Apr 282010

The Shondes, My Dear One

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Artist: The Shondes
Album: My Dear One
Label: Fanatic Records
Release Date: Tueday, 2010.5.4
Score: 9.5/10

I’ve often harped on the importance of Sophomore albums. They’re easily important as first and last albums, and perhaps even more so if the band wants to have any sort of longevity. So it’s my pleasure to say that the second album from The Shondes is good. Really damned good.

Loyal readers (there have to be at least a few of you) will remember that The Shondes released one of my favorite albums of 2008. That debut (Red Sea) was one of the most original and important albums of the year. It was also awesomely fun and rocked pretty damned hard.

Well, The Shondes’ sophomore effort is about to hit the market and, thanks to the good folks at Fanatic Records, I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten my hot little hands on a copy. And it’s flat-out awesome. It’s every bit as excellent as their first album.

The instrumentation and pacing of the new album are much as they were in the last one. Energetic, mid-tempo rock songs with a lyrical focus and plenty of tasty instrumental hooks. (For the record, the violin/guitar/bass/drums instrumentation works far better than I would ever have imagined.)

The Shondes themselves claim that it’s a break up album. But I genuinely think it’s more than that. I think it speaks to a deeper, more visceral human experience. While most of the songs are framed in terms of the end of a relationship, I think that it’s really more of a heartbreak album. Heartbreak is a more universal human experience, and I think it’s one that My Dear One speaks to well extremely well. Songs like “Nothing Glows” powerfully evoke the sick, sad greying effect of heartbreak. The notion that one’s “bruises don’t turn black and blue” is a particularly effective image for the fact that it shows just how dulling heartbreak can be.

The lyrical focus of the Shondes’ sound lends itself particularly well to this album. Songs like “You Ought to Be Ashamed” profit from my lyrical breaks and a melody that’s carried (or at least matched) in the vocals. This is largely to the credit of Louisa Rachel Solomon, who provides most of the album’s vocals and whose dusky, dextrous voice is powerful and expressive throughout the entire album. (Though for a particularly good example, give a listen to “Miami”.) Also notable are the vocals that Elijah Olberman contributes to the album (“The Coming Night” and “All the Good Things”). Olberman’s smooth, expressive voice has a wonderfully androgynous quality.

As in the first album, Temim Fruchter’s drumming is rock solid. Fruchter reminds me of some of the best jazz drummers I’ve heard, adding energy and style to a song while never stealing the show. (Cf. “Fire Again” and Fruchter’s rambling, snare-heavy lines.) Solomon’s bass work is similarly solid and unobtrusive.

The only lineup change since the first album is the replacement of Ian Brannigan with an artist named Fureigh. Fureigh’s style is remarkably similar to Brannigan’s, and meshes well with the rest of the band.

My only major complaints about the album are with regards to the production quality. The whole album seems to have a flat, muted sound to it. This saps it of some of the energy it would otherwise have. This is particularly noticeable (unfortunately) on the lead title track. While this sound grew on me somewhat, I feel like the album could have profited from a brighter, cleaner sound and less post-production sophistry.

My Dear One is great rock album. It’s raw, emotional, and gutsy as hell. Songs like “Let’s Make It Beautiful” show how well the Shondes can take classic Rock forms and give them a unique sound and form to create something new and interesting. This album is well worth the price, both for fans of the first Shondes album and for people who love rock and want to hear something that’s genuinely new.

Dec 172008

Best Albums of 2008

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Well, it’s that time of the year folks.  Snow is on the ground and lists are in the air.  And not one to miss out on a good excuse for a list, this week’s Tuesday Playlist will be usurped instead by my picks for best album of the year.  Two notes before we begin, though:

1.) So I take it from the resounding silence on Friday that no one who reads this blog is interested in playing the Friday Five Quiz Game.   (Save for Ann.  Thanks, Ann!)  I dig.  If anyone’s still curious, the answer was that all the bands had had a member die while the band was active.

2.) As my friend Mike reminded me, the new album by Jubilee is supposed to be out sometime before the end of the year.  Now that I’ve been reminded of that, I do remember reading that somewhere, but now I can’t find any info on a hard release date.

So with those notes out of the way, on to the list.  There was some pretty stiff competition this year, and a lot of records that would have been clear choices other years just didn’t quite make the cut.  Below are my choices for the best albums of 2008.  As always, feel free to tell me in the comments just how wrong I am.

