whiskey and apples

Monday, April 10, 2006

Weird Weeds

The Weird Weeds have plenty to be excited about. There's "Weird Feelings," a new record to be released August 8th featuring cameos from Austin's Ralph White, Victoria's Shapes and Sizes, Kurt Newman on pedal steel, trombonist Tucker Dulin, and even this humble writer. Pitchfork is finally giving them some long-deserved attention, singling them out as a SXSW pick and endorsing their forthcoming split with Shapes and Sizes. Singer/percussionist Nick Hennies' booking agency Map Ref is doing great things for bands like Shapes and Sizes, Half-Handed Cloud/Liz Janes/Create(!) (all on Asthmatic Kitty), and our own Peter and the Wolf, and he's begun setting up Weird Weeds' third tour (which is practically booking itself.)

Their latest release, "This is Not What You Want," is quickly making its way around the world. In the true mark of modernity, it's a free, download-only album from the Sounds Are Active label, to which Weird Weeds have recently signed. You can download it in full right here.

It's certainly an interesting way to deal with the problem of everyone downloading/copying your record anyhow: just give it away, never actually press it in any form, and move forward. In the future, bands will succeed by putting on good shows, touring, and actually doing/saying things of interest and substance. Austin's Weird Weeds have figured this out, and with a fall 2006 tour in the works, they're preparing for the long road ahead.

Nick told me they were doing an acoustic album awhile back, and I was thrilled. To me, Weird Weeds are a mostly-quiet group who sound best in concentrated listening environments like theaters or churches, so the idea of them doing an acoustic set has always appealed to me. The first track is sensational:

See the World - mp3

"See the World" opens with Nick and Sandy singing the lovely, "When the wind blows and you leave the valley, there's a place to go where the land meets the sea," and you're floating over the world. The song's change into something darker is preceded with the reality-check, "and if I could erase the tower to the west, it would be the most beautiful sight in the city."

God, the sounds on this record are so good. Track two, "The Butcher," begins with a bed of mellow e-bow noise. For those who haven't seen the Weird Weeds live, e-bowed guitars and cello-bowed percussion are a big reason to go. They love em! The vocal line in this track makes you want to drive out of town late at night and see where you end up.

Track three, "Salt Shaker" opens with Sandy's lovely, innocent girl voice. Track four is, plainly put, Nick doing a Van Morrison cover. And track five (a minute, twenty-three seconds of Delta-style fingerpicking) tells the story of the record's title, a sort of riddle, "This can't be controlled, it's just the wrong place at the wrong time. You'll get what you think you want; it will paralyze you. So here's what you were praying for, don't tell a soul: this is not what you want."

Hey, it's only thirteen minutes long! I'm gonna go listen to it again. Here's a recent interview with the Weeds on Tiny Mix Tapes.

So now that the Weird Weeds are finally getting double-parked on Easy Street, does it mean they'll start acting all snooty and high class? Just remember what I always say: You can take the booty out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the booty. In other words, the Weird Weeds will keep it real. Music and recordings are available on the Weird Weeds website.

Shapes and Sizes

The first thing you notice when Victoria BC's Shapes and Sizes comes to your town is the facility and joy with which they play their unique, complex style of indie rock. Singers/guitarists Caila Thompson-Hannant and Rory Seydel along with bassist Nathan Gage throw lightning-quick ideas back and forth, alternate vocal lines, and pull wild new sounds from their instruments. It's a hell of a show. And though he was absent from this tour (the always-ready-to-jump-on-a-van Karmin Snow filled in), drummer John Crellin flawlessly glues it all together.

After the set is finished and you stumble back to look at their merch, the next thing you'll notice about Shapes and Sizes is the lovely CD artwork by Caity Gallupe on their self-titled first release. The sense of color and style would feel right at home with some of the art collectives in Austin like Totally Wreck. The disc is beautiful as well, and gives you the feeling that what you're about to hear is something rad.

Shapes and Sizes' songs often work like little symphonies. Intricately layered, the parts maintain independence (pretty rare for indie rock) and fit together with introductions, development, and even a "scream-cannon coda" at the end of "Island's Gone Bad" where each singer begins/ends the same line at different times, "Children gone mad, children gone bad, eating moms, eating dads, it's so sad, children gone mad." Never heard that before.

