Out this week 2/16 & 2/23...Xiu Xiu...Joanna Newsom...

Posted by Brad Schelden, March 4, 2010 01:09pm | Post a Comment
jamie stewart xiu xiu
It seems like Jamie Stewart had been putting out a new album every year... I am not complaining though! I love this man. But it is hard to keep up with everything he does. If he isn't releasing a brand new album then he is probably releasing a live album, a remix album, a collaboration of some sort, or an EP, or single, or 7". Sade should be ashamed of herself! How long did it take her to make her new album? 10 years. Xiu Xiu was just getting its start when the last Sade album came out. During those nearly 10 years, Xiu Xiu had released about 10 albums and 10 7"s. He has also put out a remix album, a couple of singles and EPs and a couple collaboration albums. Additionally, he took it one step further last year when he released a 12 disc/12 month music subscription service limited to only 50 super fans. The amazing thing about Jamie Stewart, the man behind Xiu Xiu, is that everything he puts out is good. I still have not been let down. Each new album and single is as good and brilliant as the last. He keeps putting out weird and experimental albums that are also somehow extremely accessible. Xiu Xiu is sort of like the experimental version of Morrissey. Just as dramatic and catchy. Just as well written and brilliant. I first became a fan of Xiu Xiu about 8 years ago when I had first moved to Los Angeles. I saw them for the first time at the Smell and was immediately a fan for life. I had never seen anything like Xiu Xiu and still haven't. He took all thejamie stewart morrissey things that I loved about pop music and new wave music, punk, indie rock and classical and glitch electronica and mixed them all up together. I was impressed and wanted more. Luckily for me, Jamie Stewart and Xiu Xiu have been very busy.

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Make Mine A Triple: Joanna Newsom says, "Have One On Me"

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, February 22, 2010 02:09am | Post a Comment
Joanna Newsom Have One On Me Record review drag city art deco cover image album
Have you ever been so hungry for something, a rare treat that smelled so good sizzling on the coals, that against your better judgement, you burned your mouth in your wolfing haste to taste it? Upon procuring my copy of Joanna Newsom's latest opus, the fresh-from-the-fire triple LP Have One On Me, Christmas morning-ish feelings of borderline maniacal anticipation welled up in my belly and I imagined my immediate consumption would be not unlike taking a rich, slow-baked indulgence dish to the face and, Lord knows, how I tried. Eighteen songs and two hours later I felt pleased to have a feel for the depth and complexity of the bounty, but proper digestion recommends dipping in --- all the better to savor the flavor. Seriously folks, this big 'un is a whole mess of treasure that takes time --- sweet, precious time --- to appreciate in both fathomed comprehension and measured worth. So approach with a mind to settle in and absorb each third accordingly, one by one (because you know we'll be referring to them from now 'til eternity, respectively, as record one, record two and record three), and be sure to make time and take it, like Joanna's first cooing words on the opening track, "easyeasy."

