Sunday, November 21, 2010


Broken Dreams Club EP

True Panther Sounds

Christopher Owens, the leader of Girls, says this is an EP ‘”rom our hearts to yours,” and “the next step up from Album.” Album was their wonderful debut, and I agree with Owens that this is the next step, and a very good one at that. Their spry, agile, and limber sound to include the more mellow side of the Dandy Warhols, along with Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. Their first four sad but sensible songs on their EP are about broken hearts. “Substance” the fifth song, declares that he doesn’t need broken hearts or broken dreams, a song that more than lives up to its title. y “Carolina” the last song on the disk, he finds love, and a happy ending.

From start to finish, this EP is fantastic. The songs are good, sweet, and never whine or wallow in self-pity. Their next full length album will be more than worth the wait.[]

Andrea Weiss

Friday, October 29, 2010

British Sea Power

Zeus E.P.

Rough Trade

On this seven-track E.P., British Sea Power are in fine form. Their scruffy, echo filled Brit pop bounces all over the place, making for wonderful noise. There is more shouting than singing here, which adds to the fun, as it makes for even more of a ruckus.

The lyrics are filled with so many meanings that it’s impossible to figure them out. But they do add to the overall sound,by raising the roof even more. And a lot of times, an album that blows the doors down is all that is needed to be good. So have a blast with the sound. []

Andrea Weiss


The Fool

Rough Trade

Musically this group sounds like Pylon’s slower songs, with the off-kilter guitars of Throwing Muses. There is a passing resemblance to the slower songs on REM’s Reckoning, but that is only natural, since the Muses were influenced by REM, and Pylon an influence of REM. The band’s dreamy vocals and lyrics

address not just relationships with one person, but relationships as a whole.

It is wonderful to hear a band sound like college rock, AKA post-punk rather than some hippie 70s knockoff. Warpaint is a delight to hear, as the music and lyrics entwine with the vocals so tightly, and with just the right amount of shimmer. This is a great debut.

Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Belle and Sebastian

Write About Love


On their first album since 2006’s The Life Pursuit, B&S have blended their original sound with their current one, and what a great blend it is. This is the most successful fusing of folk/rock and synths I’ve heard yet, and it’s about time.

The muscular rock powers their smart pop, making their folk good for color, texture and shading. The synths give their music a vaguely prog feel, and everything in the end is intergraded seamlessly, making for a rush on the fast songs, and a hush on the quiet ones.

The singing is top notch. Stuart Murdoch sounds sly and clever, but also gentle. Sarah Martin is sweet, wise and bright, and Carey Mulligan’s backing vocals add a chipper air. But as wonderful as they are, three songs stand out, one for their guest vocals, one for the vocal arrangements, and one for the way the lyrics are sung.

“Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” is mostly sung by Norah Jones, who sounds dandy, and is a nicely quirky choice for a guest vocalist. In that song, a couple blames themselves for their breakup. “I’m Not Living in the Real World,” a bemused look at a young man’s journey from childhood to adulthood, is sung by Stevie Jackson, who adroitly captures the confusion he feels, and Murdoch’s backing vocals, running along side Jackson’s, make for a thrilling point/counterpoint arrangement. “Read the Blessed Pages” sung by Murdoch, is infused with regret, but also tenderness and love for the woman he left behind. It’s a questionwhether the lyrics are fiction or non-fiction. As fiction, the song is a beautiful love song. But if they are non-fiction, especially since the couple in question were in a band, are these lyrics directed toward Isobel Campbell?

Write About Love was more than worth the wait, as it is spectacular in every single way. There is something here for everyone, for those who want the folk/rock of their earliest albums, to those who like their more recent pop/folk/rock sound. As this album falls in-between, this is a fine addition to their already distinguished catalog. []

Andrea Weiss

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shadow Shadow Shade


Public Records

This L.A band borrows a lot from other sources, psych, goth, the New Pornographers, and the Arcade Fire. Their sound is the sum of all this borrowing, which means melodic, trippy, a little bombastic, and creepy. This is not bad: in fact, it’s pretty good. The bombast is kept in check, there are good melodies, it’s not an awful trip they’re on, and they don’t overdo being creepy.

While SSS’ album works as an album, the music also works on a film that is streaming at their site. White Horse, is a three -part long form music video that features the band’s music. The plot for this clip is set in WW 3, where a mysterious force has enslaved the world. There is some sex, a bit of death, no dialog, and only the music to set the scene. One of the actors in the film is Jason Ritter of NBC’s The Event. He and Anna Wilson, the female lead, act their parts well. In both instances, this is a trip worth taking. []

Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This is a link to "Zeus," very good song from the upcoming British Sea Power EP.



True Panther Sounds

Glasser is a one-woman band, Cameron Mesirow. She sounds like Bjork musically, and a less homey Imogene Heap.

On the surface this album’s music sounds somber and angry. But Mesirow’s singing is thoughtful, and her lyrics offer hope, comfort, solace, and happiness. The music and lyrics provide balance, as does the structure of the album. “Ring” in this case is a chiastic structure borrowed from the oral tradition, where ideas point symmetrically toward a whole. So there is no beginning or end to this album.

This album is fresh and different. It tweaks both standard confessional singer/songwriter folk and electronica at the same time. It is sweet to listen to, as if you and an old friend sharing time together. []

Andrea Weiss

Blonde Redhead

Penny Sparkle

4 AD Records

There is a lot to like about this album. Musically it’s angular, melodic ambient pop, and very atmospheric. The lyrics, while they lack detail, blend in so well with the music that any meaning gets lost.

