Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meet The Vagrants

The treasure trove of under-appreciated and forgotten bands form the mid to late 1960's is a seemingly bottomless well. Every year, some small indie record label manages to unearth a band or a record that has been criminally neglected until this these modern times, when their/it's digitally remastered from dusty ol' tapes, given liner notes a' plenty and heaped with critical praise where-in the reviewer note how criminally neglected this band/platter was in it's day.

In keeping with this proud tradition, Light In the Attic Records would like to introduce you to The Vagrants, a late-60's combo who specialized in garage rockin' soul and unappreciated 45 releases. Virtually unheard of outside of New York, The Vagrants were fueled by rock, dreams of stardom and a boatload of talent. As with most bands of their day, it seems that The Vagrants were simply 50 years ahead of their time. Thankfully for those of us in "The Future" we can enjoy The Vagrants music dutifully.

I Can't Make A Friend 1965-1968 collects all of The Vagrant's smoking hott ditties. A mere 30 minutes in length, these 12 songs will leave ya scratching your head as to how a  generation let this Hammond organ-powered band get away. Hell, it's even available in Long Player format (a sound delivery system that's sweeping the nation ...yet again!) 

Here's yet another band from the vault that you can impress your friends by discovering. "Hey! Heard The Vagrants, yet?"

Listen up! Here's the good good:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fiver - Episode II: Electric Boogaloo

Do you ever get into one of those funks when your record collection leaves ya feelin' a bit, I dunno... "meh"? You know, the same ol', same ol' because you know every song by heart. This happens to me every once in a while. Then I hear something that simply hits the right chord and I discover a song or a band I didn't even know I was waiting for, even though I was. 

Here are Five ...er.


 
1. Toro Y Moi "Got Blinded"
From the album Underneath The Pine (2011, Carpark)
A beehive of an album, with Stereolab and Beach Boys records shoved into it, and the friendly bees that live there are shoveling their honey into your mouth. Two sweet scoops at a time.


2. Medic Hands "Lauren"
From the single Lauren (2011, self released)
My friend Lauren likes shoegaze (Ride, Chapterhouse, My Bloody Valentine, M83, etc.), so I  posted a link to this song on her Face Book page. Because posting music on people's FB pages - even if their first name is somehow involved - isn't annoying in the least. Nope. Not at all.


3. Title Tracks "All Tricks"
From the album In Blank (2011, Ernest Jenning)
You know that dance white kids used to do in all of those teen movies from the '80 where they bop up and down and move their arms side-to-side like they're holding ski poles? This song is perfect for that dance!


4. The High "Take Your Time"
From the EP Somewhere Soon (1990, Polygram)
You like Stone Roses? You'll like this. You like James? You'll like this. You like Inspiral Carpets? You'll like this. You like nearly every jangle-pop band that came out of the early '90's Britpop scene? You'll like this. Now eat something; you're so skinny!


 
5. Lower Dens "Tea Lights"
From the album Twin Hand Movement (2010, Gnomonsong)
Words cannot express just how awesomely understated this bittersweet gem from Lower Dens truly is, which is a shame since you are reading words right at this very moment. Just listen to this subtle song build to its peak and use grunts and coughs to express your opinion, if needs be.

Friday, March 18, 2011

BEACH FOSSILS What A Pleasure EP

Beach Fossils
What A Pleasure EP
8 out of 10

So, just when you think this Brooklyn shoehaze band couldn't possibly best their stellar 2010 self-titled album, Beach Fossils roll-out an eight song follow-up EP that grafts a subtly sublime shimmer onto their already superbly established sound. And the results are simply sublime [Editor's Note: This review was apparently written by Cobra Commander]. What A Pleasure is the aural equivalent of a warm summer breeze brushing past your cheek as you pilot a old convertible (possibly a Karmann Ghia?) to your favorite sun-drenched hot spot by the sea.

The aptly titled What A Pleasure opens with "Moments," a one minute and change ditty comprised of chiming guitar, rolling drum fills and "ah-ahh"'s, setting the stage for the seven tracks to follow. The title track, with it's bobbing bass lines and melodic guitar picking are languidly reminiscent of Echo And the Bunnymen or The Cure, with lead singer/songwriter Dustin Payseur vocal's floating overhead like a phantom. "Fall Right In" is more pensive and anxious, but still retains Beach Fossils lackadaisical couch-crash vibe.

"Out In the Way" features a "what took these two so long?!?" duet with label-mate Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum, that is, simply stated, the best song on this disc. Conjuring the spirits of Sarah Records stalwarts The Field Mice, The Orchids, Another Sunny Day, and The Wake, "Out In the Way" is so fuckin' rapturous and note-perfect, it hurts (...hurts so good!) Try listening to this song on an overcast day whilst walking across an back-roads bridge and not be tempted to throw yourself over the railing in some sort of misguided and naive romantic gesture. Impossible!

Both "Face It" and "Distance" originally appeared on the 2010 Face It/Distance single, but sound perfectly at home in this collection. "Calyer" is possible the most layered and complex song of the bunch, with nods to The Chills and Haircut 100. "I wanna share baaaaaaaad times," Payseur whisper-croons. Honestly, if bad times ever sounded this good, well then, share away, you miserable ghost, ya! 

