Restless Leg Syndrome

Re-FOLK-using on FOLK by EMMA
June 3, 2011, 6:51 pm
Filed under: Emma, Nina, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

"This is a snakeskin jacket! And for me it's a symbol of my individuality, and my belief... in personal freedom."

Hello, all. It’s been a while.

Loyal followers – all 12 of you – and anyone else who periodically stumbles upon this here blog: After graduating from our good ol’ alma mater of Boston University’s College of Communication with our heads raised high and our eyes glued open to stave off panic-dreams, we sat down and thought.

Well, mostly all we ever do is sit down and think, but this time the thinking was a more directed thinking, a thinking brought on by extreme panic and fear. And excitement! LOTS OF EXCITEMENT TOWARDS THE REAL WORLD.

Post-college is scary these days. I don’t know if you knew this, but there are no jobs, especially not for journalists. And while there are tons and tons of unpaid internships to be had and coffee cups to be filled, we want something more.

So, we’re embarking on a new project. After spending what seems like a lifetime (AND KIND OF IS) thinking about what music means to us, how it effects our lives in subtle and obvious ways, how it punctuates moments and inspires both good and bad ideas, we’re looking outside. We’re looking across America, actually. Or at least, we’re going to try to.

The main thing about American music is that…there is no main thing about it. There are a ton of micro-genres, niche genres, and mixed genres, with more cropping up every day. That’s great. Innovation is great. Yet, there are still a whole lot of people deliberately looking towards folk as their chosen means of expression. We’re gonna go take a look at how that’s going, and we’re gonna make a lot of motherfolkin puns along the way.

Focusing on folk music in America today, we’re setting out to speak to young musicians across the country about what folk music means to them and where they envision the music they play in regards to the large, rich history of folk music in American history. The project will begin in Boston, Massachusetts, and expand as far north and south as we can go with a Zipcar and very, very little money throughout the summer. Then, god, Allah and GaGa willing, we’ll take it on the road, pack up Bertha the Toyota Camry and head to infinity and beyond.

We hope you’ll keep checking back to this blog periodically as we will still try to update it occasionally, but we also encourage you to follow the progress of our folk project – tentatively called “Folk to Folk,” though we’re desperately seeking a better name – on our newly formed Tumblr.

Please feel free to give us recommendations of people to talk to, bands to listen to, books to read and sites to see. We need all the help we can get to make this project see the light of day.

Thank you all. Good night, and good luck.

Laaaadies of the ’90s, revisited. by EMMA

I don't know if this is the best photo for this post, but look at all the colors!

We here at Restless Leg Syndrome were only halfway to our tenth birthdays in the mid-90s; Nina was fresh off the boat from Russia working towards her now-impeccable grasp of the English language by watching cartoons in Brooklyn, and I was… well, I guess I was just building snow tunnels in New Jersey with my dad during the blizzard of 1996.

As far as my individual appreciation of music and my ability to find music I liked from a source other than my parents’ record collection, I couldn’t pin point an exact year or song or date. I do know, however, that although I would have come inside from making snow tunnels and my parents would have inevitably put on Bruce Springsteen or The Beatles, there were a bunch of pretty bad ass female singer songwriters back in ’96.

PJ Harvey (whose new album Let England Shake is probably going to be one of my favorites of the year, if I can call it this early), Liz Phair, Aimee Mann (“You Could Make A Killing” may trigger that scene from Cruel Intentions to reel in my mind, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great song), Tori Amos (who is 47 right now, wtf??!?) and even Ani DiFranco (yeah, I said it, what do you wanna do about it?) all ruled the ’90s with their indie-rock songwriting. Coupled with the tail end of riot grrrl bands like Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre and Bikini Kill (and more) the ’90s were a good time to be a female musician.

And I could probably says something sorta mean about Alanis Morisette (couldn’t we all?) but dammit if Jagged Little Pill isn’t a solid album. Sure, the lyrics to “Ironic” may not hold up over time or even really correctly define what irony is, but this was before the “ironic t-shirt” phase in hipster history, so let it go guys, let it go.

*For a more detailed explanation of Alanis Morisette and basically anything that happened between 1990 and 2000 in alternative music, read Stephen Hyden’s 10-part “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation” on the A.V. Club.

Point is, I like to think that although I mostly listened to classic rock until I was about ten or so, the female singer songwriters of the ’90s shaped my music sensibilities. That is why now, in the early ’10s (what the hell do we call this decade, has anyone decided yet?) when singers like Sharon Van Etten and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak have come out with these epic new albums (one of which is called Epic), I gravitate towards their style. I saw Sharon Van Etten last week at Brighton Music Hall and not only did she look straight outta ’96 with her pencil skirt, baggy shirt and shaggy haircut, she sounded it. And that is a good thing. That back and forth, chorus heavy style sang with soul and bravado is what made mid-’90s ladies so catchy and powerful. Listen to Visible Voice’s recording of the show here.

There have of course been female singer songwriters throughout the earlier 2000s; Tegan and Sara and St. Vincent are some favorites of mine. But this seeming revitalization of a very specific kind of music style is quite welcome by me. It sounds like a return to a more emotional and proud kind of music, and I think it’s the kind of move we ladies could use. So, if you haven’t gotten Epic by Sharon Van Etten or Civilian by Wye Oak, or Tell Me by Jessica Lea Mayfield, for that matter, do it.

I know I haven’t mentioned all the ladiez out there, so please forgive me. This was not meant to neglect, I just can’t name ’em all.

Here’s some tracks.

