Archive for July, 2009

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band: “Big Black Nothing”

July 24, 2009

conoroberstandthemysticvalleybandSo much for the unadulterated angst of the old Conor Oberst. While touring with the Mystic Valley Band, he sheds the token torment in favor of a rollicking ride over the border. He also shows a generosity of spirit by sharing singing and songwriting duties for the first time in his highly prolific career. While not his most cohesive work to date—the majority of country-tinged folk rock is broken up by schizophrenic indie pop anthem “Air Mattress”—Outer South is indicative of life lived alternately on the road and in hotels, embracing the diversity that is borne with each passing town.

For you seekers of sadness, the album still contains a couple tracks to please the purists. My favorite, piano-fueled ode to paranoia “Big Black Nothing,” is not one of them, nor was it written by Oberst; it belongs to guitarist Nik Freitas. But “White Shoes” entreats the beloved with a familiar sensitivity—and, without the backing band, evokes the intimacy of vintage Bright Eyes. While this record probably won’t make a major ripple across the sea of music, it’s a solid effort that I would like to listen while heading down to Mexico myself.

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Big Black Nothing

Who: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

What: Outer South

When: 5.5.2009

Where: Omaha, Nebraska

Why: “Big black nothing / Fooling everyone.”

How: Merge



Sic Alps: “Gelly Roll Gum Drop”

July 23, 2009

sicalpsIt’s not every day that gritty, fuzz-full music joins forces with structured melodies, but this record is undoubtedly infused with pop. In a primal way. On their second full-length, U.S. EZ, SF-based garage rock duo Sic Alps (Mike Donovan and Matt Hartman) break away from the almost-pure experimentalism of the past and move forward with more approachable tunes. Not to say their latest release is completely devoid of surprise, as those same songs that reeled you in are just as likely to spit you back out when you least expect it, and the pair is still happy to deconstruct. If it’s a bit more predictable than A Long Way Around to a Shortcut, what’s wrong with that?

Either way, they’ve stayed true to the shabby recording aesthetic that now defines their sound. Or perhaps it’s their very sound that allows them the luxury of recording in a garage (or wherever it is), as tracks so naked must stand on their own, with no shiny production clothes to hide behind. Sic Alps are headlining at the Hemlock tonight as part of the Mission Creek Music Festival. Based on reports of performances so hot they just might spontaneously combust, I would not pass this one up.

Sic Alps – Gelly Roll Gum Drop

Who: Sic Alps

What: U.S. EZ

When: 7.15.2008

Where: San Francisco, California

Why: “Gelly roll gum drop, nature’s child / Don’t you know me?”

How: Siltbreeze


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: “Young Adult Friction”

July 21, 2009

thepainsofbeingpureatheartThough you may strain to hear the lyrics through the fuzzy guitars of this New York noise-pop band, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are clear about one thing: reviving the indie underground of the 80s and 90s, as illustrated in the retro album artwork. Pulling from the efforts of their forebears—including My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, and Jesus and Mary Chain—the four-piece harkens back to a time when vocals originally took the backseat to the din and churns out catchy major-chord jingles on its eponymous debut.

True, it’s less of a revolution than an evolution of the shoegazy scene, but the record’s streamlined  sound results in a spot-on coherence that’s positively refreshing in its consistency. Their second single, “Young Adult Friction,” tells a tale of teenage lust unfolding in all its risque glory in the stacks of the library, cheered on by a driving rhythm and a melody that just won’t quit. I would tell you to see them tonight at The Rickshaw Stop, but the show is sold out—unless you have an extra ticket, in which case…consider me your date.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Young Adult Friction

Who: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

What: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

When: 2.3.2009

Where: New York, NY

Why: “I never thought I would come of age / Let alone on a moldy page.”

How: Slumberland


Telekinesis: “Tokyo”

July 17, 2009

telekinesisBased on his ability to transport himself to another world through song (without ever leaving his house, never mind the country), it seems to me that Michael Benjamin Lerner, the man behind Seattle’s Telekinesis, would have no problem with a staycation this summer. Produced, engineered, and mixed by Death Cab’s Chris Walla, the self-titled debut is full of references to far-away places like Tokyo—although the songwriter has never stepped foot on Japanese soil.   

Perhaps Lerner learned how to perform telekinesis (the movement of objects by scientifically inexplicable means) on himself, although that might be contrary to the very definition of the term. Or maybe he took copious notes on apparating while watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Either way, chockablock with immediate energy, catchy choruses, and sheer velocity, this is a record for reveling in the here and now—wherever “here” may be.

Telekinesis – Tokyo

Who: Telekinesis

What: Telekinesis!

When: 4.7.2009

Where: Seattle, Washington

Why: “I, I, I went to Tokyo / Only in my dreams, because they’re all I know.”

How: Merge Records


The Builders and the Butchers: “Devil Town”

July 16, 2009

the-builders-and-the-butchersSay your prayers and leave the secular life behind. Hellfire, brimstone, and all other apocalyptic visions abound in The Builders and the Butchers’ second LP, but what else would you expect dwelling inside album art depicting an evil-infested carnival in the way of music? Some of the images evoked could downright scare the bejesus out of you, but you were warned it wouldn’t be all rainbows and unicorns by the record’s very name, Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well.

Coming down from cold Alaska, the Portland-based band sounds more like it belongs deep in the bayou than the Pacific Northwest, but maybe that just means they don’t lack active imaginations. Under the direction of Ryan Sollee, this gospel-grounded group is known to include the “congregation” during performances, recruiting the crowd to provide backup vocals and share the ecclesiastical glee. Even if you’re not religious, this dark trip down raucous lane could leave you feeling cleansed…or aching for confession. See them tonight at Bottom of the Hill.

