If you only listen to one song today, make it “I am a Chicken” by Mourn (2016, from the album Ha, Ha, He.).
Mourn is an indie rock quartet from Barcelona. The band of teenagers formed in 2014 and they released their eponymous debut later that year. Last year, they released their sophomore album Ha, Ha, He. via Captured Tracks in this country. I remember that I had the album on my radar last year, simply because of their affiliation with Captured Tracks, but I didn’t know anything about the band. I still know very little about them. Then, I saw them on this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival lineup, and when I started doing my Hopscotch homework, I got excited about it.
They say that they’ve been influenced by the Chicago brand of post rock — bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake. They also say that they’ve recently found a new influence in Throwing Muses. Any time a band says that they’re influenced by the Muses, I become very, very interested in them. If I’m honest, I don’t really hear much of a Muses sound in their music. Instead, I’m reminded in a lot of ways of the amazing Tsunami. Specifically, the stuff from the first side of Deep End. In a completely different way, I’m reminded of Bully, whose album Feels Like was my seventh favourite album of 2015, and whose show I was shut out of at Hopscotch 15. Oh, and since I’ve brought it up, Bully has a new record coming out on October 20. This isn’t about Bully, though.
In today’s song, I hear a lot of Tsunami, but Mourn’s sound is much better and their production values much higher than those of Tsunami. For some reason, Tsunami wanted their records to sound really muddy, and that was something that always disappointed me very much; they were an incredible band to see live, but their intentionally poor production values make listening to the records much less fun. This isn’t about Tsunami, either. This is about “I am a Chicken”. This is that song:
“I Am a Chicken” by Mourn
Speaking of disappointment, I really like the repeated line “Sorry to disappoint you”. And the layered vocals. Those are my two favourite bits about the song. There’s a really abrupt ending, and it’s not exactly because it segues into the next song on the album. It only sort of segues into the next song. It’s just the way it is.
Tonight’s song is a bit on the short side, and in fact, the entire album clocks in at a very tidy 26:05. Punk rawk.
You can buy Ha, Ha, He. as a download via Bandcamp here, or in physical formats via Captured Tracks here
Mourn is playing on the Friday night of Hopscotch, the second night of the festival. For the first time, the fest will run for four nights. They have the 11:00 slot at CAM, which is a long hike from the rest of the festival footprint, but there’s a lot of great stuff going on at CAM this fest. I don’t have a scheduling conflict in that slot, so it’s a safe bet that I’ll be there.
The Hopscotch Music Festival is in just three weeks. Check out the lineup, the schedule, and the ticket options. As usual, I’ll be there all weekend.
If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Tsunami” by Told Slant (2016, from the forthcoming album Going By).
Told Slant is an indie rock/indie folk/indie punk recording project based in Brooklyn. The band is really not much more than a “solo” project of Eskimeaux drummer Felix Walworth, who is also a founding member of the Epoch Music collective. Walworth prefers the gender neutral pronouns “They” and “them”. They do all of the recording themselves, but when they perform live, Walworth is joined by fellow Epoch members Gabrielle Smith out of Eskimeaux and Emily Sprague out of Florist. Walworth also plays drums in both of those bands and also in another band called Bellows.
As a bit of trivia that will NEVER come up at your local trivia night, Walworth’s father Danny was in a band with Thurston Moore before Moore formed Sonic Youth.
Walworth has a familiar style of singing that might remind the listener of some pretty varied singers. I can hear bits of Matt Pond, bits of Eric Bachmann (not for his work in Archers of Loaf, but for his work in Crooked Fingers). Some reviewers say that the entire Told Slant package reminds them of Bon Iver, or maybe to Bonnie “Prince” Billie.
Told Slant released one album called Still Water in August of 2012, and the sophomore album Going By will be out on June 16 via Double Double Whammy Records. I’ve been getting stuff in the mailbag, and it’s finally time to share what I’ve been hearing.
Here’s the video for tonight’s song: “Tsunami” by Told Slant
I like the imperfections in the vocals. Of course I love the coed vocal parts in the chorus. I love the banjo. I love that it’s impossible to put this song into a convenient cubby-hole. It’s a little bit of several different genres, and it all mixes together well. This song reminds me a bit of Group of the Altos, who were one of my favorites of Hopscotch 2012.
The album will be out on June 16, and you can pre-order it via DDW here.
Told Slant just started a US tour, which will go through the middle of July. Details are here.
I can’t stand Christmas music. It starts each year around Halloween, and as the days go by, it gets more and more ubiquitous. As the years pass, it seems like it starts earlier and gets even more invasive. We hear it on the radio, on teevee, at the supermarket, at the gas station, at our favorite restaurants and bars. And for those of us in the service industry, we have to hear it all day long at work. It’s impossible to get away from it.
I could go on for pages about the philosophical issues I have with the whole idea behind being coerced into getting “in the spirit of the season”, but I’ll keep that vitriol to myself.