Blue Skies Again by Jessica Lea Mayfield on Tell Me Buy on Amazon

Don’t Do It by Sharon Van Etten on Epic Buy on Amazon

The Last Living Rose by PJ Harvey on Let England Shake Buy on Amazon

On the art of band worship. by EMMA

“Can you believe these new girls? None of them use birth control, and they eat all the steak! I mean, they don’t even know what it is to be a fan. You know, to truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band… so much that it hurts.”

The immortal words of “Almost Famous”

I blame Cameron Crowe for making me believe that if I wanted to be a music journalist like his young wide-eyed protagonist William Miller, I too could find myself on tour with a “mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom,” writing 1,000 word cover stories for Rolling Stone (and getting paid for it) and conveniently picking up Lester Bangs as a willing mentor. Myths! All myths. Especially because Lester Bangs is dead. But there is an aspect to “Almost Famous” that still rings true: The struggle to separate one’s undying love for a band from the need to take yourself seriously as a journalist. (No matter how many professors tell you A&E isn’t real journalism.)

As Ms. Penny Lane once said, “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends…” Well, today, your iTunes store, but whatever. Work with me here.

The “relationships” I’ve built with my favorite bands have lasted longer than most of the romantic relationships I’ve had. (Is that sad?) I’ve turned to the wisdom of Craig Finn from the Hold Steady in times of trouble, and he always provides me with some damn good advice. When I feel like things couldn’t be worse than they are right now, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” reminds me that while, “It burns to be broke and hurts to be heartbroken, always being both must be a drag,” and as I yell along furiously, I feel better. I mean, jeez, at least I don’t etch things like “Jesus lived and died for all your sins” into my neck. (Though I have at times considered tattooing “Damn right I’ll rise again” into my lower back, but the urge is usually gone by dawn).

“Your Little Hoodrat Friend” by The Hold Steady on Separation Sunday Buy on Amazon

Or when I can’t imagine another day of the mortal melodramatic turmoil that is my current situation, I turn to Mr. John Darnielle, the Mountain Goat, and listen to him scream, “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me!” Because, goddammit, I will.

(This video of Craig Finn joining Darnielle on stage at a recent Mountain Goats show in New York. Witness Finn in his Happy Baby Potato-head glory)

There are more nuggets of immensely comforting wisdom to be found: When my legs feel restless, I listen to “Idiot Heart” by Sunset Rubdown. Spencer Krug will rightfully tell me to “stay away from open windows and put the telephone down” as I move my idiot body around. Recently, The Kills, who are admittedly less prolific than the above three artists, have been my best friends. In moments of rage and madness, or simply room cleaning, I can scream out of tune with Alison Mosshart about how “There’s only so much you can lose before we both collide.” And obviously, when she’s singing about her “little tornado, her little hurricane,” she’s singing about me.

“Idiot Heart” by Sunset Rubdown on Dragonslayer Buy on Amazon

I will defend almost anything the bands with whom I have a distinguished relationship do, often blindly. When the newest Hold Steady album Heaven is Whenever came out to only mediocre reviews, I mulled it over for a while, then decided it didn’t matter because “The Weekenders” had the line, “The theme of the party was the industrial age, and you came in dressed like a trainwreck.” And now that the new Kills album Blood Pressures isn’t getting as rave reviews as their previous (incredible) Midnight Boom or No Wow, I refuse to write it off. (“Satellite,” “Heart Is A Beating Drum” and “DNA” are good. Don’t mess with me.)

“DNA” by  The Kills on Blood Pressures  Buy on Amazon

My point is, “Almost Famous” may have instilled some absurd expectations of what being a music writer would be like, but it also makes a vital point that music journalists should keep in mind: Loving music “so much that it hurts” is an affliction that both leads us to being able to write about music passionately and often, but also makes it hard to write anything bad about the bands you love most. And this is dangerous.

As I’ve learned in my trade school (journalism school, that is), there are often topics that journalists just won’t touch because they cannot approach them with an objective eye. I think music journalists have to approach things that way too. Although neither The Hold Steady or The Kills new albums in question are that bad, even if they were, I fear it would be hard for me to say so. Much like in “Almost Famous,” a music journalist must dance the line between indulging their passion for music and not praising bands as gods. (If you’ve seen the movie as many times as I have, you look for the true lessons there – young William gets in trouble with both the band and Rolling Stone; the band thinking he sold them down the river as Jason Lee screams, “I SOUND LIKE A DICK!”; the magazine thinking he wrote the article as a fan, not a critic.)

This means in the future, when I hopefully actually employed and getting paid to rant about music, I will try to not write about the bands I hold nearest to my heart. I make this statement now, and though I will want to go back on them in the mythical world of payment for words, I will not do it.

Because I’m a grown up. And I have self-control. And amble space to doodle the names of rock stars in my notebook, where no one can see.

April SHOW-ers. Ha, ha, ha… Get it? by EMMA

An accurate depiction of Allston in Spring, I hope the mysterious JHamel doesn't mind it's use here.

So we’re a bit late on this due to procrastination and frolicking in the nice weekend weather, but here is the official, seemingly never ending, list of shows we’d like to go to this month if time were no factor. Unfortunately, as April showers turn to May flowers and our rate of panic attacks to… non-panic attacks turns against us, we can’t see them all. Instead, if you need us, we can be found hyperventilating about the future somewhere in a curled up ball in Allston. Or reading this new found blog This Horrid Life. Read: How to Overcome a Bender.  But you should go to these shows! And dig these tracks listed in conjunction, because they’re all great.

As always – Boston Counter Cultural Compass has an abundance of shows not listed here. So check it out, too.

4.4 Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys at TT the Bear’s for Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble

4.5 Starfucker at Brighton Music Hall

Bury Us Alive from Reptilians Buy on Amazon.

