Monday, March 30, 2009

The New New Folk: Horse Feathers, The Middle East, & Frontier Ruckus

Isn't it incredible, after all these years, that dudes are still finding something original to do with acoustic guitars? There are, after all, only so many chords and so many melodies...and yet every year there seems to be a band who comes along and rewrites the formula of what a folk song should be. 2009's best candidate so far is Horse Feathers, a duo from Portland who walk the invisible line between faintly nostalgic and groundbreaking. The songwriting, to be honest, is unsurprising - nothing you haven't heard on a Nick Drake or Iron & Wine album. And that's fine, because the genius of Horse Feathers is in the arrangements. An almost complete lack of percussion lets Aaron Copland strings swell and spill over stuttering fingerpicks, a kind of musical naked swagger. It's Appalachian-rustic that insists on being timeless, and its gorgeous.


Here's the crazy thing: there's no way you or I should know about The Middle East. They were an ultra obscure band from Queensland, Australia that broke up a week after this album was made last April, and they have little more than an incomplete Myspace page left to prove they ever existed. Miraculously someone somewhere dug this album up and off it shot through the internet, exploding all over the blogosphere like a brilliant post-rock firework. References have been made to Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and Arcade Fire, but I find them pretty hard to pin down...all I know is that hearing the power of the slow-build chorus to "Blood" for the first time is yet another victory for the internet


Orion (pronounced OR-ee-un, not o-RY-un), the place that Frontier Ruckus calls home, is a small farm town just outside the reach of the urban decay of Detroit. While the hometown of most bands these days is inconsequential, Orion and the impending death of the city that supports it explains the totally unsentimental, fierce folk that Frontier Ruckus creates. The first thing you'll notice about FR is lead singer Matt Milia's voice - like Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, it creaks and quivers and pushes. It's a love/hate thing for sure, but for me it's got that kind of perfect imperfection I fiend for in this age of the vocoder. The songs on Orion Songbook are songs of endings - of relationships, of communities, and of identities - both for better and worse. More than the story of any specific place, The Orion Songbook is an exploration of our new fragile interconnectedness - urban and rural, past and future - and in that, these stunningly original and honest tracks crafted out of banjos, saws and fiddles are the hymns of now.


Sunday, March 29, 2009


Take on the album cover to download

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Vega Star

I bumped into The Vega Star at our neighborhood Beat Kitchen. They were the one shining star of the show. Out of Milwaukee (Algonquin for the Good Land), I believe this was their first foray to Chicago, meaning definitely a fresh face on the scene. They describe themselves as Folk Rock/Rock/Psychedelic on their myspace page, and I agree. Their sound almost comes across as lethargic, however you don't feel that way listening to it. My concert-mate used the word languid which I, and John the drummer who chatted with us for awhile after their set, think very aptly captures the tempo. It is slow, yet alive with talented driving guitars, both acoustic and electric, a supportive bass that lays the ground work and drums that often accent with hats and snares that help keep the sound fresh despite its pace. The vocals are dark, adding to the brooding feeling, but they hit their notes, harmonize on occasion and help create a very unique sound.

Enjoy "The Night" by The Vega Star.  Over and Out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wave of Adulation

I have chosen to go from one of the most ubiquitious, well-known names in classic rock history in Pink Floyd to one of the most underrated, yet perhaps equally influential in The Pixies. This is Doolittle, their seminal 1989 masterpiece which many have credited as singlehandedly responsible for the early 90's grunge revolution. It was also ranked #226 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, #36 on Spin's 100 Greatest Albums from 1985-2005 and #2 on NME's 100 Best Albums of All Time.

Many of these songs might be familiar at this point, from movies, Rock Band, etc... I won't go on too long about it, but I will say this. Listen to the first few songs and I don't think you'll have a hard time seeing how Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl created "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a similar vein.

Standout tracks include the breakneck "Debaser," the tender "Here Comes Your Man," the song the Strokes wish they could write in "Wave of Mutilation," and the oddly surreal "La La Love You." I won't lie; this is one of my favorite albums of all time. It's incredibly visceral, powerful and is a nice mix between surf-rock, new-wave and punk rock. I'll even go so far as to guarantee you'll like it...unless you're a Bolshevik.

