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Song of the Day (4/20/10) April 20, 2010

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April 20 has to be the lamest day of celebration on the calendar. If anyone is celebrating anything today it’s either A) smoking pot (a celebration of which is totally redundant because anyone celebrating it will just be doing the exact same thing they do the other 364 days of the year), and B) Hitler’s birthday (and “Happy birthday, dear Adolf,” just isn’t very catchy.)

So, rather than recognize the date by posting either a shitty reggae song or something by neo-Nazi mooks Skrewdriver, I’m steadfastly ignoring the date altogether and giving you something by Kitchens of Distinction.  One of the best bands of the ’80s and ’90s with one of the worst names of all time, KOD dealt in shimmery, hazy guitars and lovelorn, sad-sack lyrics.  Their brilliance is due, in large part, to Julian Swales, one of rock’s unsung guitar heroes.  My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields gets all the credit for pioneering the warped, my-guitar-is-underwater sound of shoegaze, but Swales is, for my money, every bit Shields’ equal.  The band released four albums before breaking up, but every single one of them is worth your time.

This song is “Quick as Rainbows,” and it comes from their amazing 1991 album, Strange Free World (and be sure to check out Swales’ spellbinding wall of sound during the song’s last 45 seconds).

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Song of the Day (4/12/10) April 12, 2010

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Cloud Cult is easily one of the best kept secrets in music.  They sort of remain willfully small-scale, recording their music on singer Craig Minowa’s organic farm in rural Minnesota, and releasing the subsequent albums on Minowa’s Earthology records, using only recycled materials in the process.   Oh, and all profits are donated to environmental charities.  Their music, however, is widescreen bliss – soaring, anthemic melodies shot through with a bittersweet undercurrent (due in no small part on their early songs to the 2002 death of Minowa’s two-year-old son).   They’re great on record, but live they’re even better, performing their panoramic epics accompanied by two visual artists (one of whom is Minowa’s wife) who complete paintings during the band’s set, which are then auctioned off following the show. Simply put, Cloud Cult is everything that’s currently right with music.

The first video is a promotional clip for their song “Chemicals Collide.”  The second is their song “No Said it Would Be Easy,” performed at 2009’s Coachella Festival (probably my favorite set of the weekend).   Enjoy.

Song of the Day (4/10/10: The National Saturday Night Double Shot) April 10, 2010

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There are some bands that I can’t help but think of as mine. It’s not that I’m the only one to like them, or that I like them more than anyone else, or that I was one of the first to discover them.  These bands are mine in the sense that they resonate with me on a level that goes beyond merely humming their songs in the car.  Right now, The National is one of two or three bands to hold this particular distinction.

I’ve written about this in regard to other bands, but one of the things that appeals to me most about The National is their gravitas.  I still love young, hungry, up and coming bands, but as I get older (and it is probably a symptom of growing old), I find myself increasingly drawn to bands that sound like they’ve been around the block a time or two.  Elbow, Nick Cave, Doves, Tindersticks, The Frames – there’s a world-weariness, a heaviness, to their music, and it makes them sound like they know what they’re singing (and playing) about.  It’s no coincidence that the members of these bands are older, and The National is no exception.  Singer Matt Berninger is in his early 40’s, and there’s a weight to the way he sings that seems born of experience and knowledge.  For whatever reason, I find that easier to latch onto these days than the hedonistic party-heartyisms of many younger bands.

The National releases its new album, High Violet, one month from tomorrow.  The first video below is from their recent appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, performing one of the songs from that forthcoming album, “Terrible Love.”  The second video is “Mistaken for Strangers,” one of my favorite tracks from their 2007 album, Boxer. And, as a special added bonus, click the link beneath the videos to hear the audio of another song from High Violet. It’s called “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and, to put it bluntly, it’s really fucking amazing.

Audio of “Bloodbuzz Ohio”  (courtesy of Pitchfork)

Last movie seen:

Crazy Eights (2006; James K. Jones, dir.)

Song of the Day (12/24/09) December 24, 2009

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It’s more than a little cliché, but for me this will always be one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time.  It’s sentimental without being maudlin, and captures the spirit of the holiday in exemplary fashion.  Here’s The Pogues, with “Fairytale of New York.”

