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   Monday, January 27, 2003  
Minor miracles of our age No.418:
Feb 17 is most definitely a landmark day in the capital and no, it's nothing to do with it being Day One of the Congestion Charge. Direct from Philadelphia, her-e-e-e's Denison! Yep, as trailed earlier, blog hero Denison Witmer plays a debut acoustic date at the 12 Bar. A dealer in the choicest coffeehouse consolations, he's making the effort and so, really, should you...

Almost a month gone and still to make your first new music purchase of '03? reallyrather may have just the thing. Though there are some promising releases on the horizon, 2002 music will inevitably hang around for quite a while yet, particularly given the slow creep of self-released albums such as ...Current or the tide by an oufit calling itself Narrowcasting. Conflating the handful of reviews this record has so far picked up, '...Current Or the Tide is a fully realized collection of anti-folk songs...melodic rock with a dreamy haze circling around it...a miraculously solid album...seems to fall right into that area that Gram Parsons called "Cosmic American Music."' Given the way this recording apparently came together, 'miraculous' isn't too much of an overstatement. Briefly, American Charles Maynes spends time in Moscow, hooks up with a few musically kindred spirits in his downtime and together they assemble their compositions on a 4-track for total cost of about $100. Totally embarrassing bands spending thousands of pounds on studio time, this ad hoc ensemble evince the same kind of musical and sonic surety as, say, Gingersol did on their first full album.
Where Nothing stops moving had a rootsy undertow, Narrowcasting's music leans folkwards. A fine mesh of acoustic & gnarly electric guitars fleshes out many of the tracks, topped off here and there by some deft, ambient solos. That the only cover in the set, Big Star's Blue moon, seems here to be melodically a bit below par is some indication of the standard maintained. At the heart of the collection are a set of chimey, shimmering pop-rockers - Paris air show, Someday Looking St. and Ostankino - with distinct echoes of the likes of REM and the Vigilantes of Love. There's some whooshing, driving indie-pop in Foreign corresponding, dreamy ambient folk (title track, If and I...) and Without a map has a great little Santo&Johnny-esque guitar solo tapping into the same retro vein Richard Hawley is currently mining. Scratching around for negatives, some of the vocals/lyrics are slightly indistinct and the instrumental A seconding salvo comes over a bit Dave Matthews in places, but only a bit! An unassuming little marvel, ...Current or the tide is pretty well unreservedly recommended. Buy it at CDBaby or better still send your $15 to Charles direct...

Talking of CDBaby, the latest Phoenix New Times has a good feature on this estimable retailer of the great unsigned : "Nobody here drives a Maserati," a staffer states, reassuringly...

Those rumbustious folk-rockers from Denton, Tx. Little Grizzly play a hometown date with Knife in the Water this Tuesday. As if this wasn't tasty enough, opening the show is touted Austin combo Western Keys who're making friends rather quickly it would seem...

From this week's St.Louis Riverfront Times, another update from planet Nadine: 'The band sent approximately 250 copies of the CD [Strange seasons] to labels and is beginning to get some positive feedback. "We're such a dorky band," Adam Reichmann says, laughing. "We're not even susceptible to trends because I don't even know if we're cool enough to know what's going on. Whenever this thing comes out, it's gonna show up the same way."
   posted by SMc at 9:46 AM |

   Saturday, January 18, 2003  
reallyrather is grateful to the BBC for streaming the new Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album in it's entirety so helping confirm this blog's gut reaction having read the print reviews - ie. no thanks, Billy. Certainly, it's an OK listen but hardly compelling. Wolf among wolves and Lessons from what's poor got a repeat listen but not much else. Hard life sounds a bit like a '70s Paul Simon cast off; were they to cover it, The Be Good Tanyas could probably make me warm to it a bit more...