Island's Gone Bad - mp3

The songs are usually fronted by Rory or Caila. Caila's voice at times reminds me of everything I loved about Chrissie Hynde's "Back on the Chain Gang." By that I mean the highest compliment possible, because that gal had a rad voice. Caila hits the three-octaves-up Mariah Carey mark, too, in the racing climax of "Goldenhead." Rory's voice has a kid-like quality that sounds like someone running down a big hill hollering with pride about a kite they just got into the air. "Why is Rory bleeding?" begins the appropriately-titled, "Rory's Bleeding," which has amazing, Dark Side of the Moon-type harmonies. (Again, I mean that in the good way.) And there's Wilderness, complete with lovely saxophone work, lazy bendy guitars, whistling, and a sort of Lord-of-the-Flies narrative which you should just hear for yourself:

Wilderness - mp3

With their first North American tour winding down, they'll be home in Victoria later this month. I was lucky enough to join the band (along with Caity the artist and Amy, Rory's girlfriend) on a four-day desert adventure that completely rejuvenated my soul; we've all got the tattoos to prove it. So I'm thrilled to announce that Shapes and Sizes signed with Asthmatic Kitty when they got to New York. The record release date is set for July 25th, and you can bet it'll be buzzing well before then. Expect great things from this band!

Create (!) - "A Prospect of Freedom"

I was hit with a pretty hard one-two punch recently from Long Beach's Sounds Are Active label. First came the Weird Weeds free, download-only EP "This is Not What You Want," and then I was handed a copy of the Create(!) CD "A Prospect of Freedom" from Castanets' Ray Raposa. This beautifully-packaged disc is an 8-song free-improv recording with an all-star cast of Justice Constantine (percussion), Orlando Greenhill (bass, percussion, voice), Lynn Johnston (clarinets), Raymond Raposa (electic guitar, electronics), Chris Schlarb (the producer/engineer of this recording on electric guitar and electronics), and Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn.)

What really gets you first about the recording is the non-idiomatic colors that result from unlikely instrument juxtapositions. In track one, "A Prospect of Freedom," we hear noise guitar and drum set, reed noises, and clarinet flourishes which build a frenzied texture, but then a clean, mellow electric guitar floating above it all with a calm tremolo.

On the gorgeous "Sonny Sharrock," a sexy, slow melody melts mysteriously into a racing trill and then back to the slow melody. Here the group feels more like a jazz sextet than the others, and on looking at the liner notes it turns out this was the only track not written and arranged by all six members, rather it is a Chris Schlarb composition. "Six Dreams/Divided" has a steady bassline and guitar-driven pulse which set up the didgeridoo-style saxaphones which are the most intriguing sound of this track:

Six Dreams/Divided - mp3

"In (Our) Own Backyard" and the final track, "Durindana" are more chaotic, driven to a frenzy by wild, wild percussion. Overall, "A Prospect of Freedom" is a record between worlds; it'll keep you guessing. This music would've been adored at Austin's short-lived patron of experimental jazz improv Church of the Friendly Ghost, RIP. Visit Sounds Are Active to order it and learn more.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Et Ret, "Gasworks"

Et Ret is the second instrumental recording I received from Western Vinyl recently, and much like its labelmate Bexar Bexar, it offers us entrancing layers of stringed instruments and electronic glue. The sound is heavy, string-laden (violin, cello, guitar) and dark; the trance-effect it has on you is hard to describe. It's kind of like you're in some vast desert with cactuses, something you'd see in an old western movie, but the sky instead of having clouds and birds is a circuitboard of microchips and blinking lights. Ragged Moroccans stare at you from everywhere, but instead of riding camels they're on moving sidewalks like at the airport.

This music is not that easy to pin down. All I can say is that it's heavenly and mysterious. Just listen for yourself:

For the mellow side of Et Ret, here's: The First Day (excerpt) - mp3

For the more climactic side: Letting Go of the Balloon (excerpt) - mp3

Gasworks is a lovely record worth owning and sharing. When Matt Perkins reviewed it for Digitalis, he accurately described the feeling one has after listening to it like this, "I really would like to be outside right now. Yeah, I think that's where I'll go." It'll make you want to run through a field, stare off at the ocean, or ride a train.

Purchase Gasworks and other fine Western Vinyl recordings here and learn more about Et Ret on the Western Vinyl website.

The Theater Fire

The Theater Fire out of Denton, TX have a lot of things going for them. First, there's the homepage of their website which is just great. Then there's the amazing, solemn singing on tracks like, "Kicking Up the Darkness" and "Fiddleback Weaver," which you can sample on their site as well. And they've got an amazing assortment of instruments which they play with great vision: banjos, fiddles, trumpets, slide guitars and lots more.

