When it was announced a couple months back that Jim James would be playing the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on May 14th, I immediately bought a set of tickets, presuming that the gig would sell out in a heartbeat. But here we are now, less than two weeks away, and it seems that there’s still plenty of tickets available. Sure it’s on a Tuesday night, but after seeing My Morning Jacket play to 5,000 people last year at Edgefield, I figured there would be a huge draw for the show. I suppose that when it comes down to it, MMJ is simply another one of those bands that the collective outfit far outweighs any popularity that a solo member of the band may hold. It’s the same reason that Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman is playing shows for 200 people these days. Honestly, I’m not gonna gripe about being able to see Jimmy James in a room with apt breathing space, but it’s a drag for both him and fans of the Jacket – because his solo album is fucking fantastic. Here’s a quick rundown if you’ve missed it…
Quite frankly, Regions of Light and Sound of God is a far better album than either of the last two MMJ records. There’s a looser, pressure-free vibe to it and it hopefully serves as a beacon for what direction the bigger band should be taking with their music. The single, “Know Til Now,” gives a fairly accurate preview of the whole – a sort of electronic leaning soul groove. But the lean is far more towards the soul than towards the electronic. In fact, the majority of these tunes would feel completely natural coming off a MMJ stage if it weren’t for the stark lack of guitar riffery. “A New Life” starts off with the slow, acoustic nature that has found its way onto several of the band’s newer tracks, but the hook on the chorus is ten times catchier and more gut-wrenching than anything you’d hear in similar sonic tracks like “Librarian” or “Wonderful.” If you found yourself bored or discouraged with what MMJ has done after trying to follow up on Z, then this solo record will renew your confidence in James’ songwriting capabilities. And in actuality, “Of the Mother Again” has one of the dreamier guitar hooks I’ve heard in quite some time. Don’t think of this as being connected to that Yim Yames’ George Harrison tribute, or even anything near what The Monsters of Folk tried to do – this is stripped down MMJ in a beautiful, raw form. Just as James ends his solo gigs with MMj songs, I would definitely expect upcoming MMJ shows to include a few tracks off this solo record. Don’t let it pass you by.
It’s hard to write completely non-subjective album reviews of records by close friends, and for that reason I never reviewed Benny Yurco‘s solo debut from last year. But with a year to form an objective stand point and the news that a new record is on the way, I thought it was time to finally give it a crack…
If you know Benny from any of his other bands – Blues and Lasers, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, or Turkey Bouillon Mafia (be still my heart) – then the most surprising thing about his solo debut will be the substantial lack of incendiary axe shreddage. Chalk it up to the strength of Yurco’s songwriting though, for the majority of these tunes are in no need of grandstanding filler. There are a number of sonic cues here taken from the pallet of co-collaborator Seth Kaufman’s doo-wop/dub band Floating Action, but there’s a refreshing audaciousness here that’s never been present on Kaufman’s solo works.
Opening cut “Seasons Failed to Bloom,” gives a good sense of the gameplan – imagine the album Wayne Cohen would make if he were locked in a Kingston Studio, running low on canned goods, nearing the brink of complete delusion and existentially saturated by his present state-of-mind. The title track sounds like a Bunny Wailer cut, and the rustic warmth it bleeds of is a clear reason why analog tape was used for the recording. For the most part, this is music that sounds best in its rawest form, although some tunes do scream to be released from their laissez faire approach. “Contempt of Court” thrives in this setting though; emitting a crackly 70’s vibe that sounds like something Randall “Pink” Floyd would play when the sun starts to rise on the moon tower. It also contains the greatest Grateful Dead/indie-rock crossover reference of all time – “We’re built to last not built to spill.”
The up and down side of recording to tape is that all these tracks are 1st takes – it’s ideal for capturing the lax nature of the music, but problematic when it comes to capturing the majestic nature of a track so huge as “Times They Were OK.” For a song that sounds like the idealized vision of what Dinosaur Jr. would sound like if George Harrison were in the band, I would have loved to hear another crack taken at it. These gripes about perfection are somewhat irrelevant though, as the charm of This is a Future lies in the embrace of its natural blemishes. Everybody knows you’re not supposed to polish off a beautiful layer of patina, and most of these cuts would sound forced if there was a misdirected attempt to make them radio friendly. “Meet Again” for instance, feels like a stoned Rubber Soul track salvaged from the cutting room floor, and any desire to stray from that sound would be senseless. Hopefully on future records Yurco won’t be so modest when it comes to showcasing his technical ability on the guitar, but for now this is an incredibly impressive debut for someone who’s had fans waiting for one for nearly a decade.