'So what should I listen to instead?,' you cry. Well, there's this. Before going further, an apology of sorts is in order. In the course of this blog's year-end round-up the new Shearwater album was blithely tossed into the box marked 'Disappointments'. In the intervening days this record has crept back into player and is presently holding off much of the competition. Hey, Everybody makes mistakes (for that is it's title).
What to call this sort of music? Melancholic folk-pop, maybe; predominantly dowbeat but bouyed by an irrepressible melodic sense. Like a lot of other albums which find favour round here, Everyone... hasn't had the life produced out of it; both lyrically and sonically, space is left for the listener to move in. Just reading the instrumentation in the sleevenotes gives a big clue you're in the right place: upright bass, vibraphone, Wulitzer, accordian, etc. Their sound comes together best on tracks like Soon, Room for mistakes and Safeway where drowsy (but definite) melodies play over keyboards/acoustic guitars and fat, soft notes drop from the upright bass like a dripping tap filmed in slo-mo. The muted warm tones are broken up just twice with the one-man-band-style stomps of Well,Benjamin and Mistakes where we head off into Mendoza Line/Trouble With Sweeney territory. Vocals are a boys club - Will Robinson Sheff & Jonathan Meiburg, also of Okkervil River, alternate - 'til near the end when Kim Burke's pastoral air lets the light in (even tho' the song's called All the black days!). Yep, if you prefer bric-a-brac to shiny 'n' new, sketches to the full-blown easel job, you should definitely dip your toe into Shearwater...

...instead of not just that BonniePB but also the Devics album, The stars at Saint Andrea. Like Shearwater, vocalist Sarah Lov and multi-instrumentalist Dustin O'Halloran have gone for an organic, haunting sound but unlike Shearwater, often resort to synthesized beats and sounds. In the song In my room Lov sings, 'And you, you never change / And I, I never change,' which, sadly, is so true. You've got to the bottom of this record in the first 3 tracks; thereafter, it goes nowhere rather slowly...

Hem head back over for some dates in the Spring:
Tue Apr 29 Isle Of Wight, Quay Arts Center
Wed Apr 30 London, Borderline
Thu May 1 Bristol, St Georges Hall
Sat/Sun May 3/4 Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots Festival
Like the Tanyas playing the Festival Hall, the Borderline for Hem seems a bit of a mismatch. Seven or eight players with a sound that's hardly likely to let rip - Bush Hall or (maybe) the Union Chapel, surely? Still, reallyrather will be there with the throng (tickets going pretty swiftly even though the show's months off and has barely been publicised)...

Philadelphia-based producer Brian McTear (Mazarin, Bigger Lovers, Matt Pond PA, etc) has called on a bunch of his clients/friends to help out on his own new album, released next week under the name Bitter, Bitter Weeks. He talks about this and the day job here...

Oranger resurface! San Francisco's smart but not quite clever-clever power-pop combo have just whacked out a 6-track EP on Susstones. Apparently going from inception to release in 4 days, sample track The Writer (''He was a writer of historical fiction / A heavy lifter when it came to his diction/etc') slips down v. nicely, mellowing their sound into a breezy, Harry Nilsson-like swing complete with a liberal dose of la-la-las. There's also a new album ready to roll, with Going under dishing up more of those pathetically pleasing thick chugging guitars and swirling synths. Juicy, indeed...
   posted by SMc at 9:55 AM |

   Tuesday, January 14, 2003  
Looking back...
'It's a dynamic album with intriguing lyrics, a country/folk shimmer, and explosive pop moments' - Pitchfork yesterday finally caught up with the reallyrather album of the year. And what's this? A UK release, no less! For those laggards yet to acquire Rilo Kiley's The execution of all things, SaddleCreekEurope says it'll appear on March 10 (a day after their US tour ends - could it be, could it be?!); Amazon meanwhile have a date of Feb 24 - form an orderly queue here. 'I venture to guess that this is an album those Pitchfork elitists probably won't enjoy,' predicted another reviewer, wrongly; 'The album hasn't a single dud,' he concluded, rightly...

Reviews of the Tracker album, runner-up on this blog's year-end list, are rather harder to find but Ear Pollution has heard it: 'A beautiful slice of ambient Americana ... [John] Askew has done a brilliant job of creating an epic landscape using only the most minimalist of colors.'