4.6 Primordial Sounds: Pile and Amoroso at Middlesex Lounge
4.6 The Points North, Mmoss, Flower-Corsano Duo, MV-EE at Church
4.7 Ezra Furman and the Harpoons at Great Scott
4.8 Obits and Braids at Brighton Music Hall
4.8 Love in Stockholm at Middle East Upstairs
4.9 Toro Y Moi at Brighton Music Hall
4.9 Das Racist at Chums (Brandeis)
Who’s That Broooown from Shut Up, Dude Download for free on their website.

Das Racist performs at Stereogum's Last Night party at the Pure Volume House in Austin.

4.9 Gobble Gobble at Great Scott

Gobble Gobble at Boston Family Dinner during SxSW

4.9 Record Hospital Day 2: Bare Wires, Little Gold, Weed Hounds, Girlfriends, Dead, Four Eyes and Fat Shadow at Democracy Center
4.12 Ha Ha Tonka and Via Audio at Great Scott
4.12 Wye Oak at Middle East Upstairs
Holy Holy from CivilianBuy on Amazon.

Wye Oak at SxSW 2011

4.13 Handsome Furs at Great Scott

4.13 Chris North Residency at The Haven, with Mount Peru

4.14 Girlfriends at Middle East Upstairs

4.14 Sharon Van Etten and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper at Brighton Music Hall

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper at Cafe 939

Sharon Van Etten’s Peace Signs from Epic Buy on Amazon.
4.14 The Black Lips and Vivian Girls at theParadise
4.15 Sky Mask, Hunnie Bunnies, Arvid Noe at Gay Gardens
4.16 TV on the Radio at House of Blues
4.16 Young Adults (among many others) at The Precinct and PA’s Lounge for Deep Heaven Now
4.15 The Go! Team and DOM at Paradise
Dom’s Rude as Jude from Sun Bronzed Greek Gods Buy on Amazon.
4.16 O’Death and Grandchildren at Great Scott
O’Death’s Bugs from OutsideBuy on Amazon.
4.19 Iron and Wine at House of Blues
4.22 Zola Jesus at Brighton Music Hall
4.23 Mogwai at the Paradise
4.25 The Submarines at Brighton Music Hall
4.26 The Kills and Cold Cave at Royale
Satellite from Blood PressuresBuy on Amazon.
Any excuse to put The Kills on this site will be taken. Don’t miss this show. Just don’t.
4.27 Beach Fossils at Great Scott
4.27 Balkan Beat Box at the Paradise
4.28 Yuck at the Paradise
Automatic from EP. Download their self-titled album on Amazon.
4.28 Pray for Polanski at TT the Bear’s
4.29 Kingsley Flood at TT the Bear’s

Kingsley Flood at SxSW 2011

4.30 Yacht at the Paradise

Post-SXSW Recap: Side Two by Nina
March 27, 2011, 4:30 pm
Filed under: New Music, Nina | Tags: , , , ,

Delicious food trucks at the East Side Drive-In. SXSW Day 1. Photo by Nina Mashurova

Nearly a week after flying back from sunny Austin to snowy Allston, sorting through the SXSW sensory overload finally feels manageable. Although the majority of the internet is probably good and sick of SXSW talk by now, the fest still lingers like a well-deserved hangover. We got away not only with residual blisters and perhaps permanent tinnitus, but with enormous lists of bands to look into, whether we had seen them play, heard of them in crowds or tweets, or met them in taco lines.

Some nights it's entertainment, then some other nights it's work

One of the most impressive things about SXSW for me was the variety – not only of performers and genres represented, but even of ways to experience the festival. Music lovers loaded down with 70s nostalgia still lament the loss of monoculture, but the fragmentations and nerdy specializations of all the different niches make a festival like SXSW rather like Choose Your Own Adventure – there might not be a shared narrative but that only makes each individual one more valuable. You could shell out the money for a badge and rub your chin thoughtfully while listening for the Next Big Thing, or drink as much free booze as possible and collapse from dehydration somewhere on the 6th street bacchanale, or do it up DIY style and catch the formidable amount of talented bands playing under bridges or in front of Pita Pit or in people’s houses. You could have devoted your entire festival to the onslaught of talented hip hop, the UK invasion of post-dubstep/glitch/electronica led by Gold Panda, Starslinger, Jamie Woon, and Mount Kimbie, or even Chinese rock stars channeling Sonic Youth. Possibilities and permutations run free!

So we didn’t see Deer Tick covering Nirvana, or Death From Above 1979 fans rioting outside of Beauty Bar, or Odd Future blowing off the Billboard party, or Kanye West airlifted over a power plant in a hot air balloon dropping power bars and auto-tuned rhymes into a crowd of adoring fans. While official attendees were nursing their hangovers, we joined the ranks of the young and the badgeless to run the day shift, shuttling between the slew of unofficial showcases taking place from noon to six. The lines were short, the beers were free, and because most of the bands were just below the radar, they put a lot of themselves into their shows. Some appealed to me more than others based on taste alone, but I caught close to 40 bands in 4 days and barely any could be accused of half-heartedness. Here are some further standouts:

Computer Magic plays at Cheer Up Charlie's. SXSW 2011 Day 1. Photo by Nina Mashurova.

Computer Magic – Running

Danz, the 21-year old pixie behind Computer Magic, has finally put a girl’s spin on the independent bedroom pop popularized by Memory Tapes and Neon Indian. Although the project is only a few months old, Danz has created a charming space oddity, influenced by 80s synth-pop, spaceship sounds, bizarre safety videos, VHS and casette tapes, and small robots with big hearts. The synths can feel silly on occasion but they make sense when paired with Danz’s voice, which is layered in a way that sounds both intimate and distant enough to avoid being twee. All of Computer Magic’s music is available for free on their website, so get at it while the getting’s good.