What A Pleasure closes with "Adversity," book-ending this EP with a bridge to "Moments'" opener. As with the previous tracks, "Adversity" spreads the lazewave jam on thick and tasty-like. It's at the point when this song ends that you'll be tempted to press play on this EP again. And then again. And still yet again. Do so, with reckless, lazy abandon!

(If you're a completest nerd like me, do yourself a favor and download the tracks "Time" and "Desert Sand" and attach 'em to the end of this EP. Both songs are available on iTunes for $2. Sure, these tracks veer-off What A Pleasure's hazy-go-lucky vibe, but you can't go wrong with 11 new-ish Beach Fossils songs, right?)

While What A Pleasure doesn't veer-off Beach Fossils' already established path too drastically, it does manage to add a breathlessly toothy - albeit bittersweet - grin to the band's formula. If this is what Beach Fossils do in EP form, I seriously can't wait to hear their next Long Player.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

JAMES MERCER - Baghdad Theater, Portland, 3/10/11

James Mercer
The Baghdad Theater
Portland, OR
3/10/11
7 out of 10

It was almost two years ago that my fellow Shins fans and I were standing around the ornate Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, scratching our heads and checking our ticket stubs to see if we were indeed in the correct time and place to watch The Shins play a set of their life changing songs. That was what the night had promised, even though the stage in front of us was occupied by only two recognizable members of the band (James Mercer and Dave Hernandez), and the two songs that began the show were brand new and unfamiliar (even to this B-sides collector!) Was this actually a James Mercer solo show, and everyone from the promoters to the ticket printers to the ushers at the venue mixed up tonight's event?

By the next couple of songs, it became clear that this was indeed a night for Shins music, even if half The Shins everyone had paid to see wouldn't be there. Gone were Marty Crandall's goofy-faced antics or Jesse Sandoval sweating-away behind the drum kit; they had been replaced by younger, more dutiful members from Fruitbats and Modest Mouse. In the end, however, it all still sounded like the whimsically wounded tunage we've come to expect from The Shins, so big whoop, right?

During that time and this, dispatches from The Shins tree fort have been few and far between. In addition to pink-slipping Crandall and Sandoval, Mercer wished Sub Pop Records (who had released the band's first three LPs to phenomenal success) a fond farewell in order to start his own record label, Aural Apothecary. Last year, The Shins released only one song, a cover of Squeeze's "Goodbye Girl," while Mercer busied himself with the impressive and catchy Danger Mouse collaborative debut record by Broken Bells. Whew-ish!

So, given all of this, what exactly does a James Mercer solo show entail? Songs Mercer recorded in his spare time? Tunes too intimate for Shins records proper? Bedroom ruminations on life, death, marriage, fatherhood, and independent record label stewardship?

Um, no.

Actually, a James Mercer solo concert is essentially James Mercer singing acoustic versions of songs he's already written. He is The Shins' chief songwriter, after all. And, as it turns out, James Mercer's previous material is just as catchy when performed alone with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a lone percussionist as it is with a full band behind him.

The $20 admission price, it turns out, was going to a worthy while cause, as this show was a charity benefit for Portland's Puddletown School, a Montessori-type institution focusing on child development through a confidence-building, independence-based learning curriculum So, not only did you get to see James Mercer perform solo, hang-out in The McMenamin Brothers' brilliant flagship retrofit (where, incidentally, years prior both One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and My Own Private Idaho had their world premiers), and nosh on popcorn and Terminator Stout while doing so, but your money went to a very worthy cause. So good, good.

The show opened with a chap whose name I didn't catch (it was a quiet night and the Missus and I were in the balcony). He was a member of a Portland-based band and the locals seemed well enough acquainted with him to cheer politely at the end of his quiet, yet stirring songs (image a mix of Codeine, Low and Iron And Wine tuned down to a whisper, and you get the idea). Wonderfully sad music, t'was.

Mercer opened his set with "Caring Is Creepy" from The Shin's debut LP, Oh, Inverted World. Man, has it really been 10 years since that album debuted?!? Here was a record that was a revelation when it came out, and it's single, "New Slang," was just bidding it's time 'til it shook Natalie Portman's soul and sold Big Macs. 

Several more "classics" received stage time: "One By One All Day," "Girl Inform Me," "Young Pilgrims," "Australia," and, of course, "New Slang," as well as two of the best B-sides in The Shins cannon, "Sphagnum Esplanade" and "When I Goose-Step" (which this writer considers to be one of The Shins absolute best songs... ever!) Mercer even worked-in a ditty from Dark Night Of the Soul and Broken Bells' "The High Road." Simply, subtly phenomenal.

Mercer was in relaxed, confident form, his songs subtle but just as potent (possible more so) in the high-vaulted, yet intimate setting of The Baghdad Theater. All eyes and ears in this capacity crowd were on him, and Mercer and his music did not disappoint.

As for the encore? We only got one song - a teaser from the new Shins record, Mercer promised. It was a catchy enough song - in keeping with The Shins we've come to know and love. Honestly, after this acoustic taste, I can't wait to hear this song in it's full band, LP version.

