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03.20.13 — “Au naturel” by Louise Trehy

Louise Trehy (in 1992)

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Au naturel” by Louise Trehy.

Louise Trehy is an indie/dream-pop/shoegaze musician from London. If you’re an astute and loyal reader, you may recognize her name, even though she’s been out of the business for nearly 20 years. She was once one-half of the magnificent dream-pop outfit Swallow, who only released one album. That album — Blow — was one of my favorite albums not only of 1992, but of that decade. It still remains in regular rotation at my house. With quite obvious glove taps to the likes of Cocteau Twins and His Name is Alive, 4AD Records was the perfect home for them, and my record collection was and still is a perfect home for them.

The band released that one album, followed by one of the famous “temporary releases” that 4AD Records loved to do. They released lots of “temporary releases” for other bands, and they were all limited release, and they were all hard to get. In some cases, they were only available while the band was on tour. In some cases, they were only available with the first 1500 copies of the CD. In some cases, they were mail-order only. The Swallow “temporary release”, called Blowback was just a bunch of remixes of the album songs. It was mail-order only, and is obviously out of print, but it’s now available as an mp3 download.

Swallow, if I have the story right, had a falling out with 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russell, and they moved over to Rough Trade Records sometime in 1993. It was a bad time for that once bustling record label, as they were in the middle of bankruptcy. Eventually, Rough Trade was completely dissolved and all its assets liquidated. So Swallow was a promising band without a label. By then, the romantic relationship between vocalist Louise Trehy and multi-instrumentalist Mike Mason had soured, and they just decided to pull the plug on Swallow. Mike Mason went on to become a music video director and is still making music. Louise Trehy moved on with her life doing something else. I always figured that she’d end up in some other band or go solo, but she got out of the business entirely. And she stayed out for nearly 20 years.

I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I got a note from her in the mailbag announcing that she’s back in business.

She recently went through a tough breakup, and started writing songs as a way of getting through it. She claims musical illiteracy, and she did what a lot of the young kids are doing these days — she got a guitar and a four-track machine and just started plugging away. She taught herself what she could, and tried working with other guitarists, but she had a hard time finding someone with compatible vision. Luckily, she discovered a viola player who also plays guitar just the way Trehy likes it.

For now, Louise Trehy is just writing songs in her bedroom set-up and producing the songs DIY-style. There’s really no timetable for anything, but she’s hoping to have enough stuff for an album, and to do it in a proper recording studio. As of now, she’s got three songs posted to her soundcloud page, and they’re all very good. They’re very different from Swallow, and they’re very good.

“Au naturel” by Louise Trehy

I love how fuzzy this is. All of the new songs are. I really love the second guitar when it comes in at 0:19. Trehy’s vocals are buried a bit in the mix, but that’s okay for what’s going on here. In Swallow, the ethereal vibe depended upon her angelic vocals being more in the front of the mix. This isn’t that, though. This is grittier and darker, and it’s fitting for the vocals to be less airy.

I really hate to make comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, but if I didn’t know any better and you told me that this was a rough version of one of Bilinda’s songs that didn’t make the final cut on m b v, I might actually believe you. And you all know how much I love the new album.

For now, it’s just the three songs on soundcloud, but that page should be updating, and with luck, she’ll have a record to release sometime in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, enjoy those songs and go buy a copy of the Swallow album Blow.

03.18.13 — “Hangman” by The Flight

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Hangman” by The Flight (2013, from the Hangman EP).

The Flight is a recording project of the production duo of Joe Henson and Alexis Smith, who are from East London. In their day job of being music producers, they’ve worked with a long list of musicians including Lana Del Rey and Rufus Wainwright.

That’s the extent of what I know about them. I don’t even have a picture.

This arrived in the mail bag the other day, and I spent a long time trying to figure out how to write this. I still don’t know how, but I really wanted to share this song.

Hangman is the band’s first release, and it just came out last Monday. The EP is centered around the traditional folk song “Pretty Polly”, which is a song that I’m pretty familiar with. It has origins in the Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern United States. It also has origins in England and Scotland. It’s a murder ballad about a guy (who is sometimes called Willie) who kills a young girl who is presumably his fiancée and buries her in a shallow grave. There are many different versions of “Pretty Polly”. Some present the story from Polly’s perspective. Some present it from the killer’s perspective. Some from a third-party perspective. Some have a way of alternating perspective within the song. Some versions of the song give elaborate details about how the motive for the killing was that there was an unplanned pre-marital pregnancy. Some give elaborate details about how he killed her. Some give details about how the killer (who is a sailor) feels remorse and is haunted by her ghost for the rest of his days. Some give details about how he confessed to the killing. The point is that there are a lot of different ways to do that song, and no two ways are the same. Most of the time, it’s played on banjo or an acoustic guitar.

