5 Reasons: The Five Ghosts by Stars

5 Reasons I’m Pumped for The Five Ghosts, the latest full-length from Stars…

1. Fixed: The lead internet-release single sounds fantastic, with a healthy dose of 80’s synth and a throwback, new wave vibe to boot.

2. A Solid Run: They’ve been on a pretty solid run of albums since Set Yourself On Fire, and there’s no indication they are letting up with this one.

3. Mysterious Concept: The album title along with the accompanying album art and overall aesthetic seems to be heading in a numinous direction. Concept albums well executed can be great!

4. Tom McFall: Album producer Tom McFall helmed the studio for the band’s masterpiece, Set Yourself On Fire.

5.
Track Record: This is the band that wrote “Ageless Beauty“, “Elevator Love Letter“, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead“, and “Take Me To The Riot“, just to name a few.

Anyone else psyched for Stars’ latest?

Career In Brief: My Morning Jacket

photo via YouAintNoPicasso.com

CAREER IN BRIEF: MY MORNING JACKET

From A Dreamer’s Dorm Room To Indie Rock Hegemony

Indulge me – MMJ’s meteoric rise to indie ascendancy can be paralleled with Google’s synchronistic rise to technological domination over the course of the last decade. Both began as the pet projects of nobody visionaries in the late 90’s; both slowly made a name for themselves by promoting humanistic ideas and an optimistic worldview; both went “big time” around the middle of the last decade; and both continue to push the envelope of what is still humanly possible in their respective realms.

While those similarities may be general enough to warrant comparisons between my sock drawer and Google, My Morning Jacket indeed achieved a profound rock and roll transcendence over the last 12 years by putting on one of the best live shows around (stealing the show quite frequently as an opening act and on a few occasions at Bonnaroo)  and pushing the limits of what rock and roll can be in a decidedly post-rock age. Led by hyper-charismatic frontman Jim James, the band is given to some excess, which has manifested itself on albums that are sometimes a little too drawn out, but that hasn’t stopped the fans from coming back for more. MMJ is in the business of action-packed indie rock blockbusters, and even if they do manage to lose the plot every once in a while, the spectacle is so brilliant that it’s hardly noticeable.

Personally, I’ve always had a preference for MMJ’s softer side. While classics like “The Way That He Sings” and “One Big Holiday” do bring down the hammer of the gods, James’ art shines brightest in quiet, humble settings. Their full-length debut, “The Tennessee Fire”, is still one of the high music points of the last 15 years, and similiar brilliance can be found sprinkled throughout their releases, from the weird-coustic of “Sooner” to an intergalactic cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” If you’re new to MMJ, my 20-song sampler below is a good place to start, but once you’ve fallen for the band, just sit back and enjoy the ride, one album by one.

20-TRACK SAMPLER
Mageetah
Olde Sept. Blues (Ga-Ed Out)
By My Car
Sooner (AC version)
Xmas Curtain (AD version)
Heartbreakin Man
Golden
O Is The One That Is Real
I’m Amazed
Rocket Man
Wordless Chorus
Off The Record
Anytime
Two Halves
Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2
Lowdown
The Way That He Sings
Bermuda Highway
One Big Holiday (live – OKONOKOS)
I Just Wanted To Say


MAJOR/NOTABLE RELEASES:

The Tennessee Fire [1999] (A+): One of the most stunning debuts of the last 20 years, The Tennessee Fire radiates a sort of sleepy-eyed, post-apocalyptic Americana haze that sets it apart from the rest of the band’s catalog. It’s a slideshow of twilight dreams, the sort of record that seeps in through the pores of your skin and becomes a part of you. Magnificent. (R: “Heartbreakin Man”, “Old Sept. Blues”, “By My Car”)

Does Xmas Fiasco Style [2001] (B): The only bad thing I can say about this is that it’s merely an EP, and thus only 5 songs. Only 3 of these tracks are originals, but they come off as potential Christmas classics in the old-school sense. You won’t find corny jingles about Santa Claus (ok – you’ll find one, though it’s obscure), but you’ll find plenty of homegrown nostalgia through and through. (R: “Christmas Time Is Here Again”, “I Just Wanted To Say”)

