Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vetiver - Tight Knit

Release Date: February 17, 2009

★★★★★ Tracks:

Through the Front Door

Gone are the woodsy, fall sounds of Vetiver. The cellos and violins are silent. The guest collaborations from Banhart, Newsom and others are missing. This time around Andy Cabric elicits the warm tones of summer to try and craft a more inviting album. They add percussion to nearly every track, and experiment with electric guitars. The songwriting is more pop-oriented, as songs like “Sister” and “More of This” will leave you forgetting you are listening to a folk outfit. And while Tight Knit succeeds in being much more accessible than their debut, it’s also more generic. There isn’t much variance between what's here and what most alternative-folk enthusiasts already have in their libraries: “Rolling Sea” brings early Ryan Adams to mind, “Everyday” should appeal to Badly Drawn Boy fans, and “On the Other Side” sounds like a song produced by the plethora of current Calexico-style country rockers you've already heard. There is one song I’ll be sure to keep however, and although “Through the Front Door” could fit snugly on Beck’s Sea Change, I just can’t get past how damn gorgeous it is.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vetiver - Vetiver

Release Dates: May 18, 2004

★★★★★ Tracks:

Los Pajaros del Rio


Another artist in my library I hadn’t ever given a chance, Vetiver produce the sort of lonely, intimate folk that brings those early lo-fi records from Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine to mind. I enjoy and own nearly every Elliott Smith album ever made but I’m easily bored by most percussion-less records. At first Vetiver was no different. However after a couple of times listening to beautifully crafted tracks “Amerilie” and “Aboretum,” and tuning in to the poetic lyrics of “Luna Sea,” the album has begun to resonate.

Vetiver is at its best and most compelling when principal songwriter, Andy Cabric, allows his acoustic guitar to take a backseat to the other instrumentalists included: Joanna Newsom lends her whimsical harp on “Amerilie,” Devendra Banhart provides some stellar finger-picking guitar leads throughout the album, and co-wrote the Spanish, “Los Pajaros del Rio,” but the most interesting dynamic comes from the dual layers of cello and violin frequenting the majority of the tracks. There are a couple of misfires; I find “Amour Fou’s” vocals to be overkill, and a few songs like “Without a Song” and “Belles” linger on too long, leaving me impatient, but overall Vetiver has surprised me. This isn’t a record you are going to put on to start a weekend to, but it’s the type of restrained, woodsy folk that's damn near perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon or a sleepy-eyed commute to work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Violent Femmes - S/T and Add It Up

Release Dates: 11/13/82 & 09/14/93

★★★★★ Tracks:

Blister in the Sun

Kiss Off

Please Do Not Go

Gone Daddy Gone

Mike was one of those kids in middle school who did things a little differently. He had those white and black checkered Vans. He always wore that yellow Charlie Brown shirt with the black stripe. He shopped at the thrift store for plaid trousers and bright colored suspenders. He watched Kids in the Hall and Mr. Bean, and rented movies like Dead Alive and CB4. There wasn't a sport he cared for, instead he spent time practicing and playing his father's guitars and banjos. All of this intrigued me about my new best friend. Weirded me out a bit as well. But regardless of how strange I thought he was, I really looked up to my new buddy when I began to dig through his music collection. I had just gotten in to Nirvana and Helmet via a couple of great MTV videos and thought I was ahead of the curve. Mike proved to me I wasn't. Sure, he liked the Nirvanas and Helmets of the world that, in ‘92-93, were beginning to circulate heavily, but he also dug much deeper: Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr., about 40 other bands I could name drop here. How did he ever hear of all this stuff? Where did it come from? And where could I find the latest & greatest before he did? -- a fruitless battle I would soon realize, but Mike got me hooked to the underground rock scene of the early ‘90’s.

Add It Up by the Violent Femmes was one of the other albums he had, and after hearing it a few times I made sure to ask my mom for a ride to the mall so I could grab a copy. As your typical suburban punk-ass teenager, not only was I looking for good music, I wanted the shit that would make my folks cringe. Lucky for me there weren't many more cringe-worthy lyrics for a parent than, “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” Similarly horrifying was the masturbatory “Blister in the Sun,” and the hilarious pleadings to dad in “Gimme the Car;” a song where Gordon Gano explains he is going to pick a girl up and "touch her all over her body." While all of this might sound incredibly juvenile (it is), the Femmes wrote some very innovative, fast rock'n'roll teetering on punk rock. They used acoustic instruments for the most part, a novelty for the genre (they very well could have inspired the term "folk punk"), and gave an uncensored voice to countless adolescent males of early 80's suburbia who had a hard time getting laid.

