Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gut Feeling: Frightened Rabbit - State Hospital EP

When I heard Frightened Rabbit had a new EP coming out, my first response was “Aw shucks, I wish they had a new ALBUM coming out.” And then I found out they did! And that this is a glorified single for “State Hospital,” which will be on the actual as-of-yet-untitled forthcoming LP. I like this move though. The whole giving the b-sides a good home thing is sweet. State Hospital finds a nice middle ground between proper EP and glorified single. Basically, that means that there isn’t a lot of connective tissue (other than the glorious sad bastard nature of Scott Hutchinson’s Scottish brogue) but all of the songs are good. A couple are great, a couple are just pretty good, and one is an interesting collaboration between Hutchinson and Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat. 

“State Hospital” does it’s job in whetting the appetite for the album proper. After two outstanding, insular break-up/post-breakup albums, “State Hospital” sounds like a nice, necessary leap forward for Frightened Rabbit. Hutchinson’s songwriting moves away from his own drama (which is really, truly, magnificent drama and if you haven’t heard Frightened Rabbit’s last two albums The Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks you’re certainly missing out on two of the greatest collections of misery music from the last ten years) and writing about fictional characters’ drama and he’s doing it with the same attention for detail and pinpoint emotional resonance that makes the band’s songs so powerful. Hutchinson’s vocals have the same sense of purpose and conviction you get from a great Billy Bragg song. “State Hospital” is (I assume) about a fictional character and it’s sad as shit but the melody is gorgeous and the band works with all of this vast space and expands to the borders and retracts to the very center throughout the song’s four-and-a-half minutes. It is the first time Frightened Rabbit have ever sounded epic. Epic’s a word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to music, but it’s the sort of song that takes you on a journey where all you see out your window is gruesome details and a faint light of hope at the end of the tunnel.

That said, the way Scott Hutchinson can write such intense songs NOT about his relationships kind of cements him as thoroughly legit 100% quality modern songwriter. I mean, he already was, but this is something I didn’t really expect. I didn’t expect to appreciate Frightened Rabbit more than I already do and here’s a new side I didn’t know I wanted or needed. And then you get “Boxing Night,” which was apparently left off the album because it was too much in the vein of The Midnight Organ Fight/The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Vintage Frightened Rabbit but again, the depth and range is vastly expanded this time around. There is so much going on to make this song as affecting as possible and none of it feels shallow or Major Label. It sounds like a band making the best of their opportunities and really getting the most out of the sound they’ve been crafting the last almost ten years (ten years! Fact: I still haven’t listened to Sing the Greys and I really don’t know why. I like to think it’s because I haven’t had time to do so because I’ve been obsessing over their most up-to-date release, what with The Winter of Mixed Drinks being my favorite album of 2010). “Boxing Night” has all those really poignant details that make the best Frightened Rabbit songs great. It’s one of the more terrific songs of the “waiting for the telephone to ring” genre. “I can’t call you mine anymore/ I can’t call you at all, full stop/ But you can call me anytime/ Call me whenever the fuck you want” so the climax of the songs goes. As I said, vintage FR.

“Home From War” and “Off” are pretty much by the books b-sides. That’s not meant to be derisive, but they are songs that experiment (lyrically and stylistically, respectively) with new styles/sounds/forms/etc and work, but work better on their own than they would on an album. “Wedding Gloves,” the collaboration with Aidan Moffat, is a weird one too that belongs right here, at the very end of this glorified single. You can tell Scott Hutchinson is pretty much thoroughly enamored with the fact that he got Aidan Moffat to work on a song with him, but I only say that because his lyrics are so honest and direct he had to have been influenced by Scotland’s most grim and straightforward band. OK, I cheated, I read something where Hutchinson said it was a dream to work with Moffat because he idolized the guy, but oh man, how fucking FUN right? Getting to collaborate on a tune with someone that inspired you to write songs in the first place? This is easily the most Scottish-as-Fuck song in Frightened Rabbit’s catalog. And it’s good. It’s weird, really kind of odd actually. Hutchinson and Moffat’s vocals almost feel like they’re fighting the whole time, like they’re totally ill matched but there’s just so much to like here. It’s the sort of promising EP you want out of a band you love preparing to drop a full length. A sort of “Shit, if these songs weren’t good enough for the record, this record must be made out of solid gold, the foie gras of indie rock records circa 2012/2013!”   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mike Clayton - "I Want What You Want"/"She Calms Down" 7"