Although I’m here tonight to present a few examples of my kind of “Christmas” music, I just don’t like Christmas music. I resent the fact that it’s forced down our collective throats. I really resent the suggestion that if you’re not into it, you’re a horrible person. If not liking Christmas music makes me a Grinch, then I guess I’m the Grinch. And I’m okay with that.
I think that most people get a little tired of it by the time the season is over, but I get tired of it before it even starts.
People will suggest that Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or Elvis could turn Christmas songs into Sinatra, Deano, or Elvis songs, and I’m not sure that I buy that argument. It’s still Christmas music.
Some of my favorite musicians have made Christmas records, and no matter how much I like the artist. Kristin Hersh made a quasi-Christmas EP featuring a nifty cover of the Big Star song “Jesus Christ”, but I absolutely hated that disc. Mark Kozelek centered a live EP around his one-minute version of “White Christmas”, but it’s the only Christmas song on the disc, so it doesn’t really count. And I can’t even be sure that he wasn’t doing it tongue-in-cheek. I don’t like it, so I won’t include it here.
Everybody here knows how much I love the slowcore band Low. They did a Christmas album in 2000 that was very cleverly called Christmas. Four originals and three standards, all about Christmas. I almost like the cover of “Blue Christmas”. Most people know that song because Elvis recorded it in 1957 and made it famous in 1964. However, it’s one of those songs that was around for at least a decade before that.
“Blue Christmas” by Low
I like that it’s sung by Mimi. I like that they slow it way, way down. The tempo of their version matches the sad tone of the lyrics. Elvis made it into a peppy song about being sad. That just doesn’t work.
The rest of these songs from my “Christmas songs that I like” list have little or nothing to do with Christmas, but they all have “Christmas” in the title. Except this first one.
In 1993, Cocteau Twins were asked to contribute a song to a Christmas compilation album. They didn’t want to do it, but they assumed that their song would be alongside some Sinatra or something, so they agreed. What they found out was that their song was designed to be alongside Skinny Puppy. They ended up doing “Frosty The Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland”. Liz Fraser couldn’t stand the idea of singing the words “Jolly, happy soul” and all that other stuff, but through Robin Guthrie’s mastermind, they managed to put their own sonic stamp on it. I’m not sure if that compilation album ever came to fruition, but the Cocteaus released their two songs as an ultra-rare single called “Snow”.
“Frosty The Snowman” as done by Cocteau Twins
This actually is one of those songs where the artist made it theirs. It’s a Cocteaus song with some Christmas lyrics. I almost forget that it’s a Christmas song. You won’t have much luck trying to get a copy of the 7″ record, but you can get “Frosty…” on the Lullabies to Violaine Volume 2 singles compilation here.
Next up is an incredibly noisy and long-ish (8.5 minutes) wash of guitars and pink noise from California shoegaze/noise pop royalty Medicine.
“Christmas Song” by Medicine
The song isn’t about Christmas, and it makes oblique reference to Jesus, but it’s called “Christmas Song”, from their spectacular 1992 album Shot Forth Self Living, which was superbly re-issued this year by Captured Tracks Records. Get it here.
Next is a long (10:38) instrumental by Glaswegian post-rock royalty Mogwai called “Christmas Steps”. It comes from their 1999 album Come On Die Young. As it turns out, that album is out of print and remaining copies are expensive. Look for it here, though.
“Christmas Steps” by Mogwai
As with a lot of post-rock, you’ve really got to be patient. It does almost nothing for the first 2.5 minutes, then it slowly builds. Between 4:40 and 6:20, it’s raucous as hell before the long wind-down. If you’re patient, it’s magical.
Next is a song from DC punk royalty Tsunami, and a song called “Could Have Been Christmas”. From the 1995 singles collection World Tour and Other Destinations. This was originally released in 1992 as the b-side on a Christmas 7″ split single with Velocity Girl’s “Merry Christmas, I Love You” as the a-side. This one is actually about Christmas. I guess. As Tsunami songs go, it’s not one of my favorites, but it’s still good.
“Could Have Been Christmas” by Tsunami
Presents with a sticker that says “Don’t open until Christmas”. Kissing under the mistletoe. Blah Blah Blah.
Last but certainly not least is the legendary UK indie band The Wedding Present. This is my favorite of the lot. In 1992, the Weddoes released one 7″ single every month, and each was backed with a cover song. On the July-through-December batch, there would be a common thread running between the a-side and the b-side. Each of the twelve singles reached the UK top 30, matching Elvis Presley’s feat of having twelve top-30 hits in one calendar year. There were some good originals and some remarkable covers. The 7″ record for December was “No Christmas”, backed with a cover of Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas”. The compiled the limited-run singles into two CD volumes — Hit Parade 1 and Hit Parade 2. A French import Hit Parade 3 followed, which was only six covers, including a smashing cover of Pavement’s “Box Elder”. Later, still, someone packaged them all together as a two-disc The Hit Parade, with all of the a-sides on one disc and all of the b-sides on the other.
