Category Archives: other

Slowdive at Cat’s Cradle

Rachel Goswell of Slowdive

As everybody around here knows, I’ve been a huge fan of Slowdive for 25 years. I really liked their 1991 debut album Just for a Day, but their 1993 sophomore album Souvlaki totally blew me away. That was way before the days of Amazon and before the days of being able to order things directly at the click of a button. I got very lucky, and I was able to pick up an import copy of the CD, which came out several months before the US release. It also featured a bonus disc of the Blue Day EP. As it turns out, there were only 1000 of those made, but I didn’t know that at the time. I assumed that they, like every other band of their ilk, would tour the US and hit the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and/or the old 1313 Club in Charlotte. They didn’t. In the summer of 93, they played Atlanta and DC, but I held out, assuming that they would be around some other time. The next summer, they didn’t come any closer than DC during a very short North American tour which ended with a now famous show in Toronto. Nobody knew it at the time, but that Toronto show would be their last for 20 years.

The band’s third album Pygmalion came out in 1995, and fans were somewhat confused. It wasn’t shoegaze. It wasn’t dream pop. It was a spacey, experimental piece that sounded very little like the Slowdive that I loved. That record has a lot of negative space and a lot of really really slow-burning stuff. I never really cottoned to that record, but I thought that it might just be a weird bump in their road. Again, nobody knew it at the time, but they were pretty much done at that point. They didn’t tour with that record, and it was soon announced that the band had been dropped by Creation Records. Britpop was king, and while some bands would adapt with the changing landscape, they didn’t. It would also later come out that Rachel had suffered some significant hearing loss and couldn’t really play loud music anymore.

The folky Mojave 3 rose from the ashes of Slowdive, and that band featured Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead, and Ian McCutcheon all out of Slowdive. I liked that band a lot, and I did get to see them twice, but I always lamented the fact that I never saw Slowdive.

A couple of years ago, the band announced that they were reforming for some festival shows. And then the huge news came out that they would put out a new album and go on a proper tour. When the first batch of US dates was announced, the closest gig was in DC. Later, to my complete delight, they announced a Cat’s Cradle show, which would be their first time playing in North Carolina as Slowdive.

The new eponymous album came out last Friday, and I finally got to see them last night. It was everything I was hoping for and then some.

Neil Halstead of Slowdive

They played a good mix of new songs and stuff from the other three albums. To be honest, I was expecting a set heavy with new songs and Souvlaki stuff. As it turns out, they only played three of the new songs. I was really anticipating my favorite songs from Souvlaki, though: “Alison”, “When the Sun Hits”, “Souvlaki Space Station”. I was pleased with all of those, although I thought “When the Sun Hits” sounded a bit muddy. They also played “40 Days” as the last song of the encore. After there were some difficulties with the PA system, they decided to play on, and pretty much did it through their monitors.

They also played a Slowdive show mainstay in their cover of the Syd Barrett song “Golden Hair” as the last song of the main set. I’ve seen videos of them performing that song, and I had high expectations. They were certainly met last night.

Nick Chaplin of Slowdive

All of that was great, but the highlight of the night was something that came as a complete surprise to me. Early in the set, they launched into very gently nudged off into “Crazy for You”, which I always thought was a perfect badge for what I didn’t love about Pygmalion. On the album, it’s very spacey, very sparse, very minimal. Almost too much. It’s got loads of delay and a cool piano bit, but it doesn’t do a ton for me. When performed live, however, it’s a completely different animal. The drums were heavy and fierce. The guitars were fiery and vibrant. It was in complete contrast to the album version, and I absolutely loved it. Later, they would do a similar thing with “Blue Skied an’ Clear”, giving it lots of life that I never knew it had.

There were, admittedly, a few hiccups during the show, and there was a problem with the PA going in and out towards the end of the show, but I thought it was a brilliant night.

I also must admit that I did not enjoy the opening set by The Casket Girls. Their 2014 album True Love Kills the Fairy Tale was my favourite album of that year. Number one. I’ve really liked all of their albums, but I had heard many times that they aren’t as good live as they are on record. That turned out to be true. There was a lot of disharmony in their voices and some of their choreography was goofy. They also played about two songs too many.

For other parts of this US tour, Slowdive had Japanese Breakfast as their special guest, and I would have loved to have seen them. But the reality is that we were all there for one reason and one reason only: Slowdive.

I loved the show, and I’m really glad that I finally got to check them off my list.

This is That Song Update

Things have been quiet on the blog lately, and I feel like I have some explaining to do.

I’ve been busy. Really busy.

My role at work has changed. With that change, I’m there earlier in the morning than I used to be. I’m there later in the afternoon than I used to be. For now, I’m working seven days a week. Some days are shorter than others, but I don’t have as much free time as I used to. I’m also taking a couple of programming classes at night. Between my clogged work schedule, the nights that I have to actually go to school, and the nights that I have to do reading and homework, I have very, very little free time.

I’ve fallen way behind on reading my emails, and I’ve fallen a little behind on my new music acquisitions, but I’m still listening to lots of new releases and I’m still falling in love with new stuff.

For at least a few more weeks, things will continue to be quiet around here, but I’m still hoping to write. It might be once or twice a week as opposed to six or seven times a week, and I might have to start doing some very early morning writing, and I might make my writing much more terse than it usually is, but I will do my best to keep this thing going and to make it healthier than it is right now.

As winter turns to spring, I’ll get a little of my free time back, and when spring turns to summer, I’ll get a lot more. I can promise that I’ll devote more time to the blog as those developments unfold. For now, I can’t make any other promises.

