Thursday, April 29, 2010

Surfing Waves of Heartbreak with Gold Motel

The pop song lives!

Greta Morgan (late of Chicago's The Hush Sound, who I must confess I never heard of until last week) and her new group, Gold Motel, recall the piano-based melodicism of the three Bens - Folds, Kweller and Lee. The songs are steeped in heartbreak and the possibility of romance, but getting your heart stomped never sounded so good. Imagine a less wobbly She & Him or a less self-conscious Rilo Kiley, and you'll get a sense of Gold Motel's new wave meets Brill Building shotgun wedding.

There are five songs on their debut EP, called EP (!), and I can't pick a favorite. Is it the girl group kiss-off of "Don't Send The Searchlights"? The bouncy, piano-driven kiss-off of the faded lover in "The Cruel One"? The smoldering torch song "Who Will I Be Tonight?" The rollicking plea of "Make Me Stay"? The unstoppable bounce of "Perfect in My Mind"? The answer is yes. But I say wait a few weeks and spring for their debut full length, Summer House, due out June 1. Maybe then you'll have ten favorites to pick from (and all 5 songs from EP are included). You can order it here.

Gold Motel appears at Connie's Ric Rac (1132 S. 9th St., Philadelphia), this Saturday, May 1.

Gold Motel - Perfect In My Mind
Gold Motel - Make Me Stay

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Record Store Day - I Wanna Be Where The Bands Are

People in line to buy records!!

Bruce Springsteen - "Where The Bands Are"

While lines formed all over the country for early bird obsessives and eBay whores, it was more than just the limited Record Store Day exclusives that brought music geeks young and old out in force on Saturday. Sure, the Lennon singles bag and the Neil Young, Stones and Springsteen releases brought out the greybeards, while the Wilco box brought out all comers, and ace vinyl releases by Pavement, MGMT, Passion Pit, Phoenix and Beach House thrilled the kids. But that was the sizzle. The steak was honest-to-goodness consumers in bricks-and-mortar stores in checkout lines all day long buying lots of cds, older cheap vinyl and even pricey new vinyl releases.

Exit Clov

Roadside Graves

I spent the day at Main Street Music in Philadelphia and it was, indeed, quite a party. I'm sorry I missed the angelic, twee dream-pop of Exit Clov, led by tiny identical twin sisters Emily and Susan Hsu. But I did catch the righteous gospel-americana of Jersey up and comers Roadside Graves, the ebullient acoustic solo set by James Maddock and the in-your-face rawk of The Blood Feathers, who I can't wait to see again at Johnny Brenda's on May 28.

James Maddock

Blood Feathers

Many thanks to the weather, which provided the ideal setting for an outdoor sidewalk sale and kept in-store claustrophobia to a heat-rising minimum. There really is no substitute for getting out and mixing it up with kindred spirits in the music community, whether it be at your local record store or your local club.

Whaaaaat's Up...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Record Store Day - April 17, 2010

Tomorrow is "official get out of the house and go visit a sales emporium that is open to the public for the express purpose of enabling cash (or credit) transactions in exchange for pre-recorded music". In other words, it's RECORD STORE DAY!!!!!!!!!!

For those born after 1970, ask your parents what a record is. It's like those mp3s you listen to on your ipod, except it's real and sounds so much better (so I've been told). It's time to open up the wallet and spend some of your hard earned to get that elusive vinyl lp or 45 that is being released in such a small quantity that if you're don't visit a record store tomorrow, you may NEVER find it. Oh the horror!

For those in the Philadelphia area, the best Record Store Day party will be at Main Street Music in Manayunk where you'll have four free bands, three cold beers, two tomato pies and a Feeney in a nut house. There will be dozens and dozens of Record Store Day exclusive releases (list here) and lots of other cool stuff. Here's the lineup:

11:00 am - store opens (also includes many sidewalk sale bargains!)
1:00 - Exit Clov in-store performance ("Death Is A Song" mp3)
2:30 - Roadside Graves in-store performance ("Far and Wide" mp3)
3:30 - James Maddock in-store performance ("When The Sun's Out" mp3)
4:30 - Blood Feathers in-store performance ("Caterpillar" mp3)

Main Street Music
4444 Main Street
Philadelphia, PA 19127

And if you go, please say hi - I'll be there shopping, working, freeloading and blathering on about how The Hold Steady tore it up in Harrisburg Friday night. Often at the same time. I can multi-task like that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SXSW 2010 - Day 2 (Thursday - Part 1)

For some reason I could not sleep in Thursday. I was already exhausted and I'd only been in Austin for 18 hours. Was it anticipation for another day of shows? Fear at missing the dozens of shows I was sure to miss? The beginning of the NCAA tournament? The lingering effects of last night's Bar-B-Q? The year of the P? Probably all those. So why sleep when 5 blocks away Dawes and Frightened Rabbit are playing in the Hilton Hotel lobby?

