Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

Ezra Furman’s Absorbing Pessimism

The eternal wait in American rock is for “the new Springsteen” or, equally futile, “the new Dylan.” With fiscal graphs rollercoastering, the middle class shrinking, and #Occupy denizens resorting — in the age of Twitter and Pinterest — to the humble cardboard sign, maybe what we really need is a new Guthrie.

“There’s something in the water, something sick in the blood and the oil,” Ezra Furman sings against an intimidatingly locomotive guitar chug on “American Soil,” the second track on The Year of No Returning. In a cascade of pessimistic couplets, the San Francisco singer-songwriter marries ecological dread to economic ennui, and in the chorus casts doubt on the myth of American exceptionalism: “I can feel God taking his eyes off us.” Later, on the engaging rocker “Cruel, Cruel World,” he spells it out less allegorically: “Lost my job, lost my money in a flash/ Watched my old life turn to dust in a flash.”

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February 28, 2012

Bandcamp Pick of the Week: Half Coyote, ‘People Clothes’

Hey kids, guess what time it is …

That’s right, it’s banjo time! Again! If you love banjos as much as I do, you may be interested in this sweet little EP by Illinois band Half Coyote. People Clothes is not all banjos all the time, but it’s enough banjo to make a banjo fan get lost in banjo land. And boy is that a great place to be.

I don’t know much about Half Coyote. The core duo consists of banjo and ukulele player Cody Braun and guitarist Matt Schumake; both provide vocals. I know their fan page has only 36 “likes” on Facebook which seems criminally too few for how promising this little debut release is. It’s a delectable bit of indie-folk, tossing in little treasures such as a toy piano, cello and melodica. “Signs” makes me long to be sitting in an old wood tavern with a stein of nondescript ale tipped to my lips; “Politics” is a steady toe-tapper with the refrain “We don’t talk about politics, cause we ain’t got no TV.”

As always, our Bandcamp Picks of the Weeks are available for free download, so all it’ll cost you is a little of your time. However, you do have the option to name your price if you want to support these dudes in what they do.

February 27, 2012

Album Review: ‘Who’s Feeling Young Now?’ by Punch Brothers

This summer, a friend of mine turned me on to these guys in an “Avett Brothers/Punch Brothers bluegrass-nerd compilation mix exchange,” and I’ve been hooked on this band ever since.  Bluegrass doesn’t quite describe it; neither does neo-classical or folk.  They are a string quintet like no other, weaving complex, frenetic tangents of dissonance and thrilling dynamics transcending genrefication.  Admittedly disconcerting at first, they get better and better with each listen.  They’re like ear pilates, hurting at first but forcing me to become more and more flexible until I’m exhilarated and can’t imagine my life without them.  (*At least, that’s how I think I’d feel about pilates if I ever stopped geeking out on bands and went to the gym.*)

I feel that my vague/failed attempt at playing the mandolin last year lends me just one tiny shred of justifiability in my worship at the shrine of frontman Chris Thile.  Besides being a total dreamboat and a mandolin virtuoso (see also: the Goat Rodeo sessions with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Edward Meyer and Stuart Duncan), he’s an insanely talented singer and songwriter.  He makes good use of his delicate pipes, with thin, tight often-falsetto harmonies, accompanied by equally talented and/or dreamy dudes on upright bass, fiddle, guitar, and banjo.

Who’s Feeling Young Now?, the band’s third release, is an absolute marvel.  I’d like to alternatively title it “Who Needs Drummers and Electricity Anyway?”  The opener, “Movement and Location,” pulls in some amazing hooks and winds around surprisingly poppy twists and turns.  There’s a great variety within the tracks, at times traditional bluegrass folk jams like the instrumental “Flippen (the Flip),” others incorporating complex elements of jazz, R&B, and soul.  “Hundred Dollars,” their bittersweet diatribe against city girls (“are all the same/they play you like a pinball game”), I will argue, sounds downright Justin Timberlake-y, but with a twangy twist.

Punch Brothers – Hundred Dollars

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February 23, 2012

Video Raid: il abanico, ‘Keep Calling’

Get il abanico‘s Crossing Colors EP for free (!!!) at Bandcamp, posthaste friends!

February 22, 2012

Get out your psychedelic drugs for The Soft Hills’ new album

The Pacific Northwest seems to have found a niche in recreating psychedelic folk-rock with epic sweeps of sound under softly textured vocal harmonies. First Band of Horses, then Fleet Foxes and now Seattle’s up-and-coming The Soft Hills. The band recently released its new album, The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth, on Germany’s Tapete Records, and it’s easy to hear the influence of the ’60s permeating its gait.

A music video for opening track “Phoenix” seems to perfectly encapsulate the band’s style as a man takes a spiritual journey in the desert sunlight. The song is all about letting go of the material world and discovering personal fulfillment from within. “Poverty’s the wise man’s gold,” Garrett Hobba sings in a gossamer voice that sounds layered upon itself — “He throws his riches to the open road,” he continues, in rhythms and tones that rode once before on “A Horse With No Name.”

There’s so much familiar inflection on The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth, it’s hard to not want to draw comparisons to the greats of the past, namely Neil Young and The Doors. At times, the music even reflects something a little more modern — I’ve found myself likening some songs to MGMT, and Hobba’s voice nearly mimics Thom Yorke’s on “Tidal Waves” and “Chosen One.”

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February 21, 2012

Prepare to party with Archie Powell & the Exports’ new humdinger of a tune

So I’m not sure if you guys have heard, but my favorite boys Archie Powell & the Exports recently announced the release date of their sophomore album. Along with a super-slick new website, the guys revealed that Great Ideas In Action will be available in all its power pop glory on May 1. Best of all, you can get the first song for free on Bandcamp — now!

“Metronome” is classic AP&E, with a hook you can’t resist and some sassy lyrics to boot. It fulfills the one thing that you always can count on from this Chicago quartet: Instant party in your earholes. Even though we still have to wait in stitches for the new album, which is sure to be a stunner (don’t even pretend like you don’t know it will), you can just throw this baby on repeat in the meantime.