Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lucky Soul

Presenting this year's Camera Obscura. Great melodies and arrangements straight out of late 1960's Top 40 radio. People who don't take themselves too seriously. And Ali Howard's glorious voice. Summer is coming.
Lucky Soul - Add Your Light to Mine, Baby

Learn more about the band, purchase the new album, The Great Unwanted, at the Lucky Soul website.

The Math and Physics Club

You could draw a straight line from Belle and Sebastien, through the Lucksmiths and end up at the Math and Physics Club. (And in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that.)
Here is a song from their recently-released first album, on Matinee Recordings.
The Math and Physics Club - Darling, Please Come Home
Check out their page on the web.
Purchase their album at Amazon.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Some More Personal Music

I wanted to post a few examples of music similar to that of Lewis & Clarke. (You can see I'm really living by my words about personal music and the feeling I don't have to share it.)
Here are three more very personal artists:
Miracle Fortress - Have You Seen In Your Dreams
Paul Duncan - The Lake Part 2
Magic Arm - Outdoor Games

None of the albums from which these songs are taken are available yet, but check out their websites for preordering info, tour schedules, artist bios and (possibly) more mp3's.

Miracle Fortress
Paul Duncan
Magic Arm

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Madame George

There is an interesting article by Tom Nolan in the Friday, April 13 edition of The Wall Street Journal, proposing that Madame George, the central character in the song of that name on Van Morrison's landmark 1969 album Astral Weeks, was in fact Madame George Yeats, wife (from 1917-1939) of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. (Unfortunately, I can neither post the article nor link to the article, since The Wall Street Journal offers no Internet access unless one is a paid subscriber.)
Nolan makes a convincing argument, based not only on the character's name, but on some key lines in the song that talk about the spiritualist activities of the main character. (Madame George Yeats was famous for her seances.)
When you fall into a trance
A sitting on a sofa playing games of chance
Up to now, the most popular theory concerning the character's identity was that Madame George was a Belfast drag queen. See Lester Bang's fairly famous piece on the subject in Stranded from 1979.
One thing about which we can be pretty certain, Van Morrison is never going to enlighten us. Whoever Madame George is, however, the discussion is a good excuse to revisit a great song.
Van Morrison - Madame George

Dengue Fever Link

Dengue Fever, the Los Angeles-based "Cambodian pop band" I posted about recently, has provided a link on their MySpace site to a website for a documentary about Cambodian pop music. It has a lot of fascinating info about Cambodian pop culture, and includes some great MP3's.
The name of the website is Cambodian Rock. (Duh.)
Here is a track by Ros Serey Sothea:
Ros Serey Sothea - "I'm Sixteen"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lewis & Clarke Update

There is an announcement on the Lewis and Clarke website that the band's next album, Blasts of Holy Birth, will be released May 15. Lou Rogai, the artist behind Lewis & Clarke, has also made available an MP3 of one of the songs on the album, "Before It Breaks You," which was previously available in a live version on the WPRB Live album.
Check out the website for more info, preordering, and just to enjoy the wanderings of Rogai's imagination.

Lewis & Clarke - Before It Breaks You

Feist Update

Feist's new album, The Reminder, is scheduled to be released on May 1 on Interscope Records, and already there have been several big pre-release articles/reviews, including the lead story in the NY Times Art & Leisure Section today (4/15). Check out Sasha Frere-Jones' piece in this week's New Yorker for the most interesting take on Feist in terms of the dichotomy between her hipster it-girl persona and her obvious potential to become a mainstream superstar.
Among Frere-Jones' more interesting observations is his assertion that the most daring thing Feist has done has been to cover an American public domain standard called "Sea Lion Woman," most famously recorded by Nina Simone the 1960's. Feist records the song on The Reminder, but Frere-Jones is more interested in her live version (He calls the version on The Reminder, "polite," and I would agree with him). I haven't actually seen her perform it, but I came across a live recording a few months ago, and I was blown away. In her performance (and in her band's 60's soul band arrangement), Feist creates an incredibly high level of energy, without ever losing track of the subtleties of the song. It reminded me of Janis Joplin at her less-histrionic best. One of Feist's real strengths is her uncanny ability to communicate rhythm with her voice (I swear she doesn't need a drummer) without ever giving up the melody. This song demonstrates that perfectly.
Feist - Sea Lion Woman (Live)

Photograph of Feist by Greg Kadel.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Twilight Sad

I meant to post about Twilight Sad a month or so ago, and actually thought I had, but when I went to look at what I'd written, I found I'd written nothing.
Twilight Sad is from Glasgow (where else?). They write and perform muscular, bottom-heavy pop songs that belong to the Jesus and Mary Chain/Stone Roses/Teenage Fanclub family tree. They manage to maintain the sense they are talking about personal hurts, fears and anxieties - and small victories - while still sounding like they are standing on the edge of a mountain at midnight, raging at the universe. Play this loud.
Twilight Sad - That Summer at Home, I Had Become the Invisible Boy

