This is a musicblog. Every weekday we post a couple of mp3s and write about them. Songs are only kept online for a short time. This is a page from our archives and thus the mp3s linked to may not longer be available. Visit our front page for new songs and words.

June 30, 2004

grows in a funny kinda way

Veda Hille - "Plants". A track by the BC songwriter, from 2001's Field Study. The piano rolls across the song like wind over long grass, deep till Hille's voice leaps up, a light bright chorus of apples and wild childhood. Words play on her tongue - "fruits roots and berries" - a touch of darkness (poison? turkish delight?) lurking in the lilting ends of phrases. Like a little prairie whirlwind. [buy]

Shostakovich - String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, 3rd Movement, as performed by the Brodsky Quartet. A plucky line of strings, stretched out till it's vibrating, zagging, trying to point in every direction. One of Julian's favourite pieces of music, I like the way the romantic theme sails in at the two minute mark, drifting idly while the rest of the instruments brood in the background. Then they take to the air and shriek, playing with their prey, piercing it with black eyes, transfixing it as they grin. They mock the simple beauty from before, reduce it to nothing, play with it till it's forgotten in the grey evening sky. [buy]


Heard a good song lately? Something special that hasn't received the attention it deserves? Please - dropload it to me ( Thank-you!

Posted by Sean at 1:22 AM | Comments (3)

June 29, 2004

The Arcade Fire

The Arcade Fire w/ Les Mouches - Montreal 27/6/04

In a drab, low-ceilinged room at a Montreal Spanish Community Centre, two bands made noise, Sunday night. The crowd was strangely quiet; attentive. Maybe we were nervous about the federal election that was looming the next day. More likely we were nervous about the return of the city's brightest, bravest band. A band that had been away for months, sequestered in the Hotel 2 Tango recording an album, then away on tour with The Unicorns.

Reunions are scary. Rejoining friends after a year away, I always wonder whether we'll be able to slip into the same play of laugh and gaze and nod. I wonder if we'll hear each-other's voices in the same way, or if we'll have forgotten how to be together. I wonder if the eyeglint will have faded.

So we stood in that dingy room, an enormous outdoors through the door behind us, and we hoped. The Arcade Fire climbed onto the stage and played a concert with that great familiar music, the swell of life we remembered from dawns and deaths and break-ups and break-downs - and from shows prior. And we dared not jinx this thing we were hearing. We dared not. So we cheered and we hollered and then we quietly waited for the next bolt of music.

The whole thing started with Les Mouches.

Three men and a woman in shadow - acoustic guitar/vocals, electric, drums, and steph comilang crouched over an overhead projector, playing with slides. Throughout their set, her cut-outs and gels flowed over the musicians: an analog disco-ball, a snip-'n-paste dream. There were quiet windings of acoustic guitar, the hesitant play of electric, and then out of the dark a yelp, and Rob Gordon's brilliant drum spalashes, accelerating and breaking and wild.

Les Mouches played the music of messy, bodily human life: the tender kiss, the ache of throat, the sores on face, the hurtling into black. Love came shuddering suddenly out, gulped and tumbled away. Owen Pallett's vocals are important only as a gentle noise - any perceived lyrics are needlessly distracting. We want to hear that stumbling human sound and then the breaking-open of beauty. We're ever lurching toward death, and then back out into sunlight. Difficult, hypnotic music.

Les Mouches - "What We Know As Buildings Have Always Been Canyons". From the band's superb new LP, You're Worth More To Me Than 1000 Christians. It's by far a better record than their EP: it's confusing and lovely and - if you let it, - moving. It's difficult and it bends in the wrong places. "What We Know As Buildings" lets the world explode and then come to order and then explode again. Beautiful peace is swallowed up by its own hidden shudders. The quiet lull of guitar and the greyblack crack of a wheezing living drumkit. Ghosts sliding into bodies. [buy]

Then, indeed, The Arcade Fire took the stage. They wore their army uniforms, and smiles. Win was taller, it seemed; longer. Howard walked more comfortably in his shoes. Tim was steadier - confident and thoughtful. Richard even freer with his feeling.

And Regine's eyes glittered.

They have an album to be released on September 14th on Merge. They have a 7" with one of their finest new songs, "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," and a b-side by their late grandfather (see below). And when they played their dark, wise, dancing rock'n'roll, everything blazed. The words are vivid, the high-hats are hit, the band roars melodies like a furious new wave band that spent six months at Motown training camp. They care - good lord do they care! They care about the songs they sing, the things they play, but more than that they care about us. And they demand that we care, as well.

The Arcade Fire's first EP is full of gaiety. It's dusty and light and giddy. It's jubilant and it asks us to celebrate - laugh and dance and celebrate and learn to live.

But that's old hat, now. The Flaming Lips taught us that lesson. And The Polyphonic Spree. Even, arguably, the Fiery Furnaces and LCD Soundsystem.

So the Arcade Fire changed their tack. The wheeled out the big drums. And what they are now is bigger, fiercer - they show their teeth. "We told you to live," they seem to say, "but off of the dancefloor, outside of your little clubs, you didn't. You didn't learn." So no more pretty pop songs. Now the beauty is deeper, longer, higher. It's the beauty of a thunderclap, an avalanche, of the earth breaking under your feet. No more do they cajole you: they shake, they threaten, they yell, they plead. "WAKE UP." Parents, children, siblings, lovers, lonelies, human fucking beings - WAKE.

They sing of gripping lightning bolts, of tunnelling through walls of snow. Guitar and bass saw through our ears, synths build an ominous front, the bass-drum pounds at our skeletons and the high-hat tugs at our feet. And yet always a serious loveliness that can zip of of the sky, a streak of meteor - a slow sad song from Regine (breakmyheart), the grinding folk waltz, the hair that blows off of your face as they howl the "ohs" of "Wake Up." Les Mouches' Owen (also of the Hidden Cameras) assisted with violin; Dan from Wolf Parade helped open the set; they almost played a Unicorns medley, but didn't.

I'm not going to post the new song from the 7" - better that I wait for the CD-quality release, that we give things full credit. You have no idea how pleased I was to hear that the album will be released prior to September 23rd, the day I leave for Europe. I was terrified of flying away over the ocean, all copies of the album trapped on this forsaken continent. I almost hugged Tim when he told me.

