Coachella's 2009 Line-Up

I usually don't talk about shows on here (especially ones that I regrettably won't be able to attend), but I felt that this year's Coachella line-up is too good to ignore.  Among this year's participants (listing those important to me):

Friday- Paul McCartney, Conor Oberst, Beirut, The Black Keys, Girl Talk, M. Ward

Saturday- The Killers, TV on the Radio, MSTRKRFT, Calexico, Blitzen Trapper

Sunday- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Lupe Fiasco, Public Enemy, Okkervil River, No Age, Sebastian Tellier


Pre-Screening: M. Ward

Album: Hold Time
Artist: M. Ward
Label: Merge
Due Out: February 17th

Bright must be the new black. In what has already been a very notable year for music, M. Ward's latest effort, Hold Time, is already standing tall, much due to its bright and personal nature. In past years, it has seemed that a more distant and subdued sound was what the best albums were made of, but so far in 2009, we've seen a clear departure from this tendency. What has caused it? Perhaps the current economic times are making artists try to focus on the more pleasant and simple aspect of life. Maybe it's reflective of renewed optimism. One can't know for sure, but it is indeed, welcome.

Hold Time starts with the aptly named "For Beginners," a great mood setting piece about the search for, and discovery of, religion. Ward's classic and smoky vocal style is the proper vehicle for the visualization, as it easily conveys a personal and meaningful journey. Then, just in case you had forgotten the incredibly successful She & Him, Zooey Deschanel reunites with Ward on the second track, "Never Had Nobody Like You"- a pleasant song which would have easily fit on 2007's Volume One, but still does quite well here. The themes of the ease and simplicity of one's love for another, presented in somewhat 1960s packaging made possible by Deschanel's presence, seem to roll off the tongue- a smooth and natural track which will be sure to make year-end lists everywhere. The first half of the record does a fantastic job of maintaining an aesthetic, with one seemingly drifting from song to song, all keep themselves under three and a half minutes. While Hold Time is nearly 45 minutes long, I can't help but feel as if it breezes by, even with more relaxed songs, such as the largely instrumental "Hold Time" (see video posted her from earlier this month) and Buddy Holly cover "Rave On".

The second half of Hold Time presents a more subdued tempo, while still keeping up with the positive and engaging nature of the earlier part. Most of these tracks take the shape of apparent second-guessing and realizations. It's here that we are treated to much of the existentialism and inner thought one is generally accustomed to when listening to Ward. Songs such as "Fisher of Men," "Blake's View" and "Shangri-La" draw your attention with honesty and a vibe that gets you to imagine walking in a circle of thought. Ward is aided by an appropriately-chosen cast including the aforementioned Deschanel, Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Lucinda Williams, and Tom Hagerman (DeVotchka) in putting together a dynamic and intelligent piece of art, more endearing with each listen. As firmly as your hand is grabbed to start the record, it is just as softly released at the end. The songs gracefully escort you out, and walk you to the door of whatever mindset you were in before listening in a way seen only so often in today's music world.

As Andrew Bird's Noble Beast was, and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion could very well end up being, Hold Time is M. Ward's best work to date. And it was obvious on my first listen. The record hands you a mood to be in and a mindset to exist within. Over the past 12 months, Ward has shown us, through the execution of two great records for two different projects, that he is evolving as an artist for the better. If the first two months of releases are any indication of what we're in for from a music standpoint this year, I'm pleased and excited for what's on the horizon. For those looking for a comparison to M. Ward, check out Andrew Bird, Iron & Wine and Conor Oberst's solo work.

Rating: 8.5/10

Best Track: "To Save Me"


Matt's Track of the Week: "Take it Easy (Love Nothing)"

Song: Take it Easy (Love Nothing)
Artist: Bright Eyes
Album: Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
Year: 2005

From as far back as I can remember, I have had a soft spot in my heart for electronic-based music.  That being said, I also have a soft spot in my heart for all things Bright Eyes.  Put the two together, and we have one of my favorite albums of all-time.  

