Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn

There are certain songs that catch you off guard, spilling over with your secrets. How can the world hear these songs if they reveal the truths you hold inside? But then you realize, a stranger wrote these songs and you're merely feeling an intense connection to the words. After that moment of panic, you become comfortable to merely pretend. You can pretend that these songs are sending your secret messages into the universe letting those who matter know how you truly feel, and though they might be worlds away, they are hearing you. It also works in the reverse, sometimes you can receive the secrets of others just by listening. Red Devil Dawn is one of these magic albums.

Crooked Fingers is the solo project of ex-Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann, it follows his stint as an instrumental artist under the name Barry Black.

Red Devil Dawn is the 3rd album Bachmann has released under the Crooked Fingers name and the first to feature complex arrangements including strings and horns.

Bachmann is often compared to Tom Waits, as both of their voices share that standout rasp. Musically, Crooked Fingers is less of a carnival ride than Waits offers. There is a strong Americana sound verging nearly into Alt-Country.

But really, this sounds like a series of urgent transmissions.

And now, I'm going to get down to decoding some of these messages:

"Don't Say a Word" - Someone is telling you that even if you've learned from what you've been through, it doesn't mean that you're going to find the one you lost when you made your mistakes.

"You Can Never Leave" - This is someone saying "Oops, 'the love we made was no lie' but I'm retarded and totally let you go. 'I can't get you back' and now that I'm getting older I realize that was a big mistake. By the way 'when you dance it is torture', by which I mean to say that seeing you live your life is killing me, so maybe we can meet again someday but if we don't stay together then, I guess that makes us liars."

"You Threw a Spark" - Someone is mad at you because you claimed that you loved them so much but you didn't do anything about it. And then you had the nerve to blame them for not coming to rescue you from your little world when all along you were the one who failed to act.

"Boy With (100) Hands" - Now they're telling you that they tried to rescue you. They saw that you are "better than the world you live in" but even if they had 100 hands, they couldn't help you, but they'll hold you in their heart and try to move on.

"Sweet Marie" - The message here is that if maybe you didn't have to choose, maybe if the choice could be made for you, maybe then things would work out.

If decoding the rest of these messages sounds like something you'd be into, you should pick this album up. It's there, it's waiting, do it.

Hear it HERE.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

Sometimes a song can create and an entire lifetime that speeds by in only a moment. This is the song you listen to on repeat so you might relive that life over and over. Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary is an album full of those songs.

Wolf Parade are from Montreal and were part of 2005's much hyped "Canadian Invasion". Hype is so often a turn off for me when it comes to checking out new bands but upon hearing "I'll Believing in Anything" I bought into the hype 100% and have never looked back.

Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade's debut album was produced by Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock. Here and there his touch is evident.

The sound of Wolf Parade is a sort of conglomeration of everything good that had happened up to that point in indie rock history. Guided by Voices, David Bowie, The Pixies, Talking Heads and so many more influential acts blazed the trails that led to this band. And in a not-so-distant future Wolf Parade might be lauded just as highly as their influences. They are no mere copycats, they are innovators, improving upon what is already familiar and creating something new.

Imagine that you have lost your soul mate and on the night before Earth is destroyed you find them. This is the soundtrack to your remaining hours. And as the sun rises, by some miracle, the Earth has been saved.

Apologies begins with "You are a Runner and I am My Father's Son". It reminds me of Pleasure Forever with it's stomping processional feel. Spencer Krug fronts this warning to a potential lover that fate may not have their happiness in store, he may just be predestined to lose. Next is the Dan Boeckner fronted "Modern World", this is more subdued, reminisent of Arcade Fire. Though quite lovely.

"Ground for Divorce" brings to mind a jagged, up-tempo "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)", but lyrically it's more about a broken home than going home. Following this is Boeckner's smooth delivery of "We Built Another World" which sounds like a Modest Mouse jam you could dance to.

Just after the halfway point is Boeckner's "Shine a Light", which also makes you feel okay about living a life that feels like it means nothing, after all "our blood is alive". But when what we're waiting for finally arrives it will be that much sweeeter.

