I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been a Mumford Hater since day one. From the first time I heard one of their Irish sing-along ditties on the radio, I’ve cringed every time I’ve heard their name. But here’s the thing – I have very unique peculiarities when it comes to my musical tastes. Tastes that don’t always make sense to my peers and casual observers. I get flack constantly over the fact that I can have so much adoration for Michael McDonald and yet I hate Steely Dan with a passion. I get it, I don’t have the most logical conjuncture of sonic opinions. And it is this point exactly which makes me so bewildered as to why there is a general consensus on my disdain for Mumford and Sons.
When I first heard the band, I was instantly grasped by the lack of authenticity. I like folk music, I like sing-alongs, I like bands without drummers, and I like the fact that most of those kinds of bands work their asses off playing street-fairs, sidewalks, and dive-bars to get their passionate tunes out to the masses. Sure, at first I had no valid reason to think that Mumford hadn’t trudged through the mud for years to get his shit on the radio, but there was something about it that just ringed of that lack of suffering. I believe it was the Rolling Stone article that confirmed my beliefs – these guys all came from rather well-to-do families and only played for a year or two before they topped the charts. The biggest clue to all that is how “neat” the band looks. You can look into their eyes and see the lack of suffering, you can see the simple path that launched them into being professional alcoholics with so-so songs. What really irked me about that fact though is how many neo-folk bands are out there that I love that have really worked their asses off, and which just got overshadowed by a few blokes who thought they were hip by listening to the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. There’s so many far-more deserving folk-rock bands out there: The Low Anthem, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Ryan Adams…
Anyway, my point is that I’m a nerd. I research my music. I find out the names of fill-in bassists. I’ve got enough insight to have valid reason to hate Mumford and Sons. What surprises me is that so many other people hate them too. So my new question is do people hate them now because they don’t like their genre of music and thus hate that there’s a very popular band playing that sound? Which would be different from my stance of being a person who actually enjoys their genre, but despises them. In other words, why is it so hip to hate Mumford and Sons? And even more importantly… in my instinctual desire to be an iconoclast of pop-culture, the fact that so many people now hate Mumford is now igniting this small urge in my stomach to like them. My natural draw towards opposition can just be so trying sometimes. Honestly, it’s really a dogmatic work-out for me. However, I can’t really ever like Mumford because anytime I hear the beginning of that “Lover of the Light” tune I just think they’re stealing lines and melodies from Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams.”
Through various tangents of family, friends, bands, and other connections in my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have closely followed the NYC band Mice Parade since their incarnation in 1998. And despite my slight bias as being the keyboard player on one of their tours years ago, I realized at their Portland gig on Sunday that the band ranks in my top 5 favorite musical outfits of all time. There have been a variety of different touring incarnations of the band; all stemming from the genius mind of Adam Pierce - “Mice Parade” is an anagram of Pierce’s name. If I were to try and pigeon-hole the music, I’d describe it as acoustic shoegaze but it’s really such a broader spectrum of sound than that.
While at times the band has had up to 8 people on stage, including double drum kits, this tour was performed as a stripped down 3-piece. The lineup includes Pierce on acoustic guitar with a few weird pedals, along with the cajon that he sits and plays some murderous rhythms upon. As usual, Dan Lippel is also on guitar – Lippel, a classical player and a straight-up prodigy on the strings brings the cascading rolls and obscure rhythms of Pierce’s studio recordings to life in such a natural way that it almost cloaks how rather complex the lines are. And while I was disappointed that Silla from mum, their vocalist, had to leave the tour early to go play a headlining festival slot in Lithuania, Sibyl Buck did a great job of filling in on the fly. Sibyl is currently the bassist for Bush as well as an accomplished yoga instructor. Although the quick yoga she had me do after their gig on Sunday did cause the 8 beers I drank to come up on the sidewalk. But anyway… Also essential to the band is Brandon Knight at the soundboard, who catches vocal and guitar lines and dubs them out into a sonic wonderland.