The Theater Fire's 4-song EP, "Everybody Has a Dark Side," was handed to me on 6th Street last month during SXSW by one of the band's members (I was wasted and don't know which one, so let me know and I'll edit this, ha ha) and I somehow magically kept ahold of it all night and listened to it the next day, falling completely under its spell.

The title track, "Everybody Has a Dark Side," gets into some speculation about the philosophical origins Darth Vader, which I feel is long overdue. And the name alone of the song, "These Tears Could Rust a Train," makes me want to listen to it again again. You can do just that by visiting their myspace page.

"Fiddleback Weaver," my favorite track on the EP, begins with beautifully-executed Mariachi trumpets and contains the Brothers Grimm-esque lines, "And they'll laugh under the moon before being consumed by the Fiddleback Weaver who's constructed their doom."

Having been unable to make their last couple local performances, I can't wait to see these guys live. I'd also kill to get them playing a show with NYC's O'Death, their kindred spirits. It'll happen some sunny day. Pick up The Theater Fire's first, self-titled CD on Peek A Boo Records.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The CJ Boyd Sexxxtet

Let me start out by saying the pictures on CJ Boyd Sexxxtet myspace page are dangerous. Not like threat-to-the-establishment dangerous or anything, just dangerous in the sense that people might tend to overlook the music itself when they see press photos like the one of three naked girls, two of whom are kissing while the other's breasts are pressed against the cello she's embracing. But not me, man, I'm all about the music. I'll just go ahead and include that cello one here, though.

All about the music.

The naked press photos are okay, I think, when you put them in the context of the sounds. Boyd's compositions are primal, instrumental works that develop over long periods of time. It's the kind of music you can really trip out to. Very Steve Reich-ian, but not imitative.

The three-song EP I received contains three tracks which, in their scope and range, feel more like a symphony than an EP. Each track is a little under 20 minutes long, and the first begins with what sounds like a Tibetan singing bowl which gets some lovely overtones underneath which a lone guitar melody slowly enters. About four minutes in, the strings enter--there is a film score quality here for sure. Soon Boyd begins plucking a bassline as the others repeat a (get ready non-musicians) pizzicato ostinato. And a really cool low drum that might be a timpani, I'm not sure. About 14 minutes into the track things start to get noisier.

I'd really like to walk around Mexican deserts on mescaline listening to this. It's refreshing to hear this stuff in a world of indie rock and experimental electronica. Boyd's music must be a big challenge to put together, rehearse, and coordinate, and we appreciate that.

Only the third track, "And indeed there will be time," contains vocals--a repeating phrase sung by the group. You can listen to a rad excerpt on their myspace page.

Fortunately for those of us who like the music first and the nakedness a distant (but still awesome) second, you can't see all those pictures unless you're a member of myspace and you log in, so that should really limit the pervs and keep the focus on---oh wait, I forgot; everyone on Earth has three myspace profiles. As I write this, Tom has no less than 68,453,001 friends. (NOTE: In the day since I wrote the draft, Tom's friend count went up to 69,004,955. That's over half a million profiles in a day. Seriously.)

You know what I'd do if I had 69,004,955 friends? Exactly what CJ Boyd is doing. I'd make really cool music and get people to take naked pictures with me.

To contact Mr. Boyd about this recording, please visit the CJ Boyd Sexxxtet myspace page.

Lexie Mountain Boys

The second weirdest thing that happened at our little, unpublicized show at Baltimore's Floristree Space last fall--I don't exactly know how it came about--was that Chan Marshall showed up. Members of Diamond Caverns, Peter and the Wolf, and The Black sort of stood around in disbelief, but there she was at the show. That was the second weirdest thing that happened.

And then in a whole other galaxy of weird, where inhabitants of a moon-city orbit some impossibly-drawn inverted wormhole-shaped non-physical planet of weird, was the actual weirdest thing that happened that night: The Lexie Mountain Boys.

And by "weird" I mean "really, really hot and weird."

Marching onto the floor in a Bacchanalian procession, morphing mad laughter into hacking and finally pantomime vomiting, and chanting bizarre compliments from one imaginary person to another in a line while dancing like little girls performing their first choreographed piece for their parents, these ladies put us through something that night I still can't fully wrap my brain around.

So what does any self-respecting fellow do when confronted with wolf-like women for one spastic night in a town he doesn't need to ever see again? Seek them out and set up another tour, naturally! Peter and the Wolf proudly announces shows with Lexie Mountain Boys on August 4th (Baltimore) and August 6th (the woods somewhere in Providence.) Oh, man!