For me the highest point of the album is Krug's "I'll Believe in Anything". This is what we've been waiting for to arrive, "the scary day we both pull the tricks out of our sleeves". This is the ultimate proclamation of love: "Give me your eyes, I need sunshine. Your blood, your bones your voice, and your ghost". Seriously, that sums it up. When you love someone that much, you need the things that make them whole. You only put a song this heavy on a mix tape you really mean.

Another song that "means it" is the final track, the Boeckner led "This Heart's On Fire". This is the song you play when you finally find the one and you have them there in your arms. It's true.

This album is available pretty much everywhere. I'd dare say it would be harder to find a music store that doesn't carry it than does.

Hear it HERE.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sarge - The Glass Intact

In March of '97 I attended the event that would change my life. I saw Sarge perform at the nearly rained out KTRU Outdoor Show. Before this I had definitely been interested in music and messed about with bands that were more ideas than anything else. But while watching Elizabeth Elmore front Sarge, it hit me..."I can do this." From that point I took my musical aspirations much more seriously. Though it took awhile to find my first solid band, I've been finding my greatest happiness in playing and writing music ever since. (And just a side note, my band nailed down perhaps the BEST song I have ever been a part of in my whole "career" as a musician. I. Am. Stoked.) As all things tend to move in circles, it was March 19, 2000 that Elizabeth Elmore on a solo tour between the break up of Sarge and formation of The Reputation played her Houston show in my parents garage apartment (we called it Club Last Chance, if you couldn't find a place for a show it was your last chance). My band London Girl opened for her. I played my ass off that night. And when Elmore took the "stage" she thanked us and said "Did you see April? Man! She's got chops!" Be still my rock & roll heart.

Sarge were from Champaign, Ill. and were fronted by the absolutely enchanting Elizabeth Elmore. And as much as I hate to make a distinction between male and female musicians, i must point out that Elmore is an undeniable inspiration as a front person, songwriter and musician. At her worst she keeps pace with all the "boys in bands with all these egos out of hand", and at her best leaves them miles behind in the dust.

The Glass Intact was Sarge's second album and a bit of a breakthrough being named in Spin's top 20 of 1998. It is definitely in my top 20 of all time, maybe higher.

Sarge are too tough to really bear comparisons to bands like Cub and Wolfie (who's Joe Ziemba wrote "Put in the Reel") and far too sweet to be lumped in with Sleater-Kinney or Bratmobile...and with the exception of "Fast Girls", far too boy crazy to likened to Team Dresch.

When girls kiss all the boys they're called sluts, when guys do it they get high fives. This album is the sound of shattering that double standard.

If you were to believe the subject matter of most of these songs, it would seem that despite all of her wonderful qualities, Elmore tends to attract the most heartless and insensitive of men...who she relentlessly identifies, and perhaps more appropriately, as "boys". She struggles to maintain her identity in the shadow of these boys who are almost always in bands. But for all the heartbreaks, Elmore always remains golden. After all, for every boy that "doesn't see the light", there are 10 more watching adoringly from the audience.

"Stall" finds Elmore searching for resolution in a nice relationship in which she doesn't have much passion. She resigns herself to "pray that things will die okay" after trying to give up, which the boy in question just would not have.

Elmore doesn't only write of her own personal conflicts, in "A Torch" she sings of a rape victim finding empowerment through arson. She celebrates these actions with reverence.

In "Beguiling" Elmore is bored with her boyfriend's insincerity. She finds herself torn between physical attraction and emotional repulsion. By the song's end she has still not made her choice. The down-tempo "Charms and Feigns" takes the previous song's weighing of pros and cons in a more solemn direction, only this time it's for the benefit of another. She has "been there before with him" she reveals as she addresses a friend who was "just another girl for that night". She may have been around the block, but she'll be there for you when you need her.

While "Beguiling" is a surefire rocker, for me it comes in second to the beautiful and powerful "Half as Far". In this song, Elmore is facing the reality that the one she loves really doesn't have what she needs. She mournfully examines the things that bring her comfort, listening to his breath as she watches him sleep. And she sees she's "not being fair" and that she doesn't "want to waste your time", adding "it's not that you're a waste of mine". As full as this song is, it fills the listener with the emptiness of falling out of love.