2005's Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is not quite electronica, not quite pop, and not quite rock or folk, and I think that is where the allure lies.  The track I chose to highlight, "Take it Easy (Love Nothing)", has the visual and imaginative lyrics of a Conor Oberst classic (i.e. "If you stay too long inside my memory/I'll trap you in a song tied to a melody/And I'll keep you there so you can't bother me"), coupled with some of the most intricately-layered and diverse music he's put to tape in his expansive career.  

The song chugs along with steadily muted guitars and moaning, chip-tune-like synths and fuzzy drums, reminiscent of sounds you might hear coming from a Nintendo Gameboy, alongside the lyrics of one-night stands and lessons learned, softly-sung by Oberst.  This continues up until the conclusion of the last verse, when the tension of the tight arrangement finally snaps, and the melodic elements of the song grow to fill the empty space, climbing and falling with the percussion to the end.  Unfortunately, it wasn't available to stream from Imeem.  So enjoy this live video.


John's Track of the Week: "Cuando Maravilla Fui"

Track: Cuando Maravilla Fui
Artist: El Guincho
Album: Alegranza
Year: 2008

I've been posting about older songs for the past few weeks, so I figured I'd give my take on something a little bit newer, and lesser-known.  El Guincho, the recording alias of Spanish musician Pablo Diaz-Reixa, also of Coconot.  His latest album, last year's Alegranza, is a fantastic combination of traditional Spanish music, as well as Animal Collective style freak-folk and some Caribbean afro-beat sounds.  

Out of all of the tracks on the record, I felt that "Cuando Maravilla Fui" was the one which most displayed the contrast of style and texture careening throughout Alegranza, and had the most potential listening appeal to someone who hasn't heard El Guincho before.  The track is fun and seemingly free of limitations, as is the rest of the album.  I'd highly recommend this to fans of the aforementioned Animal Collective, as well as The Ruby Suns and maybe even Vampire Weekend.  Enjoy.


New Nick Thorburn, "Used to Be Funny"

You'd think that a guy like Nick Thorburn, aka "Nick Diamonds" wouldn't need a solo album.  I mean, he's in/been in five bands (The Unicorns, Islands, Th' Corn Gangg, Reefer, Human Highway).  But, apparently, he's in need of another outlet, one with a much more mellow sound, so I'd assume that this solo project is it.  Below is a link to a an early mix of "Used to Be Funny" off of I Am An Attic, which Thorburn plans on releasing for free later on this year.  I'm a fan of the track, as it really is something that wouldn't fit into the aforementioned bands' repertoires.  So, check the deal, and listen/download, courtesy of Stereogum.


New Lil' Wayne, "Prom Queen"

In some very interesting news this morning, Stereogum tells us that Lil' Wayne will be putting out a "rock record" called Rebirth.  The first single from this album, apparently, is "Prom Queen," which you can find either here at Stereogum, or at Lil' Wayne's MySpace as of tomorrow (1/27).  I've heard the song, and I have to say, I'm intrigued, and maybe even a bit baffled.  It seems to start out with one of those crappy, generic radio rock intros that I make a living out of hating on, but then Weezy hops in with the auto-tune.  For me, the verdict's still out on this one, as I'm going to need to hear the song a couple more times, and would like to hear the record as a whole before passing judgement.  Rebirth will be out via Cash Money/Universal/Young Money on April 9th.  Start the countdown and get excited.


Royal Bangs on Daytrotter

Matt's a fan of these guys, so since he rarely gets legit internet access anywhere, I figured I'd post this as a service to him, as well as you, the readers.  Royal Bangs recently did a session with Daytrotter, posted here.  I plan on checking it out in a bit, but for those who don't know, Royal Bangs is a little-known band from Knoxville, TN.  They play pretty cool, seemingly older (as in late 90s-early 00s) style music in the vein of At the Drive-In, amongst others.  Check out their Last.FM page here too, if you're in the mood.

Animal Collective's Bowery Ballroom Show

MORE Animal Collective news, courtesy of Stereogum.  Their Bowery Ballroom show from the night of the 21st is up in full here.  I've listened to bits and pieces, and it's definitely worth checking out.  You can either stream or download the show, so make the choice that best suits you, and your AC needs.  Have fun.

