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11.22.13 — “Middle” by Cumulus

Cumulus

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Middle” by Cumulus(2013, from the album I Never Meant It To Be Like This).

Cumulus is an indie-pop trio from Seattle. They may be a new band and they may be young, but their influences are set in the early-to-mid 1990s. In their bio, they name a laundry list of old skool This is That Song favorites like Heavenly, Beat Happening, Velocity Girl, Yo La Tengo, Tiger Trap, and My Bloody Valentine. Just to name a few. Any band who names all of those as influences is good enough in my book.

I wouldn’t really say that the influence of any of those bands stands out, but it’s really nice to know that they’re into all of those bands.

I’ve received a couple of emails about Cumulus, and I have no idea why I haven’t already written about them. When I got another one today about the debut of the video, it finally became time.

Actually, the beginning of tonight’s song has moments where it reminds me of Galaxie 500. I’ll eat my hat if Cumulus is not also inspired by Galaxie 500. Later in the song, it has some Yo La Tengo moments. The highlight of this song, and the highlight of the band, though, is the wonderfully syrupy vocals of Alexandra Niedzialkowski. Not the crummy overly sweet store-bought sugar-water maple syrup, and not that super-fancy Grade A stuff, either. The pure Grade B stuff. Rich, complex, and slightly gritty, but still very sweet.

Anyway, here’s the song:
“Middle” by Cumulus

By the end of the song, there’s a completely different intensity level, and I love it.

For some really weird extra credit, check out the very strange video for the song. The song debuted a couple of months ago. The video debuted today.

This album, which has been a very late addition to my 2013 library, will have a good chance of ending up in the year-end top 26.
The album, by the way, was handled by some pretty serious players in the Seattle indie music scene. They recorded the album at Phil Elvurum’s (Mt. Eerie) studio. While the band was literally moments away from placing the order for their album to be self-released, they were approached by Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie), and he ended up releasing the album on his Trans- Records.

You can buy the album from the Cumulus bandcamp page, or from your favorite legal downloading place.


09.22.13 — “Are You With Me Now” by Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Are You With Me Now” by Cate Le Bon (2013, from the forthcoming album Mug Museum).

Cate Le Bon is a folk singer/songwriter from Penboyr, Wales. Since 2009, she’s released two albums, and has another — Mug Museum— set for release on November 12.

I have her 2012 album CYRK, which I’ve listened to a number of times, but I’ve never heard her first record, and I really know nothing about her other than that she sings in English and in Welsh.

I got something in the mailbag the other day announcing this single, the forthcoming album, and a brief West Coast USA tour. On some of those dates, she’ll be playing with the magnificent Basia Bulat.

I have no time to spare tonight, so I’ll offer the song with no commentary.

“Are You With Me Now” by Cate Le Bon

Okay. One tiny bit of commentary. Something about the rhythm of it reminds me of “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight” by Richard and Linda Thompson.

You can pre-order a digital copy of Mug Museum from the iTunes store.


09.04.13 — “Campfire” by Satellite Stories

Satellite Stories

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Campfire” by Satellite Stories (2013, from the forthcoming album Pine Trails).

Satellite Stories is an indie pop band from Oulu, Finland. They formed in 2008. Last year, they released their debut album Phrases to Break the Ice, and their sophomore album Pine Trails will be released on November 1 via the German indie label XYZ Berlin. Satellite Stories is the only band on the label.

