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Best of 2016: Kelly's Personal Picks (now with more cat)!

Posted by Kells, December 31, 2016 02:18pm | Post a Comment
Looking back at 2016, it was a good year for music, if for nothing else. If you're reading this—hey!—you survived the ride. How did you do it? Was it the music? Without a doubt, music has saved my life, or at least my mood, as often as once a day (very probably) over this past year and for that I am thankful (most definitely). Here follows a little list of personal favorites that really came through for me in 2016. My cat may be in some of these pictures...


Tony Molina
- Confront the Truth
(Slumberland)

I never know what to expect from Tony Molina, aside from hella Bay Area bombast and great short songs, and Confront the Truth further confused matters for me (save for the short songs tip) in the best way possible. This lovely 45 is brimming with just the sort of comfortably spun, little-bit-country/little bit folk 'n roll melodies I like. It can also be said that it's brimming with conspicuous influences, namely bits n' bobs reminiscent of The Beatles, Elliott Smith, and perhaps even a little early Skynyrd (think "The Seasons"). Nevertheless, it's easy to appreciate the truth of Molina's heartfelt songwriting and superb ability to navigate a softer power as he coaxes and bends his strums and twangs 'til the bitter end on this ten-ish minutes long, eight song confrontation. Or 'til the bittersweet end, as the cherry on top is a loving cover of Thin Lizzy's wistful instrumental "Banshee" rounding out the record like a would-be bonus track. Altogether a perfect example of how beautifully moving even the most fleeting music can be.



Egyptian Lover - 1983-1988
(Stones Throw)

This 4 LP box set, along with the 1984 LP Egyptian Lover released last year, has been the most important music for me during 2016, no contest. I'm no noob to Egyptian Lover's 808 kingdom, but something clicked in me over the last 12 months that made fiend for his beats more than ever and, as such, I pretty much forced it on everyone around me (not that anyone complained). Though I have already expressed my many thanks and affection for Greg Broussard's electro alter ego and his freadky deaky machine in a previous post, I'd be remiss if I didn't include Egyptian Lover in this year end best-of post.  To quote the man himself: "What is a D.J. if he can't scratch? What is a MC if he can't rap? What is a beat without a live clap? Well, I can do it all, baby, just like that."



Dick Stusso - Nashville Dreams/Sings The Blues
(Vacant Stare)

Somewhere out there a guy is chasing his dirty rock 'n roll dreams tonight, do or die. Oakland's Nic Russo is the that guy bringing Dick Stusso's hellbent fantasies to life, maybe real life, or something like it. He may look okay, but Dicky sounds like a demented drunk branded to fail upwards
towards his hardtack escapist visions of fortune and freedom via middle America's back-country highways, one infectious, nightmare-edged ditty at a time. Part T. Rex boogie, part Gram Parsons twang, all grain alcohol down the hatch and back again, these country fried, mud-soaked porch aspirations hang loose together like plucked notes on a low string being tuned ever downwards. Featuring additional vocals by Grace Cooper (The Sandwitches/ Grace Sings Sludge), this record is pretty limited so don't sleep on it. Get some Dick asap!



Tele Novella
- House of Souls

(Yellow Year)

I got my first taste of Natalie Ribbon's penchant for dark n' lovely bygones and whip-smart singer-songwriter prowess years ago the first time I saw her perform as a part of Agent Ribbons, and I've been hooked ever since. She brings that same sinister energy and torch-bearing realness to Tele Novella, the "macabre-pop" band she joined after moving to Austin, Texas a few years ago. Her mark on their debut LP, House of Souls, is as recognizable as her distinctly smokey yet capable-of-cracking-a-marvelous-squeal vocal range. The album showcases a curio cabinet of yummy trick-or-treat compositions wreathed in dreamy harmonies and spooky jingle-jangle know-how. Another limited press best snatched asap.



Little Wings - Light Green Leaves
(Gnome Life)

Technically this is a re-issue, but it also kind of isn't. When Little Wings' Light Green Leaves was first released via K Records in 2002, the main man behind the magic, Kyle Field, recorded three versions of the record and each version was released via three formats (CD, LP, and cassette tape). The CD version was my gateway to Little Wings' trippy, lo-fi landscape, with songs like "Look At What The Light Did Now" quietly pushing that whole "Freak folk" movement towards it's zenith. Thanks to the good folks at Gnome Life, this year was the first time that the CD version of Light Green Leaves saw the needle on my turntable (yes!!). What's more, this pressing comes with added rainbows thanks to the thrilling effect of the holographic foil-stamped cover sleeve. Also, I've had the pleasure of chatting with Kyle a few times, here and here are two of those times.