Fifty-Two Tuesday’s Best Albums of 2008

5.) Yael Naim, Yael Naïm

With a history-making single, “New Soul”, and an album to match, Israeli pop songstress Yael Naïm exploded onto the American scene earlier this year.  The album is a trilingual pop masterpiece that makes me sincerely hope that we’ll be hearing more from Ms. Naïm in the future.  If for no other reason than I’d love to have a few more catchy Pop singles like the bopping, upbeat “New Soul”.  Seriously, go listen to it a few times.  That is what a pop single is meant to be.

4.) The Shondes, The Red Sea

For as much as I’ve squeed about this album the past year, you’d think this was my number one album of all time at all, ever.  Really, it’s just a damn fine album of solid rock music that’s novel and interesting besides.  What makes it even more amazing is that it’s a self-released album by a comparatively obscure bunch of rock mavens.  I honestly think that it’s not only one of the best albums of the year, but also one of the most important.  The Shondes are playing with genre, message, and composition in ways that other bands lately just aren’t.

3.) The Cure, 4:13 Dream

Simply put, this album was a tidy, well-produced encapsulation of everything I’ve ever liked about the Cure.  Slick, guitar-driven New Wave, heavy with quippy little hooks and dark, dream-like lyrics.  Well-crafted songs, clean production, and Robert Smith and company in top form.  What more can one ask for, really?

2.) Portishead, Third

Normally when we say that a band’s new album was “worth the wait”, we’re not talking about a wait of a decade.  That is, of course, unless we’re talking about Portishead’s highly anticipated third album, the aptly named, Third.  This album is not only the best that this year in Synth Pop had to offer, it’s good enough that it may well set the bar for the genre for a few years to come.  Rumor has it Portishead are already hard at work on the next album (working title: Fourth ?), so our grandchildren will have that to look forward to.

1.) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

On the surface, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ fourteenth studio album is full of exactly the sort of crunchy, noisy, dark rock that we’ve come to expect from them after all these years.  But dig deeper (no pun intended) and there’s also some pretty clever images and some pretty powerful recurrent themes.   It displays the sort of deep symbolism and insightful commentary that common opinion tells us doesn’t exist in modern music.  It marries form and substance into a package which, aside from being great rock music, is excellent art.

Video: The music video for the title track off of Nick Cave
and the Bad Seeds' Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!.

Honorable Mentions:

Chris Walla, Field Manual

Okay, so apparently I was the only person in the world who liked this album?  I thought it was both well-conceived and well-executed, but other reviewers seem to be sort of tepid at best about it.  Admittedly it hasn’t grown on me much, but I thought it had a lot of good tracks and really wanted only for cohesion.  I mean, hell, it deserves a spot on this list if only for the fact that it contains some of the first politically-oriented music I’ve heard in ages that didn’t make me want to reach through my stereo and punch whoever was singing it.

The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely

If anyone ever asks me to defend my assertion that The Raconteurs are one of the best narrative bands in modern music, (second, I think, only to Nick Cave) I’ll point them to two songs: “The Switch and the Spur” and “Carolina Drama”.  Admittedly, the former isn’t really a coherent story so much as a brilliantly drawn-out snapshot scene from one, but they’re both exactly the sort of evocative, rocking tunes that make the band both great musicians and great storytellers.  To be honest, I kind of hope that they’re next album is a rock opera.  Yeah, you heard me.  I said that I’d welcome news a Raconteurs rock opera.  So there.

Dec 092008

Intro: Hey, did you hear the one about the deaf trombone player?  .  .  .   Yeah, neither has he.

Listening: Well, I finally managed to break, at least temporarily, my Silversun Pickups addiction.  It required a potent cocktail of the new Killers album, the latest Luomo album, and several listens through The Shondes’ The Red Sea.

Now I talked about the Killers album last week, and it’s just grown on me since.  But the surprise find of the week was this band Luomo.  Maybe it’s just me, but until I ran across a tweet on Jeph Jacques’ twitter feed about their album Convivial.  He mentioned that it’s a blend of good modern techno and vocal house, both things of which I am a fan, so I figure I’d give it a try.  I liked the samples I found online, so I grabbed a copy over at Amazon.  And, well, Jeph’s description is apt: the album blends the bend of light, chirpy techno with classic-sounding, vocalled trance tunes.  I’m especially a fan of the track “Love You All” which features legato vocals over a busy, syncopated beat and makes great use of breaks.