That said, however, here is something from the archives. Brad expressed an interest, I'm very partial, and what with the Django post last week, it seems completely suitable.

The Arcade Fire - "Brazil" [live 16/05/02]. A moonlit take on the Barroso classic, with strangely broken-hearted vocals by Win Butler and the light starry sound of Regine Chassagne on rhodes. The departed Dane Mills on drums. There's a glow that falls over me, nostalgia and bittersweet memories. (Recorded at a loft at 1619 William St., in Montreal.)

Alvino Rey Orchestra - "My Buddy". And finally, here is the absolutely wonderful, charming track that comes as the b-side of the Arcade Fire's new single. Originally from a 1940 radio recording, it's Alvino Rey - late grandfather of Win and late father of the pedal steel guitar. "My Buddy" opens with the loving and summery strum of guitar. There are brief swells of horns, like a lovesick one-sided conversation. Then, like a weary robot, a voice comes through the guitar - "Nights are long since you went away / I dream about you all through the day / my buddy". It's sad and warm at once, it's playful and light, and even - perhaps - quietly devastating. [buy]


enough of that blather, eh?

i applaud tonight's canadian election results! based on polling and pessimism, i made a bet with my friend Jason, insisting that the Conservatives would win at least 100 seats. and it's the happiest bet i've ever lost. the liberals chastened and intact, but more importantly - a doubling of the NDP's last showing, and a loud voice in the next parliament. hooray hooray!

Keith from TTIKTDA has launched an utterly fabulous new project, Memos to Ourselves, a free-for-all audioblog that hopes to collect song, sound and nonsense from across the world. As soon as I work out the Canadian long-distance thing, I'll be contributing; you should too. Wonderful!

Posted by Sean at 11:10 AM | Comments (6)

June 27, 2004

take cover

I'm heading up to Montreal tonight to see The Arcade Fire and may not be back till late, so as not to disappoint the Monday mornin' visitors, I'm submitting this very early. Cheers.

The Organ - "Brother". The opening song from The Organ's new LP, "Brother" is like a classic cut of 80s pop: Cure guitars and the sharp line of Katie Sketch's vocals. It's a sour and melancholy mix; guitars gnash, drums smash, and the organ pushes toward a long cliff drop. If Joy Division were a quintet of Vancouver women, this the song they would record after a long drive through a Saskatchewan summer. If female tigers learned rock'n'roll, this is the music they would play for their long lost boyfriends. When Sketch sings the word "rapture," it's a small and classic moment, a strange and perfect beat. [buy]

Sam Phillips - "Reflecting Light". Richard passed on this track by Sam Phillips, a name I didn't know. Further research shows that she's been releasing albums for years, with guest spots by the likes of Elvis Costello. "Reflecting Light" is an elegant waltz, Phillips' deep voice rising and falling with a considered poise. She doesn't over-emote: things are kept plain, true, even slightly mysterious. The song's show emotion is relegated to the long, swooning notes of the backing string trio. There's a lovely push-and-pull between these aesthetics - the indulgent romanticism of the strings, the slow-and-casual hook of the vocal melody. [buy]

Posted by Sean at 1:58 PM | Comments (9)

June 24, 2004

the new disaster every day

Django Reinhardt - "Brazil". My favourite standard, performed by the world's finest gypsy jazz guitarist. This is, I believe, from 1947 (first released on the hard-to-find Péche à la mouche), shortly after Django 'went electric'. While some critics feel that Reinhardt should have stuck to acoustic guitar, he invests his work here with a beautiful, lingering, longing tone, a nostalgic slightly bop flow of notes. The final repetition of the theme, abruptly cut off, is like the sadness of recovering the old postcard, the one with the long lost blue sea.

Cool Blue Halo - "Too Much Kathleen". Indie pop from Halifax, ca. 1996. Cool Blue Halo was part of the booming East Coast pop scene in the mid-90s - they performed alongside bands like the Superfriendz, Sloan, Eric's Trip. Then Sloan moved to Toronto, the Superfriendz and Eric's Trip broke up, and Cool Blue Halo vanished into the ether. This is a silly, ripe pop song, high harmonies and chiming electric guitars. The central pun is awful, certainly, but it's made charming by the smiling sincerity of the verses. He's crushing on the waitress, and who can blame him. Like the Fountains of Wayne, had the guys been Nova Scotia boys instead of New Jersey hooligans. (OOP, I think, but from Kangaroo, on No Records.)

Pop (All Love) has got a leaked Fiona Apple track called "Extraordinary Machine," from her on-hold upcoming record. It's extraordinary all right. The angst's fluttered away from Apple's voice, leaving the spaces in between words to do any gnashing. I hear bits of Chet Baker. And she's adopted a terrific chamber-pop backdrop. It's like Nellie McKay, or even Mushaboom-y Leslie Feist, only - to be honest, - I like it more than both.

Spoilt Victorian Child is the new mp3blog from Simon, the man (i think) behind cool remix/bootleg artist Empire State Human. One day in, it's messy rock'n'roll.

Apologies for awkward writing today; I'm quite exhausted. I promise better tomorrow.

Posted by Sean at 1:41 AM | Comments (7)

June 22, 2004

feeling so refined

Bishop Allen are from Brooklyn and they're the best guitar pop band in the world. Probably.

Maybe that's an overblown thing to say, but when I listen to "Busted Heart" or "Little Black Ache" (free downloads on their website!!!), the truth of it resonates strongly. Here's glee, hooks and a casual musical panache - surprising turns of guitar on "Little Black Ache," three songs worth of choruses on "Busted Heart". These are songs that knock me down and pick me right back up. Unlike the New Pornographers their genius is understated, part of a simple easy pleasure. It doesn't intrude. But when you perk up your ears, when you pay attention, all sorts of brilliant flourishes shine through, all sorts of inspiration and magic come whirling out from the magnets. What the finest pop bands do so well - The Strokes, The Beatles, and to a lesser extent Pavement/late VU/Belle & Sebastian - is make wonderful songs sound easy. There's no huffing and puffing in "Last Nite" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand"; it flows like gold bullion from an endless source, something natural and glorious and rich. When our cup overfloweth with good pop songs, it's easy to take things for granted. But if we're hunting for new veins (same as the old veins), Bishop Allen are like the Northwest Territories. Or Botswana. Or somewhere else that's ripe for exploiting.

