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04/26/12 11:31am

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Everybody has their favorite Beatle. I have favorite members of most my favorite bands, especially ones with multiple singers/songwriters. My favorite member of Teenage Fanclub is Gerard Love, the quiet, unassuming bassist who has written some of the Glaswegian band’s best songs, such as “Starsign,” “Radio,” and “Sparky’s Dream” to name three. Under the guise of Lightships, Love released his first solo album, Electric Cables, on the Scottish-leaning Domino imprint Geographic.

Assembling a band that includes a flautist, Love has made an album that doesn’t stray too far from his day job, but has its own distinct magic hour vibe. There is less emphasis on harmonies than in his other band, but in its place — that flute. It floats through the album like a ribbon on a breeze, never calling attention to itself but coloring in the outlines throughout. Think Free Design, not Jethro Tull.

Though most songs barely ripple the water, Love’s way with melody remains in full bloom. “Sweetness in her Spark,” “Stretching Out” and “Muddy Rivers” are as lovely as anything he’s done with Teenage Fanclub. Two songs have “sun” in the title and others called “Photosynthesis” and “Every Blossom,” Lightships is an appropriate name for this with a sense of melancholy adding just enough ballast. It is beautiful, but Love wanders lonely too. William Wordsworth would probably like this.

Lightships’ Electric Cables is out now on Geographic/Domino. You can watch the sun-dappled video for “Sweetness in Her Spark” below or stream the album on Spotify.

04/13/12 11:32am

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In a week overflowing with Nostalgia (Pulp, Kraftwerk, Chickfactor), it’s nice to be excited about something new. I was at Pianos last night to check out this Swedish teenage singer Amanda Mair, and happened to notice that a couple bands later on the bill were Ex Cops whose debut single “You Are a Lion, I am a Lamb” is also the debut single for the Other Music Recording Co. I had been talking to OM’s Chris Vanderloo the night before at the Chickfactor Anniversary fest and he told me I’d probably like them. Seemed like kismet to me, so I stuck around.

He was right, I did like them. A lot. Originally a project between former Hymns frontman Brian Harding and Amalie Bruun (who is also in MINKS), Ex Cops make shimmery guitar pop, big on melody and harmony that recalls both ’60s sunshine and early ’90s shoegaze. (This is basically my sweet spot if anyone wants to know.) The recordings available on their Bandcamp are on the low-fi home recording tip, giving songs like “Broken Chinese Chairs” and “The Millionaire” a New Zealand vibe. But live, the songs are big and bright and better. Some bands need to hide in the reverb, but Ex Cops really come alive without it.

“You Are a Lion, I am a Lamb” comes out on Other Music Recording Co. next week who will also release Ex Cops debut album in August. You can go see them live next Saturday (April 21) when they open for Memory House at Public Assembly.

04/12/12 12:39pm

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Violens have been on a prolific tear of late. After releasing their debut album in November 2010, the Brooklyn band launched into a digital singles series, more or less releasing a new track every month in 2011. A few of those ended up on True, Violens’ terrific new album for Slumberland Records that melts a variety of ’80s touchstones (Smiths, Cocteau Twins, Prefab Sprout) into a distinctly dreamy sound. We sent main man Jorge Elbrecht (who’s a busy producer with Erika Spring and Ice Choir as well) a few questions via electronic mail:

So how did your deal with Slumberland come about?
A mutual friend played Mike Schulman some of our new songs and he was into them so he got in touch. We kept sending him tracks as they were nearing completion and he decided he wanted to put the album out—we were excited to say the least.

A few of these songs were first released as part of your 2011 digital singles project. Did you always know some of them would end up on the album?
Yeah we had a feeling a few would, but we had always planned on re-mixing them to fit with the album tracks, as the 2011 series was a lot more experimental mix-wise. We tried different things EQ and FX-wise for every song last year but wanted to make sure these were consistent for the album.

Violens have been prolific in the last 18 months. Is there more in the works?
Yeah we are always writing songs, there are a handful that weren’t released last year but didnt make sense anywhere album sequence-wise. So yeah absolutely, more to come.

This album (according to the press release) was more of a band effort than Amoral. Is that true in the songwriting as well?
Yes, it’s true in many ways including the songwriting. Many of the new songs were started while on tour together last year.

As someone who produces and can play most rock instruments, it hard giving up control?
No not really, not with Iddo (Arad, synths/guitar) and Myles (Matheny, bass/guitar). If you are working with people who you respect creatively, it makes things easier, actually.

There is a through-line (literally) to most of the Violens artwork. Do you feel record sleves are a dying art?
No, I imagine that just about every band out there puts thought into their artwork.