The Builders and the Butchers – Devil Town

Who: The Builders and the Butchers

What: Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well

When: 6.30.2009

Where: Portland, Oregon

Why: “Take me down / to the devil town.”

How: Gigantic Music


Phoenix: “1901”

July 14, 2009

phoenixBecause it’s Bastille Day, I thought it fitting to feature a French band. Although they didn’t have any proverbial ashes from which to rise, four-piece Phoenix (comprised of childhood friends Thomas Mars, Deck D’Arcy, Christian Mazzalai, and Laurent Brancowitz) presents their pièce de résistance with their latest record, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Thankfully, their lyrics are in English (as always), which is convenient for me since my Francophone vocabulary is limited to bonjour, fromage, and baguette.

Although somewhat arrogant to assume 2/3 of the name of one of the greatest classical composers of all time as its title, the new album sounds nothing like the German genius’ enduringly popular work. Steeped in synth and replete with historical references—from the album title to song titles like “Lisztomania,” “Rome,” and “Armistice”—it’s like a Parisian pop group’s trip down memory lane…but with an undeniably modern feel.

Phoenix – 1901

Who: Phoenix

What: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

When: 5.26.2009

Where: Versailles, France

Why: “Lie down, you know it’s easy, like we did it all summer long.”

How: Glassnote


Woods: “Rain On”

July 13, 2009

woodsMuch like their forest-friendly name implies, NYC-based Woods taps into natural inspiration for their fourth full-length, Songs of Shame, where underlying themes of loss and isolation meet homespun production with a psychedelic twist—but in a more sedated way than Wavves, another Woodsist alum who takes the decibel to another level by turning lo-fi into no-fi. Utilizing cassette tape effects, this band takes comfort in the unconventional niche they call home.

Jeremy Earl’s falsetto floats over, above, and sometimes straight through imperfect instrumentation, joined by touring buddies Jarvis Taveniere, G. Lucas Crane, and Kevin Morby. Although Woods does conduct their trademark noise experiments to an extent—most notably in the nine-minute guitar jam “September with Pete,” landing somewhat jarringly early in the album—the melodies shine a guiding light through the itinerant fuzz, and it would be a shame not to listen to these songs.

Woods – Rain On

Who: Woods

What: Songs of Shame

When: 4.14.2009

Where: New York, NY

Why: “Oh, how the days will rain on you.”

How: Shrimper / Woodsist


Yim Yames: “Behind That Locked Door”

July 11, 2009

Yim-YamesAt least the guy has a sense of humor. MMJ frontman Jim James adopted the highly suspicious moniker of Yim Yames, under which he released a six-song tribute album to George Harrison on Wednesday of this week. Recorded shortly after the former Beatle’s death in 2001 and featuring just James’ vocals and acoustic guitar, the stark atmosphere evokes a certain sense of wistfulness, but at the same time celebrates the effect that one musician can have on another—even though they’d never met.

Right now the EP can be streamed or purchased as a digital download, CD, or LP exclusively on It will be available through other outlets on August 4th. Listen to the free download, “From Behind That Locked Door,” below. A portion of the proceeds from Tribute To will go to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

Yim Yames – Behind That Locked Door

Who: Yim Yames

What: Tribute To

When: 8.4.2009

Where: Louisville, Kentucky

Why: “Please let out my heart, please, please / From behind that locked door.”

How: ATO


The Duchess & the Duke: “Reservoir Park”

July 9, 2009

theduchessandthedukeThis Seattle duo might not be as noble as their moniker implies, but if comparisons to early 60s icons Dylan and the Stones keep coming, they might get there one day. Friends from high school who played in plenty of bands, Kimberly Morrison (the duchess) and Jesse Lortz (the duke) joined forces with percussionist Donnie Hilstad to create She’s the Duchess, He’s the Duke, on which even picky Pitchfork conferred the label of a classic and an 8.2.

The platonic pair both sing and play guitar, constructing straightforward his and hers harmonies that showcase the merits of simplicity rather than intricacy. Nostalgic for a less complicated musical era, the album was recorded on an 8-track, but that’s not the only reason these songs sound timeless. Listen to “Reservoir” below to find out why. Though the record was released a year ago today, it’s just too good to ignore its anniversary.

The Duchess & the Duke – Reservoir Park

Who: The Duchess & the Duke

What: She’s the Duchess, He’s the Duke

When: 7.8.2008

Where: Seattle, Washington

Why: “The clouds keep rolling on in.”

How: Hardly Art


Heartless Bastards: “The Mountain”

July 8, 2009

HeartlessBastardsWho knew Ohio would be the music well from which so much great new rock has sprung? And no, we’re not talking Akron, my friends, although the band was signed to Fat Possum after Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney passed along a demo to the label. Hailing from Cincinnati, garage rock trio Heartless Bastards has more in common with the down-and-dirty duo than a shared home state—first and foremost, they don’t fuck around. They rock.

Just as Dan Auerbach makes so many male musicians look, well, weak, Erika Wennerstrom—co-founder, frontwoman, and the only constant member since the band’s 2003 inception—makes most wanna-be female rockers look lame, and her androgynous vocals would make the greats that paved the road before her proud.

Heartless Bastards – The Mountain

Who: Heartless Bastards

What: The Mountain

When: 2.3.2009

Where: Cincinnati, Ohio

Why: “When you see there’s smoke there’s fire.”

How: Fat Possum