Yeah, yeah. I know. It's been a while. I could make excuses for the dearth of posts this past month. I could offer sincere regrets, guarantees it will never happen again, solemn vows to be a more vigilant blurbsmith. But we both know such promises would, while well-intentioned, ring hollow, much like Hank Moody apologizing to his eternally wounded and increasingly jaded daughter, Becca, for the thousandth time: sincerely remorseful, yet fully aware — as she is — that he will inevitably fuck up again, most likely in boozy and spectacular fashion. (Yes, I've been on a "Californication" kick lately.)
Anyway, in the interest of playing catchup/stopping the bleeding/not doing other work, I thought we'd bust out an old fashioned smattering of randomness to get us relatively up to date. Here goes.
- This just in from Higher Ground: LoCash Cowboys have cancelled their appearance at the club scheduled for this Sunday. Figures, the one time I throw airbrushed pop-country a rhinestone-studded bone, I jinx the show. My bad.
- Wanna see some naked musicians? Local videographer Matt Day, on the heels of a successful opening at the BCA Center last month, finally has an online home for his Naked Musicians video project, nakedmusicians.com. It's an interesting project, showcasing (mostly) local tunesmiths playing (clothed) in casual surroundings. It's also very well done. Plus, bonus points to Day for the lurid website title, which will undoubtedly draw a bazilion extra hits from pervy Googlers. Well played! Anyway, here's a vid from the project featuring Paper Castles.
- Any Amerpunkgrassrockjazzicana fans in the house? Go see the Defibulators at Nectar's on Thursday. Trust me.
- Remember back in February of 2010, when Rapper Big Pooh and his crew nearly died on I-89 when their van flipped en route to a show at Club Metronome? No? Well, they did. Not only that, they still played the gig. Anyway, it seems Pooh's group, Little Brother, recently broke up under some unfortunate and convoluted circumstances, as detailed in this excellent article in North Carolina's Independent Weekly by Grayson Currin, which leads with a description of the accident outside Randolph. (Full disclosure: this story is up for an AAN award this year, which is sort of like the Oscars for alt-weekly journalism. A story I wrote is actually nominated in the same category. But were I a betting man, my money would be on Currin. This is a prime example of arts-related alt-journalism at its best.)
- I was on vacation when this was announced, but I couldn't be happier about Gillian Welch coming to the Flynn in October. As an aside, Welch's Time (the Revelator) remains the only album my dad has ever borrowed from me and never returned. I don't blame him. Tix go on sale Friday.
- Conan O'Brien gave James Kochalka some love recently.
- Burlington's e-sk (Slanted Black Records) was recently featured on Beatport.
- And last but not least, BURNTmd's track "Smuggler's Notch," featuring Keith Murray was just named a "Banger" by noted hip-hop rag XXL Magazine. I believe that's a good thing … (Seriously though, congrats, B)
Today's missive comes by way of local indie-folk outfit Osage Orange. It's a nifty little video for their song, "Alchemy," that fairly screams Burlington bohemia. You've got yer ragtag dancin' fools clad in vagabond chic garmenture, lots of pointy facial hair, a healthy dose of rambling accordion and, of course, Phinneus Sonin juggling. It's like a night at Radio Bean delivered straight to your computer screen. Enjoy.
This just in from 4-Word Presents: An open letter to the Prez, hip-hop style.
And here's the latest vid from VT's Cartoon Laureate/Superstar James Kochalka, "Beyonce," from his album Digital Elf. Here's hoping Jay-Z doesn't find out.
Here's the latest from local trash-pop auteur Joey Pizza Slice, a bizarre little video for his song "Fresh Baguettes." Because nothing says "I love you" like the gift of crusty bread, especially when aided by a sign language interpreter — y'know, for those who can't read gigantic lips. Take it away, Joey.
It seems Parmaga's Bryan Parmelee ain't merely one hell of an indie rock songwriter. He also does a pretty good Foghorn Leghorn, as seen in this recent short depicting a pair of local citizens concerned over the recent Lockheed Martin proposal, and Parmelee as a Lockheed snake oil salesman. Enjoy …
Howdy, Solid State.
