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   Thursday, July 24, 2003  
"These days, Bananarama is considered 'old music.' That's sort of a strange phenomenon." - LazyEye catches up with Matt Ward mid-tour...

...where he's opening for and backed by Rilo Kiley. A super-tantalising prospect, reallyrather's enjoyment must sadly remain vicarious courtesy of witnesses such as these:
'I came to see Rilo Kiley but ended up transfixed by M. ward' | Salt Lake City
'Have no prior experience to compare to, but I thought [RK's] set was great. Jenny Lewis played the first song solo from the balcony!' | San Francisco

According to 30music, 'Iron and Wine will release their next full-length, Sea and the Rhythm, September 9 on Sub Pop. They are currently working on the album in Chicago at Engine Studios with producer, Brian Deck.'

That'll be a week after Super Tuesday then, Sept 2 seeing the release of
- Okkervil River's Down the River of Golden Dreams | mp3
- Nadine's Strange seasons produced by Matt Pence, the drummer from
- Centro-matic whose own Love You Just the Same drops the same day. As you'd hope, it's getting their new label Misra all excited: 'A jaw-dropping collection of rock anthems.. the band pulls off a kind of alchemy, effortlessly fusing indie crash and power-pop crackle into what feels, for all the world, like the new classic rock'. 'Crikey!' is the only word, really...

Centro-matic mainman Will Johnson is interviewed in St.Louis' Riverfront Times ahead of their show with local heroes Nadine: "Maybe we've released too much, I don't know. When I sit behind a merch table, I'll have all the CDs, and I try to write a detailed description of each to orient people. But I've seen people come up and shrug their shoulders at the sheer number of records."

Shoulder-shrugging is perhaps the commonest reaction to the annual Mercury Music Prize shortlist. 2003 prove's no exception being most interesting in terms of betting. reallyrather's belief that the Athlete album was a cert for the list was borne out - but is it a winner? At 9/1 it's a good price but the album, tho' filled with accessible, eclectic pop undermined marketing-wise by the band's complete anonymity, just doesn't have the edge that this jury seems to go for. (Hang on though - Gomez, anyone?!)
Dizzee Rascal meanwhile has more edge than the White Cliffs of Dover, but if The Streets couldn't crack it last year why should this charmless cacophany? Definite losers are The Thrills (who should have that name taken away from them right now), Soweto Kinch, Radiohead, Eliza Carthy, Floetry and Terri Walker. Which leaves us with Coldplay, LemonJelly, Martina Topley-Bird and The Darkness. Plenty of time for conclusions, though. To be continued (probably)...

"People are idiots. We have an incredibly lazy critical class and a morbidly disinterested listening audience." Yep, it's shy, retiring Steve Albini putting his head above the parapet for a change in a feature about Nina Nastasia in the latest Willamette Week (Portland, Or.). "The problem with talking about Nina," says Steve, "is when you describe her, it sounds like you're describing pure shit..."

Oh yes, here's a sample track from that new Centro-matic album...
   posted by SMc at 5:58 AM |

   Sunday, July 13, 2003  
Hotter than July, that's the Kings of Leon right now. Stealthily upsetting the best-laid plans of festival promoters all over, the family Followill have mid-afternoon minor stage slots allotted while their debut album Youth and young manhood heads for the sharp end of the charts. These guys are bound to arouse a bit of suspicion having seemingly risen without trace, skipping out tiresome traditions like Ye Paying of Ye Dues and vaulting straight to the top. Almost coincidently, they happen to be pretty damned good, peddling a lean and limber brand of southern-fried Garage rock. Imagine The Strokes' rhythm section joining the Black Crowes for a shot at Iggy Pop's Lust for life.
At Friday's sold-out show at the Astoria (cap.2000) they sounded great, playing the album in full, no more no less; no frills, no chat, mucho moshing. Consider brother Jared (bass): you're just turned 17, in your first band and there's hoardes out there going ape. But you're not Busted, you're cool as hell. Seemingly yet to darken the barber's door, through his hippy thicket Jared's cocksure pouting delight was unmistakable and totally understandable: 'Does life get any sweeter...?'

'All songs by Nathan Followill, Caleb Followill, Angelo.' Sceptical types looking for the hand of others in the KoL's instant success may wonder just who this 'Angelo', prominently credited in the sleevenotes, is. Seems it's one Angelo Petraglia, a Nashville gun-for-hire...

Another indie comet passes over London town in August, the 12th to be precise when Toronto's Broken Social Scene stop by the Barfly. Altogether more eclectic and complex (and therefore less commercial?) a proposition than KoL, just how many members of this fluid, hydra-headed combo will be making the trip is anyone's guess. But if their show is only half as enjoyable as You forgot it in people this blog won't be complaining...

Some of the songs on Sufjan [pr.Soof-yon] Stevens' terrific album Greetings from Michigan (reviewed below) sound like they'd comfortably withstand the full orchestra & chorus treatment at the Royal Albert Hall. On Tuesday though it was just the man and his guitar in the shoebox that is the 12Bar club. An engagingly bashful performer, after each song of his short set Stevens would instinctively join in the applause, a bit like a performing seal; a reflex action helping dissipate self-conciousness, maybe? [OK, that's enough psycho-analysis.] For this listener at least the emotional core of the set (as on Michigan) was Romulus with Stevens, revisiting a moment of uncomfortable self-awareness, uttering quietly the line 'I was ashamed of her' as if in the confessional. Personal, singular stories and beautiful, luminous tunes - just a joy, really. For the record, the set was:
Opie's funeral party
The one I love (fine brittle cover)
The upper peninsula
Lakes of Canada
Seven swans