The album’s one drawback is that the songs sound a bit alike after awhile, but it really is a minor complaint. This is good music for quiet times and rainy days. []

Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Love, the 60s and Garage Rock: An Interview with Jenny Grover

Jenny Grover is a great writer, a good friend, and one of my most valued writing mentors. I have loved both of her novels. In 2006 she published Second Choices, a tale of two artists and the woman who affects both of them. Her latest, The Rooks Parliament, is a novel about teens growing up in the mid-60s, their dreams, their loves, and their music.

I recently interviewed Ms. Grover about her new book. Her answers are interesting, funny, and insightful.

Andrea Weiss

AW: I've not read every book about the 60s ever published, but the ones I have read make very little mention of the middle class and garage rock. Nor did the books I read cover ordinary teens; if teens were shown, they were stand-ins for a whole generation. What inspired you to write a book that stands in contrast to all of this?

JG: Well, in large part, what you said. A lot of the 60s books I've read focus more on hippies and protest music, political protest, or on the more sordid aspects of the sexual revolution and the drug culture. I haven't read many stories about what things were like for the older kids I knew or the hipsters we had our eyes on, ordinary middle class kids listening to AM radio, some of them picking up instruments. Maybe that seems too ordinary for a lot of people to want to write about. Maybe it doesn't carry a heavy enough agenda.

AW: "All You Need Is Love" seems to be a theme of this book, and the mention of "Hang On To a Dream" seems to have some significance. How much of an inspiration were these songs, and which is the bigger theme?

JG: "All You Need Is Love". That idea, and the questioning of that idea, does figure in quite a lot, and I think it's a question that figures heavily into our thinking anyway. Is love all we need? And yes, of course we need food and shelter and such, and holding hands and prancing through the daisies doesn't put food on the table, and anyone who pipes up with that argument at the outset is usually just being a prick [laughs]. Love in the broader sense, love as an approach to how we live, including how we produce and consume that food we have to have, and the other survival necessities and reasonable comforts, not just in terms of the people we work with, but the animals we employ, the earth... but I digress. Love is a big theme of the book, largely in terms of what love can or can't or should or shouldn't endure.

"Hang On To a Dream". Yes, apart from the more obvious use in the story, the title and some lines of the lyrics did appeal to me in light of the story, of people hanging onto dreams, but more as an afterthought than an actual inspiration.

But separation, of various sorts, is a primary theme.

AW: The characters are so real. Was it hard keeping them real? Was it fun trying to make them real?

JG: First of all, thank you. I'm one of these writers who is going to tell you that it's like they already existed and just showed up in my head and started telling me their story, but that really is what it felt like. But in terms of bringing out those individual personalities and keeping their actions consistent with that, you need to be able to get inside their heads, their different heads, and see things and consider things the way they do, and then act on those things in the manner they would. Even the villains. Even someone as loathsome as Dan should make sense as a complex personality and not just be a cartoon villain. I hope I've been successful in that respect. Was it fun? A lot of the time it was, but it was also quite painful at times. I put a lot of myself into my main characters, one in particular, and the pain I funneled into the story came from some very real experiences.

AW: Which one?

JG: Bobby. Yeah, I know it may surprise some people that it's not one of the girls, but I really feel like he's the one who carries my personality and motivations the most. He even stole a lot of my mannerisms.

AW: Who is your favorite character?

JG: Bobby, without a doubt. And now that's going to sound conceited! [laughs].

AW: This seems to be Jules' story as much as Bobby's, and in fact we start out from Jules' point of view. In Second Choices you had Blake and Gus presented in a similar way. Why the dual protagonists?

JG: Dueling Protagonists [begins imitating banjo music]. Sorry. I find first person too limiting for certain stories, and sometimes a more scenic kind of omniscient voice is too removed to suit me. I want a focused story with personalized emotional content, but I like to explore the notion of two intersecting lives, and what those lives are like when they are apart, as well as when they're together. A couple, or a pair of friends, comprise two entities, but when they are together they become another entity still.

AW: Was it difficult to write from different points of view?

JG: I actually find it difficult to not write from different points of view. I am, first and foremost, a visual artist. I'm used to looking at things from a variety of angles, and that carries on into my other thought processes. So, changing viewpoints is just rather like putting on a play when you're the only person in the cast. You switch up roles. If you know your characters well, their personalities and differences and motivations, it's not difficult to get into character for a scene. I try to choose the viewpoint that best gets the message and the emotional impact of the scene across, which usually seems to suggest itself naturally. On occasion during the initial writing phase, I'll write a scene from more than one point of view and then choose the one I like best.

AW: What kind of painful personal experiences?

JG: Phew. Separations. Losing people. I've lost most of my blood relatives now. There are almost none of us left, except distant relatives I don't know. There's also a rift in my family that's resulted in some people just not having anything to do with each other anymore. Thank God my in-laws are wonderful people, because they comprise the bulk of my family anymore. I suffered, and I don't use that word lightly, two serious long-distance love affairs, one of which ended badly, and the other, well, we're coming up on our 28th wedding anniversary, so at least that turned out well. Oh, and a guy I worked with years ago disappeared. That was weird. We weren't real close friends, but we both worked in the camera department, and were planning to go out on a photo shoot our next day off in common, and then a couple days later he just didn't show up at work. They phoned him and his mother and everything and he was just gone. They never did find out what happened to him, at least while I was still working there.

AW: Why garage rock?