Eskimeaux reissues debut record

Gabby Smith (Eskimeaux)

One of my favorite new releases this year has been O.K. by NYC bedroom recording artist Eskimeaux. The band is currently a quartet, but it’s mostly the work of Gabrielle “Gabby” Smith. You may recall that I wrote about the song “I Admit I’m Scared” back in May, just before the release of O.K..

As I pointed out in that post, OK is the latest in a pretty long list of Eskimeaux releases, and she records with a slightly different style on every release. There’s no mistaking the DIY bedroom recording quality of the early records, and it’s safe to lump most of the releases in under the broad umbrella of “indie folk”, but there’s something different with each release.

Smith started using the name Eskimeaux in 2007, and recorded some experimental stuff for a few years. In 2011, she released her proper debut, called Two Mountains, which had some elements of electronics and remnants of her experimental stuff. It also had some elements of that dreamy indie-folk. Something between an extremely low-budget Bjõrk and Grouper. That album was originally released digitally, and the only physical copies were a very limited run of CD. Last week, Yellow K Records reissued the album, meaning that it’s available on vinyl (and cassette) for the first time.

I committed to covering the re-issue, but it sort of slipped my mind until I was writing about Frankie Cosmos yesterday. Gabby Smith is also in that band, which is fronted by the daughter of Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline.

Here, you can enjoy one of the songs from the album.
“For Power Animal” by Eskimeaux

I really like the tuned percussion. I also really like the loops and layers. This particular song also uses Julianna Barwick-like vocal riffs rather than proper vocals, and I kinda like that. And whatever that is that’s been manipulated and looped to sound like boots marching? I love it. That might be a record in the runoff groove, it might be something else.

This particular song doesn’t have it, but other songs feature a theremin. Or maybe a tannerin. I’m always a fan of that. Overall, it’s a very different record to the new one. It’s also very good.

The Yellow K reissue is not a remaster or a “deluxe” reissue. It’s merely a re-release. It was pressed on regular black vinyl and also on clear vinyl. The clear one sold out very quickly. The black vinyl is available, but it looks like it won’t ship out until the middle of November. I assume that the CD and cassette formats will also become available on November 13. For now, you can buy an instant download or pre-order the standard vinyl via bandcamp here.

10.11.2015 — “Flirted With You All My Life” as covered by Lotte Kestner

Lotte Kestner

If you only listen to one Vic Chesnutt cover song today, make it Lotte Kestner’s cover of “Flirted With You All My Life” (2011, from the album Stolen (Covers)).

Lotte Kestner is the stage name of Seattle-based folk-gaze singer/songwriter Anna-Lynne Williams. She was half of the folk-gaze duo Trespassers William, and she’s put out a bunch of recordings as Lotte Kestner. At least three albums of cover songs, a couple of albums of original songs, and an EP of just Depeche Mode covers. Last week, she released a new covers album composed entirely of songs that fans requested her to cover. In all, over the course of three years, she made 60 songs for that collection, and pared it down to 17. Included in the latest collection are “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, “How To Disappear Completely” by Radiohead, “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star, “Alison” by Slowdive, “Enjoy The Silence” by Depeche Mode, and “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips. It’s a great collection, which you can buy here.

Although I knew all about Lotte Kestner, I didn’t know that the other covers albums existed until I got this one. They all have some cool and interesting covers, but this one totally stopped me in my tracks and made me burst into tears. The song was originally done by Vic Chesnutt on his 2009 album At The Cut. That album was released in late September of 2009. On Christmas Day that year, Chesnutt died after deliberately overdosing on muscle relaxants. He was a coma for two days and never came out. He was 45. His death was not technically ruled a suicide, but everyone close to him said that he knew what he was doing. For most of his life, he was in a lot of physical and emotional pain. At the age of 18, he was involved in a drunk driving accident that left him a partial quadriplegic. He had very limited use of his hands, but he could still play guitar and he found a way to have a very productive career, releasing more than a dozen proper albums. Most of them to unanimous critical acclaim. Unfortunately, for most of his life, he battled alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, intense physical pain, and an insurmountable heap of medical bills.

A lot of Chesnutt’s stuff was dark and dreary. Probably none darker than “Flirted With You All My Life”. It’s not about unrequited love or anything like that, no matter what these lyrics suggest:

I flirted with you all my life
Even kissed you once or twice
And to this day I swear it was nice but clearly
I was not ready

When you touched a friend of mine
I thought I would lose my mind
But I found out with time that
Really, I was not ready.

It’s very autobiographical and the “you” isn’t some girl. It’s death. The “kissed you once or twice” specifically references his multiple failed suicide attempts.

Most of Chesnutt’s later albums, including the one from which this comes, were done in collaboration with members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt Zion (or Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra, or whatever you want to call them). Those collaborations turned Chesnutt’s beautifully dark raw material into something that was beautifully dark, but cinematic at the same time.

On Lotte Kestner’s cover, it’s much more bare-boned, and I like that. Her lovely voice doesn’t quite project the pain that Chesnutt’s imperfect voice did, but there’s still something about this version that makes me sadder than the original version does.

“Flirted With You All My Life” as covered by Lotte Kestner

You can get Stolen (Covers) via bandcamp here. It’s also got covers of “Let’s Go To Bed” by The Cure, “True Faith” by New Order, and “Fake Empires” by The National.

Also get the new covers collection here.

Lush reunion perhaps in the works?

Lush in 1996

On Monday, published an article suggesting that the legendary 1990s UK shoegaze band Lush might be planning a reunion.

The article points out that the band has launched a new Facebook page, complete with contact information for their booking, manager, and publicist. They also have a really, erm, “lush” looking brand new (sorry for the pun) website front page.

Also, guitarist Emma Anderson posted to her personal Twitter account the simple message: “7 Days”.