And did I mention that they're catchy?

Charm School is wonderful without comment. But that won't stop me. Rolling Stone gave it four stars. NPR called it "vibrant, vivid and refreshingly different". Newsweek compared it to Bright Eyes (?!??!?). It's not a "sounds like" record, but there are endless flashes of the familiar, mixed into something new and catchy and live: REM, Tigermilk, Spoon, the Go-Betweens, Buddy Holly, the Lucksmiths, Jonathan Richman, The Shins, Modest Mouse, The Pixies, The Kinks, Wilco, Built to Spill (and on and on). It's not the sound of a band at its peak - it's the sound of a band that has bought a shiny chrome engine, that has stocked the holds with brightcoloured cans, and that is prepared to stay airborne for the rest of its collective lifetime.

So you must listen to "Little Black Ache": it has jangling guitars, oblique-coherent lyrics, yelled vocals in the back, a girl who agrees wholeheartedly. It's got that little blossom of guitar that comes just before the chorus. It's got a depression that's sorta personified, that's dancing with Snoopy at the sock-hop.

So you must listen to "Busted Heart": it starts like a Modest Mouse b-side, but then in comes the sparkly summertime artillery, a jumbled happy-growling chorus. Then the bridge - it lulls, it rocks, it tips back and then reaches high high high.

And yes, you should listen to

Bishop Allen - "Coupla Easy Things". This is the band at its most twee, a creaking swaying boy-girl thing that's hipper but not too distant from "I'm Sticking With You". It wants very much to be liked. It's shrugging in the kitchen and eyeing the phone uneasily. "Telephone turn on sunshine / When it sends you the right voice." The drums nod like a friend who's waiting in the living room. A guitar plays idly, briefly telling its own story. Hot air through a window. A lightbulb flickers and turns off. And maybe, yes maybe, they will indeed sing you to sleep.



a new favourite blog: Fat Planet (legal international downloads)

The LiveJournal of Zachary Marsh (for moorcock fans).

Posted by Sean at 11:56 PM | Comments (14)

canyon whisper

BlackMothSuperRainbow - "Vietcaterpillar". For several years I've been listening to BlackMothSuperRainbow continue his trajectory deeper and deeper into his own idiosyncracies. He now has his genre wrapped around his finger - he sounds like a lot of other things sound like, but no one sounds like him. It's thrumming analog IDM that takes bits from folksy psychedelia, bits from school dances in 70s gymnasia, and more still from his own attics and vinyl milk-crates. Easy comparisons are drawn to Air, Manitoba and Boars of Canada - and more importantly, the low-budget documentary soundtracks that inspired BoC's name. This thing squelches out from a hole in a field, sky falling in blue dribbling drips. Dreams blossom with obscene speed - sudden garish flowers, bending in the sun. A vocoder is lost in its own burbles, a lakeside organ remembers long stretches of afternoon. And that stamping clamour of life, never-ending, incessant, stop. (From 2004's Start a People. [buy]

Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter - "Your Eyes Told". Pungent goth country from a woman with a husky, dusky voice. At times, Oh, My Girl is like a wispier Sixteen Horsepower, full of darkness and the inevitable. Elsewhere, though - as on this track, - a sense of contentedness glows through; like watching dawn with the curtains drawn. Things are never as barren as on a Giant Sand record - too much lushness in each big violet bat of Sykes' eyes. The long arms of a pedal steel, the strain of Sykes' vocals - it all contributes to a slow, smoky beauty. Magnolias in the desert. [buy]

note to self: must update the blog-roll!

Y'all have been quiet, lately. Is everything all right? Would you like me to be doing something differently?

Posted by Sean at 12:07 AM | Comments (16)

June 21, 2004

something i stir into my tea

I hope you all enjoyed your weekend. Thanks for the well-wishes; my Uncle Hy passed away on Thursday, and we made the early-morning dash into Toronto for the service. It was a sad weekend, an exhausting one, but a good one. Rest in peace, Uncle Hy. We'll jitterbug for you.

One of the unexpected surprises of the weekend came when I heard from Dan on Saturday afternoon, and made it downtown to see the Fiery Furnaces at the Mod Club. It was a brief, dazzling set - they blazed through twelve or fifteen numbers without pausing, Eleanor still mumbling out the song titles. Highlights - "Worry Worry," "Tropical Iceland," and the recurring "Lost My Dog". Tracks from both albums were - as predicted - completely reformed, sent crashing down. I think some of the whimsy was lost, but it was made up for with a loose and free energy - like, indeed, fire in a furnace. I've got to say, though, that the high point came in the encore, with Eleanor and Matthew alone on stage. Gone was the one-setting rock-smashing drummer. Only a song and a half, but there was more play, and even an awkward, unexpected beauty. "Rub Alcohol Blues" was entirely amazing. And then bits and scattered tattered pieces of something old? new? that had balloons. Wond'rous.

Joanna Newsom - "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie". I feel like Joanna Newsom was mp3blogged to death a month or two ago. But coming home today, on this came. And I had to share. Ontario's smudged green trees filed past and Joanna was singing with all that wistfulness that was hiding in the landscape, that was wandering a small room in my heart. She's weird, sure. She plays a harp and yawls. The lyrics are mad, but so too are they inspired, sometimes wise. Damned if out of that strange, squeezed voice, out through the strange, slipp'ry words, she hasn't done something as beautiful as Cat Power ever has, as lonely and at peace and as true. Van Morrison if he lived in sea-shells. "There are some mornings when the sky looks like a road. / There are some dragons who are built to have and hold. / And some machines are dropped from great heights lovingly. / And some great bellies ache with many bumble-bees / and they sting so terribly."

Vetiver - "Amerilie". To continue on the theme, here's a song from the self-titled debut from Vetiver, a sort of psychfolk supergroup that's directed by Andy Cabic and includes contributions from Devendra Banhart, Colm O'Ciosoig (My Bloody Valentine) and even Hope Sandoval. Joanna Newsom's harp is here, glancing in between strokes of cello and the flutter of guitar. I like the long heaving sighs of this song, the feeling of a horizon above the sea, a reassuring drawl that reminds me of Turin Brakes.

gmail swap news: made the front page of the Toronto Star over the weekend. slashdotted again. and something in the pittsburgh post-gazette.

