Paper Swords

I get a lot of messages in my blog inbox from bands and promoters wanting me to review and post their new music.  There’s simply too much to listen to, and since this is not just a “music” blog, I tend to only post stuff when I really like the music and if the artist’s message is nice, and particularly if it’s personalised.

This week I got one such nice message from Paper Swords, an folk-rock quintet from Southern California, which has been quick off the mark into the studio – according to their biography they only formed this year! Here’s a little taste…

The band consists of Ryan Myers (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonium, piano), his brother TJ Myers (drums), Patrick Grant (bass), Russell Fletcher (trumpet, banjo, guitar, harmonium, vocals), and Teresa Ramallo (vocals, piano/keys, guitar).

If you like rich orchestrations and interesting songs, they’re worth checking out.  They do a particularly nice job of meshing TJ’s angular drumming with more traditional “folk” instrumentation – in this way they remind me a little of Laura Veir‘s erstwhile backing band Saltbreakers.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a sucker for time signatures, so I have to recommend their song Bethseda, which is written in 21/8: but you’ll have to buy their EPWax Moon, Wane” to hear it! As a statement of intent, the EP is very impressive – hopefully there’ll be more music forthcoming soon!

A couple of sample tracks are available via their website, otherwise go to iTunes to pick it up.

Paper SwordsWax Moon, Wane [Buy on iTunes]



Boredoms – Super Roots 10

Boredoms – Ant 10 (DJ Lindstrøm Remix)
From Super Roots 10 : Thrill Jockey 221 [Buy]

Super Roots 10 is the new EP from Japanese rock-noise-art band Boredoms. It’s finally released this month outside Japan, after months of speculation. It’s a freaking cool record, but I’m stumped if I know exactly why.

The music here tracks a noise-ambient-minimalism path chasing some kind of obsessive internal logic requiring overblown guitars, analogue synths, ostinato figures and platoons of manic percussion. The overall effect is like listening to 15,000 WalkMans plugged into a nuclear powerstation. For 40 minutes.

Any band that’s been around for more than 20 years (Boredoms was founded in Osaka 1986 by Yamantaka Eye) has very little left to prove. Boredoms are all about their stage performances, and it really is their extensive use of live percussion that sets them apart from any other band on the planet.

In many ways the 3 remixes and the original track here are extensions of each other: four movements in a greater work that just happen break easily over the two sides of a 12 inch dance single.

And this is definitely dance music, especially designed for dancing while throwing oneself joyfully against brick walls and leaping off bungalow roofs into thornbushes. Super Roots 10 should sound like shit, and yet somehow, it makes complete sense. One of the best releases I’ve heard all year.

Extra Golden

Extra Golden – Anyango
From Thank You Very Quickly: Thrill Jockey [Released March 2009]

Download free 320kbps mp3 of “Anyango” from Thrill Jockey Records

Extra Golden is a band that, on paper, displays all the hallmarks of an experiment: “A unique blend of Kenyan Benga music with American Rock and other, assorted African guitar stylings“. And yet on headphones it all sounds like the most natural thing in the world.

Perhaps these two musical streams sit together so well because both rock and benga are primarily guitar-based genres. The band is made up of American D.C.-based guitarists Alex Minoff and Ian Eagleson (whose experience doing doctoral research into benga was the ursprung of the band); alongside monster drummer Onyango Wuod Omari and guitarist Onyango Jagwasi.

If anything, Extra Golden leans further towards East Africa than the Eastern Seaboard – most lyrics are sung in Luo, and the only time (to my ears) when the music sounds somewhat dépaysé is when the odd verse is sung in English.

The music is Kenyan in focus, so are the bands’s politics and lyrical interest. Ukimwi deals with the scourge of AIDS sweeping through the country, and Thank You Very Quickly is an acknowledgement of the friends and fans who helped protect band members during the post-election violence in Kenya last year.

Thank You Very Quickly is Extra Golden’s third album, and it sounds like the band has solidified through touring. While their previous effort Hera Ma Nono, revelled in reverb and melody, (including a tribute to then-candidate Obama), TYVQ seems to groove more. The track Gimakiny Akia is effortlessly funky, its insistent and relentless bass guitar recalling Michael Henderson on Miles’s early 70s albums.

When talking about current indie bands that gain sustenance from the great sinkholes of African pop, perhaps some comparison to Vampire Weekend is inevitable. But Vampire Weekend’s whole schtick is that they’re gawky white college kids appropriating somebody elses’ music – ironic artifice is part of that band’s appeal.