Another tune I’m particularly fond of is “Slow Dying Places”, which starts of with a laid-back, bass-centric sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Thievery Corporation album.  It slowly builds, adding faster and more percussive layers, until it’s morphed into a great upper-mid-tempo dance track.  The production and crafting on this tune are particularly masterful.  A lot of layers very different layers all blend together to make a tune that’s as intricate as it is energetic.

The whole album is full of well-crafted trance tunes and is well worth a listen for any fan of trance, techno, or other forms of electronic dance music.

I also recently got around to putting The Red Sea back in my car CD player.  I know I’ve squeed about this album at length in this space, but seriously: if you don’t have a copy, by all means GET ONE.  Easily one of the best rock albums of the year.  (Which is kind of impressive, since it came out the second week of January.)

Upcoming: Wow, yeah, I gotta be honest folks, there’s nothing between now and the end of the year that I’m really all that excited about.  I think everything that might be interesting got a mention last week.  I mean, hell, word has it that even the new Busta Rhymes album is being delayed until after New Years.

Please tell me I’m missing something?  There has to be something good coming out this month.

Thinking: Okay, so I finally got an .mp3 player for my recent trip to DC (I know, I know, I’m the last person on the planet to have one.)  And I knew that once I finally got around to getting one, I’d definitely make good use of it.  But I never realized just how much use it would see.  It goes to work with me every day, and when I’m not listening to it at work, it’s in my bag right next to whatever book I’ve chucked in there for reading material.  And I wind up listening to it a lot.

Which makes me REALLY regret getting the cheapo, $30 2GB, off-brand player.  (Which, by the way, has a shitty little speaker in it.  Which is turned on by default.  That, plus nice headphones, meant that I annoyed the shit out of everyone in earshot the first time I turned it on, because the crappy little speaker was blaring away and I couldn’t tell, because it was playing through my headphones as well.  That wouldn’t have been so embarrassing, but the first time I turned it on was on a crowded airplane.  Thanks, Onyx, your .mp3 player won me the “Douchiest Passenger on the Plane” award!)

So basically, now that I’ve got an .mp3 player, I need a new .mp3 player.  Any suggestions on what to get?  Should I just forget comparison shopping and get an iPod, or are their better deals out there?  I don’t need a huge amount of space, nor does it have to be tiny.  (In fact, large would be preferable.  I have big Polish ditch-diggin’ hands, so a bigger interface wouldn’t be a bad thing.)  Also, I’m clumsy, so if they make ruggedized .mp3 players, that might be a good place for me to start looking.

Well lazyweb?  What’s the right .mp3 player for me?

News: Okay, so the big news of course is that Coldplay are dirty, filthy plagiarists, according to Joe Satriani.  Of course, according to Coldplay, they’re not at all.  It’s looking increasingly like the courts will get to decide.

Here’s Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”:

And here’s Satriani’s “If I Could Fly”:

Personally?  It kind of sounds like Coldplay should have called their track “Viva La Vida (Joe Satriani Cover w/ Lyrics and None of the Bitchin’ Solos)”.  ‘Course the parenthetical part of the title makes the title kind of awkward, but hey.  Better an unwieldy track title then losing all their album profits in court . . .  What do you folks think?

In other news, Damon Albarn’s massive ego, along with his vacant, smug stare and pasty, spindly body will be reuniting with the other three guys who were in Blur to do a tour.  Er, I’m sorry, did I say tour?  At the moment all they’ve really announced is that they’ll be doing one show, in Hyde park.  Tickets go on sale later this week for the show, which is in July.  I feel this is a bit pessimistic, because the odds of a Blur reuinion show taking longer than a few hours to sell out are slim.

Song of the Week: Okay, so to make up for all those mean things I said about Damon Albarn, here’s Blur performing “End of a Century”, from their The Best Of DVD:

P. S.: Props to Parlophone for allowing embedding of the videos on their official YouTube channel.

Sep 292008

The Shondes and Peter Parker @ The High Dive, Seattle, 2008.9.19

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Thanks to leaving late and the Freemont Neighborhood being slammed for an Octoberfest celebration (which seemed a bit premature to me, it being September) I missed most of the opener (a group called Ms. Led and arrived just in time to see them start clearing the stage to make way for the Shondes.

Let me just say right off: if any of you get a chance to see the Shondes live, do so. They put on one of the most energetic, talented, and charming live shows I’ve seen in a long time. It’s rare to find a band who is so obviously skilled at and passionate about making music, and a real treat to see them live.