Greetings from Michigan is certainly an '03 contender; last year's favourite meanwhile is still being discovered. Rilo Kiley's The execution of all things gets to share (with UK Rough Trade tyros British Sea Power) a whole page of the July issue of Word magazine, the latest child of the folks who brought us Q and then Mojo. 'A quietly great band...dazzling displays of melodic and lyrical invention...what-the-hell-was-that brilliance', etc, etc. Ye gods, Jenny, you'll surely have to come over now...?!
   posted by SMc at 9:34 AM |

   Wednesday, July 02, 2003  
'The Pernice Brothers third LP is another wonderful triumph...let us count the jewels on display.' So says the latest edition of The Big Takeover magazine. They're also forcing the pace over at reviews aggregator Metacritic with the Fountains of Wayne not far behind in their league table for the year so far. And according to all available wisdom Grandaddy maintain their fuzzy-pop standards on Sumday. reallyrather hasn't acquired any of these albums and quite possibly never will (there's three careers ruined, then!), finding it hard enough to summon up much curiosity let alone any excitement at the prospect.
For sure, superior popcraft is guaranteed; smart literate lyrics and catchy tunes-a-gogo. But surprises...? Somehow this blog feels it has 'heard' these records already. Isn't it basically more of what we know they can do? And the sound - will we be right in there, will there be room to breathe, or will it all be neatly Pro-Tooled into place? A D-I-Y, shoestring ethic isn't necessarily innately preferable but at it's best, when an acute sonic & artistic sense is being brought to bear (a la M. Ward), for this listener the results resonate all the more powerfully.

"OK then, oh doughty seeker of the unjustly obscure, have you got one for us? So have you?"

Well, as it happens, yes...

The songs and music on Greetings from Michigan by Sufjan Stevens are inspired by places and experiences in that northern US state. Knowing nothing about the area, just how close Stevens gets to summoning the spirit of the place reallyrather wouldn't know; how close he gets to providing the best music this blog has found this year is, however, 'very'. Meticulously arranged yet natural-sounding, the album is marvelously cohesive despite having been recorded 'at Steve & Jamila's house, at Sufjan's apartment, Tom's apartment, Megan's apartment, St.Paul's Episcopal Church...'. A running time of 1hr+ with several tracks busting 7mins would ordinarily ring alarm bells, but it all makes sense. Swinging between unalloyed, affecting folk-pop (matching the likes of Denison Witmer) through to impressionistic mini-opuses, this is just wonderful (and wonderfully assured) music-making.
There's a hymn-like quality to the most plaintive numbers, and an English folk tradition undercurrent. Add to this layers of vocals reminiscent of those '60s singing combos in roll-neck sweaters la-la-la-ing as if their lives depended on it; most brass instruments you can think of; glockenspiel and 'phones vibra- and xylo-, banjoes, bells, whistles, etc, etc. Sounds ghastly but it's not. Stevens, who plays and sings most of it himself (in addition to writing and producing) brings it all to heel with clarity and restraint.
The opening bars of resonating upright piano on opener Flint (For the unemployed and underpaid) nail this listener straight from the 'off'. The 'church hall' quality is reinforced by the entrance halfway of what might be a Salvation Army band, silver and sonorous. An ace. The busier All good naysayers, speak up! then bustles in, it's slightly unusual time sig and banks of male/female backing vocals setting the scene for the larger scale compositions to come. A sort of unplugged electronica, it too is ace. For the widows in paradise.. brings more layered vocals, more silver band sounds but this time dominated by..banjo (of course!). 40-love. Already you've got your $10 worth, but there's plenty, plenty more.
The Upper Peninsula revisits the kind of cool Steely Dan-like smart rock of the '70s, succeeding where Janet Bean & the Conertina Wire so dully failed earlier this year. Detroit is a mini-epic with what can only be called 'passages'. A more literal impression of that city's mechanical/manufacturing heritage featuring great guitar and vocals, it lacks (perhaps intentionally) the humanity of this blog's favourites here, a quality most acutely exemplified on the following Romulus. Rivettingly honest, the song deals (like another rr all-time favourite, Leona by Nadine) with the behaviour in life and death of an older generation. All plucking and singing handled by Stevens and so completely What We Want.
The last track, Vito's ordination song begins in a relatively straightforward pop groove (and calls to mind Broken Social Scene's Anthem for a 17-year-old girl), but the vocals gradually swell marvellously, the brass band and martial drums pile in, bells, the lot. And it works.
Points against? Well, the poetry's at times a bit opaque but crucially doesn't feel pretentious. And, er, that's it. Greetings from Michigan is a superb achievement and reallyrather hopes to get over to the 12Bar in London Tuesday night to see Sufjan Stevens and to maybe tell him just that. (You, meanwhile, should visit Asthmatic Kitty Records and lend your financial support...)

While something like Greetings from Michigan could be taken as a palette-cleansing antidote to straight up, 4/4 rock and o'roll, this blog certainly isn't seeking immunity. Especially when it comes in the irresistably crisp 'n' dirty form of the Kings of Leon. reallyrather is somewhere near the head of Amazon's queue for their debut (released Monday - 5/5 said The Guardian) and all being well will join the throng at their sell-out Astoria show Friday...

Amongst many other delights, Nina Nastasia is interviewed in new editions of UK mags Careless talk costs lives and Comes with a smile...

So the rumours were right after all. Team Nadine finally confirm that new album Strange seasons is coming out via Trampoline Records on Sept 2. They'll certainly be amongst friends musically but whether this is a good move or not is hard to judge since all that that label - founded by Pete Yorn, Rami Jaffee and Marc Dauer - has put out so far in it's year-long existence is a single compilation featuring the founders and some like-minded West Coast-based pop-rockers. More here...
   posted by SMc at 6:26 AM |