JG: Well, like you said earlier, in a lot of books about the 60s, it seems to get overlooked or undermentioned, but it was a huge phenomenon. I love that stuff. A friend of mine referred to my collection of 60s garage band comps as "sick" . And I like revivalists from every decade, as well. Like the Black Hollies. Everyone should check them out. But in the mid 60s hundreds of teen garage bands sprang up all over the US. The suburbs were a fertile breeding ground. A lot of people don't realize that the term "punk rock" was coined in the 60s to describe the more rebellious teen garage bands. It was party music by kids, for kids, and the main themes of protest, at least at the outset, were boredom, curfews, school, fickle girlfriends or boyfriends, dress codes, and lots of sexual frustration. And small record labels popped up everywhere to take advantage. Some were start-ups looking for the next hit makers, and others were vanity labels. Radio back then was localized, not big corporate chains. The chart hits got played all over, but programming was a lot more variable and a lot of local talent got played. Some of those musicians went on to be successful, and for others it was just a passing hobby. Even a lot of the better bands broke up without making it really big; bandmembers went off to college or other careers, got married or got drafted.

AW: One of Bobby and Jules' first conversations is about electronic organs. Could you recommend some well known garage rock songs so that people could tell the difference between different types of organs?

JG: Ah, yes. Vox vs. Farfisa. There were a number of different portable organs that got used by garage bands, as well as the big name bands, but Vox and Farfisa made the most popular and ubiquitous ones. It's not always easy to tell them apart, though Farfisas are generally described as sounding more "reedy". I can toss out a few examples people might know. "Light My Fire" and "House of the Rising Sun" are Vox. "Incense and Peppermints", early Pink Floyd, and the B-52s are Farfisa. But if people are curious enough, there are demos of all sorts of vintage organs on YouTube.

AW: I like how music is used to set a scene. Did you have songs in mind before writing a scene, or did you think of them as you wrote?

JG: I mostly thought of them as I wrote. In some cases I had a band or song in mind that I ended up not using, because I got really anal about being historically correct, so I would check to make sure what year, and, when possible, what month a particular song or album came out. If it didn't fit the chronology, then I chose something else.

AW: Did you write the original lyrics as songs or just as lyrics?

JG: They're songs. The music is in my head. I need to write it out or record it someday.

AW: The sex and romance scenes are handled very well. How hard was it to write them?

JG: How hard? Heheh... Sorry. When I was a kid my mind fell into the gutter and I was never able to retrieve it. But seriously, love scenes and sex scenes are always a challenge for writers. Love scenes can easily get goopy or sappy. With sex scenes you have to decide not only how detailed you want to get about who's doing what to whom, but what tone you want to convey and carefully choose your language to reflect that, and language choices are challenging, particularly when referring to body parts. You can easily sound like you're at a doctor's office, or hanging around the docks, or in some ridiculously euphemistic Romance novel. With this story, I knew there were some places I needed to get into detail, but much of it I leave implied, or referred to in conversation. I've had a lot of practice writing sex scenes, because I've never shied away from it. In fact, I quite enjoy it. And since I try to bring my poetic sense into my prose, I go for language sound and how the sounds of the words relate to the mood I'm trying to convey.

AW: I love the organ joke in Chapter 6. Did you find yourself restraining yourself from writing more?

JG: Well, let me tell you, there is just no way around organ jokes. Someone will always find a way to make one. I really put a lot of work into removing as many potential ones as I reasonably could from the straight narrative. I have writer friends who saw sample chapters or scenes, and I thought surely they would be more mature than that. Boy, was I wrong . But organ jokes are fun and, like I said, you can't get away from them, so I just put one in as part of the story.

AW: If you could picture your characters as real people, who would they be?

JG: Oh man, that's tough. I really, honestly didn't base any of my characters in this story on actual people, and I can't think of any particular real people that fit the bill for any of them.

AW: The Mary Street reference is so cool. Is that one of your favorite Bangles songs?

JG: I do like that song a lot, so when I was making up street names, that just popped into my head, so I used it. I figured people would have fun with it.

AW: I love the cover. Who took the photo? And tell me about the instruments in the picture.

JG: I took the photo and that's some of my gear. The bass is a 1968 Univox Ventures model. I don't have any vintage organs, other than the ones in my body, so that's my Nord C2 with its modernity discreetly covered by a paisley sarong.

AW: San Francisco is portrayed very well. Have you been there or to California in general?

JG: I have visited San Francisco in one of my several visits to California, though I've mostly spent time in Southern California. And my half brother lived in San Francisco in the 60s as a hippie for a while, so I've heard his stories.

AW: San Francisco stands in contrast to L.A. Were you trying to show the good and bad parts of hippie culture and later on, politics? And we see London, as well.

JG: I did want to show the difference in flavor of the music scenes, with San Francisco representing more of the peace and love flower child thing and L.A. getting into some darker things, and use that progression to show not only lighter and darker sides of hippie culture, but of the music industry to some implied extent, and politically, since the band arrives in L.A. just days after Robert Kennedy's assassination, of the country getting increasingly domestically dangerous. And the band is losing its innocence, as well. As for London, I wanted to show some contrast between the US and UK psychedelic scenes, including the rise of art rock, and that many kids in the US were still looking to the UK for inspiration.

AW: You mention a number of well-known real bands, and then you bring in the Nice. Why the Nice? I don't think a lot of people, at least in the US, know who they were.

JG: And that's a shame. They were very popular in Britain, and they did tour the US. I do believe many people are familiar with their keyboard player, however, Keith Emerson. Since this is a keyboard-centric story and the Nice were at the forefront of progressive rock, and Keith had earned the nickname "the Jimi Hendrix of the keyboards" for the wild and creatively noisy way he interacted with his instruments, they seemed a logical choice to me, and I wanted to give them props, as well. Maybe it will inspire people to check out their music.

AW: Why do you choose prog to point to the future, from the vantage point of 1969?