Shatner on the Twilight Zone: "There's some...Pigs on the Wing"

While most people tend to revere Pink Floyd for its more ambient (Dark Side of the Moon), more iconic (Wish You Were Here) or more overtly conceptual albums (Dark Side, The Wall), 1977's Animals holds a special place in my heart. It's the first Pink Floyd album, nay, maybe the first album period, that I ever really listened to from start to finish. I was at sleepaway camp in upstate New York the summer before sixth grade when our counselor finally got fed up with Adam Sandler, Green Day and The Offspring LPs (as though we were listening on vinyl...God, I'm pretentious.)

I think everyone was pretty instantly hooked. Floyd was the new "It" band that summer. In some way, I really feel like Pink Floyd is that rare classic rock band that would sound as fresh today as I imagine it did on January 23rd, 1977 (which, for this post's useless trivia nugget of the day, is the precise day Roots debuted on ABC.)

It's my understanding that this is the first Pink Floyd album where Roger Waters really became the colossal egomaniac of wide repute. He wrote all of the songs himself, only sharing a writing credit on "Dogs" with underrated guitar virtuoso David Gilmour. The recording process for Animals is widely attributed as the start of Pink Floyd's breakup...

Nevertheless, it's awesome for several reasons.
  1. It's apparently a giant allegory of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Dogs are the men (Ask a feminist,) Sheep are the masses (seems pretty standard) and Pigs, well, I'm not really sure, but I guess Snowball Stalin and Napoleon Trotsky might help you with that interpretation.
  2. It has some of the most incredibly biting, vicious, searing guitar lines of any album of which I'm aware. Credit Gilmour on that one.
  3. When Waters says "Ha Ha, charade you are," I never really understood why he doesn't say "sha-raid;" is it a British pronunciation?
  4. The animal sounds always weird me out...
Thoughts on this latest classic rock posting?

Monday, March 9, 2009

VA - Dark Was The Night Comp

As a rabid music fan, I am by nature severely allergic to compilation albums, and subscribe to the belief that the number of "Best Ofs" you own is inversely related to how interesting and engaging of a person you are. For example, if the only Bob Marley album you own is "Legend" or the only Jimi album you've listened to is "The Ultimate Experience", chances are we'll disagree on a lot of other topics and our approach to life in general. And honestly, the "Best Ofs" aren't even the worst kind of compilation album. Think of all the Radiohead cover comps, the Christmas comps, the Now That's What I Call Musics of the world...they are everything that is bad and cheap and ignorant conveniently condensed onto one disc.

"Dark Was The Night" is the best comp ever made because it breaks all of the dumb rules that make compilations suck. There's no theme or tribute behind it, no artificial structure to prop up bad songs or bad bands. The Red Hot Organization (the AIDS fund behind this) assembled a bunch of the most progressive bands playing right now and just let them be themselves. Sometimes the result is unlikely collaboration (Dirty Projectors + David Byrne), sometimes its a great cover song (The Books and Jose Gonzalez on Nick Drake's Cello Song), and sometimes it is a really big weird idea that couldn't live anywhere else (Sufjan's 10 minute ridicu-symphony). Regardless, the results over the course of this 31 track double-disc are always totally untethered and fascinating - Bon Iver goes electric, The National goes Beck, My Morning Jacket goes 80's saxpop...the whole thing is an absolute blast. Granted, Disc 1 is far better than Disc 2, and as albums they don't really hold together at all...but being children of the internet it's not like we've ever cared about that kind of thing. The key is that Dark Was The Night doesn't try to be any kind of capital-S Statement, so it gives these bands the freedom to shoot off into any and all directions. What we're given is a well of awesomeness you can keep coming back to again and again.

Since this is an AIDS benefit album and I really don't feel like stealing from people with AIDS, buy from Beggars here or ITunes here - it's worth it