Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year That Was

[via blacklung]

Another year come and gone, and here at the WS HQ, we've been doing a lot of reflecting on the year in music. Lots of surprises and interesting sounds in 2009, and it's fun to think where my musical tastes were this time last year. For me, 2009 was a year of auditory exploration: I expanded my musical horizons to places that just a short time ago I was too afraid to venture to. Below is a list of my favorite albums from this past year, but first an explanation.

Why albums? Why not individual songs? The same reason why we don't merely extract our favorite words or sentences from books; we view it as a whole. For me, a stunning album is more rewarding and lasting than an individual song. It is the microscopic parts working together to elevate the form to a higher level. A good song is a good song, but I am intrigued and moved by a collection of good songs, all in concert to present a lasting artifact. And these albums are by no means any claim to "the best" of this year. There is too much music to listen to these days, so this is more a list of what caught my attention. I am sure I have missed something extraordinary, but that's what makes music so fun: playing catch-up. Good music does not conform to our time frames. Finally, I don't want to numerically order these albums. These are all excellent works, for widely different reasons that are impossible to compare and quantify.

I hope these are interesting as well as inspiring. My picks:

Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest

I have spent more time pondering this record than most in my collection. It is a record that requires patience and investment, and in this day and age, those are two qualities that seem to be fading from music fans' grasps. Yet Veckatimest is a work that rewards repeated listens, like most classic records do: new details pop up, the songs unfold, and you really get to live in the songs and see how they tick. It is the sound of a band at its creative peak. I like Grizzly Bear's previous album a little bit better (Yellow House) just because I am sucker for its autumnal atmosphere, but that doesn't take away from this album's brilliance. At it's heart, Veckatimest is a great pop record, full of rich harmonies and memorable melodies, but presented in an obtuse way that always leaves you guessing and wanting more. It's a long album, but it's one of the few in recent memory where I want to start the record over as soon as the last notes fade out. Obvious highlights are "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait For The Others," both technicolor explosions crammed with catchiness (and great examples of the differing styles of the two songwriters). Yet I grew to love the moodier pieces like "Fine For Now," "Cheerleader," and "About Face" as well, each finely crafted to work off the song before and after it. It's a cohesive statement and one of the most exhilarating records I own.

Grizzly Bear--Two Weeks
Grizzly Bear--Fine For Now

, Songs of Shame

This year saw not so much a resurgence of psychedelic music, but a refinement. Since its 1960s birth, psychedelia has stuck around on the edges, but a new generation has breathed fresh air into those weird sounds. Woods are the standard bearers, adding a good deal of heart to a subgenre of music that can be a bit self-gratifying. Songs of Shame is a skeletal record that sounds ancient; it's infused with loneliness, regret, but also mystery, not unlike dusty old field recordings from a bygone era. It sounds completely American, full of wide open spaces and dark corners to explore. But most of all, I love this record because it's the sound of a group of friends making fun music together. It radiates warmth, and in the digital age, it's completely therapeutic. Songs like "To Clean" and "The Hold" wield distorted guitars like flags, beckoning everyone to follow Woods into its crazy, entrancing world. Their cover of Graham Nash's "Military Madness" strips the song to its core and exposes a raw anger that is certainly indicative of their time. And then they ratchet up the emotion with "The Number" and "Rain On," songs where those weird sounds take a back seat to some heady lyrics.

"And it feels like it should today
Falling back on a better place
You wouldn't hide awhile
If you knew it for two more days

I won't shovel through
All the shame that led me too
You wouldn't pass it off

Oh, how the days will rain on you."

Unlike a lot of bands these days, Woods actually have something to say.

Woods--The Hold
Woods--Rain On

Wye Oak, The Knot

Sadness--it can be debilitating, or it can be inspiring. The Knot is not a happy record. It is insular, but also triumphant. This Baltimore duo uses a wall of sound to exorcise demons, and the beauty is in how the album slowly unfolds. Touches of pedal steel, Andy Stack's insistent rhythms, and especially Jenn Wasner's smoky voice and inventive guitar playing keep the listener fully invested. Some records seek to dazzle you with labyrinthine changes and effects; Wye Oak lets the honesty of the music wash over you, and you can't help but fully immerse yourself.

Wye Oak--For Prayer
Wye Oak--Talking About Money

Timber Timbre, Timber Timbre

As soon as this record starts, I can barely make it through the first song, "Demon Host," because "Lay Down In The Tall Grass" follows, a perfect song if I've ever heard one. But I always curb my impatience, and it's a good thing: this record is brilliantly sequenced, full of songs that are simple, quiet, captivating. It begs you to lean in closer and fall into the rabbit hole. This is only Timber Timbre's third album, and its mature and enchanting headspace is hopefully an arrow pointing to good things to come.


Timber Timbre--Demon Host
Timber Timbre--Lay Down In The Tall Grass

The Strange Boys, ...And Girls Club

The Strange Boys have come a long way from playing battle of bands in our high school gymnasium. Back then they were known as The Waves, but a name change, steady gigging, and a little maturity have added swagger, menace, and real chops to their brash sound. The album cuts like a knife, a pure distillation of blues, rock, punk, country, and soul, wrapped in a coolly paranoid vibe. Songs like "Woe Is You And Me" and "Poem Party" used barbed guitar licks to great effect, while "They're Building The Death Camps" and "For Lack of a Better Face" repetitively build with hazy charm. Ryan Sambol's strangled screech might be a bit too bitter for some to stomach, but it suits the dirty sound perfectly. The record sounds like a greatest hits to some lost 1960s garage band; whenever I put it on, I never want the time warp to end.