Before I opened the mailbag today, I had not heard of Satellite Stories. You might not have either. But like me, you might already recognize their city of 198,000 people. Oulu is known for a few things. It’s one of the northernmost populated cities in the world. It’s the hometown of a number of NHL players, and the one most notable to me is Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkänen. Pitkänen is a monster on defense, gobbling up minutes and usually being a very steady, reliable defensive defenseman. When he’s on his game, he’s one of the best in the league. He has an unfortunate tendency to go through shifts or games or weeks where he isn’t playing his game. When he gets into one of those ruts, he’s one of the worst defensemen in the game. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. At the end of the 2013 NHL season, Pitkänen suffered a brutal injury when he lost an edge attempting to chase down an iced puck. He fell, going feet first into the end boards. He shattered his left heel, and was projected to need 10-12 weeks of recovery time. I was at that game, and it was brutal to watch. It was brutal to watch the medical staff tend to him while the game was delayed for several minutes. 22 weeks later, he looks like he’s still a long way away from recovering. The Hurricanes got news yesterday that Pitkänen can’t even walk on the heel, let alone skate. They’re starting preparations for having to do without their star defenseman. He’ll have an MRI on Thursday, and they’ll have a better idea about if or when he’ll be back on his skates. Once that happens, and once he gets over the physical healing, there’s going to be some psychological healing to do as well. He’ll probably be quite timid for a while and might never be back to full strength.

Sorry about the hockey digression. I have to do that once in a while.

Another thing that Oulu is well-known for is that it is the host of the annual Air Guitar World Championships. You might think this is silly, and when the contest was founded in 1996, it was meant to be a joke. It was meant to be nothing more than a humorous sideshow at the Oulu Music Video Festival. Over the years, as the contestants have taken it more and more seriously, it’s become a real thing. A serious thing.
If you think that this is nothing more than a joke, watch the documentary Air Guitar Nation, which follows the path of David Jung, from winning regional championships in the US to becoming the first American to win the World Championship in 2003.

Okay. Back to the real task at hand. This great new song by Satellite Stories:

“Campfire” by Satellite Stories

It starts off very quietly and slowly. It’s very gentle. Then at 0:37, the bright lights flash and the noise comes in. I love the high energy in the choruses. In some ways, those choruses remind me of Metric. I used to dislike Metric because I thought they were just too poppy for me. I learned to love those warm, bright bursts in the chorus. And that’s what this reminds me of.

The “Campfire” single will be released on October 18, and Pine Trails on November 1.


09.03.13 — “Sold” by Aisha Burns

Aisha Burns

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Sold” by Aisha Burns (2013, from the forthcoming album Life in the Midwater).

Aisha Burns is an indie-folk musician from Austin, Texas. She started playing violin at the age of ten, and for the last six years, she’s been playing violin and electric guitar in the Rachels-esque mostly instrumental chamber-folk band Balmorhea. Vocals in Balmorhea songs are few and far between, and Burns usually provides them. Apart from that, she’s been “secret singing” for some time, which started her in the direction of this solo project. She doesn’t do much guitar stuff in Balmorhea, but most of the songs on her solo record are written for guitar. It’s a big change for her, and one which should be met with critical acclaim.

Until this morning, I had only heard “of” Balmorhea, but I’d never listened to them. It’s a shame, because they’re great. Since this morning, I’ve downloaded one of their albums and I’ll be getting another soon. That’s stuff for a different day.

I got an email this morning promoting a new song by Aisha Burns –“Requiem”– which is being premiered over at American Songwriter. I strongly suggest going over there to listen to the song. It’s amazing. Again, here’s the link. I really, really love “Requiem” in part because it reminds me of the magnificent Sharon Van Etten. To be really specific, “Requiem” has a violin drone running through it, and that’s one of the reasons that it makes me think specifically of the SVE song “Joke Or a Lie”. As much as I adore “Requiem” (which I’ve listened to about 12 times today), and as much as I urge you to visit ASW and listen to it a bunch of times, I’ve got something else for you.

“Sold” by Aisha Burns

Burns’ guitar playing style is different from that of Van Etten, and this song is at a slower tempo, but I’ll still say that as a whole package, her songs remind me of SVE.

There’s something, in a much less specific way, that makes me think of the song “Somewhere in My Heart” by the ridiculously talented Jessica Lea Mayfield.