Elijah Oberman makes the violin sound like it was made for rock and roll, which is quite a feat. Temim Fruchter drums with tons of exactly the sort passion and intensity that makes rock drumming great. Ian Brannigan, while the least animated on stage, laid down some truly epic guitar lines. Louisa Solomon lead the band with grace and wit, sang with beautiful intensity, and backed it all up with some thunderous, infectious bass lines.

The Shondes are really one of those bands that sounds better live than on their album. Post production takes a lot of the edge of their musical sound and saps some of the emotion from Louisa and Elijah’s exceptionally evocative vocals. The few parts of the Red Sea which sounded forced or strained on disc sound natural and effortless in person.

Their set, while shorter than I would have liked it, was well-planned, hitting some of the best cuts off of their album and including enough new material to get fans (or at least this one) excited about the prospect of a new album. They had the sort of stage presence that many bands with twice their time in the industry and orders of magnitudes more fans can’t even hope to match.

In short: go see them. The High Dive, a good venue though it may be, was too small for the Shondes. They’re a great and important band who really deserves to be playing the nations top venues.

The truly amazing Shondes, however, weren’t the only band to deliver a great set that night.  After they’d cleared the stage, Seattle local act Peter Parker took the stage.  Before I arrived at the high dive, I had never heard of them.  This, I quickly found out, was my loss, because they are easily one of the best noise-rock bands I’ve heard in quite awhile.  Their fuzzy, guitar-and-drum-driven sound was energetic and fun.  The band were musically tight and were exceptionally professional and confident in their stage presence, despite some technical difficulties.

Being both well-skilled and local, they came equipped with their own cheering section.  This was a nice touch since I can think of no place I would rather be then a local rock show, listening to awesome music from a passionate band, surrounded by people who also would rather be nowhere else.

So impressed was I with the four-piece noise-rockers that as soon as I got a chance, I tracked down copies of their two LPs, which available as CDs through J-Shirt Records or digital downloads via the band’s MySpace.  As an aside: their first album, Migliore!, is all kinds of awesome.  I would tell you how many times I’d listened to the track “Goldenstate” in the past week, but I’m not sure numbers go that high.

Simply put, this show was one of the best I’d attended in quite awhile.  Both bands that I had the pleasure and privelege to hear (and I’m sad that I couldn’t hear the other two that played that night; I also had to leave before the last band of the night played, so that I could down to my brother’s place at a reasonable hour) gave absolutely stellar performances and are highly recommended to anyone who gets a chance to catch one of their shows in the future.

One last note: for any who are interested, there are some pictures up on my flickr account.  Unfortunately I continued my near-perfect record of forgetting my camera, and so they were taken on my phone.  As a result, they are not only dark but also marred by that stupid little Helio watermark which I loath which an almost super-human passion the likes of which is rarely seen outside H. P. Lovecraft villains.  (Most are also a bit blurry, but that’s mainly owing to the fact that it’s difficult to take pictures whilst in the process of dance one’s ass off.)

Sep 242008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.9.23

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Intro: There’s nothing quite like a rock show after a long hiatus to get me excited about music again.  The Shondes show this past weekend was brilliant (as was an all-too-short weekend in Seattle with friends and family).  I’ll have a full review up in the next couple days, but in the meantime, your regularly scheduled music column.

Listening: The new Amanda Palmer album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, Roadrunner Records) is pretty awesome.  It’s a lot like the Dresden Dolls material, but it focuses a little more on lyrics and is even more keyboard-heavy.  Also to say that the album is “a bit Freudian” would be to submit a strong contender for “Understatement of the Year” award.  The album is completely dominated by themes of sex and death. And while the presentation may be a bit gratuitous for some people, Palmer definitely gives off the vibe of being completely comfortable with her subject matters.  It’s rare to find someone who sings effortlessly about such taboo topics as rape, abortion, and murder.

If such topics don’t throw you off, however, and you like a dark, piano-heavy sound, it might be worth checking the album out.  Palmer’s vocal work is largely pretty good (though a few tunes get a bit overly warbly for my tastes) and the writing and musicianship is superb.  (The album features work from musical guests Ben Folds, East Bay Ray [Dead Kennedys], and Zoë Keating [Rasputina].)  So if you’re a fan of the Dresden Dolls, or like dark, jangly, well-crafted tunes with a decidedly Freudian bend, you should definitely give Who Killed Amanda Palmer? a listen.

