Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

A Better Version Of Me

May 15 will see a couple of bands roll into the Horseshoe, both of whom have new records out that look to distance themselves from the “emo” tag/slag that was often attached to their earlier works. Hailing from New York by way of Madison, Wisconsin, Rainer Maria just released Catastrophe Keeps Us Together while Richmond, Virginia natives moved to Chicago Ambulette’s debut release is The Lottery EP.

I haven’t heard all of Catastrophe yet as I’ve been too busy/lazy to go out and get a copy, but based on what I’ve heard both live and online, it sounds great. Caithlin De Marrais’ voice is so much stronger than it once was, no longer sounding like she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown whilst being egged on by Kyle Fischer. Fischer’s self-proclaimed “peculiar” voice is apparently completely absent from the new record. While I was never a fan of his leads because of the aforementioned peculiarity, I thought it could be effective in certain contexts. Regardless, producer Malcolm Burn, who might at first seem like an odd choice with his roots-heavy resume featuring the likes of Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan, has done a terrific job of helping the band along in the maturing process first evidenced on 2003’s Long Knives Drawn, though The New York Times (Bugmenot) thinks they’ve actually gotten less mature but holds that up as a good thing. Metacritic in general is tilting for them rather favourably.

MTV and The News & Observer have conversations with Fischer about the new record. Official MP3s from the new album are hard to come by, I guess new label Grunion isn’t as generous as their old friends at Polyvinyl were, but this one submitted for their SxSW profile is still good – there’s also a couple more tracks on their MySpace.

MP3: Rainer Maria – “Burn”

Ambulette (née Bella Lea), Rainer Maria’s tourmates for this jaunt, haven’t been quite as successful at shaking the emo label that frontwoman Maura Davis’ old outfit Denali wore. The Lottery boasts a couple exceptional rock tracks, but much of the rest is still too heavy on the (melo)dramatic wailing. While the strength of Davis’ voice is undeniable, you get to wishing she’d use it in a different manner every now and again. But for what it is – a moody, sultry slice of alt.rock – it’s not a bad start. No MP3s available, but you can hear a couple tracks from the EP and a couple that aren’t at their MySpace page. Denali also has a MySpace page if you want to hear something from their salad days. And Spin recently named them “Band Of The Day”.

I caught both Rainer Maria and Ambulette at SxSW last month (linky 1, linky 2), so I can attest that the Horseshoe is going to play host to some fine rock on the 15th. Tickets are $10.50 in advance, $12.00 at the door.

Thanks be to Five Seventeen for tipping me off that The Wedding Present would be continuing to affirm their status as maybe the most fan-friendly band on the planet by releasing Search for Paradise: Singles 2004-5 on May 16. The CD/DVD collection will compile all the singles and b-sides released for 2005’s Take Fountain as well as all the videos. While the Weddoes have always been good about making their b-sides and whatnot available – witness all the compilations out there – it was during the Cinerama years that they began releasing a companion disc for every one of their proper albums. As an avowed fan of b-sides but not so much of having to buy all the singles individually, I applaud them for this. Clap clap.

And also check out My Mean Magpie’s list of albums that are better heard than seen (he’s talking about ugly artwork, yo).

The now-defunct Comes With A Smile offers an unpublished interview with Stephin Merritt, whose new album Showtunes, consisting of songs written for a pair of operas (via For The Records). Gigwise and Opera News Online also have interviews with Merritt about his collaborations with director Chen Shi-Zheng. Opera News Online. Now THAT’S a website I never thought I’d be linking. As for the record itself, apparently it’s a little confounding. The Magnetic Fields guy writing operas scored entirely by traditional Chinese instruments? I can’t see why that wouldn’t be ultra-accessible.

So lately I’ve been more than a little obsessed with bags. Yes, bags. Besides this addictively voyeuristic Flickr group, my recent adventures abroad have shown me that my current sac, this ubiquitous (in Toronto) MEC bag, just isn’t big enough or suitable for my current junks, my DSLR and attendant lenses in particular. So I’ve now been looking for something better – I gave up on camera bags since I want something that can serve multiple duty, ideally hauling my laptop, camera gear and assorted sundry items in whatever configuration I desire. I’m now looking for something courier/messenger style, bigger than a standard briefcase/satchel but not as big as a real bike messenger bag. Something that’ll handle my apparently gigantic laptop (it seems that most bag manufacturers only acknowledge the existance of Apple-sized laptops? WTF? Windows people don’t ever travel?) as well as offer space for me to slap in some of these for toting camera gear. Padding, waist strap for cycling and not butt-ugly are also concerns. I’ve found a couple of good candidates, but an inability to find them locally to measure and test them out is annoying (Update: Bah – Timbuk2 says my laptop won’t fit, it’s maybe 1cm too thick. Anyone want a used Dell Inspiron 6000?). I can easily order them online but am not terribly comfortable with doing so without being sure they’re what I want. Any other suggestions? And I know someone is gonna recommend Crumpler, but I can’t see any of their current models fitting my exact needs – by the time they get big enough to do what I want, they’re mammoth both in physical size and price.

np – The Concretes / In Colour

By : Frank Yang at 8:42 am
Category: General
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  1. information leafblower says:

    I have two small Crumpler bags that I really like, but I’m with you on the larger models. Muy expensive. Let us all know what you decide, since once I buy my new Tamron lense, I’ll be in the market for a bigger bag as well, and we all know how much I like to copy you. :)

  2. Chris says:

    Hey Frank,

    CPUsed have a very good selection of laptop bags of various sizes. (Unfortunately they don’t have any on their website).

  3. kathryn says:

    Yikes, that’s a huge laptop! I’ve found that computer stores will stock all sorts of generic black laptop bags for PC folks, and the specialty bag manufacturers are the ones targeting Apple users specifically.

    Dan has a large crumpler bag for his camera and laptop but it doesn’t fit his new 15" Macbook Pro, so, alas.

  4. thomaus says:

    I was shopping at MEC last weekend for something to stick my camera in… They had a few interesting choices for the laptop thing:… But I don’t carry around any of our wee little iBooks. I’m taking back the Blurr BTR I got cause it just wasn’t practical with the Canon. Too skinny. But for a laptop, it seemed ideal.

  5. Frank says:

    yeah, I’ve hit MEC a couple times with the old tape measure and none of their shoulder bags would handle Dell-zilla. I swear, I didn’t think it was abnormally big when I bought it. It’s smaller than my desktop, anyway.

    I’m giving up on the integrated laptop pocket – it’s simpler to just buy a separate padded sleeve and toss that in whatever bag I get. I just need to find one that’s big enough to handle that and is padded. The search continues!

  6. simon says:

    Only backpacks though. Tops is getting a Billingham bag, it will cost 200$ but you will get a bag that will last you centuries:

  7. Kat says:

    Have you looked into Gravis bags? I believe the URL is They have scads of laptop bags – I bought mine at CP Used up on Dupont…good selection. A bit pricier (I think $70?) but mine is a slim, firm backpack with an actual structured zip pocket for a laptop – and it’s not constricting so I’m sure it’d fit laptops of any sort. Check it!

  8. danshe says:

    Tom Bihn has some interesting bags that will fit your computer. Two backpacks and one of their messengers. They’re a great company with only a few staff who are very accessible.

  9. PG says:

    I picked up a Crumpler at the apple store at yorkdale yesterday. for some reason they were blowing them out at ridiculously low prices! the one I got for $20 was previously spotted at college and spadina for $110.