“No Christmas” by The Wedding Present
I think that this is a stupendous song. One of their best, in fact. It has nothing at all to do with Christmas. It’s about getting dumped.
I love that it starts with the crunchy, fuzzy Psychocandy-esque white noise for 30 seconds before suddenly switching to David Gedge’s hushed vocals and soft guitar for a few seconds. s At 0:51, the sonic hammer gloriously drops, and it’s a big, goopy, beautiful, noisy mess for a while. A sudden gear shift at 2:30 and a gradual fade to nothing but a cymbal being lightly hit. The sonic hammer comes down again at 3:05, but much harder this time.
Oh, and there’s this:
Don’t say we’ve reached the end. You can’t be right
For goodness sake you must know I care about you
Please stay my best friend one more night
I couldn’t face another day alone without you
Alone without you, alone without you , alone without you
I care about you, I care about you, I care about you
Alone without you, alone without you , alone without you
I care about you, I care about you, I care about you
This is one of those songs (and the Weddoes have a lot that I could say the same about) that I play again and again. It’s the sixth of twelve songs on Hit Parade 2, but it may as well be the only song.
Hit Parade 2 seems to be out of print and available copies look dodgy. Just get the compiled The Hit Paradehere.
What do all of these have in common? They’re from the 1990s. And by and large, they have nothing to do with Christmas other than having that word in the title. Yeah, yeah. I get it. There probably have been some good “Christmas” songs since then, and even some by bands that I like. I’m sticking with these, though. This is my Christmas playlist.
If you only listen to one song today, make it “Genius of Crack” by Tsunami. This particular version is taken from the World Tour And Other Destinations compilation album (1995). The song originally appeared as a single in 1991, then on Tsunami’s debut album —Deep End— in 1992.
Tsunami was an indie rock band from Arlington, Virginia who were active between 1990 and 1998. The founding members Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson also founded their label Simple Machines Records. Like a lot of small labels, they championed the DIY aspect and the creative process of the artists. Their goal was to get the music out there without really having much interest in making money in the process.
Unfortunately, they took DIY too seriously. Even on their own Tsunami records, the production quality is terrible and to say that the records are “lo-fi” is a massive understatement. They literally sound like they were recorded with a 1970s style single-track monaural desktop cassette tape recorder from Radio Shack. Like the one that Rerun used when he tried to bootleg the Doobie Brothers’ concert on that “very special” episode of “What’s Happening”. That said, the music that you can barely hear beneath the buzz and the mud is incredible.
If you ever saw the band live, you know how excellent they sounded. It’s just a shame that they didn’t want their records to have any semblance of high fidelity.
The album version of today’s song is muddy and cruddy, but this version is cleaned up. It’s (a little bit) brighter and crisper and all that jazz. I like it a lot more. By some exponential degree.
This is that song: “Genius of Crack” by Tsunami
Yeah… That is the enhanced version.
If I ever build a house
It’s a good bet I’ll build it out of skin
For a lot of years, I considered Jenny Toomey to be more than just indie rock royalty, but some sort of goddess. A friend-girl that I had in college got me on that track. I knew this girl very briefly, but very well. She was a member of the “Jenny Toomey is goddess” club, and it really didn’t take much convincing to get me to join. I was already a fan, and it just took a little bit of nudging to get me to go for full membership. I’ve already written about one of her side projects, when I wrote about Grenadine. I still aim to write about Liquorice and also about Jenny Toomey’s solo record.
Anyway, I like this song more than most Tsunami songs. It’s a nice, slow burn. Even though it sounds calm and nice at the beginning, it’s deceptively grungy.
As the song starts to build momentum after the halfway mark, I really like when Jenny really belts out these lines, starting at 2:28:
Come on, come on geniuses
Genius of crack
And I’m so sad
To give up on the one thing
One thing I never had
Then it gets really noisy and buzzy in a good way. It was really sensational to see this live. You can only get a small sense of that with this lo-fi recording, but it was amazing. Just busting with energy. And much more treble-y than this.
After being a very hardworking band and label for several years, Jenny and Kristin started to get disenfranchised with the whole process. They pulled the plug on Tsunami, and not long after that, they pulled the plug on Simple Machines Records. They were, though, an inspiration for a lot of people to start their own labels and for people (especially girls) to start making and distributing their own records.
Jenny went on to found the Future of Music Coalition, which is an advocacy group that works to protect artists against various forms of piracy, as well as other royalty-related issues. That, along with health insurance, is their biggest focus. Kristin Thomson joined the board and still sits on it. Jenny Toomey is currently working in a similar capacity for the Ford Foundation in New York City.
Frequent readers of the blog know that I will sometimes play a game of “six degrees of Jenny Toomey”. There’s obviously no need here, but stay tuned throughout the rest of this year and however long I keep this thing going.
World Tour… is a necessary compilation, and you should get it from the amazon store here.