Posts Tagged ‘Stephin Merritt’

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Easy Water

Review of Caveman’s Coco Beware and giveaway

Photo via Dine Alone RecordsFrank YangMost bands that name themselves for prehistoric entities – your Mastadons, your Dinosaur Jrs – seem to do so at least a little for the heavy and/or primal connotations that come with it. Not so much for Brooklyn’s Caveman, who seem to have chosen the name ironically as there’s nothing raw or neolithic about their smooth and polished debut album Coco Beware.

Rather than club you about the head with a bone, Caveman makes an impression with shimmering guitars, floaty synths and tight harmonies delivering genial, mid-tempo pop that’s reminiscent of a less annoying Vampire Weekend sans Afropop influences. Another reference point is Local Natives thanks to their vocal interplay and creative percussion though Caveman never gets nearly as frantic as that outfit when they’re in gear. Granted, atmosphere and mood are much more Caveman’s mandate than overt dynamicism but you can sense that they’ve got the goods to amp things up a bit if they wanted, they’ve simply opted not to. As a result, Coco Beware succeeds at being an interesting listen, but not a very exciting one. They can do better.

Caveman are in town at The Horseshoe on January 11 along with Oklahoma’s Hospitality, chattered about here. Tickets are $10 in advance but courtesy of Embrace I’ve got a pair of passes to give away to the show. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see Caveman” in the subject line and your full name in the body, contest closes at midnight, January 8.

MP3: Caveman – “Thankful”
MP3: Caveman – “Easy Water”
MP3: Caveman – “Old Friend”
MP3: Caveman – “Decide”
MP3: Caveman – “My Room”
Video: Caveman – “Easy Water”

Anyone hoping that the Cat Power Christmas Eve release would be a new song rather than a cover might be a little disappointed that it’s not – but to be fair, it’s a cover of herself. Her redo of “King Rides By” sounds very much like the confident Cat Power of today than rather than the one who originally recorded it for her third album What Would The Community Think in 1996 – great for those who have been waiting to hear her voice wrapped around anything new but not necessarily offering much insight into where her songwriting is as she prepares her first release of new material since 2006’s The Greatest. An MP3 of the track is available to download from Cat Power’s website in exchange for a charitable donation and the video, featuring boxer Manny Pacquiao and directed by actor/director Giovanni Ribisi, is available to watch below.

Video: Cat Power – “King Rides By”

Wilco are streaming the opening night of their “Incredible Shrinking Tour Of Chicago” from earlier this month at Roadcase.

One of this year’s Record Store Day releases was an EP consisting of Franz Ferdinand covers; a video for the selection by Peaches came out back in the Spring but now, three more for the contributions by LCD Soundsystem, Stephin Merritt and ESG have come out. Still nothing for the collaboration between Franz Ferdinand themselves and Deborah Harry yet, but these other vids came out of nowhere as well. So.

Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Live Alone”
Video: ESG – “What She Came For”
Video: Stephin Merritt – “Dream Again”
Video: Peaches – “Turn It On”

Spinner talks to Matthew Sweet about celebrating his 20th anniversary with his Girlfriend, Laundromatinee welcomes the popsmith to their studios for a session, and NPR has a Mountain Stage session.

The AV Club gets Craig Finn to go all One-Track Mind with one of the songs from his solo debut Clear Heart Full Eyes, due out January 24.

DIY checks in with Of Montreal as they put the finishing touches on Paralytic Stalks, out February 7.

The Alternate Side serves up a session with Mates Of State.

Spin has a Moog Sound Lab video session with The Antlers.

Loud & Quiet interviews Erika Anderson of EMA, who has a date at The Garrison on March 13.

Merrell Garbus talks to Blurt about what’s been a pretty good year for tUnE-yArDs. Relix also has a chat.

NYC Taper – who narrowly avoided being hacked into oblivion earlier this week – has posted recordings of a couple of this year’s Yo La Tengo Hannukah shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.

Paste looks into the enduring appeal of Neutral Milk Hotel’s not-nearly-as-reclusive-as-he-used-to-be leader Jeff Mangum.