Posted by Sean at 1:08 AM | Comments (6)

June 18, 2004

do a whole lot more / than love the one you spend a lifetime looking for

Due to some unfortunate circumstances, I'll be making a last-minute trip to Toronto tomorrow morning. Consequently, I really need to get to bed, so tonight things will be brief.

Doris - "Did You Give the World Some Love?". On the bright side, however, this song is totally, unabashedly, roll-down-the-hill kick-the-bucket-and-come-back-to-life awesome. It's from a 1970 LP of the same name, by Swedish singer Doris Svensson. The song is written by Norman L. Martin. Kinda Petula Clark, kinda Dusty Springfield, kinda Carole King, it's a breathless swirl of a song, a simple setting of piano and acoustic guitar that's been made mountainous by the conclusion. Pressing swells of strings, smashing drums, a psychedelic burble of electric guitar. Over it all, Svensson's brilliant voice - it's coo and snarl, Jackie DeShannon and The Flirtations. Berndt Egerbladh's arrangement is genuis: sounds climb all over both channels, with surprising flashes and familiar smiles. When the main theme whispers back at 2:20, it's a big white bed by a bright open window, and then we're bounding out and through, down the hill, into the nightlife and the starlight and the dazzling glow of human generosity. Single of the year! (if only.) (more info here) [buy]

Now listen to it. See? Wasn't I right? Totally, unabashedly, roll-down-the-hill kick-the-bucket-and-come-back-to-life awesome!

Elsewhere -

A good cover-story on (and a terrific photo of) The Arcade Fire in Now. [via Chromewaves]

Five's posted some live Royal City tracks at My Mean Magpie, including the excellent "Postcards" (seriously: go get it).

See you Monday.

Posted by Sean at 12:33 AM | Comments (4)

June 17, 2004

horribly i yearned

Self - "Better Than Aliens". Two minutes of distinctly weird guitar pop. A widow goes down the usual lifepath, ignoring the squiggly synth sounds that are hiding in the left channel. But then - zoom, zap, "abducted." "Your love's better than aliens, tonight" sings a lace of vocals, a silly scoop of wry romanticism. Self was brought to my attention by Justin, and they do a variety of quirky-earnest things (like a twang-less Clem Snide, kinda, or Liam Lynch). The main site is here, but there's a phenomenal fan-site which carries several dozen okayed mp3s from the band's records (although, well, said mp3s are currently offline). A new LP should be coming out later this year. (This is from 1999's Breakfast with Girls.) [buy]

Royal City - "Little Heart's Ease". A track from Royal City's surprisingly excellent new record, Little Heart's Ease. I was one of the few who wasn't so taken with Alone at the Microphone (apart from the blaze of "Bad Luck"), so this is a wonderful return to form. It straddles a fence between the reverent, Edenic lovesongs of At Rush Hour the Cars, and Microphone's maggot-ridden Gomorrah. Aaron Riches sings in a kind, new testament voice about hopeful, new testament things. His band, meanwhile, doesn't let the noise disrupt the pages or let the dust settle around them. There's life, even in the hush: the optimism of those who have undergone trials. "Jerusalem" is a little song in the shadow of a tree, hot and dry, with a crag of electric guitar that overhangs. Hayden after five years as a Franciscan monk, after buying a white linen suit and finally (really) learning how to play guitar. [buy]

The Greatest Drum Solos, with mp3 samples. [via close your eyes]

Posted by Sean at 1:27 AM | Comments (3)

June 16, 2004

woo wit!

It's 2003 all over again. Or the first half of 2004. Or something. Although it had hardly left, sexy electro pop is back. Fischerspooner and Jewel introduced us, and now it's... um... Belle & Sebastian and Mouse on Mars.

Belle & Sebastian - "Your Cover's Blown". Ok. On Dear Catastrophe Waitress, B&S were breaking free of some of their accumulated hackles. Here, on the lead-off track from the upcoming Books EP, they've turned those hackles back into hand-cuffs and are using them to seduce-and-entrap unwitting shy kids. A fellow called fsolinger passed this my way, and he puts it rather well: "like 'stay loose,' with larry levan on the mix instead of trevor horn." Sliding, cheapskate discopop opens the song, and then in the second half they do a 45-degree turn, pull out the backup vocals, let an electric guitar curl up round the dance-steps (but not before they go all Tarantino for a second). Like the themesong for a late-80s movie about the Working Woman Who Cuts Loose. (I will update this post with any witty two- or three-word descriptions that appear in the comments. Help me out, yo.) Thus far: vinyl cardigan music; daft funk; shit sandwich; Japanglish Beatles tribute.

Mouse on Mars - "Wipe that Sound". A terrific slice of juddering dance music, Daft Punk with a hangup. If Mouse on Mars was once the link between Mum and Amon Tobin, tis' no more the case: this is a heavy groove, robot-moving electro-dance. Squelching, stamping, squirreling up and down like a broken cell-phone tweet. Is that "move it" or "woo-wit"?!?! I want to know!!!! Or maybe I want to dance!!! I don't know!!! From their upcoming Radical Connector. [This is good.] (Thanks, Toiletduck.)

Canadian Leadership Debate was last night/tonight. Julian, Jordan and I decided that we wanted Gilles Duceppe to be wearing a linen suit, with a tiny gramophone he can hold in his hand, playing records by la Balduc, while a icing-decked birthday cake sits on the podium beside him. He should also have a rickshaw driver waiting to take him away. He was like a superman up there: I can do anything and it doesn't matter! Yes!

ps: go ndp!

Posted by Sean at 1:57 AM | Comments (15)

June 15, 2004

it might follow you

The Hidden Cameras - "Builds the Bone". The second song from the Hidden Cameras' upcoming record, Mississauga Goddam. According to AllMusic, it's the only album to have ever named the Toronto suburb in its title. I looked.

I like the Hidden Cameras in concert. They bring an astonishing energy, a Flaming Lips party-craze display, a love of life and a cheering, dancing spirit. Listening to the recording "Ban Marriage," from their first album, is entertaining. Seeing it in person is life (and love) affirming.