JG: Obviously prog wasn't the only music rising up then that would prove important in the 70s, and beyond. Heavy rock, proto-metal, was developing and gaining prominence, as well. That was more guitar-driven, though, and prog gave keyboards a prominent role. But using the Nice as a reference point, Keith Emerson was really pushing his equipment, quite literally, to do interesting things it wasn't originally intended to do, and he was also experimenting with synthesizers. He wasn't the first to use a Moog in a rock song, nor the first to use one in a public performance, but he was the first person crazy enough to take one out on the road, something they weren't originally designed for, and he worked with Bob Moog over the years to stabilize and perfect the system for that application. Technology kept growing from there.

AW: I don't want to spoil anything for people who haven't read it yet, so I won't mention specifics, but you leave some things up in the air at the end of the book. Do you yourself know the answers, where the story and the characters go from there?

JG: Absolutely. I know what happens to them for years on down the road, and the answers to all the unanswered questions. I could start on the sequel tomorrow, if I chose, but I hesitate to do that. I left those things open for a reason. I want the reader to decide for him or herself what happens. I think each reader will have his or her own desires for what they want to happen, how they want these people's lives to go, and that's part of the point of the story, and their versions might be quite different from mine. I suppose if people did clamor loud enough to hear my vision of these characters' futures I could be tempted to write it, but that doesn't feel right right now.

The Rooks Parliament

Jenny Grover

Brushpanther Press, September 2010.

What seems on the surface to be a conventional boy-meets-girl, takes that well-trodden setting and knocks it askew with what these characters are, and the time period they live in.

I can’t claim to have read everything about the 60s, but what I have read is about hippies, protests, drugs, sex, and famous musicians of the time, but rarely do they mention the middle class, ordinary teens, or garage rock. And while this book does have the usual things, they are seen through the eyes of middle class teens involved in garage rock. That makes for an interesting and exciting novel.

Bobby Lott is a garage rocker, an organ player who plays in three bands over the course of the book. Garage rock was a thriving underground culture of teens who wanted to be whatever Beatle, Byrd, or Stone, and for a while, especially in the mid 60s, it was The Culture. Julia Greene is a rather innocent teen at the start of the story, giggling over rock bands on TV, but her world changes when she meets Bobby. Their relationship makes her grow up fast, in every single way, challenging her views on love and her family, and affects the lives of everyone they know.

Separation in various forms, as well as questioning if "all you need is love,” are the main themes of this book.

The characters jump off the page and come alive. The plot is more than believable. The town they live in could exist somewhere, anywhere in the US. There is an ease to reading this book; while the story is not simple, the language flows soulfully, making for heart-wrenching scenes, but also ones that burst with joy. A compelling story, three-dimensional characters, and a window on a part of the 60s that seems to always slide by unnoticed, make it more than recommended reading for anyone who likes a good story.


Andrea Weiss

Thursday, September 9, 2010



Matador Records

This is a very different band without Carlos -- leaner, and stronger. By keeping the keyboards to a minimum, the band is better for it, because their noisier, jagged, angular, clipped, and choppy guitar playing is what makes these songs shine. This sound is their own, too, and not derivative of various late 70s/80s Brit punk bands. I much prefer it to Turn On the Bright Lights for this reason. It’s better to hear them making their own music, rather than trying to emulate someone else.

Paul Banks’ long-suffering lover-boy lyrics will always be this band’s slight weakness, but with music that is, in its own way, very grand and dramatic, the lyrics are the right fit this time. Indeed, these are his best lyrics yet. And they fit particularly well on the album’s single “Barricade,” a lament on the distance he and his partner have in their relationship. They are extremely sad, but not bleak. He knows he can work it out.

This self-titled album is their best since Antics, and very much worth the wait. It is nice to have them back better than ever, after the letdown that was Our Love to Admire. []

Andrea Weiss

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dylan LeBlanc

Paupers Field

Rough Trade.

LeBlanc is a very talented 20 year old Southerner who takes the best from people like Ray La Montagne, Neil Young, Graham Parsons, and the late Dave Carter at his most depressing and least mystical, and puts them together in a fine debut. LeBlanc sounds world weary and tired, and his country/folk music and lyrics sound the same way.

The only flaw on this album is that the songs crawl along, and by the time the album is finished, it’s something of a slog. But LeBlanc is smart enough to know this, and he’ll work it out. Someone this talented has a long and good career waiting for him. []

Andrea Weiss

Magic Kids


True Panther Sounds

Fun, musically and lyrically is the operative word here. It’s sunshine-like power-pop, a combination of ELO, the New Pornographers, Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, the Brill Building, and Big Shot Chronicles-era Game Theory. Lead singer Bennett Foster even sounds like a deeper-voiced Scott Miller. The boy meets girl themes for lyrics are simple without being simplistic. The only quibble is that the band should have checked up on their song titles. “Superball” is not a cover of the Aimee Mann song of the same name, nor does it sound anything like Mann’s song. But that is a very minor complaint, and certainly doesn’t get in the way of the fun. This is an album to be blasted on a car stereo with the top down on a warm, sunny summer day.


Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Liz Phair



This bolt out of the blue over the July 4th weekend was shockingly unexpected, and a reason to cheer. I really didn’t want Somebody’s Miracle, a good but not great album, and slightly underrated because it’s a little too polished, to be her final statement. So I downloaded Funstyle ASAP.

The album is a mess. It’s a jumble of songs that don’t cohere, but that is one reason why the album is so great. It lives up to it’s name big time, it’s playful like Girly Sounds was, adult like the best songs on Somebody’s Miracle were, and just a blast to listen to, with every song having something cool to offer.