NPR talks to Tom Waits.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011


Jeff Mangum and Andrew, Scott & Laura at Trinity-St. Paul’s in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIf we’re being completely honest, there’s a not-insubstantial part of me that wishes that this past weekend’s shows by Neutral Milk Hotel bandleader Jeff Mangum at Trinity-St. Paul’s had never happened. There was just something poetic about the disappearing act he pulled following In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, as though the album-closing sounds of the guitar being set down, chair being pushed back and footsteps into the distance was of him leaving this plane and taking his rightful place in some cosmic musical pantheon, having created one of the more perfect records of recent memory.

Of course, I suspect it’s over-romanticized shit like that that’s exactly why Mangum has finally emerged from seclusion. In the thirteen years since he disbanded Neutral Milk Hotel, his story has taken on mythic proportions as a new generation of the indie-inclined discover his masterpiece but can find no trace of its auteur – just field recordings of Bulgarian folk music, sound collages, very occasional guest appearances on the records of his Elephant 6 compatriots and rumours. So many rumours. Even if Mangum wanted to make a return to recording, releasing and performing music, surely the weight of expectation that would surround whatever came next would be unbearable.

So may as well just get it over with. Mangum sightings haven’t been unheard of in recent years, but a surprise Brooklyn loft show last December had the scent of something more than just a one-off; it felt more like carefully laying the groundwork for something bigger and within months, a relatively full-scale comeback was in place – both playing and curating some ATP Festival shows in the UK and US and headlining a number of east coast dates from the late Summer through the Fall. When the Toronto shows were announced, I theorized that this was Mangum’s effort to deconstruct the mythology around himself, to remind people that he was just a guy with a guitar and some songs and maybe, just maybe, not all that big a deal.

If that was the intent, mind you, maybe booking two nights in a church wasn’t the best way to make the point. For the Friday night show, the lineups began just after noon and by the time doors opened, stretched around more than a couple city blocks. And after all were admitted and dutifully took their places in the pews, it would still be an extended wait in the sweltering chapel before the show got underway. For support, Mangum brought along some old friends performing as Scott, Andrew & Laura – as in Scott Spillane of The Gerbils and Andrew Reiger and Laura Carter of Elf Power; certainly not household names but well-appreciated by those who knew them. Their set saw them trading off instruments and playing selections from their respective repertoires, striking a typically Elephant 6 balance of musical proficiency and primitivism but it was impossible to not be impressed by their final song, a Gerbils composition which had Spillane bellowing mournfully while Carter played trumpet unamplified into the church ceiling.

Just how reclusive has Jeff Mangum been? So much so that between sets, when a lanky figure in a light checked shirt and long brown hair tucked under a pageboy cap strode out on stage to check the four guitars set up around a chair, hardly anyone noticed that this was the man that they’d been waiting for months to years to forever in breathless anticipation to see live. They noticed when he came out the second time though – the dimmed lights must have helped – and he was welcomed back to Toronto, to the stage, with huge applause. And with the first strummed chords of “Oh Comely”, it began.

Jeff Mangum is often held up as the archetype for nasally-voiced indie-folk singers, but my first impression of hearing him in person was just how refined and powerful that voice was; Neutral Milk may have favoured a lo-fi, ramshackle aesthetic for their recordings but it certainly wasn’t to cover up the vocals. Of course, with this being a Mangum solo show and not a Neutral Milk reunion, that aesthetic was shelved anyways as the only flourishes on the voice and acoustic guitar configuration came courtesy of Spillane and Carter, who stepped up to add some crucial horn and clarinet parts to songs like “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” and “Ghost”. But for the most part, it was just Mangum and the rapt silence of his audience – a silence that burst into huge ovations when each and every song ended, as though they’d just witnessed the greatest thing ever and really, who’s to say they hadn’t?