The version that I know is one that was done by Kristin Hersh on her Murder, Misery, And Then Goodnight album, which is a whole album of “traditional” murder ballads. Most of the songs on that album are native to the Appalachian mountains, but some have a provenance just like this one. Later on in this post, I’ll include the KH version of “Pretty Polly”.

Anyway, the song “Hangman” is a loose interpretation of the “Pretty Polly” song. The rest of the EP is from the perspective of Willie, from the first time he met her up to his execution. That’s what I’m told, anyway.

Here’s the song:

“Hangman” by The Flight

I really like that trip-hop-esque drum beat. It reminds me a lot of “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. I also like the vocals. Very silky smooth.

I wish that I had more to say about this, but I don’t.

While there are dozens of other versions by some giants of the bluegrass genre like Ralph Stanley, I can only offer the Kristin Hersh version, which is played on an acoustic guitar, and which leaves out most of the gory details:

“Pretty Polly” as interpreted by Kristin Hersh

You can buy a digital copy of Hangman from the amazon store here.

The Kristin Hersh album of murder ballads was one of those “limited release” albums that 4AD released. Only so many were produced, and they were only available in certain circumstances. No matter what it was, those 4AD “limited release” releases were hard to find. Of course Murder… is long out of print, but you can still get a digital copy here.

03.12.13 — “Falling Down” by Blurred City Lights

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Falling Down” by Blurred City Lights (2013, from the Neon Glow EP).

Blurred City Lights is a shoegaze-y/electronic rock band from England. It is, for all practical purposes, a SPC ECO side project. It’s one of many projects of multi-instrumentalist Dean Garcia, who was the brains behind Curve, and is the front of SPC ECO. For this project, he collaborated with Polish multi-instrumentalist/programmer Jarek Leskiewicz, who is an occasional contributor on SPC ECO records. They’re the two official members of the band, but they also get some help from Garcia’s daughter and SPC ECO bandmate Rose Berlin. They also get help from SPC ECO collaborator Perry Pelonero and also from Adriana Leskiewicz. I’m not sure how Jarek and Adriana are related, but I’ll assume that they are.

According to the story I’ve heard, the Blurred City Lights project went from “concept” to having an EP recorded in a matter of something like 10 days.

Tonight’s song is one of the songs where Rose Berlin chipped in with guest vocals. This is that song.

“Falling Down” by Blurred City Lights

This really reminds me of “El Ray” by The Lassie Foundation.

This one arrived in the mailbag today, and I haven’t had enough time to spend very much time with it, but I really like this song. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

The EP was released last week, and you can get your own digital copy from the bandcamp shop here. I highly recommend it.

03.11.13 — “Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel

Catherine Wheel

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel (1992, from the album Ferment).

Catherine Wheel was a shoegaze/indie rock/brit-pop quartet from some small town in the East of England. Between 1990 and 2000, they released five studio albums and a ton of singles. Included among those singles was a very different cover of the Scott Walker song “30 Century Man”. That was included in a remastered version of Ferment, but not on the copy that I have. More on that in a bit.

It’s been a long time since I’ve dipped into the “nostalgia” bag. Lately, I’ve been writing about a lot of 2012 and 2013 releases. Tonight, I’m going way back to 1992. I’ll admit that part of my inspiration for this post is that I ran across another music blog recently where the author posted about a different Catherine Wheel song from a different album. I was reminded of how much I used to love Catherine Wheel, and specifically their first album Ferment. Unfortunately, at some point in the mid-late 1990s, I traded in my Catherine Wheel CDs for store credit towards the purchase of something that I probably don’t even listen to anymore. When I ran across that blog post the other day, I promised to replace at least the first two records. I started with Ferment.

“Black Metallic” was released as a 7″ single in the autumn (I think) of 1991, and later released as an extended 12″ and CD single. It wasn’t the “lead single” from the album, and it wasn’t their highest-charting single, but it’s the one that I remember the most.

If you’re really interested, the “official video” featured the 7″ version of the song. In my opinion, it’s grossly inferior to the 12″ version, and I don’t really like the video, but if you want to, you can watch it here. I’ll offer you something better, though.

First, check out the album/12″ version of the song:
“Black Metallic” by Catherine Wheel

This is just the right proportions of brit-pop, shoegaze, and “alternative rock”. Noisy, super-melodic, and pretty big. And it’s even got the loud/quiet/loud thing working for it. In the 7″/video version, that loud/quiet/loud aspect is seriously minimalized, and I think that it suffers because of it.