The album picks back up with "I Took You Driving". Elmore guards her heart against the charms of a boy from her past who's "only looking for one thing". Once again she must make the distinction between her physical attraction and her desire for emotional connection. She's "not so sure this boy is it" so she turns the tables on him. She admits her distaste for him, yet urges him to call next time he's in town.

Elmore is more reverent of her female subjects and this none more apparent than on "Fast Girls". She meets a girl at a "Madison punk rock show" who possesses all of the qualities that her male suitors lack. In fact, she has "their weaknesses down pat". But on her way back to Champaign she is left regretting that she couldn't find the words to express her feelings...when she should have been thinking of her boyfriend.

Album closer "To Keep You Trained" sums up the broarder theme of the album that no matter how much the music itself attests to Elmore's strength, boys will always be "every mistake [she] ever made'.

This is one of my all time favorite albums, a "desert island" album if you will. Try it out and if it's like that for you, you can buy it through The Reputation's (her current band) website,(link below).

Hear it HERE.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Black Cat Music - This is the New Romance

Today I'm bringing you an EP that meant a lot to me right around my 21st birthday. At the time I still had the factory tape deck in my car so I dubbed a copy which was rarely ejected. I put songs on countless mixtapes, I listened to the CD at home making up guitar riffs based on the songs (totally ripping them off for my band...), and I forced them down anyone who'd listen's throat. I even picked up the 12" version which had two less songs. I was pretty obsessed. It didn't hurt that one of the guys in the band looked a lot like someone I was totally in love with.

At the time of this passionate listening affair Black Cat Music had yet to be signed to Lookout! so there's was little awareness of these guys. They were my band. They were dark and whiskey-soaked, much like I felt at the time...or was...there was a lot of whiskey around this time in my life...okay, I admit, whiskey is a definite theme in my life so let's just say it started here.

What little I knew I learned from their website; they were from San Francisco, they were comprised of former members of the Criminals and the Receivers. They were awesome. What I know now is that they released one more EP for Cheetah and then 3 albums for Lookout! before disbanding in 2004. I'm gonna say that signing to Lookout! was the death knell in their chances for anyone to take them seriously. I advise you to look past the label and check out all their releases, they're terribly overlooked.

This is the New Romance was their debut EP and was released on the apparently defunct Cheetah's Records in 1998. It made it's way over to me in 1999.

Black Cat Music sounds a little like a younger, sexier Murder City Devils. They're dark in all the right places. They know when to show their smarts and when to play it dumb. And oh, the basslines, your ears will be all sexed up by those baselines.

This EP sounds exactly like being drunk on whiskey with a broken heart, but you've got a fresh pack of cigarettes and your best friend, so you'll make it through the night.

The opening licks of "Lloyd, I Would Have Done the Same" just take off at lightspeed and finally breakdown just enough for you to catch up before they take off once again. The guitar work is beyond what you would expect of most "punk" oriented bands. "Journal Square Train" carries the vibe into a swagger of forbidden love. "This is the new romance", singer Brady Baltezore repeats almost as to convince himself that he will win out in the end. "Cut You Up Good" borders on filler but is kept to a short 2:08 as not to take the flow of the EP off track. There is a great breakdown at the end and is defintely not to be skipped.

"Red Velvet and Roses" has it all, the rocking riffs, the intense breakdowns, the dark imagery. It's the story of two lovers up to no good" "sneak[ing] around like two black cats at night". "Wine in a Box" is without a doubt my favorite track on this disc. It starts off with a sample taken from the Dylan documentary Don't Look Back:

"So the bearded boys and the lank-haired girls, all eye shadow and undertaker makeup, applaud the songs and miss perhaps the sermons. They are there; they are ‘with it'."

This was a reporter who was phoning in his review of Dylan's concert immediately after it ended. There is no connection between Bob Dylan and Black Cat Music, so this was obviously playing on the idea of the "undertaker makeup" line.

The song kicks in and almost immediately levels off. And at once we're hit with a request to "get high on your sister's pills". This is a song about young love and the cheapest of thrills, which was highly appealing to me at the time. In 2000, this is what I believed San Francisco to be like all pale faces, tattoos, black hair and being wasted. (I went, it wasn' was bookstores and peepshows.) But to this day this song gives me a rush.