Ya hear that, Mercer? Can't wait!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fiver - Episode I

Every now and again I will endeavor to bring you five songs that are absolutely indispensable to your life. These infrequent music posts will be called "Fiver." While the name of this feature kinda sucks, these songs indeed do not.

'njoy!


From the album Celest (2010, Melodic)
A blast of Stereolab-esque fever swells, and a tribute of sorts to Broadcast's Trish Keenan.

From the album Summer Fiction (2010, self released)
Just so damn catchy, like the way your fingers get caught-up in a warm, comfy afghan.

From the cassette Let It Go (2010, self released)
For anyone who has ever mooned over love lost and realized that they're with someone new.

From the single What You Need (2011, self released)
To paraphrase Richard Pryor in the film Silverstreak, "...this song is pure pussy!"

From the album Smoke Ring For My Halo (2011, Matador)
A stellar album for your year-end Best-Of 2011 list, indeed. And here's the proof.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Birthday Profundity (Or Lack Thereof)

Yesterday was my 36th birthday. Yes, since 1975, I've roamed this mortal coil in high slinking, slacking, sexy fashion. And what have I gleaned in my 36 year of human existence? Well, for starters, there's enough religion in the world to make people hate each other, but not enough to make them love. There's no better sight than a beautiful woman on a bicycle. And drink enough high fructose corn syrup "enriched" soda pop, and you too can look like Santa Clause by the time yer 36 years of age.

Oh yeah, there are the occasional annoying life lessons here and there. Also, people (family, friends, enemies, pawnbrokers, etc.) along the way that shape your world and your outlook  on it. And the best word in the world has been and always will be "fuck," due to its Swiss Army knife-like verbal utility.

My 36th year got off to a bang-on start, as me and the Missus slept-in until 11 in the AM. coffee'd, shower'd and, disappointed by the lack of Fringe on the Hulu, headed over to Ikea to purchase an Expedit Sofa Table, which is the perfect size for my new vintage Marantz audio entertainment system (more on that in a bit). However, when we arrived at The Ikea, we found the bin which held the Expedit Sofa Table completely empty. All that remained of the table's existence was a floor model display. As a friendly The Ikea worker informed us, the Expedit Sofa Table was to be discontinued on April 1st. Inquiring if I could buy the floor model, I was told it would be sold as-is, display bracketed holes and all. Needless to say, I purchased an already assembled piece of soon-to-be discontinued Ikea furniture for 15% off the original price. Huzzah!

Then the Missus and I met up with me Mum for a little cinematic treat by the name of The King's Speech at this great three-screen independent movie house here in Sacramento that goes by the name of The Tower Theater. This art deco theater was made famous by proxy ages ago by being the name inspiration for Russ Solomon's once famous international records/books/video media empire. Now, it's regrettably been a long time since either my Mum, Missus or myself saw a properly good movie in a non-megaplex movie theater. What a delight it was to not have to endure people talking to the screen, yapping on their cell phones, sticky theater floors, pre-movie advertisements, on-screen verbal suggestion to turn off your cell phones, or the countless other annoyances that plague over-priced projection houses. Add to this that The King's Speech is an absolutely fantastic piece of film-making. Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter and Geoffrey Rush give brilliant performances in a story full of pathos, levity and quiet drama. It's a subtle yet splendid story, and easily deserving of this year's Oscar award.

After that, it was on to my favorite local bar, The Shady Lady, for cocktails with friends. It was incidentally another patron's day-o-birth, and her friend's arranged for scantily clad flappers to parade their barely hidden fishnetted flanks from view. So it was free Moscow Mules (my drink of choice), laughing with friends, smoke breaks, and a steady stream of tramp-y can-cans aplenty. Glorious!

Then it was on to Burgers & Brew, where I made the mistake of topping-off my night of drinking with a bottle of Leffe, a vanilla milkshake and burger with bacon on top. By the middle of the night, my tum tum was in sharp, agonizing pain. Cha-cha-cha!

So to that end, I now start my new life as a vegetarian who has now sworn-off soda and will start exercising at least 30 minutes a day. It's something I promised myself I'd do when I turned 35. I reasoned that I wasn't getting any younger, thinner or alluring, and carrying on as if I were still a brat by eating, smoking and drinking as I pleased wasn't in the cards any longer. One year later, still doing very much that same stuff, I've found that I've packed on a few extra pounds and routinely feel like shit both upstairs and down. Now officially being outside of the feted and sought after 14-35 year-old target market demographic, I need to now, more than ever, take care of this bucket o' flesh that I occupy and call me. Of course, this new diet and exercise regiment ain't gonna keep my brain from immaturity, so I imagine I'll still be purchasing records, bike parts, Legos and apparel in equal, immature measure. So it goes...


Lastly, here be a crappy iPhone 2G photo of my birthday present to myself: a freshly refurbished vintage Marantz 6300 turntable with a Marantz 2215B receiver atop an Ikea Expedit Sofa Table with a pair of Marantz speakers as bookends. And the inaugural record for this set-up? Better Can't Make Your Life Better by Lilys, of course!

Cheers!