So on Mississauga Goddam things are at their very best when the band's not trying to be manic, to be carnival. Whereas the live performance of "Builds the Bone" went on a little long, here, set to wax, it's rosy-cheek'd and very beautiful. When the strings glide in, it's icing on the cake: I'm already weak at the knees from the stumbling electric guitar, lost in a young crush (am I projecting when I hear "St Swithin's Day"?). I'm already swooning from Joel Gibb's pop song, the double-track of vocals, the openness of it all. I'm already dying. (There is, of course, there's what the song's about. Which is subversive, maybe, but I think really it's just honest. Sad. And, as I said, beautiful.)

Rachel Goswell - "Warm Summer Sun". Slowdive/Mojave 3's Rachel Goswell has gone out on her own, recording an album of girly folk that's noisier and more complicated than most. "Warm Summer Sun" is the opening song, and boy did it surprise me. It starts with a chittering rhythm and acoustic guitar, simple as something by Rosie Thomas or Dar Williams. In the second half, though, the uilleann pipes that had been lurking in the background bound to the forefront, a piano dives through the canopy, a bassline casually sets the ground a-trembling. One expects to hear such things on Mary Jane Lomond, Ashley MacIsaac or Capercaille records, but not on the solo debut of a founding shoegazer. Better yet - it works gloriously: a slow-motion trainwreck, a decelerated whirwind, an orchestra-hall at the end of the movie when you can't hear anything but the soundtrack and the roof caves and the instruments splinter and green shoots burst out from where the woodwinds would sit. A panicked quiet. Church bells. (From Waves are Universal, which is released tomorrow.) [buy soon]

Klosterman's brilliant piece on "advancement" does things that make me giddy with pleasure: punctures egos, laughs at nonsense, celebrates the fascinating. It's about the musical artists that transcend our ken, and is published in this month's Esquire. (via fp and then clap clap)

Posted by Sean at 3:11 AM | Comments (5)

June 14, 2004

ask the moon for another helping

A very late Sunday night excursion means that I forget to blog and so here we are, posting late. Apologies!

Josh Ritter - "You've Got the Moon". It was just announced that Josh Ritter is opening for Sarah Harmer on her Canadian tour, so here's a flashback to the American songwriter's first album. While he usually does slightly twang-tinged things, like a Texan David Gray, "You've Got the Moon" is an unearthly channelling of Nick Drake's spirit, finger-picking and a windsoft voice. For me, though, it's not crass imitation - it's tribute, perhaps, but also sincere emotion. This is the sound of the song Josh Ritter's singing, the wispy straining feelings that are locked up in "the tall grass and the trees / silhouettes and crickets singing". [buy]

Dawn Kinnard - "Wires in the Sky". Sometimes my Canadian-ness shows. Dawn Kinnard's not a Canuck, but listening to her creaking voice and rural-city landscapes, I hear only Kathleen Edwards, who is. (Maybe we'll visit Kathleen later this week, come to think of it.) "Wires in the Sky" is perfectly arranged: glowing organ pulses, little wails of pedal steel, sparklewashes of cymbal, a mandolin that circles Kinnard's voice. She dips husky low and climbs lilting high, and when she's hopeful it's a muted hopefulness, unwilling to fall into cliche. "And the words / in the sky / shine so bright / ... / I'm guilty / I don't know why." It's ghostly americana for a day with splashes of sun. [buy]

A hearty welcome to Lacunae, the new mp3blog by Douglas Wolk (who wrote perhaps the first big-media piece on mp3blogs).

Posted by Sean at 1:37 PM | Comments (1)

June 11, 2004

by starlight alone

Hello, Friday! It's us, Said the Gramophone!

Today, two ladies who have put out new albums in the past year. Both cuts, however, are from earlier records. Kooky.

(These are wonderful songs.)

Sarah Harmer - "Lodestar". Sarah Harmer's very finest track. Behind "Pyramid Song," it was my favourite song from 2001. For Canadians, Harmer's now a familiar face at festivals and in national newspaper Arts sections. Like the Leslie Feist of 2001, or something. But while she's proven her songwriting skills, I'm not sure she's ever reascended to "Lodestar"'s moon-bathed heights. The song's brilliance is in the way it starts slow, smooth, an oar through lakewater. But a trumpet cuts over the water, sharp through the night. A cello begins to advance, the stars sliding out of focus. Dazzle. Before long everything's turned sparkling, bright, a night "scooped out," full of laugh and dance and, as Harmer sings, "fireglow". These are two songs, almost, but the whole is so much finer than the parts. This is dusk, midnight and dawn; it's loneliness, freedom and jubilation. It's some of the country's very, very best. (From Sarah Harmer's debut, You Were Here.) [buy]

Nina Nastasia - "Ocean". Nastasia' debut, Dogs has just been reissued and, wouldn't you know it, I still haven't found a copy. I'm left, then, with the dark richness of 2003's Run to Ruin, and 2001's Blackened Air - both on Touch & Go. Nastasia does amazing things in her songs. Her words are stories, macabre and haunting and brave. The melodies, meanwhile, are tossed like black rags into the air. They turn and twist, pulled by creaking strings and the entropic drumming of Jim White (Dirty Three). Listening to Nina Nastasia's songs, I always imagine the wood of the cello like the hull of a ship. "Ocean" blows in slowly, a snatch of accordion that comes in on the wind. Later, as drums thump and hammer the roof, as a violin tears the door off, Nastasia stands resolute - angry, defeated, unwilling to bend. There is a moment of respite, literally a calm before the storm, but then she's wiped away by tide and gale, dashed on the rocks. The blood mingles with slate-grey surf. Post folk. [buy]

tonight, if all goes according to plan: The Microphones and Matt Haimovitz.

Posted by Sean at 2:05 AM | Comments (13)

June 10, 2004

find us a place where it's clear

Speedstar* - "New Orleans Funeral No. 1". Another tip from Laura, Said the Gramophone's fine Australian correspondent. It may come as a disappointment to some that Speedstar's got nothing to do with Strong Bad or The Cheat, but on the bright side they play slightly sorrowful alt-pop, with trumpet and piano that's reminiscent of The Reindeer Section (whom we visited yesterday). A couple of non-American artists have turned to Louisiana's funereal horns, of late: Radiohead, in "Life in a Glass House," and Kid Koala, in the terrific video for "Basin Street Blues". I've gotta say that Speedstar don't quite get it (at least, not here,) but there's still much to like about this track. Everything's laid out flat, like traintracks straight on to the horizon. Alister Bell's vocals recall Coldplay's Chris Martin, as does the optimistic pulse of piano. If that kind of earnestness repels you then by all means stay away, but if not - dig those jingling bells. (The band's links page lists a whole whack of fine people: the aforementioned Reindeer Section and Coldplay, as well as The Frames, Sun Kil Moon, Wilco, Mazzy Star...) [buy] (anyone with a better n. american buy link, please leave me a note in the comments!)