Esben and the Witch play at and Pop Montreal Presents: Hollerado's Nacho House at the Beauty Bar in Austin on Day 2 of SXSW 2011. Photo by Nina Mashurova

Esben and the Witch – Warpath (from Violet Cries on Amazon)

Perhaps if I had seen the darkly unsettling video for “Marching Song,” I would have known what to expect, but when Esben and the Witch took the outdoor stage at Beauty Bar, I was completely unprepared. Rachel Davies was a woman possessed – hair flying, eyes demonic, drums attacked with a rhythmic ferocity usually devoted to sacrificial rituals for unmerciful deities. The trio from Brighton, England released their debut full-length Violet Cries on Matador about a month ago and though I haven’t listened to goth rock for quite a while now (rest in peace oversize black hoodies and Scarling albums), I can vouch that experiencing Esben and the Witch live is nothing short of hypnotizing.

Cults perform at Stereogum's Last Night party at the Pure Volume House in Austin. SXSW 2011 Day 4. Photo by Nina Mashurova

Cults – Go Outside

Cults generated serious buzz with “Go Outside” – an infectiously carefree tune whose xylophone twinkles, Jim Jones samples, and repeated urging “Do you really want to hole up? You really want to stay inside and sleep the light away?” drove me up the wall during finals week. Buzz comes and goes but their late night set at Stereogum’s party proved that Cults were capable of a lot more than “cute.” According to Pitchfork, 21-year olds Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, both San Diego natives, started the band as a couple while studying film in New York. With her tossable long hair, punk rock background, and a voice that channels soulful Motown sounds, Follin really dominates a stage. The new single is great and I’m looking forward to their upcoming full-length and their stop at Brighton Music Hall on April 1.

Dom at the Paradise in Boston. Photo by Nina Mashurova

Dom just doesn’t give a fuck, and it is awesome. I was trying to get my bacon on from a grease-bucket truck called Pig Vicious that promised to put fat in everything and ran into a shirtless dude rocking a handlebar moustache and kingly garb. This was Austin so it could have been anyone, but it turned out to be Dom. Dom turned out to be from right around here in Worcester, kindof a hot mess in a really great way, and responsible for one of the most addictive albums I’ve heard lately. Full disclosure: Never actually saw them play because scheduling gets really hard sometimes, but the album has been on constant rotation and when they open for the Go Team at the Paradise in April, I am so there.

Post SxSW Mixtape – Side one by EMMA

Crowd on East 7th has their game faces on. SXSW 2011 Day 1

Huzzah! We returned from SxSW, weary, run down, lugging cameras and (in my case) tons of snot and tissues, back to this rainy and cold city (seriously, where did those three nice days of spring go?) But all the exhaustion, blisters and general loss of sanity aside, it was an incredible experience.

Before leaving, I read an article (which for the life of me I can’t find right now) which wondered if the music portion of SxSW was already “irrelevant,” in that it was no longer exclusively attracting industry people and unknown bands seeking promotion, as it once did… that one time in 1987 (jussplayin’). These days, SxSW draws an enormous crowd (this year was the biggest ever, according to the concierge at the Courtyard by Marriott, who told us that we’d never get a cab home before 4 a.m.). In some ways, the article predicted the debauchery of SxSW 2011: Some venues seemed to choose crowd control over technical issues, resulting in tensions between the artists and showcase sponsors when the sound wasn’t quite right; many music journalists resorted to reviewing the festival in poorly done Gonzo prose, retelling drunken exploits instead of focusing on the music. And the flood of #SxSW hashtags tweeted by the 50,000+ smart phones bustling around 6th Street in Austin succeeded in pissing off anyone who was paying attention to the unfolding horror in Japan, the UN strike on Libya, and basically anything more pivotal than indie music.

Despite all these truths, SxSW 2011 was also a spectacular place to be, a well oiled machine of non-stop action which brought out passionate music geeks from all over the world. Almost everyone I spoke to was there to learn about new bands, not just figure out where Kanye West would show up on the last night. The claim that SxSW is now irrelevant because the attendees have changed doesn’t take in to account that the way the world consumes music has changed with it. The internet feeds an enormous audience every new morsel of music minutes after it is released, or sometimes, recorded. As long as people who really care about music find their way to SxSW, it is far from irrelevant. In fact, its overloaded-ness makes it arguably the most relevant festival around, hurdling the largest mix of music consumers I’ve ever seen to one confined place and leaving them to their own devices.

Sitting on a sub-woofer at Gold Panda, still can't totally hear out of my left ear 5 days later.

And from all this, I learned a few things: One, feet are overrated. Next festival, I’m getting a motorized wheelchair. Two, if you’re getting over a cold and going to SxSW, the cold will come back with a vengeance, so bring some green tea, cayenne pepper and lemons with you for the morning afters (IT WORKS, TRY IT). Three, despite the spiraling awfulness of the world at large right now, there has perhaps never been a more exciting time for music. The amount of incredibly talented, creative and just plain nuts bands out there is far too high to count, and if I’m lucky, I’ll never be able to know them all. But I will keep trying, because the satisfaction of seeing a band just absolutely slay a new audience is one of the best highs around.

And on that note, some favorites:

Jessica Lea Mayfield performs at the Billy Reid and K-Swiss SXSW Shindig at the Swan Dive in Austin on Day 1 of SXSW 2011.

“Our Hearts Are Wrong” – from Tell Me on Amazon.