My favorite thing about the song is the extended instrumental break starting about 3:12. It’s all loud and fast and chaotic for a bit. There’s a lot of flange on one of the guitars, and at that point it’s pretty unmistakably early-nineties. Anyway, after that burst of chaos, it suddenly slows down and quiets down considerably at about 4:32. Just the tumble of drums, a much more subdued guitar, and the hushed “It’s the color of your skin/Your skin is black metallic” refrain over and over. It seems like that’s the coda right there. However, at about 6:04, the “loud” part resurfaces, and carries on that way for the rest of the song. It’s the bit when those drums come barging in at the end. That’s what I love.

For extra credit, I highly recommend this live performance of the song, when they stopped by the set of MTV’s 120 Minutes.

Everything about it is enhanced. It’s way fuzzier than the album version. It’s way more bass-heavy than the album version. It’s longer and blacker and more metallic. The middle section with the loud/quiet/loud bit is more intense, louder/quieter/louder than the album version. The second guitar is especially nice in that section. As far as MTV studio performances go, this is pretty amazing. I might like it more than I like the album version.

You can get Ferment from the amazon store here.

03.10.13 — “Brother Bryan” by Waxahatchee

Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield)

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Brother Bryan” by Waxahatchee (2013, from the album Cerulean Salt).

Waxahatchee is a recording project for indie folk/rock singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield. She’s based in Brooklyn now, but she’s originally from Birmingham, Alabama, where she used to be in a punk band called P.S. Eliot with her twin sister Allison.

While I was doing some research on another band, I happened upon a couple of mentions of Waxahatchee, and after I listened to and loved one song, I discovered that I’ve gotten some emails about her. Not “mail bag” stuff per se, but there was an email conversation this past week among my Music Geek friends.

In January of 2012, Crutchfield released her debut album American Weekend, which was written and recorded very quickly at her family’s home in Alabama. It was a bare-bones type thing, full of brutal honesty and emotional exposure. Though it flew under my radar, it was met with critical praise. This new record, which features a full band, just came out on March 5, and even though my radar screen was going wild, I wasn’t paying attention to the screen and I almost missed it.

On a lot of the songs, especially tonight’s song, I’m reminded of the fantastic Vancouver duo Drawn Ship. Remember back between about December of 2011 and about April of 2012 when I wouldn’t shut up about Drawn Ship? Yeah. That. While part of my reason for comparing them is that Crutchfield’s voice reminds me of Lyn Heinemann (Drawn Ship), the music is also sort of similar. Coincidentally, so is the backstory. The first Waxahatchee record was meant to be a “breakup album” and everything was fiercely personal. It’s the same thing with that Drawn Ship record. It’s all about personal relationships and one breakup in particular. Like American Weekend, it was written and recorded quickly. In fact, the drummer in Drawn Ship agreed to be in the band on the condition that the album would be written and recorded quickly, and straight from the heart.

I didn’t mean to digress. Here’s tonight’s song:

“Brother Bryan” by Waxahatchee

I love the opening line:

I said to you on the night that we met
‘I am not well’

then a little bit later

We are only 30% dead
Our parents go to sleep early
We destroy all of our esteem

At first blush, there’s not much going on here. Vocals, pretty basic notes on the bass guitar, very sparse drums — just the bass and snare. Nothing to it. There is a little bit more, though. One of the things that I really like is the treatment of Crutchfield’s vocals. On at least one song from the album, she gets some vocal harmony help from her sister, but there’s something different going on here. I adore the raspy quality to her voice, especially in that opening line. It’s a little softer throughout the rest of the song, and there’s also a trick that I really like. Either there’s some complex delay effect, or there’s two different vocal tracks. Obviously, there’s the up-front vocal. Way beneath that, and a small fraction of a second ahead of it, there’s what I assume is a second vocal track. It sounds like the vocals were whispered for that track. Either way, it’s really subtle. I’m not sure why I like that part of it so much, but I do.

Then there’s that little trick at 2:04. The slight pause. I love it when that happens in a song. And it happens just once.

Waxahatchee will be at SXSW next week for four shows, then a quick tour of the US.

You can buy Cerulean Salt from her label’s web store here in your choice of mp3, CD, or vinyl. While you’re there, get her first record too.

02.23.13 — “Pills” by VHS Dream

VHS Dream

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Pills” by VHS Dream (2012, from the “Pills” single).