Song of the Day (12/13/09) December 13, 2009

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In the mid-80’s, The Waterboys played music that was so stirring and anthemic that they temporarily gave U2 a run for their money.  Frontman and principal songwriter Mike Scott made it his mission to play something he called “The Big Music”: soaring, majestic tunes that didn’t stint on ambition.  The band has gone through several permutations since then, taking in rustic Gaelic tunes and a vaguely creepy born-again vibe on later albums.  Scott is the only constant in the band’s history, and while his recent music doesn’t pack quite the punch as his earlier songs, the band had a pretty stellar three-album run (This Is the Sea; Fisherman’s Blues; Room to Roam) that I still return to frequently.  To make up for the recent lack of Songs of the Day (and I realize if the frequency of these particular posts continues to slow, I’ll have to give them another name), here are two of the standout songs from their 1985 album, This Is the Sea. The first is called “The Whole of the Moon”; the second is the album’s title track.  Both are amazing.

Song of the Day (12/9/09: New Artist Double-Shot) December 9, 2009

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Goddamn, I love music.  There will always be a part of me that wished I didn’t.  Or at least not so much.  It would be so much more convenient to just lock myself into a handful of favorite bands and follow them (or reminisce about them) for the rest of my life.  But if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to constantly discover new artists.  Like Phantogram.  I don’t know anything about them – apart from the fact that it’s a guy and a girl, and their music is amazing.  Their debut album, Eyelid Movies, has been on repeat play for the last few weeks, and it’s surely going to find its way onto my year-end Top Ten list.  I know it’s not Saturday, but you’re getting two videos anyway.  It’s my blog, so deal with it.

The first song is the leadoff track from Eyelid Movies.  It’s called “Mouthful of Diamonds,” and here they perform it live for Seattle’s KEXP.

The second song is accompanied by one of those cheesy homemade videos, so close your eyes if you find it annoying and just listen to the music.  This song is called “Running from the Cops.”

Song of the Day (12/8/09) December 8, 2009

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I know I have a well-earned reputation as a fan mainly of bands composed of pale, effete Brits who make jangly noises with their guitars.  But I’m nothing if not egalitarian in my music tastes.  Enter Jawbox.  Inexplicably lost in the mid-90’s alternative rock boom, this Washington, D.C., based band made some beautiful noise out of discordant guitar, subtle melody lines, and a vaguely funky backbeat that set them apart from their other, more straightforward compatriots on Dischord Records.  Predictably, the indie community cried “Sellout” when Jawbox made the jump to a major label – so it’s satisfying to see that their Atlantic Records debut is not just the best in Jawbox’ discography, it’s one of the best of the decade.  This is “Savory,” from their recently reissued masterpiece, For Your Own Special Sweetheart.


Song of the Day (12/4/09) December 4, 2009

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I’ve been a huge fan of Tindersticks since they first appeared in the early 90’s.  Perfect late-night listening, the band’s music evokes rain-swept streets, a snifter of brandy, and the slowly coiling smoke of a cigarette. They manage to be both dark and romantic, and the baritone vocals of singer Stuart Staples recall both Scott Walker and Nick Cave without mimicking either of them.  It would have been a kick to see them tour with a full orchestra in 1995, but their appearances in North America are about as frequent as Haley’s Comet.  This song is a duet between Staples and Carla Torgerson of The Walkabouts.  It’s called “Travelling Light,” and it’s from the second of their two self-titled albums, released in 1995.

Song of the Day (11/30/09) November 30, 2009

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With December only hours away, it seems like a good night for something mellow.  Tom McRae hit it big with his first two albums (his self-titled debut garnered him a Mercury Music Prize nomination in the U.K. in 2001), but he’s recently settled into semi-respected singer/songwriter territory, releasing an album of delicate pop songs every couple years to moderate acclaim and sales.  McRae has a soothing tenor, and it’s usually supported by piano, acoustic guitar, and understated strings.  Just the right thing for a chilly autumn night.  McRae’s second album, 2003’s Just Like Blood, is my favorite.  This song comes from that album, and it’s called “You Only Disappear.”