The Strange Boys--Probation Blues
The Strange Boys--For Lack of a Better Face

Mulatu Astatke
, New York - Addis - London - The Story Of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975

Jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke's sound reads like a music nerd's dream: combining elements of American and Cuban jazz, Ethiopian folk, and psychedelic funk, it's certainly original. Yet as this stellar retrospective proves, it's not all heady, name-that-influence spectacle--this is fantastic music that invites people of all tastes to enjoy. Songs like "Yerkermo Sew," "Mulatu," and "Yegelle Tezeta" provide dark, moody canvases for Astatke's crack band to improvise over with sax, vibraphone, and fuzzed-out electric guitar. Astatke led the late '60s cultural revolution in his native Ethiopia with songs like "Lantchi Biye" and "Wubit. He brought his traditional melodies to a new generation by utilizing young Ethiopian vocalists to sing over his globalized sounds. Part of the appeal of this collection is the way it progresses, not chronologically but rather like a proper album. The darker songs trade off with more of his danceable Latin-tinged compositions before giving way to two final cuts of hazy, sunny jazz. The album is a breathtaking peak into an innovative personality's brain--over the course of an hour, international boundaries blur and fade away altogether.

Mulatu Astatke--Yegelle Tezeta
Mulatu Astatke--Lantchi Biye (ft. Tilahoun Gessesse)

Death, ...For The Whole World To See

What a find: the tapes spent decades collecting dust in lead singer Bobby Hackney's attic, but his son's inquisitiveness pulled this Detroit punk trio out of complete obscurity. ...For The Whole World To See collects all seven songs from that forgotten 1974 session, and the results are stunning. As the New York Times declared, "this band was punk before punk was punk." It's a self-assured set that continues the trailblazing started by those other proto-punk Detroit natives, the Stooges and the MC5. It's a shame Death were overlooked, since they seem to be the missing link between those former bands and the sound that defined the latter half of the 1970s. These guys had real chops, too: sure, there's the requisite rocket-fueled rock and roll ("Keep On Knocking," complete with searing guitar solos and gang vocals) and hardcore punk rhythms ("Rock-N-Roll Victim"), but Death also have a keen sense of dynamics. "Let The World Turn" starts out as a jazzy ballad before exploding, and "Politicians In My Eyes" utilizes start-stop techniques to create the record's most intense song. And it's not just a snapshot of its time: Death is timeless.

Death--Keep On Knocking
Death--Rock-N-Roll Victim

Califone, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers

It's hard to find a band as consistently good as Califone. Their discography is not only extensive but filled to the brim with creativity. This album serves as the soundtrack to lead singer Tim Rutili's film of the same name (which I have not seen), but it works exceptionally well as a stand-alone. Califone are the masters of junkyard folk, utilizing all sorts of archaic instruments and found sounds to create weird compositions that split the difference between Appalachia and the avant-garde. The record feels cinematic, even if you didn't know it was a soundtrack. Each song flows effortlessly into the next, all anchored by Rutili's ghostly warble and the band's patient playing. Songs like "Funeral Singers" and "Buñuel" build slowly before their payoffs, feeling widescreen, ancient, and measured like no other music today. Beauty and dissonance coexist simultaneously, leaving the listener off-kilter and ready for more. This record is much more acoustic than past efforts, but it's no snoozer. Full investment will pay handsomely.

Califone--Funeral Singers

Cotton Jones, Paranoid Cocoon

This was the first record I listened to all year, as it was quietly released last January. Fittingly enough, I initially thought this record was good, not great, but I returned to it in the middle of Austin's hottest summer in a century. Some records are amplified by the surroundings they are consumed in, and months of 100-plus degree days made this album's hazy country-pop undeniably refreshing. It unfolds in a dream-like state, as each song is washed in reverb and fuzzy around the edges. Singers Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw are superb complements, sounding like a latter-day Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. And the songs take the shape of those classic Hazlewood-Sinatra compositions from the late '60s, except here they are more earthy and beer-soaked. "Up A Tree (Went This Heart I Have)" bops along with minimal, country-fried orchestration before bleeding into the Southern soul of "Gotta Cheer Up." The gently sun-warped instrumentation on "Some Strange Rain" and "Photo Summerlove" adds a dose of dreamy, nostalgic depth to the surrounding toe-tappers, but it's "Blood Red Sentimental Blues" that takes the cake. It's plodding in a good way, allowing the Nau/McGraw vocals to wrap around the beat and shoot skyward to the emotional peak of the record. With Cotton Jones, less is certainly more, and given a lot of today's surroundings, Paranoid Cocoon is a welcome oasis.

Cotton Jones--Up A Tree (Went This Heart I Have)
Cotton Jones--Blood Red Sentimental Blues

What were your favorite 2009 records? Let me know by commenting below. I always love a good recommendation. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Episode #9: Off-Kilter Christmas

Sick and tired of the same old Christmas songs being shoved down your throat everywhere you go? Take a listen below: it's the Waterloo Sunset Podcast, Christmas edition. Weird songs for the holiday season. Dig it:

The Kinks--"Father Christmas"
Dexter Gordon--"Jingle Jangle Jump"
Brenda Lee--"I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus"
Soul Saints Orchestra--"Santa's Got A Bag Of Soul"
Johnny Guarnieri--"Santa's Secret"
Debbie and the Darnells--"Santa, Teach Me To Dance"
Ramsey Lewis--"Here Comes Santa Claus"
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen--"Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas"
Reigning Sound--"If Christmas Can't Bring You Home"
Woody Guthrie--"Hanukkah Dance"
Prairie Ramblers--"Cowboy Santa Claus"
Holly Golightly--"Christmas Tree On Fire"
Centro-Matic--"Fuselage (It's Starting To Look Like Christmas"