By contrast, Extra Golden is rooted firmly in a single tradition and sounds like a more honest musical effort. The band are touring the UK in March with Senegal’s Baaba Maal and Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi. But I’m thinking that some scintillating benga guitar would got down well in the heat of the 2009 festival circuit in Europe…

Arbouretum

Arbouretum

Arbouretum – False Spring
From Song of the Pearl : Thrill Jockey [Released March 2009]

2009’s first love affair with an American indie guitar band has struck early, in the form of Baltimore’s Arbouretum. Their third album Song of the Pearl is released in March and the lovely people at Thrill Jockey threw a preview copy over the fence at me (yes, some people still think that I only blog about music!)

Normally I’m not one for big crunchy guitar-scapes unless they’re framed by good arrangements  and attached to great tunes. Song of the Pearl has this in spades. Arbouretum is built around the writing of David Heumann:  to judge by his other projects Television Hill and Human Bell, Heumann is a songwriter (and photographer) to be reckoned with.

If Heumann’s songs hold Song of the Pearl together, the disc is underpinned by Heumann and Steve Strohmeier‘s guitars, whose interweaving textures recall (for me at least) the best moments of Sonic Youth or Neil Young with Crazy Horse.

Song of the Pearl sounds like an album from another age.  Perhaps intentionally, its eight songs and 40 minutes fit nicely on a 33rpm record. The dirge-like ballad Tomorrow is a Long Time has the sort of relentless melody that could have floated out of the Appalachians on a log. And the epic psychedelic folk-blues that informed Led Zep’s No Quarter haunts songs like Down By the Fall Line.

Arbouretum’s  previous two albums seem worth checking out too. Here’s the video for Mohammed’s Hex and Bounty off their 2007 album Rites of Uncovering:

Revisiting Kurt Cobain

Eyes

Growing up in Auckland in the early and mid-1990s, it seemed that most of my friends had pictures of Kurt Cobain on their bedroom walls. An interest in ‘artistic tragedy’ and a fascination with death seemed to go hand in hand with our suburban adolesence. For earlier generations, it might have been Jim Morrison or Ian Curtis on those bedroom posters. But for teenagers of our vintage, Kurt Cobain was the musician-who-died who most fully embodied the angst and anger of growing up.

What goes around comes around. Alongside continuing economic slowdown, it seems safe to bet that the next couple of years will see a revival of interest in the late 80s-early 90s Seattle scene of which Cobain and Nirvana were the spearhead. Before long the kids’ll be wearing plaid shirts again. Just watch.

The signs are there… just in time for Christmas is launched Charles R. Cross’s new book Kurt Cobain Unseen (produced with the cooperation of the Cobain estate) featuring images and objects drawn from Cobain’s short life.

Lumberyard

Possibly more evocative and accessible for the non-obsessive is AJ Schnack’s documentary Kurt Cobain: About a Son, which is based on 25 hours of taped interviews with journalist Michael Azerrad, recorded in late 1992 and early 1993. The documentary weaves together excerpts from the conversations with images filmed around the towns Washington state that feature in Cobain’s life: Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle.

Just as the documentary does not feature Cobain’s face (a deliberate directorial decision), the soundtrack avoids using any Nirvana material. Cobain was a constant champion of relatively obscure rock acts like The Vaselines, Meat Puppets and Butthole Surfers, and the soundtrack reflects this taste.

I remember a conversation I had years ago with a musician friend about how Kurt Cobain was, essentially, a writer of pop songs – one of the reasons that the Nevermind album succeeds is that it’s unrelentingly catchy. It’s all hooks and simple song-forms, like Thriller but with angst and a fuzzbox.

At one point in the documentary, when describing his love for Glasgow band The Vaselines, Cobain talks of his desire to write pop songs. Listening to the Vaselines again (Nirvana recorded three of their songs during their career), you can hear that pop music soul coming through.

Thanks to the realities of media and merchandising, Kurt Cobain has become a legend cruelly divorced from his real life story. His music will always be stained with the knowledge of his untimely death. But hopefully a film like About a Son will help remind us that people like Kurt Cobain are just ordinary people with ordinary stories. The only difference between them and us is the heat of the spotlight.

Interview House

Menn Arsins

Menn Ársins – Þögnin heyrir allt
From Menn Ársins (Self-Titled) Free mp3 download [Buy album]

There’s a lot of bad news coming out of Iceland at the moment. So, in an attempt to warm the suddenly frosty relations between the UK and Icelandic governments, here’s some good news: Menn Ársins have just released their first album.

Menn Ársins (“Men of the Year” in Icelandic) were formed 3 years ago, and since then have developed nice line in artful pop – some songs sung in English, most of them in Icelandic. The group reached the Icelandic semifinals of Eurovision with their song If You Were Here (watch the video on YouTube).

Recorded at Lundgaard Studios in Denmark, this debut disc puts emphasisis on good pop tunes, with arrangements embellished by extra instruments such as the trumpet on Þögnin heyrir allt and the string section on Póstkort. Although the band initially was formed around the songs of singer/guitarist Sváfnir Sigurðarson, all four musicians contribute to the writing – for instance 12 Steps to the Liquor Store was built from some jazz material that bassist Sigurdór Guðmundsson had been working on for other projects.