For the past couple of months, videographer Elizabeth Rossano (of "Alice Eats" renown) and I have been working on developing a music video series for Seven Days, tentatively titled "Signs of Life." The idea is, well, kind of a ripoff of the Take Away Shows — which I adore and have touted on numerous occassions on this here blog. What's that saying about the sincerest form of flattery?
Anyway, the gist is that rather than doing straight-up concert videos, we wanted to capture local musicians performing in unusual locations around Vermont, or in scenarios that simply speak, in some small way, to life as an artist in our oddball little state. We have a couple of sessions in the books and hope to start rolling these out on roughly a monthly basis, at least to start.
Here is a rough cut of a session we did with Farm at their rehearsal/studio space, the Cave of Legends, underneath Ben Maddox's shop, the Flying Disc, in Enosburgh. Keep in mind that this is by no means the finished product. But before we officially launch the series, we were hoping to elicit some constructive feedback from you, dear readers. Did we blow your freakin' mind? Is there something in this video you feel just doesn't work? Anything you'd like to see more of? Less of? Whatever your thoughts, we'd love to hear 'em.
Without further ado, here's Farm.
There's a theory circulating among culture pundit that the way bands become commercially successful these days is no longer via radio play or touring, but ad placements. There's some truth to the idea. Turn on the tube and wait for a commercial break, and you're bound to hear a hot new indie band or two being used to plug a Kia or Target superstore. In fact, music from every act nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Alternative Rock Album" category appeared in a commercial hawking something in 2010.
Typically, ad folks will pull just a catchy tune from a band's catalog to suit their Don Draper-esque needs. But what if companies commissioned bands specifically to write, or rework an existing jingle?
Coffee giant Folgers recently put out a call for musicians to rework their well-known jingle for a chance at $25K and an appearance in a Folgers commercial. Rutland indie-folk outfit Split Tongue Crow answered the bell. Here's their entry:
In my column last week, I left you with a riddle: "What is red and white — like really, really white — has 16 arms and loves you?"
This week, I promised I would share the answer here on the blog today, as revealing said answer in print would violate the only real rule my eds have ever given me: not writing about projects with which I am involved … in the paper. Due to the wonders of Facebook, and the general closeness of life in a small community like Burlington, this almost feels anti-climactic. It seems there's already a decent buzz around the event in question. But a promise is a promise. So without further ado …
Q: What is red and white, has 16 arms and loves you?
A: The Ginger Snaps.
(smattering of applause and confused murmuring)
For more on this developing story, let's bust out an old-school FAQ, shall we?
Q: Um, OK. So, who, or what the hell are the Ginger Snaps?
A: So glad you asked! The Ginger Snaps are VTs finest/only all-redhead all-star band. They're playing their one and only show this Monday, Valentine's Day, at Club Metronome with Kyle the Rider and the Human Canvas.
Q: Wait … really?
Q: All redheads? Are there really enough of you to make up a whole band?
A: And then some. Though finding a drummer proved tricky.
Q: So, if you're involved, does that mean we've drastically lowered the bar on just what exactly qualifies as an "all-star"?
A: Probably. I'm undoubtedly the weakest link. But the only reason I'm mentioning this at all is because the caliber of the rest of the band is pretty noteworthy. When you get people like Bob Wagner, Swale's Amanda Gustafson and Jeremy Fredericks, Heloise and the Savoir Faire's Rob O' Dea and That Toga Band's Tyler Minetti all on the same stage, cool stuff is bound to happen. Plus, we've got a pair of killer backing dancer/vocalists in Trena Isley and Myesha Gosselin. Next to those cats, my only real qualification for being in the group are my raven tresses.
Q: Hold on a sec. O' Dea is bald, and Fredericks ain't a redhead.
A: That's not really a question, but I'll enlighten you anyway. Both O'Dea and Fredericks were gingers as kids. We have photographic proof. Once a ginger, always a ginger.
A: Not at all! We actually have a set of about 12 original tunes, written by gingers, for gingers. Some titles include "Everybody Knows the Beach Fucking Sucks," "Does the Carpet Match the Drapes," "Little Red Haired Girl," "Fetish" and "Sunblock Cockblock." We'll also probably toss in a love song or three to satisfy Cupid's bloodlust.
