Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels

There's an article in the NY Times entitled The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels. According to the article:

Exploiting online message boards, music blogs and social networks, independent music companies are making big advances at the expense of the four global music conglomerates, whose established business model of blockbuster hits promoted through radio airplay now looks increasingly outdated.

This blog is, in a very very very very VERY small (seriously, we're talking miniscule) way, part of that phenomenon. Yayyy us! Check out the full article, and keep sticking it to the music conglomerates.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

She Wants Revenge

She really, REALLY does... She Wants Revenge is a L.A. band that mines the Joy Division vibe like it was going out of style (and that's never a bad thing, in my book). Their full-length debut won't be released for several months, but the entire album is available for purchase on iTunes. In fact, iTune's free single of the week is She Wants Revenge's Tear You Apart, which is a fun little number that apparently has enlisted Ian Curtis's ghost, gloomy detached voice and all. Get the single for free before it goes away.

The band's website has a rather interesting design. Instead of typical pages like Shows, News, Links, etc, the pages are entitled Deceit, Betrayal, Lies, Revenge, and Possession. There are 2 videos but no MP3 downloads, unfortunately. However, you can listen to a few of their other songs on their MySpace.com site. Sister, Out of Control, and These Things are all quite good - especially the former. I expect I will eventually buy their album when it comes out.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I Just Don't Get It (Vol. 1): Neutral Milk Hotel

This post will be the first in a series entitled "I Just Don't Get It," which will discuss bands and/or albums that, as a reasonably sophisticated follower of indie rock, I'm apparently supposed to like a lot more than I actually do.

My first entry on this theme is devoted to Neutral Milk Hotel's sophomore album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, which was released in 1998 to great critical acclaim. It was considered one of the best albums of the year and still rates in the Top 5 or 10 (or Top 1) on nearly every list of great indie rock albums I see. And yet... it does nothing for me. Don't get me wrong - I was way into the whole Elephant 6 scene. I can remember first reading about it in the local alternative weekly newspaper and feeling so excited. It was 1996, and the whole Nirvana-induced excitement of alternative music as a commercially viable form was starting to wear thin. Lo-fi indie rock stalwarts like Pavement, Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, and Guided by Voices were starting to coast a bit, and it really seemed like guitar-based indie rock was going to be permanently buried by electronica and hip-hop. So, I promptly ran out and bought the debut albums by the original Elephant 6 triumvirate: Dusk at Cubist Castle by Olivia Tremor Control, On Avery Island by Neutral Milk Hotel, and Fun Trick Noisemaker by Apples in Stereo. I absolutely loved the albums, especially Dusk at Cubist Castle. I also saw OTC and NMH put on great live shows.

However, by the time In The Aeroplane Over The Sea came out, I was getting a little tired of the first-tier Elephant 6 acts, as well as the legion of second- and third-tier acts (Elf Power, Beulah, Minders, Chocolate) that kept cropping up. Indie snob ennui aside, though, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea just never grabbed me. There are some good songs, but for me, the album suffers from homogeneity. The songs just seem repetitive and interchangable - one slow- to -mid-tempo acoustic guitar strummer laced with singing saws, kazoos, after another. Oh Comely, which is over 7 minutes long, just seems to go on FOREVER. On Avery Island may not have been consistent in terms of quality, but I find myself liking the good songs (Song Against Sex, Naomi, Gardenhead) much better than anything from the 2nd album.

I recently dusted off my copy of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and tried to give it another chance, to no avail. I think that it's a moderately good album, but I will never understand why it keeps cropping up on best-album lists. If any album from that scene deserves to make the lists, it's Dusk at Cubist Castle, in my humble opinion.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Shrinking Islands

Awhile back, I came across the song State Fair by the Boston group The Shrinking Islands. Then, the other day I stumbled upon their website and picked up several more songs. The Shrinking Islands remind me a bit of Mitch Easter-produced R.E.M., The Feelies, and The Connells - in other words, the jangly indie pop of the mid-80's. The band doesn't appear to have an album out, but you can download 6 songs for free from their EPs, In the Black Carpet Version One and In the Black Carpet Version Two:

In the Black Carpet Version 1
1. Big Nature Comes Back
2. The Secret Activities Begin
3. State Fair

In the Black Carpet Version 2

1. Bad Company
2. Swallowed in Grace
3. In the Black Carpet

The songs are available at their website. I particularly like State Fair, In the Black Carpet, and Swallowed in Grace. The latter song sounds like it just got here via a time traveling bus from Chronic Town, which is OK by me - check out the guitar in the intro. In addition to The Shrinking Islands' website, check out their MySpace site.