joanna newsom have one on me legs lithe album artwork record review black and white pretty
Have One On Me as a complete work, generally speaking, plays like an almanac harkening a bygone age which, when you think about it, encompasses everything we've come to expect from Miss Newsom. The album artwork appears to draw heavily on art deco influences, what with the choice of typography, the subtle design notions featured on the insert and, of course, the cover image in which we see Newsom, sprawled kittenish on a couch, pictured in what appears to be a vintage tinted photograph of a disheveled dressing room decorated by a deranged zoologist. And it's all show inside as well: the black box houses three individually sleeved albums and a booklet packed with lyrics, credits, and a curious lack of thanks set against a series of four, seemingly sequential black and white candid shots of our girl in a simplified portrait setting evoking a subdued recollection of the madness depicted on the cover, looking very lithe, long-limbed and undeniably beautiful in bib-and-brace short-shorts (something tells me this look'll be trending a little while longer) as she twists her hair in a fix, gorgeous. Then there is the music.
joanna newsom triple album record review have one on me ys street band live
For me, Joanna Newsom is as much Elton John on holiday as she is a harp-wielding Morgan le Fay. "Easy," the opening number, showcases the shadow and the light of Newsom's "Elton" leanings, that is to say, her ability to lay down a playful yet solid piano track that is as much of a portal unto itself as it is a portent of things to come. "Easy" begins slightly dormant in bed, yawning with lyrics suggesting the movements of a doomed relationship from contentedness to conflict to confrontation and, interestingly enough in the end, to conjuring. It's good stuff and good enough to rouse the listener into readiness for the multi-instrument maelstrom of musicianship to come in the eleven minute title track where Newsom flaunts her penchant for folklore and the storytelling origins of the bard instrument that have sensationalized her skills internationally. The song "Have One On Me," like "Easy," features a host of arrangements around Newsom's central vocals and instrumentation, providing a lushness very much like that of Van Dyke Parks' orchestral wizardry that graced the strains of Ys, not to mention the four man and a lady Ys Street Band (still a corn-nut of a moniker) that provided a miraculously scaled-down live distillation of the aforementioned orchestration on a scattering of instruments for Newsom's Ys tour (three of the original five comprise the core of the guest players on the new record). I suppose that's why Newsom claims that Have One On Me reflects an amalgam of her previous works. 
joanna newsom have one on me album review record harp strings harpist
While there are a few uncluttered, straightforward harp or piano plus vocal compositions on the record, many of the songs are dressed up in one way or another with arrangements attributed to the guest musicians themselves, some of whom play such exotic oddments as timpani, kora, Bulgarian tambura, kaval, vielle, rebec, and coronet (the bulk of the latter lending "Kingfisher," on record three, courtly virtue). Still, at first spin, these endowments make for a complicated, tight-lipped listen that takes a little getting used to and may, at least in my case, leave the listener wondering what some of these songs might sound like en deshabille. Still again, what works for songs like "Go Long," where Newsom plays three harps (!), and the jaunty seventies (1970's, not 1870's or earlier like some of Newsom's other pieces suggest) feel of "Good Intentions Paving Company" is the motley mélange of guitars, percussion, banjo, mandolin, trombone, piano and (especially!) the warm waves of the Hammond organ and layered vocal harmonies à la Joni Mitchell or Fleetwood Mac or --- so clearly single-worthy a track it was no mistake that it was leaked as a teaser (in fact, all the pre-release date treats are stand out numbers by now, just as surely as impatient hunger for the feast has broken them in). 

Best of a Rapid Decade: One per year plus a few too good to not mention...

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 6, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

In recently trying to fill in a friend on what I'd spent the last year or two listening to, I realized that my personal taste tends to gravitate towards some element of either Folk form (any hint of hill-folk finger-pickin' or Ozark/Appalachian melancholy and I'm in), Psychedelia or the tendency to extend a theme for a good long jam (a category in which I include a lot of the Jazz that I like), or just a great, funky groove.

With those qualifiers in place, the following is a year by year review of the last decade which somehow got past me with out noticing it. I mean, really?!! 2010?!!!  I didn't see it coming: 

2000: Album of the Year

Air's enjoyable and wacky Moon Safari had been on the decks for a couple years before they contracted for the soundtrack to Sofia Coppolla's Virgin Suicides. The resultant score is absolutely sublime and marked the French electronauts as contenders to watch.

For myself, it was the defining sound of the millennium's new year.

Shelby Lynne released a killer country-soul gem, I Am Shelby Lynne, that echoed early material from the likes of Bonnie Raitt. Thinking that it was a brilliant debut from a talented 32yo unknown, I was eventually shocked to find that it was her 6th album. I listened to it for months.

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Todd is Godd: Rundgren tours his legendary album A Wizard, A True Star.

