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.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tonight: Dungen, Woods, Headdress at the Mohawk

Tonight at the Mohawk in Austin, Swedish psych-purveyors Dungen (pronounced "dune-YEN") will be melting your eardrums along with Woods (who've put out a hell of a lo-fi Neil Young-inspired record called Songs of Shame) and Austin psych instrumentalists Headdress. Should be pretty heavy and psychedelic all around. The melting begins at 9 PM.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The Nudie suit: you know you’re country-rock royalty when you own one of Nudie Cohn’s garish Western-themed outfits. Popularized by Elvis, Porter Waggoner, and Gram Parsons, the Nudie suit came to symbolize the coming of the excess of 1970s America. In the late 1960s, when country music grew out its hair, toked up, and generally California-ized itself, a new generation of kids picked up on those ancient melodies, melded them with psychedelia, and fully embraced a wholesale revival of country music in America. And Nudie Cohn was there to dress it to the nines.

Born Nuta Kotlyarenko in Kiev, Ukraine, Cohn moved to California and became a costume designer. His dazzling designs fit in well with the sweeping grandeur of Hollywood’s westerns. The suits incorporated Southwestern and cowboy iconography, from Conestoga wagons to the Virgin of Guadalupe; each design was accented with dozens of sparkling rhinestones and ran in the thousands of dollars. Eventually, he began to sell these suits to actual country stars, most notably Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, and even Elvis, who wore gold lamé for the cover of 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.

The suits found a new generation through the help of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Bros. Tapping into the Hollywood image of the singing cowboy (but with a decidedly contemporary twist), Parsons had Cohn design a suit with pill bottles, pot leaves, naked women, and a huge, gleaming cross on the back. It was a testament to excess and showmanship, two qualities which Parsons and other country-rock stars of the day had in droves.

Nudie Cohn went on to outfit more stars in the 1970s, and he even began to modify cars into “Nudie Mobiles,” complete with pistol door handles, silver-dollar-studded dashboards, and longhorn horns on the hood of the car. The Nudie suit remains an eccentric fashion footnote in American music history. The design recalls a bygone era of hierarchy within the country music world and a romantic notion of the American West, however hollow and rhinestone bedazzled that notion may prove to be.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Last Tommy

Yesterday, Radiohead released a song called "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)," a particularly emotional tribute to Harry Patch, who passed away recently. Patch was 111 years old at his death, and he was the last surviving World War I combat soldier, or "tommy" as they were called in Great Britain. Patch served in France with the British light infantry and was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele, a particularly bloody six-month battle in 1917 that further disillusioned the British public. After the war, Patch worked as a plumber and was a fireman during World War II, and he helped put out fires after German air raids on Bath, England.

He refused to talk about his war experiences until much later in life as more and more World War I veterans passed away. For a 2003 BBC documentary, Patch became an outspoken critic against war in general, stating, "Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims."

Jonny Greenwood arranged the strings (recorded in an English abbey), and Thom Yorke sings the lead vocals. The lyrics are all quotes from Mr. Patch himself:

I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I've seen devils coming up from the ground
I've seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn.

Harry Patch was buried today at Wells Cathedral, Somerset, England. The bells of the cathedral were rung 111 times.

You can buy and download the track here, or stream it below. All proceeds benefit the UK veterans' charity the Royal British Legion.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Double Feature

And now for something completely different...

As a break from my usual auditory ramblings, here are two trailers for upcoming movies I'm quite excited about. The first is a documentary entitled "It Might Get Loud," featuring Jack White, Jimmy Page, and the Edge all in a room talking about guitar tones and the such. I think it's aimed at guitar geeks like myself, but it looks like it might offer some insight into all three musicians' undeniable creativity.

And this is a trailer for a new Cohen brothers movie called "A Serious Man." It is the best trailer I have ever seen in my life (no joke). It's an example of superb sound editing and using it for dramatic effect:

"It Might Get Loud" is slated for release this month, while "A Serious Man" will be released in October.