Monday, November 24, 2008

Little Joy

Little Joy is Binki Shapiro, Rodrigo Amarante and Fabrizio Moretti, three friends who dropped their routine at their respective hometowns to make a record in Los Angeles, California.

Through a chance encounter at a Portuguese festival in Lisbon, where both Amarante (Singer/Guitarist of Los Hermanos) and Moretti (drummer of The Strokes) had performed, the two chatted well through the night and into the morning by the side of the river, humoring the idea of working together on music that had no affiliation to their particular bands.

A year later, Amarante traveled to the United States to record with Devendra Banhart on his Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon album. On the off hours of an arduous recording process, Amarante would meet with Moretti to discuss anything but music.

Binki Shapiro, musician and native of Los Angeles, was introduced to the pair through mutual acquaintances and became a fast friend, encouraging the two to focus on the music they had spoken of long before. Through the process of late night “show-and-tell” the three developed and arranged songs Moretti had begun and soon after started writing original music for the group as a band.

A couple of months later they all moved into a house in Echo Park to demo songs and soon after, with the help of producer Noah Georgeson, who had recorded Banhart’s album, they finished their self-titled debut, Little Joy, named after the cocktail lounge just down the street from their home. Highly Recommended!

Little Joy - Don't Want Me Dancing
Little Joy - Shoulder To Shoulder
Little Joy @ MySpace

Little Joy - The Next Time Around

Little Joy - Unattainable

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Modern Skirts

Ordinary music tends to get classified by genre. Some of it is quite exciting. It does what you expect it to, but it follows the formula well enough that its derivative nature doesn't matter. We call it indie, or pop, or modern rock, and we recommend it to listeners who enjoy those styles. But every now and then, a band reminds us that when the songs are good enough and innovative enough, genre is the last thing that matters. You don't need to be a music major to recognize that the twelve tracks on Modern Skirts' sophomore album, All Of Us In Our Night, are unusually constructed. They have unexpected twists and turns, chords that startle with their novelty, and melodies that feel refreshingly original. And you don't need to be an aficionado to get excited by such infectious choruses – they'll get stuck in the heads of neophyte listeners and super-hipsters alike. So call it "pop", call it "rock", call it "indie", call it "classic" if you must. Better yet, call it what it is- a collection of fantastic, irresistible, entirely unclassifiable songs.

It's been an inexorable rise to prominence for the Athens quartet, and one that will only be accelerated by the release of All Of Us In Our Night. Since the group formed five years ago, Modern Skirts have sold out shows at the legendary 40 Watt Club and are regulars at Chapel Hill's Cat's Cradle and NYC's Mercury Lounge. This past summer, they traveled to the UK for a second time on a successful two week tour, first appearing at the Glastonbury Festival before crossing the channel to open for R.E.M. in Amsterdam and joining them in Belgium alongside Vampire Weekend and The National at Rock Werchter. They followed these shows with a performance on the MTV Stage at the 02 Wireless Festival in London. Furthermore, they landed their debut album on PASTE's Best of 2005 list, placed a track on a Q Magazine radio sampler, performed on the Mountain Stage radio program, and showcased at the In The City music festival in Manchester, England. Catalogue Of Generous Men, their debut, remains one of the best-loved underground records from the Athens scene in years, and the video for their song "Pasadena", directed by New Slang Films, received airtime on 40 different networks. Mike Mills of R.E.M. produced a track on All Of Us In Our Night (the insanely catchy "Motorcade"). David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker produced another five. Nevertheless, as the group proves on the six cuts they produced themselves, these songs are so good that it's hard to imagine Modern Skirts' sophomore offering being anything but a success. Lead singer and principle songwriter Jay Gulley's knack for crafting an undeniably catchy melody keeps our ears glued to All Of Us In Our Night from beginning to end.

Some might say we've come up with our own homegrown version of Sloan: another band of accomplished musicians who know their rock history intimately and have a similar knack for matching hooky verses with dazzling choruses. But that wouldn't do justice to the band's offbeat diction and endlessly intriguing lyrics. We'll put it this way: you won't always know exactly what's happening in a Modern Skirts song, but you'll always be curious, and surprised, at where they're going next. Recommended!

Modern Skirts - Soft Pedals
Modern Skirts @ MySpace

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cars & Trains

As a child, Tom Filepp inherited an odd pairing of passions from his father (a computer programmer gone rock bassist): he was exposed to both the technical & artistic angles of life well before knowing how to put them to good use. Whether it had been that, or the many nights spent in band practice spaces watching grown men cover New Wave anthems that made him the multi-instrumental fanatic he is today, is up for debate. But one thing is certain: Tom has established himself as a legitimate song-writing force in cars & trains.

Filepp picked up guitar and drums at age seven. Although he spent more time jumping on his bed pretending to play while blasting Michael Jackson than actually practicing, it was the beginning of something. Meanwhile, his interest flourished in something much more difficult and less entertaining to pantomime. He began programming simple video games on the family PC and putting together computers from spare parts before they had any cool cachet (post-War Games, pre-Hackers).