Q: Hey, Neko Case is a redhead, right?
A: Sigh …
Q: This is wacky. Who's dumb idea was this?
A: That's open to debate. Though the specific origins are unclear, what is known is that the idea developed between Bob Wagner and myself over way too many beers at Radio Bean last fall. Max Schwartz, late of the Jazz Guys, is rumored to have been an instigator as well. I maintain it was all Bob's fault, er, idea.
Q: $1000 question: Are you guys any good?
A: We'll see. At the very least, it'll be an interesting show. Plus, there is the very real possibility that this gig will be our collective undoing in Burlington. Do you really want to miss that?
Q: Last question: What is the preferred nomenclature here? I mean, is it OK to use the term "ginger"?
A: Great question. Let's ask Tim Minchin:
Note to self: don't have dinner at Bob Wagner's house — or, for that matter, mess around with his, erm, "lovely" daughter.
Happy 2011, Solid State! I trust everyone had a safe and fun New Year's Eve.
In the hubbub leading up to the last day of the year, I plumb ran out of time to finish off my 2010 ramblings last week. (2011 Resolution #1: find a way to squeeze a few more hours out of each day. There's gotta be a way.) So before we kick 2011 into high gear, I thought I'd take the opportunity to pass along a few more random favorites from the year that was. Only this time, we're expanding our gaze beyond music and looking at some stuff beyond the typical Solid State bailiwick. So without further ado, randomness!
You've perhaps heard Birbiglia as a semi-regular contributor on Ira Glass' radio show/podcast, "This American Life." That's certainly how I was first introduced. But over the last year or so, he's quite possibly become my favorite standup comic. His latest album, My Secret Public Journal — he also writes a blog of the same name — was easily among my most listened to albums in 2010. Not just comedy albums, mind you. Albums, period. I gave my sister his new book, "Sleepwalk With Me," for Christmas, and then read the whole thing, cover to cover on Christmas Day. More storyteller than jokester or satirist, Birbiglia has a rare gift for exposing the subtle absurdities of his own life in a way that connects almost universally — or at least to awkward, self-deprecating white guys from New England … ahem. Anyway, dude is hilarious. Here's a clip from his most recent comedy special. And by the way, he's performing in Montreal this weekend.
Is it just me, or was 2010 kind of weak year for film? There were very few flicks that really stood out to me over the last 12 months — though I have yet to see the Coen Brothers' take on "True Grit." I have high hopes for that one.
"Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" seemed to fly under most moviegoers' radars, which is a shame. Witty, creative and a must for anyone who grew up playing video games in the 1980s and 1990s, it was easily my favorite flick of 2010. Maybe not the "best," per se. But I loved it.
The film centers on Pilgrim (Michael Cera playing, um, basically the same character Michael Cera always plays), a geeky dude in a bad band who, in the aftermath of a bad breakup — and while stringing a long a high school girlfriend, no less — falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Powers. The thing is, to win Ramona's heart, he must defeat "The League of Evil Exes," a motley collection of Ramona's past seven lovers. In other words, it's kinda like dating in Burlington … hiyo! The battle scenes between Pilgrim and the increasingly bizarre Exes are outlandishly inventive. (The showdown versus Ramona's bass-playing vegan ex-boyfriend Todd is especially satisfying.) And the soundtrack is pretty killer too.
I've made no secret of my adoration for ESPN columnist Bill Simmons in these pages. But in 2010, Simmons seriously upped his game. He has always been an entertaining writer and host, but this year he seemed to take a step beyond humorous sports columnist to rising media icon. He had a NYT bestseller ("The Book of Basketball," a mammoth tome, but a great read and surprisingly well argued), produced possibly the most interesting and ambitious series of sports documentaries in history ("30 for 30") and continued churning out great columns week in and week out.
But his podcast, the BS Report, was really where Simmons shined. The mix of sports musings and cultural analysis was pitch perfect all year long, and his lineup of guests expanded from the usual parade of sports-obsessed buddies (Jack-O, Joe House) and sportswriters (Dan LeBetard, Mike Lombardi) to include some fascinating folks from film, music and media (Chuck Klosterman, Jon Hamm, Seth Myers). Don't let the fact that ESPN cuts his paycheck fool you. There is more to the BS Report than just sports. (OK, there's still a lot of sports. But it's wickedly entertaining, I promise.) When I grow up, I want to be Bill Simmons.