This, by the way, is exactly how Slowdive announced their reunion in January of last year. Set up social media, started a countdown, announce reunion, play festivals, tour US, etc. Unfortunately, we still haven’t seen a new album, but we’re still holding out hope for that.

I always love to point out that Meriel Barham (guitar/vocals) was a founding member of Lush. She, of course, left the band and went on to become the co-front of the magnificent Pale Saints. I’m on record as saying that I loved Lush’s 1990 compilation album Gala and their 1992 proper debut album Spooky with fanatical ardor. Like many bands from the 1990s UK shoegaze scene, their hands were forced by the surge of Britpop to either change their style or fall out of favor with the press. I still liked their 1994 album Split, but by the time their 1996 album Lovelife rolled out, they were practically a different band. They were still Miki Berenyi (vocals/guitar), Emma Anderson (guitar/vocals), Phil King (bass) and Chris Acland (drums), and I still liked those records, but I didn’t love them.

In late 1996, there had been some whispers about the band breaking up, and on October 17 of that year, the devastating news came that drummer Chris Acland had hanged himself. He was 30. 14 months later, after a bit of a hiatus, the band announced that they were dissolving. King is currently a member of The Jesus & Mary Chain. Anderson started another band which folded in 2008. To my knowledge, Berenyi hasn’t been in any other bands, but she has contributed guest vocals to a couple of projects.

There never really has been any serious talk of a Lush reunion, which would obviously necessitate the hiring of a new drummer. In the post-breakup years, whenever any of them has been asked about the possibility of a reunion, they’ve always said that it would be really difficult to even entertain the idea of bringing in a different drummer. Perhaps things have changed.

Whatever they have planned, I’m sure it’ll be magnificent. If they’re re-issuing the now out-of-print back catalog, that’ll be great. If they’re going to do a slate of shows, that’ll be great. If it’s a new record, that’ll be even better. My hope is that at the very least, they’ll tour the east coast of the United States. When they were in their heyday, I never got to see them. They played a tour one summer with Ride, splitting the bill, and it still sickens me that I could have seen them –but didn’t– on that tour. My consolation prize is that I did see a Pale Saints/Ride split bill the following summer. More than 20 years and hundreds of concert experiences later, it’s still one of my favorites.

At some point on Tuesday, we’ll hope to get not only a “6 days” tweet from Emma, but perhaps some other peek into exactly what’s going on.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

03.16.2015 — “Show of Strength” (live video) by Echo and The Bunnymen

Echo and The Bunnymen

If you only listen to one song from the 1980s tonight, make it “Show of Strength” by Echo and The Bunnymen (1981, from the album Heaven Up Here).

Echo and The Bunnymen are a post-punk band from Liverpool They formed in 1980 and have released twelve proper albums. Half of those came between 1980 and 1990, and their first two records —Crocodiles (1980) and Heaven up Here (1981)– are considered to be among the most influential albums of the post-punk and UK new wave genres. The band is still active, but nowhere near as awesome as they once were.

Throughout the 35 years, there have only ever been a total of seven band members. When people talk about The Bunnymen, what they’re usually talking about is the “classic”, original lineup of Ian McCulloch (vocals, guitar), Will Sergeant (guitar), Les Pattinson (bass) and Pete de Freitas (drums). Technically, de Freitas wasn’t a “founding member” because they used a drum machine in the very beginning, but by the time they recorded the first record, he was fully on board. McCulloch left the band in 1988 and de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Some dude replaced McCulloch, and Damon Reece replaced de Freitas. After the band took a three-year hiatus between 1993 and 1996, they reformed as the trio of McCulloch, Sergeant, and Pattinson. Eventually, Pattinson would also leave. Today, the band is just McCulloch and Sergeant. When they perform, they have a full band, but it is and will always be those two.

A bit of trivia about the de Freitas replacement. Damon Reece was also in Spiritualized. At least until some infighting forced him out of that band. After Spiritualized, he started another band or two and did some work with Massive Attack. None of this is his claim to fame though. His claim to fame is that he’s been Liz Fraser’s partner for a long time. They met when he was a member of Massive Attack, and she contributed to the outstanding Mezzanine album. They have a daughter together who will be 17 this year.

Anyway, since about 1988, I’ve been a big fan of The Bunnymen, and in particular the first three albums. I’ve always been partial to Crocodiles, but this morning I wanted to do something different. I listened to Heaven Up Here from start to finish for the first time in a very long time. I remembered how much I love it. This sparked a conversation with a friend who said that “Promise” was the best song the band ever recorded. I think it’s maybe the third or fourth best song on the album, and maybe the sixth or seventh best song in their catalog. I think that the best song on Heaven Up Here is the album-opening “Show of Strength”.

Here they are playing the song in 1983 during a 90 minute concert performance on the long-running German TV show “Rockpalast”.

It’s a good performance of a great song. It’s worth pointing out that de Freitas isn’t set up behind the band. He’s up front and way over to stage right. To my knowledge, that’s the way they always played during the de Freitas years. It’s a very unusual setup, and while there might be other bands who put the drummer up front, I can’t remember ever seeing it in person.

What I really love about this song is how chunky and front-of-mix the bass is. It gives it a really dark and grimy feel. It’s almost goth. Of course, there’s a lot of brightness to Sergeant’s guitar to balance that out, but the beginning of the song and the end are super-dark. I’ll say, as I always say, that de Freitas was a criminally underrated drummer, and he’s very much on point in this performance.

Go dust off your copy of Heaven Up Here, and play it really loud. If you don’t own it, you should remedy that now.

12.29.2014 — “Synchron” by Camera


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Synchron” by Camera (2014, from the album Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide).

