Saturday, September 30, 2006

(09.30.06) Recommends:

Horse Feathers, "Words Are Dead" (Lucky Madison, 2006).

Even though this album was only released on September 26, and even though I have only listened to the album twice all the way through, I am willing to say that it will end up on most critic's Best of 2006 lists. This album features banjos, mandolins, fiddles, etc. But it also has a certain indie rock feel to it. If you like Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, M. Ward, or good music generally, you will instantly love this album.

Their myspace.
Their label.

Friday, September 29, 2006

(09.29.06) Recommends:

Old 97s, "Hit By A Train: The Best of the Old 97s" (Elektra, 2006).

A Greatest Hits record is like a band on life support. And watching a band like the Old 97s on life support is strange, since anybody who saw the 97s live knows they are one of the great live acts of their generation. I hope this is the last 97s record ever. It would be a nice ending. The 97s are a young man's band, and the 97s are no longer young. They are older, and married, and have kids. Rhett Miller, the main force behind the band, is off trying to make a name for himself with increasingly interesting solo records. And anyway, you can't blow the roof off a shitty, smoke-filled bar, populated by college kids with stomachs full of Free State Oatmeal Stout, in Lawrence, KS at 2am on a Wednesday when you are old, and have a wife and a kid. But this album is the perfect ending to the 97's legacy. Live, Rhett Miller is a born rock star, playing the 200-person capacity Bottleneck in eastern Kansas as if it were a sold-out Madison Square Garden. But, first and foremost, this band is about the songs. While fans will quibble with the precise selections of songs for the album, the arrangement has a nice distribution from their first five albums. And what is particularly striking about the songs, of course, are the lyrics. I have no doubt that at some point in his career, Rhett Miller will write a novel, and he'll finally receive the writing credit he is due. [Rhett Miller actually made a contribution to Issue 12 of McSweeney's, the influential literary journal.] This band is truly one of the great mysteries to me. How they never became one of the most popular bands on the planet is completely beyond me. Fifty years from now disaffected suburban middle schoolers will be carving Rhett Miller lyrics into their school desks. Fifty years from now music critics will be listing "Too Far To Care" as one of the essential albums of the 90's and "Satellite Rides" as on of the essential albums of the 00's. Fifty years from now critics will list Rhett Miller as one of the essential song writers of his generation. For now, we should all go out and buy this record. Because just maybe, even though it's well past the time when the Old 97s could put on a show like they did in their prime, the band could exit the stage with a commercially successful album. I really hope it happens this time.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

(09.28.06) Recommends:

Alden Penner, various live recordings.

So, yesterday I mentioned the rise and fall and rise again of 2 of the 3 Unicorns, which may lead one to reasonably question whatever became of the third member. The music of that member, Alden Penner, certaintly warrants its own recommendation. When my mind is working in cliches, it thinks that if the Unicorns were Uncle Tupelo, Nicholas Thorburn (aka Nick "Neil" Diamond aka the one who went on to form Islands) would play the role of superstar rockstar Jeff Tweedy, and Alden Penner would be the quiet genius, true-to-his-craft artist, Jay Farrar. As with the UT splitup, where people who report on such matters allege that Tweedy and Farrar wanted to go different directions, the path that Penner has taken is different, but worth listening to, especially because it drives home the point that there was some serious talent when the Unicorns were together. His music is much sparser now. It's a mixture of Appalachian porch music, and Irish pub music. Recent shows have featured just him on guitar and another person on fiddle.

Or, maybe this Tweedy/Farrar theory is contrived from endless listens to some of his live stuff available on The Secret Unicorns forum. The bootleg section has a nice selection of live Penner tracks (click on his picture to get to his tracks). My personal favorite, and the reason for this entry, is Untitled 3, from the CKUT 90.3 FM Radio Sessions. It is a nice song to listen to as you are falling asleep. So hurry up and download the track quickly, because the bootleg section of the website is only open for a few days each month, today being on of those days.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

(09.27.06) Recommends:

The Lovely Feathers, "Hind, Hind Legs" (Equator, 2006).

Today, three recommendations for the price of one. A musical tripartite, if you will. Many (most?) good stories begin in Canada and feature mythical creatures. This recommendation-cum-story will be no exception.