So what I’m saying is that Aisha Burns is in some pretty good company. If the rest of the album is as good as the two songs that I’ve heard, it’ll be a very good album.

The album, by the way, comes out on September 17. You can pre-order a copy in the format of your choice from the Western Vinyl web store here.


08.12.13 — “Loomer” as covered by Kenny Feinstein

Kenny Feinstein

I got something very interesting in the mailbag today. A guy named Kenny Feinstein, who is the frontman of a Portland, Oregon bluegrass band called Water Tower, is about to release a tribute to the groundbreaking 1991 My Bloody Valentine record Loveless. A lot of people have covered the songs of My Bloody Valentine in their own particular idiom. He’s chosen to be a little more ambitious. He’s doing their entire masterpiece album. In the style of bluegrass. And it’s good. And it’s not meant to be a novelty, like Hayseed Dixie was with their bluegrass send-ups of AC/DC songs. It’s from the heart. Honest, and respectful.

So if you only listen to one cover song today, make it “Loomer” as covered by Kenny Feinstein (2013, from the forthcoming album Loveless: Hurts to Love). The original, of course, comes from the legendary 1991 album Loveless.

The press release that I got included the story of how Feinstein fell in love with Loveless. Here’s part of that story:

“I forced myself to listen to Loveless over and over because I did not understand it. I was confused by the sounds coming from it,” says Feinstein of his initial reaction to the album. “Finally, when listening to ‘Loomer’ while driving around a mall in Fort Lauderdale I had an epiphany during the chorus. I could not tell if the sound was being made by a human, a synth, a guitar, a bass or anything, but I did not care, all I could gather was that it was the most blissful sound I had ever heard.”

“The mystery was intriguing and painful. That started the year of Loveless for me. I listened to it every day for a year, sometimes a few times a day, sometimes all day. I had a feeling of not being able to get close enough to the album. This hurt me. I tried to get closer and closer, and play it louder and louder, but I could never get as close as I wanted to. So I decided to learn each song as accurately as possible.”

The original album was recorded with a legendarily massive budget over a period of two years. In addition to the regular rock band instruments, and the tons of effects pedals, there was a lot of work done in the studio with the manipulation of the sounds and manipulation of the tapes. By all accounts, Loveless crippled Creation Records to the point of bankruptcy. This tribute record was made with acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, and dulcimer. Feinstein did most of the playing himself, and brought some friends and a producer in to tidy it up a bit. The sound is, of course, a stark contrast to the original, but it’s a fresh, unique interpretation of a classic album. Tonight’s song exemplifies that.

“Loomer” as covered by Kenny Feinstein

First of all, it’s amazing to be able to hear the lyrics clearly. I’ve never understood them before, and didn’t really feel like I needed to understand them, but it’s pretty sweet to hear them.
There’s something about Feinstein’s voice that I can’t quite place a finger on. It reminds me of something. Neil Young circa “Heart of Gold”? I’m not sure, but I like it.

I really like the other voice in the chorus, but I have no idea whose it is.

Richard Buckner lent his voice and his ukulele to the project, but I don’t know if he plays on “Loomer”

Loveless : Hurts to Love will be released on September 17 via the Portland label Fluff and Gravy Records. You can pre-order your copy here

As extra credit, here’s a video of Feinstein’s cover of “What You Want”, another song from the Loveless… project. Richard Buckner is definitely on this song:


08.06.13 — “Cold Blood” by Jesse Woods

Jesse Woods

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Cold Blood” by Jesse Woods (2013, from the album Get Your Burdens Lifted).
Jesse Woods is an indie-folk singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas. A lot is made of the fact that he used to be an American football player. He grew up in Katy, Texas and was a star wide receiver on the Taylor High School football team. That’s the same high school where Janeane Garofalo went many years before Woods. Remember when Janeane Garofalo was relevant?