Waterloo Sunset Podcast--Off-Kilter Christmas

This guy wishes everyone a safe and psychedelic holiday...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Art For Art's Sake--The Best Album Covers of 2009

Don't judge a book by its cover--but you can certainly judge an album. For me, there is an undeniable visual component to the music housed beneath an album's cover, sometimes informed by or in direct opposition to the artwork. The visual aesthetic enhances the music--think about those classic album covers and how they've informed your perception of the music: Sgt. Pepper's, Sticky Fingers, The Band, to name a few. We wear them on t-shirts, put them up as decoration, pass them on to future generations with hushed reverence: good album covers are pop-art, but they're liberated from two dimensions when placed on the hi-fi.

Sometimes good album covers don't coincide with good music, but the following are all Waterloo Sunset approved. Enjoy my favorite album covers from 2009, in no particular order.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
, It's Blitz

Motion, commotion, physicality, brutality--it's all in this photograph, one of the most immediately striking images released this (or any) year. Subtle features reveal themselves with repeated viewings like that chipped fingernail clutching the egg. There's a direct correlation between striking album art and classic albums music-wise--the band's musical ingenuity spills over into the visual field. And that's certainly the case here.

Grizzly Bear
, Veckatimest

For their career-defining album, Grizzly Bear went to artist William O'Brien. His complex geometric drawing not only captures the eye, but it also works well with the music. For the unitiated, Veckatimest is an exhausting, meticulously crafted record that revels in microscopic details while retaining warmth and a lived-in feeling, all details that mirror O'Brien's drawing. There's a sense of geography in the cover (much like in Grizzly Bear's music) where you're taken to someplace different from the place where you started out. Designer Ben Wilkerson Tousley also excelled here with the typography, skewing the words to reflect the cover and the music--these are familiar images/sounds, but played with just enough to reveal something new and unusual.

The Dutchess and The Duke
, Sunset/Sunrise

I was immediately excited for this record when I first saw the album art--it just screams to be made on vinyl. The colors are worn and faded, and the night part of the composite photograph actually comes off as a sleeve, leaving a big gaping hole in the middle and a separate daylight insert. The photograph is by Andrew Waits while lead singer Jesse Lortz handled the design. It's a perfect minimalist marriage between photograph and design--the liner notes feature more of Waits's peephole day/night landscapes, as well as cut-out circles to show information about the album. Oh yeah, and the music's damn good too--'60s-inspired folk-pop like early Stones and Dylan. If you found this all dog-eared at a record store, you'd swear it was some lost album from the early '60s. Not to say that the design or music is derivative; think of it more as a time machine with a modern twist.

Ganglians, Ganglians

Ganglians, Blood On The Sand 7"

The weirdness of these two covers fits with Ganglians' fuzzy psychedelia. Slightly dreamy but also kind of creepy.

, Songs of Shame

"Skeletal psychedelia" is what Woodsist (Woods's record label) terms their odd sound. Much like this cover, it's a natural, beat up, far away sound full of dark corners, peaks, and valleys.

Dead Man's Bones
, Dead Man's Bones

Ryan Gosling's spooky Halloween-themed kid's choir project used an appropriate aesthetic: make it look like some low-budget B-horror flick from the '70s. The kid in the full skeleton costume gets me every time.

Blakroc, Blakroc

Rap supergroup (with the Black Keys as the superb backing band) used this green slime to convey their smoky, sludgy sound. Blakroc is coming to get ya.

Timber Timbre, Timber Timbre

Unsettling, mysterious, captivating.

Blank Dogs, Under And Under

Simple and fantastic use of color and typography.

Amen Dunes, Dia

Photo superimposed upon itself several times. Pretty representative of the disarming and off-kilter music made by this lone wolf.

Death, ...For The Whole World To See

Unearthed '70s proto-punk never looked (or sounded) so good. This cover commands you to shout it from the rooftops: Death is at your doorstep.

Bear In Heaven
, Beast Rest Forth Mouth

Those pixelated eyes are oddly nostalgic--like some long-lost video game character from days past. Your brain naturally tries to fill in the rest of the face. Nice trick.

V/A, Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads And Dirges 1968-1974

Stone's Throw Records put together this interesting psych comp featuring rare cuts from all over the world. And that cover just oozes off the cardboard. Careful: it can force you into a catatonic state.

V/A, Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes

, Eccentric Soul: Smart's Palace

The Numero Group
always does a smashing job of capturing the essence of their myriad compilations through their impeccable album art. These are no exceptions: the former is smoky, heady folk, while the latter is another serving of rare, party-ready soul and funk cuts. I just wish they'd put that Numero logo somewhere else.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Episode 8--Songs of 2009

[via mystic lady]

A special podcast for 2009's setting sun: it's a mix of some of my favorite songs released this past year, in no particular order. This kicks off what is to be a series of "Best Of 2009"-themed posts; stay tuned for more. In the meantime, click to listen, and as always, tracklisting below:

Best Coast--"When I'm With You"
Sonny & The Sunsets--"Too Young To Burn"
Heartless Bastards--"The Mountain"
Timber Timbre--"Lay Down In The Tall Grass"
The Strange Boys--"For Lack of a Better Face"
Woods--"To Clean"
Fool's Gold--"Nadine"
Here We Go Magic--"Fangela"
Wye Oak--"Talking About Money"
Atlas Sound--"Walkabout" [ft. Noah Lennox]
Grizzly Bear--"While You Wait For The Others"