Alexi Murdoch - "Orange Sky". Scottish-American Alexi Murdoch released an EP called Four Songs, and lo and behold, the four songs are good. "Song for You" is sweet and hands-off, a pastoral love song with neat rhymes and a chorus that sparkles. "Orange Sky" is my favourite, however, a song that's totally obvious in its structure, patterned on so many that preceded it, but lovely all the same. Murdoch fits right in with the newish crop of britfolk patterned singer-songwriters, the cult of which seems centered in Ireland (Damien Rice, Josh Ritter, David Gray, heck, Van Morrison). "Listen to my hands," he sings, cutting himself off, leaving just the understated play of fingers on acoustic guitar. Gorgeous use of strings, of organ, little glimmers that underlie the rest. Good-natured and a little dumb, but if I wanted clever I'd turn on the Weird Al. [buy]

Womenfolk is a brand new mp3blog with a wonderful bubblegummy design. It's still the very early days, but I like what I see (and hear!).

I also neglected to mention Sixeyes, a musicblog that's highlighting a bunch of artists that are near and dear to my heart, linking to offsite mp3s when possible.

Oh - If any of you Gmail-ers haven't logged in to notice, you likely have some invitations to distribute. Make some friends!

Posted by Sean at 1:55 AM | Comments (3)

June 9, 2004

sometimes it hurts

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - "Love Comes in Spurts". Robert Quine ended his life earlier this week. Quine's well known for the "Quine Tapes," bootleg recordings he made of the Velvet Underground's early days in NYC. For many, many others, however, Quine will most be remembered for the adventurous, intelligent, blazing guitar work he contributed to things like Lou Reed's Blue Mask, Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend, and, of course, as a member of the Voidoids. I know very little about Quine, Richard Hell, or the CBGB's scene in which they played such an important part. But I do know this terrific song, the debut cut from Richard Hell's debut record, a heart that's pumping blood across the linoleum, electrical wires that are crackling and tumbling down. Quine's solo is breathless and full; it's raucously alive. So sad, then, that it's the sound of his ghost. RIP. [buy]

The Reindeer Section - "You Are My Joy". A pick-me-up from the Scottish super-group, with members of Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai, and Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody on vocals. It's a repeating loop of happiness, twinges of punchdrunk love on a day that's not gone so well. Running to the corner and falling into his/her arms. This band's two records are wonderful things, blooming rainyglad music. This is them at their most brightest, at their most carnival. Synths, trumpet, violin and a simple mantra, all of it over flushing, kind electric guitars. [buy]

Posted by Sean at 1:25 AM | Comments (10)

June 8, 2004

whoa! smash mouth contest!

candy company + smash mouth = marketing genius.

Posted by Sean at 3:59 PM | Comments (2)

a song for someone who needs somewhere to long for

The Kings of Convenience have a new record coming out. It's called Riot on an Empty Street, and it contains, at the very least, two lovely songs. Here they are.

The Kings of Convenience - "Homesick". As heralds of the 'new acoustic' movement, as two gentle-voiced fellows with acoustic guitar(s), the Kings of Convenience were inevitably compared to Simon & Garfunkel. Compared, compared, and compared again. While the argument could be made for the band's first two discs, Riot on an Empty Street does not sound like a Simon and Garfunkel album. Erlend Oye's been too busy listening to old (and new) records, folding them together on the decks. The Simon & Garfunkel analogies will keep coming, however, because "Homesick" is the first track on the album and it's the one that all critics will hear, even if they skip the rest in order to make their deadlines. "Homesick" is an unabashed ode to Paul and Art: I recognize it in the vocal harmony, that wonderful familiar interval. I recognize it in the words ("I can't stop listening to the sounds / of two soft voices / blended in perfection / from the reels of this record that I found"). I recognize it in the spirit of the song, the loneliness that leads to progress - the path of a boxer, perhaps, on his way to America. Taking up what you long for. How can something so simple say so much?

The Kings of Convenience - "The Build Up". Twice on the album, the Kings of Convenience are joined by a third voice. And the third voice (hold your breath!) is Leslie Feist. "Know How" is a glad shuffling shrug which doesn't quite get interesting until Leslie joins in, casting a chill with her five-second solo. "The Build Up," however, gives a clearer taste of Leslie's talents. (Clearer like raindrops tumbling over a lake, raindrops dangling on the ends of pine-needles, raindrops flying from the wheels of your bike, that silver black and red.) Astonishingly, Erlend lets Feist end the album, he lets her rising-falling song linger. This is the Kings of Convenience without their strummy crutches, without the network of golden notes. Instead: there's a draft.

The album comes out in the UK on June 21st. Do buy it.

For those of you in seek of yet more advance-leaked music, TTIKTDA's got Polyphonic Spree which, despite the improvement (bigger! more glad! more like the Flaming Lips!) still leaves me flat. I concede that in person I might be blown away (again, see the Lips), but on record I hear only a bunch of huffing and puffing.

Mystery & Misery introduced me to The Fatales, who are a revivifying indie rock band. Yeah Yeah Yeahs + Harvey Danger. Listen to "Where'd You Get Those Shoes".

Posted by Sean at 1:25 AM | Comments (11)

June 7, 2004

the smart will have small stature, the influential will have physical potency, and the rich? they will have long, lustrous locks.

It's Monday, today, (hello!) and I'm going to write about Kathryn Williams.

Four years ago, I was in a magazine store and picked up something British - Mojo or Uncut or something, - and scanned a story about the Mercury Prize. What caught my attention was a line something like this: "...also nominated is Kathryn Williams, a female Nick Drake..."

There are countless singer-songwriters out there who idolize Mr Drake, and a great number who spend far too much time and money recording insipid, impotent tunes. Comparing her to him is moderately accurate, but it's also a little unfair. One soft-voiced folksinger need not be doing the same thing as another. Kathryn Williams owes something to Nick Drake, certainly, but also to Joni Mitchell, The Smiths, and herself. The Nick Drake ghetto can be a hamfisted pigeonhole.