Although it's no substitute, visit their myspace to hear a performance by the Lexie Mountain Boys.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Navajo Radio

I unfortunatly only caught about five minutes of their first show at Emos last week, but it was still enough to know that Navajo Radio is going to make a lot of people smile around here. This music explodes with color, makes you want to jump out of your skin and run around in sand dunes. Their 4-song EP will surely get some Animal Collective (Sung Tongs-era) comparisons, but only by coincidence. Navajo Radio's EP is the sound of four creative friends singing relaxed, experimental music together, and I don't think they're really trying to sound like anyone but themselves. There's a naturalness to this music that reminds me of little kids drawing shapes with crayons, just letting their hands go wherever feels good.

The EP opens with "Road on the wind," where bird and water sounds make you feel like you're strolling through an aviary. Then in the background is Cari (Fancy Feast) Palazzolo's distinct "aaah," and a fantastic guitar line enters from Eli Welbourne that really caught my attention. It's the second time I've seen Eli play guitar in the last couple weeks--the other was at his house when X Playne and Jamie & Patrick from Ypsilanti came thru town and played at a Totally Wreck art collective show.

So when Konrad of Possessed by Paul James mentioned he was surprised to see Papa Mali bandleader Malcolm Welbourne (a Dr. John-esque swamp-music-playin bluesman) floating around our little Emos show, it all suddenly made sense. Lineage, man, lineage.

Listen to two of these songs as well as an older experiment with Dave from Diamond Caverns on Navajo Radio's myspace page.

Track two, "Singsong," is sung in a call-and-response, and sort of reminds me how it felt to be a bewildered little kid: "Kingdom come, kingdom come, come on and whisper along, you'll hear it in the song, lazy lazy love, tug and pull, shake, shake tambourine, blow it all to smitheree-ee-eens." The third track, "Golden snowglaze," (a title which makes me want a donut) is nice and long, it develops constantly and takes you on kind of a journey, and there's really rad oscillating vocals. "Uni versal tigerplex," the final track, repeats the lyrics, "A thousand tigers roar," punctuated by screams and other good stuff.

These EPs come in distinct, hand-painted covers, and you can ask em about how to get one through thier myspace. Find out when they're going to play next, too. It's highly recommended.

Bill Baird, SUNSET}}}}}}}}}}

There's a video on Bill Baird's SUNSET}}}}}}} myspace page where he walks up to the window at Taco Cabana and starts ordering his food by singing. The manager starts singing back and the dude is better than R. Kelly. An important fact about Mr. Baird: he's always like that. Ordering his food in song form at a drive-thru window and getting the workers to sing back is just a normal part of Bill's reality.

His new, yellow website, Blonde Bill has a large enough collection of songs that it feels like a free LP. Great listening for driving, rambling, strolling, riding, or any other kind of gettin-around.

My Woman Hates My Guts - mp3

My Woman Hates My Guts is a ten-minute noise-buildup that's really good for anyone who A) knows what it's like to occassionally say dumb things to their gal, B) has to drive during rush hour anywhere in the world, or C) likes noise. Wild saxophones by Carl Smith toward the end over a bed of guitar noises are just fantastic. Bill called me one night and said, "I'm trying to think of a chorus for this song. The lyrics go: My woman hates my guts, she points it at my face. My woman hates my guts, she holds a can of mace." I couldn't tell if he was serious or not. I still can't. Ever.

Bill's range is pretty vast. His silly little couplets in "Half a Man, Half a Man" (backing vocals by yours truly) are actually quite serious and heavy. "To know what happiness is, you first gotta know the sad. To find inner peace, you first gotta go mad," and later, "I write songs of love, they only bring me grief."

In Folk Swinger he proclaims (and I quote,) "Yee haw. Chee chaw. Cole slaw. Outlaws. Burnt bras. Cheez Whiz. Show biz."

And there's Sunrise, a "Cremation of Sam McGee"-style poem spoken over acoustic guitar.

Look out for a fantastic new song coming soon where he sings about Mark Twain, too. And of course there's the myspace, where you can e-stalk your favorite people: SUNSET}}}}}}


Very, very cool pictures are the first thing that catches your attention about Louis. They're a completely distinct style, simple but highly creative, and beautiful. Find a bunch more on their website, too.

Their 4-song EP "A Freakshow Revenge" begins with what is most immediately distinct about this songwriter: his voice. Hear it for yourself on their myspace page. The word "mercy" is the first sound on the recording; and for the duration of the EP his voice is the thing you'll probably pay attention to most.