While Phair is no rapper, it’s fun to hear her try on “Bollywood.” There is the smoothness of “And He Slayed Her” where she gives Andy Slater, a former Capitol Records executive that Liz doesn’t think much of, a musical slap in the face, and “U hate It,” a wickedly funny song that at the end has the “thank yous” for the album presented as if she’s won an award.

“U Hate It” like a few other songs on the album, take on the backlash that she’s been unfairly living with since her 2003 self-titled album, the slick one which had critics screaming “sell-out.” But that album, heard now, doesn’t seem too different from her other work, and holds up very well. Liz had moved on from albums like Exile in Guyville and WhiteChoclateSpaceEgg, simply because she wasn’t in her 20s or early 30s anymore, and wasn’t about to be forced to be those ages again.

Net critics like Pitchfork are trying to continue that backlash, but don’t believe the anti-hype on Funstyle. It’s a damn fine album--funny, rocking, and pure Liz. And that’s all that’s needed. []. And at [] a wondeful interview with Liz.

Andrea Weiss


Beachcombers Windowsill


This isn’t a bad album--nice, pleasing to hear, melodic, with friendly lyrics, which are also somewhat sappy. This band’s idea of Brit-folk is to sound like Mumford and Sons without that band’s white knuckle rage and fatalism, but if Stornoway got angry just once about something they would be a lot better and more interesting to hear. Still and all, this debut shows promise. For all the sappiness they’re also thoughtful in a way Mumford and Sons aren’t, and in the end likeable as well.


Andrea Weiss

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Loving Farewell: Kathryn Calder’s Home-spun Tribute to Her Mother

I first heard of Kathryn Calder when she joined The New Pornographers, and soon after, Immaculate Machine, a very good indie folk/rock band who disbanded in 2009, though they are still friends.. Calder’s contributions to the New Pornographers are wonderful, and “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” is one of my favorite songs on Together. I found out about her solo album Are You My Mother? from “My Morning Download” a feature on WXPN, Philadelphia’s public Triple A radio station. The song in question was “Slip Away.” That sweet, sad and terrific song led me to her album, which I reviewed for this blog.

Are You My Mother?, named after the children’s book of the same name, is a loving memorial to her mother, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. The album is not a eulogy, but a heartfelt farewell. The album was recorded at her mother’s house, while Kathryn cared for her, and the music has a homelike, lived in feeling, and is simply amazing to hear.

Calder took time out of her busy schedule, which includes touring right now with the New Pornographers, to answer some questions. I sincerely thank her for her time and her thoughtful answers.

Andrea Weiss: What type of music were you listening to while making this record, since the album seems to be folk/rock?

Kathryn Calder: I was listening to all kinds of things – I love the Brazilian 60’s psychedelic folk movement, it inspired me to want to use percussion as much as I did instead of a drum kit. I also took a lot from Sigur Ros. I think they are brilliant at atmosphere. I wanted my record to have lots of weird sounds and I wanted the songs to each have a mood.

AW: Who are your influences?

KC: My influences are the great songwriters/arrangers of the world. Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, David Bowie, Serge Gainsbourg.. I love a good song!

AW: I know that your mother had let you record your album in her living room. How did that feel to you?

KC: Well, I love my house. I grew up there, so it’s very comfortable to me. It’s an old character house from 1912 with high ceilings and hardwood floor, and we set up in her living room – there was an old wood sliding double door that could slide open or closed between the guest room and the living room, so we made the guest room the control room and the living room the tracking room. We choose to record the album there partly because the acoustics were so nice, and also so I could record and still be at home, which was important to me. Among other reasons, I had been on tour for almost three years strong at that point, so the idea of leaving my house to go to another city to record wasn’t appealing to me at all.

AW" Did your mother get to hear these songs? And if she did, what did she think of them?

KC: She loved them! She listened to the record every day. Seriously, it was on almost every day. She was very supportive of me!

AW: I like the way you use the seasons changing, summer into fall, and then fall into winter, as a metaphor for loss. What about the seasons inspired you to use this?

KC: I think it was more a metaphor for change than for loss. It also works for loss, but I was thinking of it in terms of life always moving forward, whether you want it to or not. It’s a well used metaphor, but also a good one.

AW: There are songs like “Castor and Pollux” that just burst with life and happiness. Did you want these songs to balance the sad ones?

KC: Yes, that really was my intention. I wanted there to be some balance, I didn’t want the whole record to be the same kind of song, so I chose to include some upbeat songs in there.

AW: There are songs with wonderful wordless refrains where everyone is singing in unison. Are those refrains one of your favorite types of refrains?

KC: I don’t know if they’re my favourite type of refrains, but sometimes melodies just work better in ooohs. That was the case for my song ‘Slip Away’. I thought about putting some words in there, but nothing sounded as good as the ooohs, so I had to go with what sounded the best.

AW: Was it a different dynamic making a solo album, as opposed to one from The New Pornographers or Immaculate Machine?

KC: It was a different experience for me. I had complete creative control over my solo record. I wrote all of the songs and a lot of the arrangements. I had help from my various musician friends who came up with amazing parts, but a lot of it was also me and my producer Colin Stewart messing around late at night with strange objects trying to come up with percussion parts or those subtle background noises that add those interesting layers.

AW: Any tips for aspiring musicians?

KC: Have fun and good luck!

Andrea Weiss

Friday, July 16, 2010

Perfume Genius



Mike Hadreas is Perfume Genius, and his songs, recorded while living at his mother’s house for a year after living through some dark and horrible times, are mostly just him at the piano or organ. He is very young, in his 20s, and while his voice is one of a young man, he seems wise beyond his years, years of very hard living.

If these songs were total fiction, Hadreas would be just one more whiner and/or cry baby. But these songs allude to where he has been emotionally, and the situations he found himself in, which is what makes them real and heartbreaking. However, by facing down his feelings, memories and thoughts, he offers hope that if he can get healthy, others can too.