The result of this lineup is an utterly memorizing melange of sound that comes off the stage. I’ve quite frankly never seen an audience stand so still before. It almost reminded me of watching an opera – the crowd was so reluctant to clap in between songs because they were enraptured by the overall arc of the music together. When Pierce made the occasional joke about the proper use of “I” and “me,” it seemed folks were shocked to see the human side of the divine creation on the stage. But goddamn was this set incredible. It’s hard to give an exact setlist as Pierce himself has different names for all the songs he puts on his albums. The opener was “Warm Hand in Farm Land,” and there was definitely a take on “Steady As She Goes” – both cuts off of 2005′s Bem-Vinda Vontande. There were also a couple takes off Candela, released a few months back.
So here’s the thing – Pierce is somewhat intentionally horrible at self-promotion. This is in many ways a player’s band, and thus he seemingly wants people to find out about the music through the music and through nothing else. Thus people who have discovered Mice Parade love the friggin’ shit out of them, but for some music nerds the band still hasn’t even been a blip on their radar. So if you want to get into the band, and goddamn it you need to – here’s where I’d start. First check out 2010′s What It Means to Be Left-Handed, then hear 2007′s Mice Parade, then check the new one Candela, then go to 2005′s Bem-Vinda Vontande, and then back track from there. Here’s a few tracks to tickle your fancy.
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.
Hell, with a name like that – how could I possibly not do a write-up on Shit? When they first sent their music over to me, I thought “Oh great, another neo-punk, indie band that’s trying to be really provocative so as people will listen to their incredibly bland music.” But then I gave it a listen, and was overjoyed to learn that this music really is complete shit, in all the best connotations of the word. The band hails from the South Coast of England, and proudly proclaims that like it’s something Americans would have any clue of. To a geographically biased mind like that of most of the population of the U.S., that’s like saying they’re from the Northwest corner of Antarctica. Well anyway, as they put it, that means they were “Born in the suburbs, where obscenity is no lower than art itself.”
So here’s the thing – these guys really do suck. It’s really fucking shitty ass music that showcases not one iota of musical talent, nor even a dose of wit to make it original. Here’s the other thing – they’re better than half the bands out there that think they’re making “real” music. At its core, music is all about being a part of something. It’s about finding a way to relate yourself to a group of people, or to an idea, or even to some divine overseer. In other words, music is not supposed to be about isolation. Even the most emo thing in the world that you listen to crying in you bed with headphones on – you’re still having that external connection with realizing that someone else has been in that same position as you so as to make music like this. So even though Shit are the most self-defecating band I’ve ever encountered, they still are massively succeeding in the most fundamental aspect of being a band – having a good fucking time and not giving a fuck what anybody else thinks. Sure, nobody is going to walk down the aisle to “The Rape Song” or “I Abused a Broom,” but that doesn’t mean that some lonely kid won’t stumble into one of their gigs thinking that the world is complete crap and that there’s no one who understands him, only to hear “Poo Piss Bum Willy Tit Wank” and realize that the world isn’t really worth getting so bummed out about. You know, this is the same kind of crap that Ween started out making, and they eventually evolved into writing some of the most beautiful, endearing songs I know of in this life.
Shit put out two albums in 2012, The Greatest Shits, and You Can’t Polish a Turd, and you can listen to them both on Spotify HERE. If you’re tired of people playing new music for you that is supposed to completely rearrange your conception of sound, then listen to Shit and realize that anybody, literally anybody, can and should make music. It’s a magical language – don’t feel like it’s something outside of your capabilities.
If you spend anytime in the Burlington, VT area, you’re bound to hear the casual yet gritty voice of Zach Dupont playing in some room or venue. If you’re lucky, you may also get the kid to make you a killer sandwich… ahh, day jobs. If you saw Zach walking down the street, he kind of looks like that kid you expect to smoke a joint with after a game of full-contact ultimate Frisbee. But when the kid picks up a guitar, suddenly there’s this rush of intricate finger work that meshes seamlessly with a friggin’ amazing voice. It’s the kind of folk vibe that un-mastered and in the wrong hands makes you want to smash a plate over your head, but in the right hands makes you want to ruminate on the wonders of simple living. The kid has got the magic touch, and now low and behold it turns out he’s got an equally talented brother. Sam has recently moved to Vermont after living in Tuscon – obviously a smart move. Arizona and Florida – basically two states no one should ever spend too much of their life in. well, and then there’s that whole Mid-West bullshit but anyway… Sam has moved to VT, and the two have started a new gig and band known simply as The Dupont Brothers. A first listen at their new music is incredibly refreshing, and they’re the first band in a long time that I personally feel extremely confident supporting right from the get-go. The fellas are trying to raise some loot to put out their debut record, and if you support them now you can be one of those people who said they knew about the Dupont Brothers way before they got in that backstage brawl with Mumford and Sons backstage at the Grammys.