My favorite song on this EP (the only one you can't hear on Louis's myspace page) is "Disease," the concluding track. Again, the vocals are prominent and striking, beginning over a quiet guitar line. There's a very steady, entrancing quality in his voice, which is especially foregrounded here.

Since the EP is so inexpensive (only four bucks!) and available from their site, I recommend previewing/purchasing it here, supporting independent music, and getting ahold of these beautifully strange songs.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Black Nasty, "Aids Can't Stop Me"

Black Nasty is one of those rare, important artists that comes along once a lifetime and wakes us all up to our decadence and self-delusion. I look back on my days at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, where I and many other world leaders and men of influence would retire to the smoking room after a hard day of conferencing and discuss this young artist's importance to his generation.

Listen to Black Nasty here.

Like Bob Dylan before him, Black Nasty is a master at assimilating the history of songwriting and poetry into his art, leaving no stone unturned in his quest to better himself and raise the consciousness of the American youth. Classics like "Real Animal Lover" (including the refrain, "I want a zebra that's a Libra",) Aids Can't Stop Me ("when I drop acid you should call me Tron",) Rudy Huxtable, and of course, I Can't Leave His Behind hold a torch for us to follow into the future.

The finest (and most important) song on this record is undoubtedly "Bitch Named Frank." And I'm not just saying that because it's my personal favorite. I was educated at St. Edwards, so I think it's safe to say I know for emperically certain what the most important song by any given artist is. In a scholarly (and shocking) revalation about a well-documented historical figure, Nasty exposes this "innocent" girl as, "just a horny twelve year-old Germanic Jew, trying to get fucked before World War II." I don't want to give away the ending, it's too intense, but you will undoubtedly feel the weight and seriousness of this artist's vision, not to mention what a backbreaking amount of research he must have put into this work!

And then there's blacknasty.net. Go look at this picture for a second. Black Nasty has an upside-down cross prison tattoo on his forearm (he really does.) His penis is a gun that he's about to shoot a just-spanked girl in the ass with, and "Black Nasty" is written in blood on the wall.

Is that not the story of humankind?

The final masterstroke is his HI-5 music video. You will see the artist in his human form, bound by arms and legs just like the rest of us, though I feel his importance and scope is beyond human. It's meta-human, or as Nietzsche would undoubtedly put it (I went to St. Edwards, remember), more-than-human, uberhuman. If I were to paint Black Nasty, light would burst forth from the page, for my vision of Black Nasty cannot be contained by our eyes alone.

Support independent music and buy this record directly from the artist at blacknasty.net.

Mark David Ashworth

Mark Ashworth is an old-time crooner. And he got me into Violetta Parra, for which I still feel I owe him many beers. Mark's Austin-based band is called Ink, which is the four-piece incarnation of his songs, but I recently found one of his solo tracks that caught my ear.

Mark told me that he holed himself up and recorded this little number by himself recently, playing all the instruments and doing the backing vocals in the course of a day. Now I'm a fan of the darkness; I think it's where the good ideas come from. You can tell listening to this track that he got a little too close to the darkness, like when you go through the part in the haunted mansion at Disneyland where the ghosts are singing, "We tried and we failed." You know, when you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

The track begins simply enough with nylon strings and glockenspeil, but gets noisier and noiser, with Ashworth using his voice in the end as a hypnotic refrain.

The Garden - mp3

Hopefully this will be the first in a collection of these kinds of songs, because his voice really stands alone. To learn more, please visit Mark Ashworth's website.

Possessed by Paul James

What may be a name unknown to most people reading this will someday go down in songwriting history, mark my words. Stomping, hollering visionary Konrad Wert's music, performed under the name Possessed by Paul James, is nothing short of a miracle. The myth of his life has yet to spread, and since there are so many uncertainties about it I'll just tell you he somehow shreds on three instruments, has the voice of satan and a priest all mixed together, and he grew up in a Mennonite Amish family. Words don't really do justice to this new voice, so I'll start by just referring you to one of his songs, "Committed."

Committed - mp3

In truth there's not much I can say about this guy that wouldn't be better expressed by just watching him. He's doing his first tour in Europe right now on Shake Your Ass Records--and I know there's no substitute for the real thing--but this video will give you some idea why I'm so blown away by the guy.

To learn more and purchase his amazing self-titled LP, please visit Shake Your Ass Records.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

South San Gabriel, "The Carlton Chronicles"

Like many of the recordings we've received from the Misra label, this music has a languid, calming nature like tall grass blowing in a Kansas field. It feels like the kind of breaths one should take when trying to keep one's mellow.