This is a great album, cathartic, wrenching, painful, but yet uplifting. Hadreas has a lot of talent, and it will grow. It will be wonderful listening to it happen, and hearing where he will take us next. []

Andrea Weiss

Mystery Jets


Rough Trade

This is prog at it’ most plastic, like Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” or Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” What saves these songs from total lameness is that the band mixes in variations on Blur’s “Boys and Girls” or the Gorillaz’s “On Melancholy Hill.”

Lyrically the best line is a dumb joke: “the birds and bees, they all have STD’s.” Otherwise these songs are fairly pleasant, if lightweight musings on falling in and out of love. So, if something bouncy and light is needed, this album is perfect. []

Andrea Weiss

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kathryn Calder
Are You My Mother?
File Under: Music

These brilliantly simple, yet emotionally complex songs have a directness reminiscent of Dar Williams and Jonatha Brooke at their most stripped down lyrically, with the homespun quality of early Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s music. There is sadness, happiness, anger, fun, and a gentle good humor, a young woman finding her voice, feeling older, sadder and wiser, yet knowing good things are out there.

Calder recorded these songs in her mother’s living room, playing most of the instruments, with Colin Stewart producing the album. Todd Fancey and Kurt Dahle of the New Pornographers (of which Calder is a member) and Ladyhawk, along with Paul Rigby from Neko Case’s band, are some of the special guests. Neko Case sings on two tracks to round out the guest list. All make the music magical, and amazing. This rough folk/rock soars. Calder’s singing is a joy to hear. She is very down to earth, wise, but also lets her emotions show, and it’s these emotions that make the songs vibrant.

Kathryn dedicated Are You My Mother to her mother Lynn, whom she cared for as she was dying of ALS, (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Her mother did hear these songs, loved them and listened to the album every day. However, this album is far from a eulogy. Instead, it’s a tribute, a heartfelt good-bye, a loving thanks for the memories, that assures her spirit will live on in this music, and also observers that life is for living and being happy. Put all of the elements of the album together, and this is the debut of the year, and also one of the best albums of the year. Out now digitally and on CD August 11. [][]
Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

XL Recordings

This is a fun album to listen to. Guitars and keyboards zoom, swoosh, and swoop in and out of the mix. Electronically altered voices “do-do-doing.” “oh wow” and “yeah.” A string section weaves in and out good naturedly, and in the end the album is goodhearted, goofy, and a blast to hear, even as the pieces sound too much alike in spots. Nevertheless, this is techno with a sense of adventure, absurd humor, and playfulness, perfect for dancing and any situation where fun music is required. []
Andrea Weiss

True Panther Sounds

For all the happiness shown on these tracks, all the joy and ecstasy this danceable synth-pop has, it is also soft enough that by the end of the album the music loses steam, becomes tiresome and, finally. boring. A song or two might be good for the dance floor, but as a whole, it’s best to skip it. []
Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Holy Fuck
Young Turks/XL Recordings

This is friendly techno, with a real life drummer as well as drum machines. Nice to chill out to, but not good for dancing. It just sails gracefully to nowhere, with a beat so monotonous that it’s hard to concentrate on it. In the end, great background music, and nothing much else. []
Andrea Weiss

The National
High Violet
4AD records

Nothing quite fits together on this album, for all the right reasons. For example, depressing lyrics are offset by music that is hope filled, glorious, beautiful and soaring.
Nothing makes quite sense lyrically, whether the rather unclear meanings are about love or life, but the music picks up the slack, and makes the lyrics meaningful, filling the gaps with insight. The singing here is rich and reminiscent of Michael Stipe, yet the REM comparison doesn’t quite fit, because the band has its own sound and doesn’t emulate REM. Finally the lyrics are smart, and well-written, but a little too insular. This said, the overall sound of the music and lyrics is great, and proves to be just as rewarding at their last album Boxer. []
Andrea Weiss

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Modern Folksinger. An interview with Mark Erelli.

I’ve been listening to Mark Erelli since his first album. He is an amazing songwriter, and singer, and his new album, Little Vigils. continues his string of great albums. The Darwin Song Project is also very good, a celebration of Darwin as a person and his work. The album that was drawn from the concert, Origin of the Species, is fun and very serious at the same time.

I recently interviewed Erelli, and found his answers thoughtful and insightful. And I apologize for misinterpreting one of his songs.

Andrea Weiss: Nature in its spiritual form seems to inform the lyrics of the songs, to form an atmosphere of the natural world. How important is that realm to the album?"

Mark Erelli: There's a lot of natural imagery on this record, both on a larger, landscape scale (e.g. oceans, mountains, etc) and on a more finely detailed level (e.g. life cycle of a parasitoid wasp). Nature is a big part of how I observe and interact with some notion of an infinite force, which is how I would loosely define spirituality. Now that I have a son, I'm understandably sharing with him some of the ways with which I interact with nature, and as such, it is on my mind a lot. On Little Vigils, nature is very much the backdrop against which many of these songs unfold.

AW: The album seems to say that people should take nothing for granted. Do you intend that to be the theme of the album?

ME: Yes, this is the larger subtext behind the phrase "little vigils." I use it in the opening track, "August," as a specific reference to checking in on my sleeping son every night before turning in myself, a moment to keep watch over the most important thing in my life. After I made the record, looking over this group of songs I see that same idea woven through each one. It's like I'm reminding myself to pay attention, live life fully and consciously, and keep watch over the things that make life so rich and fulfilling, lest I take them for granted or they slip away.

AW: How much of this album is based on your own personal experiences?

