Archive for August, 2009

Fruit Bats: “The Ruminant Band”

August 25, 2009

fruit-batsFour years went by without a whisper from Chicago/Portland outfit Fruit Bats, and it’s partly because the band’s main songwriter and only constant member, Eric Johnson, who formed the band in 1999, spent that time participating in various side projects, including playing in The Shins and Vetiver. Not too shabby of an excuse, but now Johnson is stepping out of the shadows as a sideman and back into the limelight himself—with bandmates Christopher Sherman, Ron Lewis, Graeme Gibson, and Sam Wagster in tow—with Fruit Bats’ latest release, The Ruminant Band. Bring your picnic basket and a Frisbee—these folk-pop songs form the perfect soundtrack for a summer sojourn in the park.

Occasionally trading in the signature acoustic sound that saturated the band’s 2005 release, Spelled in Bones, in favor of an electric touch, some might be tempted to write off the record for its familiarity. But, though the record embodies the very definition of “feel-good,” you would be remiss to dismiss it as simple. With Johnson’s tenor expertly spouting well-wrought lyrics over generous tempo changes and smile-inducing instrumental jingle jangle, I think the two words we’re looking for are intelligent and timeless. You have two chances to see Fruit Bats perform in San Francisco tonight: they play a free show @ Amoeba at 6 pm, and then at The Independent later on, just down the road. 

Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band

Who: Fruit Bats

What: The Ruminant Band

Where: Chicago/Portland

When: 8.4.2009

Why: “You won’t lose the beat if you just keep clapping your hands / Like sweet sweet Peter clap for the ruminant band.”

How: Sub Pop



Crocodiles: “Neon Jesus”

August 19, 2009

crocodilesThis San Diego duo is not nearly as menacing as the reptiles after which it is named—in fact, one of them does quite a good job channeling a young Bob Dylan—but many of their critics have been more than happy to take a bite out of these boys for being too “derivative.” Although Pitchfork and The New York Times are divided on their debut album, Summer of Hate, Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell are still riding the wave of hype generated by No Age’s vote for “Neon Jesus” as one of the best songs of 2008. (I agree, which is why it’s featured here but not present on the record.) Methinks that if these dudes were all buzz and no talent, the excitement would have faded into the ether by now, no?

But let’s address the very serious issue of imitation. In a Noisevox interview, the band admits to deliberately borrowing elements of their influences at times (like The Crystals’ guitar riff in “I Wanna Kill”), but claims that it was done reverentially—not as a sly subterfuge for which they could be discovered and shamed—but also that some of it (like the monotone melody of Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Head On,” for example) happened subconsciously. They’re also touchy about being pigeonholed into a specific genre (of noise-pop). As for that, until they’ve expanded their repertoire, they’ve made their bed as far as I’m concerned. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to sleep in it with them. Make up your own mind tonight at The Rickshaw Stop, where Crocodiles perform with Pens and Graffiti Island.

Crocodiles – Neon Jesus

Who: Crocodiles

What: Summer of Hate

Where: San Diego, California

When: 4.28.2009

Why: “I’m a stranger in the holy land / But I keep my strangeness close at hand.”

How: Fat Possum


Ramona Falls: “Russia”

August 19, 2009

ramona_fallsRamona Falls is not a woman’s name. It’s a trail on Oregon’s Mount Hood after which Menomena’s Brent Knopf named his new solo music project. Just as his role in Menomena involves him playing multiple instruments, he has recruited multiple guest musicians—35, to be exact—to contribute to his debut album, which is out today via Barsuk Records. Full of unorthodox compositions elevated with sophisticated words, Intuit challenges traditional songwriting techniques.

In “Russia,” both lyrics and chord progressions document heroic deeds performed in distant lands, from beyond the Iron Curtain to Egypt to China, all in an effort to win the heart of a woman who always responds “Too little too late.” Opening with appropriately icy acoustics, midway through the track sumptuous strings build over alternating percussion, guitars, and piano, culminating in an ethereal up-tempo explosion that eventually admits defeat at the song’s conclusion. You can stream the entire record here. To see the man behind Ramona Falls perform it live, head to Café du Nord next Tuesday night.    

Ramona Falls – Russia

Who: Ramona Falls

What: Intuit

When: 8.18.2009

Where: Portland, Oregon

Why: “I sailed to Komodo / I fought with the dragons / When it was over / Their tails were wagging.”