Well yeah, of course we should care… it’s David Fucking Bowie for Christ’s sake. But the real question is whether or not this new song that suddenly appeared a couple days ago on his 66th birthday is any good. Well when I think of Bowie in the modern era, I think of 2 things. One is “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” the Trent Reznor collaboration from 1996, and two is when he came out with Arcade Fire to perform “Wake Up” in 2005 – the 2nd of those things being one of the greatest moments in music from the past decade. Seriously. So my initial instincts about any new Bowie music are that they’re either gonna be influenced by the weird industrialized feel or Reznor, or by the new generational epicness of Arcade Fire. Thus I was ironically a little surprised that this new track “Where are We Now” off his upcoming album, The Next Day, seems to be most influenced by old school David Bowie.
Here’s the thing… the first half of this song is ridiculously boring. It’s incredibly slow, with him just listing off names of places in Europe that none of us have heard of before. If it wasn’t the man himself who composed it, most people would write it off as mundane art-schlock by a Bowie wannabe. But the thing is, he is himself, and thus we have to give the music more than any random grain of salt. So while if it was somebody random I would have never made it to the end of the tune, I kept going with this one and realized that it’s actually pretty dope once the drums kick in around the 2:40 mark. It garners a very cinematic feel to it, and you can’t help but really dig on the closing lines that took him forever to get to: “As long as there’s sun/rain/me/you.” So yes, I’m glad this song exists, and it does deserve to be in the Bowie catalog, but it does leave a looming question of what the rest of this album portends to be. If this track is the centerpiece of the album, than there could be some boring shit on there but also some really cool, deep introspective old genius shit. If this is the highlight of the record, then we’re in for a long disparaging listen to one of our musical heroes. We’ll just have to wait and see, but for now the dude’s alive, he’s here, he’s making new music, and even though no one under the age of 25 will ever hear it, it’s worth it for some of us aging audiophiles to actually give a shit.
Low-fi as all fuck. That’s what sums up the latest official video release from the wonder-boys in Dr. Dog. Essentially their buddy took the first video he ever made as an awesomely young child and set it to the music of “Do the Trick” off this year’s Be The Void. You know those awesome Star Wars toys that you lost down a sewer drain when you were 5 and that are now worth several hundred dollars? Well this young entrepreneur had the motivation to make an entire stop-motion reproduction of Empire Strikes Back with them. Flash forward 30 years to where he adds a couple digital light-sabers, and suddenly the innocent imagination of that creation meshes perfectly with the honest reality and low-fi dream-scape that is Dr. Dog’s music. The embrace of the innocence is essentially the tying factor with both pieces of art here. This video isn’t intended to win any awards, or even to go viral – its only intent is to make you sit back and enjoy the wonders of youth and life and this goddamn friggin’ amazing band. Enjoy.
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.
In case you haven’t been following the past week’s most predominant artistic debate, let me quickly rehash. Amanda Palmer, the former front-woman of the slightly askew neo-folk, punk-cabaret outfit The Dresden Dolls recently raised $1.2 Million on Kickstarter to record her new album. In other words, she’s got enough fans and incoming love that they basically gave the woman an ass-fuck-load of money. Now as her music is somewhat elaborate and layered, her touring band requires a fair number of additional musicians to flesh out the sound- you know, horns and strings and all that. Palmer decided that she didn’t have enough money to pay all those additional musicians though, so she released a statement saying that she’d be looking for fill-in musicians in every city for every date on her tour, and most importantly she would not be paying them any money. Just “free beer and hugs.”
So there’s 2 main reactions everybody has been having to this. If you’re not that familiar with The Dresden Dolls or with Palmer at all, the reaction is “who the fuck does this broad think she is?” The other reaction is from the select group of people who absolutely adore the woman and her music, and are thus like “holy shit, I could actually play a gig in Amanda Palmer’s band.” A few predominant music folks have been quite vocal about their stance on the issue, most importantly indie-rock wonder producer and uniter Steve Albini who quite gracefully remarked – “I have no fundamental problem with either asking your fans to pay you to make your record or go on tour or play for free in your band or gather at a mud pit downstate and sell meth and blowjobs to each other. The reason I don’t appeal to other people in this manner is that all those things can easily pay for themselves, and I value self-sufficiency and independence, even (or especially) from an audience.”