Camera is a krautrock band from Berlin. They sort of eschew the “krautrock” label, but at the same time, they describe themselves as “Motorik-driven, energetic stretches laced with psychedelic overtones rise up from keyboards, drums and guitars”. Whatever. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe. A friend of mine who lives in Amsterdam recently found out about these cats and correctly guessed that I would dig them very much. She sent me a YouTube video of the guys playing a late-night show in the Berlin subway. Unauthorized. They do this kind of thing pretty frequently and for this reason, they’ve apparently been labeled “krautrock guerilla”. I dig it.

As I was watching the video, it took me about three seconds to love whatever song it was they were playing. Also, I immediately thought of Freelance Whales. A couple of years ago, I had a brief obsession with that Brooklyn indie-folk/rock band who do the same kind of thing. They often set up shows in the NYC subway stations and play until the fuzz shuts them down. There are some very cool videos floating around of Freelance Whales playing the subway platforms. Like this one, for example. But this isn’t about them.

For the record, this is the video that my friend shared with me:

I immediately went searching for as much as I could find about this band. Although there’s three guys, it looks like the only official members are Timm Brockmann (synth) and Michael Drummer (drums), with a different guitar player all the time. They put out an album in 2012, and another —Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide— in September of this year. I don’t have it (yet), but I think I love it. Based on what I’ve heard, I love it. It would have made my year-end list if I had only known sooner.

I couldn’t track down a soundcloud or bandcamp file, but here’s a video for “Synchron”:

You can learn more about Camera by visiting their label’s site here, where you can also buy their records. At current exchange rates, that vinyl sells for just under $21 USD plus shipping. There may be other distribution in the US, but I haven’t investigated that deeply.

Our Favorite Albums of 2014 — the top five

All week long, I’ve been sharing my year-end list of my favorite new release albums of 2014.

In case you’ve missed anything, please visit these posts:

Counting down from 41 to 31
From 30 to 21
From 20 to 11
From 10 to 6

I’m finally down to the top five, so here we go:

Alvvays — Alvvays

5)Alvvays — Alvvays The fuzzy jangle-pop/c-86 revivalists from Toronto are one of the great success stories of the year. It’s not often the case that a debut record is highly anticipated, but their self-titled long player was one of the most anticipated records of the year. They first released two singles early in the year — “Adult Diversion” and the impossibly catchy “Archie, Marry Me”– which had everybody on the edge of their collective seat waiting for the self-titled debut, which was finally released on July 22 via Polyvinyl Records in the US. It’s a fantastic record that’s impossible to listen to only once, and it’s pretty easy to listen to the amazing single “Archie, Marry Me”, with its enormous hooks, at least four times in a row.
There’s a pretty cool story behind the band of kids in their late twenties. The girls — Molly Rankin (vocals/guitar) and Kerri MacLellan (keyboards)– grew up as best friends and next door neighbours in a very small town on Cape Breton Island. Rankin is the daughter of the late John Morris Rankin of the famous Rankin Family band. The boys in Alvvays — Alec O’Hanley (guitar), Brian Murphy(bass), and Phil MacIsaac (drums) — all grew up in Charlottetown, PEI, and they’ve been friends since they were in diapers. So they’re a very tight band on the stage as well as off it.
The staggering debut album, which is full of bouncy, shimmery, warm songs was written in the winter and recorded in Chad VanGaalen’s studios in Calgary. Click on the album artwork above to go to the Polyvinyl Records web store for US listeners.
Just before the album was released, the band stepped into CBC Studio Q for a visit, where they performed a few songs. Here they are playing “Archie, Marry Me”. I think it’s better than the album version and better than the official music video

Also, if you have time, I suggest watching the interview Molly Rankin does with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi. It’s a good interview, and she comes off as humble and charming and interesting. Watch that here.

Angel Olsen — Burn Your Fire For No Witness

4)Angel Olsen — Burn Your Fire For No Witness This is the second studio album from the indie folk/indie rock singer/songwriter. She grew up all over the midwest and recently moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Sometimes, she’s mentioned in the same breath as Sharon Van Etten, whose 2014 album Are We There was the biggest disappointment of the year for me. I think at this point, Angel Olsen is moving forward with big strides in her career while Sharon Van Etten is treading water.
I was a bit late to the boat on Angel Olsen, so I didn’t know about her 2012 album Half Way Home until she was announced as one of the bands at the 2013 Hopscotch Music Festival last September in Raleigh. I acquainted myself with that album and fell in love with her 2011 EP Strange Cacti. I was especially drawn to her song “Creator, Destroyer”, and seeing her perform that song at Hopscotch was one of the highlights of the festival for me. It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Like a blind squirrel finding a nut, I serendipitously chose the right moment to fire up my camera, and ended up with this:

When the new album was announced, I naturally pre-ordered a physical copy and waited with bated breath. I got it a few days ahead of the February 18 street date, and I was quite thrilled with it. Listening to this new album, which is by all accounts, her most personal, feels less like listening to an album and more like talking with an old friend. I don’t think anyone could write the wonderful song “Hi Five” as a non-autobiographical thing. This is straight from the heart, and you can feel her pain:

Now we don’t have to take it too extreme
We’ll keep our hands, our legs, even our lips apart
But I’m giving you my heart, my heart
Are you giving me your heart?
Are you lonely too? Are you lonely too?
High five! So am I!

And while most of the songs stick to the tried-and-true formula of focusing primarily on her folk-oriented acoustic guitar and strong but gentle vocals, there are a couple of rock-oriented “full band” songs with electric guitar and full drum kit and loud singing and all that.

