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  • Saturday's Somewhat Useless Post about Some Good Music: Idealizing Life in the City
    Saturday, October 27, 2007

    In my last post, I discussed how Matt Nathanson's music reminds me of an evening in the city. Well, apparently he's not the only one likes to visualize idealistic locales within the confines in a city limits.

    Of course, one has come to expect sad, desolate, lonesome songs to come from the mind of American Music Club leader Mark Eitzel. "Myopic Books" has to be one of the best songs about loneliness, isolation, and wanting to break a self-imposed isolation by visiting an idealistic place within the city. Plus, there's a wonderful reference to Dinosaur Jr, "and that makes me happy," as Mr. Eitzel would say.

    Listen To: Myopic Books (taken from the album Love Songs for Patriots, released on Merge Records)

    Then again, another room-loving boy, Loney, Dear's Emil Svanangen, likes to write about the city. The main single off of his wonderful Sologne (recently issued here in the US), is a beautiful song that has earned him respect and critical acclaim. Easy to see why, too, as it's one heck of a catchy number.

    Listen To: The City, The Airport (taken from the album, Sologne, released on The Rebel Group)

    And, of course, if we're talking about music about cities, there's always the shoulda-been-a-hit-with-the-NPR-crowd "The City," by the late, great Dismemberment Plan. I once wrote a long, rambling rant about how this song really, truly should have been a big hit for the band, as it seemed to be perfect for a world then loving Eagle-Eye Cherry, and soon to love John Mayer. Nearly a decade after its creation, it's still a wonderful song, and I stand by my statements of it being one of the better creations of the 1990s.

    Listen To: The City (taken from the album Emergency & 1, released by Desoto Records)

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:04 AM   0 comments
    Review: Matt Nathanson Some Mad Hope
    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    As you may or may not know, I occasionally have a sweet tooth for a singer-songwriter type. Such is true of Matt Nathanson, a young man who in the past few years has quietly released a number of records and toured the land. I've never heard of him, of course, until about a month ago, when I somehow stumbled upon him via a method I can't really recall. It was his song "Car Crash" that won me over; it has an upbeat tempo, a rich melody, and an overall vibe that reminds me of vintage Buffalo Tom. So, being won over by that song, I sought out his latest album, Some Mad Hope. The rest of the record doesn't quite have the instantly addictive quality of "Car Crash," but the songs, well, they're good. Especially "Bulletproof Weeks." The songs found on Some Mad Hope vary between breathy singer-songwriter fare a la Semisonic, Coldplay, and Ryan Adams, and, well, I can't think of anything better than that. And "Sooner Surrender" is a wonderful little love song, too.

    When I dream of the city and I envision myself wanting to be able to go places here and there, or to go a place and not feel obligated to go anywhere, if I so desire, I would like to think Matt Nathanson's music is playing. In the bookstore, in the bar, in the boutiques, in my mind--his is the friendly, enjoyable sound I would like to relate to shopping, of socializing, of being in a functioning culture. His is the music for an audience with social skills, who don't necessarily care so much about music as a thing to be examined and analyzed by itself, but as something to be enjoyed as a part of something broader--a night out, a party, a phase of life. Nathanson's music is friendly, affable, universal. It's not pandering to an audience, nor is it underachieving as a mask for a lack of talent. It, simply, is.

    Listen To: "Car Crash"

    Some Mad Hope is available now on Vanguard Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 12:15 PM   1 comments
    Harold Budd & Robin Guthrie Before the Day Breaks/After the Night Falls
    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    If you are a connoisseur of ambient music, then you understand why a collaboration between Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie is one worth drooling over. Between them, they are responsible for not only some of the most beautiful music of the past twenty-five years, but they're also responsible for entire genres of music--beautiful, thought-provoking, relaxing music. They've collaborated in the past; 1986's Cocteau Twins collaboration The Moon & The Melodies is one of the most beautiful collections of music, and easily the Twins' high point. After that collaboration, Guthrie appeared on Budd's The White Arcades, an album I consider Budd's masterpiece. Budd and Guthrie collaborated a decade later on the soundtrack to Mysterious Skin, but that was not an in-person collaboration. Last year's collaboration yielded two beautiful albums' worth of material, released as sister albums After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks.

