Tuesday, September 19, 2006
If at first you don’t succeed, try again every seven days. In 1999, Michael Zapruder began writing, recording and posting a new song online each week for a year. The results can be found at www.52songs.org, but the rewards are vast and varied. Listening to the Oakland, Calif., musician’s sophomore album, New Ways Of Letting Go (Howells Transmitter), is akin to hearing Rufus Wainwright croon over Andrew Bird’s simmering string arrangements. But Zapruder wasn’t always blessed with perfect pipes.
“Well, it’s funny,” he says. “I didn’t make my school chorus when I was a kid, and I was the guitar player for bands for a while. I remember I started to sing songs and people would come up to me and be like, ‘Hey man, you know your guitar playing is really good, but the singing is just … You know, don’t sing.’”
A bit of practice was all Zapruder needed, and by the end of his 52-song project, he had developed his smooth, silky delivery. People soon took notice. Nate Query (the Decemberists), Jonathan Segel (Camper Van Beethoven), Scott Solter (John Vanderslice) and more than a dozen other musicians make up the Rain Of Frogs, Zapruder’s carefully chosen backing band.
Zapruder’s orchestral compositions are complex but not overbearing (he studied music at Oakland’s Laney College), allowing for each Frog to hold its own without disrupting the balance of strings, piano and the occasional triangle or shaker. Surprisingly, the Rain Of Frogs network has no roots in Laney College, sprouting instead from various connections Zapruder made through friends or Pandora.com, where he’s the music curator.
“I think I’m surrounded by talented friends,” he says. “I thought it would be interesting and fun and would make a better record to open the door and say, ‘Anybody I know might be in this band.’ I mean, if you play anything and have good ideas, you might … you know. [Laughs] I’m totally serious. It’s a lot more fun to work like this.”
Michael Zapruder - The Alchemist.mp3
It's true what they say about German engineering. So when Steve Webster, the sole Brit behind the Black Neon, wanted to get truly motorik on his new album, he motored straight to Berlin. There, he honed his handiwork with members of krautrock progenitors Amon Düül and Ash Ra Tempel. Arts & Crafts is an eclectic set of party starters that's best likened to a few other westerners looking east: "Cast That Light" is Anton Newcombe breathing smoke into Air's mellower moments, and "TX81Z" is Beck covering New Order's "Blue Monday."
Brotherhood and Weeds
I didn’t have cable television until college. When my friends used to complain about the newest MTV VJ, I smiled and nodded. When they argued over whether Jenny McCarthy or Carmen Electra was a better/hotter Singled Out host, I shrugged. When I Google image these women today, I question my friends’ tastes. Now that I have more than five fuzzy channels, I mainly watch sports and Project Runway. But there’s also Showtime’s Sunday/Monday one-two punch. Brotherhood is tense and shocking, and it’s been described as an Irish version of The Sopranos. (To be honest, I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of that show, but I hear it’s great and I’ll agree with the comparison.) On Brotherhood, one brother is a rising Rhode Island politician, the other is a crook. Mom loves them both! On Monday nights, there’s a mom I love: Weeds’ Mary-Louise Parker. Her husband dies of a heart attack, so she deals pot to rich neighbors in order to provide for her two sons. The soundtrack kicks ass (Rogue Wave, Sufjan Stevens, New Pornographers, Mountain Goats), and Parker’s sarcastic, cool-mom delivery is priceless. I Google image her, too.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin Broom (Polyvinyl)
What with all the clapping of the hands while saying yeah and the question of what made Milwaukee famous, band nomenclature has lost some of its restraint. But that’s no reason to dismiss Springfield, Mo.’s Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. In fact, the four-piece is worth its weight in syllables. Much has already been made of the band’s overt Shins similarities, and it’s a good starting point; “I Am Warm & Powerful” will certainly hold you over until January, when the Shins’ third record is finally released. Two-thirds of the Unicorns might have gone on to form Islands, but the former band lives on in the playful, morose nature of “Anna Lee.” The elephant in the room would be labelmate Of Montreal, whose giddy stylings drive the opening track “Pangea.” Oh, and speaking of that Athens band, its “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games” just happened to close out an episode of Weeds.
SSLYBY - Oregon Girl
Monday, September 18, 2006
When it comes to categorizing, Antlerand has critics reaching for hyphens and modifiers. "Emo-core," "psychedelic rock" and "atmospheric trance" are just a few of the genre tags tossed at the Portland, Ore., trio since its formation four years ago, but Antlerand finds little solace in locating a musical niche.
"Those lines of demarcation aren't always useful, helpful or accurate," says multi-instrumentalist Zach Okun. "Doesn't the average listener listen to a wide variety of sounds? The point being, why is it weird that bands are all over the map?"
Appropriately, Antlerand was conceived at different points on the geographic map, starting as a long-distance collaboration between Oregon and Arizona. Okun was studying sound recording in Phoenix when a mutual friend connected him with Chris Larson, a Portland guitarist/vocalist who was busy incorporating visual projections into live performance. The duo debuted as Invisible, releasing The Invisible EP in 2004. By that time, Okun had moved to Portland, and the pair picked up drummer Delaney Kelly after spotting him perform alongside his girlfriend's modern-dance routine.
Invisible morphed into Antlerand after Kelly's inclusion, but the group is far from putting on its last picture show. When played live, each song is carefully synchronized with screen images consisting of lines, geometric shapes, people and places. All this might seem like an art-school vanity project, but it did draw the attention of Sleater-Kinney/Quasi drummer Janet Weiss, whom Okum met shortly after moving to Portland. How she came to guest on Antlerand's recent Branches (Sound Family) is a case of life imitating art.