Song of the Day (11/29/09) November 29, 2009

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Inexplicably lost in the late 90’s shuffle, Geneva is one of my favorite bands that no has ever heard of.  Andrew Montgomery’s frequently-falsetto vocals are the band’s most distinctive feature, but the other members churned out chiming, anthemic tunes at the drop of a hat.  Two albums into a promising career, the band broke up.  This is “Best Regrets,” from their outstanding 1997 debut, Further.


Song of the Day (11/26/09: Thanksgiving Edition) November 26, 2009

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What are you thankful for?

Me?

Today, I’m thankful for R.E.M.

For Elbow.

For Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

And for Regina Spektor.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the little things.  But that doesn’t mean I ever forget.

Song of the Day (11/21/09: Double Shot of Teenage Fanclub) November 21, 2009

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Blessed with three genius-level singer/songwriters, Glasgow’s Teenage Fanclub has been churning out chiming, harmony-laden power pop for almost twenty years.  Spin magazine memorably named TC’s 1991 sophomore album, Bandwagonesque, their album of the year – beating out Nirvana’s Nevermind. The magazine caught a lot of flack for that decision, but – whisper it – they were right.  When you need music that will cheer you up without being relentlessly twee and shmaltzy, the Fanclub is one of the best places to go.

The first is song is called “I Need Direction,” and comes from their 2000 album, Howdy! The second song comes from their 1997 album, Songs from Northern Britain, and it’s called “Ain’t That Enough.”

Song of the Day (11/16/09) November 16, 2009

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Besides possessing one of the greatest names in rock music history, The Boo Radleys is another of those bands that should have been so much bigger. Over the course of five albums they gradually evolved from a hazy shoegaze act to an unabashed pop music hit machine and ended up in a weird experimental middle ground where it seemed as though they weren’t quite sure what kind of band they wanted to be.  This song comes from the jangly, ultra-catchy mid-point of their career, where the chorus to every song seems spun out of pure gold.  Here’s the sort-of title track to their 1995 album, Wake Up!, titled “Wake Up Boo!”

Song of the Day (11/15/09) November 15, 2009

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Frames

I’m an optimist at heart.  For all my grumbling and complaining, I really do believe in the power of people to do good, and in the importance of being good to one another.  No matter how disappointed I become in what I see around me, it’s these beliefs – and the small kindnesses that I witness – that keep me going.  There’s no better band to reflect this optimism than Ireland’s The Frames.  Singer Glen Hansard is now better known as part of the Oscar-winning duo The Swell Season, but his day job has been a going concern since the mid-90’s, and their euphoric, soaring sets are amazingly communal experiences that make you believe, as I do, in the power of music to make a difference.  It’s a little cheesy, but cynicism will only get you so far, but with optimism, well … the sky’s the limit.

Here’s The Frames performing the simply astounding “People Get Ready” at my spiritual homeland, The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Song of the Day (11/14/09: Soft Rock Double Shot) November 14, 2009

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turinbrakes,0

Turin Brakes are two acoustic guitar-wielding Londoners whose debut album, The Optimist LP, was nominated for Britain’s Mercury Music Prize in 2001.  Lumped together with Travis and Coldplay as part of a soft rock revolution, the duo shares those bands’ mellower sensibilities, but manages to trump them at times with huge, anthemic, singalong choruses that work precisely because of the band’s modest lineup.  Imagine two subway buskers with a knack for writing stadium-sized songs, and you have Turin Brakes in a nutshell.  This is “Long Distance,” from their 2003 sophomore album, Ether Song.

Kings of Convenience

Kings of Convenience are another duo – Norwegian, this time – who were associated with the UK’s “quietcore” movement.  Probably the quietest of those bands (but also the most experimental, having released a remix album where their simple songs get twisted out of shape by electronic artists like Four Tet and Andy Votel), the Kings perform delicate, introspective acoustic numbers that rarely raise their voices above a whisper.  Perfect late-night listening, in other words.  This song is taken from their 2000 self-titled debut, and it’s called “Toxic Girl.”