Mayfield released only 100 copies of her first disc at age 15 and it fell into the hands of fellow Ohio-an Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Auerbach helped Mayfield with her first full length album, 2008’s With Blasphemy So Helpless, and earned her some wider audiences (she also recorded some of the back ups on The Black Keys’ “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” on 2008’s Attack and Release). While With Blasphemy showcases Mayfield’s slow, silhouette-y vocals and disconcertingly heartbroken lyrics, Tell Me has her breaking out of semi-monotonous and sad tones to do some more upbeat, catchy numbers. She’s added in the drum kit, some back up vocals and more electric guitar, but she’s kept the dark and mature lyrics from her first releases. By the way, this chick is still only 21 years old. Listen to what she’s singing and then, can I get a resounding… dammmn? (She’s playing at Brighton Music Hall in about a week)

tUnEyArDs at Terrorbird Media / Forcefield PR Party at Red 7 Patio, Day 1

“Fiya” – from Bird-Brains on Amazon

Merrill Garbus started recording solo as tUnE-yArDs in 2006 with a voice recorder, music sharing software, a ukulele and what sounds like off-beat drumming on anything that would keep a rhythm – a true testament to the way music gets around today. She’s moved up since then (though surprisingly slowly, I can’t quite believe tUnE-yArDs isn’t huge yet) and has gained a larger audience opening for the likes of St. Vincent and Thao. Now signed to 4AD, she performed at SxSW with two trombone players and a bassist, but her tremendously soulful voice and often hysterical, strange lyrics (See: “News,” in which she proclaims, “I can get pregnant with birds who sing prettier than you,” among other things) are what truly make tUnE-yArDs so great. I can’t stop listening to this album, and although her numerous performances were often plagued by faulty mechanics at the festival, I’ll blame it on SxSW and go see her again at Brighton Music Hall in May.

Reading Rainbow performs at the 21st St. Co-op at the Sexbeat Party on Day 4 of SxSW 2011

“Wasting Time” – from Prism Eyes on Amazon

We happened upon the fuzzy joy of Reading Rainbow at the 21st St. Co-Op up by UT-Austin on the last night of SxSW. The married couple of Reading Rainbow, who hail from Philadelphia, look like they’re about 19. But Sarah Everton and Robbie Garcia play the kind of stripped down post-punk that makes me love Wavves 2010 album, King of the Beach, despite my hatred for the man himself. Everton bangs restlessly on a floor tom and snare drum while Garcia wails on the guitar, and the two top it off with some gritty-but-pretty harmonies. They’ve mastered a minimalist sound but left room to roam to somewhere a bit more hardcore with rampant reverb. Still, in their comfort zone (and on their first album) Reading Rainbow feels like a nice big noisy hug after a long day, and makes me want to drive home from work, bang on my steering wheel and scream lyrics incorrectly.

La Big Vic at wnyu 89.1 fm/pellytwins/tigerkitten family/pixelhorse showcase on SxSW Day 3

“Musica” – single from Weathervane Music Organization compilation (found on their Bandcamp)

One of my favorite parts of the festival was escaping the chaos of downtown Austin. We got bussed away by van to a little house south of the city, where the wnyu 89.1 fm/pellytwins/tigerkitten family/pixelhorse present showcase lit up a backyard filled with Christmas lights, twisting trees, kegs and worn down couches. It felt a bit like magic to sink back and space out to La Big Vic, who played hypnotizing and entrancing songs. Lead singer and violinist Emilie Friedlander sounds like a tribal Nico while synth player Peter Pearson, and synth/guitar player, Toshio Masuda, fill out their euphoric sound. As far as I can tell, they don’t have a full album out yet, but the above track and this one featured on Pitchfork’s Forkcast back in May make for some seriously unwinding noise.

Here’s a video from that sweet show by Liz Pelly of the Boston Phoenix:

End of side one, side two coming at ya soon…

Spring Mind-Fi Mixtape by EMMA

Courtesy of the sometimes brilliant, sometimes not "Portlandia"

So far this month: We’ve had the continuing attack on Planned Parenthood complete with an attempt to create an institutionalized difference between “rape” and “forcible rape”; a meltdown of democratic rational in Wisconsin; Libya and the Qaddafi family situation (and I’ll just group Charlie Sheen in there because I actually don’t care about Two and Half Men at all, but all the “Who said it?” games were pretty funny for at least a minute); the attack of NPR by irresponsible right wingers seemingly learning about the powers of the internet from Anonymous and 4Chan; and, most tragically, 9,700+ missing in Northern Japan after the record breaking earthquake and tsunami with a lingering potential for nuclear disaster… and the list goes on and on.

While enjoying arguably the first truly nice Boston day this year, I couldn’t get the never-ending newsreel out of my head. And I shouldn’t be able to, because whitegirlproblems (like trying to figure out which South by Southwest showcases to go to) are pretty pathetic in contrast to the global disasters abound. Actually, they are incredibly pathetic. Even completely irrelevant.

Of course, this narrative probably goes through the mind of every remotely informed college kid, sitting in their favorite dive bar, complaining about how their landlord painted the interior of their house a nice poop brown color. We’re learning to carefully contain our inescapable, egotistical bullshit as we wade into the world like babies in diapers, while remembering the importance of perspective. Essentially, none of us are alone in this. We’re all just parts of this entire culture-specific generational clusterfuck, experiencing the same things on both a large scale and a small scale, even if the casts of characters and circumstance are tweaked.

Whoa, apologies for the intensity there. Anyway, back to that whole “enjoying the spring day” thing. This SxSW planning situation has caused me to enter into some serious internet loop-age, as I find myself trying to listen to as many bands playing around Austin next week as possible, focusing on those who aren’t already well-represented across the music industry. Kudos to Bandcamp (which I really hope replaces Myspace soon) for streaming all the bands registered with their site who will be at SxSW. I’ve been listening to that off and on all week, and in the process, found some pretty cool music.