I listened to this recording and loved it even before reading the strange story of its conception, which only made it more intriguing. It turns out that this is, as Johnson put it, "an album that tells a story about a cat." The players? According to the liner notes, it's "Carlton the cat, Ron the sparrow, Kittyphone the truest feline confidant and secret crush, Ramon the dog rival and pro snarler, Owner the hand that feeds, and Possum the adorable, cantankerous danger."

These songs tap into something deep as they tell what could easily be a children's story of Carlton the cat on his strange journey. In "The Dark of Garage," the cat's narrative is about the other characters, Kittyphone and Ramon, yet it includes the poetic, "Locked up in hopes of your coming home."

Track six, "Run Rookie Run" is a long, beautiful story of leaving. "Now I will lay me down," singer Will Johnson sighs, "between the rocks and the floodways that lead out of town." What follows is a dreamlike interlude that really shows what a violin and a pedal steel can do together.

"The Carlton Chronicles" is one of those rare, rewarding records that gets better with each listening. Here's one of the mp3s from their website:

South San Gabriel - The Dark of Garage

You can support South San Gabriel by visiting Misra Records, where their records are available.

The Kevins

I guess one of the marks of good music is that it's disorienting. It has to leave you wondering what you just heard. Now that I've listened to The Kevins' self-titled record twice, I hear Ted (Black Nasty) and Jon Beck, occasionally joined by their sister Sara (Pink Nasty) singing numbers like, "Only You Know," and I'm completely bewildered about this strange little family from Wichita.

Listen to this song and a few others on their myspace page.

There's a mention in Harp about The Kevins being an album of "silly love songs," but after listening to it in full I had a slightly different view: really good love songs. I'm a big fan of Black Nasty, and spent the first couple tracks waiting for punchlines. But holy cow, man, this stuff is just plain good. Yeah, there's humor in it, sometimes more blatant than others. But a lot of it is really swell, Everly Brothers-style love songs.

The first track, "You!" is like a joke that's about to break. Ted's voice is imprinted in my mind as something hilarious, so hearing his voice singing a love song, you're waiting for the punchline. But when the song ended and it was just a good song, no punchline, it occured to me that maybe he's just a guy with lots of talent and range.

Track two, "The Wait," is a guy trying to explain to his gal why it's been a year and they haven't kissed. He swears it's not because he's gay, he's just been hurt before. "Gambling Hearts" is the most Everly Brothers of them all, "Grandpappy, you said it well. 'Boy, you've gotta play the cards you're dealt.'"

My favorite track on the CD is, "My First Glass of Champagne," which begins with one side of a conversation between "Kevin" and a gal as they drink. It gets radder and radder, then suddenly launches into a Louis Armstrong-style number about champagne. An instant classic.

The bio on their website is also very cool: "The Kevins do not believe in mind games, abortion, witchcraft, irony, jealousy, garlic, futuristic clothing and/or sounds, scary movies, one-night statnds, competition, cocaine, or drums. The Kevins will take her side every time... The Kevins do believe in double-tracked vocals, first base, sushi, mist, eskimo kisses, all birds, well thought-out mix tapes, pancakes, and poignant guitar solos. The Kevins will sheepishly sway side to side when you pull them onto the dance floor."

For all the world's romantics: here's how to order The Kevins CD.

The Black, "Tanglewood"

A few nights ago, Austin's The Black recorded at Big Orange studios under the watchful eye of SOUND Team's Bill Baird.

J. Van Fleet and I showed up at about 11 with pretty good buzzes on and started mixing Vodka tonics. Hanging around while The Black recorded was a real thrill. We danced around and found instruments so we could play along and then mixed more drinks. Their new recording is something of an experiment, recorded on tape in realtime in the wide open space of Big Orange.

I'll just start by saying singer David Longoria continues to impress me with his Burroughs-influenced lyrics and consistent approach. Now with two substantial tours under their belt from the past year, these musicians have reached a point as a band where they're completely clear on their sound. Guitars by Alan Schaefer, drums by Yamal Said, and bass by Adam Amparan blend perfectly in a kind mid-60s San Francisco blues throwback to compliment Longoria's Beat-influenced songs. So with their new record in the works, I'm going to recommend their last release, "Tanglewood" on K Woo Records. You can order it here from Insound.

"Appletree" is a swell, good-times number whose double-entendre reminds me of the Delta days when Mississippi John Hurt would talk about his "stick of candy." Of course I'm not sure if that's what Longoria really intended with, "you can climb up my apple tree," but technically Mississippi John might have been talking about actual candy, too.