The other album I picked up recently was Costello Music (Fallout Records), by the Fratellis.  I had never heard the Fratellis before “Henrietta” (the opening track to Costello Music) popped up on Pandora, and I was immediately hooked.  The whole album is full of noisy, jazzy pop tunes.  “Henrietta” serves as the perfect opening for a fantastic pop cabaret.  The whole album is energetic with fun guitar hooks and infectious rhythms.  I strongly recommend this album for anyone who listens to music at all.  If you have ears, you owe it to yourself to give this album a spin.  I guess I can’t guarantee that everyone will love it as much as I do, but if it doesn’t get you dancing in your chair, or at least tapping your foot, then you should consider consulting a physician, since you may well be dead.

Upcoming: So I come to find out today (from the lovely Ann) that Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley, the Postal Service, and numerous side projects) has a new solo album out?  It’s called Acid Tongue and there’s stunningly little information about it on the interwebs.  It was apparently released earlier this month, but it flew well under the radar getting there.  So scads of new albums out today and in the next few weeks.  I’m personally curious to hear the new Thievery Corporation album that hit stores today.

Also those mad genius in the Flecktones are coming out with a Christmas album.  I’m generally not that big on holiday albums, but if anyone can make a non-annoying version of “Jingle Bells”, it’s probably these folks.  Or at least a version with a few awesome solos.  (Seriously: Viktor Wooten could play John Cage’s “4’33″” and still manage to fit in a bitchin’ bass solo somewhere.)

And of course, there’s the new Oasis album, Dig Out Your Soul, which it seems like I’ve mentioned pretty much every week for the past few months.  October 6th needs to hurry its ass up.  Not that I’m excited about it or anything…

One other veteran release to look forward to is the 13th studio album from The Cure, which hits shelves (both physical and digital) on the 14th of next month.

Thinking: Oh man, it was so good to get to go to a proper rock show again.  A tiny college bar, crowded right up against a tiny stage, dancing my ass off to some truly awesome rock.  It was amazing.  As I said, I’ll write a more complete review in a day or two, when I get a chance, but suffice it to say that I’m still grinning about it.  And seriously, if any of you ever get a chance to see either the Shondes or Peter Parker live: GO!  You won’t regret it.

It got me thinking, though, that there’s a huge difference between going to a concert or a festival and going to a rock show.  Rock shows in local venues have a certain intimate feel to them that you just don’t get when you see a big-name band in some mega-venue.

Part of it is just the difference in physical space.  At the Oasis show I went to a few weeks ago, I would have been hard-pressed to be able make the stage with a thrown bottle.  At the Shondes show, I was pressed right up against the stage for most of the set.  (In fact, the venue was so small that people were afraid of getting too close.  It took some coaxing from Shondes singer Louisa Solomon to get people to actually get right up to the stage.)

I don’t think that’s the whole picture, though.  There’s a difference in energy and general feel as well.  There’s a particular kind of intensity and atmosphere at local shows that is almost never replicated by bigger bands playing in bigger venues.

News: So apparently John Lydon’s shilling butter now?  I guess he’s really running out of ways to surprise and offend.  I mean, it makes a certain kind of sense: you’ve basically made a profession out of shocking people, but after being part of the most controversial band in history, personally offending pretty everyone you’ve ever met, and making a stunning array of racist, hateful, and politically inflammatory statements, what can you do to really catch people off guard?

Sell butter.

My hat’s off to you, Johnny Rotten, I really never saw that coming.

But you know what surprised me even more?  Trent Reznor working to save cute, fuzzy animals.  (I’ll leave “Closer”-inspired, animal-related jokes as an exercise for the reader.)  Wonders never cease, I guess.

Song of the Week: This tune’s way too fun not to share.  Here’s “Henrietta”, by the Fratellis.  It’s the opening track on Costello Music and it’s all sorts of awesome:

P.S: There are not words to express how much I want Jon’s hat.

Sep 032008

Interview: Elijah Oberman of The Shondes

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The Shondes are a four-piece rock combo out of New York City who have been making waves recently with their first full-length album The Red Sea which is available from all the usual sources.  I recently got the chance to correspond with violinist Elijah Oberman and ask him a few questions about the band, their music, and the tour upon which they have just embarked.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays: First of all, thank you for taking time to answer my questions. Your debut full-length, The Red Sea, has been met with a largely positive critical response.  There are a lot of people saying not only that it’s a good album, but that it’s a unique one (e.g. calling it “genre-breaching”, “the only music that truly matters”, etc.)  How do you feel about the reception the album has received and does it surprise you at all to see it be praised in the ways that it has been?