Looking ahead...
Two of the most anticipated (hereabouts) but interminably protracted 'releases' should finally see the light of day in the first half of '03. Nadine played a little hometown show last month which was caught by local arts zine Playback. This blog raised a rather steep eyebrow last year at the news that the band had recruited 'rawk' guitarist Jimmy Griffin and is not entirely heartened to read that he 'kicks ass on guitar and provides the sonic highs that the band needs to loosen its alt-country binds.' Judgement deferred. are happily not something Wheat are likely to spring on us when they play a few live UK dates next month. The good news is that they're now getting a bit of (biggish) label support having signed to Aware Records. The downside is they're being hitched to others on the roster, hence a UK tour slot opening for John Mayer. OK, it could probably be worse but reallyrather is presently squirming on veritable horns over the Feb 2 Shepherds Bush Empire show...

Also currently filed under 'Decision pending' is the new Belles album, Omerta. To be slotted alongside things like Gingersol and The Vessels, reallyrather isn't sure that more neatly constructed strummy (vaguely power-)pop-rock is what's needed just now . But for those who are, there does seem to be quite a high hit rate on this collection. Samples here.

The New York Times last week put up a list of under-the-radar albums from '02 it reckoned worth pursuing (no link as the NYT site needs registration ). To save you the effort, reallyrather boils the selections down to these three:
'Deerhoof - Reveille (Kill Rock Stars) Beware of whiplash from the sudden changes in Deerhoof's songs, which can sound like blithe pop one moment and bruising power chords or a tootling accordion or staticky electronics the next, all with whimsically assured timing and a sly sense of melody;
Bad Astronaut- Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem (Honest Don's) At its best, this band from Santa Barbara, Calif., brings together elements of Grandaddy, Weezer and your favorite emo band. At its worst, it is average with the potential to be great;
Bon Voyage - The Right Amount (Tooth and Nail) After a four-year hiatus, the husband-and-wife team of Julie and Jason Martin returns with a sweet, beautiful and thoughtfully produced pop album with shades of Sixpence None the Richer
[ahem], the Cardigans, the Cranes and Mazzy Star.'
Happy hunting...
   posted by SMc at 9:51 AM |

   Friday, January 03, 2003  
OK, picking up where we left off...'s year-end lists a-gogo! The good folks over at LostAtSea serve up almost the identikit cool indie Top20 for 2002. Pushing the envelope a wee bit more, UK zine Diskant's list offers some 'skewed mentalist shouty jerkpop' amongst others which may have unaccountably slipped your attention. If having Josh Rouse in it's top 3 is encouraging, check the personal (and Canadian) MusicEmissions list. And if you've got about half-an-hour to spare, Popmatters lets all their writers have a list each; if not, just cut to Jeremy's...

And now here's why they're all - for the most part - completely WRONG!
Of course, it's quite possible that the most reallyrather-friendly disc of '02 is one which for whatever reason (ignorance, prejudice, sloth or finances being most likely) this blog has failed to hear. The albums by Aroah, Gloria Record, Lucero and the Doleful Lions, for example, all sound like they'll be worth investigating but then so did those by Tangelo and Shearwater and Parker&Lily which sadly, by and large, weren't. So, cutting to the quick, what are the reallyrather records of the year? Mustering some kind of dubious ranking, they are these:

1. Rilo Kiley / The execution of all things
Apparently, Jenny Lewis does this thing where she think's she's real sick, but she won't go to the doctor's to find out about it. I know this because she's told me at least 50 times already but I'm still not tired of hearing about it nor any of the other hang-ups, fears, etc which she unloads over the course of the band's belting 2nd album. Sounding often like therapy sessions set to music - regression therapy in the case of 2 or 3 brief interludes - the fascinating lyrics are just one part of a totally winning package. That Blake's guitar breaks are often little more than great fat statements of the obvious renders them no less thrilling. With empathetic assistance from producer Mike Mogis, Rilo Kiley deftly tweek & mould their melodic sound which is by turns joyous, pensive and rocking. Just about as loveable as indie rock gets. [Reviewed Nov 5]