Woods was apparently a big deal at his high school. Good enough to earn a scholarship to Texas A&M. A bunch of injuries and surgeries limited his play. So much that he only appeared in three games during his entire college football career. They all came during his junior season in 2004. He caught just five balls for a total of 62 yards. It was one in a long line of mediocre Aggies teams. After that season, he re-evaluated his options, and decided that after five surgeries in four years, it was time to give up on football. Up until then, he never meant for music to become his first focus. Since then, he’s spent all those years and a couple of self-released EPs working towards today. Today marks the release of Jesse Woods’ debut album Get Your Burdens Lifted via Guns in the Sun Records.

I got something in the mail bag a couple of weeks ago about Jesse Woods. And then again yesterday to remind me that the album was coming out. And then again today, as I had already started writing this, I got TWO more reminders. Who says music industry PR is dead?

Today’s song is, I think, one of the strongest songs on a record full of strong songs.

“Cold Blood” by Jesse Woods

It’s got a bit of fuzz, a bit of twang, a bit of dark, a bit of bright. Woods’ honey-drenched voice, especially on this song, reminded me of something, but it took me a while to figure it out. I’m reminded of that first Sondre Lerche record, 2001’s Faces Down. I liked that record a lot. I mean A LOT, but for some reason, I never got any of Lerche’s five subsequent proper albums.

I really like these lyrics:

You’re just what I want
Maybe not just what I need
That’s okay with me
If that’s okay with you
We’ve got places to be
But nothing to prove
Somebody shoot me while I’m happy
Feed me to the sharks while I’m ahead

I like that sentiment. The idea of being happy about life or love or whatever but realizing that it’s an acme. Nobody wants to experience the downward trajectory. People say it all the time. “Now that I’ve done _____, I could die happy right now”. The implication here is “with you”. The phrase “Somebody shoot me while I’m happy” rung a bell with me, but I couldn’t remember exactly where I remembered it from. Although I probably remember seeing it in Kurt Vonnegut’s final novel Timequake, the origin of the phrase is much older than that. It’s apparently an old vaudevillian expression.

After listening to the whole album a couple of times, I can’t find a weak song on the album. I can, without hesitation, recommend it. As I said, this is one of the stronger songs.

You can buy Get Your Burdens Lifted today in your choice of formats from the Guns in the Sun web store.


07.31.13 — “Hold Onto Yr Soul” by Elephant Stone

Elephant Stone

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Hold Onto Yr Soul” by Elephant Stone (2013, from the album Elephant Stone).

Elephant Stone is a psychedelic/power-pop/”hindie pop” quartet from Montréal. They were formed in 2009 by sitar/bass player Rishi Dhir. He had previously been in the Montréal indie rock band High Dials. He also was a highly sought-after sitar player, who has worked with the likes of Beck, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Besnard Lakes, and The Dears.

After making a bunch of records with High Dials, Dhir decided that he wanted to get away from rock music and focus more on playing sitar. He also wanted to get more into Hinduism than he was. So he did that for a while, but he found that his sitar playing was still influenced by his passion for ’60s/early ’70s rock music. Elephant Stone was meant to be a solo project centered around the sitar, but it became a full band of mostly western instruments.

As far as I know, the band name Elephant Stone is a reference to the Stone Roses song of the same name. My limited research tells me that Dhir counts Stone Roses among his influences, so it makes perfect sense.

I had never heard of Elephant Stone until I got something in the mailbag today about a different song and video by them. Today, Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco debuted the Elephant Stone video “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin”.

As brilliant as that is, I still want to focus on a different song.

“Hold Onto Yr Soul” by Elephant Stone

I love the Badfinger feel to this song. There’s also, at least to me, a bit of a Matthew Sweet vibe. And a bit of Elliot Smith. That’s all very good.

This is pretty far from what Dhir set out to do, but it’s a damn fine record, as demonstrated by the “Love the Sinner” video and the “Hold Onto Yr Soul” song.

You can buy Elephant Stone from the Elephant Stone web store here.


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