    When I heard of their collaboration last year, I couldn't wait. It excited me greatly! And I'm happy to report that the results do not disappoint. Musically speaking, the material found on these two albums recall The White Arcades; Budd's piano and keyboard work amalgamates wonderfully with Guthrie's gentle, distinctive guitar style. It would have proven understandable that both take turns sharing the lead, but theirs is a rarity: two innovators who can compose music that sounds like their individual work, yet sounds like a true collaboration. Theirs is a world of gentle atmospherics, bound together by ethereal strums of a guitar and the star-like twinkle of a piano.

    In the compilation process, Budd and Guthrie decided to link the two albums thematically, by song titles. So, for instance, After's second song, "Avenue of Shapes" is mirrored with Before's "A Formless Path." Some might find it charming; others might find it annoyingly artsy. It doesn't distract from the music, nor does it have anything to do with the music, really. Besides, does music this beautiful even need something as utterly arbitrary as a song title? I think not. After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks are sparkling crown jewels in the crowns of these men's already storied careers.

    I don't think I need to say that they're also two of the best records of 2007, do I?

    Now, if we could only get Mr. Budd and Andy Partridge back together...

    Listen To: "A Formless Path"
    Listen To: "Avenue of Shapes"

    After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks are both available now on Darla Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 7:00 PM   1 comments
    Lycia Cold
    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Speaking of Lycia, Silber Records' reissue project (or should that be projekt?)continues on with what many consider their most important release, Cold. At the time, the release did garner them a bit of attention, both for its beauty and excellence and because their label was enjoying a bit of critical acclaim. I know that of Lycia's output, Cold was certainly a favorite, because I was going through a phase of cold, dark music. (Well, I had to have something to go along with my black candles, my bowls of incense, and my wonderful portraits of Ian Curtis! (That's not a lie, either.) I would simply put this record on between The Moon and the Melodies and The White Arcades, and I'd simply let my mind float into the coldest depths of sonic space. I don't know what happened, but the record simply disappeared from my collection, and, well, as one often does, I moved on. But listening to it again, a decade later, I remember why I loved it. It doesn't get me as cold as it used to; instead, it makes me feel warm and happy inside, as I think back to my younger days. Oh, and I love the song "December," in part because, well, it sounds a lot like Madonna's "Live to Tell!"

    Listen To: "Colder"

    Lycia's Cold is available now on Silber Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 5:07 PM   0 comments
    To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie The Patron
    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Kranky goes goth? That's certainly the feeling I have when I listen to The Patron, To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie's Kranky debut. If this were a decade ago, this duo would be the stars of the Projekt scene, as their music instantly reminds me of another wonderful ambient/darkwave duo, Lycia. The comparisons are more than appropriate; the haunting vocals of Jehna Wilhelm possess the same little-girl quality of Lycia's Tara Van Flower. And, really, what's wrong with emulating a really good band? To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie have mastered the art of the disturbing, tempering noise and bizarre carnival and cabaret elements together with the sound of innocence lost. Unlike Lycia, thought, TKAPB (and I hope I am not disrespecting them by abbreviating their name) rely less on heavy ambient sounds and more on a darker, rougher, more experimental side--and there's a bit of noise thrown in as well. Don't let that word "noise" throw you; instead of a cacophonous racket, the songs on The Patron are composed in ways that are as beguiling as they are beautiful. Again, it all has to do with that voice, and when it's unfurled in front of the harsh guitars of "Lovers & Liars," you're won over. Same thing with "With Brass Songs They'll Descend," a gorgeous wash of distorted guitars, loud, metallic sounds, and a siren song piercing through the wall of noise--how could you not enjoy it, especially so close to Hallowe'en?

    Listen To; "With Brass Songs They'll Descend"

    To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie's The Patron is available now on Kranky

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:56 AM   0 comments
    Saturday's Somewhat Useless Post About a Wonderful Song
    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    I like the music of Lisa Germano, though it must be said her music can be a bit heavy-handed and hard to listen to, because it's just so overwhelmingly powerful and emotional. One song in particular has a special meaning to me, and I shall not provide the details as to why. It's called "Cancer of Everything," and it's a breathy and stark country-death type number, taken from her overpowering concept album, Geek the Girl. Instead of waxing poetic as to why I like this song, I'm just going to let you listen to it and figure out why.