Waterloo Sunset Podcast--Best of '09

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spin This

Just started a weekly blog/podcast over at Texas Music Matters, the music journalism arm of Austin's KUT 90.5 FM. It's called Spin This, a weekly rundown of notable music releases, posted every Tuesday. This week focuses on Spoon's first single from their forthcoming album, Transference. Check out Spin This right here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Episode #7: American Turkeys

[via strange eyes]

It's Episode #7 of the Waterloo Sunset podcast, a few days early for Thanksgiving. This week we're thankful for an opportunity to look for America...track list below:

The Band--"Theme From The Last Waltz"
BlakRoc--"On The Vista"
William DeVaughan--"Be Thankful For What You Got, Pt. 1"
The Band--"King Harvest (Has Surely Come)"
Jim Henry--"Lord, I'm In Trouble"
Johnny Cash--"Green, Green Grass of Home"
Wilco--"Ashes of American Flags (Live)"
Simon & Garfunkel--"America"
John Fahey--"America"

Waterloo Sunset Podcast #7
Total running time: 37:49

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mulatu Astatke: New York – Addis – London: The Story of Ethio Jazz, 1965-1975

Here's my Prefix review for a new retrospective chronicling the groundbreaking work from Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke.

"Basically, I think there's no difference between music and science,“ Mulatu Astatke told Tel Aviv’s Haaretz in 2006. “The musician puts together different sounds in order to create something interesting; the chemist combines different chemicals in order to create something interesting. The success of both is determined by the proportions within the structure that they create. In music it's called counterpoint; in science it has another name. But the principle is exactly the same." It’s this scientific quality that has made the Ethiopian jazz titan’s music so singular and original in its sound. The cross-pollination is almost unfathomable on paper: American jazz and funk, traditional Ethiopian melodies, Latin rhythms, and even a dash of psychedelia all work together in Astatke’s astonishing compositions. This new retrospective, a snapshot of his most creative period, spanning 1965-75, reveals an unheralded master with a firm grasp on a dizzying array of styles and cultures.

Born in western Ethiopia, Astatke’s parents wanted him to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering, but he fell in love with jazz and instead became the first African student to attend the Berklee College of Music. In the early 1960s, he moved to New York, the melting pot of melting pots and the perfect breeding ground to unite the disparate sounds and techniques that he had accumulated up to that point. He recorded for small labels in both New York and London, but it wasn’t until he returned to Ethiopia in the late 1960s that his career took off. Astatke became one of the leaders of the cultural renaissance that took root in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. The “Swingin’ Addis” scene allowed him to experiment further, but his creativity was squashed when the communist regime took power in the mid-1970s. Astatke fell into obscurity until 2005, when director Jim Jarmusch included his music on the soundtrack to Broken Flowers. He is now recording his psychedelic jazz once again, this time with the Heliocentrics as his backing band.

Astatke’s output featured here is the perfect material for soundtracks: It’s cinematic and enigmatic, full of smoky corners and plenty of atmosphere. Most of these “Ethio-jazz” compositions are single-chord explorations, showcasing his ethereal vibraphone playing. The minor-key psych-funk of “Mulatu” allows Astatke to truly stretch out as feverish sax solos float in and out, creating a moody masterpiece that constantly shape-shifts despite being built around just one note. He replaces traditional Ethiopian instruments with Western guitars, drums, Rhodes piano, and horns, and it’s excitingly disorienting: A sinewy African melody (provided by entwining horns) leads the dancing “Yekermo Sew” over a dark, soulful jazz beat; just when you get your bearings, a fuzzy electric guitar solo blasts off with an Ethiopian melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 45 from late-'60s San Francisco.

Elsewhere, Astatke incorporates Latin motifs into his Ethio-jazz (“I Faram Gami I Faram,” “Asiyo Belema,” “Girl From Addis Ababa,” “Shagu”), creating bizarre continent-spanning hybrids that feature both singing in Spanish and Amharic (often within the same song). These were recorded with the Ethiopian Quintet in the mid-1960s, but don’t let the band’s name fool you: The Quintet was made up of Puerto Rican jazz players who learned how to play Astatke’s Ethiopian style on the fly. After returning to Addis Ababa in 1969, he became a sought-after arranger for Ethiopia’s premier singers, many of which are featured here. “Lantchi Biye” is the best of the bunch, with teen heartthrob Tilahoun Gessesse wrapping his warbling voice around a dynamic, minimal shuffle. Astatke is at his best on the one-two punch of “Emnete” and “Yegelle Tezeta,” two sides of the same coin. The former is a fiery slice of dark funk, with horns and saxophones coming in from all directions, all in wild competition for your attention; the latter takes the same wicked backbeat and strips it to a core of bass, spiky guitar, and electric piano.