At Dawn [2001] (B+): The band makes the jump from hushed, lo-fi Kentuckiana alt-country to full-spectrum, wall-of-sound rock. James’ muli-tracked voice really shines here, and although there is a bit of filler (“Honest Man”, “If It Smashes Down”), the highlights are so grand that you’ll barely notice. (R: “Lowdown”, “Bermuda Highway”, “The Way That He Sings”)

Split [2002] (C-): “O” and “Come Closer” would have made a solid 7″ single by themselves – the other 2 tracks are essentially throwaways. (R: “O Is The One That Is Real”)

Choclate & Ice [2002] (A): James takes a detour toward his softer side on what is essentially a solo affair, although the eccentric “Sooner” and the epic “Cobra” would figure prominently in the band’s live sets in the years to come. C&I is the sort of indulgent interlude that demonstrates that great artists sometimes make their best stuff when fewer people are looking. (R: “Cobra”, “Sooner”)

It Still Moves [2003] (A-): The band’s major label debut features the glorious “Mahgeetah” and the gorgeous “Golden.” The recording doesn’t quite achieve what they seem to have been going for (sounds a little hollow rather than cathedral-esque), but nevertheless this is an outstanding set of songs that would form the core of the band’s live sets for the next 7 years. (R: “Mahgeetah”, “I Will Sing You Songs”, “Golden”)

Acoustic Citsuoca [2004] (B+): James once again attacks things mostly by himself on this live recording. “The Bear” sounds incredible and “Sooner” sounds fantastically cross-eyed. My only complaint is that it isn’t a full-length. I would have loved a whole record of solo Jim James at this point (how about a live cover of “Rocket Man”, plus more Omnichord please!!!!). (R: “Sooner”, “The Bear”)

Chapter 1 [2004] (C+): Sure, b-sides, rarities, and demos are great, but there’s a lot of filler here. I’d rather get one CD of the best stuff. Why no “RIPVG?” (R: “Weeks Go By Like Days”, “Rocket Man”, “Olde Sept Blues (Ga-Ed Out)”)

Chapter 2 [2004] (C): See comments for CHAPTER 1. (R: “Tonite I Want 2 Celebrate w/ You”, “Tyrone”)

Z [2005] (A): An album shot through with questions about endings and what lies beyond, it’s perhaps the most soulful record in the band’s entire catalog. “Knot Comes Loose” is priceless, featuring JJ at his most vulnerable. Elsewhere, “Wordless Chorus”, “Gideon”, and “Anytime” deliver the most grandiose rock sound since the good parts of Use Your Illusion. Another masterpiece. (R: “Wordless Chorus”, “What A Wonderful Man”, “Dondante”)

Okonokos [2006] (A-): Let’s face it – MMJ have made their name as a live act. OKONOKOS is the first, full-blown testimony to that fact. The recording quality is marvelous, and you haven’t heard tracks like “One Big Holiday”, “Run Thru”, and “Dondante” until you’ve heard them live. I would have liked a tiny bit more from the older records, but there’s so much here, it’s hard to complain. (R: “One Big Holiday”, “Run Thru”, “At Dawn”)

Evil Urges [2008] (B-): The band reaches for something even bigger than Z on their fifth full-length, incorporating R&B and funk influences and even diving headfirst into some throwback numbers. Although some of it pays off (“Thank You Too”, “Two Halves”), some of it falls short (“Librarian”, “Highly Suspicious”). All in all, not bad, but a step down from Z. I’m hoping to see the band re-charge their creative batteries, re-consider their vision, and deliver a fantastic, left-field follow-up sometime in 2011. A full-length solo record from JJ wouldn’t be bad either. (R: “I’m Amazed”, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream pt. 2”, “Thank You Too”)