Between songs, Mangum certainly didn’t come off like a recluse or eccentric, coming off chatty and friendly; at one point he asked, “Are you guys happy?” to an overwhelmingly positive response before having that question returned to him (he said he was). Also in the far-from-precious department, his requests – nay, demands – that the house sing along with him – further proof that he didn’t want our reverence, he wanted us to celebrate with him. There may not have been as much sincerity behind a full house singing “I love you Jesus Christ” as there would be when Trinity was actually serving as a conventional house of worship, but there was no denying that there was some genuine transfiguration occurring – or more accurately, a reverse-transfiguration with a musical demigod happily becoming just a man.

Though he apparently confirmed on Saturday night that he had been writing, no new songs were introduced. The hour-long set including one-song “Engine” encore encompassed selections from both Neutral Milk albums – though curiously no “Two-Headed Boy, Part One” on either night – and a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” wrought so lovely that I almost believed it could be true. But considering I’d just see Jeff Mangum perform live, I think one wish fulfilled on the evening was plenty.

NOW, Spin and The National Post was also on hand Friday while The Grid, The Globe & Mail and Exclaim have writeups of the very-similar Saturday night show; Southern Souls has also some audio from Saturday. And oh, there was no photography permitted at the show hence my sketch of the artist gracing the top of this post; it’s been a long time since I’ve drawn, and in that time I clearly forgot that a) I need light to draw, b) an eraser can be a handy tool and c) I was never very good at drawing. But anyways.

MP3: Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland 1945”

Paste is streaming the Stephin Merritt rarities collection Obscurities a week before its August 23 release. This release marks the return of Merritt to Merge Records and the next Magnetic Fields record will be out on the same label next year.

MP3: Stephin Merritt – “Forever And A Day”
Stream: Stephin Merritt / Obscurities

DIY has a feature interview with Stephen Malkmus on the occasion of the release of Mirror Traffic next week. The album is up to stream in its entirety over at NPR; Malkmus and The Jicks play The Phoenix on September 23.

MP3: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Tigers”
MP3: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Senator”
Stream: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks / Mirror Traffic

Tuscaloosa News and Birmingham Box talk to Justin Townes Earle, in town at The Horseshoe on August 26.

KDHX talks to Laruen Larson of Ume; their new record Phantoms is out August 30.

Spin has posted online their cover story on St. Vincent for next month’s “Style Issue” – and if you think that means lots of snazzy pictures of Annie Clark to go with the interview, you’d be right. Her new record Strange Mercy arrives September 13.

Wilco have released a video teaser for the song “Almost” off their new album The Whole Love, which shows if nothing else that this album proves they’ve found the “Beautifully ugly” setting on Nels Cline. The album is out September 27 and they play Massey Hall on September 16 and 17.

Rolling Stone talks to Matthew Sweet about his new album Modern Art, due out September 27.

MP3: Matthew Sweet – “She Walks The Night”

Making good on his promise in July to return when the new record was out, Eric Bachmann will bring Crooked Fingers back to town for a show at the Drake Underground on November 8 in support of Breaks In The Armor, out October 11. Merge has the full tour itinerary, for which Strand Of Oaks will be supporting.

MP3: Crooked Fingers – “Phony Revolutions”
MP3: Strand Of Oaks – “Bonfire”

Portland’s Blind Pilot will follow up the September 13 release of We Are The Tide with a tour that brings them to Lee’s Palace on November 10, tickets $15.50 in advance.

MP3: Blind Pilot – “Keep You Right”

Warpaint dish to NME about their plans for album number two.

NPR has got a World Cafe session with TV On The Radio.

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Bones In A Museum

Review of Rae Spoon's Superioryouareinferior

Photo By Amber DawkinsAmber DawkinsSo Polaris Prize ballots are due in less than a week and as is seems to be habit with me, I haven’t listened to nearly as many of the eligible albums as my fellow jurors, or at least that’s how it seems from the discussions going on at our top-secret, private BBS. But besides making me feel inadequate, the forum has been invaluable for pointing me to records that are sitting in my promo piles and might otherwise go uninvestigated for lack of time or whatever.

One such record, and one which may very well make it onto my submissions ballot, was Superioryouareinferior, the 2008 release from Calgary singer-songwriter Rae Spoon. Though Spoon’s fourth album, I’d never heard of him before his name began cropping up in early recommendation lists from other jurors and lo and behold, I had a copy of the CD and so popped it into the player before carrying on with what I was doing. And then I almost immediately stopped what I was doing.