    Lisa Germano: "Cancer of Everything"

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:29 AM   0 comments
    Interview: Patrick Cleandenim
    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    IBaby Comes Home, the debut of Patrick Cleandenim, is a surprisingly fresh collection of big-band pop with a flair for the dramatic. It's even more impressive when you consider the record was made by a man barely out of his teens at the time. The arrangements are grand, delicate, and surprisingly intricate; they are show tunes for Broadway noir, if such a thing existed. Cleandenim is a soft-spoken, thoughtful young man, and as you'll read below, he's a man with a vision for his art--even though the idealistic vision might overlook practicalities. No matter; being young means trying different things, and what he does next is an exciting prospect.

    I've read several reviews of Baby Comes Home, and many of those reviews focus on comparing your work to artists such as Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach, and yes, it is easy to understand where those comparisons come from. What struck me, though, was reading an article where Elvis's name was mentioned, and when I went back and listened to the record, to me, that comparison overrode the others. Because I do hear stylistic shades of Elvis's recorded work, especially his 1970s work. Was he an influence on your style?

    Oh, certainly, I'd have to say that Elvis was a huge influence for me growing up. For me, I'd have to say that, at least initially, it was mostly his early work that I really immediately fell in love with, and then I fell in love with some of the work of his later career, such as the late 60s, "Suspicious Minds" and the more orchestral work he did.

    I'm a big fan of his work in the final years, because to me there's just something so wonderfully transcendent about the bombastic nature of that era. Well, it's not bombastic in a negative way, but when you play it loud, it hits you like a wall of sound. When I listen to your work, I hear a young man who is trying to do the same thing, who is trying to make a sound and make it BIG, while at the same time making it colorful.

    Yeah, that was definitely one of my goals when I worked on the arrangements for the album. I wanted to create an imaginative space for the listener, where I would have the music existing on one level, where it's not so one-dimensional, as if it were coming out of a radio, but almost like you were surrounded by the source of the music.

    I know that Elvis tried to do that with his material, where he would have a sound that was loud and big and would transmit the same energy as his live performances--and that he could easily perform for his stage show. If you turn up the volume when listening to some of those songs, you could easily think you were in a live show. Were you trying to create that feeling, composing arrangements in a move towards having a big live show?

    It's definitely something I have been working really hard on now. Unfortunately, the way I was working with those songs and the production of the album, I was creating that sound within a studio, and we didn't have a live show prepared for when we came out of the studio. So once we were finished, we had a big question about how we could achieve that live. I have tried on a smaller scale with a smaller orchestra with a few horn players and a rhythm section, and it worked OK, but it didn't hit me with the same impact as the recordings. The live work I am doing now, it is on a smaller scale. It's a four piece, with keyboards, bass, a conga player, and a drummer.

    Are you satisfied with the arrangement?

    I think that arrangement suits the new material. I'm certain that setup can't begin to represent the album, so currently we're playing primarily new music, and very little from the album. I want to be able to perform those songs to their fullest capacity, and what I'm waiting on is to try to settle the means of achieving those sounds. It's not something I am able to do right now. As you could imagine, it would be very expensive to have so many people to perform and tour live.

    I understand. I don't think that the songs would work any other way.

    I think that's true, and that's why the new band is--and it is a new band, completely different players from Baby Comes Home, except for my brother, who played drums on the album, and he now plays congas and auxiliary percussion in the new group. Because I know it doesn't work to play those songs

    When you wrote the songs that made up the debut, did you spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get the arrangements just right, without taking into account the ability to reproduce them live, or did you simply come up with arrangements because you had the live show in mind?

    The way I was writing then was with the intention of recording them directly, right off the bat. I'd been working on writing for about a year or so before I really entered the studio. I had been working on the songs for a long time, and my goal was to pick out arrangements piece by piece for each instrument, and once that was completed, that pretty much settled how each song would be. Then we went into the studio, and for many of the players you hear, some of their parts are the first takes. It was a very developed project before we went into the studio.

    I'm sure that as an artist, you must feel conflicted by the excellent material you composed and the material you're almost forced to perform live.

    It's something I've been struggling with, and there's also the issue of time passing. This December will mark two years since the recording of the album, and that was when I was 20. I'd just turned 21 when we finished the album. I'll be turning 23 this December, so it's almost a feeling of wanting to catch up with myself. I am disappointed that we have not been able to totally follow through with the aesthetic of the album live.