This is an album that’s ended up in the high end of a lot of year-end lists, and it looks like there should be plenty more from Ms. Olsen. I saw a list somewhere that included an auxiliary list of the ten best reasons to listen to an album all the way through. Of course that list was made up entirely of album-closing songs. The final song on Burn Your Fire… –“Windows”– was on that list, and I have to agree that it’s as good of an album-closing song as I’ve ever heard. The thing is, there isn’t any filler on this record. There’s a standard practice of opening an album with one of the singles, then putting the next strongest song as the first song on side B and another very strong song to close the album. This album has eleven songs, and all of them are strong. Some are folky, some are rocky, some are a mix. “Windows” starts folky, but gets just a bit rocky by the end. I really love it, and while I love all of the official music videos from this album, and while you should watch “Forgiven/Forgotten”, and the aforementioned “Hi Five”, it’s really all about “Windows”. I don’t really understand what’s going on, but even when her face has been smeared with Vaseline, Angel Olsen is really beautiful. And she looks fantastic in that Elizabethan costume

Don’t forget to click on the album artwork above to go to the Jagjaguwar web store where you can buy the album in your choice of formats.

Mogwai — Rave Tapes

3)Mogwai — Rave Tapes This is the eighth proper album by the Glaswegian post-rock band. Over the last few years, they’ve started to let some electronic stuff creep into their music, and while I didn’t really like it at first, I’ve grown accustomed to it. This album came out in January via Sub Pop in North America and the band’s own Rock Action Records in the UK/rest of world. Although I didn’t spring for it, I was awfully tempted to buy Sub Pop’s deluxe box vinyl set on pre-order. Instead, I waited for the street date and bought a lossless digital download. Which format I own isn’t really the point, though. This is a magnificent album. I spent most of the year “liking it a lot”, but as November ended and December started to wind down, I started spending more and more time getting this list together. As I was doing that, I found myself coming back to Rave Tapes over and over again. Sure, I liked it a lot earlier in the year. I “love” it now.
You may recall that last year, I sort of bent my own rule by allowing something that wasn’t really a “proper album” into my year-end list. Mogwai did the soundtrack for the French teevee show “Les Revenants”, and I loved the music (and the show) so much that I slotted it in at #24 in last year’s year-end list. I only slotted it so low because it wasn’t a proper album. Three or four years ago, I would have hated the fact that they’ve added some electronic bits and even some vocals into their sound, but I’m totally fine with what they’re doing. And I hope they keep doing it.

Click the album artwork above to go to the Sub Pop web shop (North American listeners). Everyone else go to the Mogwai official site.

Also, check out this video of them performing “Remurdered” at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark.

Lightfoils — Hierarchy

2)Lightfoils — Hierarchy This was released in July by Saint Marie Records (this makes seven of their albums in my countdown) and it may be the first real album by this Chicago shoegaze band, but they’ve been around for a while. They formed in 2010, and three of the members were in the now defunct Chicago shoegaze/dream pop band Airiel. Cory Osborne, who plays bass for Lightfoils, used to be in Airiel, and is also currently in the Chicago shoegaze band Panda Riot. Panda Riot, by the way, made my thirteenth favorite album of 2013 with Northern Automatic Music.

In September, I was lucky enough to have the chance to see Lightfoils play a very small and very free show in Charlotte, which is only about a 90 minute drive for me. I also used the occasion to catch up with an old friend, and to visit one of my favorite breweries, and pick up a few packs of my favorite beer, which is very hard to get my hands on around here. So it was a very, very good visit to Charlotte. The show was very good, and apparently, the guys from Ringo Deathstarr encouraged them to book a show at that venue. I hated the venue but loved the show. Afterwards, I took some time to hang out with the guys, and they were some of the nicest people I’ve met. You never know what you’re going to get in that type situation (band on the road, poorly attended show, hundreds of miles to drive to the next show the following night, etc), but it was great hanging out with them. The album was already secured in my top five, so the fact that they were awesome to hang out with didn’t really have anything to do with it, but if they had been dicks (read: Mark Kozelek), I certainly would have ranked the album lower.

In late October, the band announced that singer Jane Zabeth was leaving the band. Her angelic voice is a big part of what makes the band so appealing, and I don’t know what’s next for the band, but I really hope that they find a way to continue on with a different singer.

Click on the album artwork above to go back to the Saint Marie web store, where you should already have a bunch of stuff in your cart. This one isn’t available on vinyl, but get a copy of the CD. Also, enjoy this blistering song. Play it really loud.

The Casket Girls — True Love Kills The Fairy Tale

1)The Casket Girls — True Love Kills The Fairy Tale This is the sophomore album from the indie pop/dark pop/synth pop band from Savannah, Georgia. The band is made up of sisters Elsa and Phaedra Green along with multi-instrumentalist Ryan Graveface, who is the founder of Graveface Records and a member of several bands. He discovered the girls one day “playing autoharp and singing weird songs under a tree”. He asked them to form a band with him, and here we are. The name “Casket Girls” is a reference to the types of poor French girls who were put on boats in the first decade of the 18th century and shipped to French colonial settlements in America — the areas that are now Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi; and New Orleans– for the purposes of marriage. They were, in essence, mail-order brides. They arrived in this country with a small suitcase — a casquette— containing everything that they owned.
I was late to the Casket Girls boat, and I didn’t know about their fantastic 2012 album Sleepwalking until sometime in 2013, but that album certainly would have been in the top ten had I known about it. There are some bizarre stories about how the new record was made, and even if they were on a bunch of acid or in the middle of conducting a séance or just plain “weird”, they made a fantastic record. Every time I listen to this album, I repeat it at least once. And I listen to this album really frequently. Although there’s a lot of dingy, dirty, fuzzy, shoegazey aspects, there’s also a bunch of really rhythmic, dance-y stuff. It fits together nicely.
Although I’ve had a few opportunities, I’ve never seen Casket Girls live. From what I’ve read, it’s a good thing: apparently, they sound much better on their records than they do live. Based on the videos that I’ve seen, I understand why people would say that they’re disappointing as a live act. My experience, though, is purely with the studio albums and a Daytrotter session from this year that’s sort of indicative of the way they are live.
This list isn’t about live performance, though. This is about albums. Between what the girls did in the studio and what Graveface did in the production room, True Love is a really phenomenal record regardless of what they sound like live.
This record is, I think, better than their first, and I hope they continue to put out great records. I also hope they find a way to be better as a live act.