As referenced in that leadoff quote, Mulatu Astatke is something of a mad scientist, combining seemingly opposed genres to create unthinkable concoctions. Yet his unparalleled genius and clarity of vision reveals more similarities than differences in these sounds, and by extension these cultures. By highlighting the rhythmic underpinnings, we can see that the Latin, funk, jazz, and Ethiopian traditions are all cut from the same human-made cloth. So maybe he’s more of a musical ambassador than a mad scientist. Astatke’s compositions aren’t meant to be played out in a sealed, controlled laboratory; they’re meant to be heard and enjoyed by people all over the world. And with his sense of global exploration, fully evident in this astounding document, Astatke wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mulatu Astatke--Yekermo Sew
Mulatu Astatke--Mulatu

Friday, November 20, 2009

Funeral Singers

Califone's new video for their standout song, "Funeral Singers." Taken from the album All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, a companion soundtrack to lead singer Tim Rutili's debut film of the same name. The album is out via Dead Oceans.

califone - funeral singers from Califone on Vimeo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Episode #6

[via collect]

It's Episode #6 of the Waterloo Sunset podcast. It's a crazy mix this week--dance, punk, funk, crunk, psych, folk--they're all given due representation. In it to win it, folks:

Julian Casablancas--11th Dimension
The Strokes--New York City Cops
Sleigh Bells--Ring Ring
Funkadelic--Can You Get To That
Death--Keep On Knocking
Thee Oh Sees--Sugar Boat
Timber Timbre--Lay Down In The Tall Grass
Woods--"Rain On"
Neil Young--"River of Pride"
Uncle Tupelo ft. Doug Sahm--"Give Back The Key To My Heart"

Waterloo Sunset Podcast #6

Total running time: 37:39

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thee Oh Sees--Dog Poison

Here's my Prefix review for the new EP from San Fran's preeminent psych-popsters, Thee Oh Sees.

Garage rock -- that kaleidoscopic subgenre of rock 'n' roll, born from the eager simplicity of “Louie Louie” -- has had remarkable staying power. Its popularity has ebbed and flowed over five decades, but a new generation has always been there to claim its scrappy banner. In 2009, we’ve seen a resurgence (or, more accurately, another peak in the cycle) of this lo-fi sound, where artists have embraced its Luddite-inspired ethos of tape hiss, muddled vocals, and even muddier music. The good thing about garage rock is anybody can make this music, actual recording studios be damned. The bad thing is literally anybody can make this music, actual talent be damned.

You can put San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees in the former column: They are a good thing in this often-crowded subgenre, rising above the pack with memorable songwriting, dead-on harmonies, and instrumentation other than your standard guitar/bass/drums setup. Their backstory resembles their cluttered sound; it’s full of lineup changes, name changes (OCS to the Ohsees to Thee Oh Sees), and a myriad number of singles, splits, EPs, and LPs spread out over several record labels. Their evolving sound and longevity (forming in 1997) have made them something resembling garage-rock elder statesmen, and they’ve already had a good year so far with the release of their stellar eighth full-length, Help, back in April. With the band's noted productivity, Dog Poison could appear tossed-off, especially considering that its 10 songs skip by faster than most EPs. Yet this is a toss-off that many likeminded bands would kill to have in their discography.

As we saw earlier with Help, Thee Oh Sees have gravitated to a more streamlined approach. Their songs are now compact bursts of psychedelic fury sweetened by girl-guy, reverb-drenched harmonies. Here on Dog Poison, they replace fuzzy electric guitars with fuzzy acoustic guitars, but the intensity and weirdness remains undiminished. Opener “The River Rushes (To Screw MD Over)” burns quickly before a bleating flute breaks through the mix to complement singer John Dwyer’s gleeful abandon. Unlike most of their peers, they have a sense of humor wafting through their freakouts, showing up as caveman-like growls on “Dead Energy” or the panpipe accompaniment competing with laser blasts of guitar feedback on “I Can’t Pay You to Disappear.” “Sugar Boat,” sounding like a campfire sing-along from hell, packs at least three potent hooks in its fleeting 120 seconds, while “Head of State” meanders in a psychedelic haze without wearing out its welcome (a testament to Dwyer’s newfound focus). Noisy interludes (“The Fizz,” “Voice in the Mirror”) balance out the surrounding distorted pop, and the ghostly folk of closer “It’s Nearly Over” wraps up the EP nicely.

Quality over quantity, the saying goes, especially in terms of artistic output. Yet Thee Oh Sees have managed to embrace both quality and quantity, giving them a leg up over most other lo-fi acts. Their skill will (and rightfully should) make heads turn, even if ‘60s-inspired garage rock ebbs once again.

Thee Oh Sees--The River Rushes (To Screw MD Over)
Thee Oh Sees--Fake Song

Monday, November 9, 2009


[via soul art]

Drop whatever you are doing, head over to Pitchfork, and take advantage of their "One Week Only" documentary feature, where you can stream Sigur Ros's 2007 film Heima, which chronicles their return to Iceland after a lengthy world tour. Turn out the lights and turn off the phone: this is work of art. Even if you don't like Sigur Ros all that much, you will appreciate their use of music to soundtrack the film's study of the Icelandic landscape and its people. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Timber TImbre--Timber Timbre

I already talked about them here, but I finally got a hold of the self-titled full-length Timber Timbre put out this summer, and it's fantastic. Read my Prefix review below.

You know those songs, the type that suck the air out of the room, making you lean closer to the stereo, as if that will make you understand them any better. Songwriters are lucky to write one of those in their career, but Toronto’s Taylor Kirk (a.k.a. Timber Timbre) has crafted a stunning album with several hit-you-in-the-gut musical moments.

The formula is deceptively simple: Kirk takes his favorite elements of American folk, blues, and soul, strips them down to their rhythmic cores, and holds it all together with his creaky tenor. Nowhere is this more effective than on album standout (and possibly one of the songs of the year) “Lay Down In The Tall Grass,” a veritable perfect storm of quiet intensity. Sounding like he’s perched on the edge of sanity, Kirk slowly unravels an obsessive’s love story while plinking keyboard, organ stabs, muted bass, and tremulous strings bubble underneath his wild-eyed crooning. And then the bottom falls out, leaving his voice alone among the tape hiss and adding some warmth to the frigid atmosphere.