    Do you see yourself more as a songwriter or an entertainer?

    I see myself as an entertainer primarily. I have also been investing my time in directing and acting some films, and I think that...I dunno. I also see myself as a songwriter, but it's harder to identify a specific identity as a songwriter, as I see that my style is going to be something that is constantly changing. It would be easier to call myself a "folk songwriter" or a "rock songwriter," I guess, but the way I perceive myself in my head is as an entertainer who is going to pursue a number of different angles with what I am doing.

    Does your new material tone down the feel of what you did on Baby Comes Home, or is it something different? In a way, I'd say it's a refinement of the songwriting. My main goal with writing every song is to create infectious and memorable pop melodies and hooks and to make each song have an emphatic element that singles have. I wanted every song on the album to be a single; I want every song I write to be a single. That is definitely consistent with what I'm doing now. I am still writing music with the same approach; I want my music to be interesting yet appealing to the ear immediately the way all of my favorite songs do. I still see myself as a pop songwriter, but I would say my songs are wearing a different veil now, because the instrumentation I'm working with is different and the players I have now are different. They sound dramatically different, but it's exciting. It's exciting to work with the foundation of each song, and in my head I might see the result as being something closer to the material of Baby Comes Home but working with the songs and working with these new restrictions, these songs turn out as something entirely new.

    Are you consciously addressing the live element with your new songs? Are you intentionally performing your songs live over a an amount of time before you take them into the studio?

    Absolutely--that's been the overarching design of the process I'm working on now. We rehearsed the material constantly and have performed it every week for several months now as a group, as a 4-piece. Going through that rigarous routine of rehearsal and performing for an audience and seeing what works and what doesn't, that's going to help my music a lot, and it's certainly a different process than what I've done before. It's a much more collaborative process, and there's a physical toll--I spend less time at a piano and a lot more time running about, working with my bandmates, which is great.

    I see these things as working out to your benefit. I know that people focus way too much on how you sound like someone else instead of accepting what you do for what it is. (Agrees) I'm sure those Scott Walker comparisons must get old after a while! (Laughs)

    Oh, it got old really fast. (Laugh) I understand that for an artist putting out their first full-length, they need to create a framework for what they might hear as a point of reference, as there is a pressure to create these comparisons to get people interested in a band or an artist. So I understand it from that angle, but I hope as people are exposed to the new material that they understand my focus is on growing as a songwriter, vocalist, arranger, and performer, that my music is not tied down to one specific genre.

    Again, I think it's a really good record, and I think that the changes you've made will work to your benefit, as people will expect one thing and be presented with a whole other facet of your style.

    I hope so.

    Patrick Cleandenim's debut, Baby Comes Home is available now on Ba Da Bing

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 5:06 PM   0 comments
    Josh Small Tall
    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Who is Josh Small? I have no idea, but I do know that his album, Tall, has really impressed me. Josh sings folk songs. He sings folk songs and he sounds like he's invested five years into creating a gravelly voices that can only come from thirty-five years of drinking whiskey and smoking a pack a day. It's rough, but captivating; the roughness works well, especially with his primary instrument being the banjo. To make things even slightly more complex, his voice is quite angelic, recalling Jim James' sweet syrupy Southern croon. Fortunately, Josh Small never apes James' style; his sound is uniquely his own. Nor does he ever fall victim to an overbearing hick accent--there's nothing more unattractive is a singer who forces a fake accent. While one might say he sings folk songs or country songs, listening to "Say Hello" and "Move Your Hips," it becomes rather apparent that he's singing pop songs. My personal favorite is "Arc de Triumph," a slight ballad that has a wonderful tempo change, as you'll hear below. Tall is a quiet, unassuming record that's worth seeking out.

    Listen To: "Say Hello"
    Listen To: "Arc de Triumph"

    Tall is available now on Suburban Home Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 5:13 PM   0 comments
    Interview: Ulrich Schnauss
    Monday, October 1, 2007

    Who knows what some journalists expect from an artist? I sometimes wonder if there's too much emphasis placed upon what they feel an artist should do. It's like critiquing a military strategy; it's really easy for the observer to say what the next move should be, but sometimes the easy, "obvious" answer isn't the correct strategy--one must wait to see what the ultimate result will be. That being said, I have yet to understand the logic behind the reviews for Goodbye, the latest album by German composer Ulrich Schnauss. Instead of appreciating that Mr. Schnauss has created another album of beautiful, relaxing instrumental album, other reviewers seem to focus on some indefinable negativity, or they focus on how he hasn't really done anything new. No matter, though; what others have missed, though, is that Ulrich Schnauss has simply improved on the qualities that made his last two albums so wonderful.