(epic mullet!)

I picked up a copy of Violent Femmes much later, and was rewarded with a killer record. The compilation really isn’t necessary when you have this one; in fact “Please Do Not Go” and “Prove My Love” are stand-out tracks that Add It Up completely left off. The strongest Femmes track ever recorded is here: “Kiss Off” is a perfectly crafted punk-rock anthem executed with nothing more than a small drum kit and an acoustic guitar and bass. Other stand outs include “Add It Up,” which would be re-popularized for my generation by "Hey, That's My Bike," Ethan Hawke’s fictional band in the movie, Reality Bites. And twelve years later we were reminded of the them all over again when Gnarls Barkley did an excellent cover of the classic "Gone Daddy Gone." By now it's obvious the Violent Femmes have left a permanent mark on rock'n'roll.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Another Pitchfork flavor-of-the-week, Battles is something of an indie rock supergroup made up of dudes from Don Caballero, Storm & Stress and Helmet. I downloaded this song from who-knows-where, and I was tempted to just pass on this entry, but rules are rules. I've never heard anything else by them, and this track is so unremarkable that if it's not representative of the band's other songs, then I don't know why this track was chosen as the sample.

I went through a post-rock phase once upon a time and I adored Don Caballero at one point, but I'm just not feeling this. As far as instrumental bands with short songs, I much prefer Ratatat or Lightning Bolt. You can check it out for yourself.

Bat for Lashes

The hype machine was pretty fervid when Natasha Khan's Bats for Lashes dropped Two Suns early last year. But like most Next Big Things in the ipod era, it quickly quieted when the Next Big Thing came along the following week. I downloaded a bunch of Bats for Lashes tracks during her 15 minutes of Pitchfork fame, gave them a few listens and while I certainly dug it, I never really went back to it. It's not that it's not bad; there's some terrific stuff here. She reminds me of a cross between the chamber pop of Portishead and the likable weirdness of Cat Power. You could probably also throw Tori Amos and Kate Bush in that melting pot as well, or basically any other female artist that ever seemed as too eccentric for the mainstream.

There's an interesting cover of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" among these tracks and it led me to a thought. While the nicest thing I can say about Kings of Leon is that it's not really my thing, I admired the relative bravery in her covering a popular and contemporary song. It seems when a band covers a song, it's either a classic that they end up butchering, or a pissing contest to show off how obscure their cover choices are. So why don't bands cover more recent stuff? Dylan got covered all the time in his own time, and the Motown groups covered each other so often sometimes it's hard to know who recorded the song first. It seems blasphemous to cover Belle & Sebastian but couldn't a punk band go wild on "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying?" And why oh why hasn't a great rock-n-roll band tricked out "Hey Ya?" You would think it'd be ripe for interpretation. If this was 1969, every half-assed band in half the world would've recorded their own version by now.

And for the sake of duplicity, the Bat for Lashes songs in my ipod:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Volcano Choir - Unmap

Release Date: September 22, 2009

I didn't realize I had Unmap until I stumbled upon it in my library last week. The play count registered “1” for each song and they were all unchecked -- I must've not cared much for it the first 'go-round. However I was intrigued being that I knew absolutely nothing about Volcano Choir, and so I reloaded it on the mp3 player and gave it another shot. “Husks and Shells” starts with trance-like acoustic guitars and computer blips, paving way for unmistakable falsetto vocals those of us who love Bon Iver know so well. For Emma, Forever Ago is already a modern folk classic, and Vernon’s vocals mesh beautifully with this ambient sort of electronic/alternative rock that Collections of Colonies of Bees create so well. It’s the sort of thing you might put on after a long, hallucinogenic-fueled night to come down to; Moby’s Play for the modern day hipster. But those days are long gone for me, and I don’t think I could ever find another time when I would spin a record such as this one. For those of you who still get to indulge: “Cool Knowledge” has a tight drum beat with some very interesting acapella-styled vocals and “Island, Is” is their most accessible and most enjoyable track.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Walkmen - Lisbon