The lead track, “Great Lakes”, just floored me. It’s a simple tune, the simple arrangement led by guitar and slowly built up with glockenspiel, keys and bass and drums, but it’s Spoon’s voice that gives it transcendence. Singing paeans to each of the bodies of water noted in the title, his voice is so wracked with yearning such that if you’re in a place where your emotional defenses are down, just a little, it’ll cut right into the heart, straight and true. I have a feeling that my reaction to that resonance may be disproportionately strong, but there it is.

And if that one song hits the bullseye squarely, the rest of the album doesn’t stray far from the mark. It’s evident that Spoon comes from a folksinger tradition, but he also incorporates electrified instruments, strings and electronic textures in a most subtle and natural manner to make Superioryouareinferior much more than just a folk record. As a songwriter, Spoon is thoughtful and introspective, drawing inspiration from history and identity, and is able evoke a lot with few words. And what’s not explicitly said is implied through the emotiveness and phrasing of his voice, a thing of high, pure beauty with just the right amount of twang and vibrato.

With each listen, Superioryouareinferior reveals more depths beneath its placid surface and I think I just talked myself into putting on the ballot.

MP3: Rae Spoon – “Come On Forest Fire Burn The Disco Down”
Stream: Rae Spoon / Superioryouareinferior
MySpace: Rae Spoon

Clash has a chat with Emmy The Great.

PopMatters checks in to see what Nellie McKay is up to – activisim, theatre, a new album and still refusing to perform in Canada.

Out and New York Press talk to Stephin Merritt about his work on the Coraline musical.

I Am Fuel You Are Friends interviews Thao Nguyen.

Annie Clark of St Vincent talks to The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Decider about her new record Actor. She’ll be at the Horseshoe on August 8.

JAM discusses the success of Lost Channels with Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker.

Thick Specs has an interview with Joel Plaskett.

Crawdaddy has questions. Patterson Hood has answers. His new solo record Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) is out June 23.

Steve Earle talks to The Telegraph and Indy Week about his new album Townes and gives Aquarium Drunkard a track-by-track annotation of the record. Earle is at Massey Hall on July 11 for a solo show.

Monday, May 18th, 2009

First, We Take Manhattan

Leonard Cohen at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIf only it were as Muppet-simple as “taking Manhattan”. In fact, it shook out more like first, I take a subway, then a shuttle bus, then a ferry, then a plane, then monorail, train and subway again just to get into Manhattan. And just as soon as I’ve arrived in the Big Apple, it’s back on the subway, another subway, then a train, another train and then an unlicensed taxi (“hey you need a ride?”) – all to get into Waterbury, Connecticut. A city which was once apparently a brass manufacturing powerhouse but which now seems to have little to recommend it as a destination, save for a gorgeous theater downtown – the Palace – and on Thursday night, one Leonard Cohen.

Seeing Cohen wasn’t on the agenda as recently as last weekend, as I’d hoped to be able to finagle a way to the Hamilton show at Copp’s tomorrow, but an extra ticket from Without A Yard, serendipitous scheduling and a willingness to undertake a rather ridiculous set of logistics to trek out to the show made it happen. Mostly. Weather delays and other issues fixed it so that we didn’t actually reach the theater until almost mid-way into Cohen’s set – so it’s just as well that he needs no introduction, because I wouldn’t have been able to provide one.

Thankfully, the show was extra-long and with an intermission, for that’s when we arrived and thus managed to avoid being those people who get there late and try to find their seats in the dark. Sure, it meant that instead of a marathon three-hour show, we only got a 90-minute, regular-length show, but even a that much Leonard is like a gift – especially in a venue as stunning as the Palace. There may not be much else to say about a one-cab town like Waterbury, but this was easily the second-nicest place I’d ever seen a show, after only the Royal Albert Hall in London.