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, December 5, 2009 08:30am | Post a Comment
 todd rundgren a wizard a true star album cover tour 2009 san francisco live futurist rock concert
I have only ever twice before been fortunate enough to have enjoyed a live performance of an entire album from beginning to end. I'll never forget the dorky glee I felt once upon a time in 1990 hearing Geoff Tate of Queensryche ask his band mates a few songs into their show in support of their album Empire, "guys, shall we do Mindcrime?," only then to crush non-stop through their hour-long progressive rock-opera Operation: Mindcrime. Then there was the surprise and delight of hearing Joanna Newsom say during her show a couple of Christmases ago, "I'd like to perform my new album for you now," and just like that, her nearly hour long Ys magically unfurled its sails with everyone in attendance on board. However, Todd Rundgren's performance last Tuesday night of his stellar album A Wizard, A True Star at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco was a mess of fandom-fueled joy that I knew I was getting into and, to a certain extent, almost dreaded.
todd rundgren a wizard a true star awats tour fan art jacket embroidery needle craft
I mean, compared to the prior two experiences where my "being there when they unexpectedly played the album" aspect of the live performance became a highlight of each show, I wondered how will I look back on this --- a show where I know not only the set list beforehand, but also already anticipate the overall feeling that I get when listening to the album on my own terms. In other words, how could this show present anything but the record I love as a less-than-perfect rendition with low-lights glaring where the highlights would be (a lot like Todd's white-on-black hairdo actually). Maybe I was a little concerned as to Todd's ability to deliver, at age 61, his genre-smearing, progressive futuristic rock magnum opus of 1973 in a live, staged setting --- an album that has aged so well that Todd admits to caving in to fan demands for a tour when asked, "why this album," and "why now?" C'mon, who would go through all the trouble to embroider the back of their jacket with album art from a record that wasn't sent from Utopia itself? If the exemplary piece of fan craftage above (as seen at the show last Tuesday night) gives any indication, Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star must be nothing less than the shit, impervious to crumbling under the constraints of staged presentation! Still there's more...
todd rundgren rocker style icon 1970's guitar god a wizard a true star tour 2009
I know now that I was wrong to doubt Rundgren's ability, regardless of age, to deliver anything but a jaw-dropping display of pure showmanship and theatricality. And I was wrong to expect the expected too. For one thing, I had no idea Todd was to be his own opening band. To everyone's surprise, Todd, flanked by three other dudes similarly clad in black on black and wearing black shades, took to the stage and, after announcing the world premiere of "Todd Rundgren's Johnson," played a robust set of Robert Johnson covers. Todd explained at one point that this particular cover band thing had something to do with either business or karmic obligations, probably both. In any case the set provided a means for a world class shredder like Rundgren to really strut his stuff and look effortlessly cool doing so. But that didn't last long, as Todd's taste for rotating guises in the second act, or rather the show we all came to see, had me wondering if Rundgren's "style icon" status has rendered him immune to aesthetic criticism or has been downright revoked.

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Neal Morgan Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, October 20, 2009 02:13pm | Post a Comment
Drummer Neal Morgan's bold, multi-layered record, To the Breathing World, with songs created from vocals and drums only, comes out today, October 20! An entire album consisting of drums and vocals may sound simple, but Neal has created something that's complex, layered and not short on melody to boot!

You may know Neal from his status as a member of the Ys Street Band -- he was on the road with Joanna Newsom for Ys playing drums and singing backing vocals. His first solo release is something new and creative to behold -- the tracks are kind of like tiny symphonies of vocal layering, and the lyrics often reference the natural surroundings Neal grew up around in his hometown of Nevada City/Grass Valley.

Read on for our chat about the creative crock pot that is Nevada City, his new album, touring with Joanna Newsom, and more, and check out Neal's other chat with our own, ever-so-witty Job O Brother; the two are long time friends.

neal morgan to the breathing world

Miss Ess: How did you pick up playing the drums? What is it that drew you to them so strongly?

Neal Morgan: I began playing when I was 9; my dad had a cover band called Sons of Boogie that would practice in the garage. I think I must have sat down at the drumkit and something clicked. I can't say why I was drawn strongly -- I was a cautious kind of kid, so maybe banging on drums was a good contrast. I don't know.
neal morgan
ME: Who are your favorite drummers?

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