Learn more about Twilight Sad on their Myspace page.
Purchase their new album, Fourteen Autumn & Fifteen Winters at Amazon and Emusic.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Road to Ensenada

A friend of mine recently returned from a visit to California, which included an unhappy side trip into Baja, Mexico. It reminded me of a trip my wife and I took to that area a few years ago, which was not a hell of a lot of fun either. (Although we didn't get pulled over by the Mexican police like my friend did.)
The one good memory I have of that trip was of driving on the all-but-deserted highway between Rosarita and Ensenada at dusk. The stark and lonely landscape, broken every couple of miles by a decaying farmhouse, was like a Tom Waits version of a Wyeth painting. The Baja Peninsula seems particularly evocative of all kinds of existential despair.
Lyle Lovett's "Road to Ensenada," from his 1996 album of the same name, and one of my favorite songs from the happy-go-lucky '90's, perfectly illustrates that. Sadly beautiful, beautifully sad.
Lyle Lovett - Road to Ensenada
Purchase Road to Ensenada on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

World (Music) Turned Upside Down

I've never been a huge fan of what the New York Times loosely refers to and fervently reviews as "world music."
But I recently discovered a band that is, in its own twisted way, a true representative of world music.
Dengue Fever is from Los Angeles. The story goes like this: Cool LA musician named Ethan Holzman goes to Cambodia with a friend, falls in love with a style of pop music with roots in '60's American garage punk. Cool LA musician comes back to the States, gets other LA musicians involved, forms Cambodian pop cover band. Eventually meets a Thai woman named Chhom Nimol, who was an actual Cambodian pop superstar, before emigrating to the Little Phnom Penh area of Long Beach, California. Convinces her to become lead singer. Band switches to original material with roots in '60's Thai pop and 21st century American indie pop. What could be better?
When I listen to their album, I imagine I am walking down a crowded alley in Bangkok, with the music blaring out of cheap speakers hanging in the doorways of seedy dark bars. At the same time, the dynamics and textures of the music are very knowingly American, spanning the 60's, 70's, 80's, '90's - right up to the present.
I love the way music can go from it's crude source (60's American punk), get reinterpreted and adapted by a foreign culture, and then come back here and get reinterpreted yet again.
Dengue Fever - Sni Bong
(I do not have any idea what the lyrics mean.)
Purchase Escape From the Dragon House, Dengue Fever's latest album, on their website.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Five Songs that American Idol Contestants Should Consider Covering

I am a not-so-closeted American Idol fan. I know it's cheesy, I know that no musician I respect would ever make it out of the prelims, I know it's manipulative, crass, cynical, feed-the- money machine commercial television, but I love it.
However, I will say that, week in and week out, the song choices made by the contestants are so uninspired and insipid that I sometimes find myself itching to see what the Knicks are doing.
So, in the interest of improving the quality of my American Idol-watching experience, and at the same time guaranteeing the wise contestant who takes my advice at least one more week of national exposure, I would like to offer the following alternative song choices. (Note: None of these songs are at all left field. In fact they are all pretty mainstream. They have all previously been covered by mainstream artists. They are just a little more interesting than the usual Tuesday night fodder.)

Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
This is a Leonard Cohen song made famous by Jeff Buckley, but also covered by K.D. Lang and John Cale, among others.

The Left Banke - Walk Away Renee
This was a hit back in the '60's and has been covered countless times. It deserves to be a hit again.

Patty Griffin - Mary
This is a Patty Griffin song covered very badly by Bette Midler, but nevertheless a truly gorgeous, moving song.

Blue Rodeo - 'Til I Gain Control Again
This is a Rodney Crowell (meaning c&w) song that has been covered by everyone from Van Morrison to This Mortal Coil (one of the best cover bands of all time). This version is by a great Canadien band called Blue Rodeo.

This Mortal Coil - Song to the Siren
This is a Tim Buckley song, covered here by This Mortal Coil (featuring vocals by Elizabeth Fraser, lead singer of Cocteau Twins). I actually like this version better than the orignal.

All these songs can be purchased on Amazon.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Speaking of Paris 1919...

John Cale's Paris 1919, released in 1973 and re-released last year with some additional tracks, is one of my favorite albums of all time. The gauzy beauty of the songs and the sophisticated, complex arrangements make it impossible not to be drawn into the world Cale creates.
Over the years several artists have covered songs from the album, notably Alejandro Escovedo, Yo La Tengo and Hope Blisters.
Here's a new cover of "Hanky Panky Nohow," by Miracle Fortress, from Montreal.
Miracle Fortress - Hanky Panky Nohow

Check out some more of Miracle Fortress' fine music on their MySpace page.
Purchase Paris 1919 on Amazon.