Mike Clayton – “I Want What You Want”/“She Comes Down” 7”
Parasol, 1993
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2007
Price: $.025

Parasol records put out a whole bunch of really great indie pop bands no one’s ever heard of in the mid 90s. Mike Clayton is a “guy with a guitar” sorta guy, and his short, simple songs sound like a poor man’s Elliot Smith. “She Calms Down” and “I Want What You Want” are nice little sensitive, heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter tunes that don’t really stand out but are very pleasant. I THINK this 7” was released in 1993, but I only saw that on one site and it certainly SOUNDS like 1993 so I’m assuming 1993. It’s miraculous how few 7” records don’t list the damn year of release. Anyway, 1993 puts him a year before Elliot Smith’s debut Roman Candle, but then again maybe Clayton was from the Northwest and had seen Smith play some solo shows (I can’t find any information on the guy). Or maybe he was just making some sad, pretty songs on his own, not knowing that he was doomed to be compared to Elliott Smith. Apparently this was his only release (at least on Parasol).

Mike Clayton is not to be confused with the excellent 2007 film Michael Clayton. I've posted the trailer to that film because it is the only thing roughly "Mike Clayton-esque" on the internet. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gut Feeling: Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Polyvinyl, 2012

I sorta wrote off Vancouver duo Japandroids after seeing them play what I perceived at the time to be a boring live show. The Bottleneck was pretty empty, and I wasn’t even on the guest list because that had been happening a lot lately and I only got in because the Pitch’s managing editor happened to be outside the Bottleneck and did some sweet-talking. I think my mood had a lot to do with my opinion of the show, because I really loved their debut full length Post-Nothing. Their noisy, fuck-it-let’s-rock-the-fuck-out indie rock was classic. “The Boys Are Leaving Town” was on serious repeat in 2009 and though the music seemed simple on first listen, there was something about it that really resonated. I remember there was a big fan pointed toward singer/guitarist Brian King, which reminded me of this one time I saw this dude put on a solo metal show at the Replay Lounge and the dude played in front of a fan so it would blow his long midnight black metal hair all over the place. I don’t think King had long hair though, and I don’t know why I remember that, and I again I don’t know why that show left such a bad taste in my mouth but it did and it caused me to avoid pouncing on Celebration Rock when it came out in early June.

But now I’m listening to it and it’s got that same charm you get when you’re only playing with guitar, drums, vocals and a metric ton of reverb and distortion. Every track here is an anthem. Not some contrived anthem like all those songs on the new Gaslight Anthem album (man, talk about an anthem obsessed band if there ever was one) but like legitimate, fist-in-airs balls-to-wall anthems that most definitely appeal to a particular demographic of young, angsty men. I walk among that demographic, so fuck yes, I love Celebration Rock. And I love music that sounds like Celebration Rock. And I really want Japandroids to tour with Titus Andronicus and the Hold Steady because if you put those three bands on the same bill it might just be the best bill you’d ever see. An irreverent party full of fist pumps and sweaty bodies.