So in trying to grasp my stance on the issue, I tried to put myself in one of her fan’s shoes. If a band I respected and adored put this same offer on the table, would I take it? Most likely, yes. But then I realized that if a band offered this, I would also lose a great deal of respect for them. And thus, I would hope and presume that most of the bands I respect would never offer this. It’s not like Palmer is playing coffee houses. She’s playing spots like The Fillmore – huge 1500 person venues with $25 minimum ticket prices. And the thing is, she knows how to play her music and has been doing so for a while. The fans who would come into play have to be rather accomplished sight-readers and talented enough artists to learn a full set’s worth of songs in a 24 hour period. So these fans are busting their left-nuts off to be on top of shit, while Palmer just naps in the back of the van on the way to her next gig. And then once you’ve worked so hard, she hugs you, tells you how awesome you are, and then sticks a $10,000 check in her back pocket and is on her way. You’ve got to really fucking love this woman to not feel at least a little bit used.
And “used” is the optimal word here. She is quite simply using the affection of her fans to save a couple hundred bucks and inflate her ego. The ego is the part that really gets me. This isn’t rock-camp – someplace where you pay $1,000 to learn guitar from the ex-bassist from Styx or something. This is a performance – a concert, and Palmer should realize that it’s even more her privilege to be able to play such things then it is for people to perform with her. Being a quasi-successful artist and musician is a blessing, not a burden. And what kind of massively inflated ego do you have to have to think that you’re big enough to ask such favors from your most-likely less well-off fans? This is very similar to Phil Lesh charging fans $5,000 to play a song with him on Jerry Garcia‘s guitar - also a dick move. But again, that’s The Grateful Dead and Jerry Motherfucking Garcia, not some odd-ball cabaret chick from Boston.
So after all the flack she’s been getting, Palmer announced yesterday that she will be paying her guest musicians now. Which quite frankly makes her seem like even more of an asshole to me. If you wanna make a prick-ass move, then at least stick by your guns. Don’t say, “oh, I realized I could pay them and still make a bunch of money – my bad.” That basically acknowledges that you knew you were doing something wrong in the first place, and now that you’ve been called out on it, you’re just gonna flip your whole stance.
In the end of all this, what’s quite clear is that Amanda Palmer is not going to gain any new fans. Her old fans will fully support her decision and stand by it, but any outsider will only now know her from this erroneous move. I for one, only slightly knew of Palmer, but I’ve now come to realize that she’s not playing on this all-in-it-together music scene that is trying to grow and maintain in the modern era. I will forever now pick her last in kickball. You decide if her music is worth all the fuss. Here’s one of her big hits – I think it’s completely contrived bullshit personally. And again, 1.2 million friggin’ dollars raised and her estimated costs for musicians was $35,ooo. That would total up to less than 3% of here raised finances, not to mention whatever tour and merchandise revenue she’s taking in.
For the past few days, the dark Lord himself, Tom Waits, has been delivering quasi-cryptic messages hinting at something big being released today. Nope, it wasn’t tour-dates. And yep, Ozzie is a pussy compared to Waits. Either way, it turns out to just be a new music video for the tune “Hell Broke Luce” off of last year’s Bad As Me. I suppose the word ‘just’ isn’t really apropos since the guy doesn’t really churn out music videos all that often, and since this one is really bad ass.
Featuring Waits towing some sort of levitating house through a dust-bowl world, it’s the kind of hell where the grim reaper is that old guy on the cover of Zeppelin IV. I think the idea is that the house is someone’s soul, and that Tom himself is Mr. Grim carting off someone’s soul to shitsville. Sometimes a sepia filter on your lens is all you need to make shit really scary. And you gotta give it up to the man for being one of the only artists out there to get legitimately scarier as he gets older. Most dark icons turn to a fluffy acceptance in their aging years, but Waits seems far more dangerous as he comes round the corner into his 60′s. It’s good – we could all use a little more danger in our lives.