Chapter 1: Unicorns Are Forever.
In late 2003, the Montreal-based band The Unicorns released the album Who Will Cut Our Hair When Were Gone? This album is hard to describe, so Ill settle on this: it is clearly one of the greatest pop/rock records released since the time of Mozart. Was Mozart a purveyor of pop/rock records? The answer, found in two seconds on Google or wikipedia is, undoubtedly, yes. WWCOHWWG? is strange and quirky and beautifully crafted and just fucking brilliant pop music. It features -- again, undoubtedly, here -- the greatest rock flute solo of all time. For years I have struggled with this question: Did the Unicorns, as a result of their finely-honed musical chops, intentionally create this album? Or did they merely stumble upon brilliance? Listen, and decide for yourself.

Chapter 2: Unicorns Aren't Forever, After All.
So, by 2005 the Unicorns were so 2004. As in, i.e., they broke up. But, as Unicorns arent completely real in the first place, so it was with the breakup: roughly 2/3rds of the original members went forth to form the Montreal-based band Islands. Islands released the infinitely listenable Return to the Sea in the first half of 2006. This album was released by Equator Records, a new-to-me record label out of -- you guessed it -- Montreal.

Chapter 3. Islands Might Not Be Forever, Either, But Luckily Equator Has Other Bands On Its Roster.
So, by the second half of 2006, the drummer of Islands has quit, but the band marches on, carrying with it still roughly 1/3rd of the original members of the Unicorns. There was a long stretch in 2006 when my car stereo was exclusively playing Return to Sea. As such, I kept the CD case on the front passenger seat, which caused me to notice the Equator Records logo on the back of the CD. Knowing that unicorns are not so much real, and Unicorns are no longer, and Islands are definitely real, but may or may not be longer [due to (a) departure of drummer and (b) global warming], I was curious whether Equator Records was real, and if so, whether it was still in business. Friends! Equator is Alive, and this album Hind, Hind Legs is great. (As an aside, Equator may or may not be run by former, current, or future members of Islands nee Unicorns). Its more of that Canada freak-out music. A little more Wolf Parade than Unicorns [I would recommend Wolf Parades full-length proper debut here as well, but, much like the Shop At Home Network, four recommendations for the price of one would quite literally bring upon me financial ruin.], but more Unicorns than Frog Eyes. All and all, it's a good album by a band that's getting out there and creating interesting things. And is there really anything more we can ask from a band?

Note: To the first person who can correctly name the Kansas City venue at which the Unicorns performed in the Spring of 2004, goes a copy of "Do They Know Its Hallowe'en," the UNICEF-commissioned (& fund raising) Halloween theme song penned by some of the Unicorns/Islands boys and additionally featuring the following individuals, bands, or individual members thereof: Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Devendra Banhart, Beck, Buck 65, Dessert, Elvira (Mistress of the Dark, late of Manhattan, KS), Les Savy Fav, Rilo Kiley, Sloan, Smoosh, David Cross, Feist, Sex Pistols, Peaches, Postal Service, Sonic Youth, Sum 41, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There are even more contributors, but if I type more, your head will probably explode from too much awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

(09.26.06) Recommends:

Rogue Wave, "Descended Like Voltures" (Sub Pop, 2005).

This album is not new, though good it most certainly is. It's an atmospheric, pop-rock, indie-folk-punk type of record. I've been listening to it a lot lately because the band is holding a benefit concert Saturday, September 30, at the Independent in San Francisco (the band is from the city as well), and the show is the real thing that I am recommending (though, once you start listening to this record, you will constantly come back to it over the months and years). It turns out the drummer needs a kidney transplant. So, they've gotten some friends together and are playing a benefit to raise money for medical expenses.

Guests include:
*Ben Gibbard, from Death Cab For Cutie
*John Vanderslice
*Ryan Miller, from Guster
*Matthew Caws, from Nada Surf
*MC of the event San Francisco resident Daniel Handler, dba NY Times best selling author Lemony Snicket
*"Other Special Guests"

As to who the OSGs could be, I would just like to throw out there that on the afternoon of the benefit, just down the 101 from the Independent, Shoreline Amphitheater will be hosting Download Fest 2006, featuring, among others, Rogue Wave, label-mates The Shins, TV on the Radio, Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Let the internet speculation begin.

If you are not in the Bay Area, but would like to make a donation, go here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

(09.25.06) Recommends:

+/-, the song "Steal the Blueprints" from "Let's Build a Fire" (Absolutely Kosher, forthcoming Oct, 24 2006).