"Haunted Hotel Colorado" is a good send off though I must admit that I get a bit of a lump in my throat listening to though I'm dreading having to hit rewind on my tape deck. Fortunately, I can set my iPod to repeat album.

Make some of the Black Cat Music for me, indeed.

Black Cat Music are no longer around but you can visit their myspace, you can try to track down a copy of this EP, or buy any of their more recent releases from Lookout!

Hear it HERE.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Michael Nesmith - And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'

When I was a kid watching The Monkees on 20Vision, I had decided that Mickey was my favorite...he was the funny one. As I got older, I gained an appreciation for Mike. He was funny too, but it was understated. His sense of humor more low key, less obvious. Watch him and you would hear the snarky remarks and the subtle satire that Dolenz was just not capable of.

But there is so much more to Michael Nesmith than being my favorite Monkee. His mother invented white-out, he invented MTV, Gretsch made him a custom 12-string guitar, he wrote "Mary Mary", and he wrote "Different Drum". He was the real talent in a fake band and I do not question his choice not to return when The Monkees (lamely) reunited.

And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' was released in 1972 after four lackluster attempts made for RCA. When the label demanded a hit album Nesmith came up with the name. Having parted ways with his band he was left with only pedal steel guitarist Red Rhodes. Working with what he had, this album features nothing more than acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and Nesmith's unmistakable twang. This results in 10 heart-melting tails of love and hope.

So what he have here is a country-folk album with touches of psychedelic lyricism.

And what I have is my idea of starting off on the right foot.

There's no deliberate sequence to these songs, no story to be told. This is a collection of very nice songs that aren't going to rock you but leave you feeling like you're holding hands with someone pretty while you dip your feet in the water of Marble Falls.

Here and there you'll hear similarities to Dylan's phrasing, which I believe purely unintentional, but welcome none-the-less. "Lady Love" illustrates how deceptively big of a sound you can get with only two musicians. "The Candidate" finds Nesmith channeling Phil Ochs until the eerie psychedelic fade-out. This is followed up by his recording of "Different Drum", though originally recorded by Linda Ronstadt, it was written by Nesmith. "Harmony Constant" maybe very well be one of the sweetest songs I've ever heard.

"Keep On" is as rollicking as the album gets but is sweet and reaffirming. In this song Nesmith lays out what is probably most important in the hearts of any true artist "number good is better than number one". And though he advises the listener to "consider the source and ignore it". There's no way you can considering that Michael Nesmith was in the prefab Monkees, designed solely to make "number ones" and at the time of this recording he was a struggling solo artist making perhaps the best music of his career. Dude knows what he's talking about.

Just go ahead and try it out. You can download it from iTunes, but you're gonna have a heck of a time finding a physical copy anywhere other than Nesmith's Videoranch website.

Hear it HERE.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ben Lee - Awake is the New Sleep

This morning I was thinking about what album I would post. I decided to let my iPod figure it out so I put it on album shuffle. I was hoping it wouldn't land on something with which I was only vaguely familiar and as luck would have it, I ended up with this.

Ben Lee doesn't need much of an introduction. He's from Australia, he started Noise Addict with some friends when he was only 13 and got signed to Grand Royal. Since then he's dated Claire Danes and recorded "Cigarettes Will Kill You" among many other fine, fine (and simply okay) songs.

Awake is the New Sleep is Lee's fifth, and quite possibly best, album. It was produced by Brad Wood, who produced pretty much half of the albums in your music collection, you just don't know it. (Steve Albini did the other half.) It might also be worth mentioning that he got a little help from Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, and Har Mar Superstar along the way.

I won't waste much space comparing Ben Lee to other artists. He's an indie-style singer-songwriter. We all know what that's like.

I will say that this sounds exactly like finding out that your secret crush feels the same way about you, and now all you have to do is figure out what to do about it.