"We would joke about how that last part of the song ("Now It's A Year") was kinda like a Quasi song," says Okun. "And it just seemed fitting that we'd have Janet come sing on that one."
Weiss' contribution is more cameo than showcase, as her singing almost falls through the mix. This is common for Antlerand, which sometimes employs vocals as a texture instead of a soapbox. "Now It's A Year" opens with Larson's lucid voice over heavy-handed piano chords, followed by Postal Service-esque clicking and Kelly's potent, sparse drumming. Larson and Weiss would sound like Mates Of State at the chorus if not for the droning instrumentation behind them. Branches brims with subtlety, whether it's the slight graces of glockenspiel, accordion and bells, or the discordant Modest Mouse horns at the climax of "Brighter Rays."
"I really like the fact that some songs, although they're primarily rock-based instrumentation, all of a sudden a banjo comes out of left field," says Larson. "I really like that kind of unexpectedness; kinda trying to wiggle out of being easily defined."
Antlerand - Now It's A Year.mp3
Antlerand - Brighter Rays.mp3
Not even Michael Stipe’s endorsement could make Now It’s Overhead the next R.E.M. (Stipe contributed vocals to NIO’s 2004 album Fall Back Open.) But since both groups sprouted out of Athens, Ga., it’s fitting that the up-and-coming quartet’s fuzzy college rock would suit nightswimmers and daytrippers alike. On Dark Light Daybreak, the group’s third record for Saddle Creek, Now It’s Overheard cuts back on its former haze to graze in cleaner pastures. For most of the album, lead singer Andy LeMaster sounds like a blend of Stipe and Richard Ashcroft, and his syrupy voice is one of the few factors driving the tick-tocking “Night Vision.” On “Walls,” he evokes Tim Kasher of labelmate Cursive, sing-yelling his way out of thick, constricting layers of guitar and a sliding bass line. Opener “Let The Sirens Rest” basks in those vibrant, echoing U2 riffs that fill stadiums with sound and people. Still, LeMaster often opposes the pop world’s strict separation of verse and chorus—not that there’s anything wrong with that—keeping Now It’s Overhead above the heads of the masses. If he wanted to heed pop formulas, he could turn his artist-approved band into more than a name overheard.
Now It's Overhead - Walls.mp3
Lightning can strike twice, even in a vacuum. Or at least that's the rationale behind the National's return to Bridgeport, Conn., where the Brooklyn quintet recorded parts of last year's critically acclaimed beast Alligator with producer Peter Katis (Mercury Rev, Interpol).
"The town we're in, there isn't a lot," says frontman Matt Berninger. "It's good to work in this cocoon way and kind of go crazy and be in that zone to find interesting things." Not only does the band rarely leave the porch of Katis' Tarquin Studios, the members work separately within the Victorian-style home before piecing together individual ideas at the end of the day.
"The band doesn't have a specific songwriter, and nobody claims any kind of ownership over the songs," says Berninger. "Sometimes it's for the worst, but we will usually find the song. We are right in the middle of the mess of finding the center of the song and the magical stuff."
Still, the National's lovelorn lyrics come from Berninger's brain, and he insists the new record, due in March on Beggars Banquet, won't have him dwelling on the depressed.
"I was obsessed with romantic awkward situations, and I still am to a certain extent," he says. "I feel like I don't need to write a song about that so much. But to be honest, there are a few songs going into that territory."
Southern-bred folkmaster Jim White is also in Connecticut, working with producers Joe Pernice and Michael Deming (Beachwood Sparks, Silver Jews) at the latter's CharterOak Studios. White is backed by members of New York City roots-rock collective Ollabelle, and the record should be ready for a March release on V2.
The National - Slipping Husband.mp3
Saturday, September 02, 2006
My obvious opposition to monopolies aside (is there any other sunflower seed company?), David sunflower seeds might be the best snack on the planet. No, I’m no baseball player, nor am I a “seeder,” as the company’s ad campaign deems the so-called in-crowd. Nor will you find my cheeks packed like a chipmunk stowing goods in anticipation of the winter dearth. What I am is addicted, and what you will find in each roasty, toasty shell is a little taste of earth’s goodness. Overeating can result in a sore tongue (much like after chewing on a few of those pesky, amazing Sour Patch Kids), but it’s just nature’s way of reminding you to check yourself before you wreck yourself. If David wasn’t already the Goliath of the seed business, these snacks would bring the warrior down.
It’s disturbing—not to mention illegal—for grown men to be interested in 12- and 14-year-old girls. So slap the cuffs on me, because Smoosh has cultivated a crop of forbidden pop fruit typically reserved for bands that have at least attended and dropped out of high school. But this Seattle drum/keys duo of sisters Chloe and Asya (last name wisely withheld) hasn’t done it alone. Death Cab For Cutie’s Jason McGerr is Chloe’s drum teacher and the band’s mentor, guiding the youngsters through tours with Jimmy Eat World and Mates Of State and opening slots for Pearl Jam, Sleater-Kinney and Death Cab itself. Asya’s voice occasionally thins to reveal her age, but it’s nothing worth having a sixth-life crisis over. Her kooky, often distorted keyboard riffs easily and gleefully complement Chloe’s refined, rattling drum strikes. If the sisters were 10 years older, their music would probably be marketed with hipster-approved twee terms such as “youthful exuberance,” “unbridled enthusiasm” and “childhood innocence.” In 10 years, let’s hope the duo can still showcase these traits without a smidgen of irony.
Smoosh - Find A Way.mp3