Dawes are suitably bed-headed but genial as they take the stage for their 9 am KUT-sponsored show. It's a stripped down show (no drums) but their effortless harmonies are the perfect wake-up call. It's probably the smallest audience they'll play to during their jam-packed Austin sojourn. They play about 5-6 songs and shuffle off the stage, hoping for some additional shut-eye. Next up are Frightened Rabbit, appearing as an acoustic duo. Scott Hutchison's songs are remarkably frank chronicles of the frustrations of love, none more wearying than today's closer, "My Backwards Walk", about the inability to quit love crack cold turkey. It may be the best song I'll hear all week.

Frightened Rabbit - "My Backwards Walk"

At The Four Seasons, I also catch the very last song by a sunglasses-wearing, jean jacketed, hat-topped troubadour and it's an absolute stunner. I find it later it was Jakob Dylan. Well dip me and call me stinky! Not much of a fan (although half of Bringing Down The Horse is top-notch AAA hitmaking), but I'll need to check out his new disc.

After a long respite in the sun, V and I venture out across I-35 to a bucolic locale at the back porch patio of Uncorked, an absolutely stunning setting. It's about 75 degrees, we are comfortably seated (a rarity at SXSW), the beers are free and goddammit, the Roadside Graves are a band that deserve your attention. Did I mention the beers are free? This is quivery, quavery folk rock that swings with a grace suitable for their subject matter - war, (lack of) money, demons and Liv Tyler (featuring the zen hook of "If we didn't have to worry about money, we'd be all right"). Their 2009 release, My Son's Home, was one of 2009's best. And their new EP, You Won't Be Happy With Me, might be even better. Just don't call it "dad rock". Did I mention they're from New Jersey? Check them out when they open for Roman Candle at the North Star on 4/22.

The Roadside Graves - Liv Tyler

Whenever someone tells you there's no good music anymore, punch them in the face. It's nauseating how many bands are out there slugging it out, loaded with talent and a point of view, barely scraping by. I don't know Vandaveer's story (it seems they are from Tennessee via DC), but their performance as an acoustic duo on a gorgeous sun splashed afternoon was folk-pop made for you and me. Mark Charles Heidinger, wonderfully complemented by Rose Guerin's forceful vocals, displayed a Dylan death grip on noir-ish strummed tales filled with biblical imagery laced with a self-effacing humor. Especially thrilling was the requested set closer, "Divide and Conquer", which certainly had the girls at the next table in full swoon.

Vandaveer - Divide And Conquer

After this it was into the bar for a phone conversation with my hyper-ventilating son, who was absolutely smitten with the idea that Robert Morris was on the verge of taking down those hated Villanova Wildcats, as we watched the game together 1700miles away. Although the Dread Pirate Cats won, a father-son hoops bond was further cemented.

We immediately high-tailed it over to the Austin Convention Center where there was a panel with Rolling Stone writer David Fricke and Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey, now a nattily dressed music biz executive and passionate supporter of UK music, especially in providing assistance to young hopefuls. But it's Feargal Sharkey (!), he of the yelping adenoidal pipes that yielded the 2:27 of pop nirvana we know as "Teenage Kicks", the inspiration / blame for this blog. I had to get a photo-op.

Referring to himself as "a bit of a nerd" Sharkey explained that in his current position, he's able to help young musicians try to realize their dream. Referring to UK Music and their support of the arts, he noted that they set up publicly funded studios at a cost of $50,000 each. If you're under 18, studio time is free. So he posits this to budding 15 year old wunderkinds - "Do you want to have a go with this top of the line gear? And would you like to bring your mates?"