Oh, and the track order, in full, just in case you were wondering (album in parenthesis):

1. "Also Frightened" (Merriweather Post Pavillion)
2. "My Girls" (MPP)
3. "Blue Sky" (New, non-album track)
4. "Slippi" (Here Comes the Indian)
5. "Leaf House" (Sung Tongs)
6. "Summertime Clothes" (MPP)
7. "Guys Eyes" (MPP)
8. "Lablakley Dress" (Danse Manatee)
9. "Fireworks" (Strawberry Jam)
10. "Lion in A Coma" (MPP)
11. "Brothersport" (MPP)
12. (set break)
13. "Winters Love" (Sung Tongs)
14. "Comfy in Nautica" (Panda Bear's Person Pitch)

Pre-Screening: Handsome Furs

Album: Face Control
Artist: Handsome Furs
Label: Sub Pop
Due Out: March 10th

Apparently Face Control is a reference to discrimination by club owners and bouncers who try to limit entry based on affluence and attractiveness. Though I've never heard the phrase before, I'd say it's very appropriate here, with Handsome Furs' new album, Face Control. Picture Wolf Parade, covering trance music and playing in the middle of a night club. Got that visual? That's Face Control, in the best sense of course. Lead singer Dan Boeckner does a great job on this album of using the familiarity of his voice (from Wolf Parade) to draw in listeners, and then, he surprises you, using this side project to explore a realm of electronic experimentation. This pop style, in the spirit of many side projects today, is crafted by a simple two-part group (in this case Boeckner and his wife, Alexei Perry), fooling around with synths and drum machines while mixing in guitar riffs here and there. Though Boeckner does lean heavily on the stylistic constructs of Wolf Parade, there is definitely enough differentiation to warrant a new monicker.

As you begin Face Control, you feel as if you've just entered a rave, or something like it. Pulsating electronic drum beats grab you instantly on "Legal Tender" and don't seem to let go until the album reaches its close. The quickened pace, as compared to Wolf Parade's work, is not as technical or, at times, consuming, but what Handsome Furs accomplishes is giving you the desire to get up and dance- playing on a bright sound that already seems to be the recording norm in 2009. In another break from its "parent band," lyrics are thrown into a sort of secondary role, which applies to nearly every track, elevating the musical aspects and sounds above the vocals in importance. The lyrics are important, don't get me wrong, but in no way are they that critical to enjoying the songs.

After the quick opener, you are carried throughout the record by the aforementioned drum beat, pop hooks on guitar choruses, and a loud sound that would seem to easily fill a room. You may start to notice at one point or another that Face Control begins to resemble New Order, or Wolf Parade covering New Order- an intriguing combination indeed. It's almost a given that Handsome Furs buoyed the sound of this album in the influential alternative rock/new wave group, and the proof is in the name of track five, "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything"; a direct reference to the elder band's work, which needed to be cleared with lawyers and ultimately pushed the release of this album back by about five weeks.

Upon completion of Face Control, I can say with a clear conscience that an updated version of new wave has a place in today's music scene, and it could be in the context of Handsome Furs, and like-minded musicians. For a side project, the band takes a cool approach- sounding very much like its predecessor, while changing the music and genre enough to stand on its own, and exist in a different end of the music spectrum (another example of this may be Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service). After my first listen here, I was interested. After my second, moving with the music. By the third listen, it was almost a new record, as you begin to fully absorb and appreciate all of the sounds surrounding you, that make these tracks what they are. This one's not out for awhile, but, once it is, I know everyone will be talking about it. Similar artists may include Wolf Parade, New Order and TV on the Radio.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Track: "Radio Kaliningrad"


Matt's Track of the Week: "Sunday Under Glass"

Title: "Sunday Under Glass"
Artist: Beulah
Album: When Your Heartstrings Break
Year: 1999

Something I have always found interesting about Beulah's 1999 release, When Your Heartstrings Break, is that every song is almost like its own little universe of sounds.  The record, as a whole, utilizes several dozen different horns, string instruments, synths, and other, more exotic music-making mediums.  Every track showcases a different combination of these, to create a dynamic, miniature, finished work of art.

One track that does an especially good job of demonstrating this, and one that I have been listening to frequently as of late is "Sunday Under Glass".  The first half of the song is driven primarily by soaring trumpets and upbeat, fuzzed-out guitars.  Then, at approximately 1 minute and 51 seconds, the guitars get clean, the drums get bouncy, and a dreamy synth comes in to create an almost somber mood.  These instruments are then joined by strings and a flute that carry the song to the outro, and once again, change the scene.