There's the lovely, sentimental "Wasn't It A Good Year." Longoria's voice when he sings, "as certain as a storm passing over a meadow," has an honesty to it that's rarely captured in a recording. The last track, "JB Lenoir Street," is fine, old-fashioned, Dylan-and-the-Band style psychedelic blues. "I'll take you to the train station, you'll figure something out," it begins. That's as good a line to start a song with as any I've heard.

To hear music from The Black, visit their myspace page.

To conclude the story of the other night at Big Orange, it ended with drunken antics. I wrestled with Bill (30 pounds lighter) in the gravel, and after that was done I wrestled with Jared (30 pounds heavier) and in the end everyone put up a good fight, I'd say. You don't really know a dude 'til you wrassle him. The Black intelligently refrained from fighting in the gravel, but I'll get em riled up one day soon.

Castanets, "First Light's Freeze"

This review is long overdue. I've had the record for awhile now and become quite familiar with it. Good news is it really grows on you. Unlike Cathedral, whose first note is surreal and unique and whose darkness draws you right into its web, First Light's Freeze is a softer-spoken recording where the songs are often placed over drones or sparse arrangements. Many of the songs on this record begin with very little and gradually introduce more and more sound until they reach a cacophony.

Ray Raposa's lyrics and melodies are very patient. They incite creativity in the listener like Koan riddles, those Zen teachings that say things like, "A man sits on top of a hundred-foot pole. How can he go farther up?" Raposa's words have that same effect; they raise questions and get you thinking. Lines like, "it is all that I know to have changed in you that makes me work harder" from the lovely track All That I Know are a lot like the ocean, approaching that void between what is said and what can't be.

All that I know - mp3

"Friend I cannot befriend you true in searching for my light in you," begins track four, Good Friend, Yr Hunger. This song explores the Buddhist concept of the hungry ghost, a state of existence which Buddhists claim stems from negative karma. The hungry ghost lives between the earth and hell, called hungry because he has a large stomach and a tiny mouth. "Good friend, your hunger I will not host, oh no," Raposa concludes, and the song ends by bleeding into the saxaphone strangeness of (We Drew Uncertain Breath).

Raposa continues exploring noise, gaining control over these waves of sound he likes so much (which anyone who's seen recent Castanets performances knows) as in the very short eighth track Evidence (A Mask of Horizon, Distortion of Form). The climax of track nine, No Voice Was Raised, is a huge noise freakout that reveals a common thread in much of Raposa's recent recordings: the metamorphosis from something sparse (a single voice, the depiction of open space) to an ocean of strange lights and swirling sounds.

"Live truly in everyone," he repeats at the close of Dancing With Someone (Privilege of Everything), and these are the final words on the record. Maybe a glimpse into his life of seemingly unending travels, perpetually walking away, but grateful for that opportunity: "I want to forget this reckoning, proud and disbelieving, get the hell out of Denton with the privilege of everything, alive truly in everyone. Live truly in everyone."

For more about Castanets, please visit the Asthmatic Kitty website.


Several encounters with Matthew Houck (the man behind the Phosphorescent name) over the past couple months left increasingly strong impressions on me, from hearing some songs in passing, to playing with him at Emo's and missing half his set, to hearing more of his songs and thinking, "Whoa, there's more here than on the first listen," to watching him perform without amplification at my place and being pretty much blown away, and finally to hearing his second album in full and realizing it's some of the best writing and recording of our generation. I'm admitting how long it took me to fully catch on to this artist because if you think about it, the best stuff always seems to reveal itself quite gradually. I constantly find excuses to use this quote from Wittgenstein: "Light dawns slowly over the whole."

Matthew Houck's second release on the Misra label has a title that sounds like an old English expression, or maybe just a series of sounds, "Aw Come Aw Wry." The title track recurs as a theme and variations throughout the recording, developing beautifully with the songs, matching their style as they evolve. It's a great concept, taking the listener through a kind of transformation the same way a good film's protagonist grows from beginning to end.

The third track, "joe tex, these taming blues" is the kind of song the Billboard Charts would boast if I was in charge. My favorite lyrics, which I'd like to think are about a gal, are “Am I really really really really gonna hafta really gonna hafta really hafta leave town? I mean I called upon a bunch of angels callin, 'Angels aint you s'posed to come and take away these blues?'”

Listen to it on Phosphorescent's myspace page.