Like Post-Nothing, Celebration Rock boasts a sensational opening track with “The Nights of Wine and Roses.” King and drummer David Prowse make the most of their sparse set-up with huge guitars, shout-a-long vocal harmonies, and pummeling drums lurking in the background and picking up the slack on the breaks between riffs straight out of the best 80s punk rock songs. There’s a bats cover of The Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy” right there in the middle too, but it’s a nice weird change of pace that works as a sort palate cleanser. One that sets you up for “Adrenaline Nightshift” which hits like the best sort of punch in the face, and really does a great job of holding this brisk album up by preventing a mid-album slump. This thing never stops. At just 8 songs the thing is kinda fucking perfect. That’s just the right amount of songs to really encourage replayability. Too many, the songs might start to blend together, too few and it’s a glorified EP. Here it feels like an album unified by noisy ass guitars and songs about drinking and being alive. Anyone can build an angle out of anthems, but for a real fist-pumper to work you’ve gotta have heart, and the amount of heart these guys have is what makes Japandroids so special. Well, that and their gift for sustaining forty straight minutes of alt-rock that never quits and packs an emotional punch down in the majesty of power chords.

Here's the awesome closing track "Continuous Lightning." It's a goddamn stunner.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Claim - "Mrs. Shepherd" 7"

The Claim – “Mrs. Shepherd” 7”

Bus Stop, 1993
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2007
Price: $.25

 I remember seeing a lot of 7” records on the Bus Stop Label that fateful day in the Love Garden Shotgun Room. I knew it was a vaguely indie-pop oriented label, so I bought pretty much everything I could get my hands on. English quartet the Claim make some really enjoyable early 90s college rock. They’re of like the Wedding Present with a sweeter edge. The tune “Down by the Chimney” was quite good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Castanets - "Strong Animal" 7"

Castanets – “Strong Animal” 7”
Asthmatic Kitty, 2007
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1

Man oh man, I forgot how much I dislike Rafter (I vaguely remember him in a chicken suit on an album cover and just being totally let down when the music was just kinda eh whatever), who takes what was probably a perfectly decent psych-folk track and turns it into a monotonous slog where nothing interesting happens at all. I am wary of remixes. I don’t trust them on principle. I’m old fashioned like that. But paired with the straight forward but pretty good B-side “Golden,” well, I’m bummed. This could have been a nice little record but they went and put video game loading screen music on the A-side. I feel like there are a couple of Castanets songs I really liked over the last five or eight years, but I feel like Ray Raposa just got lost in that wave of freak folk that rolled in and crested in like 2005 and then got washed back out to sea. 

Here's the original "Strong Animal," which is much better. 

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - "Bobby Malone Moves Home" 7"

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – “Bobby Malone Moves Home” 7”
Tomlab, 2006
Acquired: Live Show, New, 2007
Price: $5

Gone are the days when my finger was so firmly affixed to the pulse of the music world like that kid’s tongue to the flagpole in A Christmas Story. The simile is apt, as there was a certain amount of struggle involved. The same sort of struggle a shark has with the whole “have to keep moving or will die” bit. Is that even true? And then I graduated and spent the next three years listening to the Lemonheads. Trying to get back into the game is tough. Things have changed. Every band is from Brooklyn and inconsequential and I’m rekindling old relationships with bands I loved. Bands like Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, who by the way don’t exist anymore. Owen Ashworth is now recording under the name Advance Base and I somehow totally missed that happening. He even has a new album out AND produced some awesome beats for Serengeti’s Family and Friends album (another great artist I missed in my sabbatical, a rapper who I actually thoroughly enjoy listening to despite my steadfast “I appreciate rap and I can differentiate between good and bad enough to form an educated opinion but I just have no desire to listen to it” stance).

“Bobby Malone Moves Home” is one of the best tracks from Casiotone’s masterpiece Etiquette—an album where every track is fantastic. It’s a sad tune, a perfect anthem for the post-college with no job generation. B-side “Jeane, If You’re Ever in Portland” is the Daytrotter Session of a Twinkle Echo track and really sings with the full band instrumentation. A a sad and purdy little tune about a touring musician falling in love with a gal from Kansas. Maybe that’s why I love it so much. Because anything that references Kansas (in a positive OR negative way, mind you) kind of makes me go “OH OH I’M FROM THERE WANT ME TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT!?!!!). I think the actual reason I love this rendition of “Jeane, If You’re Ever in Portland” is because the Donkeys serve as Ashworth’s backing band which is, quite frankly, beyond cool.