What bands’ artwork do you admire?
Bethlehem, Roxy Music, Cocteau Twins and Magnetic Fields.

What are you currently listening to?
Things I like: Chairlift, Ice Choir, Bethlehem, Harold Budd, Julie Cruise, Exodus and various rough mixes

You’re doing some production work outside of Violens. Who are you working with?
I’m pretty busy these days! It can be a struggle to get it all done on time but it’s definitely one my favorite things to do.

Specifically, you’ve been working with Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Spring. How’s her record coming along?
Erika’s EP is done! It will be out soon.

Violens’ True is out April 17 on Slumberland Records. The video for “Der Microarc” and a stream of “Totally True” below.

04/10/12 1:10pm

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Tonight and tomorrow Pulp play Radio City Music Hall, their first New York shows in 14 years. As the band have only played our city three times before — total — and Jarvis hasn’t done any Pulp songs during his solo visits, it’s kind of a big deal. You know you’re going to get “Common People” and “Disco 2000” and “This is Hardcore” and “Do You Remember the First Time” and most of their other most loved songs. None of this ten song Bizzaro world Greatest Hits are likely to be played, but would be welcome surprises between “Sorted for Es and Whiz” and “Babies.” Don’t count them out entirely, though. I originally was going to include “Like a Friend” from the Great Expectations soundtrack on this list but then they played it last night on Jimmy Fallon. Maybe there’s hope for “Mile End” yet.

04/06/12 12:11pm

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When it comes to Blur solo/side projects, frontman Damon Albarn hogs the spotlight due, if nothing else, to the sheer number of them. But guitarist Graham Coxon has continually dropped terrific solo albums, full of the memorable hooks and inventive guitar playing that enlivened the best Blur material. His own songs tend toward the garagey/punky side so if “Song 2” is your most favorite Blur tune ever, you should really check out his back catalog, especially 2004’s Happiness in Magazines or 2006’s Love Travels at Illegal Speeds. Or you could just give a listen to his brand new, eighth solo LP, A+E, which I’m going to go out on a limb and declare his best solo album yet.

After 2009’s folky concept LP, The Spinning Top, this new one is a return to the spiky, angsty pop. This time there is a definite post-punk/new wave influence, as if he’s spent the last three years listening to Devo and Tubeway Army. The album doesn’t have distrobution in America for some dumb reason, but you can stream A+E via Spotify which you should do immediately.

There are a lot of single-worthy songs on A+E, but none more stick-in-your head awesome than the first official single “What’ll it Make?” which asks a question many DJs have asked over the years. That question is one of two lines in the whole song. But it works. Additionally, the video (below) should put a giant smile on your face. Taking inspiration from the lyric, Coxon invited fans to submit video of themselves dancing — and strutting — and director Ninian Doff pieced 85 of them (from 22 countries) together into a very clever digital decoupage that probably has Michel Gondry wondering why he didn’t think of it first.

04/02/12 2:31pm

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I don’t know if you’ve scanned this year’s NYC Popfest line-up but it’s pretty impressive, with Comet Gain, L Mag faves Allo Darlin’, The Wave Pictures, 90s twee power poppers The Pooh Sticks, and White Town (yes Your Woman White Town) just to name a few. Yet every year when it’s announced I’m looking for one name: Cats on Fire. The Finnish band played back-to-back Fests in 08 and 09, and were belles of the ball both times, with their immaculately arpeggiated indiepop and frontman Mattias Bjorkas’ onstage dance moves.

No luck this year, again, but there is a consolation prize. Cats on Fire’s third album, All Blackshirts to Me, is out this week and it’s their most varied, accomplished work to date. Where previous albums wore their indiepop influences (Smiths, Felt, Orange Juice) on the sleeves of their cardigans, the band have found their own sound that nods at the past without being indebted to it. It’s also the their mellowest record, and most minor-key melancholic.

The downcast vibe suits Bjorkas’ lyrics, which are generally bitter, politically-motivated and often bitingly funny. He knows his way around a turn of phrase (“You mistook me for the painter at the private view / I was merely standing in the champagne queue”) and his contempt for those who tow the line, conform and keep their voices down, allowing themselves to be pushed around by various bullies (governments, corporations, local fascist organizations) comes through loud and clear. In a delicate jangly kind of way.

Like all good protest singers, Bjorkas delivers his medicine with a spoonful of sugar. While the album contains fewer of the kind of jaunty numbers that get popfest crowds moving than on previous records, Bjorkas’ keen sense of melody remains intact. The anthemic “A Different Light,” “My Sense of Pride,” with its gentle country shuffle, and the slowly building “A Few Empty Waves” are among his catchiest tunes. Guitarist Ville Hopponen colors them with exquisite, subtle flourishes. The album’s best song may be “1914 and Beyond,” which sets the European economic crisis against a lovely, spare piano backing. Like the rest of All Blackshirts to Me, even when the specifics seem foreign, the melody lingers.