You can buy the record at www.bennyyurco.com
I’ve always been a casual fan of Yo La Tengo. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the hell out of them, but I haven’t yet fully absorbed their 30-year catalog. I did play the hell out of I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass when it came out in 2006, but I’ve been slow at diving into their other 12 albums past that. And admittedly, while I love the vast diversity of tunes they put out on each album, I always find myself skipping to the softer, more delicate tunes. That’s why I’ve been loving the fuck out of their newest, Fade. Their new record does something none of their others ever have – it nestles into a specific pocket and stays there. There’s no flip of the game from stretched out punk rockers to ethereal drifters. Rather, the whole record stays in that whispering stillness that is known to frequently permeate their sound. This is the kind of mellow music that Grizzly Bear tries with all their might to create, but has never really pulled off. While the kids in Grizzly make incredibly boring albums with no direction, and then bitch about not getting nominated for a Grammy, the brilliant hearts of Yo La Tengo make amazingly melodic songs that draw you in, wrap their arms around you, and squeeze out your darkest fears and comforts – and I can guarantee they couldn’t give two shits about winning any awards. And mind you, this is a simple indie-rock band fronted by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley – two brilliant and gentle folks who have been married for 3 solid decades and who seem to have no other desire than to make music and be joyous with one another. And with the recent bummering divorce of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, Ira and Georgia have become the go-to couple for the definition of true indie love. But what’s really amazing is how they write songs, especially on Fade, that touch so perfectly on the emotions of fear and uncertainty when it comes to love and life itself. In other words, these people keep it more real than the cracks in your driveway. As its title suggests, this is a record that could seemingly fade out at any point, but instead it lingers, and it multiplies, and it echoes back into itself thematically and emotionally. It’s one of those albums that when you listen to in solitude late at night, you let out those big sighs where you admit to yourself how great it is to be human – one of those albums where you reminisce on lost love and feel blessed for the lessons you have learned. And in many ways, Fade is the definitive realization of what 2013 sounds like… the world didn’t blow up, we’re still here, shit’s pretty fucked up all over, there’s a lot of shit we need to fix, but we can all accept ourselves for ourselves. There’s no need anymore to hide or even to put on a show – this is the time to be. Just to be. So despite how epic people may tell you 1993′s Painful is, or how brilliant 1997′s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One is, Fade is the first truly essential Yo La Tengo album of their career. You don’t’ want to not have this record in your heart. Don’t let it pass you by.
Here’s the video for “I’ll Be Around” from Fade - one of the most beautiful music videos I’ve ever seen.
Two years ago, I fell in love with Youth Lagoon‘s debut album. It’s been in fairly regular rotation since then, but I think it’ll be a long time before I listen to it again – that’s how great this new record is. The kid laid down all his chips on this one, and such ambitious feats don’t usually result in such triumphant brilliance as this record. There’s a couple of songs on here that I plan on listening to for a long fucking time. Read the full review HERE at State of Mind. Here’s a snippet of the review and a clip of my favorite cut.
…The biggest improvement upon the last record though, is that you can actually understand the words Powers sings on Bughouse. No longer shyly hiding behind an ocean of reverb, he proudly sings his dogmatic epiphanies — at times sounding like a young kid explaining his first acid trip to his older brother, and at other times making some relatively poignant statements about temporal existence. “Dropla” may be the first time I’ve ever been genuinely moved by the existential statements of someone a decade my junior. The true moment of consummation appears in “Raspberry Cane.” The first two minutes are like being absorbed Tron-style into an Atari 2600, then it suddenly opens into a circular McCartney descension that you wish would never end. If this was the new David Bowie album, people would have called it one of the greatest records of all time, but Mr. Stardust hasn’t been this blown away by the universe in 40 years. These are the lofty dreams of a young kid from Boise, and that makes them far more relevant than the croons of a Brixton chap in his sixties…
Every so often an album comes along that serves as a fresh template for sonic possibility – an apex of divine light’s potential to transmorph into sound. Even if you were aware of Rachel Zeffira’s ethereally magical voice as one-half of Cat’s Eyes, you’ll still be wholly unprepared for the elongated breath that The Deserters draws out of you. The opening title track is an immediate tumble down the rabbit hole. A rolling piano line dances on top of itself like waves crashing in warm moonlight; quick flips between major and minor tones elevate you into that lofty world between inspiration and self-rumination; and all the while her truly enchanting voice floats on top with lyrics about meeting an old friend in some distant land in the future. There’s an undeniably surreal and massively cinematic essence to it all, and when the track ends you have the same feeling you get when you wake from a long run of lucid dreaming. And that’s just the start.