2010 was the year I discovered Tom Franklin. I devoured two of his early novels — the gritty "Hell at the Breech," and the astounding, impossibly violent "Smonk" — before turning my attention to a beautiful collection of short stories, "Poachers," over my recent winter break. Fans of local author Creston Lea would particularly enjoy the last. The Southerner writes in a vein very similar to Lea's "Northern Gothic" style. Franklin possess a keen eye for the fragility and, in many cases, futility of subject's lives, painting their portraits with equal measures of kindred empathy and cold prejudice. His latest, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," sits perched atop the stack on my nightstand for 2011.
I love sad songs. Whether or not I am, in fact, sad in that moment, melancholy music has always struck a chord with me. Most of my all-time favorite records are late night, punch drunk confessionals: Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours, Tom Waits' Heart of Saturday Night, anything by Otis Redding and pretty much the entirety of country music, etc. There is a certain poetic beauty in sadness, which may be why sad songs usually resonate with me as much as, if not more than their more upbeat counterparts. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a pretty melody.
This year there were a number of great, mellow, melancholy additions to my stacks. To name but a few: chippy bedroom pop from Belle & Sebastian on Write About Love, swooning art folk on The Head and the Heart's self-titled debut, and an unflinching masterpiece from songwriter Joe Pug, Messenger.
Of course, there are many different types of sad songs. You've got your torch song, your break up song, the fuck you song, the lonely sap song, the clinically depressed song, and so on. Pop music is virtually overloaded with sad sack sentiment. To quote Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, "What came first, the music or the misery? … Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" Fair questions.
The thing is, not all sad songs are created equally. Because pop is over-saturated by songwriters who seem to think theirs was the first broken heart, the annals of rock and roll are littered with overwrought cliché, terrible, cloying songs that artlessly gnaw at the heartstrings rather than gently tug or assuage. Depressed? Write a song about it! It's a tack followed by far too many marginally talented artists. But who can blame them? To quote Def Leppard, "Love bites."
So what makes a great sad song? I doubt there's an easy answer, if one exists at all. And really, it is entirely subjective. What hits to your core might turn mine queasy. What makes me swoon could very well make you wretch. To paraphrase an old chestnut, beauty is in the ear of the beholder.
For me, it's usually the melody that hooks first. Throw in a clever turn of phrase or two and I'm yours for the night. Sing it with soul, and my oh my, it could be a lasting love. Then again, sometimes it's none of those things. Sometimes, certain songs or albums just catch you when they're supposed to. Sometimes it's just fate. Two such artists caught me that way this year. Some way, somehow, they entered my life at the precise moment I needed them most.
The first was songwriter Sean Hayes. His 2010 album, Run Wolves Run, is a gorgeously crafted, unchained treatise on love and life, and among my favorites this year. But that album wasn't what first turned me on to Hayes. Rather, it was one of his older songs, "Fucked Me Right Up," that, well … you know. There is a raw, visceral hurt in Hayes' vulnerable delivery that deepens his otherwise simplistic lyrics. The song barely has two verses, but by the time he bids us "good bye" again and again at the song's conclusion, you feel what he feels in no uncertain terms. It's chilling.
Here's a live version of the song from a house concert. It's a little rough around the edges, which I kind of prefer. The ragged quality suits the song. But if you'd like to hear the cleaner album version, click here.
This next artist writes great sad songs too, but in an entirely different way, which you could likely surmise simply from his name, Sad Brad Smith. Some might be familiar with Smith from his single, "Help Yourself," which was featured in the recent movie, Up in the Air. I've actually never seen that flick, or heard the song. But Smith's full-length debut, Love is Not What You Need, has rarely left my iPod since it came out this fall.
Smith's approach to melancholy is tongue-in-cheek whimsy. He revels in wallowing. He writes clever, heartfelt songs that both tease and admire the peculiar conundrum of the superficially depressed. Ever have that friend who is only truly happy when he or she is unhappy? Love is that friend's personal soundtrack. Or maybe the record Charlie Brown would have written if he grew up to be a singer-songwriter.