And what a show. I don’t know what Cohen played in the front half of the performance, but it almost seemed like he knew to hold back my favourite songs for the finale, as it was stunner after stunner as soon as the lights went down and Cohen, surprisingly nimble, sprinted/danced/shimmied onto the stage. “Tower Of Song”, “Suzanne”, “Take This Waltz”, “Democracy”, “Halleleujah”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, hell yes. And okay, I just had a look at the set list for the show and am a little pained to have missed “Anthem”, “Everybody Knows” and “Chelsea Hotel” but still, no regrets.

Just as remarkable as hearing the songs performed live – not something I ever thought I’d get to experience – was how good Cohen sounded. He’s obviously not a young man – he may have been spry but was still a slightish figure and a bit stooped – but age seems to have served his delivery very well, somehow making his voice even deeper, richer and more sonorous. He also played more guitar than I’d expected, and I’d have been happy – possibly even happier – to have heard him play solo. It’s no secret my favourite Cohen aesthetic is that of the stark, dark folksinger of his earlier works even if, as far as songs go, I prefer his later works circa The Future or I’m Your Man (and I’m far from unique in this, I know) but the production values on those records – the big bands, the backing singers, the rather dubious synths – have just aged so badly that it can be hard to listen to.

In the live setting, he splits the difference somewhat with a nine-piece backing band including three backing singers – it’s all live, analog instrumentation, toy keyboard on “Tower Of Song” excepted, and masterfully played but I don’t feel the high degree of polish – even if suited for the setting – suits the songs best. They need those dark, dusty corners and the gleam of Cohen’s band doesn’t let those shadows fall where they should. Additionally, Cohen as bandleader was generous to a fault, allowing extended excursions to the musicians – do anyone really need to hear more than one bouzouki solo in a lifetime? – and even ceding lead vocals to Sharon Robinson on their collaboration “Boogie Street”. Perhaps if I’d made the entire show, I’d have been less anxious about it but any moment that Cohen wasn’t singing felt like a lost one.

Understand, however, that these complaints aren’t even really complaints, more just observations, and should in no way imply that I was less than enraptured by the show. No matter how you dress them up, the heart of it is Cohen, his words and his voice, and those were flawless. Obviously I hope that Cohen continues to tour and that I might get to see him again – start to finish – but that’s a huge and probably unrealistic presumption. I feel fortunate to have seen as much as I did, and to anyone who will be seeing him on any of his remaining dates, you are in for such a treat. But of course you already knew that.

The Hartford Courant also has a review of the Waterbury show.

Photos: Leonard Cohen @ The Palace Theater – May 14, 2009
Video: Leonard Cohen – “Democracy”
Video: Leonard Cohen – “Closing Time”
Video: Leonard Cohen – “Dance Me To The End Of Love”
Video: Leonard Cohen – “In My Secret Life”
Video: Leonard Cohen – “First We Take Manhattan”
MySpace: Leonard Cohen

PitchforkTV’s “Don’t Look Down” series welcomes Jose Gonzalez for a session. He plays the Harbourfront Centre on June 26 as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

Anyone disappointed that Loney Dear had to cancel last week’s show in Toronto on account of their van breaking down between here and Montreal – I’m looking at you, me – can take a little solace in this performance they recorded for Baeble Music’s new “Guest Apartment” video session series. Seattlest has an interview with Emil Svanangen.

WOXY has posted the MP3s from their recent Lounge Act session with The Dears to share and enjoy.

Pitchfork talks to Peter Buck and Paste has some photos of R.E.M. hunkered down in the studio, hard at work on the follow-up to Accelerate.

Vanity Fair and Prefix talk to Stephin Merritt about his new musical based on Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Spinnerette has a date at the Mod Club on June 19. Their debut, which is either self-titled or called A Prescription For Mankind, is out June 23.

Video: Spinnerette – “Ghetto Love”

Abe Vigoda – band, not actor – are at the El Mocambo on July 22 in support of their new album Reviver. Advance tickets are $10.

MP3: Abe Vigoda – “Don’t Lie”

The Rural Alberta Advantage, who will properly release Hometowns on July 7 and tour North America all Summer to support, will play a homecoming pit stop/record release show at the Horseshoe on July 30.