This album is pretty much all about that breath you take just before you step into that brand new life with your brand new love...the one that's meant to last. The first track "Whatever It Is" is a call to arms to anyone that is afraid to act on their hearts desires to "just do it, whatever it is". And going into the next track is seems that "it" should be "Gamble Everything for Love". I wouldn't be the first to accuse Lee of thinking he was the new Bob Dylan, but the light reggae flourishes of the second track do indicate a push to be taken as a serious song-writer who will also gamble everything to prove he draws from a wide range of influences. The song that follows, "Begin" indicates that at this point the object of Lee's affections has revealed that she shares the feelings but needs that extra push into a new life they can share. I won't mention his unfortunate "Good Charlotte" name-drop in "Catch My Disease"...but I just did...I'd hate to think that something like being down with Good Charlotte on the radio would cause the girl of Lee's dreams to run to the arms of another but that's where "Apple Candy" finds her.

I can't speak for anyone but my self, but at this point I find myself knee deep in an audio journey through my own life. It's one of those few albums that says exactly what your heart is clamoring to scream to the world. That's why I love this album so much, I've been through all of this. It's nice to relate. And of all the songs, I perhaps relate most to "Ache for You". When he sings "there's no rhyme and there's no reason, you're the secret in the back of my skull", I know what he means. When you love someone so much that it totally consumes you, there is no good reason for it. It's not something you can control, it's just something that you'll eventually have to give into. And I really hate to use the word "cathartic", but I suppose that best describes this song specifically and really this whole album in general. From here on Lee attempts over and over to "find his way to your heart". He admits to falling pretty far on "Get Gotten" a desperate plea to just return the love he wants so badly to give. But "We're All in This Together" finds him accepting the fact that the world isn't about him and his feelings and that he should keep an open heart. Finally, just as he was willing to live and let live she steps fully into his life filling it with "Light" (corny segue)...taking off into an extended 9 minute rock out, I'm going to assume represents his new life beginning. When Lee leaves us on the last track "I'm Willing" we're seeing a man that might be feeling doubts now that he is facing "a dream [he's] had forever", but decides that he is willing to give in this time.

I have to admit that usually I go for music that is a lot more creative or less accessible. This is pop music. Coupled with lyrics that seem to be reading my mind, this becomes something else. It's no wonder that he so often gets overlooked, being too interesting for pop music and too poppy for people who like things with a little more depth. You might like it, or you might not, it might just be too soft for you. Either way try it out.

Hear it HERE.

Friday, April 18, 2008

El Gato - Surrender!

I started this in October and then forgot all about it. I thought it was a good time to pick back up.

For my return, I've decided to go with another little Texas band. Well, the singer moved to San Diego and the rest of the band still lives in Denton (living room 2,000lbs), so mostly Texas band.

Surrender! is El Gato's second full length album. It was recorded by David McConnell, who has worked with Wilco and Elliott Smith.

It should come as no surprise then that they have a passing similarity to mid-career Wilco. And if you are familiar with The Thrills, you might draw comparisons there as well. I'll also add that there are dashes of Modest Mouse here and there...or more appropriately Ugly Casanova (there is a moment when vocalist/songwriter John Vineyard sings the word "piano" and it almost sounds like a sample from UG's "Things I Can't Remember").

This sounds exactly like what you would have liked to have had on hand that time in college you confessed your undying love in an email to your crush and were awaiting a reply.

The album is at times desperate; clinging to a love that is walking out that door, and other times hopeful that open-hearted exposition will save the day. But in the end it's the freedom gained by letting go that wins out.

And though each of these songs are strong enough to stand on their own, taken as a song cycle they tell the story of a man learning to say goodbye. "Scorpions in Your Shoes" lets us in as the cracks emerge, "Bangin on Doors" bares the good intentions of one who means to hold on to love, and though "Killing Glaciers" portrays our hero as the one declaring that "it's not enough", closing track "Untitled (I Blame You)" reveals him to be the one left behind with no other choice but to "lift [his] cup and toast to your happiness". And this is a story with which we're all perhaps uncomfortably familiar.

Try it out and if you like it, which you should or you're a total dick, you can buy it through CD Baby, download it from eMusic, do what I did and pick it up at Waterloo in Austin, or buy it through their myspace (link below).

Hear it HERE.