Rarities: JJ is the sort of creative genius who records 5 new songs before breakfast. There exists an extensive back catalog of home and 4-track recordings from the old days, as well as early, lost recordings that will probably never see the light of day. The band hasn’t recorded a ton of b-sides since they made it big, but when they do, they are generally of a pretty exceptional caliber. Early acoustic ditty “RIPVG” is definitely worth seeking out, as is the full band recording of “Chills” and a handful of other great tracks (esp. their cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference”). (R: “RIPVG”, “Chills”, “How Could I Know”, “Where To Begin”, “It Makes No Difference”)

Best Breezes: 2010/05/10 – 2010/05/16

Best Breezes brings you the most notable threads of the past week in great music…

Jason Noble Benefits Spell Reunions from Cerebellum, others…

This weekend saw several benefit shows in my hometown of Louisville, KY for Jason Noble of Rachel’s, Shipping News, and Rodan fame.  Not too far back, Jason was diagnosed with cancer, and the outpouring of support over the last few months serves as a better tribute to him than I can possibly do here.

The big name to reunite was of course Endpoint, who played together for the first time since 1994. Sunspring joined them on Friday night, also for the first time since 1994. The biggest deal for me though was Cerebellum, who played together for the first time since 1989. Cerebellum morphed into Crain, who were one of the greatest bands to come out of Louisville and recorded the classic album Speed.

Cerebellum were great in their own right, charged through with youthfulness and optimism. Their sole release, a self-titled cassette on Slamdek Records, has gotten the re-release treatment on Noise Pollution, with the added bonus of five newly recorded “oldies.” To give you some idea of how awesome this is, it is sort of like Minor Threat getting back together and recording some early, proto-Fugazi tracks.

Check out Cerebellum playing “Calm” here…



New Arcade Fire on the way…

All the music websites were abuzz with the possiblity of a new record from Arcade Fire. Nothing particularly concrete yet, but the band’s website definitely alludes to something big coming our way soon

Free Josh Ritter concert…

The Frontloader has a complete audio recording of Josh Ritter’s 5/8/2010 performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Band sounds great, Josh sounds great, recording sounds great. Why don’t you have this yet?

Lala shutdown

Major bummerooski as Lala.com announces that it is closing its door for good. This was by far the most useful website to come along in, well, ever…I hope something comes along to take its place soon.

Wax Fang rising

Wax Fang are a sort of prog-punk from Louisville, featuring drummer Kevin Ratterman, formerly of Elliott. It sounds like they are making a huge buzz on the international scene right now, and they have just re-released their only full-length LP, La La Land, on Absolutely Kosher Records. Check them out here:

New Low Anthem track...

Brought to us by HearYa…live video of a new track from The Low Anthem, “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes.”

Is it just me, or is 2010 turning out to be the best year for music in recent memory?

A.C. Newman: Get Guilty (2009)

Album Cover via eMusic

A.C. Newman
Get Guilty; 2009
Matador Records

My Rating: 74/100

Power-Pop Hitman Guilty As Sin

I have a guilty pleasure I need to admit: I am a huge fan of pop superstar Phil Collins, especially his mid-80’s heyday. I am such a fan that I recently created a mix CD entitled “Phil Collins Galore.” Something about that man’s music simply butters my bread. Still, whenever I ponder the career of (the original) Dr. Phil, I often scratch my head about the ping-ponging he did between his solo career and Genesis, because when it all comes down to it, for the longest time I couldn’t differentiate between the two. In fact, at this given moment, I couldn’t tell you whether “Sussudio” is a Genesis or a Phil track. And that’s the way I feel about A.C. Newman’s solo work. Unlike the other two major indie artists working in the New Pornographers (Dan Bejar of Destroyer & Neko Case), Newman’s eponymous output  bears little immediate difference from the NP-sound. It can lead one to cynicism about the whole affair: “Why even bother?” However, a few careful listens to Newman’s second full-length shine a spotlight on the specific and dissimilar merits contained therein. For starters, there’s a rhythmic angularity and experimentalism that is, for the most part, absent from the hyperactive power pop of New Pornographers (“Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer”, “Elemental”), in large part thanks to the unorthodox drumming of Superchunk’s John Wurster. Second, while the songs are hooky and immediately accessible (“Young Atlantis”, “Prophets”), they are also deeply mysterious and entirely unyielding. These are tracks you can dwell in for a good while, discovering additional layers here and there to relish. Third, because he isn’t forced to share the spotlight with anyone else, we get to focus on Newman’s greatest strenghth: his penchant for writing memorable and distinguishable pop songs. Overall, Newman is at his best when he builds the song around a mind-blowing hook and lets it breath. His esoteric/enigmatic lyrics don’t distract so much then, but instead become the alternate universe into which we are initiated by a hummable, repeatable motif.  Get Guilty provides clear indication that Newman’s solo career is not merely a vanity affair. The record is an impeccably-crafted album of left-field baroque pop gems, as satisfying as any of the New Pornographers’ long-players, and ultimately the work of a master craftsman. Highly recommended.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)