I first heard this song on the most recent Absolutely Kosher podcast (the podcast of an interesting Berkeley-based label, which I will also recommend in this space, and can be heard here: The song can be heard via the podcast, or via the music video on the +/- website, I'm just now being exposed to the band's body of work, so I don't know how this song compares with their older work, but I've been listening to this song on repeat a lot lately.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

(09.24.06) Recommends:

Antarctica Takes It!, "The Penguin League" (Self-released, 2006).

In keeping with the "kids-in-college-making-fun-music" theme, today I recommend Antarctica Takes It! You can buy the album for a mere six bucks via the mailing address on their myspace page. There, you can also listen to three of the songs for free ( The songs are upbeat, folky, poppy. If the band claimed to be from Montreal or Brooklyn, I'm sure you'd have listened to them by now. Instead, they're in Santa Cruz, Calif. home of one the the most wonderful college campuses I have ever seen. The young are the future of our country. So, go forth and listen to ATI! today.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

(09.23.06) Recommends:

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, the song "Anne Elephant" from the album "Broom" (Self-released, 2006).

I'm sure you've heard the old adage, "sometimes you have to travel 1,800 miles to appreciate what was right in front of your face the whole time." This happened to me this summer, when I received an email that a band, named after the former first president of Russia (look, I'm not a freaking scholar of Eastern Europe...I don't know what his title was, and frankly I don't care. All I know is that Ronald Reagan single-handedly tore down the Great Wall of China, and saved the world from Communism, and in the process helped spread White Castle hamburgers all over the Free World, so get off my back already.), was playing at one of my favorite venues in the City and County of San Francisco -- The Independent. The band, which I will refer to in shorthand as SSLYBY, is from Springfield, Mo. I wasn't sure what to think about the band until they broke out this song. Then I rejoiced. I might have even dried a stray tear as I recalled the land from which I came. In my defense, the band members look like they couldn't be older than 21, so it's not like I really ignored them while I was living so close to them. I'm pretty sure they were in middle school while I was still around. Regardless. Go to their myspace page ( and fire up the song "Anne Elephant". Rumor has it a real live record label is going to re-release this album. If this is true, do the Ozark Mountain Music Scene a favor, and support this band.

Friday, September 22, 2006

(09.22.06) Recommends:

Irving, "Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers" (Eenie Meenie Records, 2006).

The title track sounds like it came from Liverpool in 1963. It's from LA in 2006. It's like cosmic rock. Psychedelic pop. Of Montreal and Beechwood Sparks. Hooks and harmonies and whirling background noises. The band is a "collective" which, wikipedia tells me, means all the members write the songs and share lead singing duties.

Also recommended: "The Curious Thing About Leather" from their 2003 EP "I Hope You're Feeling Better Now" (currently available for listening on the band's myspace page: I almost fear recommending this song, because once you hear it you'll have to listen to it on repeat for four straight weeks. Down with productivity! Up with Irving!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

(09.21.06) Recommends:

The Long Winters, the song "Clouds" from the album "Putting the Days to Bed" (Barsuk, 2006).

Okay, so here's the thing about The Long Winters: I can never recommend an entire album, because there's always a hand full of songs that make me kind of cringe, or make me kind of bored. And that might prevent them from achieving huge widespread success. And that's a tragedy because they are, by far, one of the best live bands on the planet. Live, the songs that otherwise make me cringe, make me instead smile and dance, at least in my awkward white man dance style. John Roderick follows the voices in his head, and the world is a better -- better! -- place for it. The last time I saw them they opened for The Fiery Furnaces in a tiny basement bar in the City and County of San Francisco. And god bless The Fiery Furnaces, but there was nothing they could have done to prevent from being completely overshadowed by the show put on by The Long Winters. So, maybe you'll check out the new album or maybe you won't. No faulting either choice, really. But if this band is playing in your hometown, or within a reasonable distance of your hometown, and you pass up the show, you are making a terrible mistake. For those in the Bay Area, they play at Café Du Nord on October 13 (Barsuk label mates What Made Milwaukee Famous open the show).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

(09.20.06) Recommends:

Ben Kweller, "Ben Kweller" (ATO, 2006).

It seems likely that at some point Ben Kweller will put out a bad record. But this is not it. This is a good record. People with ears should go out and buy this record. Note: You can also stay in and buy the record on e.g., your computer. This is also recommended.