Track six, "dead heart," is beautifully orchestrated with dreamy backing vocals (which might be mellotron-enhanced; that's the effect they achieve.) Those backing vocals keep going through the revisitation of the "Aw Come Aw Wry" theme and the next track, "south (of america.)" Really intricate stuff.

I can't walk you through a record like this. It's a concept album you should just hear for yourself. A highly recommended work from one of our finest new writers. To learn more about Phosphorescent and get a copy of "Aw Come Aw Wry," please visit Misra Records.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Great Lake Swimmers, "Bodies and Minds"

(NOTE: I was drunk when I wrote this awhile back. Usually I'd start over, but this one came out okay. As long as you realize I was drunk when I typed it, then it's alright.)

Look, I love all the recordings I got from Misra. But as always, an occasional record stands out because it just matches the way I'm feeling about life when I hear it, and that's the case with "Bodies and Minds" by Great Lake Swimmers. I'm going to try to show my enthusiasm by a series of short sentence fragments.

Freaking beautiful. Unbelievably warm and graceful. Deeper than most music goes. Lyrically profound.

There. If I were a promoter I'd paint that on the back of bums' jackets in Chicago and turn it into some subversive marketing campaign. But I'm just a guy low on cash typing on his girlfriend's computer while she's in NYC wondering what it'll be like when she comes home, if things will be better or...

I feel a connection with the writer, like we conceive of music at its foundation the same way. Those "ooh oohs" concluding the first track "Song for the Angels" are so familiar, it feels as though I might've written them in a dream. Whatever it is, I just want to find the guy and give him a hug. Hope he likes hugs.

(NOTE: Drunken writing ends there. The rest of the review is by the same guy, sober.)

Now that you realize what kind of euphoria this record might put you in after you've had a couple too many, here's a little about the track "Various Stages." The refrains from this song, like many of Dekker's melodies, really seem to soar into the stratosphere. It's fitting that this album was recorded in a church in Ontario. The combination of his god-given good voice and the ability to put it in the right place, combines with impressionistic (the adjective, not the movement) lyrics: "How high, your highest of heights, how low are your lows," which I've read are about a relationship with a manic depressive. That seems about right.

Various Stages - mp3

Support Great Lake Swimmers by visiting Misra Records, where their records are available.

thank you SCTAS

I've long admired the sctas website and its constant exposure of new and intriguing artists. Hell, that's where I first read about Castanets after my gal played Cathedral for me, now one of my favorite albums. From the name of their site alone (it stands for "Slightly Confusing to a Stranger") you get an idea of what the quest is about, digging below the surface to find new and unusual expressions. That's why it's an honor to read their Peter and the Wolf review and see such an incredible compliment:

"'The Fall' may be the single best song I've heard in the last year. It's a socially significant song that tells the tale of a great city being laid to waste. The surviving people found nomadic tent-and-trailer communities where people are brought back together through trial and hardship. 'The Fall' is a completely beautiful and sad tale."

So thanks to Kaleb. "I kno-o-ow you're out there," to quote Mr. Elvrum, doing great work and helping us all along the way. Check out sctas.com and see what I'm talkin about.

The Black Angels

I included a Black Angels song on disc two of our winter comp but for awhile their CD sat in my Fanatic-stack until things calmed down a little.

Their self-titled EP is one of those four-good-songs leaves-you-wanting-more types. Since it's nice and short, I'll just give a track-by-track rundown and recommend that people who like to stick their heads out the window of really fast-moving cars get ahold of this recording soon.

Track one, Black Grease, is a trucker on speed driving through the desert at 4 am wondering what the hell he's doing with his life, missing his two wives and families on opposite ends of the country who don't know of each other's existence. He's gonna pull off to the side of the road soon and start digging, and since no one will see him do it, no one will ever know what he buries.

Black Grease - mp3

Track two, The First Vietnamese War, is helicopters flying over the jungle. It's a montage of all the war movies you've seen and all the napalm dropped on little wooden villages. It will remind you, in case you forgot, that war is stupid and should be avoided whenever possible. Track three, Winter '68, is the most Velvet Undergroundy of the four songs. Stephanie Bailey gives it that All Tomorrow's Parties drum-and-tamborine beat behind Alex Maas's simple, Nico-esque vocal line. I'm guessing that The Black Angels have heard a lot of Velvet Underground comparisons. That's okay. Velvet Underground was rad, and I don't think The Black Angels' resemblance is derivative, just parallel. The final track, Manipulation, is a long, dark drone from outer space.

Shows, recordings, and all the info you need can be found at the Black Angels site