Tracks:

1. There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve (4/5)
2. The Heartbreak Rides (5/5)
3. Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer (4/5)
4. Prophets (5/5)
5. Submarines Of Stockholm (5/5)
6. Thunderbolts (3.5/5)
7. The Palace At 4AM (4/5)
8. The Changeling (Get Guilty) (3.5/5)
9. Elemental (4/5)
10. Young Atlantis (5/5)
11. The Collected Works (4/5)
12. All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off (5/5)

What do you think of A.C. Newman’s Get Guilty?

Tracks of the Decade: “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket

“One Big Holiday”
by My Morning Jacket
from IT STILL MOVES (2003)

What a decade it was for My Morning Jacket. At the outset, Jim James was a college dropout with a vision, a guitar, and an eccentric fascination with reverb. At the close, he was the iconic, internationally-recognized frontman for one of the biggest rock bands of the post-rock age. “One Big Holiday”, the band’s fantastical auto-biography in song, has remained its official anthem throughout. It was the track they played on Conan, their first performance on (American) national television. It’s the track that you can expect them to play whenever you see them live. Simply put, it’s a ragged, un-polished, knuckle-headed piece of Americana hard rock, one of the best in recent memory. There’s no semblance of restraint to be found, no indication of anything but sheer intention to be the greatest rock and roll band since Led Zeppelin. Additionally, there’s the indelible mark of James’ musical persona, from the opening declaration (“…good and lee-em-buh!!!”) to the final line (“all the leather kids were loud!!!”). Has there been a better rock and roll track about escaping your hometown and making it big since “Born to Run?” None come to the mind of this music obsessive. Back in 2001 & 2002, everyone talked about this or that band saving rock and roll. So much for that. It never needed “saving”, but it always needs someone to find its heart. My Morning Jacket, above all others, has managed to do just that.

5 Reasons: Frontier(s) debut 7″

5 Reasons I’m Psyched About The New 7″ From Louisville’s Frontier(s):

1. Lead-off internet single “Abul-Abbas” sounds fantastic – I’d call it angular, dressed-down Elliott. Download it here: http://nosleeprecs.com/home/index.php?viewrelease=40

2.  It’s been 5 years since an official release from Chris Higdon.

3. I always favored Elliott’s early, hard rock stuff, and A-side “The Plains” is compared to Husker Du and is said to contain “buzzsaw guitar.” Amen.

4. It’s a reason to buy a 7″ record – what I’ll call the most aesthetically satisfying of all recorded formats – plus it includes the digital download.

5.  It was recorded by former Elliott drummer Kevin Ratterman – a musical magician in his own right.

Anyone else excited about this release?

Career In Brief: Mark Knopfler

CAREER IN BRIEF: MARK KNOPFLER

Mark Knopfler is the wildly accomplished guitar afficionado who fronted the pub-prog stadium act Dire Straits. His “sound” is easily distinguishable from that of other guitarists because of his finger-picking style, a sort of languid-staccato if you will. While the artistic output of the Dire Straits years was more focused on his fabulous guitar chops, Knopfler’s solo work has been more along the lines of singer-songwriter work, although his guitar-playing still figures prominently.

