Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Strange Boys--Be Brave

My review of Be Brave by Austin's The Strange Boys for Prefix Magazine. Read it below or here.

On last year’s …And Girls Club, The Strange Boys showed a knack for high-energy, strung-out rock 'n' roll that earned the Austin group well-deserved praise. Despite obvious musical touchstones (blues, soul, Mod-era rock), the foursome tweaked the ingredients just enough to create something new and weird. In the mid-'60s, Bob Dylan searched for “that wild, mercurial sound,” and The Strange Boys seemingly perfected it.

Yet Be Brave, their second LP for In The Red, finds the Boys moving away from that nervy jangle. If Girls Club was the sound of Saturday night (albeit a paranoid one), Be Brave is the hazy Sunday morning. Changes abound on the record. For starters, the Boys have added a girl to the club: Jenna Thornhill, formerly of Mika Miko. Thornhill was known for her demented sax solos in her previous band, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The album’s titular first single makes room for some free-jazz bleating that works well amidst the song’s party-ready R&B stomp.

The band has also added a bit of Blonde On Blonde-style folk rock to the mix. “Friday In Paris” coasts on a breezy beat while organ bubbles underneath, softening Ryan Sambol’s strangled yelp. Slow-motion soul (“Between Us”) and bluesy pop (“I See,” with xylophone complementing the harmonica) are used to add tremendous depth that they only hinted at on their previous record. Most of the record stays locked into a laconic groove (“A Walk On The Beach,” “Da Da”) with occasional forays into searing rave-ups (“Night Might”). What’s most surprising is the amount of time given to country-blues ballads, with four popping up in the back half. “Dare I Say” bops along as much as the rest of the record, but “The Unsent Letter” finds Sambol punch-drunk at the piano, banging out chords to his soulful pleadings. “All You Can Hide Inside” and “You Can’t Only Love When You Want To” are acoustic sketches highlighting Sambol’s scratchy voice. He sounds more comfortable with an entire band behind him, but these stripped-down songs lend a raw emotionality that’s interesting for a group that tries to play it so cool.

On album opener “I See,” Sambol declares “Tonight’s dinner will be tomorrow’s shit.” It’s a hell of a statement, and one that the band has taken to heart. Despite numerous accolades, fans and journalists alike are a fickle bunch, and opinion can turn in the blink of an eye. With Be Brave, The Strange Boys have made an album that expands their sound and opens up new roads for them to follow in the future. They could have retread the same musical territory, but instead they deliver a record that’s remarkable in its maturity and — most of all — its ability to be replayed again and again.

The Strange Boys--Night Might
The Strange Boys--Between Us

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Episode 12

Episode number twelve of the WS podcast: assorted weirdo folk and leftover candy from Valentine's Day. Tracklist (and listen) below.

The Swingin' Medallions--"Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)"
Yeasayer--"Ambling Alp"
Field Music--"Measure"
The Strange Boys--"Between Us"
Wanda Jackson--"Funnel of Love"
Buddy Holly--"Dearest"
Mountain Man--"Bathtub"
Karen Dalton--"Katie Cruel"
Akron/Family--"They Will Appear"
Mulatu Astatke--"Ene Alantchie Alnoren"

Running time: 35:57

Waterloo Sunset Podcast #12

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tape Culture

Marc Hogan at Pitchfork has an excellent write-up of the nascent cassette tape culture that's gripped underground music as of late, as a medium and even as an aesthetic (Neon Indian, Washed Out, et al. use that woozy, warped tape sound as an instrument). Tapes provide a nostalgic factor, but they're also cheap as hell and have an interesting physical component to them. Hogan quotes music critic Paul Hegarty: "Within the dying of media comes the passing or slow dying of individual units-- tapes, records, cylinders, cartridges-- all of which decay, and in so doing, seem to take on characteristics of having lived." That's precisely what has drawn me to analog sounds, be it vinyl, tape, whatever. It's what makes William Basinski's avant-garde masterpiece The Disintegration Loops so affecting--the physical qualities of a tape of recorded music literally turning to dust as its played one last time. I'll write more about William Basinski later, but for the time being, check out the article here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Goodbye Sweet Dreams

As a devout fan of Texas and psychedelic music, Roky Erickson looms large in my book. He's largely credited with the creation of the psychedelic strain of rock and roll in 1966 with "You're Gonna Miss Me," a maelstrom of a song he performed with Austin's 13th Floor Elevators, and he helped put Austin music on the map. His work after the Elevators is nothing to squint at either--oscillating between very hard-edged psych rock and barebones folk. However, his life's been beset by drug problems and mental health issues (he controversially spent time in the state mental hospital), as chronicled in the stunning (and tragic) documentary You're Gonna Miss Me, but Roky has made a bit of a comeback bid recently with a number of live appearances. He also has a new album out April 20 via Anti- called True Love Cast Out All Evil, with Okkervil River as the backing band. The first song released from the album is "Goodbye Sweet Dreams," a haunting ballad that popped up a few times in the documentary and has been continually reworked throughout Roky's career. Credit Okkervil River's Will Sheff with updating Roky's sound but also preserving the man's undeniable soul. Take a listen below, and be sure to check out this bizarre video of the Elevators (with Tommy Hall playing that omnipresent electric jug) performing their manic psychedelia at some corny '60s pool party.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River--Goodbye Sweet Dreams

Monday, February 15, 2010


Britain's Field Music has always occupied a murky middle ground between a couple of genres, but the title track from their new album (awesome album art pictured above) Field Music (Measure) is a stunning achievement of imagination, especially in such a crowded musical field where it seems like everything has already been done to death. "Measure" sounds like a cross between Phillip Glass and Yes, with a bit of Paul McCartney thrown in for good measure (oh dear, no pun intended...). The Brewis brothers took on the philosophy "no rules is good news" for the double album, which is released February 16 via Memphis Industries.


Field Music--Measure

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mountain Man

Vermont's Mountain Man (three ladies, no less) is making all sorts of waves, and their appearance at next months SXSW should catapult them further. Why not? This is goosebump music: timeless, sounding like Carter Family demos, with minimal instrumentation except the ladies' weird three part harmonies. You can download their debut over at their website (a Radiohead-inspired tip jar is set up for compensation). Highly recommended; and in the meantime, here's Mountain Man performing "Mouthwings" in a tunnel on Hawk Hill, San Francisco, courtesy of videographers Yours Truly. This is a time machine.

Mountain Man "Mouthwings" [part 1 of 3] from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Episode 11

[via sun in scorpio]

Come ride the rails and put your ear to this week's podcast. It's an eclectic mix, as per usual, and it'll keep you company as you shuffle from town to town. Stream or download below. Check it:

Neutral Milk Hotel--"Song Against Sex"
The Old 97's--"504"
Link Wray--"Big City After Dark"
Centro-matic--"To Unleash the Horses Now"
Dungen--"Satt Att Se"
Bibio--"Ambivalence Avenue"
Atlas Sound--"Shelia"
Beach House--"Zebra"
The Rolling Stones--"She's A Rainbow"

Running time: 36:29

Waterloo Sunset Podcast #11