Click on the album artwork above to go to the Graveface Records web store, where you’ll have to scroll down a bit.
Also, enjoy this standout song:

That’s it. Later on, I’ll put it all together in a compiled list. I might, at some point, highlight some really good EPs from this year, or some really good concert experiences from this year, or some of the albums that didn’t quite make the cut, or some of the albums that disappointed me.

Our Favorite Albums of 2014 from 10 to 6

This week, I’ve been listing my 41 favorite new release albums of 2014, and we’re nearly to the end of that list.

Here’s how it’s gone down so far:
Counting down from 41 to 31
From 30 to 21
From 20 to 11

Today, we’ll count down from 10 to 6, and I’ll complete the countdown tomorrow

Weeknight — Post-Everything

10) Weeknight —Post-Everything This is the astonishing debut record by the Brooklyn shoegazey synth-pop duo. Andy Simmons and Holly MacGibbon met a few years ago while they were both doing theatre. He was an actor and she a dancer. They realized that they had a lot in common, and at some point, they decided to form a band. Originally, they were in some massive seven-piece thing that neither of them liked very much, and soon after, they decided that it was much better if it was just the two of them. I don’t know the exact timeline of events, but they also became a couple at some point. That’s not really important, but what is important is that they’ve made a very good synth-laden “dark pop” album with lots of shoegaze flavor. And it’s one of the sexiest records I’ve heard in a while. I mean, it’s oozing with and radiating sexy sex. Imagine some mixture of The XX and one of my favorites from last year, Houses. It’s their coed harmonies, the pulsing rhythm, the perfect mix of light and dark textures. It’s a really special record that ought to be enjoyed from front to back, and then back to the front. The album was released in March via Artificial Records, which is a tiny sublabel of the Toronto-based boutique label Hand Drawn Dracula. Click on the album artwork above to go to the Hand Drawn web store, where you’ll have to scroll down just a bit.
Also, enjoy this video for “Dark Night”

Strata Florida — Made of Stars

9) Strata Florida —Made of Stars This is, by far, my sentimental favorite album of the year. It seems like every year, my year-end list prominently features an album that was eagerly anticipated for ten or more years. This is sort of that way. I wouldn’t say that I was “anticipating” this album for 20 years, but I’ve been “hoping for” this album, and it sort of fell from the sky. Strata Florida is the new dream-pop/shoegaze project from Louise Trehy, who is now based in Wales. Back in the early 90s, she was half of the fantastic, but short-lived band Swallow. Their only album —Blow— was one of my top five favorite albums of 1992, and I still listen to it a bunch. The band was also a romantic partnership, and when that aspect of it went south, the band dissolved. They were on 4AD right around the time that things started to get weird over there, and that may have also had something to do with the band breaking up. After that, Trehy dropped out of music altogether. Without a trace. I would often wonder what ever happened to her, and I finally got the answer back in March of 2013. I got an unbidden email from Trehy thanking me for the words I wrote about Swallow and to tell me that after a long hiatus, she was making her way back into the business of making music. It was a pleasant surprise, and it got me very excited about the prospect of a new album. I was even more excited when I found out weeks later that she had been signed to Saint Marie Records. They’ve been, for the last two years, my favorite label. If you’re keeping score at home, this is the sixth SMR album in the countdown, and there’s still one more to come later.

Strata Florida, by the way, is an English corruption of the Welsh name of an abbey. It’s called Ystrad Fflur, which translates to “Valley of Flowers”. Fflur is also the name of a river that runs through there. Trehy has been living in Wales for a while after moving from London, and she’s been embracing the Welsh culture.

During the post-hiatus creative process, Trehy had to learn to use gear that she never had to use before, guitar tunings that she never had to deal with before, and most importantly, she had to find the right person to work with. After some trial and error, she found Pete Pavli, who is a classically trained cello player, and a former occasional member of Hawkwind. They worked together nicely, and in March of this year, they finally released the debut Strata Florida album via Saint Marie. Click on the album artwork above to go to the SMR web store. Also, enjoy this song:

Mono — The Last Dawn

8) MONO —The Last Dawn The legendary Tokyo instrumental post-rock icons simultaneously released their “twin” albums (their seventh and eighth studio albums) this autumn. They’re very different from each other. Rays of Darkness is heavy and dark, for the most part. It also features some guest vocals on one of the four tracks. Not regular vocals though. It’s some guy from a black metal band, so he does that black metal “cookie monster” thing. It’s so off-putting to me, that it dropped that album many many spots on my list. This album is what you expect from Mono. It’s lush, sweeping, cinematic stuff. It gets really enormously big in some parts and quiet as a mouse’s wristwatch in other bits. The only thing that’s different about this new Mono album (both of them) is that they didn’t bring in an orchestra of stringed instruments. I thought that I would miss that stuff, but I don’t.
You might remember that their 2012 album For My Parents was my overall favorite album of 2012, thanks in no small part to the fact that they absolutely blew my mind when I saw them live. When the announcement came that Mono would have two new albums this year, I automatically assumed that both would end up in my top ten, but Rays of Darkness was weighed down by that cookie monster stuff. Seriously. If not for that, Rays of Darkness would also be here in my top ten.
Click on the album artwork above to go to the Temporary Residence web store. Also, enjoy this song:

Allo Darlin’ — We Come From the Same Place

7) Allo Darlin’ —We Come From The Same Place This is the third album from the Aussie/English indie-pop/twee/c-86 revival band, and I think it’s their best work yet. They broke through in 2012 with their sophomore album Europe, which ended up being my eleventh favorite album of that year. I’ve always said that this band makes me think of The Lucksmiths. There’s so much clever writing and crafty insertion of jangly guitars and prudent use of ukulele to make songs about broken hearts sound like happy songs. There’s a lot of great one-liners in these clever lyrics, and there’s as many memorable guitar hooks and back-and-forth coed vocal parts. I significant portion of my collection and a significant portion of this list is heavy, broody stuff, and this definitely isn’t that. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood if you’re listening to this album. And you should listen to it a lot.

For North American listeners, click on the album artwork above to go to the Slumberland Records web shop. Also, enjoy this video of the band playing the title track for KEXP:

Jessica Lea Mayfield — Make My Head Sing…

6) Jessica Lea Mayfield —Made My Head Sing This is the third album by the folk/indie-rock/country singer from Kent, Ohio. She grew up singing in a family band, was homeschooled, and learned to play guitar from her older brother David When he realized how good she was, he got a demo tape into the hands of Black Keys guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach, who made some things happen for her. After about two years in Auerbach’s studio, she ended up releasing her debut solo record when she was just 19 years old. Her second record –2011’s country-flavoured Tell Me was my twelfth favorite non-Canadian album of 2011, and it probably should have finished higher on that list. Her new record this year, which was released in February via ATO Records, is quite different. It’s much harder to hear any country influence or taste any of that flavor. This is a rock record that’s clearly inspired by 90s grunge rock. In April, I wrote about the song “I Wanna Love You”, and I had this to say about the album:

This new album goes in a completely different and wonderful direction. There are elements of punk, sludge-rock, 1990s-style grunge, and lots more. She didn’t abandon the folk sound altogether; it’s still there, but it’s buried deep in the genetic makeup of this album. This record is broad and bold and has big, sharp teeth. Big, sharp, cuddly teeth. Less jangle, more fuzz.

I’ve spent a ton of time with this album, and it never ceases to amaze me. She’s still only 25 years old and she should have a tremendous career with nothing but blue skies ahead of her.

Click on the album artwork above to go to the web store. Also, enjoy this video for “No Fun”

That’s it for today. We’re down to the final five, which I’ll post some time Saturday afternoon.

Remember to buy all of these records. Buy them in physical format. Support record labels. support local shops.

Our Favorite Albums of 2014 from 20 to 11

We’re still counting down my favorite albums of 2014. I decided to list 41 albums this year. Not for any particular reason. I started the countdown the other day with numbers 41 counting down to 31, and continued with 30 down to 21. Today, we continue the countdown.

September Girls — Cursing the Sea

20) September Girls — Cursing the Sea This fuzzy noise-pop/post-punk five piece from Dublin formed in 2011 and after a bunch of impressive singles, they released their debut album in January via Fortuna Pop. It turned a lot of heads, but somehow, I was really late to the boat on this one. I didn’t even know about this album until Kanine Records announced that they had signed the band to a deal and that Kanine would release a new September Girls EP in late November. The band is named after the Big Star song of the same name (but different spelling), but they owe their sound more to The Jesus & Mary Chain. Click on the album artwork to go to the Fortuna Pop web store. Also enjoy this song:

Whirr — Sway

19) Whirr — Sway This is the second album by the San Francisco shoegaze band, and the first since vocalist Kristina Esfandiari left the band to start side projects Miserable and King Woman. The small, Savannah-based Graveface Records only released a few full-length albums this year, but they’re all VERY good. This album was released in late September, but it’s gotten a ton of play around here. It’s loud and fuzzy and crazily rhythmic. It’s got all the floaty, dreamy beauty of Slowdive and all the blood-from-the-ears of A Place to Bury Strangers. Click the album artwork above to go to the Graveface Records web store, where you’ll have to scroll down just a bit to get to Sway. Also, enjoy this song.

The New Pornographers — Brill Bruisers

18) The New Pornographers — Brill Bruisers This is the sixth long player by the iconic Vancouver-based indie rock band. These guys always make good albums, but this is probably my favorite since 2003’s Electric Version. Just a few weeks ago, I got to see them live for only the second time, and I was really excited that it was in a rock club as opposed to a seated venue or a theater. It was the last night of the tour, and if they were exhausted, they sure didn’t show it. It was a great, enthusiastic show with lots of older stuff mixed in with the new.
Click on the album artwork above to go to the Matador Records web store. And because New Pornographers videos are always lots of fun, enjoy this one:

Sylvan Esso — Sylvan Esso

17) Sylvan Esso — Sylvan Esso Sylvan Esso is an electro-pop duo from Durham. They are Amelia Meath (who is one-third of the Vermont indie-folk vocal trio Mountain Man) and Nick Sanborn (who used to be in the Milwaukee indie band Decibully and the Durham psychedelic folk band Megafaun). They never really meant to make an album, but this one is ending up on a lot of year-end top ten lists. This has gotten tons of plays at my house, and while this kind of album isn’t the kind of thing I normally listen to, I can’t stay away from this one. Some of the album is too laptoppy for my taste, but I don’t think there’s much better than the brilliant chorus in “Uncatena”

All I want from you is a letter
And to be your distant lover
That is all that I can offer at this time

I could listen to that all day long. Click on the album artwork above to go to the Partisan Records web store. Also, enjoy this video of them performing the aforementioned song for KEXP.