All Blackshirts to Me is out now on Matinee Recordings. You can stream it via Spotify.

03/30/12 1:12pm

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As you may have read elsewhere on this site, Oberhofer’s debut album came out this week, and it’s pretty terrific. (You can listen to it on Spotify.) Put in a real studio with Glassnote Records (Phoenix, Mumford and Sons) bucks behind him, Brad cleans up real good and doesn’t allow producer Steve Lillywhite to be all “That’s not how U2 would’ve done it.” It’s a big pop record that still sounds like Oberhofer. No small feat.

Yet I can’t help but be mildly disappointed. Six of the 10 songs on Time Capsules II are from the seven-song, home-recorded o0O0o0O0o EP Oberhofer released two years ago. A lot of people downloaded it (he put it up there for free) and came to love songs like “Away FRM U,” “Gold,” and “I Could Go.” Songs a lot of people have played to death. Now I realize that when you go into a studio for your Debut Album with Steve Fucking Lillywhite (look at this guy’s resume), you want the best possible songs on the record, and that just because a bunch of bloggers (and the folks who read them) have heard the songs a zillion times doesn’t mean the general public has. And it’s not like this is the first time this has happened in the record biz. Or the second, or the third or the hundredth.

My fear is that the four new songs on Time Capsules II, as good as they are (and they are!), are the only ones Oberhofer has written in the two years since that initial flurry of creativity. I remember buying Elastica’s debut album and seeing two-year-old B-sides and worrying the same thing. (In that case, it was pretty much all they had.) It’s partially the internet’s fault. A band can write and song and record it and have it on their Bandcamp or whatever the same day. Fifteen years ago, Oberhofer might have just played those songs live for two years, maybe selling demo cassettes at shows, and when they finally when they made their first album everyone would be happy to have all those songs on a CD. But these are different times. I’m sure it’s weird for Oberhofer too.

It’s also my problem. I just want all bands to be The Smiths, who would release an album and then follow it with an amazing non-LP single (and amazing B-sides) the next month. Those are standards no band should be held against (though Belle and Sebastian have come close at times) but I’m always happy when bands try. Ty Segall and The Fresh and Onlys crank out albums, EPs and seven inches at an alarming rate with a shockingly high hit-to-miss ratio. And I’m pretty sure Robert Pollard has already released seven or eight albums this year. None of them have the mainstream potential that Oberhofer has, mind you. They also live in Not New York where the cost of being a band is much lower and you can spend all day coming up with killer riffs and not worry as much about the rent check. But if Oberhofer want to put out an all-new EP in, say, October, that’d be okay. If the songs aren’t quite as catchy as “Away FRM U,” that be okay too. We’ve heard that one plenty.

03/29/12 11:31am

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When Death by Audio opened in March 2007 on an otherwise deserted block of South 2nd Street, the Williamsburg music scene was a different beast. (So was the neighborhood.) Condos have risen, Williamsburg now rivals the Lower East Side as a music destination, and Death by Audio is neighbor to high end sushi, Italian and tapas restaurants (and a movie theater), but the space — an outgrowth of the guitar effects pedal company run by A Place to Bury Strangers Oliver Ackermann — remains a vital all-ages venue for indie, punk and metal. With Death by Audio’s 5th Anniversary Party this Saturday (featuring Grooms, Neckbeard Telecaster, Tim Harrington and more), we talked to DBA duo Matt Conboy and Edan Wilber about the changes in the neighborhood over the last five years, some of the venue’s highlights, and the impossibility of keeping the bathrooms clean.

Please explain what you do at Death by Audio

Matt Conboy: Um, I help make things work at Death By Audio.

Edan Wilber: I’m more of the day-to-day… I do most all the booking and run all the shows to a certain extent. The tedium.

When I heard it was the fifth anniversary, I thought it had been longer. There were shows there before it was called Death by Audio, right?

MC: Part of our warehouse is a recording studio and the effects pedals workshop. When that was getting built out there were random parties to help finance their construction. That was 2006, 2005?

EW: That’s when there was still roof access right?

I seem to remember going there during CMJ 2005, some show that was supposed to be a roof party. Dirty on Purpose and Vaz?

MC: I think Vietnam also played? I wasn’t at that show. I knew some of the guys but I didnít actually go over there till 2006.

At what point were you involved?

MC: In 2007 with three other people, I leased half the warehouse space and that’s when we started doing shows, to help pay for building materials.

Do you remember who played that first show?