Here is live clip of Smith performing a song from Love, a typically overly underwrought charmer called "I'm So Sad." Enjoy. Or, um … don't, depending. And tune in tomorrow when we cheer the fuck up.
Today's installment of my personal 2010 "Best Of" non-local music series features Spoon, a band that I doubt regular readers — both of them — will be surprised to find planted firmly among my garden of year-end treats. For one thing, they're a, ahem, perennial favorite, and for my meager money, the best rock band working in the US today. Yes, really. For another, I was practically orgasmic when their 2010 album, Transference, came out early this year. And for yet another, when I grow up, I want to be Britt Daniel.
In some ways, Transference delved even deeper into the "less-is-more" idea explored on their previous album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The songs here strip superficial pop constructs like paint thinner. While so much of indie-rock moves toward high-fructose ear candy and uses glo-fi glitter to mask inferior chops and writing, Spoon continue to chip away at rock's facade, exposing the raw, bloodied nerve endings at the core of their music. Or something.
I had the chance to catch Spoon live in Boston earlier this year. As I wrote at the time, it was the best show I never saw. Unfortunately, due to my poor vantage point on the Mezzanine level at the House of Blues, I had to watch the show on a projection screen, which was of course just a split second behind the live sound. Frustrating. Eventually, my compatriots and I resigned ourselves to hanging by a satellite bar, enjoying the concert armed with but our ears and few rounds of Narragansett tall boys — that's PBR, southern New England style. Ask your dad.
Even without the benefit of good — or any — sight lines, it was among my favorite concerts of the year. The sound at HOB is unparalleled. I've rarely ever heard sound mixed so well or presented so clearly. And Spoon are as dynamic and interesting live as they are on record, which is truly saying something. If you have the chance to see them, pay special attention to bassist Rob Pope and drummer Jim Eno. As remarkable as Daniel's songwriting is, Spoon would not be the same without their inventive interplay.
Anyway, here are a couple of Spoon clips. The first is the official Merge Records video for "Written in Reverse," from Transference. The second is Daniel performing "I Summon You" from Gimme Fiction, solo acoustic in the back of a taxi cab. And by the way, Spoon has a collection of outtakes from 2008-2009 called Bonus Tracks — clever, no? — available for download on their website. It ain't free, but it's cheap and certainly interesting as a companion to their work over the last few years. Enjoy.
A belated happy holidays, Solid State. I trust everyone is safe and warm somewhere as the weather howls past my picture window. Baby, it's cold outside. Anyway …
With Christmas unwrapped and the new year just around the corner, 'tis the season for music pundits such as myself to don their robes of self-importance and enlighten the masses with picks for the best music they've heard in the year that was.
[Little known secret: said robes are handed out when you accept any music crit job and kind of look like Roman philosopher's robes, but with punk rock patches sloppily hand-sewn about them. True story.]
With regard to the best local music of 2010, this Wednesday's paper will offer a glimpse into my thoughts and ramblings, as well as my picks for the top ten VT-made albums of the year. But man cannot live on localvore tunage alone. So this week, I'll be serving up some of the music that made me swoon, laugh, cry, rock the eff out or otherwise just got a kick out of in the past 12 months. Most of it was released this year. Some of it wasn't, but managed to find its way to me in 2010. You've probably heard of much of it, might not have heard of some of it, but I'm hoping you'll find something in the mix you'll enjoy either way.
First up, Minneapolis-based songwriter Jeremy Messersmith. He kinda looks like Buddy Holly (ooh-wee-ooh!), sings a bit like Paul Simon, and has a gift for irresistible pop hooks that will leave you whistling for days. Or in my case, most of the year.
My much cooler-than-me kid sister, Ari, actually knows the guy and introduced me to his music last year. But I didn't really pay attention to him until he released his 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard, this spring. That thing never left my iPod, was a staple on most of my summer mixes and served me well through an unusual fall. It's the kind of record that sneaks up on you, even if you love it immediately as I did. Nearly every time I put it on, I discover something new within Messersmith's deceptively simple pop that gives me a heightened appreciation for his work.