Plus, a plethora of bands, both well known and becoming more well known, have released stellar new albums in this shit storm of a month (apologies again for using the word “shit” so often in this post, it just feels appropriate these days). So, without further ado, LET’S SHARE, shall we? No mind-fi required.

Let Us Out – Young Adults / buy full album on Bandcamp

Gotta start by representing Allston here, though (and this is the honest truth) I first heard this track by chance while doing SxSW research and THEN realized they hail from only a few blocks away. These guys are kicking off The Phoenix/Great Scott/Private Promotion! First Contact party on March 16th in Austin, and they sound like they were formed in a basement somewhere (because they were). They’ve opened for Wavves and Best Coast, and they do their best to yell above the noisy, noisy punk emanating from their guitars and amps. All in all, sounds like a good Allston time. Here’s an article from the Phoenix about ’em.

Come Home – Chappo / buy full album on Bandcamp

Can’t find too much information on this band, but this single from their EP Plastique Universe, released last April, is some pretty catchy stuff. It’s got a bit of a Flaming Lips sound, and lead singer Alex (sweet last name) Chappo’s semi-falsetto vocals keep the back and forth tempo from losing it’s psychedelic poppy-ness in the repetition. They’ll also be playing at SxSW at about five different times and venues, according to their MySpace.

Civilian – Wye Oak / buy full album on Amazon

Wye Oak’s new album Civilian is getting much press coverage from NPR’s All Songs Considered (you can stream their live show from them here), so I don’t think I need to rave about it too much. Every “I want to go to there” showcase in Austin features this Baltimore based duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack at some point, from Brooklyn Vegan to the A.V. Club. They’ll also be at The Middle East in April. This title track is excellent, reminds me of some ’90s Aimee Mann style folk with a funky 21st century twist, fuzzy guitar solo and all.

Tropics – Slang Chickens / buy full album on Bandcamp

Sidenote: Covering “Age of Consent” ever is cool, but covering it with a BANJO!? Be still my heart.

Another Bandcamp find: Though I’m not quite sure how I feel about their name, this L.A. band proves once again that if you sound anything like the Kinks, I’ll probably like you. From what I’ve read, no one seems to see this connection, so maybe it’s just this single. Or maybe I’m crazy. Regardless, they’ve got a nice blend going on, sometimes harmonizing, sometimes breaking into a punk rock frenzy, sometimes playing horns, sometimes sounding like surfer rock. Color me intrigued.

Tokyo Roll – The Boom Bang / buy the full album on Bandcamp

Speaking of surf rock… This is another band I can’t find much info on, but they sound like they’d be a damn good sweaty mosh pit of a time live. There’s quickened heartbeats all over this song, and their whole EP, for that matter. Plus, their 7″ is called Bummer Camp. That’s pretty great. Also, their from Oklahoma City, which is in OKLAHOMA. DIVERSITY? Sure.

Daisy – Fang Island  / Buy full album on Amazon

Just threw this in as a cushion from the last song to the next, but only because Fang Island’s self-titled album isn’t quite timely news anymore. But, if you didn’t give them much of a listen last year for some reason you can’t remember now (like me), now’s a good time for revisiting. Right. Now.

Old in Florida – You Can Be a Wesley You Can Be a Wesley – Old in Florida / this is a single, buy (a different) full album on iTunes

Another Allston/Boston/BU band. Genuinely don’t think there’s a song of theirs I don’t like, and this new one doesn’t disappoint. At least, I think it’s new. There’s even this swell house party-esque music video to go with it.

I Don’t Mind It – Screaming Females / buy full album on Amazon

There are few things I like more than a punk band with a female lead singer, and Screaming Females, another band featured in almost every SxSW showcase I’ve written in bold letters on my face somewhere, hail from New Brunswick, N.J.! Jersey! Woo! Double time. They’ve got a DIY punk sound that wavers from Sleater-Kinney yelling to more controlled, rhythmic tracks reminiscent of The Pixies.

And the band march-es on. by Nina
March 2, 2011, 11:52 am
Filed under: Emma, Nina | Tags: , , ,

Guys, March is here already, and as John McCauley sings in the title track from Middle Brother, “My days are numbered but I’m bad at math.” That’s right – counting is out, good music is in, and before you can say “Fat Tuesday,” we’ve rounded up enough worthwhile shows to drag you out of your hibernaculum nearly every day of the month. How’s that for March Madness? Our overjoyed and overwhelmed restless legs are hopping over to Austin for SXSW to see lots of shows, discover new music, worship the sun gods, binge on barbecue and beer, and, if the stars are aligned, get served tequila by Bill Murray. (Rest assured, updates to come.) Considering this, we thought we’d maybe take it easy this month, but this calendar is so good looks like it’s high season for all music all the time. Tut tut now shake ya butt!

3/2 – Smith Westerns @ Great Scott

3/3 – Middle Brother @ Paradise

One fine day somewhere in America, Deer Tick’s John McCauley, Dawes’s Taylor Goldsmith, and Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez formed a group called Middle Brother. Middle Brother brings together and amplifies each member’s strengths – Deer Tick’s raw songwriting skills, Dawes’ melodic sensibilities, and Delta Spirit’s warm soulfulness – into a stylistically varied but consistently great album which gets better with every listen. Country-fried folky goodness, ya’ll.

3/3 – Aviary opening – “Sound on Sight”

Read about this in the Phoenix, it’s an editor’s pick for the week! Reception today, but the exhibit will be open all month.