As we were walking in the Market a few days ago, I commented to Julian that the problem with liking folkie/singer-songwriter stuff is that people assume you enjoy the work of every person who picks up an acoustic guitar and awkwardly serenades a patio. When I finally managed to find Kathryn Williams' material (which until Old Low Light was very difficult indeed, on this side of the Atlantic), I was very pleasantly surprised. Little Black Numbers is an altogether wonderful record - music made up of small gestures, subtle smiles. Her first record (Dog Leap Stairs) is rather disappointing, and some of her later work is hit-and-miss, but she's really an excellent singer, especially when she sings with her mind, and not just her voice.

(To go on a little tangent, I was reading this interview with Leslie Feist, and I had to wonder about what she said, exactly, which entitled the reporter to write this: "[Leslie says that] it?s more interesting to perform that sad song with no expression and let instrumentation and beautiful arrangements fill that space left open by the performer." The sentiment is completely right, of course, some of the time, but there are other moments when you must invest a little more and not just leave things "calm." That's probably Let It Die's biggest flaw - too much of it is pleasant, cool. (There's a reason that despite her phenomenal talent, most people don't own multiple Bebel Gilberto records; or that nobody's screaming for another Hem disc.) Kathryn's not so fantastic at "calm" - her version of "Hallelujah," for instance, plays things a little too nice, and the cover of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" lacks both hipness and an active wit.)

A three-song tour, then, of some of Kathryn Williams' best work, ending with a selection from her newest album, a collection of covers called Relations.

Kathryn Williams - "We Dug a Hole". The opening track from 2000's Little Black Numbers. It's halting at first, steps across stones in a grey creek. But Kathryn's voice slowly gains momentum - as do the guitar and acoustic bass. Lots of room in this song, open spaces for open hands and stretching arms. It's one of these things that I can't imagine translating into a live performance: the ebb and flow would be canned, the fluttering growth rehearsed. When the big bass drum joins in, cello stoking the fire, it builds to a green-and-swirling climax, voices and radio-chatter in the background - like Nick Drake, maybe, but only after a night of listening to White Light White Heat. (ok, i admit, that's stretching it.) [buy]

Kathryn Williams - "No One Takes You Home". A rousing anthem for feeling good when you're feeling bad, culled from 2002's Old Low Light, which was distributed by Warner (at least in Canada). From the very start, that accelerating strum signals that the song's going somewhere, heading downhill to a place that's lit up and full of music - a pub? a club? a friend's home?. Before long a cello's joined you on the lane, then a tambourine, and lo and behold there's a crowd: they've got wine-stained lips and eyes aglow. You march en masse, you join hands and probably flirt, you kick in a door and ask: "Why can't life give [us] some more?" By the time you're "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ing" there's some twee confetti in the air, a trumpet giving you long looks. Gladness. And then it's gone. [buy]

Kathryn Williams - "Thirteen". Relations is an exciting record for people who like Kathryn Williams, and for people who like covers, but not for those who dislike either. She doesn't do anything astonishing enough to convert the unconverted, nor are most of these tracks fine - or different - enough that they outshine the originals. Accept those caveats, however, and there's a lot of pleasure to be found on the album - after all, here's Kathryn doing Nico, the Velvet Underground, Pavement, Nirvana, and more. In front of us right now is, of course, a rendition of Big Star's "Thirteen." It's cool, first of all, because it features the only non-atrocious use of bongos that I can remember. It's also cool because it is completely great - it's happy and sad and nostalgic and regretful and not.

When you're young, certain things happen, and they're sad or they're sweet but somehow you know that later, thinking back, the moments will be sadder or sweeter still. That there's something magic in the childish Now that's fluttering beneath the surface, something that you can't quite grasp but know that one day you'll long for. Well that's what this song is about, and it's in the way Kathryn Williams sings, it's in the doo-wop mermaid voices, it's in the ephemeral-perfect guitar solo. It's all there, and then it's not, and you dream of it sometimes. [buy]

Posted by Sean at 1:42 AM | Comments (7)

June 6, 2004

then again...

on the plus side, Modest Mouse will be playing with Wolf Parade at a cool Montreal venue on August 6th. (For less than $20, at that.)

Posted by Sean at 2:01 AM | Comments (3)

June 5, 2004


You have got to be kidding me. After five years of waiting, including a failed roadtrip to Cambridge MA which ended with an exploded engine in rural Vermont and a scramble to sell a car to one of the dozen residents of scenic Waterbury, Songs:Ohia is coming to Montreal, but exactly one week after I leave the freakin' continent! For ages and ages I've waited, willing to go the extra mile to witness one of my favourite musicians in action... But now, just as he decides to grace Canada with his presence, he resolves to take a month off between his St Louis and Detroit dates, leaving enough room for me to hop a plane for London and likely lose the opportunity to ever hear him perform. My life is cursed! Argh x 6 million.

(i hate because i love.)

[via chromewaves]

Posted by Sean at 12:23 PM | Comments (6)

June 4, 2004

the black-eyed dog, he called for more

Nick Drake - "Black Eyed Dog" [remastered]. I toyed with posting "Tow the Line," the heretofore unreleased song from Made to Love Magic, the newest Nick Drake comp. But although "Tow" was the loudest touted track on the album, it's nothing very special. No, if there's a reason to buy Made to Love Magic, it's that you don't own Time of No Reply and want a slightly better version, or if you have enough love of and familiarity with Nick Drake that the little changes make a difference. That a new arrangement can furl things open, that a remastering can deepen the meaning.