    Listen To: "A Song About Hope"

    Some songs, like "Einfeld" and "Never Be the Same" sound like the work of an individual composing by himself, yet other song, like "Goodbye" and "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" sound like the work of a full band. When you started writing Goodbye, did you start in one of these styles and gravitate towards the other, or did you simply write and compose songs without an afterthought about how they sounded?

    Usually, I have an idea for the overall sound for a song. Most of the time, I start with a rough sketch of a song I have written on a piano, and I write those ideas. When I have those ideas completed and when I am ready to take them into the studio, I do have an idea for what the overall style should be and what the overall sound should be like.

    Do you feel that the remixing that you do for bands has helped change your own notions about what you want to do in your own creative process?

    I wouldn't necessarily say remixing that much, but working with other people in collaboration certainly does. If you collaborate with other musicians, whether it is singing or bands, or whether it's recording or reworking a track, you have the opportunity to be a part of the creative process as well, and you get to talk to them and interact, and doing that helps to educate you in ideas where you can take your own music as well. I think remixing itself is a bit more formal and a bit more than distant in that respect, because it doesn't really involve direct interactions with the creative process.

    Do you try to work with people you like simply for that experience of working with them?

    Yes and no. I generally enjoy working with other musicians and other people, but obviously the other criteria isn't just to work with other people randomly, but also that it makes sense in a musical way. I think it just kind of happens automatically. If something works personally and musically, I expect interesting things to come out of that relationship.

    If a record label says, "We'd like you to remix this track" by an artist you don't like, then would you do it?

    That's not really my priority. Well, I mean, you do have to do the occasional bread-and-butter projects to pay the rent, but I still do a lot of projects and collaborations that don't involve money at all, simply because I like to do them. The same goes for remixes as well. There are a lot of remixes I have done this year I have done for free simply because I thought the people who approached me had made really interesting music and I wanted to be a part of that as well. I think it is a compromise between both things, in a way, because you have to be able to survive, obviously, but also because you want to be able to do the things you love to do, which is not necessarily something that pay the bills.

    Speaking of collaborations, I understand you've recently collaborated with Jonas Munk. How was that experience?

    Wonderful! We've been working on that for quite a while, actually. I think Jonas has probably been a bit more efficient about things that I have been! (Laughs) I think most of the guitar work that needed to be done has been done now, but the songs still need some treatments. That's number one on my list to do when I return from my American tour. I want to concentrate on it for a few weeks when I get back, because we want to make sure it is finished and ready for release by the end of the year. I love Jonas' work; I think he's a wonderful musician, and I was really happy that the opportunity came up to work together.

    On your recent EP, there were two remixes by Robin Guthrie. Are there any plans to work with him in the future?

    I certainly would be up for it! He and I were talking about it but not in a serious way. Obviously Robin is very busy and I am about to be, so I don't know when we would have the time to do it, but I would love to work with him.

    On Goodbye, all your song titles relate to themes of loss and of change. Does the common theme mean that you were trying to create something of a 'concept' album related to a general theme or feeling?

    I definitely would agree. The word "concept album" is a difficult one, because if you say, "I've just made a concept album," it comes across in a real pretentious way, so I would definitely avoid that term, but there's definitely a common theme with these songs. That happened somewhat accidentally, though. I didn't sit down and say, "Oh, I want to write an album about my situation." I just realized that many of the songs, after I'd written them, kind of hinted at that, so to me it just made sense to allow the songs to keep following that path.

    Do you enjoy playing live?

    To be honest, until recently I didn't really enjoy it that much, because my live set, I always felt it was compromised because I was playing backing tracks from the hard drive with little keyboard bits. I didn't like that way of performing. But over the last few months, I've put a lot of work into more improvisation, developing things that are more open to improvisation, so it is a setup that can definitely and rightly be called live. I think I will probably start enjoying performing a lot more now.

    Goodbye is available now on Domino Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:44 AM  
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