3/4 – Low Anthem @ Old South Church

3/6 – Get Up Kids @ Paradise

If “Overdue” and “Let the Reigns go Loose” figure prominently in my memory montages of being young and vulnerable I’m not alone – the Get Up Kids were one of the most influential bands in the late-90s Midwestern emo movement in the good old days when “emo” meant emotionally honest punk-influenced music instead of angsty teenagers with swoopy hair and fetishes for wrist-slitting imagery and tear-streaked eyeliner.

3/6 – Say Hi @ Middle East Downstairs

3/7 – Oh Land (opening for OMD) @ Paradise

Electro-glitter winter wonderful.

3/8 – Pete Yorn @ House of Blues

Yeah, yeah, yeah, his hair is too shaggy, he’s all over simplified pop rock and old news, something you listened to on the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack in 2001 (No? Just me?), but I refuse to let go of my Musicforthemorningafter memories from before I even knew what a “morning after” felt like. A strange condition, indeed. Plus, on Enjoy Every Sandwich, the stellar Warren Zevon tribute album released after he died, Yorn covers “Splendid Isolation” wonderfully.

3/9 – Rural Alberta Advantage @ Middle East Downstairs

I have these guys on near-constant rotation these days, and for good reason. Before Japandroids realized “The Boys Are Leaving Town” and Arcade Fire were missing The Suburbs, Rural Alberta Advantage tapped into the nostalgia felt by itinerant twentysomethings with Hometowns – a gorgeous album that picks up the aforementioned Get Up Kid emo legacy and updates it with Jeff Magnum-esque vocals, occasional horns, and dislocated heartfluttery synths reminiscent of the Postal Service. Now they’re touring for their follow-up, Departing. Check it.

3/10 – Bright Eyes @ House of Blues

No conversation about Midwestern emo can go for long before hitting on infamous emo posterboy Conor Oberst. Whether you loved him for writing transparent lyrics that spoke to the confusion and pain of growing up or hated him for making grotesque self-pity worn on your sleeve not only acceptable but fashionable, seems like everyone had an opinion on the depressive wunderkind. Eleven years and tons of projects after Fevers and Mirrors, Oberst is finally hanging up the Bright Eyes moniker, so if you’re looking for a cathartic occasion to shed a public tear to “A Perfect Sonnet,” this could be your last chance.

3/11 & 3/12 – Zoe Keating & Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys @ Cafe 939

Zoe Keating: one-woman orchestra/cello extravaganza with a hardworking DIY ethic, collaboration history with the likes of Amanda Palmer, John Vanderslice, and The Secret Life of Bees, and seriously badass dreads. Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys: 15-piece orchestra with baroque sea shanties, neocircus postapocalyptic folk waltzes, and a seriously badass steam-crunk aesthetic. Bored of the same old musical fare? Get at this. (Note: the Friday show is SOLD OUT but Saturday tickets are still available!)

3/11 & 3/12 – The Pogues & Titus Andronicus – House of Blues

3/16 – Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon @ First Church Congregational

3/20 – Blast Forth @ Cambridge YMCA

Whitehaus Family Record presents the fourth annual Blastfest, and it’s loaded with enough DIY New England goodness to melt your heart and melt your face off. The Cambridge installment of the tour features Welcome Home; Peace, Loving; Gracious Calamity; Jimmy Ambulance; Casey Rocheteau; Shai Erlichman; Brian S. Ellis; B. Law; The Needy Visions; Manners; Shira E.; Emma N. Young; Chris North Dream Quartet; Morgan Shaker; Free Pizza; Avi Jacob; and Gobby It’s going to be epic.

3/21 – Simian Mobile Disco @ Paradise

Get your dance on.

3/24 – Sebadoh & Steven Brodsky @ Paradise

3/26 – DeVotchKa @ Paradise

I am told time and again by a certain Russian co-writer that I mispronounce their name, but this Boulder/Denver four piece band plays awesome Eastern world, gypsy-folk music in the vain of Beirut and Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. Perhaps you heard them in the background of Little Miss Sunshine, which featured arguably two of their best songs, “You Love Me” and “How It Ends.” Unusual instruments (sousaphone, theremin) and Nick Urata’s vocal bravado make DeVotchKa unmissable. I saw them live once in Colorado, and between the hometown spirit and the circus-punk, rock ‘n’ roll accordion, I was hooked. They’ve got a new album just out the last day of February, too, which I have yet to check out.

3/26 – Hallelujah the Hills & Parts and Labor @ Great Scott

3/28 – Klaxons @ Paradise

3/29 – Joy Formidable @ Brighton Music Hall

3/30 – Bodega Girls record release party @ Middlesex Lounge

3/30 – The Dears @ Brighton Music Hall

3/30 – JEFF the Brotherhood & Juiceboxxx @ Great Scott

We saw JEFF the Brotherhood at Homegrown, back when the Temple in JP was still kickin’. Revisit those good times here.

3/31 – Viva Viva & Doomstar @ Brighton Music Hall

Annnnd, as always, we encourage you pick up/find online the Boston Counter Cultural Compass and go to any shows/events listed there. They are always a good time, and even if the music isn’t your thing, the hangings out will be. COMMUNITY, PEOPLE!

Bet you’re watching all the happy kids kiss each other clean by EMMA
February 7, 2011, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Albums, Emma, New Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Photo by Piper Ferguson

When Iron & Wine’s first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, came out in 2002, it was Sam Beam’s rich lyrical imagery, bare bones guitar and wistful, whispery vocals which set him apart from the throngs of Super bearded folk-roots singers out there. (The S is capitalized on purpose, that should probably become a genre within itself by now)

Then, the practically flawless Garden State soundtrack was released just a few months after Iron & Wine’s second album, Our Endless Numbered Days, and proved itself more popular than the actual movie it scored. Among the many notable tracks on Garden State was Iron & Wine’s haunting, stripped down version of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” which solidified my impression of the band as beautifully moving, but frankly, depressing.