Elijah Oberman: Thanks for taking the time to interview! It feels really good to see fans and music critics get excited about the album and appreciate it. It’s so affirming to read quotes like those because it’s about something we poured our hearts into, and it’s also really humbling because we just put something out there and now people are making it their own and having their own experiences with it, owning it, so it starts to feel less “ours” if that makes any sense. Because it was our first record I think it’s been easy at times to focus on all the things I wish I/we did better, so I think it’s good to remember that at a certain point, you have to let go. I’m so glad that that people can be moved by what we’re doing and find it musically interesting, and I just hope I’m lucky enough to get to keep doing it for a long time.

FTT: One of the things that a lot of reviews hit on is the diverse set of influences that you draw on in your music.  This seems to invariably lead to the reviewer either labeling it with a genre and adding qualifiers (e.g. Jewish indie punk) or eschewing genre labels all together and declaring it genre-defying.  Do you think that either of these is an appropriate way to look at the music that the Shondes are making?  Do you think that there are genre descriptors that are appropriate to apply to an album like The Red Sea?

EO: Ha! So true. I think at the end of the day I usually just call it Rock music because I think that has a lot of space in it. Which isn’t to say that the qualifiers aren’t helpful because they are, but it can also be counterproductive to focus on trying to find the perfect genre name rather than just listening to and getting something out of the music. I think from the beginning, the way that our various musical influences have showed up in our songs has felt pretty effortless, which is the “genre-defying” part I guess, because it’s not about attempting to create a “Jewish indie punk” sound, but just about working with and cultivating what comes naturally which is why you can hear a lot of different influences depending on what you’re tuned into.

FTT: The past few years have been time of significant change in the music industry.  Indie record sales are up, the internet is opening up the market and making it easier for new bands to be heard, and ever larger numbers of albums and songs are being purchased online.  How have these trends effected your development as a band and your entry into the music industry?  What effect do you think these changes have on bands which, like The Shondes, may not easily fit into any of the more conventional genres?

EO: It certainly is a shifting landscape. In a lot of ways it’s just meant that it’s easier for us and other bands to put our stuff out there, which is great. It’s been my experience that people who love music are always excited about finding new bands that they love and that move them, and while they might have certain tendencies in the kinds of music they like, they’re not necessarily that fixated on genre. People like us who like lots of different music.

FTT: Many people have commented on the band’s political work with groups like Jews Against the Occupation.  What is the role of these political activities in your songwriting process and would you consider politics a major motivation for your music?

EO: I think I’d just say that life is a major motivation for our music and that our politics are about how we live and how we experience the world, so that they’re woven into our songs in a lot of subtle ways, as well as the kinds of musicians we connect with and the kinds of shows we like to play. In addition to that, it feels important to try to use our art to support groups that are doing great work that we believe in, to try to get more people to know about the work they’re doing. It’s important to me to use whatever leverage we have to raise money for groups like JATO or the Sylvia Rivera Law Project who are making positive change happen in the world, and I hope that our music can be a part of people’s lives who care deeply about working for a just world- whether through inspiring, supporting, making you think of new ideas or just getting you through hard times or the day to day.

FTT: On the other side of the coin, how do you see your music fitting into politics and what role can music play in shaping a political issue?

EO: I think music can play a great role! There have been a lot of times where listening to music has changed how I felt about something politically, or just surprised me or shifted something or exposed me to a new way of thinking because I respond to it from a really personal and emotional place, and I’ve witnessed that same thing happen for some people at our shows.

FTT: Of more immediate interest: You have a heavy tour schedule lined up for the Fall with shows all over the country, are you looking forward to the tour?  Are there any shows that you’re particular eager for?

EO: I really love touring and I’m so excited that this is our biggest one to date (about 2 and a half months). There’s just nothing like the feeling of getting to play almost every night and get so tight with each other musically. I’m especially excited for our show in Seattle, where we’ve had a great time in the past, and also for our show in New Orleans, which is a place I adore and we haven’t gotten to play for two years.

FTT: And finally: what comes next after the tour, is there another album in the works, or is it too early to say?

EO: We’re definitely already thinking about and planning the next album and we’re well on our way. We’ll be playing a lot of new songs on the tour, getting a feel for them, solidifying them and trying to figure out how to put together the next record. I think when we come back we’ll probably dive headfirst into some more intensive songwriting and start making decisions about recording.

FTT: Thanks again for your time, and the best of luck to you on your tour. I’ll see you at the Seattle show on the 19th!

Aug 062008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.8.5

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Intro: Okay, well, I’m a little late starting this one (11:53pm), but it’s still Tuesday, so I declare that this still counts as on-time. I’ve got a lot to get through, so I’m just gonna jump right in.