ME: From the above, I guess this is obvious, but most of these songs have very personal origins and meanings for me. However, there is a healthy degree of universality here--this is stuff we all can relate to. I'm fairly certain that comes across, because I think of my songs as drawing much of their strength from the fact that I am not much different from anybody else. I don't view myself as some rarified artist doling out insights to the less enlightened. The stuff I write about is what anyone could see and feel if they were tuned in to the world.

AW: Did the album start from the Darwin Song Project, or from a different place?

ME: I had other songs written before the Darwin Song Project, but had not written much in the 7-8 months before that experience. The project really shook things loose for me from a writing perspective, and helped me finish up the batch of songs that came to be "Little Vigils."

AW: Was it fun making the album, especially since you had worked with most of the people on it before?

ME: Making this record was a blast. It's hard to compare to the process of making my previous records because I'm more experienced and confident now, and I'm not as anxious or stressed out that things will fall apart. I had worked with all the guys in the band in other formats, like bluegrass bands or as other artists' sidemen, so there was a good foundation of friendship and mutual admiration. To be able to work together on something that wasn't just a one-off show or random club date and dig into something a bit more substantial and extensive, I think was really enjoyable for everyone. Plus, when you have all your friends in a Maine farmhouse for four days, with whiskey, bb guns and rock n' roll...if you don't have fun you are most certainly in the wrong line of work.

AW: How do you feel your songwriting has evolved over the years?

ME: I'm not sure how or if the finished product of the song I write has changed, but I know the way in which I go about writing songs has changed substantially. I used to have plenty of time to sit and stare out the window with a guitar and a cup of coffee, waiting for inspiration. Nowadays, with a young son and another on the way, I have to work much more quickly, and I steal moments to work on songs bit by bit whenever I can.

AW: The Darwin Song project is very pro-evolution and anti-religion, was there a desire to push the envelope on that subject?

ME: With all due respect, I disagree with the entire premise of this question. The songs on the Darwin Song Project focus far more on the personal life of Darwin as a father and husband. There are many more references to the fact that religion and science can co-exist, or at least comment on different areas on the continuum of human experience, than there are disdainful dismissals of faith. Even my song "Kingdom Come," ends with Darwin professing his wish that he could believe in heaven so as to be closer to his devout wife. In general, I have no desire to write a song with the sole purpose of pushing envelopes or upsetting people, but I also feel it is dangerous to censor myself by not writing about something I feel deeply about for fear that it might anger someone else. All I can do is write the best song I can, offer it up as honestly as I'm capable, and then hope nobody labels me inaccurately.

AW: Was the Darwin Project album fun to record?"

ME: The Darwin Song Project is a lot more fun now that it's in the rearview mirror. While we were writing the songs and preparing for the live show where they would be recorded, it was so stressful that basically half of us were making ourselves sick with anxiety and rundown with colds! After we'd come through successfully on the other side and the project was completed, I think everybody looks back on it as a lot of fun, but we probably didn't feel it when we were in the middle of doing it.

AW: Is Darwin an influence on you?

ME: Sure, in the sense that any original thinker who comes up with an earth-shaking theory that entirely restructures the way the human species looks at itself! I have always been into the nature, I played in the woods a lot as a boy, so his ideas resonated with me once I got to the point in school when they were introduced. As I have researched Darwin 'the man' more, I can see a lot of his qualities as a father and a husband that I would be grateful to emulate.

AW: Did you really have a band like the one in Basement Days?

ME: Yes, I really did. Several, in fact. I didn't make up much in that song, not even the names of my former bandmates! I may have thrown a couple of songs in there that we didn't actually play simply because they preserved the rhyme scheme, but 99% of it is true, including the bit about the fire department shutting down a local gig because of our smoke machine.

AW: What do you think of young folk singers like Neko Case?

ME: I think she is the latest in a line of truly unique and iconic American voices, stretching from Roy Orbison and Willie Nelson, up to more recent singers like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Iris Dement and Patty Griffin. These artists could sing the phone book and make it sound otherworldly.

Watch the video for "Basement Days" here:

Mark Erelli
Little Vigils
Hillbilly Pilgrim Records

The top-notch playing on this album can shift on a dime to folk, to country, to rock. Erelli and his band are well versed in all three styles, and the playful, yet serious music they make is both fun and insightful. Even when the lyrics are downcast, like on “Hemlock Grove,” the music illuminates the lyrics to give the song a haunted feel, a feeling of experience, and lessons learned. There is even a roaring guitar solo in the Springstein- like “Basement Days,” about Erelli looking back on his teen years, and all the rock bands he played in, even one that had the plug pulled on them in a church basement because the fire alarm was set off by their dry ice machine.

The natural world and spirituality are woven into a theme of never taking anything for granted, whether it’s keeping an eye on his son while he sleeps, starting over by leaving some place, like “Columbus Ohio,” or Darwin as a man and a scientist. And Darwin provides a good and interesting twist to the subject of spirituality.

Erelli was invited in 2009 to perform on The Darwin Song Project, a concert and album celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin. The album that is drawn from that concert, the Origin of the Species, is highly recommended, both for the rollicking folk music, and the lyrics examining Darwin’s work and his life as a husband and father. All sides are examined, including religion, which at first glance sound anti-religious and really aren’t. His two songs, “Kingdom Come” and “Mother of Mysteries,” which also appear on Little Vigils in a band format, are very much in this vein lyrically, just delightfully expanded and musically lively

This is a wonderful, thought provoking and versatile album, one that has meaning, and yet never seems weighed down. One of the best and strongest albums I’ve heard all year.
Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Matador Records

Good basic garage rock, very retro-sounding musically, as in three chords and the truth bashing away. Lyrically, slightly more sophisticated, which makes them modern garage on the topics of “my baby done me wrong,” “I love my baby,” and “the whole world is against me, but I’ll survive anyway.” A fun party album and just a fun album period. []
Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

S-M 2: Abyss in B Minor

The first track of this album sounds very sensual, but also very industrial musically, but sounds nothing like the rest of the album. The rest sounds like a popper version of My Bloody Valentine, with wonderful melodies, and sweet singing from both vocalists. It’s very creative and experiential music, but totally accessible at the same time. The lyrics are buried in the mix, which is not a bad thing. They blend with the music nicely. The few clear fragments seem to be about sex and desire. In the end, there is nothing not to like about this album, which makes it very enjoyable.