In my opinion, Knopfler is the epitome of how a rock and roll artist should mature, probably oweing something to the fact that he is a prodigious talent. Although he’s not normally put on the same pedestal as the great guitar players of rock and roll, such as Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, or Page, there is no doubt that Knopfler is in the same categories as these guitar heroes. The difference, I would say, is in Knopfler’s influences. Traditionally, the guitar gods have been rooted in the blues, but Knopfler’s style owes more to jazz (Django Reinhart) and Opryland country (Chet Atkins) influences.

Although his career as a solo artist proper really came post-Dire Straits, he did plenty of notable soundtrack work in the 80’s and early 90’s. Those interested in his scores should check out Local Hero and, of course, his iconic work for Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Otherwise, I’m going to jump right into his solo records, one of the most under-celebrated album catalogs of the last twenty years.

One other note: while some artists may write sad songs that don’t sound so sad and happy songs that sound the same as the sad ones, Knopfler, though under-stated, wears his songwriting soul masterfully on his sleeve. His music is devoid of irony, unless he intends to convey it. In our age of hyper-hipsterism, it’s rewarding to find an artist who doesn’t need to be hip to win our hearts.

MAJOR RELEASES:

Golden Heart [1996] (A): Come on, isn’t this really just the latest Dire Straits album? Knopfler downplays the prog grandiosity and instead takes aim at rootsy chamber folk. For a guy who spent the 80’s blowing out stadiums around the world, he proves himself adept at turning down the volume and turning up the celtic and cajun influences. It’s a true masterpiece. (R:  “I’m The Fool”, “Done With Bonaparte”)

Sailing to Philadelphia [2000] (B)
: Knopfler always had a knack for “storytelling” via song, but the way his lyrics unfold before you like a film on “What It Is”, you’ll feel like you are right there on Charlotte Street. A sprawling meditation on America’s wide open spaces, it features many wonderful moments, but ultimately loses itself somewhere around the “Sands of Nevada.” Features a great duet with Van Morrison on “The Last Laugh.”  (R: “What It Is”, “Silvertown Blues”)
The Ragpicker’s Dream [2002] (A+): As homey and comforting a record as you will ever find anywhere, what makes The Ragpicker’s Dream is Knopfler’s ability to seamlessly shift from a peppy novelty like “Devil Baby” to a sadly mortal meditation like “A Place We Used To Live” without skipping a beat. The title track may be the best Christmas carol to emerge from the British Isles since “Fairytale of NYC.” One of my all-time favorite records. (R: “Why Aye Man”, “The Ragpicker’s Dream”)

Shangri-La [2004] (A): Fourteen tracks about all the ways we try to find heaven on earth, lead single “Boom Like That” is the best satirical piece Knopfler has written since “Money For Nothing.” It’s also highly informative and educational. Elsewhere, “All That Matters” gets all sweet on us, and “Back To Tupelo” is some beautiful Elvis-perspective blues.
(R: “Back to Tupelo”, “Donegan’s Gone”)

All The Roadrunning [2006] (A): This isn’t properly a Mark Knopfler record, since he shares the spotlight with Emmylou Harris, but in all reality, he wrote 10 of the 12 songs, and it all sounds more like his work than hers. They go together well, and this is a great travelling record. Really, truly wonderful. (R: “Right Now”, “Rollin’ On”)


Kill To Get Crimson [2007] (A-)
: At this point in his career, MK isn’t really turning over any new stones, but when you know what you do better than anyone else in the world, why do anything else? At this point, Knopfler demonstrates his greatness in the sheer fact that he can churn out 12 tracks of such astounding quality every 2 years at the age of 58. Shouldn’t somebody name this guy the godfather of something??? (R: “Heart Full Of Holes”, “Secondary Waltz”)

Get Lucky [2009] (B+): Well, it is all starting to run together a little bit at this point, but for the most part, I stand by what I said about Kill To Get Crimson and apply it to this one. Knopfler has nothing left to prove – Lord knows he doesn’t need money. Knopfler is the type of guy who can just sit back and be artistic with his life for the rest of us. And tracks like “Cleaning My Gun” prove that he still has a few powerful turns of phrase left in him. (R: “Border Reiver”, “Cleaning My Gun”)

OTHER KEY TRACKS:

“Long Highway”
“Let’s See You”

What do love about Mark Knopfler?