Listening: Well, my progress up through recent musical history’s brought me more or less up to the present. Been listening to some of my favorite 2007/2008 releases (Our Love To Admire FTW!) and even getting around to checking out some new albums and bands to which I’d been meaning to listen.

Speaking of which: why did no one tell me about the Rakes before? Their song “Binary Love” popped up a few times on one of my Pandora stations, so I added it with the hopes of hearing more of their stuff. Well, as so often happens, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I’d bought Capture / Release and was using it to soundtrack my drive to Helena this last weekend. Honestly, the album isn’t quite as brilliant as I was hoping, but it’s still pretty strong. “Strasbourg”, “22 Grand Job”, and “Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)” are all fun. Also I’m enough of a geek that I’m pretty sure I want “Binary Love” played at my wedding.

I also grabbed The Last Shadow Puppets debut, The Age of the Understatement. It’s more introspective and complex than either Alex Turner or Miles Kane’s previous work. From the lush string parts on “My Mistakes Were Made For You” to the oddly cacophonous vocal counterpoints on “Separate and Ever Deadly” the album’s full of pleasant little aural surprises. I’m not sure what I think of it as a whole quite yet, but I do like it. If you like either complex, novel rock music or are a fan of either Arctic Monkeys or the Rascals, it’s well worth a listen.

I also just picked Conor Oberst’s new self-titled which just came out today. If you haven’t heard the single off it (“Danny Callahan”), it’s available for download here. If you’d prefer to just stream it:

Warning: it’s not exactly a happy tune. It is, however, beautiful and moving. Speaking of the album…

Upcoming: Wow, how did I not know that Oberst’s new release was due out today until I saw it on Amazon’s frontpage? I seriously need some new sources for upcoming release dates. Metacritic is accurate, but woefully incomplete. The Billboard lists are so noisy as to be practically unusable. News sites are, of course, hit or miss, since they all differ in what releases they deem mention-worthy. Where do you folks hear about new releases?

In concert news, Puddle of Mudd are playing Spokane tomorrow (2008.8.6) night, if you’re into that sort of thing. Also, I learn by way of a comment here at the blog that The Shondes are touring this Fall. They’ll be playing several shows over on the coast. (Alas, none here in the Inland Northwest, but that’s nothing new.) If anyone’s interested, I’m seriously considering heading over to catch the Seattle show. Finally, Alt-Country masters Wilco will be playing Spokane on the 21st of this month. They give a GREAT live show, and if I can scrape together the funds, then I’ll definitely be hitting it up.

News: Did you know that Lee Perry is a dirty old man? Neither did I, but his new single “Pum Pum” is pretty much a stoned, dirty old man’s ode to cruising for sex in nightclubs. Wait, why do I say “pretty much”? That’s EXACTLY what it is. It’s also crazy-groovy. The man has a masterful command of the Dub/Raggae side of things.

(Warning: lyrics are not safe for work, beats are not safe for staying still in one’s seat. Download Link. Hat Tip to 3Hive.)

Also, those perpetually catty folks over at PopJustice are right: the new Streets single is pretty disappointing. I won’t go so far as to say that it’s “shite”, as they so eloquently put it, but it’s definitely no “Stay Positive”.

Thinking: So I’m a huge sucker for unique voices. Voices that, after a few listens, anyone could pick out of a audio lineup. Louise Wener, Tom Waites, Robert Smith. I love artists whose voice is entirely their own. It’s a little like hearing an instrument that no one else in the world can play. Paired with a good writing talent (either their own or a partner’s) and the possesors of such voices can turn out some truly brilliant music. (Louise Wener is a great example of that: a fantastic songwriter with the unique voice necessary to really make her songs her own.)

What I think is really interesting is how often these voices wind up either spawning genres or, at least, defying being placed into them. I think that part of the reason that Alt-Country became a big thing is that Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy have such unique voices and musical visions to accompany them. Similarly, I think that the current wave of singer-songwriters is thanks in large part to the unique voices of people like Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard.

I think that the vocal qualities are one of the key things that shapes a new musical movement or genre. It’s why so many singers in the late 90s sounded like bad Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder impersonators. In a way, their voices were distillations of what the genre was meant to sound like.

Just a thought that’s been rattling around in my brain of late.