Violent Change - VC3
(Melters)

VC3 is the third full-length effort from San Francisco's Violent Change, a dank basement rock band that always sounds like they're broadcasting live from some subterranean rusty-yellow iron lung via janky infernal radio channels that just won't tune in, and therein lies the appeal. This record is a bit mellower than their 2014 release, A Celebration of Taste, and brandishes a less Sex Pistol-y energy while putting the damage on some decidedly Shoes-y sounding riffs, with "Unit A" being a standout example of bandmaster Matt Bleye's ability to  cut crystal visionary pop melodies through all that fuzzy distortion. VC3 is "the lowest form of high art" indeed.



The She's/The Dry Spells split 7"
(Empty Cellar)

This cool little spit 45, housed in some fun, lens-bending 3D cover art, contains atmospheric and sonic harmonies exemplary of a very "San Francisco" sound duality, each side presented in perfect reflection by two different San Francisco bands. Side A sees The She's ripping through “Cherry Red"—a golden nugget of a California beach-ready lipstick bop reminiscent of The Breeders and Shonen Knife. Then the fog rolls in languid and thick on side B as The Dry Spells' moody, spellbound psych-folk tendrils slowly wend all over "Heliotrope," the first new music from the band since their 2009 LP Too Soon For Flowers, thus making this split effort one of the more satisfying 7-inch fixes this year.




Solange - A Seat At The Table

(Columbia)

Sisters, sisters...it's been a good year for the
Knowles sisters. Both Beyoncé and Solange released absolutely fab, extremely successful pop albums that simultaneously reinforce and redefine what a fab, successful pop album is and how it's made. It can even be argued that both albums are "important" in their own way. That said, the two records differ greatly enough that discussions on the topic can spur folks to declare one's preference for one over the other, which isn't important at all. Still, while Beyoncé's Lemonade is an audiovisual tour de force and cause for much commotion, Solange's subtle yet powerfully meditative A Seat At The Table (and the accompanying body-positive music videos) have inspired comparisons to theatrical surrealism and the nickname "the thinking man's Knowles" within my social circles, which I find amusing. Whatever, they're both splendid works and you've probably already decided you like both, no matter how you rank them. Don't hurt yourself!


Blonde Redhead - Masculin Féminin [box set]; Peel Sessions [RSD 7"]
(Numero Group)

Any year that sees a release from Blonde Redhead is a good year for me. In addition to the powered-by-various artists Freedom Of Expression On Barragán remix album, Numero launched two trips into the Blonde Redhead vaults with the Record Store Day special Peel Sessions 45 and a the gag-worthy 4 LP Masculin Féminin box set comprising the band's first two albums, singles, and demos from their early era—stuff that has been out-of-print, hard to find, or otherwise unheard until now! Even if you already have the albums and the singles, this box set is simply a must for the rarities et cetera contained within, including a heap of old photographs and two telling essays by Arto Lindsay (DNA) and Erin Osmon, altogether exploring to the source of the Blonde Redhead sauce. Did you know Blonde Redhead recorded a country song?!

Incidentally, Numero Group has, as always, been killing it with some great new releases this year. If I were made of money, I'd be all up on everything they have to offer, but aside from the Blonde Redhead stuff, two compilations in particular (pushed via their Numbero imprint) have continued to delighted and surprise my senses: the mysterious Shanghai'd Soul Episode 4 collection of bygone deep funk/soul gems mined for the adornment of modern hip-hop cuts (hence the titular tip-of-the-hat to Wu-Tang's Shaolin stylings), and the Record Store Day compilation Los Alamos Grind—a "post-apocalyptic-bachelor-pad" gyrating jukebox homage to those tattered yet titillating Las Vegas Grind comps that still filter in through the used new arrivals vinyl bin from time to time. Get into it!

Well, that about does it for my picks, save for this year's killer stack of Exotica and Exotica-adjacent releases pictured way up top (I wrote about those here) and my Burt Reynolds odyssey (saving that for another post). Happy New Year everybody! Dumpster fire or no, it's time to get a move on. 
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Back to School with Agent Ribbons' new "Family Haircut" video & Let Them Talk EP

Posted by Kells, September 4, 2012 10:30am | Post a Comment
It's been a minute since we've heard from Agent Ribbons and I am pleased as planter's punch to begin this back-to-school Tuesday with a repeat viewing of their genial music video for "Family Haircut"!

