album.

[I’m not the only one who noticed the anniversary, but I will note I started this post about a week before the ‘gum post was up.]

At just under forty minutes, eleven tracks and between seven and thirteen songs (depending on what you want to count) and consisting of psychedelic fuzz pop, one wouldn’t think it is the epic and meaningful album that it is. But it is epic and for me it has been extraordinarily meaningful and important.

It has been written about eloquently (by Will Sheff, of Okkervil River, no less) and with (mounting) and glowing praise, probably better than I can do it, but I can write something about its effect on me personally.

In late February 1998, Superchunk played at the Graffiti in Pittsburgh. I’d been listening to that band, Seam, Sebadoh, Coctails, Moxy Fruvous and a bunch of oldies music. I seriously considered going but passed. My friend Colin, who was a few years ahead of me and was in college at the time ended up going to the show. A few weeks later he was back in the neighborhood for spring break and my high school band had a rehearsal; Colin drummed for us some of the time. I don’t remember actually practicing that day, but I remember Colin putting on an album by the band that opened for Superchunk and regaling us of stories of bowed banjos, guitars with pickups taped onto them, trumpets, broken cymbals, concertinas and all sorts of musical odds and ends this crazy band played.

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