Andrea Weiss

The Unthanks
The Unthanked
Rough Trade Records

The Unthanks are sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, who have made a terrific modern folk album. Their musical style is to meld traditional folk with an eerly calm atmosphere reminiscent of Radiohead and Fleet Foxes. This makes for tranquil music that is also arresting. Their voices are gorgeous: lilting, sweet, but also tough.

Lyrically it’s storytelling. For example “Annachie Gordon.” They are good writers, especially on “Not Much Luck in Our House” and “Where’ve Yer Bin Dick?” the two best tracks. So let’s give thanks to the Unthanks for a wonderful album, one that has already won raves in the UK, and hopefully will get them in the US. []
Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Titus Andronicus
The Monitor
XL Recordings

This is a fun concept album. Was the American Civil War won, lost or ever completed? A young man leaves New Jersey for Boston, and hopes his future is there. What does it means to be an American in 2009? And should indie rock ask all of this? Finding out the answers to these questions is great, especially when the music goes full tilt throughout the album.

Lead singer/songwriter Patrick Stickles makes fun of Conor Oberst and pays tribute to Springstein simultaneously by sounding like Conor, roaring drunk, tries to imitate Bruce, and does a great job of it. The music is raucous, rowdy, fantastic, and funny. There are lots of New Jersey in-jokes, but you don't have to get the jokes to enjoy the record.

Since this is a Jersey band, there are a lot of cool jokes about the Garden State, like “there’ll be no more cars on the Garden State Parkway.” The song titles do have something to do with the Civil War, like “Four Score and Seven Years Ago.” And the album ends with all the loose ends tied up neatly, for one thing, the union did with the Civil War, and that’s damn good, with feedback fading quietly, and respectfully, a way to bring to a close a terrific album. []
Andrea Weiss

Ted Leo
The Brutaliist Bricks
Matador Records

Leo’s Matador debut finds him making a few changes to his basic punk rock style. He sings and plays softer on some songs, which has the effect of emphasizing his messages. On others, especially “Even Heroes Have to Die” are folk/rock, and where he sounds like Billy Bragg in his prime.

Elsewhere, his music bristles with sharp guitars, which start the revolution, and end it in triumph. A nice contrast to the more singer/songwriter songs. His music makes the lyrics bite, never more so than this line on “Ativan Eyes”: “The means of production are now in the hands of the workers.” That’s an old-fashioned Communist slogan, which he’s serious about. Better a leftist revolution than a right wing one. Likewise on “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees,” he dreams of happy times after the revolution has been won.

Love is also political to him, and not as sexual politics, but as a foundation to build a new world. He knows he’s messed up with a lover, and wants her forgiveness. And love is a revelation to him, one that makes him happy and hopeful.

A clear-eyed leftist message set to fiery punk rock, and to gentle folk, is a tonic for crazy political times. It makes for a fine album, and one that makes you think about rising up, and making sure tomorrow better than today. []
Andrea Weiss

The Morning Benders
Big Echo
Rough Trade

Lead singer Christopher Chu and Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear produced this album to sound apparently like a 90s power pop album. Specifically, the sound is along the lines of the people Jon Brion worked with in the 90s, like Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright. The sound of the Posies and the Eels also show up in the mix. That does not mean that the music is bad or retro, just fresh, different and interesting. It is very good, grand, playful, and creative.

Lyrically, the writing is smart and witty. One example is a line in the single “Excuses,” “You tried to taste me, and I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body.” Another is “Hand Me Downs” about death and what you’ll leave behind for others to carry on with.

This is a very good album whose pleasures hit in a rush at first, then slowly sinks in. The afterglow stays after the album is finished, lingering a long time. []
Andrea Weiss

Quarantine The Past

This career-spanning comp’s songs were selected by the band, who are currently on a reunion tour. They document a great band, that in it’s own way, was as good as Nirvana.
While they didn’t have the chart success that Nirvana had, they, and many other bands like Sebidoh to Liz Phair, were just as influential.

Pavement’s music was both a comment on and compliment to grunge, they created a sound, lyrically and musically, that showed there was more to 90s rock than grunge. They offered an alternative to grunge, especially on “Range Life” where they made fun of the Smashing Pumpkins and played a lighthearted joke on the Stone Temple Pilots.

Lighthearted irony was also a big part of Pavement’s sound, whether is was Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg) shredding on guitar or Steven Malkimist’s wry voice and dry wit. Joking around when everything looks hopeless is a lot of fun to listen to, and a good attitude to have. Even when they played a song that was more serious, they didn’t take themselves seriously, which was great, and adds to the fun.

“Summer Babe,” “Stereo,” and “Shady Lane” to name a few masterpieces, are all on the comp, with lesser known prizes like the REM tribute “The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence.” “Cut Your Hair,” which rang true in 1994, rings even truer today.

Quarantine The Past is a good starting point for new fans, a romp for the faithful, and a wonderful look at a band that should have been huge. It is great to have them back, and this comp is a cool way to welcome them. []
Andrea Weiss


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