“Here On In” brings a driving drum beat to back an oddly self-propelling melodic line, and the result sounds like that mid-90’s Mazzy Star/Pavement crossover that never came to be. Except that Mazzy’s Hope Sandoval couldn’t even hold a dim candle to the gentle power of Zeffira’s voice. Her control is phenomenal, and is obviously a product of her classical training. On “Letters From Tokyo” she hits high notes with warmth and a delicate touch, but also with pulsing confidence – like the entire soprano section of the Harlem Boys Choir is living in her diaphragm. Lest too much awe be cast upon the wonder of her God-given instrument though, the symphonic arrangements underneath her are none less stunning, At times the songs feel like the perfect accompaniment to the closing credits of some life-changing movie; one where you sit in silence with your partner until the names of every last second-grip roll by, and then you walk slowly and stilly to your car while the echoes of experience still ring through your head – like if somebody were to finally make that perfect adaptation of The Sirens of Titan.
Then comes her cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When.” Well you can just go ahead and add this to the short list of songs that I’d love to hear as I rise up into the welcoming arms of the creator. Listening to this cut with my headphones on late at night, my eyes softly closed. When I opened them, I was prepared to be 6 years old and lying in a field – the summer sun shining on my face, and me waking to the faint memory of 27 years of my life that had all been a dream. The Deserters is the soundtrack to the existential fantasy that can only come from the hearts of old souls, and Zeffira’s anima has created one of the great ethereal masterpieces of our modern times.
Well, I’m about 14 listens into the new My Bloody Valentine album, and I can already feel it restructuring my genetic make-up. I’ve always adored Loveless, and as crazy as it seems to me that I may actually enjoy this record even more, I can’t deny it. Listening to mbv is like watching water rush down an empty riverbed – it works its way into every crack and fully consumes everything, creating a new unified entity with the previously dry ground beneath it. This is the first album I’ve ever tried to turn my Bose computer speakers all the way up for, and they totally had not a lick of balls to get to the point I needed. I need to drown in this shit – that’s the intention of the music, and not letting it fully wash over you is a complete disgrace and disregard to its power. You can read my full review of the album HERE at State of Mind, and here’s the last paragraph of it.
…Somehow, thank god, Bilinda Butcher’s vocals are still as ethereal and illusive as ever. After all this time, I still have no clue what one word of the lyrics she sings on Loveless is, and 22 years from now I’ll still have no clue what any of the words on mbv are. But complaining about that is like complaining about not properly knowing what hue of indigo lies within glacial ice — some things in life just are entities solely unto themselves. I could go on and on… how perfectly imperfect the guitar tone is in “Who Sees You”… how “New You” is the most eerily beautiful anything of the past decade… how the drums on “In Another Way” sound like a syncopated stampede of rabid yak… how “Wonder 2″ is most assuredly the sound of Neptune’s rings… To simply delineate the enormity of this music into something so trivial as “shoegazing” is like classifying your life with a haircut. mbv is not only a testament to the potential triumphs of great bands lost along the way, but an ode to the authenticity of rebirth in general….
Well hot-damn, I had no clue there was a new Dr. Dog EP awaiting my tears and laughter but Wild Race just appeared today and you can stream it live right now. I’ve got it below, but it’s one of those weird restricted videos so I have a feeling it might disappear soon. Opening with a killer Scotty tune that presumably got cut from this year’s Be the Void, (the chorus is “be the void”) my initial reaction was, Goddamn these motherfuckers just keep em’ coming. I’ve said it many times before, but Scott McMicken is my favorite songwriter on the face of the Earth these days. I really don’t even care what Bob Dylan has to say anymore; I feel like Scotty’s much more in tune with the quasi-reality I call day-to-day life and his songs always seem to seductively tickle untapped parts of my soul.
The second tune starts at 3:12 and is another solid Scotty rocker based upon the line “It ain’t just the sun that’s gotta go.” Not as poignant as the first track, but still rather friggin’ dope.
Track 3 (6:41) is a slow Tobe crooner where he more directly addresses his constantly broken heart as compared to the scattered metaphors he usually gets wrapped up in. I have a feeling this one could have been on Be the Void as well but got shelved so that the fairly similar “Lonely” could be on there instead. Deep fucking passion on this like normal though.