5 Things: “Found Out About You” by Gin Blossoms

5 Things I Love About “Found Out About You” by Gin Blossoms:

***WARNING: CRAZY FLASHY STROBE STUFF GOING ON HERE***

1. THE JANGLE SOUND: That’s the best Buck-riff since “The One I Love.”
2. THE ADOLESCENT PATHOS: “Whispers at the bus stop/I heard about nights out at the school yard/Found out about you…”
3. THE VOCALS: Robin Wilson unleashes a powerful lead; his dynamic range is really something.
4. THE ANGUISHED NOSTALGIA: Something about the band’s sound brings back fond memories of the past, but then you listen to the lyrics. This is some dark stuff…
5. THE TORTURED GENIUS: This track was written by Doug Hopkins, along with the band’s other early hit “Hey Jealousy.” Dude was a songwriting prodigy who left us too early, and this one proves it.

What do you love about “Found Out About You?”

5 Things: “Tinfoil” by Rainer Maria

5 Things I Love About “Tinfoil” by Rainer Maria:

1. The Dueling Vox: This is one of  the best vocal attacks in indie rock. It ranks up there with Robbins/Barbot from Jawbox’s “Dreamless.” It takes some skill to keep your words straight and play an instrument when someone else is shouting something else right next to you.
2. The Hyper-Poetic Lyrics: Do I understand what they mean by “Your chest is a cage for my letters/And your handwriting’s better than mine?” Nope. But it sort of comes off like a riddle, doesn’t it? Fun, right? And the full-throated delivery makes it clear that these kids REALLY mean it.
3. Excellent Bass Work: The tough thing about a stripped down three-piece rock band is that bass has to pick up the slack so that the music doesn’t become two-dimensional. Fortunately, Caithlin De Marrais’ low end work delivers something aggressive and melodic, adding real depth and warmth to the band’s sound. Reminds me of one of my favorite Louisville post-punk bands, Sunspring.
4. Poly-Rhythmic Madness: One minute it’s full out aggression, one minute it’s a nice sort of waltz. Whatever it is, the song always feels like it’s about to blow apart at the seams, so much so that they have to slow it down here and there to restore some semblance of balance. I’m feeling it – “drunk with rage.”
5. The “Indie” Sound – This is what indie rock sounded like before it went big-time in the 2000’s – obscurist, hyper-literate, raw, strong-willed, unbalanced and overflowing with cacophonous melody. “Tinfoil” is the kind of track I would drive around listening to with my friends in high school, out and about with no place to go.

Video Bonus Points: Gotta dig Caithlin’s twirls at the end of the song. These kids could rock!!!

What do you like about this track?

Back Tracks: Josh Ritter Rarities Mix

In tribute to the release of his 6th album today, here’s a little mix I put together celebrating some of Josh Ritter’s best back tracks:

Josh Ritter
Overnite

1. Good Man (live)
2. Blame It On the Tetons
3. Spot In My Heart
4. Peter Killed the Dragon
5. Kathleen (live)
6. In the Dark (demo)
7. Naked as a Window
8. Girl In the War (live)
9. You Don’t Make It Easy Babe (live)
10. Bandits (live)
11. Golden Age of Radio (live)
12. Harbortown
13. Wolves (live)
14. Overnite
15. Monster Ballads (early version)
16. Daddy’s Little Pumpkin (live)
17. Labelship Down
18. Peter Killed the Dragon (live)
19. Wildfires
20. Snow Is Gone (live)
21. Girl In the War (live)

What are your favorite “lost” Ritter tracks?