So some details have emerged on why the Olympic Island concert was canceled last week. Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew blogs that the July 11 date was unfortunately scheduled opposite the Molson Indy – both temporally and physically, what with Olympic Island being just across the lake from Exhibition Place, where the very loud cars would have been tearing around the track all day. They’d likely have been done by the time BSS and Explosions In The Sky took the stage but for the rest of the bands, it’d have been near-unbearable. Beach House wouldn’t have stood a chance. So the festival was canned, the free make-up show that same night from BSS at Harbourfront Centre announced and the lineups for it are probably already stretching all along the waterfront. Also covered in the post is the fact that the band are now recording their fourth album – a proper Broken release, not a “Presents” faux-solo record – with Tortoise’s John McIntire at the helm. Considering his aesthetic is very, very different from usual BSS producer Dave Newfeld, it should be very interesting to see what comes of this – one hopes he can curb some/much of the Scene’s meandering sprawl without costing them their spontaneous magic. And Pitchfork currently has excerpts from the new Broken biography, This Book Is Broken available to read.

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Rockers East Vancouver

Japandroids have ulcer, cancel tour, make up tour

Photo By Leigh RightonLeigh RightonVancouver fuzz-merchant duo Japandroids chose an interesting way to celebrate the release of their new album Post-Nothing and the attendant “Best New Music” laurels bestowed upon it by Pitchfork – they cancelled nearly their entire scheduled Spring tour.

Okay “chose” is probably the wrong word, as singer-guitarist Brian King probably didn’t decide this was the perfect time to suffer a perforated ulcer and go in for emergency surgery. But that’s what happened, and so nearly a month’s worth of dates were scrapped but almost immediately rescheduled – Pitchfork has the new dates, including a July 16 date at the El Mocambo in Toronto to make up for the nixed May 9 date.

In the meantime, they can try and keep up with the increased media interest that this record is sure to generate – witness them already on the cover of the latest Exclaim. There’s also interviews with them at JAM and View, while Metro talks to them in the context of what it identifies as a new trend of “lo-fi” bands.

MP3: Japandroids – “Young Hearts Spark Fire”
Video: Japandroids – “Heart Sweats”
MySpace: Japandroids

Exclaim! and Chart talk to Dog Day about new album Concentration. They’re at Lee’s on May 28.

Metric week continues at Drowned In Sound as the band plays tour guide – bassist Josh Winstead relates his favourite things about New York City and guitarist Jimmy Shaw does the same for Toronto.

NOW features The Dears, kicking of their North American tour at the Mod Club tonight.

Fucked Up will be hosting a night of what’s sure to be musical mayhem at the Phoenix on July 16 with a bill that will include Women and Vivian Girls amongst others still to be announced. There’s features on the band at Vue and Uptown.

MP3: Fucked Up – “No Epiphany” (No Age remix)
MP3: Fucked Up – “No Epiphany”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Twice Born”

The Los Angeles Record gets the boys from No Age to interview Bob Mould. No Age will be in town in June for NxNE – specifics still forthcoming.

Aquarium Drunkard interviews James McNew of Condo Fucks.

NPR has a World Cafe session with School Of Seven Bells.

The Guardian profiles St Vincent’s Annie Clark. Her new record Actor is out next week.

John Vanderslice has let loose another MP3 from Romanian Names, out May 19.

MP3: John Vanderslice – “Too Much Time”

M Ward stops by MPR for a session. Metro also offers up an interview.

Magnet offers an over/under analysis of The Hold Steady’s five most over- and underrated songs. Some of those songs make an appearance in the band’s session recorded for Daytrotter during SxSW, which is now available to download (or will be later today – will link when it’s up). Update: There we go.

Paste goes Bob Dylan-crazy on the occasion of his new album’s release. Together Through Life came out earlier this week and is streaming at Spinner.

Stream: Bob Dylan / Together Through Life

Metromix talks to Stephin Merritt about his score for the stage version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

I like how much I’ve been able to swear in today’s post, and none if it was me being profane.