Track 4 (9:23) is forged on one of those heart-wrenching drop-beats and constantly frequents the line: “Let’s put up our exit for sale.” The 3-part harmonies are nailed and highlight the fact that big Frank is another integral part of this band. The chorus gets repeated more than I’m used to with a Dr. Dog song, but I give em props for really wanting to drill that idea into your head of tossing away the escape plan. It’s a good idea – it makes me feel fuzzy and it’s a much-needed concept for a time when everybody’s always concerned about the way out. Why not just keep shit together?
Track 5 (14:18) seems like one of their more collaborative tracks, but still has Scotty’s vocals at the forefront. They couldn’t write songs like this before Eric Slick joined the band on drums, and he holds down the odd time-changes like a real-deal cream-dream. There’s a killer echoed-out guitar fill early on here as well as some of those awesome analog synth wiggles we all hear when we’re wide awake at 4:30 in the morning. This tune is a little all-over-the-place but 2nd listen will lock it in your head well. “Resting Easy” in the “Silent Place” is the general notion of this tune, although the tune is rather full and sorta-chaotic.
Super solid EP overall, but tracks 1 and 4 will be the ones I’m bound to visit over and over again. This band has been on the top of their game for a long fucking time now, and they show no sign of falling off. Now if they could just get a sound-man who understands their on-stage dynamics, everything would be perfect. Seriously though, the last couple times I’ve seen these guys the sound has just been completely blown the fuck out and always leaves me aching for the crisp sounds that I know the mics aren’t picking up correctly. Either way…the dog y’all.
Here’s the start of my review of the new Dan Deacon album - Sometimes trying to describe a Dan Deacon song is like trying to explain color to a blind person — rather frustrating and most likely doted with grandiose metaphors. So let’s just start with this: I’m fairly certain that after my first headphone session with America, the molecular structure of my brain completely realigned itself. Combining the ferocity of 2007′s Spiderman of the Rings with the majesty of 2009′s Bromst, this latest release from Deacon is an album that you can do nothing but completely succumb to. Don’t try to wash the dishes to it — don’t try to throw it on at a bar — just sit back and let this motherfucker consume you.
The whole review is HERE at State of Mind.
Here’s the whole USA Suite – it’s rather fucking incredible.
When Matisyahu first cut his hair and realized that being a Hassidic Jew and a rap/reggae star make as much sense as being a quadriplegic figure skater, I was one of the first people to call complete bullshit on his entire career. He could have come back with an amazing album that would have made people like me have to shut the fuck up, but instead he made hands-down the worst piece of tripe that will be released all year. Completely horrendous. Read the full review HERE at MV Remix.
Freshly shaven and free of his Hasidic tag line, Spark Seeker finds a Matisyahu who is desperately trying to reinvent himself. By pulling a reverse Snoop Lion move and turning away from the religious nature of his music, we should have been left with nothing but the reggae laced jam-grooves that got thousands of stoned frat-boys hooked on Matisyahu in the first place. Instead, his reinvention digs even deeper and we’re left with over-produced dance-pop that presents the once Chassidic reggae superstar as nothing but a broken shadow of himself… …It was definitely a suspect move to bring in Kool Kojak as a producer. Completely oblivious to the rhythmic structure of roots-reggae, Kojak crafts nothing here but pop-driven dancehall that would be much more suited to the work he’s done with Nicki Minaj or Katy Perry. With a heavy reliance on overly auto-tuned hooks, simplified lyrics, and a serious urge to appeal to 13 year-olds, the question is whether Matisyahu is big enough to just completely flip the switch on the majority of his fans. Sure it worked for the Black Eyed Peas, but is a massive sell-out really the spiritual path he claims his instincts are pulling him towards?…
Seriously, will any of us ever be able to think of R. Kelly without envisioning the dude pissing on a 16 year-old girls’ head? Not that it’s an image I want engrained in my head – but it’s fucking there. This album is positively atrocious. It’s one of those things you put on when you’re really drunk with your friends at 2 in the morning and you want to jokingly listen to the worst possible crap you can imagine. Homeboy’s voice is slick, but nobody should ever, ever, put him in charge of production. Dude should just stick to churning out those Trapped in the Closet videos – they’re the only slightly entertaining thing he can do. Read the full review HERE at MV Remix.
…On the opening cut “Love Is,” Kelly admirably tries to resurrect the pop-soul of a prime Barry White, but instead comes off sounding like a washed up Tom Jones performing at a Reno dinner-club. This is largely due to the horribly crafted digital instrumentation on the track – I’m pretty sure he just hit the demo button on his ’92 Casio keyboard for this one. At least you can appreciate his new found appreciation for monogamy and true love on the song. Well, at least until the next cut: “Feelin’ Single.” But hey, what’s an R. Kelly album without some carnal dichotomy, right?…