Song of the Week: I’ve been going back to this tune over and over again ever since I got the album. This is “Orphans”, by Beck, off of Modern Guilt:

Jan 222008

Well, the beginning of the semester just happened and managed to hit me hard enough to knock me back a week. That means that I’ve just posted my review of the Shondes and that I’ve got two pretty heavy weeks of releases to try to narrow down for voting. Cuts will be made, many world-famous acts will no doubt be brought to tears by the fact that they didn’t get a chance at a review on my illustrious blog.

Or I’ll cut mainly at random, through up the voting options, and keep muddling along as usual and no one will really be the wiser.

But anyway, voting options. Some really stiff competition in this week’s voting, so get to it. Ready, set, DEMOCRACY!

Cat Power, Jukebox (LINK)
Get Set Go, Sunshine, Joy and Happiness: A Tragic Tale of Death, Despair and Other Silly Nonsense (LINK)
Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Open (LINK)
The Mars Volta, The Bedlam In Goliath (LINK)
Chris Walla, Field Manual (LINK)
Xiu Xiu, Women As Lovers (LINK)

Jan 222008

Artist: The Shondes
Album: The Red Sea
Label: N/A (Self-Released)
Release Date: Tuesday, 2008.1.8
Score: 8.5/10

The Red Sea, the debut album from The Shondes was pretty obviously cooked up for the express purpose of making me dance around my room in my boxers at four in the morning. Between its driving, punk-influenced beats; its lilting, exotic violin melodies; and its crying, Dolores O’Riordan-esque lyrics, it’s basically a designer musical drug. And I’ve been doing big, fat lines of it for a week now, and loving every minute of it.

Admittedly, part of the reason I’m so addicted is because it hits a lot of my musical buttons. Punk influences? Check. Slick melodic hooks? Check. Complete disregard for genre boundaries? Check. Wrap all that and more up in a tight, well-presented package and it’s a fair guarantee that I’ll be mainlining it for quite awhile. Unfortunately for the Shondes, not everyone shares my same set of musical cravings, but even without sharing my musical aesthetic, there’s a lot in The Red Sea for any listener.

Songs like “Winter”, for example, with its brooding, jangly guitar lines, soaring vocal lines, and interesting lyrical images is not only a good listen, but warrants coming back for several listens. Similarly, the energetic “At The Water” is a song that begs to be put on repeat, not only for its rollicking energy, but also for the fact that it’s melodically and lyrically rich enough to reward repeat listening. This depth is not limited to a few tunes, but rather is endemic to the album, which features excellent songwriting, catchy melodies, and (with a few exceptions, such as the heavy-handed “What Love Is”) engaging lyrics.

Probably the most interest aspects of the album, however, are not strictly compositional, but rather stylistic. The Shondes have managed to take a diverse set of influences and weave them together into something truly new and unique. On “Don’t Whisper”, for example, exotic, folky violin lines support growling guitars and wailing lyrics to create a song which obviously borrows widely from the musical spectrum, including punk, classic rock, and folk to create something which is intriguing and new. The whole album draws musically from wide enough sources that many individual aspects feel familiar, while the whole is something altogether new and different.
This blending of so many different genres is used to great effect most of the time, though there are times when drawing together so many stylistic threads seems to have gotten in the way. The result is that, while The Red Sea really is a great album, it tends to get a bit confused and muddy at times. “Let’s Go” is a prime example of this. It tries too hard to be too many things at once and winds up sounding a bit like a bar brawl between the Ramones and the Cranberries as reinterpreted by a modern-day Rogers and Hammerstein. That is to say that it’s odd, and quirky, and if it ran with any one of its musical themes, it could be really cool. As it is, it’s random to the point of incoherence.

The Red Sea is a great album from a promising new band, with a unique sound and a hell of a lot of talent. And while it is undoubtedly rough or muddled at times, it’s an impressive first release from a group of great musicians. It’s well worth price ($10 from the band’s MySpace via MySpace’s SnoCap download service) and a sure sign that The Shondes are a band to listen for in the future.

Jan 102008

Well, another week another review. It’s up a little late, but my review of Book of Longing is posted below. Looking ahead to next week, the latest release by the Shondes swept the voting last week, so I will set about tracking down a copy of their album The Red Sea (which is proving to be somewhat illusive, by which I mean Amazon, my source for almost all things, doesn’t seem to carry it.)

In the meantime, there are, as always, voting options.

Raheem DeVaughn, Love Behind the Melody (Link)
Magnetic Fields, Distortion (LINK)
Thomas Ian Nicholas, Without Warning (LINK)
Ringo Starr, Liverpool 8 (LINK)
Van Hunt, Popular (LINK)