Such Great Heights (cover) 

In a recent interview with the AVClub, Beam claimed he does not write sad songs. “I want to describe a feeling, and write something that’s true. I do touch on stuff that people don’t want to deal with because they think it’s too heavy or sad, but I don’t try to make people upset,” he said. “A good song should be a poem and have some kind of element that you recognize is true, but couldn’t be expressed in a conversation.”

Well, that’s all well and good, but after about a thousand listens, “Naked As We Came” still never fails to make me feel languid and on the verge of tears… beautiful, beautiful, redemptive tears. I understand that for the many fortunate souls who do not occasionally enjoy writstcuttingly depressing music as much as I do, Beam’s first three releases (including 2005’s In the Reins) might have fallen flat. Even so, Beam could have continued down the same path, maintaining the same kind of Nick Drake yearning he was known for.

But then, with The Shepherd’s Dog, Beam displayed an unexpected side of Iron & Wine. The album features diverse sounds and is decidedly more upbeat. From the first track “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car,” with a larger instrumental range in the first minute than Beam brought in any of his first three albums, all the way through to “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” it is an exceptional record. Beam exhibited not only his signature breathy singing talents but his ability to really bend and mesh folk music themes and styles while keeping the album’s coherence and flow in tact. See: “Boy With a Coin,” “Peace Beneath the City,” and “Resurrection Fern.”

Resurrection Fern:

Beam’s Iron & Wine transformation could have ended with The Shepherd’s Dog and it would have been a pretty intriguing and impressive trip. But with Kiss Each Other Clean, just released in late January, he’s taken it a step further away from the days when it was just a man, a guitar and his beard. The album is ambitious, to say the least. Beam utilizes a full band – so full, in fact, that the opening song “Big Burned Hand” sounds almost unrecognizable from any song he’s put out in the past, complete with jazz-y sax and backup vocal echos.

To begin at the end, the album’s last song, “Your Fake Name is Good Enough For Me,” is possibly its most important, and it is nothing short of epic. It starts out bluesy and full with twangy, back and forth rhythms. But somewhere around three minutes in, the horns grow deeper and hushed, and Beam relies primarily on his voice, supported by complimentary-yet-unobtrusive electric guitar and some vocal layering. By minute five the song evolves into a prayer-like chant, with Beam singing in contrasting couplets and repeating “We will become, become” in a trance. This could be creepy, but he pulls it off, swelling the backing instruments as he sings through a list of cliché (“So cruel and kind”), inventive (“Caress and the claw”) and then, by the end, somewhat silly (“Ice cream cone, a disco ball) pairs.

The rest of the album has its ebbs and flows. In experimenting with new sounds, instruments and textures, Beam occasionally loses his knack for intoxicating imagery, á la Our Endless Numbered Days. And, though the great ambition and range of Kiss Each Other Clean is impressive, the final product is not quite as sharp and exceptional as The Shepherd’s Dog. Still, Sam Beam and his new full-band deserve many props, and this album begs the question: Where will the evolution of Iron & Wine go next? It certainly seems like Beam is working towards something compelling, and there are only a handful of bands who have evolved as successfully as Iron & Wine without losing what made them so great in the first place. Give Kiss Each Other Clean at least three listens before you make up your mind. It’s all in the details, and there are a lot of details to explore.

The Shivers will love you when you’re morose and ornery by Nina
February 5, 2011, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Nina | Tags: ,

Photo by Joshua J. Richards, courtesy of The Shivers's Facebook

Keith Zarriello and the rotating cast of The Shivers turned out <em>Charades</em> in 2004 – a stripped-down rock record that was alternately venomous and heartbreaking, tough with timeless city blues and vulnerable with the poetry of defeat. If you believe the internet, Zarriello followed this up by blowing off the pretentiousness of the Brooklyn music scene for the vastness of the Canadian frozen North,  joined up with Québécois farmers and Montreal mimes for some time, and eventually returned to New York to advocate against procreation and play shows for single-digit audiences, covered in skin bleach and his own blood. I know bringing up underrated Brooklyn bands with temperamental time-bomb frontmen is a party trick guaranteed to result in collective eye-rolling, but bear with me here, these guys are for real.

Seven years and four albums later, Zarriello continues to put out the bitterly honest, unapologetically human songs that have gained him a loyal cult following and comparisons to early Lou Reed or Leonard Cohen. At his darkest, as with the spoken word piece “The Lonely Man on the Weekend” which closes out his 2010 all-analogue solo release Truants From Life, Zarriello paints a dark portrayal of urban alienation that could be the whiskey-baptised love child of Tom Waits and Travis Bickle. But when Zarriello is balanced out by bandmate Jo Schornikow, as on 2010’s Sunset Psalms,The Shivers are nothing short of redemptive.

“Thanks to all you guys who in times of drunkenness and despair turn to The Shivers for some solace. This is what we are here for,” says their Facebook page. While this might be the most concise summary of their appeal, additional listens reveal not just a drinking buddy, but reverent reflections, quality old school songwriting, and the darkly flawed soul of rock ‘n’ roll.

Incidentally, these are the same qualities I was so excited to find in Deer Tick’s first release, so imagine the happy surprise when I found out The Shivers are currently touring with John McCauley and Ian O’Neil. Here’s hoping that Deer Tick’s newfound popularity gets The Shivers some well-deserved exposure. (Still kicking myself for missing their Boston stops…hopefully next time.)