Friday, April 18, 2014

The Moon Seven Times - "My Medicine" 7"

The Moon Seven Times – “My Medicine” 7”
Parasol, 1992
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25

Whilst combing the erstwhile Alt-Rock 7” section of the Love Garden Shotgun Room, one of the record labels that immediately sent a record to my keeper pile was Parasol. Parasol covered all angles of the indie-pop spectrum and released records by bands that were great but never quite made it as big as they should have (Wolfie, Strawberry Story, The Like Young) in addition to releasing a hundred plus records from random bands no one has ever heard of. Which is great, because they’re often the sort of bands who contributed one magnificent track to the world and then faded into oblivion. Champaign, Illinois’ The Moon Seven Times weren’t necessarily one of those bands, but the three dream pop tracks on this 7” are more than serviceable.  Lynn Canfield’s vocals lend an unfortunate 90s-ness to the whole affair, but just a little bit. All is forgiven, though, since overall these three tracks are quite pleasant. The whole “ethereal dream pop” angle tends to produce a lot of boring music and requires a bit more effort than your average alt-rock since if the songwriting isn’t up to snuff or the music isn’t ornately beautiful enough you run the risk of putting the audience to sleep (which was mostly rectified by bands amping up the reverb and distortion and calling it shoegaze). That said, the Moon Seven Times are snoozy, but have just enough gumption to keep me from falling out of my chair.

"My Medicine"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Modesty Blaise - "Christina Terrace" 7"

Modesty Blaise – “Christina Terrace” 7”
Spirit of ’86, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25
“Christina Terrace” is a strange sort of track. Despite being produced by a British band at the height of the Britpop explosion, Modesty Blaise sound more like a band from Flying Nun Records in the 80s. There are some wonky synths, some lighthearted ooh-la-la-la backing vocals that feel like they were tacked on with actual thumbtacks, and some guitar solos that sound like they were recorded off of an answering machine. It’s a wonderful little track that sounds like it could completely dissolve any second. B-side “Nothing Sacred” slows things down to a crawl but retains the backing vocals and simple guitar solos and actually provides a nice contrast. “The Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band in the World” is a hilarious send-up to rock and roll majesty that sounds like a Kinks track and boasts such witty one-liners as “I saw them in town/so they can’t be that great” and “When will you learn/ You’ve gotta dress in black/ You’ve gotta play your guitar when it’s behind your back.”

"Christina Terrace" 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mirah - "Cold Cold Water" 7"

Mirah – “Cold Cold Water” 7”
K Records, 2002
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $3
The sweetness in Mirah’s voice has always made her lush indie-pop all the more compelling. On “Cold Cold Water,” the lead-off and stand-out track from her second album Advisory Committee, she makes you fall in love and then immediately breaks your heart. Phil Elverum lends his trademark atmospheric production as he did for a number of K Records bands during a sweet spot in the 00s. The gorgeous sonics do the world building around Mirah’s aching break-up songs. The b-side on this 7” is a sadly ho-hum, demo-sounding version of “Cold Cold Water” that pales in comparison to the studio cut.

"Cold Cold Water"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Up All Night: A Paternity Leave Soundtrack

Up All Night: A Paternity Leave Soundtrack
Three weeks in and Jenny and I have developed our routine in re getting Rosie to sleep. It involves putting the sweet little nugget of joy in her crib, where she sleeps in three to four hour stretches, wakes up to feed, and goes right back to sleep! What a perfect baby, amirite?! Haha. Just kidding. She rarely sleeps, and when she does, the only way she will stay asleep for a two-hour stretch is sprawled out on my chest in the IKEA chair next to her crib. We do this from about 9PM to 3 or 4 AM or whenever I can’t stay awake any longer and I’m assured Jenny at least got a few hours of meaningful sleep in between feedings. Basically, it’s just like in the movies. It’s like every parenting stereotype you’ve ever heard. Thinking about having kids? You best be able to easily adapt.

On the plus side, it’s brought Jenny and I closer together. We’re like a couple of doughboys in the trenches, fighting for survival. Constantly trying new methods and tricks in an effort to get our daughter to sleep on her own. Our mantra is this: Three Months. In three months, everything will be much, much better. She will be out of her fourth trimester where she’s basically still a fetus and will have blossomed into a cooing, smiling, toe-sucking toddler. That’s the dream, right?

Anyway, these long stretches of serving as a human bassinet have given me a lot of really rewarding daddy-daughter bonding time with the added perk that I get six hours to catch up on reading all the great books I have lying around the house. Just kidding. I’ve been trying to finish Dune for weeks and every night I take it to the little makeshift end table next to the chair and every night I just sit there and play FTL: Faster Than Light or 2048 on the iPad (it’s not all for nothing, however, because I am now REALLY good at those games).

Right before Rosie was born I invested in a cheap-yet-wonderful Bluetooth speaker that serves as the bedroom’s stereo system. Since I can’t very well listen to the Hold Steady at 2AM with a slumbering infant sprawled across my torso threatening to wake up at the slightest twitch/sound. So I’ve loaded up my iPhone with the quietest music I could find on my computer. It’s quite actually quite nice once you get past the exhaustion. Here are some of the greatest hits.