And in 2010, Sharkey noted that you could record a bit of music and 20 minutes later you can post it on the internet and it can be heard around the world. Then added "In 1977, we had 2,000 copies of "Teenage Kicks" under my bed, saying what the fuck do we next?" Sharkey aims to help the next generation figure out what's next and pointedly made this statement, "If I can give the same opportunity to a young person [that I had at age 18], I'll do a deal with the devil. Technology is important, but it's the music that matters." What's not to love about this guy?

V and I and go into full paparazzi-stalker mode and track down Feargal as he half jogs from the conference room to escape / move on to his next meeting. I say something incredibly interesting about forming this blog and Teenage Kicks and greatest song ever and he gives me a "Brilliant!" which can mean so many things coming from a harried Irishman. I assume he's completely fascinated and has now become a regular reader. V pulls the lame I can't get my camera phone to work trick so I am now completely shorn of any dignity. But finally the picture snaps, and just as quickly Feargal is gone, but never forgotten.

"Get teenage kicks right through the night"

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

SXSW 2010 - Day 1 (Wednesday)

My feet aren't killing me, my legs have some spring back, I'm sleeping in my own bed and I haven't had a beer in the sunlight for three weeks. I guess I am actually back from SXSW. Dang. For music lovers/geeks/nerds (i.e. readers of this blog), SXSW is something that should be experienced at least once. It's an orgy of sun, music, beer, tacos, Bar-B-Q, beer, music, music and beer... and very little sleep.

For some reason, there was free beer (Heineken, please) on the flight in. It augured well for the next few days. There was live music at the airport (it may have been Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, but I was focused on getting to the hotel), and even a SXSW welcome booth. And it was warm. Warm is good. At the booth, I asked about getting into town and they offered two options, a $25 cab ride or the Airport Flyer bus - cost one dollar. But outside we (my SXSW partner V and I) found option three - a day-glo converted school bus whose interior seemed like Austin Powers boudoir, if he had been a homeless vegan. Price - free! Apparently a Matador Records promo to publicize the upcoming release by the New Pornographers, Together, in stores everywhere May 4. There was a dry sink with liquor and mixers, so we fired up a Jack and Coke and were treated to our own private listening party for the new New Pornographers disc. Only in Austin...

The New Pornogrpahers - Your Hands (Together)

Quickly pick up our badges and dash to the hotel (room not ready, here's a couple of free beers) before we caught the 101 bus in rush hour to get to The Hole in The Wall, an aptly named venue nestled in a quiet commercial district in the shadows of the monstrous University of Texas, to see Roman Candle, definitely on my must see list. But my poor new friend Ken was wandering around the area asking people where this little bar was - it's just a little "hole in the wall". The first of many Ken encounters this week. But Roman Candle, whose Oh Tall Tree in The Ear was one of 2009's best (and even made into Teenage Kicks top 10 of the decade - what were we smoking?!), faced a very small but enthusiastic crowd in the tiny, sunlit splattered back room of The Hole in The Wall, seemed a little haggard and possibly under whelmed at the turnout. The sound was fantastic, the beers were cheap, the band played a solid 30 minute set and SXSW was here. Yippee!

Roman Candle - A Heartbeat

We had to make a quick exit so we could go back downtown to SXSW's heart (6th St. and Red River) but we made our first miscalculation. Bar-B-Q is a grand Texas tradition, but getting a brisket at a roadside stand and eating while walking was not a good idea. That BBQ is still simmering in my belly three weeks later. Burp. But it was any means necessary in order to get to the 8:00 Dawes show, at one of my favorite Austin venues, Club DeVille. Not expecting Dawes to garner the same rapturous greeting they received a few weeks ago at a packed Philly Johnny Brenda's show, I was pleasantly surprised that Austin received them quite warmly, including a rousing, thrilling sing-along to "When My Time Comes" a standout on their sleeper debut disc, North Hills. Owing as much to CSN as to The Band and John Prine, Dawes builds on group harmonies like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, but with more open space and straight forward song craft. And I can't wait to hear kid brother Griffin Goldsmith's lead vocals on "How Far We've Come", a standout this night, on their next record.