What I find most fascinating about this song, is how it begins and ends at two completely different sides of the spectrum, and how it truly brings the listener along for the ride.  Check it out below.


John's Track of the Week: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"

Track: I Want You (She's So Heavy)
Artist: The Beatles
Album: Abbey Road
Year: 1969

Sorry to include another track having linkage to The Beatles in any way, but this song had to be discussed.  For the past week, I've been listening to a lot of The Beatles (among other artists, of course), specifically 1969's Abbey Road.  One of my favorite albums of all-time, it's layered with classics, the true epitome of the band's diverse body of work.  The track that stands out the most, however, is "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (with input from Yoko Ono), the song explores a very different side of The Beatles.  The melody and verse are simple, repeating the same words and guitar chords in descension.  It delves into a part of psychadelia and almost prog-rock with its grinding, driving guitar and spiraling vocals.  I'd consider this to be the band's heaviest song, while others may insist "Helter Skelter".  Either way, still a very enjoyable listen.

Unfortunately, due to Michael Jackson owning a good portion of The Beatles' library (among other reasons), the track isn't available in its original form on Imeem.  However, the version of the song from the motion picture, Across the Universe is, and should suffice.

Animal Collective's "My Girls" Video

It feels like the only news I've really cared about lately is Animal Collective-centric.  I promise that's not the case, but, now we have more:

The band's video for the increasingly-awesome "My Girls" is out, and is fantastic.  Allusions to Apple commercials and an underwater vibe seem to fit the track, and Merriweather Post Pavillion as a whole, as a sort of unspecified sonic experience of pop music, which you may well only be able to fully get if you're underwater (?)  Regardless, I'd check out the video below, as well as the group's interview with the New York Times.  Enjoy, and if you don't already have MPP (out now via Domino Records), I'd highly recommend acquiring it.


Pre-Screening: Vetiver

Album: Tight Knit
Artist: Vetiver
Label: Subpop
Due Out: February 17th

For an album cover this blue, Tight Knit is surprisingly bright. Vetiver's fourth full-length effort is full of energy, airy sounds and a happy demeanor, creating a relaxing and rewarding atmosphere. If you happen to enjoy where you are, and who you're there with, many tracks on this record can, and should, appeal to you. Similar to Wilco, it's a brand of alt-country that creates an atmosphere from the onset, and maintains it, wrapping the listener in what could be a simpler, easier way to look at life.

"Rolling Sea" gets the ball rolling, so to speak, setting a mood and tempo that brings to mind relaxation and springtime. This can be contributed to both the sound, and lead singer Andy Cabic's seemingly effortless approach to vocal expression. In the classic folk/alt-country tradition, Cabic, on this song and the record as a whole, seems to laze about his words, allowing them to sort of crawl out as each tune progresses, lethargically finding its way within the melody. This is not a criticism, but rather appreciation for his abilities as a singer to hone his voice to fit the genre, and the band's sound, so well.

To me, the most notable portion of this album spans from the second track, "Sister," up to the fifth, "Down from Above". Starting off lively, and pleasant, and ending that section with a refrain- the slow down to a crawl, and diminishing sound down to a whisper, it's a great selection that really speaks to the core of the record. We pick back up again, however, with "On the Other Side," as the swing and energy of the record comes back in full force, and continues into "More of This," a dead ringer for what happens when you mix The Strokes and M. Ward.

Coffee house jazz, and maybe even a bit of rock 'n' roll make an appearance here as well, fueling "Another Reason to Go". From there, Tight Knit cruises to a triumphant and subdued end, easing you out of the experience as subtly as possible. My thoughts on Tight Knit as a whole? It's the type of record which you can't have trouble listening to- it's relaxing charm and mood make it an easy listen, and one which you don't have to concentrate all that much on to fully absorb. I wouldn't call this a dose of Americana, but it's simple and straightforward, and a bit old-fashioned. Regardless, it's worth listening to. Similar artists can include Wilco, Grizzly Bear and M. Ward.