Vashti Bunyan – Lookaftering
Jenny loves the soulful, folky ladies and in the first days we had Rosie, this album was playing constantly. Just so lovely and calming.

Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)

Once the Vashti Bunyan wore out, Jenny started listening to Gillian Welch nonstop. This album, in addition to Soul Journey and Revival, is still what plays throughout the day. These albums are so great I’ll even put them on in the middle of the night.

Iron and Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle

It’s hard to find a more sonically peaceful record in my collection. Iron and Wine was the first thing I put on the phone for these late night sessions.

Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans

I’m not religious, but I love it when musicians examine their faith in song. On Seven Swans Sufjan Stevens filters the Bible through his personal life and where they intersect. It’s a gorgeous, deeply personal album that subsists almost entirely on banjo and huge vocal harmonies. It’s actively unadorned compared to his extravagance “50 States Project” albums Greetings from Michigan and Illinois (I culled the quietest tracks from those albums and they usually round out a particularly nice hour of ouri evenings).

Papa M – Whatever, Mortal
Whatever, Mortal is a masterpiece from David Pajo, one of indie rock’s most legendary journeymen. His work with Slint, Tortoise, and the For Carnation established him as a pro, but his solo work as Papa M, Aerial M, and as Pajo is where he is at his best. Whatever, Mortal is his best album. It filters the post-rock leanings of his former bands through a folky lens and the results are breathtakingly lovely and honest.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon


Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Last but not least is a massive chunk of Mark Kozelek’s complete discography from Red House Painters to Sun Kil Moon to his self-titled efforts. This is bedtime music for weirdos. His music is the bulk of what I listen to because it’s the quietest and his discography is absolutely fascinating. His latest album, this year’s Benji, is pure, unfiltered, rambling storytelling brimming with heartbreak and tragedy. Going from the straight-forward folky tunes from Red House Painters’ Songs for a Blue Guitar to this new raw shit, you get an interesting portrait of this dude.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Gut Feeling: The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams

The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams
Washington Square, 2014
“When we get older it gets harder to remember/ We are our only saviors,” Craig Finn intoned on the lead-off track of the Hold Steady’s last great record, 2008’s Stay Positive. That album was about growing up after three albums of killer parties, massive nights, and sketchy characters roaming the streets of the Twin Cities. Sadly, all of that wonderful debauchery has proved to be what made the Hold Steady so wonderful, and while it’s natural, even necessary, to mature, its not without its consequences.

In the case of the Hold Steady, they’ve made another good record. Just good. It has its moments, but it’s hardly even a shadow of Separation Sunday or Boys and Girls in America. There’s simply no energy. The band’s 2010 release, Heaven is Whenever, suffered from the same lack of spark, and I’m not surprised that the band now has more in common with Finn’s solo record (2012’s Clear Heart, Full Eyes) than the halcyon days of the Hold Steady’s mythos.

It almost hurts that the opening track “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” is vintage Hold Steady from the soaring riffs to the MPLS locale and the ominous presence of the Cityscape Skins. But it’s just there to get your hopes up. Second-single “Spinners” loses all the big majesty it shoots for in the muddy production that plagues the entire album (which is what you get when you hire Evanescence’s producer) and suffers from the pop-rock tendency to repeat the chorus 20 times. It’s boring. The album’s midpoint “Big Cig” is another vintage Hold Steady rocker that’s a sound for sore ears but is unfortunately followed by a couple of bland rockers that sap the goodness.

The thing is, I can’t blame the Hold Steady for not making ass-kicking records anymore because I don’t think they’re that band. The saddest thing is watching a songwriter with such a great eye for detail settle for broad generalities. It’s not that Teeth Dreams isn’t ambitious, because it’s super ambitious. If you had told me a Hold Steady album would end with two quiet tracks spanning almost 15 minutes I wouldn’t have believed you. The quiet tracks are where Finn’s songwriting really shines, but the excellent “Almost Everything” belongs on Finn’s next solo record and “The Ambassador” has great verses but the chorus is oh so blah. Nine-minute closer “Oaks” is a moody dirge that recalls Heaven is Whenever closer “A Slight Discomfort” minus the dynamic bigness that ended that record in a moment of triumph. “Oaks” plods along to the point where I can’t even pay attention. It eventually devolves into guitar solos as the album puts itself out of its mercy.

It sounds like I hate Teeth Dreams, but I don’t. My hopes are always too high for Hold Steady records because I love this band with every fiber of my being. I’m never going to throw in the towel on these guys, but the writing might be on the wall that it’s time for these guys to move on to bigger and better things. I was distraught when keyboardist Franz Nicolay quit the band following Stay Positive, but I get it now. He said the band only wanted to do one thing, and he wanted to do other things. It’s tragic wishing your favorite band would break up, but at this point in the game I’m more looking forward to the next Craig Finn solo record than the next Hold Steady LP.

"I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You"