“Tall Grass” is an unblinking gem on a record full of captivating, death-obsessed songs. Acoustic guitar and a lilting melody are all Kirk needs to fully sell the morality tale of “Demon Host,” an ambivalent folk tune that somehow builds to a dynamic peak without getting louder or even adding much extra instrumentation. Elsewhere, he’s content with stretching out an extremely minimal surf riff into a mini-epic with his reverb-heavy voice leading the way (“Magic Arrow”). Later tracks like “Trouble Comes Knocking” find the macabre themes starting to seep into the music itself. Eerie dissonance, courtesy of clashing harmonica and violin bleats, rides a plodding beat on the Frankenstein-like “Trouble,” the combination of bluesy menace and smoky soul creating an uneasy concoction that Kirk appears to enjoy.

Past efforts found Timber Timbre as a solitary, lo-fi folk vehicle, but Kirk recruited some friends to flesh out this, his third album. Better recording fidelity and more bodies in the room don’t diminish the returns. Rather, he uses his new tools sparingly to create a record that burns with an unrelenting passion. Like those old American recordings he obviously loves, Kirk taps into a bygone weirdness that is equally unsettling and exciting.

Timber Timbre--Lay Down In The Tall Grass

Timber Timbre is out now via Arts & Crafts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deep Blue Sea

Just saw an early screening of the music doc made by All Tomorrow's Parties, the venerable UK music institution that gets artists to curate their own music/art festivals. The film is kaleidoscopic and beautiful to watch, featuring (maddeningly short) performances by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sonic Youth, Grinderman, and many, many more, but it was this scene from Grizzly Bear (which closes the film) that really stunned me.

The ATP film is screening one last night (tonight) here in Austin at the Alamo Ritz before moving on down the road.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Dutchess and the Duke--Sunset/Sunrise

Here's a review I did for the fine folks over at Prefix; more reviews forthcoming.

In an interview late last year, Kimberly Morrison (she being the Dutchess) said, “There’s only so many times you can do the same song in slightly different ways before you just want to do something else.” She was speaking of her band’s punk roots -- Morrison and her Duke cohort (Jesse Lortz) did time in various Seattle punk bands before teaming up a few years ago -- but she could also be alluding to her present. After all, the Dutchess and the Duke’s debut was a distinct song cycle featuring variations on the same themes, musical or otherwise: The tunes were kept short, dark, spare, and were heavily indebted to mid-1960s pop and folk. So what are we to gather from this quote? That Sunset/Sunrise is their prog-rap “experimental” album? Thankfully, no. It’s actually more of the same -- and that’s hardly an insult.

Lortz and Morrison seem content to stay with that classic sound, and Sunset/Sunrise picks up where She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke left off. “Sun comes up/ I’m counting the days I got left/ I’m counting the time on my hands, watch the days roll by,” Lortz wryly intones on album opener (and absolute earworm) “Hands.” It’s the most interesting song Lortz has written, veering from Spanish-tinged acoustic arpeggios into a bluesy fury in 6/8 time, all fueled by a heady mix of organ, electric guitar, and barebones percussion.

The expanded palette is courtesy of producer Greg Ashley (of Gris Gris fame). He adds strings, piano, and multi-tracked harmonies, but it’s his economy of sound that’s the most striking. The songwriting is still front and center, with a certain grittiness left intact by the analog recording. “Living This Life,” with its insistent guitar riff and accidental police siren in the background, has a swaying charm that’s driven home by the Dutchess/Duke harmonies. Their voices fit together perfectly -- Lortz’s rough, world-weary moan to Morrison’s smoky, pleading croon. The sound is cinematic in its simplicity and subtlety: the deep minor-key groans on “Sunrise/Sunset”; the competing guitars on “Never Had A Chance” mimicking the diverging paths of the song’s two lovers; the sighing violins on “Scorpio” adding Ennio Morricone-like noir to a bone-dry lament. However, the darkness wears a little thin by album’s end. It feels long despite its half-hour length, especially during the late misfire, “When You Leave My Arms,” a trifecta of so-so songwriting, Morrison’s weak lead vocals, and Ashley’s overproduction.

Still, The Dutchess and the Duke lend such conviction and humanity to these songs that it’s hard not to like them, even with their occasional missteps. The music is unflinching (and refreshing) in its directness; these are simple songs that rise above being merely odes to their obvious source material. Much like the album cover, this duo finds enough beauty and light in the darkest of places to create a fully realized world, one that’s worth immersing yourself in.

Sunset/Sunrise is out now via Hardly Art, and the Dutchess and the Duke swing through Austin on December 12 to appear at the Mohawk.

The Dutchess and The Duke--Living This Life

Friday, October 30, 2009

Episode #5: Halloween Edition

It's a special edition of the Waterloo Sunset podcast--all Halloween music, all the time. Special thanks to Meg from Lost Art of the Mixtape for tracking down some of these songs. Here's this week's spooky setlist:

Jad And David Fair--"Frankenstein"
Link Wray and His Raymen--"The Shadow Knows"
Screamin' Jay Hawkins--"I Put a Spell On You"
The Spooks--"The Spook Walks"
Man Man--"Top Drawer"
Jerry Bryan--"Vampire Daddy"
"Twilight Zone Theme Song"
October Country--"My Girlfriend Is A Witch"
Crazy World of Arthur Brown--"Fire"
Dead Man's Bones--"My Body's A Zombie For You"
Blind Willie Johnson--"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"
Basil Rathbone reading "The Raven" + Ennio Morricone's "Death Rattle"
Tom Waits--"The Earth Died Screaming"
Danny Elfman--"This Is Halloween"

Total running time: 38:00

Listen below: either click to stream or right-click (control-click for Mac users) and save to download.