Rating: 5.0/10

Best Track: "Everyday" (available via Stereogum)

Animal Collective's Got A New Song Already?

Apparently, yes, it would seem that they do.  While touring in London, the band revealed that they've been wasting no time in beginning work on new material, with the track currently called "Blue Sky".  As is always the case with an Animal Collective song, it's interesting, and can usually reveal more about itself to you with each listen.  Check the deal below.

Unrelated side note: My review of Vetiver's Tight Knit will be up this afternoon, so stay tuned.


M. Ward's Hold Time, Now Streaming

Sorry I missed out on this when the news first broke, but I've been a bit busy. Apparently, you can listen to the new M. Ward album, Hold Time, over at NPR, which is pretty cool, considering it's not out for another month. We'll have an article up about the record by the end of the month, but until then, feel free to check out the link below. Hold Time is out February 17th, via Merge.

Oh, and here's a free mp3 off the new album, courtesy of Stereogum>>

New Decemberists, "The Rake's Song"

It seems like new tracks are popping up everywhere as of late.  Next on the list, The Decemberist's "The Rake's Song" off of their upcoming album, The Hazards of Love.  Still over two months before the record hits stores, people are clamoring for anything they may hear from the band's latest effort.  Perhaps this was used to calm everybody down for a bit.

I'd suggest giving "The Rake's Song" (see below, courtesy of Stereogum) a listen, or a lot of listens, since I've found it to be such an enjoyable track.  The Hazards of Love is out March 24th, via Capitol Records.


New Beirut, "La Llorna"

The first noise out of the Beirut camp comes from the first single off of the upcoming March of the Zapotec/Holland, "La Llorna".  As many have heard, Zach Condon recorded half of the album in Mexico with the Jimenez Band, and the other, a series of home recordings.  This track and video are both extremely interesting, as Condon has adjusted the Balkans-sounding Beirut to the Mexican atmosphere in which he was recording in.  The result- so far, so good.  March of the Zapotec/Holland is out February 17th, via Pompeii Records/Ba Da Bing.

John's Track of the Week: "Instant Karma!"

Track: "Instant Karma!"
Artist: John Lennon
Album: Instant Karma! (Single)
Year: 1970

After much deliberation, this week's Track of the Week is John Lennon's "Instant Karma!"  Released in 1970, the song is notable for being one of the quickest releases in music history- as it was written and recorded January 27th, and released just 10 days later.  Though the song came out the same year that The Beatles officially broke up, the link has never really been made between the song's name and subject matter, and the dissolution of the band.

Later, George Harrison would say that he thought the song related to Buddhism (the 'karma' part), and the 'instant' was in reference to how quickly the song came together.  Of all of Lennon's solo works, this is probably one of the most popular, and has been used as a cultural reference for musicians, authors and filmmakers alike.  Check it out below.


New Vetiver, "Everyday"

Stereogum beat me to this little news item, but nonetheless, I'll be talking about it here briefly.  Vetiver's fourth studio album, Tight Knit is due out on February 17th, via Subpop.  For those who aren't familiar, Vetiver is a folk outfit, fronted by Andy Cabic and usually associated with Devendra Banhart.  The first single, "Everyday" is legally available for free download below.  It's quite a bright and cheery number, as is the rest of the album, and exists in stark contrast to the very blue cover art.  I'll have a Pre-Screening segment up about Tight Knit, in full, either Thursday or Friday.  Until then, enjoy this sample:

Matt's Track of the Week: "New Year's Kiss"

Track: "New Year's Kiss"
Artist: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Album: Etiquette
Year: 2007

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone began as the product of film school dropout, Owen Ashworth, making Lo-Fi, synth and drum music on small, battery-operated keyboards.  As you will hear in the song below, he has slightly upped production value to give the music a little space to breathe on his latest record, Etiquette.  Still, it remains in the same vein as his earlier releases, and I see it as a mature development.

I came across this track while making a New Year's Eve playlist this year, and it immediately struck me as interesting.  From the distorted opening percussion, to the minimalist piano, and Ashworth's unique vocal delivery (which is strangely reminiscent of a disinterested David Bowie), I thought it seemed like something worth sharing.  I would definitely recommend checking out the rest of his work if you feel the same.  Listen below.