MC: Totally. It was March 31. There were seven bands. Growing and Thrones.

EW: Child Abuse, Vaz. And Mick Barr, maybe one other? We did front room, back room, before anything was really set up. Raw space.

MC: We didnít know what we were doing, but I already knew Todd P. It kind of happened accidentally. The show was originally supposed to be at The Woodser but they didn’t want to do it for some reason…

EW: A good reason. It was a huge fucking show. I worked the door, actually. It was soon after I’d become friends with Todd and they needed somebody. So, I was there, I just not in any administrative capacity.

MC: Nobody was. Though as we started, through the first year and a half or so, I had another partner, this guy Jason Amos, who now lives in LA I think. He was instrumental in helping running everything, getting it off the ground.

03/22/12 11:20am

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Walking around Austin during SXSW you’re assaulted by branding/marketing at every corner — sometimes literally. (No I don’t want a Google Earth coozie!) But amongst the Doritos, Converse, Tito’s Vodka ads that doubled as clothing or stages, I did a double take when I saw a poster with the iconic I.R.S. Records logo stapled to a telephone pole. Below the logo read “YOUR MUSIC SUCKS” in all-caps, and then this statement: “Everywhere you turn, someone’s pronouncing music dead or throwing a funeral for the business. Well, these assholes have never met I.R.S. Records.” We’ll see about that, but welcome back International Record Syndicate all the same.

Formed in 1979 by Miles Copeland (brother of the Police’s Stewart Copeland) I.R.S. Records was the American version of indie labels he’d already started in the UK (Illegal, Step Forward and others) and was one of the ’80s new wave labels, releasing classic records by Wall of Voodoo, The Fall, The English Beat (and offshoots General Public and Fine Young Cannibals) and, most famously, The Go Gos and R.E.M. For a while, seeing the I.R.S. man on the corner of an album was a trademark of quality. But after the label’s distribution switched from A&M to MCA in 1985, I.R.S.’s track record became sullied by the likes of Doctor & the Medics, The Truth and Dread Zepplin. The ’90s were unkind to the label, which folded in 1996.

But like everything else that has cool cache, the imprint was revived late last year as part of EMI which still owns the rights. The attitude was right (“YOUR MUSIC SUCKS”) but the signings so far seem less rebellious, reflecting co-owners Crush Management who handle Cobra Starship, Train and Fallout Boy among others. The first new I.R.S. LP in 15 years was The Church of Rock n’ Roll by over-the-top glam rockers Foxy Shazam, followed by Chiddy Bang‘s debut LP, Breakfast. It feels as if someone at the label found the old logo, though it was cool and said “Let’s use this!” rather than someone who remembered and loved the label’s Regan-era output. Let’s hope their next signing is a little more in the spirit of that undeniably cool logo which they wisely kept.

On the flip, reading a press release for a new single from one-man-electro-band Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs last week, it casually mentioned at the bottom that the band were signed to Casablanca Records, which to me seemed like a giant case of burying the lede. The ’70s label was famous for releases from Donna Summer, KISS, Cher, and the Village People —and synonymous with ’70s excess, be it drugs, cooking the books and radio station payola. The chapter on the Casablanca in Fredric Dannen’s 1991 industry expose Hit Men is jaw droppingly lurid and is just waiting for a movie adaptation.

By the end of the disco era, Casablanca was bankrupt and folded in 1983, absorbed by Mercury Records (which is now part of Universal). They tried a relaunch of the label in 2000 and released a handful of titles including Lindsay Lohan’s 2004 album, Speak, but never really did much with it. Casablanca shut down again in 2009… but this new relaunch is promising.

Run by the folks behind NYC party promoters GBH, the new Casablanca has something I.R.S. doesn’t seem to: a point of view. Keeping with the label’s disco rep, Casablanca 2012 has an enviable roster of indie electronic artists. In addition to Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, the label boasts Crystal Castles, Kindness, Ladyhawke and, excitingly to this writer, living legends Saint Etienne. And they’ve kept the bubbly retro logo too. But hopefully not the daily cocaine deliveries.

03/12/12 12:23pm

The most 90s press photo ever?

  • The most 90s press photo ever?

There seems to be no end to ’90s indie rock reunions. Blur‘s making their first new album with Graham Coxon since 1998, Pulp play Radio City the the same night as Black Tambourine are at the Bell House, The Pooh Sticks are playing NYC Popfest this year, and that dog. just announced they’ll be playing Music Hall of Williamsburg in May. Grandaddy are reforming for some festival dates this summer. One begins to wonder if there are any bands left from the ’90s who have yet to jump back on stage?

Well of course there are. And while some of these aren’t very likely, here are five that would be very welcome.