As time went on Filepp picked up several other instruments. His second grade music teacher recognized the talent hidden in his paste-smeared fingers, picking him for an all-star concert for his ability to fumble through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star almost in key. Catapulted by such resounding success, he picked up trumpet the following year.

His relationship with the guitar was reinvigorated a few years later when he saw one of his crazed longhaired classmates rock out a version of Malaguena. Filepp decided it was time to lean the instrument properly, soon forming the first of several ill-fated rock bands. He moved onto hardcore and metal for a while, shredding and screaming his way through high school. Filepp's music tastes widened with time, and he became keenly interested in folk in the vein of Guthrie, Seeger and Dylan. Around the same time Filepp became enamored with hip-hop and many types of electronic music.

Inspired by projects like Boards of Canada and cloudDEAD, Filepp discovered a new direction for his music. He started working at what would soon become cars & trains, an attempt to marry his love of folk earnestness and electronic immediacy. After much trial and error and experimentation, cars & trains was born.

Filepp is constantly learning new instruments to add to the mix, both for new sonic possibilities and the sheer fun and humbling nature of learning a new instrument.

Rusty String Deluxe reintroduces Portland, Oregon based multi-instrumentalist cars & trains' 2007 album with new songs and a slew of remixes and covers, available digitally on December 2nd. Folks will be able to choose their packaging (CD, t-shirt, digital only) through the Circle Into Square store on release.

Rusty String evokes early Morr Music releases by bands like Tarwater, intersecting with folk-oriented electronic groups like Tunng. Found sound and distorted tape samples create urban lullaby landscapes. Undaunted, meloncholic drums and timid textures are reminicent of cloudDEAD or Tujiko Noriko. Recommended!

Cars & Trains @ Virb (free songs download)
Cars & Trains @ MySpace

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Friday, November 14, 2008

The Explorers Club

Great indie rock bands have long made a habit of recasting the music of our parents' youth. Turn on Dr. Dog, Olivia Tremor Control, or the Black Angels for just a few examples of bands who make glorious new music in classic molds. Now take the idea a step further. Take the homage just far enough that you can imagine yourself experiencing, say, the Beach Boys in their prime, but with fresh songs not tempered by a generation of Sweatin' to the Oldies. This is elation without irony. This is the Explorers Club's debut album, Freedom Wind.

The Beach Boys are the obvious touchstone, but dig a bit deeper and you'll hear flourishes of Paul McCartney, the Byrds, Emitt Rhodes, ELO and doo-wop. Embracing a pop blueprint from a time when great songs were played on the radio and everybody loved them all, the Explorers Club has recorded the sweetest pop record you are likely to hear this year.

True, in lesser bands, such a thing might be tough to stomach. For every Clientele out there, there's a lackluster vintage-inspired indie rock band loading a Rhodes onstage. But here's the thing: The Explorers Club also happen to write undeniably catchy pop songs. Whether it is the soaring harmonies of "Forever," the playful psychedelia of "In the Country," or the classic choruses of "Do You Love Me?" or "Last Kiss," give in to the Explorers Club's youth, exuberance, class, and musicianship. You will soon be rolling down the windows and singing harmony at the top of your lungs.

Freedom Wind was recorded in the summer and fall of 2007, a triumph of lush arrangements and cushy four-part harmonies. With an ensemble of guitars, accordion, banjo, mandolin, organs, piano, lap steel guitars and more, the Explorers Club's layered sound buzzes with warmth, creating timeless orchestral pop. It's an album of A-sides – each of the 11 vocal tracks (there is one instrumental) are magnificent pop hits, ready for the airwaves.

This type of pleasure-seeking pop sound historically hails from beachside towns, and the Explorer's Club is no exception; their home is not an iconic California surf city but Charleston, South Carolina. Twenty-six-year-old Jason Brewer does the songwriting and arranging, while the complex vocal harmonies come courtesy of James Faust, Wally Reddington, and David Ellis. Filling out the instrumental sound of the Explorers Club on organ and drums, respectively, are Stefan Rogenmoser and Neil Thomas.

The Explorers Club are doing for the summer beach song what Amy Winehouse has done for R&B or Sharon Jones for funk and soul, what Antibalas have done for Afro-beat. They're reclaiming the classics as their own, injecting them with life, and making music that that transcends any era. This is how pop music is supposed to sound. Prepare yourself. Freedom Wind is the soundtrack to the summer of 2008. Recommended!

The Explorers Club - Do You Love Me
The Explorers Club - Do You Love Me (mov)
The Explorers Club @ MySpace

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Angil + Hiddntracks

4 years have passed since the release of Angil's first LP "Teaser for: matter", critically acclaimed in France as one of the top records of 2004. Mickaël Mottet, the man behind the name, has not exactly been twiddling his thumbs: Angil and his live band the Hiddentracks have played many gigs in France, Spain, and Iceland (with the likes of Why?, Bright Eyes, the Kills, Brigitte Fontaine...). The LP (and an exclusive EP) were released in the UK by Megaphone (Karen Dalton, Michael Head...), while We Are Unique Records in France issued "Matter", another 4-track EP including self-remixed and re-composed songs. Angil also contributed to the John Venture.