How: Barsuk


UO Giveaway: 25 Tracks for the Taking

August 15, 2009

Instead of alerting you all to one band today, I am going to refer you to 25…by way of the Urban Outfitters free playlist available at the UO blog. To get a taste, I am posting a few of my current favorites below:

generationalsNew Orleans’ Generationals (off of Con Law):  Generationals – When They Fight, They Fight

Viva+VocePortland’s Viva Voce (off of Rose City):  Viva Voce – Octavio

choirofyoungbelieversCopenhagen’s Choir of Young Believers (off of This Is for the White in Your Eyes)Choir of Young Believers – Action/Reaction

Also including tracks from Memphis’ Jay Reatard and SF’s own Ty Segall, this is an opportunity you don’t want to pass up.  Now go get it yourself.

Winter Gloves: “Factories”

August 12, 2009

winterglovesAll apologies. This post is going to be full of Nirvana references, and it’s not my fault. Blame Montreal-based four-piece Winter Gloves (because they need them up there north of the border) for unabashedly alluding to the band at every turn, starting with the title of their debut album, about a girl—a nod to the same-named track on Nirvana’s Bleach—although you’d be hard-pressed to find the similarities. Winter Gloves’ “About a Girl” is, oddly enough, not a cover of the Nirvana tune—however, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” certainly is, although it sounds like it’s borrowed the children’s chorus from The Door’s “The Wall” and been stuffed with synth. Nevermind that.

Much more electronically driven than Kurt Cobain’s guitar-based grunge, this record is catchy in its own right, and could do without the Hansel and Gretel name-droppings leading the way back to Seattle’s early 90s alt-rock scene. To avoid confusion—and to show that this group can sometimes step out of the Cobain shadow—I’m posting a Nirvana-less song below. Since bandleader Charles F claims the music that became Winter Gloves came about as he was trying to fit into the big city, I can only assume they hadn’t yet received any music beyond the turn of the century in rural Quebec. Don’t get me wrong—I fully understand and appreciate the enduring influence of Nirvana, but boys…subtlety is a virtue seldom used.

Winter Gloves – Factories

Who: Winter Gloves

What: about a girl

When: 3.24.2009

Where: Montreal, Canada

Why: “You believe some kind of harmony / Can keep your shit away from factories.”

How: Paper Bag


Ha Ha Tonka: “The Outpouring”

August 10, 2009

hahatonkaProud as hell of their Midwestern origins, this four-piece band named themselves after a state park located in southwestern Missouri where, around the turn of the century, some businessman with a few bones built himself a Scottish-style castle but died before its completion. It tragically burned down amidst the natural splendor, but the ruins still remain an attraction. Like their namesake, Ha Ha Tonka’s sound recalls the lonesome spirit of the Ozark mountain range but adds a touch of gospel with their almost holy four-part harmonies and a hearty dose of searing rock. Originally called Amsterband when they formed in college at Missouri State, they have since matured as musicians and refined their taste in monikers—as cool as it is to drone on about drugs.

Their sophomore effort, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, is darker than their debut album, Buckle in the Bible Belt (which was written and recorded in an old church in Union, Missouri), but still as foot-stomping. If any of you caught their show with Pine Box Boys at the Rickshaw Stop last Wednesday, please provide a full report. I’d like to bear witness to these guys reconciling their dichotomous souls by uniting alcohol and the almighty, if only vicariously.

Ha Ha Tonka – The Outpouring

Who: Ha Ha Tonka

What: Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South

When: 6.16.2009

Where: Springfield, Missouri

Why: “There was some violence there in that crowd / We bled it out.”

How: Bloodshot


Bowerbirds: “Northern Lights”

August 4, 2009

bowerbirdsEverything about the Bowerbirds hearkens back to what is natural. In their first album, 2007’s Hymns for a Dark Horse, that meant campaigning for the conservation of the earth. Veering away from sheer eco-friendly folk in their second full-length, Upper Air, we find out a bit about a pair of people that inhabit it, and their relationship. North Carolina couple Beth Tacular and Phil Moore, who met while working at Whole Foods, teamed their vocals and accordion with Mark Paulson’s violin to create something understated yet spectacular, harnessing bare backwoods beauty with simple, spare arrangements and two-part harmonies.   

While pleasant to listen to, the record is not entirely uplifting, peppered with minor keys and slow, hypnotic melodies that give way to crescendoing choruses. They have not so much abandoned their environmental aesthetic from before; rather, they have managed to merge the two themes—love for the earth and love for each other—into one. Because yes, we need this planet to remain intact in order to continue life as we know it.  But isn’t it nice to have someone to share it with? See them perform at my favorite venue in the city, Café du Nord, tonight.

Bowerbirds – Northern Lights

Who: Bowerbirds

What: Upper Air

When: 7.7.2009

Where: Raleigh, North Carolina

Why: “All I want is your eyes / In the morning as we wake / For a short while.”

How: Dead Oceans