2. Tracker / Polk
Overlooked by virtually everyone since it's release, reallyrather found the songs and soundscapes through which the listener travels over the course of this record distinctly compelling. The effect of mainman John Askew's grainy lilt is maximized by tremendous production instincts which also draw out some great atmospheric electric guitar and other sounds to overlay the quietly twisted folk-pop. Scratchy and parched, it's a roadtrip in your headphones. [Reviewed Nov 11]

3. Nina Nastasia / The blackened air
Unlike the previous two this got a UK release (in April) but stunningly still failed to make either the Mojo or Uncut lists (or any others this blog has come across). Marvellously spacious naturalistic production allows the wind to whistle in & around the cello/accordian/guitar/drum ensemble as they carve out Nastasia's fabulously scabrous folk-pop. Sixteen tracks, no duds. Indellible stuff. [Reviewed Aug 3]

4. Denison Witmer / Philadelphia songs [Revd Oct 21]
Pedro the Lion / Control [Reviewed May 4]
Bright Eyes / Lifted, or... [Reviewed Aug 26]
What's this?! A new DW album and it's not even in the top 3? Shome mishtake, etc, etc? Hmm...Could be just that Witmer's a victim of his own consistently high standards really. The first three listed all packed an element of surprise whereas another virtually foot-perfect collection from Denison is exactly what we've come to expect. Getting, if anything, even better but changing very little, this blog may soon have an opportunity to apologise for this relegation when Witmer plays some debut UK dates (tbc) in Feb. Tied in equal fourth are the deadeye observations and thrillingly distilled indie rock of Pedro the Lion, and the over-stuffed but relentless wonder that is Bright Eyes' Lifted.. (If Eminem could get inspired by Dido's Angel, what'd he do if he ever got to hear Lover I don't have to love?)

5. Wilco / YankeeHF
Flaming Lips / Yoshimi..
Their qualities are self-evident - cracking sound, top-draw tunesmithery, palpable intelligence - but why hasn't reallyrather played them nearly as often as any of the above? Or any those below, for that matter..

6. Lovers / Star lit sunken ship
Early Day Miners / Let us garlands bring
The RockingHorseWinner / Horizon
The Vessels / The Vessels
Starlings TN / The leaper's fork
Jack Drag / The sun inside
The Hurricane Lamps / Tilting at windmills
Damien Rice / O (tracks 1-5 only)
reallyrather can't make any great artistic claims on behalf of most of the above but hasn't really stopped playing any of them since aquisition. Both ploughing shoegazey guitar 'n' strings territory, the Lovers & Early Day Miners discs are a complementary pairing, EDMs deeper, extended explorations (or "blues/gospel dronepop yeilding the proverbial opiated glow within the listener's synaptic passages," if you will) offsetting the Lovers' song-oriented, rather more wistful sounds. Don't buy that Sigur Ros thing, buy the Early Day Miners. The pysch-pop 'n' beats of Jack Drag doesn't have much below the surface, but who cares, frankly. This album does what so few others seem to bother with, ie plays around continually with the toys in the studio. The mix seems to alter about every four bars; great fun. (All the others on the list have been talked about earlier, dig around and you'll find.)
And so, with a final nod to a pair of fab EPs from Hem and Andrea Maxand, it's goodbye to 2002...

...and hello 2003.
A few rr stalwarts are out of the blocks early. On Feb 10 alone there's the Be Good Tanyas' 2nd album, Chinatown (check out their spanking new website), ditto Richard Hawley, and the Polyphonic Spree finally put out Light & day (aka track 9), hands-down the best track from their album, as a single. In March, watch for the new Mull Historical Society on the 3rd and Transfiguration Of Vincent from M.Ward on the 18th...
   posted by SMc at 7:01 AM |