January 13th, 2009 Angil + Hiddntracks release Ouliposaliva, their intelligent and charming album with a unique sound, further enhanced by the back-story and theme of the recording. The concept for Ouliposaliva was formed during an after-gig conversation between Mickaël Mottet and Hiddentracks' saxophonist Francis Bourganel: the idea of writing an entire album based on the sound of brass and woodwind instruments. "OK", Bourganel said, "let's do it. But don’t use the E key, as it's always been a tough one for alto saxophonists!" No sooner said than done: Mottet started writing E-less songs, never employing the E chord in the music, or the letter E in any of the lyrics.

Mickaël Mottet composed most of Ouliposaliva's songs on a 1904 piano salvaged from a neighbouring clothes shop which was closing down. Instead of having it tuned, Mottet took the weirdly resounding piano as it was, following the example of John Cage's prepared instruments, and adapted his compositions to its strange, Tim-Burtonesque sound.

Recorded at nearby art squat La Fabrique, Ouliposaliva features 11 musicians and fellow producer and Hiddentacks guitarist Gilles Deles. Guitars, however, are barely present on this record: following the predicate stated in "Teaser for: matter"'s opening song, "No more guitars," Angil gave percussion, strings, woodwinds, and brass arrangements prominence in Ouliposaliva. He also emphasised the casual, hip hop feel that had dappled his earlier works, thus giving cross hints to both Why? and Sun Ra, Lisa Germano and Alice Coltrane, Soul Couhging and Tryggve Seim. The final touch to this ambitious project was added by French comics author Guillaume Long, who contributed the inspirational illustrations for "Ouliposaliva"'s booklet. Recommended!

Angil + Hiddntracks - Narrow Minds
Angil + Hiddntracks @ MySpace

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free album release... Jai Agnish

New Jersey based indie artist Jai Agnish has released his third album, Awake When You Dream, as a free digital download. Agnish, who has received critical acclaim for his work as an electro-acoustic pop experimentalist -- wanted to see what he could pull off without the machines.

Agnish sets out on this 11-song journey with his trusty Gibson J-45 and a 1980's Roland synth. The songs are grounded in acoustic guitar rhythm with Agnish weaving lead guitar and synth melodies playfully throughout. Agnish performs all the instruments and is occasionally joined on vocals by Peg Carlin. Agnish also multi-tracks his own voice in new ways while experimenting with harmony and spatial nuance. Even without drums the songs are surprisingly rhythmic as Agnish takes advantage of upbeats and less obvious rhythmic patterns without losing the listener. The music, which was recorded by Agnish over a year-long period on his home computer, has the intimacy of a home-recording but the clarity of a "for-real" studio.

Lyrically, Agnish explores the imaginative and political. Topics range from love and dreams to shopping mall sprawl, protests and family adventure stories. With "India" Agnish shares his impressions of connecting with his Indian heritage when he visited the country for the first time. "Lightning Bugs" is a fantastical tale Agnish wrote for his 2-year-old nephew. Check It Out!

Jai Agnish - Awake When You Dream (free album)

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Born to the sounds of Barry Manillow and The Carpenters, raised on romantic comedies, and schooled in failed love and misfiring lust, Absentee emerge well-versed in the rigours of romance with their finest album to date, Victory Shorts.

Finding a seat somewhere between unreachable romanticism and hopeless realism, Victory Shorts offers lush mini romantic tragedies for those who thought Casablanca ended a little too abruptly. Album opener 'Shared' sets the scene with a couple pleased as punch that they found each other, until things take a darker turn with Absentee smashing their way through 'Boy, Did She Teach You Nothing?' latest EP title-track 'Bitchstealer' and 'Love Has Had Its Way' in an attempt to get to the truth of the matter: Happy endings don't come easy.

'The Nurses Don't Notice a Thing' takes us on a walk with someone looking for hope in a maternity wing: "our eyes meeting as your waters break and I'm born again as him or her," meditating on the beauty of innocence as: "the simplest feelings of love explode into the room like cowboys in saloons, I want to clap but it seems inappropriate." In 'We Smash Plates' the lovers' first argument and consequent makeup is summed up in a mess of broken crockery: "I ask you kindly to take a seat whilst I'm sweeping broken china from around your feet, like a miner bringing riches from the core... we both smile knowing there will always be more".

By album closer 'That Old Ghost', we're left contemplating a lovers' grip: "the way that you hold me, it won't be my heart that breaks first" and the enduring qualities of love found the hard way: "you don't have to ask me if you want me to stay... I'm not a bird, I'm not a whore... you can just clap your hands and make me run away".

Marked with the influence of Johnny Cash, Pavement and The Velvet Underground, produced/engineered/mixed by Nick Terry (Klaxons, Libertines, Bernard Butler), and shot through with the originality and humour we've come to expect from Absentee, Victory Shorts stands alone as the band's strongest, most honest record yet. Recommended!

Absentee - They Do It These Days
Absentee - Bitchstealer
Absentee @ MySpace

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