Oh yeah! There was that whole tour where the Donkeys were Casiotone's backing band the whole time which is where I heard the Donkeys in the first place.

cLOUDDEAD - "The Sound of a Handshake"/"This About the City..." 10"

Clouddead – “The Sound of a Handshake”/ “This About the City…” 10”
Mush, 2002
Acquire: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $2

You know, I understand artistic shit pretty well (I mean, I pretend to anyway) but goddamnit if there’s one thing I fucking hate it’s a goddamn album that has A. No clear title printed on either the sleeve, an insert, or the label and B. A goddamn album that has no discernable song titles. That’s some pretty lousy marketing. Who’s gonna buy your record huh? Well, me, for one, cuz I saw Clouddead and I know enough to know that Clouddead was this mythic thing when I was learning about indie music in high school and I love Yoni Wolf enough to plop down $2 on a 10”. Oh yeah, the THIRD goddamn bullshit thing I hate: not telling you whether this is 33 1/3 or 45 RPM. Fuck. That. Unforgivable, I say. Especially when the music is weird to begin with, full of all sorts of sped up and slowed down beats and vocals. Anyway I’m mostly kidding. Why?, Doseone, and Odd Nosdam can do whatever the hell they want because I can’t think of anything else that sounds like this. Sure cLOUDDEAD are associated with independent hip-hop but this is some weird, quasi-ambient, Brian Eno-esque stuff right here. And oh…oh wait, there is an insert. WHOOPS. Well, uh, I uh, I STILL HATE THAT I DON’T KNOW IF I’M SUPPOSED TO PLAY THIS SHIT IN 45 OR 33 1/3!

This 10” comes after the collection of their early 10”s cLOUDDEAD but precedes their first and final proper album Ten. It’s gorgeous and bizarre and still sounds ahead of its time ten years after its release while still recalling the avant-garde electro heydey of the late 90s in re DJ Shadow, Boards of Canada, and the Avalanches. cLOUDDEAD seem more groundbreaking, though, if only in the sense that I keep listening to this record over and over trying to pick it apart trying to figure out why it works so well. I caught Why? and Doseone at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday and was amazed at the different paths they had taken. Why?’s music has grown increasingly poppier without sacrificing his distinct sound and style. Doseone’s music (and maybe Doseone himself) appear to have gone off the deep end. Looking like latter day Corey Haim he played some bizarro self-important maybe even audience mocking rap-dance stuff that was just about the most offputting set I’ve ever seen. Yet listening to this cLOUDDEAD record it’s all so coherent. Doseone’s high-pitched polysyllabic spit of words is compelling rather than obnoxious, especially when it’s paired up with Why?’s low snarky drawl, even when they’re parodizing “Who Let the Dogs Out?” People change, I guess. 

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone/ The Donkeys - 7" Split

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone/ The Donkeys – Split

Antenna Farm, 2007
Acquired: A Casiotone and/or Donkeys Show, New, 2007/8
Price: $5

I love both of these bands, and the fact that they’re friends just makes thing even more awesome. I’m pretty sure I got this the first time I saw the Donkeys in Lawrence. And I’m pretty sure they were opening for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Every time after that, I made sure to catch the Donkeys in Lawrence (or at SXSW) because goddamnit, those dudes just wanna have fun and really like what they do. “White Corolla” is a classic Casiotone jam, perhaps made even better when Owen Ashworth has to sing it himself in a live setting. The Donkeys “Be My Girl” is one of their tastiest jams marrying a rock solid hook to that laidback California charm that infects all their music. It is nice having jams this tasty as 7” exclusives. Someday they’ll brighten up a couple of career retrospectives assuming either of these groups would ever get career retrospectives. I only say that because I don’t feel like either band is as beloved as they oughta be, dagummit (although I suppose Casiotone already have their own singles and B-sides collection, but what about the Donkeys damnit!)