Halloween Podcast

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Punk Parties

Two great shows going down this weekend in the ATX, unfortunately both on the same night (Saturday, October 24). Follow That Bird!'s angular post-punk has finally been committed to wax, and those ladies and lads are out to celebrate. They're playing a record release party at the United States Art Authority to commemorate their new 10", and get this--$7 gets you in the door AND a free copy of said 10". Not too shabby.

Meanwhile, Austin's perennially-on-the-cusp White Denim bring their muscular punk-soul-funk to the Mohawk to celebrate the release of their second album, Fits, which dropped on Tuesday. They've been better received in Europe than in their own hometown, which is ridiculous--get out there, Austin, and claim these firebrands as your own.

Both shows start at 9 PM. Do it to it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Episode 4

Here's Episode 4 of the WS Podcast, now a bi-weekly venture. This week's track list:

Jim Ford--"Harlan County"
Woods--"To Clean (Acoustic)"
Neil Young--"I've Loved Her So Long"
The Very Best (ft. Ezra Koenig)--"Warm Heart of Africa"
Mulatu Astatke--"Yegelle Tezeta"
Amen Dunes--"Castles"
Blitzen Trapper--"Sleepytime In The Western World/Jericho" (Live at ACL '09)
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood--"Some Velvet Morning"
Grizzly Bear (ft. Victoria Legrand)--"Slow Life"
Sonny & the Sunsets--"Too Young To Burn"

Total running time: 36:23

Episode 4:
Waterloo Sunset Podcast 4

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kurt Vile: Childish Prodigy

I've reviewed my first album over at Prefix Magazine, Kurt Vile's Childish Prodigy. Vile's known for his musical Zelig-ness: lo-fi bedroom psychedelia, full-on classic rock stompers, and even avant-garde electronic soundscapes all figure into his increasing canon. His debut for Matador shows a continued evolution--this time incorporating swampy blues rock into his hypnotic psych-folk. Read the full review here, and check out this potent cut from the album:

Kurt Vile--Overnight Religion

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sonny & the Sunsets

Musical simplicity: harder than it seems, and just as emotionally resonant as the most complex arias. This year has been critically ruled by cerebral art rock--Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, etc. Yet SF's Sonny & the Sunsets don't need no fancy laptops, autoharps, or digital effects--they just create beautifully shaggy garage pop that sounds utterly timeless from the moment the needle hits the wax (or the 1's and 0's shoot out of...wait, what's the digital comparative?). The brain (and, more fitting, the heart) behind these charming tunes is one Sonny Smith, who has put out a number of solo albums before teaming up with some Bay Area friends to craft Tomorrow Is Alright, the Sunsets' debut album. Smith has experience writing short stories, and his songs seem to allude to this, each one a fully-formed tale populated with intriguing characters. Tomorrow is set for a November 10 release via Soft Abuse, and it seems it might go fast--their debut single sold out quickly over the summer. Pre-order the album here, and be sure to check out the tunes below.

**Note: you can now download any songs I put on this blog, but only for a limited time. Right-click on the song (control-click for Mac users) and save the file to your computer, or just stream it by clicking the arrow.

Sonny and the Sunsets--Too Young To Burn
Sonny and the Sunsets--Death Cream

Friday, October 2, 2009

Episode 3

ACL has rolled into town, and this week's podcast is a primer of some the acts playing down at Zilker Park. Like always, though, I couldn't help fit in time for some older tunes to offset all the freshness...Here's this week's playlist:

Heartless Bastards--"The Mountain"
St. Vincent--"Marrow"
Link Wray--"Rumble"
Flat Duo Jets--"Never No More"
Rodriguez--"Sugar Man"
Cotton Jones--"Blood Red Sentimental Blues"
Wye Oak--"That I Do"
Dr. Dog--"Adeline"
Blitzen Trapper--"Country Caravan"-->"Badger's Black Brigade"

Right click or Control + click (Mac users) the word to download, or just stream below.

Episode 3

Podcast #3

Total running time: 36:27

***Two special notes***
I'm going to be doing some writing for Prefix Magazine, so I probably won't be able to continue weekly podcasts. Henceforth, they will become bi-weekly, and be on the lookout for some album reviews coming down the pipe.

Furthermore, the downloads/streams of the podcasts will only be up for a few weeks to save filehosting space, so get em while they're hot...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rome Built In A Day

At Arthouse last weekend, people gathered from all over Texas to take part in L.A.-based artist Liz Glynn's performance piece The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project. It's exactly what it sounds like: from 12:00 Saturday morning to 11:59 Saturday night, hundreds of people set out to recreate Rome, starting with its hamlet beginnings, working through its Republic growing pains, and eventually on through the rise and fall of the Empire itself (at 11:59 the destruction commenced, with people stomping and crushing the day's work with gleeful abandon). The buildings ranged from the classic (the Circus Maximus, the Coliseum, etc.) to the absurd (buildings with "beer-bottle columns and a roof covered in lavender fur"), all representing the creativity--and the range of abilities--of the artists themselves.

The Austin Chronicle has nice write-up here, and you can see more pictures here, courtesy of the Austinist.

Long, Long, Long Was the Summer

I think this video sums up my feelings about Summer '09 in Austin, which still enshrouds us with its humid grasp as I write this on October 1st...