With those technicalities out of the way, what say we talk about "Black Eyed Dog"? This is an absolutely terrific remaster - the ring of strings makes a huge difference for me, puts a new strain into Nick's voice. This was always a troubling song, made more troubling by Nick Drake's death. But now the song itself feels more troubled. I always found it hard to explain the sprightly guitar-picking set against the matte black call of Nick's vocals. Now, however, things slip into focus. The desperation/excitement of the lyrics is heard in the guitar work: desperation in that quick-fading thrum (deeply audible for the first time), excitement in the let's-go fingerpicking. Life and death, wrestling. Oblivion in the not-quite-silences. (Thanks, Ian!) [buy]

Dirty on Purpose - "Mind Blindness". Vibrant shoegaze pop from a NYC band that knows to blend haze with clarity, summer somnolescence with a young autumn's skip-run-and-fly. (cf. my jeans feel a bit tight, think i washed them a bit too high. i was gonna be late, so i picked up my pace to run.) There are sighs and interlaced vocals, dream guitars, a touch of Yo La Tengo earnesty, but then the brilliant bristling sprint of Doves or "Where The Streets Have No Name". Lots of bands strain to reach this kind of place - Torrez, Tiger Saw, heck, Mercury Rev, - but here's a group that not only has the mood, it's got the soaring, spaceship hook. Marvellous. (To top it off - I'm told they like Os Mutantes.) From the sleekly-packaged Sleep Late For A Better Tomorrow EP. [buy]

For the Canadians in the crowd -- this is brilliance:

Posted by Sean at 1:56 AM | Comments (7)

June 3, 2004

the brightest scream

Hi everyone - thanks for all the feedback, the kind words, and the various statements in support of, and opposition against, the Scots. It's wonderful to know that you're reading - whether or not you liked the new Mase track. Sorry about the holiday, but I now have the right to wear a mortarboard hat in public.

As promised, today's music comes mostly from the tour-only split EP that Okkervil River and Shearwater have been carrying with them on their trip across the USA. It's called Hoax Funeral/Sham Wedding. Some of us (like me) live in cities not not lucky enough to be on the bands' itinerary. And yet some of us (like me) have friends (like Ian James) who will still pass things our way, even when the band refuses to sell the CD by mail-order.

As I've said before, Okkervil River is one of the very best bands in America today. Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See is a marvel of noisy, riverside folk - macabre love-songs and blasted murder ballads. "Okkervil River Song" is one of the very finest alt.folk songs ever recorded - I'd share it with you but, uh, I already did. Last year's album Down the River of Golden Dreams is good too - rushing chamber folk with grey-eyed lyrics. You should buy them.

Okkervil River - "Moonshiner". One of several traditionals on the Hoax Funeral/Sham Wedding split, as heard on records by Uncle Tupelo and Cat Power. The song bumps and clatters, staggering on aching legs down a dirt road and into the brush. No need for dramatics from Will Sheff: the story's an old one, familiar to all, full of misguided hope and a tired enthusiasm. It's in the repeated squeezebox theme that the song shows this exhausted side, the worn creases at the sides of the moonshiner's smile, the wrinkles from decades of waiting.

Shearwater - "Mountain Laurel". Jonathan Meiburg sings high over mandolin and acoustic guitar, then the drums tumble in and - with the violin that sounds like electric guitar - a blackyellow bird darts out of the sky. Like chamber pop with a particularly serious Hawksley Workman, David Bowie in a Kentucky rainstorm. ("Trouble in Mind" is also a great track - Sheff with acoustic guitar, a simplesad thing.)

And then because I didn't feel I wanted to leave things quite so spare, here's a song I wrote about back before Said the Gramophone was full of mp3s, an Okkervil River rarity that's among the best things they've done.

Okkervil River - "The Blackest Coat" This song starts wrong. There's a monotonous back and forth between bass and high-hat, Will Sheff's voice a little sharp, or flat, or something. It's not quite right, even with the gentle picking of acoustic guitar, the big round images. When the wurlitzer appears at that first chorus, things still feel slightly off-center. Everything's a half-step away from beauty.

But the magical thing that the band does is that it stays there. It circles that beautiful nut, it eyes it, but it stays on its side of the veil, where things are not quite right. It catches glimpses of the beauty in shadow. We grow used to this.

Suddenly - at precisely 4:11, - the curtain lifts, the disco-ball begins to spin, stars dapple the walls, and there it is. The fiddle is playing on beams of light, on friends' long glances across the room, on snowfall in an open doorway. As I said last August, it's "a juddering opening-up," a musical place that elicits, for me, an almost physical reaction. Everything's standing on the edge of a precipice, imagining the downward hurtle, the wind-whipping and blood-rushing and bone-crashing. It's a "loud-yelling-crashing victory finale". And then it takes a breath, it shakes its head, and steps away (or through?). (From last year's split EP with Julie Doiron.) [buy]

Posted by Sean at 1:41 AM | Comments (16)

June 1, 2004

the names have all changed

Apart from Malcolm's email, yesterday's post received 0 comments. Which suggests to me that you are all either a) extremely anti-french; b) extremely anti-scottish; or c) extremely good at making the most of your Memorial Day holidays. I'll hope it's the latter option, and that I've not alienated everyone. Welcome back?

Mase - "Welcome Back". I mentioned this song here, and first read about it here. Indeed, Mase is back - the story goes that he found God and gave up the thug-stuff... as he puts it here, he's a "bad boy gone clean." This might elicit indifference from some of you (or even uneasy memories of MC Hammer), but please understand: "Welcome Back" is easily the warmest, friendliest hip-hop track of the year, with cheers and hugs all round, and what Mark P rightly called a "loping, smily-faced beat." The crowd gathers close, yellow light glances from the walls, there's slow bump dancing and earnest pats on the back. A demure piano taps simply at the bottom, strings eke out a theme (from Welcome Back Kotter? Maybe. I've never seen Welcome Back Kotter.), and everyone else seems to be shouting hellos, singing the hook, setting the table. "I make my money, man, without the coca / livin la vida without the loca." Laid back but jubilant.

Hedningarna - "Räven (Foxwoman)". And since I hate to be predictable, here's dark-weird nordic alt-folk to complement the goofy rap. It starts off with breathing, rapid and spooky, soon joined by a brute, drumming bass-line. Something like a didjeridoo drones in the background; a baritone voice begins to intone; then - glance to the side - and it's a lulling woman's voice, a lute playing alongside. Whip back to hear the saw of strange strings, overlapping wails. The Finnish language is perfectly suited to this between-worlds music, like the language of goblins, of elves, of foxes. Like a lot of the music from the neo-folk movement in northern Europe, Hedningarna has an incredible ability to set a scene, to evoke terrifying/wondrous imagery, scenes and faces and eyes that you'll never see. Early morning music to nightmare by - Rammstein at Odin's hoedown. [buy]

gmailswap update: was interviewed twice, Monday, for the BBC World Service.

a reminder: i'm taking tomorrow off as i go to montreal and graduate. huzzah. see you thursday!

Posted by Sean at 12:35 AM | Comments (18)