VHS Dream is an indie-pop/shoegaze quartet from Oslo and Trondheim, Norway. The band formed last year, but they’ve been working together for a long time. And If you’ve been reading this blog, you’re already familiar with the members of this band. Two of the band members (Ketil Myhre and Lars Kristian Boquist) also play in Dråpe. Another member (Eirik Fidjeland) is in Angelica’s Elegy. Myhre and Fidjeland have been friends for some time and have written a bunch of songs together. Most of them were just for fun, but they finally laid some of the songs to tape. I don’t think they’ve officially released anything, but this track has been up on soundcloud for a few months.

The band took their name from the name of a Deerhunter song.

That’s everything that I know about VHS Dream. Everything that I’ve found about them is in Norwegian, and despite my current obsession with Norwegian indie rock, I don’t speak or read a single word of Norwegian.
They’re not on the Riot Factory label, but they might as well be.

Here’s the song:
“Pills” by VHS Dream

Just like I said about the Angelica’s Elegy song that I featured, I’ll say again that Fidjeland’s vocals remind me of the early days of Pale Saints. In a more general way, this song reminds me of the good old days of 4AD. If this band could go back in time to the year 1993, they’d be on 4AD Records, touring the UK with The Boo Radleys and The Catherine Wheel. And I would read about it and be upset that those three bands didn’t tour together in the US.

I like that this is a home recording. I like that it’s not glossy and over-produced. The music speaks for itself.

They have one other song — “Tired” — on their soundcloud page, which you can download for free here.

You can be sure that I’ll be highlighting another Norwegian indie band sometime soon.

01.31.13 — “Endeavor” by LoveLoveLove

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Endeavor” by LoveLoveLove (2012, from the “Your Heart Stops With The Beat” single).
LoveLoveLove is a shoegaze quintet from Oslo, Norway who got started in 2012. They released their debut single last August and they have a full-length album due out sometime this year.

There’s certainly been no shortage of Norwegian indie rock bands on this blog. Dråpe, Snøskred, Angelica’s Elegy, Serena-Maneesh. I discovered this band when I was doing some research for something else, and I stumbled upon the lineup for last week’s Trondheim Calling Music Festival. There’s some really amazing bands in that lineup that few people in North America know about. Truth told, I only know the aforementioned ones, but I’ve just listened to some samples from some of the other bands. I’m really amazed.

There’s a popular North American misconception that all Norwegian bands are either black metal or they are Sondre Lerche. Clearly, this is not the case. There are loads of bands from just about any genre you can think of. Fortunately for me, there’s a recent surge of dream-pop and shoegaze bands from Norway.

If tonight’s song is any indication of what’s going on with LoveLoveLove, it won’t be long before North American kids know their name. Here’s the song:

“Endeavor” by LoveLoveLove

To be perfectly clear and to throw out that tired cliché that I hate, I’m reminded less of MBV and more of the wonderful Estonian shoegaze band Pia Fraus. Right away, there’s some pretty cool coed vocal harmonies and overlapping parts. For a while, it goes into a thing that’s just a tiny bit brit-poppy, but then at 3:37, it gets even more amazing. That’s when the hammer drops, and the wall of sound towers over us. It’s all squawky and squally. Full of distortion, feedback, pink and white noise. Even as the pace slows to a crawl by the end of the song, the sonic tsunami rolls on. It’s incredible.

I don’t know anything at all about this band. Like I said, I stumbled upon them by stumbling upon the lineup card for Trondheim Calling. Almost everything that I’ve found about the band is written in Norwegian. This may come as a surprise, but I don’t speak a word of Norwegian. The internet auto-translate pages do a horrible job of turning those Norwegian pages into something that I can understand, so my research hasn’t yielded much. The only thing that I’ve been able to ascertain from them is that the band is made up from former members of Dråpe, and two other Norwegian bands. My research tells me that Receptionist is one of the bands that has members in common with LoveLoveLove, and that Receptionist is, in fact, a metal band. I’ll admit that I got a bit of a chuckle from that revelation, but I’ll say again that not everything that comes from Norway is black metal or Sondre Lerche.
To be clear about that, I liked Sondre Lerche’s first record but I haven’t listened to anything of his since then. As far as metal goes, and especially the “black metal” variant, I have no stomach for that kind of thing.
I’ll stay over here with my shoegaze and be quite happy.

You can download a digital copy of the three-song “Your Heart Stops With The Beat” single, but it looks like iTunes is your best legal avenue for that. This might be the only time that I will ever encourage using the iTunes store. You can also get it from Spotify, but since I hate that platform even more than I hate iTunes, I won’t encourage that either. If you want a shortened “radio edit” version of “Endeavor”, you can download it from soundcloud here.

They don’t give any details in English, and really not very many in Norwegian, but they’ve got an album coming out some time in 2013.

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