I particularly love the subtle piano line that underpins Augun Opnast (apparently this means “Open Your Eyes” in English), and the video is equally understated:

I’m not totally neutral in posting about this album – Sigurdór has been one of the longest-lasting online correspondents on this blog, and not only is he a fantastic bass player and all-round Jaco Pastorius expert, he’s also a rather talented amateur photographer, and took the photo used on the cover of the album.  His Flickr site is worth a visit for some evocative images of Icelandic landscape and people.

Several mp3s are available free from the Menn Ársins page on Last.fm, and you can hear more on theirspace. And you can help rebuild Iceland’s foreign currency reserves by buying the album online.

The Sea and Cake

The Sea and Cake – Car Alarm
From Car Alarm: Thrill Jockey Records [Buy]

The Sea and Cake‘s new album Car Alarm has recently arrived in the inbox, and it’s a cracker ! I’m not too familiar with this Chicago band’s previous work, but this material is really strong – recalling the best bits of mid-90s indie rock (Pavement, Sonic Youth’s pop side) mixed with a little bit of Tortoise-like experimentalism. The strong melodies sometimes echo that other Windy City band, Smashing Pumpkins. (But in a good, lacking-Billy-Corgan’s-whiny-voice sort of way).

It’s semi-intellectual stuff: vocalist/guitarist Sam Prekop has a PhD in music according to Wikipedia. And the band’s drummer is none other than the rather precocious John McEntire of Tortoise, dropping jazzy breakbeats into songs like Fuller Moon like it’s the most natural thing in the world. But the album never sounds like it’s shoe-gazing: all the tracks have strong pop hooks and super tunes. Yum yum yum.

Current favourite track is definitely Weekend – acoustic guitars dissolving into electro-breakbeat bliss. An example of how perfection is best wrought from simplicity and brevity. Here’s the video:

The Sea and Cake on myspace

Liam Finn

This is possibly the coolest thing anyone has ever done with a guitar and a loop pedal. Perhaps not the most complex thing. But possibly the coolest.

Nice beard, too.

Hat tip to Tash, who posted it first.

This performance is taken from the BBC’s Later with Jools Holland. Liam’s also done the same thing on Letterman.

Liam Finn official website

Liam Finn on murdochspace

D’Arcy Clay

Daniel Bolton‘s music career lasted just over 12 months, from early 1997 until March 15th, 1998, when he was found dead at home, aged 25. He had committed suicide.

During his short period of notoriety, Daniel Bolton (stage name D’Arcy Clay) gave New Zealand a bona fide classic hit and left us with the memory of a talent so compelling that we all wondered what might have happened, had he lived.

Recorded in his bedroom in Auckland on a 4-track in 1996, D’Arcy Clay’s song Jesus I Was Evil exploded on the b.net university radio stations across New Zealand in the summer of 1997. It didn’t quite sound like anything you’d heard before – a sort of punk/rock/thrash-funk singalong that you couldn’t get out of your head. After the initial success of JIWE, the follow-up EP on Antenna Records reached number 5 in the New Zealand pop charts.

While today D’Arcy Clay is remembered in New Zealand mainly for his only hit, his entire recorded output of 12 songs remains fascinating – including a psychedelic take on the Dolly Parton song Jolene. His trademark fuzzy funkiness also featured on songs like All I Gotta Do. All 12 songs are available on the posthumous Anthology 2 CD set, through amplifier and smokecds.com

Probably the most comprehensive account of D’Arcy Clay’s short life is a recent article in the NZ Sunday Star-Times, written to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.

Head Like A Hole

“Dude they played ****ing naked!”

It must have been about 1994. A mate of mine was telling me about an all-ages gig he’d been to at the Powerstation in Mount Eden in Auckland. The headline act was Head Like a Hole (HLAH). The gig was awesome, apparently, and the HLAH turned up onstage wearing nothing except their instruments. This seemed pretty hardcore to us.

Formed in Wellington in 1990, HLAH were an unvoidable feature of NZ music in the 1990s. It seemed they played every darn venue and festival, and drew larger and larger crowds each time. They started out as a straightforward Sabbath-style metal band, but by the mid-90s were scoring local hits with catchy anthems like Hootenanny and Spanish Goat Dancer:

Their fourth and last album HLAH IV demonstrated what an interesting band they could have become had they stayed together – exemplified by tracks like Maharajah and Comfortably Shagged.

They even out-Springsteened the Boss with their cover of I’m On Fire and shot a rooftop music video in central Wellington: probably the biggest event to happen in that town until Lord of the Rings started filming:

HLAH disbanded in 2000, but they left behind some happy and sweaty fans, and memories of riotously fun live shows that some think were the best ever by a NZ-based band.

HLAH