Release Date: September 14, 2010

★★★★★ Tracks:

Angela Surf City

Blue As Your Blood

Woe is Me

Now on their 5th proper full length, with a variety of additional songs and a cover of Nilsson's Pussy Cats record in between, the longevity of the Walkmen in the era of digital music is truly phenomenal. Often grouped in with garage rock revivalists the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Walkmen have outlasted and outproduced their Brooklyn brethren by a large margin. Sure, the Walkmen might not have a record as influential as Is This It or a personality as big as Karen O’s, but their entire body of work far surpasses that of either of those bands.

On Lisbon the Walkmen continue to tinker, drawing influences from 60’s surf rock while revisiting the sound they produced on A Hundred Miles Off. Paul Maroon’s guitar leads the charge, and he expertly invokes a hazy, lazy, summery feel to most the record with a heavy dosage of clean-tone electric guitar, adding a lot of chorus and reverb effects, and often plucking his notes at a slight delay to the pace of the rest of the music.

Songs “Angela Surf City” and “Woe is Me” are surf rock stand-outs, and there is a great do-wop throwback in “Torch Song," but the theatrical “Blue As Your Blood” is the most impressive track here; the Latin-tinged instrumentation gallops alongside Hamilton Leithauser’s lyrics of a Spanish lover in perfect unison.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Barbara Lewis

Barbara Lewis is a relatively little-known soul singer who had a few charted hits in the sixties. Lack of commercial success led to her dropping from the music scene entirely but some eventual covers and inclusions on soundtracks gave her a little more pocket money in the decades to come. The Arctic Monkeys even released a cover of "Baby I'm Yours" as the b-side to "Leave Before the Lights Come On."

Her take on the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song "Don't Forget About Me" is my latest entry from the amazing One Kiss Leads to Another box set (which I can't say enough good things about) and I daresay it's a better, more soulful rendition than the version included on Dusty Springfield's fantastic Dusty in Memphis. Since I have the entire box set on my ipod and there's scores of songs I've yet to fully absorb, the play count only stood at one before I listened to this to write this post, and I like it better than Dusty's, whose classic album I've spun at least a couple dozen times.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Band

I feel like I should be a lot more into The Band than I am. My mother always names Music from the Big Pink as her favorite album and many a friend have told me they got into The Band via Martin Scorsese's supposedly phenomenal The Last Waltz. As is, all I have is their 1969 self-titled second album. A couple of the songs have come up on random shuffle when I uploaded this onto my ipod years ago, but judging from the dates in my itunes, I haven't heard the album since 2008. I guess the thing is, I'm just not into Americana roots music influenced by folk and bluegrass. Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield are nowhere near the top of my list of favorite bands. The more recent bands like Calexico and Golden Smog aren't my cup of tea, either. There are a handful of songs in the Wilco discography I really like (if not downright love), but I can take or leave the former bands of their members. What bands I do like that could be classified in this category (like Creedence Clearwater Revival or Drive-By Truckers) have to much rock-n-roll elements in their songs for me to not press repeat.

So why don't I like this kind of stuff? I guess I prefer my rock-n-roll loud, with bombastic guitar solos and feedback and squeals, and vocalists who throw themselves into their words as if nothing in the world matters more than the song they're singing. I don't get that with The Band. I see a group of talented multi-instrumentalists who incorporate their vast experience into their music, but I hear very little of the early rock-n-roll and Motown that supposedly influences their songs. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is the key track on this record, and easily one of their most beloved songs. Maybe I'm too ignorant about Southern history and the peculiarities of the Civil War but the sadness that's supposed to be so apparent in this song is just lost on me.

The Band is one of those bands that I respect more than I like, and I can't imagining myself revisiting this record anytime soon. I wonder if at this stage in my life, my listening habits are too set for me to get into something that deviates from the type of music I normally listen to. I'd like to consider myself open-minded enough to find things to enjoy in every genre, but I'm not sure about my relationship with roots-tinged Americana, and I'm not sure if that will ever change.