Friday, December 09, 2005


I read about a new Baltimore band called Wilderness in the previous issue of Magnet magazine. Their sound was compared to PiL, along with other bands with leader singers who have, um... distinctive vocal styles. It's true - I tracked down the song Arkless from their self-titled debut, and it really does sound like PiL, including a lead singer who shares some of the same vocal tics as John Lydon. You can download Arkless free from the band's record label, Jagjaguwar. I'm enjoying it. It seems like all the bands lately are channeling Joy Divison or Gang of Four - let's give some room for groups who want to emulate PiL. There's plenty of room under the tent for all manner of sincere flatterers...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Damaged Goods

Is there a British band that's garnered critical attention lately that hasn't been compared to Gang of Four? Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, Dogs Die in Hot Cars - the list goes on. Well, why shouldn't Gang of Four themselves join the goldrush to capitalize on their sound? To wit, the band has reunited and re-recorded an album's worth of their classic late 70's/early 80's songs on the new Return the Gift. You can download a free MP3 of the re-worked Damaged Goods (probably my favorite Gang of Four song) from Insound.com. If you liked the original, you'll like this version. Other than a slightly fuller sound, it's the same (OK, it appears to be 1 second longer, but no overproduced wash of keyboards, horns, and session backup singers). Nothing like the awful reinterpreted versions of classic songs that some artists have tried to put across (anybody remember The Police's tepid Don't Stand So Close To Me '86?). It DOES seem a little strange to put out an entire album of self-covers, but given how much I've been disappointed by seminal artists who come out with sub-standard albums after decades-long hiatuses (cf., Big Star), maybe I should just shut up.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Pleased

Once again, while casting about for something interesting on eMusic.com, I ran across a San Francisco band called The Pleased, which released their debut album Don't Make Things in 2003. They have great sound that's in the same ballpark as your Interpols, Stills, etc, but with much more of an Echo and the Bunnymen influence. I've downloaded five songs from the album so far (ran out of eMusic credits - will get the rest of the album next month), and all are excellent: Already Gone, We Are the Doctor, Never Come Home, Another Disaster, and Don't Make Things. We Are the Doctor is particularly catchy. You can download Already Gone for free from the band's website.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Unguarded Moment

The Church released El Momento Descuidado - essentially, an "unplugged" album that was recorded in a studio rather than live - (relatively) recently. I cherry-picked a few songs from eMusic.com. I was, and am, a huge fan of the Church up through Gold Afternoon Fix, but what little of their more recent work that I've heard just seems listless. This album suffers from the same problem. Songs that were great are stripped of all their magic and energy. Nevertheless, I think the version of Almost With You is absolutely stunning. That has always been my favorite Church song, and they do it justice. 408, which I'm not familiar with, is also very good. Tristesse, another classic, comes off well, although some might find Marty Willson-Piper's exaggerated croak a bit off-putting.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Enter the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse

As I've mentioned before, I sometimes make some surprising musical discoveries on the rare occasions when I switch from CNN over to my gym's proprietary music video channel. Today, I was lured away from Wolf Blitzer by the classic video for I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls (don't care what anyone says - that video and song grab me just as much as they did when I first saw them in 1982). The next video was for La La by Ashlee Simpson. Amazingly, I found myself actually liking the song (hence the reference to Revelations above)! Once the shock and awe wore off, I realized that it was because she (or her producer, anyway) was basically ripping off Garbage's sound, who in turn shamelessly ripped off Curve. And I liked Curve quite a lot back in 1992 or so. It's a shame that Garbage and now Ms. Simpson, the Younger, are making way more money off Curve's sound than they ever did. I'm listening to a few of my favorite songs from their great album Doppelganger -- Horror Head, Wish You Dead, and FaƮt Accompli, being among the finest. Do yourself a favor and check out Curve and reserve Ashlee Simpson for those moments when you're trapped on an elliptical cross trainer and the only other choice is CNN fluff.