Jess Williamson — Native State

16) Jess Williamson — Native State This is the debut record from the Austin, Texas folk songstress. She got an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, then moved New York City to pursue a MFA degree in photography. After a while, though, she remembered that music is what she loves best. She returned to Austin and got to work on her album, which was released in January via her own Brutal Honest label. At just seven songs and 28 minutes, some people would argue that this isn’t a proper album. She’s calling it an album, and it’s a fantastic one. I’m not gonna argue. Click on the album artwork above to go to the bandcamp page where you can download the album, or click here to go to her web store, where you can buy it on limited edition Texas state flag vinyl. Here’s the title track:

Lowtide — Lowtide

15) Lowtide — Lowtide This melodic shoegaze/dream pop band from Melbourne has been playing together since 2010. They put out an EP in 2010, a critically acclaimed 7″ single in 2011. The press and their fans have been eagerly anticipating their debut long player, which finally came out in July via the tiny Aussie label Lost and Lonesome.
Click on the album artwork above to go to the L&L web store. Also, enjoy this song:

Grouper — Ruins

14) Grouper — Ruins Ruins is the tenth studio album by Portland, Oregon ambient pop musician Liz Harris. She goes by the stage name Grouper, and normally, her records are full of guitars, tape loops, and her voice. To say that her music is “dreamy” would be an understatement: she once made an album that was specifically designed to make people drift in and out of sleep while listening, and she once played a show that was seven hours of tape loops during which the audience was actually encouraged to go to sleep. This new album is quite different. It’s just upright piano and vocals. It’s really stripped down, and it was recorded on a four-track. There’s a lot of “incidental” and very “rural” noises captured in the recording: the low rumble of distant thunder, rain on a tin roof, frogs croaking. They definitely add some texture to an already beautiful album. Nothing fancy at all, but it’s really fantastic. Breathtaking, even. Although the album was recorded three years ago in Portugal, it was released on Halloween of this year via Kranky. I had an opportunity to see Grouper at the 2013 Hopscotch Music Festival, but I skipped her set. I won’t pass up the next opportunity I have to see her. Click on the album artwork above to go to the Kranky web store. Also, enjoy this song:

Snowbird — Moon

13) Snowbird —Moon Snowbird is an ambient dream-pop duo from London. One half of the band is former Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde. The other half is vocalist Stephanie Dosen. She grew up on a peacock farm in Wisconsin and taught herself to play guitar at a young age. Apparently, she used to perform some of her early songs for a fox and a swan who lived on her family’s farm. Many years later, Simon Raymonde discovered her, and he helped her put out a record on his Bella Union label. Moon is the first album they made together as Snowbird, and it was released in January via Bella Union. Both the physical and the digital copies of the album featured a bonus disc of remixes. The proper album is amazing, and some of the remixes are as good or better than the original.
Because this is Simon Raymonde and a singer who he has more or less molded, this album sounds a lot like late-era Cocteau Twins. Yes. Although she sings in plain English, Dosen’s style is similar to the way Liz Fraser was sounding on those last two Cocteaus records. Apparently, this album was made with Raymonde in London and Dosen was stuck in North Carolina working out some visa issues.

Click on the album artwork above to go to the Bella Union web shop. Also enjoy this song:

Just for fun, here’s an official video for the “RX Gibbs” remix of the same song. It’s on that bonus disc.

Eternal Summers — The Drop Beneath

12) Eternal Summers — The Drop Beneath This is the third album from the Roanoke, Virginia dream-punk/indie pop band, and the first since expanding from a duo to a trio. Although they had already put out two albums, I didn’t catch wind of Eternal Summers until a couple of weeks before they released The Drop Beneath in March via Kanine Records. This is one of those bands who I fell in love with after literally three seconds of listening to one of their songs. I was excited about an opportunity to see them live back in the spring, but I missed that show. I was excited that they were a last-minute addition to the 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival lineup. I had two chances to see them that weekend, but my schedule only permitted me to see them once. It was during the day party stuff, and it was in the Contemporary Art Museum with its very high ceilings, lots of steel and glass. The acoustics are bad for live music, and the room is too big. Despite these obstacles, Eternal Summers played a great set, and they were a highlight of the festival for me.
Click on the album artwork above to go back to the Kanine Records web shop, where you should already have things in your cart. Also, because this video is incredible:

Roku Music — Collider

11) Roku Music — Collider
This is the astonishing debut record by the Brisbane shoegazers. They formed in 2012, but now they’re a four-piece. They’re heavily influenced obviously by My Bloody Valentine, and while a lot of times that ends up being a lazy reference point, these guys have made a record that actually does remind me of My Bloody Valentine. Their album was released this spring via the Aussie label Sonic Masala. There’s a lot of fantastic shoegazey stuff coming from “the seventh continent” these days, and Roku Music is among the finest of that lot. This is another album that took me about four seconds to fall totally in love with even though I had never heard of the band before. I only caught wind of them in the first week of November. I immediately bought the album, and it’s been in really heavy rotation since then. Physical copies of Collider have been sold out for some time now, so click on the album artwork above to get to the Sonic Masala bandcamp page, where you can buy a digital download. As with a lot of albums on my year-end list, I recommend that you play this album really loud.

Because I’m sort of in video mode now, here’s a great video for the album-closing “You”

We’re now down to the final ten. I’ll probably break the final ten albums in half, and share numbers 10 thru 6 sometime Friday afternoon (my time) and the final five sometime Saturday afternoon. At some point, I might also share a list of albums that didn’t quite make the list, and maybe another list of albums that disappointed me. Maybe another list of EPs. I’ve always promise those things in years past, but I’ve never produced such auxiliary lists. Don’t hold your breath.

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