Below are videos for two of my favorite cuts from that record. The first is a sweetly chilling ballad, "A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard," that feels appropriate given this bleak midwinter day. The second is the album's lead track, "Lazybones," featuring what may be my favorite single hook of the year. I triple dog dare you to get its jangly genius out of your head before 2011. And if you can't, The Reluctant Graveyard and all the rest of Messersmith's music is available through his website as pay-what-you-want downloads.
'Tis the season to jolly. (Fa la la … and so on.) So, in the interest of spreading holiday cheer I present … Slayer, obviously. Thanks to Joe Cleary for passing this along.
In an effort to get a jump on 2010 year-end round-up stuff — yeah, it's really time to start thinking about it — I've recently begun sifting through reviews and records, trying to compile my local favorites from the year that (almost) was. It's actually been surprisingly fun to rediscover albums that I dug at the time, but have receded from memory in the unending Sisyphean grind that is the newspaper bidniss — you're eternally on to the next thing almost as soon as you've finished the last.
One such record in which I've thoroughly enjoyed re-immersing myself is Nearly Lost Stars from Brattleboro's Wooden Dinosaur. It's a marvelous effort, showcasing a truly lovely duo, Michael Roberts and Katie Trautz. It features a broad array of stylistic influences, all filtered through Roberts' unique folk lens. In other words, I really, really like it.
Anyway, Trautz was kind enough to send along links to videos from a recent Halloween show at Iron Horse in Northampton. MA. Here's my favorite of the bunch, "Paper Cars."
It took me three days, but I finally figured out who the mystery band was that opened for Das Racist on Tuesday night. It was a Virginia Beach-based outfit called We Are Trees. And I heart them. They don't have much available online, save for an EP on Bandcamp. But here's a track I found on YouTube. Enjoy!
So it seems not everything at CMJ is as totally rad as I may have been led to believe following my stellar first night on the town. Who knew?
I began the evening at a Press Mixer at a swanky hotel on the Lower East Side, figuring free booze and food would help bandage my hemorrhaging wallet, at least temporarily. However, what I failed to remember was just how much I despise social mixers, gladhanding and pretending I give a shit about who you are, where you're from and what big name band you just interviewed. Blech.
I left after about 30 minutes and bounced around from club to club, with very little to show for it, I'm afraid. I don't know if the rock gods were simply conspiring against me last night or what, but it seemed as though every show I caught featured band after band even more forgettable than the last.
Cutting my losses, I decided to make my way uptown to Webster Hall a little early for Surfer Blood, who I've been dying to see for months. Unfortunately, I didn't go nearly early enough. On the chance that any of you folks reading this ever attend CMJ with any sort of press or artist credentials, here's a word to the wise. For most of the bigger shows, you can flash your badge to get in. However, they often limit the number of badgeholders they will allow in at one time. And once they reach capacity, it's a one-out, one-in scenario. So it was that I found myself waiting in line with about 50 other disgruntled rock critics whose badges were barely worth the plastic they were printed on. We're kind of a prickly bunch by nature. Knock us down a peg and tell us we're not as big a deal in NYC as we are in our hometowns … what a nightmare. I actually overheard a fairly well-known writer for a big deal music website say, "What the fuck? I write for (insert big deal website here), and they're telling me I can't get in? This is bullshit." (cough) Prick. (cough)
After not moving in line for about a half an hour, and growing increasingly annoyed by my pissy colleagues, I decided to leave, and trek all the way back down to the Canal Room, which was roughly 756 blocks from Webster Hall. I may be exaggerating the distance … slightly. Though I think I must have walked close to that many blocks before I realized that Broadway and West Broadway are two completely different streets … oops.
Fortunately, I made it just in time to catch most of a set by my old friends Good Old War, who rocked a completely packed house. Those cats are good, and just keep getting better. So glad to see a truly talented young band find so much good fortune and success. It almost made the rest of the night worth it … almost.
On the docket for tonight … um, I'm not sure yet, actually. But I might go check out Neutral Uke Hotel, whom I only just discovered are not, in fact, Neutral Milk Hotel. One more word to the wise: read the CMJ guidebook very carefully, lest you too mistake the word "uke" for "milk" while skimming through it. Ahem. Anyway, here's a snippet. It's actually kinda cool. More tomorrow!