Cotton Jones - The Radio Slugger - Luxury Wafers Sessions from Luxury Wafers on Vimeo.

Cotton Jones will be performing this weekend at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in beautiful Zilker Park this weekend. Check em out, and be on the lookout for Episode 3 of the WS podcast tomorrow, where I'll have some more music from the Jones.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Episode 2

Another week has quickly gone by...and another weekend to fill with the Waterloo Sunset Podcast. Here's Episode 2, featuring lots of great music, including a new song from those cool cats above, Monsters of Folk. Right-click (or Control-click for Mac users) to download, or you can just stream it right here on the page.

Daniel Rossen--"Waterfall"
Fool's Gold--"Nadine"
The Impressions--"We're A Winner"
Monsters of Folk--"Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)"
Link Wray--"Johnny Bom Bonny"
Joe Shores--"Mississippi Sounding Calls"
Fats Domino--"Going to the River"
Heartless Bastards--"Out At Sea"
Devendra Banhart--"Baby"
Neil Young--"Human Highway"

Episode 2:
Podcast #2

Total running time: 36:29

Friday, September 18, 2009

Radio, Radio

It's the inaugural edition of the Waterloo Sunset podcast. Each week, I'll be bringing a half-hour of great tunes, a mini mix tape for your weekends. Here's this week's list of songs:

The Smiths--"Panic"
Califone--"Funeral Singers"
Sam Cooke--"Nothing Can Change This Love"
Britt Daniel--"Bring It On Home To Me"
The Dovers--"What Am I Going To Do?"
Atlas Sound, ft. Noah Lennox (Panda Bear)--"Walkabout"
Timber Timbre--"Trouble Comes Knocking
The Sir Douglas Quintet--"Lawd, I'm Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City"
Yim Yames--"Long, Long, Long"
The Kinks--"Waterloo Sunset"

Total running time: 36:34

Podcast #1

Sunday, September 13, 2009

To Make It All Worthwhile

My favorite track from one of my favorite releases of the year gets an excellent visual rendering: "While You Wait For The Others" by Grizzly Bear, directed by Sean Pecknold (brother of lead Fleet Fox Robin Pecknold).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Dutchess and the Duke

Guy-girl duo The Dutchess and the Duke have a new song called "Hands" from their forthcoming album Sunset/Sunrise (which, as the above album cover can attest, looks absolutely exquisite). On this first single, they've traded in the Rolling Stones-inspired campfire jams found on their debut (She's The Dutchess, He's the Duke) and added a decidedly Spanish cinematic flair that compliments their throwback harmonies quite well. Sunset/Sunrise is out October 6 via Hardly Art.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Funeral Singers

Chicago's Califone have been very quiet since their stellar 2006 release Roots and Crowns. Then again, Califone aren't the type of band to go trumpeting from every hilltop in vivid technicolor; rather, they remain understated, choosing an auditory palette of muted hues. Their music is dense, complex, and challenging, often involving deconstructed folk and blues motifs to create a very off-kilter amalgamation of new and old sounds.

"Funeral Singers" is from their upcoming October 6 release All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. It's an example of frontman Tim Rutili's humble intelligence as a songwriter and arranger: using only four chords, the band builds and builds on top of rich acoustic guitar work, the constant forward motion carrying them to the song's pseudo-campfire sing-along end. It's more upbeat than much of Califone's past work; in fact, it pays homage to Rutili's work in his previous band, Red Red Meat (whose stellar album Bunny Gets Paid was re-released this year).

The album was written as a companion to Rutili's film of the same name. When the band tours this fall, they plan to play the film as well, thus recreating the soundtrack live every night of the tour. You can pre-order the album at Califone's website (and through their label, Dead Oceans).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Timber Timbre

Toronto's Timber Timbre have recently caught my rapt attention. Comprised mainly of Taylor Kirk and some stellar session musicians, the band released their self-titled sophomore release this summer on Arts & Crafts. The first time I heard them, I immediately stopped what I was doing: "Trouble Comes Knocking" is a menacing folk noir piece full of tension and dread before shifting impressively (and rather unexpectedly) into a smoky soul ballad. The production is immaculate; all of the instruments are given miles of room to bob and weave, and the songs are stripped to their rawest cores.

"Lay Down In The Tall Grass" is another unsettling, soul-infused piece of minimalism kept spare to spotlight Kirk's eerie croon and effective storytelling. The rough edges are rounded, and once again the song shifts impressively, moving from a major key refrain back into a minor key verse in the blink of an eye. The narcotic haze that envelops Timber Timbre's music lends a certain dourness, but the songs are still playful and immediately arresting. Highly recommended.

Support the artist. Buy their music here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Be My Baby

Ellie Greenwich died today in New York at the age of 68. She was the premier songwriter for some of the best girl groups of the 1960s and an influential member of the Brill Building team of songwriters, who churned out countless era-defining singles in the 1950s and 1960s. With her husband Jeff Barry, she penned such chart-topping hits as "Be My Baby" for the Ronnettes, "Chapel of Love" for the Dixie Cups, "Da Doo Ron Ron" for the Crystals, and my personal favorite, "Leader of the Pack" for the Shangri-Las (all of which were given a characteristic flair by producer Phil Spector). A new crop of bands have declared their love for this specific girl group sound, with acts as diverse as Grizzly Bear, TV On the Radio, and Broadcast all paying homage to the drama and youthfulness of these songs.

Here are a few videos displaying Greenwich's brilliance, plus a Spanish cover of "Be My Baby" by Les Surfs.