Dawes - When My Time Comes

Next it was down 6th Street and we passed the open door of the Thirsty Nickel, where we stopped in for a few minutes and caught two songs by Athens rockers Elevation, who thrilled for a few minutes in Austin, but whose Strange Love cd, while not without its charm and some anthemic hooks, suffers from an alternative rock sheen that sounds radio ready but does little to separate them from the pack. We were on our way to The Parish, another in an endless line of wonderful Austin venues, to see the Fratellis' offshoot, Codeine Velvet Club. But first up was Unicorn Kid, who is the one man "band" brain child of Oliver Sabin, a Scottish teenager who had the very young crowd in spasms of delight as he twiddled knobs and created blips, blurps and beats in a hypnotizing maze of dance floor sounds for Call of Duty fans. He describes his music as heavily influenced by video games, part of the "chiptune" scene, where musicians create music using video game hardware . It's a definite generation gap moment, as I spend much of my time at home trying to escape the sounds of video games.

Elevation - Razoreyes

Unicorn Kid - Animal City

Codeine Velvet Club follows in short order (SXSW runs a tight ship) and this band, led by Fratelli's kingpin Jon Lawler and sultry newcomer Lou Hickey, brought show tune melodies with horns and style married to big rock bombast that felt like it would play better at a lower volume. They stormed out the gate with a blast of bite sized symphonic rock but a disastrous cover of "Gimme Shelter" threatened to suck the life out of a set that was bursting with ideas and melodically sharp. I'm guessing this plays a little better on record.

Codiene Velvet Club - Hollywood

Then it was a couple of blocks over to Latitude 30, home base for UK bands during SXSW. Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit have one album, A Larum, which is a tender, old soul collection of poetic shanties that drink from the same well as traditionalists Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson. Actually Flynn might be a younger, less virtuosic, less bitter Thompson, or on second thought maybe not like Thompson at all. At SXSW, he and his band (not sure if they're still billed as the Sussex Wit) played a spirited set that featured the a good helping of A Larum (including set closer "Tickle Me Pink" and "The Box", but sadly not the wonderful "The Wrote and The Writ"). Flynn played a few new numbers and had the crowd gently swaying during his rollicking set. His model good looks and stab at a serious artistic scope seem to be a recipe for success, but in America he seems to be a fringe artist at best.

Same goes for Eddie Argos, whose Art Brut exploded onto the scene in 2005/6 with the shooting star rocket ride of Bang Bang Rock And Roll. They were a perfect one band art project that have somehow lasted three records. Argos' specialized arch talk-singing is an acquired taste, one that's being acquired less with each record. He came to SXSW with his awkwardly named Everybody Was In the French Resistance... Now! The Galaxy was half full but Argos was full steam ahead as the he explained the band's central conceit of conceiving answer songs to songs badly in need of a response. Not an entirely original idea or even that inspired, but still worth checking out. A master showman and jovial bon vivant, Argos has taken a clever one or two song idea and created an album from it. It's a bit like a comedy record - boisterous fun to experience the first time, but probably fraught with diminishing returns. But for this night Argos and company (big bosomed and unhappy keyboardist Dyan Valdes and guitarist Dave) were first rate and hugely entertaining. A balky mix brought Argos front and center into the crowd where he exclaimed "Hey! It's Jimmy Mack", "Think Twice (It's Not Alright)" and "Billie's Gene's" and I think the titles give away the songs. Especially fun was the raised eyebrow fake encore of The Rubinoos 1977 non-hit "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" which obviously inspired Avril Lavigne's psuedo-answer song "Girlfriend" which probably inspired this whole project and it's lead-off single "G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N. (You Know I've Got A). Got it?

The Rubinoos - I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend

Prior to EWITFRN at the Galaxy was Elinor Rose Dougall, a former member of The Pipettes and now solo artist whose B-52's via Ronettes dance party stomp was a perfect appetizer for Argos' fun junkie. I need to hear more.

Elinor Rose Dougall - Fallen Over

Saturday, April 03, 2010

One-stop Hold Steady Shopping

In the past week, The Hold Steady have released three tracks from the forthcoming Heaven is Whenever (May 4) to various websites. Here, because we care, we collect them all for you, dear readers.

Hurricane J
Rock Problems
The Weekenders

Thursday, April 01, 2010

SXSW 2010 Recap

This is how we felt trying to keep up with the bands we wanted to see. I'm pretty sure I still have a few of them stuffed up under my hat.

More to come but check out the soon-to-huge soul-pop VV Brown, the ragged truck stop americana of American Aquarium and the irresistible power pop of The Postelles, three great SXSW discoveries.

VV Brown - Shark in The Water

American Aquarium - Katherine Belle

The Postelles - White Night