Directed by Melissa Cha and shot in the kind of creepy abandoned schoolhouse that keeps local ghost hunters over-employed, the video meanders in tandem with Natalie and Lauren depicting the duo in variety of dressy attitudes as they camp and vamp casually through broken classrooms ---  like ya do. Accompanied by lushly layered girl-group harmonies sewn over their patent rough-hewn garage rock melodic base, the song's structure seems to hearken back to the band's raucous early days, much in the same way the dark allure of their lyrics always do. Add all that up, pair it with a definitive alabaster brow or two, and you've got a recipe for ardent heartache of the loveliest degree. But you don't need to take my word for it, see for yourself:



"Family Haircut" is the title track from Agent Ribbons' current limited run cassette-only release on the Portland-based Cassingle And Loving It label, not to mention the upcoming September 11th release of their seven-inch teaser Let Them Talk on Antenna Farm records, a harbinger for the Missus Ribbons' upcoming full length LP set to drop in 2013. Now, if you haven't already seen Amoeba Music's exclusive video interview with Agent Ribbons do yourself a pretty favor and check it out by clicking here, you'll also find videos comprising their excellent live show performed at Amoeba's Berkeley store. Can't get enough? Do, then, check out my interview with the Ribbons babes here and my review of their Chateau Crone LP here. Cheers!

p.s. Living in the middle bits? Agent Ribbons could be bringing their live business to a venue near you - get into it! Check out these tour dates middle westerners:

Sep 07 at Bernadette's - Austin, TX
Sep 08 at 502 bar - San Antonio, TX
Sep 15 at Studio B - Corpus Christi, TX
Sep 20 at Mango's - Houston, TX
Sep 22 at Circle Bar - New Orleans, LA
Sep 24 at Smith's Olde Bar - Atlanta, GA
Oct 03 at Melody Inn - Indianapolis, IN
Oct 04 at South Park Tavern - Dayton, OH
Oct 21 at The Lone Wolf - Brooklyn, NY
Oct 23 at Empty Bottle - Chicago, IL
Oct 24 at Vaudeville Mews - Des Moines, IA
Oct 26 at Lemmons - St. Louis, MO

My Best of 2010: Music Picks by Kelly

Posted by Kells, January 13, 2011 08:45pm | Post a Comment
Howdy and Happy New Year, one and all. I've spent about a week and half, that is the first week and a half of 2011, listening only to the music I purchased last year and I've come up with a list of stuff that I am not only not sick of but ready to live happily ever after with. Here's what I love the most, my best picks for music released in 2010, and you know it's gotta be firm 'cause it's all I've been living on. Let's go:

Sun City Girls - Funeral Mariachi (Abduction)

This is the kind of record that you listen to repeatedly, one side at a time. I think I must have replayed side one at least five times before moving on to play side two again and again --- it's just a mesmerizing and solid piece of work, enchanting and haunted by an astounding breadth of world music influences (no doubt culled from field recordings, transmissions and the like Sun City Girls has gifted to the public via their Sublime Frequencies label, which pretty much makes them, alongside Mississippi Records, the Smithsonian Folkways of our generation). This release is held even more dear by the fact that it is the last Sun City Girls record due to the death of drummer and vocalist Charles Gocher Jr. in 2007. It's also a limited release, so get it while you can. In fact, it's the "get it while you can" of 2010.

Sun City Girls - "Blue West" from Funeral Mariachi



Tim Cohen - Laugh Tracks (Captured Tracks)

A decidedly "summer" record released in a year overflowing with "sounds of summer" records, but this one is different. I hadn't listened to this record since the weather turned brisk, but listening to it again now I recognize a pleasant nostalgia for these songs that secure its place in my treasure chest collection of "staying in" records. It also makes me wish I lived in a place with a screened in porch and wooden floors. Not as rockin' as Cohen's Fresh & Onlys, but janky and deft as anything Tim's ever fixed his broadly informed musical influences on, even if this time it sounds like a crazy quilt and a Legend in a rockin' chair. A++

Tim Cohen - "Oh, Oh, Oh" from Laugh Tracks


Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me (Drag City)

Okay, here we go: what is there to say that hasn't already been said about this record? Surely you know by now whether or not this fills your cup, and if it is your poison, well, you don't need me to reiterate how essential this record is because we agree already: it's the bee's knees. If you, like so many others, can't get past this or that to enjoy Ms. Newsom's polyrhythmic instrumental skills or her penchant for weaving rich verbal tapestries with threads of lyrical gold like "I regret / when I said to you honey just open your heart when I have trouble even opening a honey jar" highlighting compositions that clock in at an average of seven to ten minutes, then that's your problem. Funny, that same description could be applied to Iron Maiden's 2010 release, Final Frontier, excepting the sample lyric of course, which just goes to show that music is more alike than different, you know, just like you and me. Anyway, final answer, Have One On Me: masterpiece of the year. [boom, roasted!]

Joanna Newsom - "In California" from Have One On Me
 

Joanna Newsom - "Good Intentions Paving Company" from Have One On Me


Joanna Newsom - "'81" from Have One On Me



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jeff Eubank - A Street Called Straight (Drag City)

Speaking of Drag City, this is another one of their fine, fine reissues. I'd feel hesitant to include a 1983 reissue on a list of 2010 year end music picks, but I just cannot not count this record in, as it has become so very precious to me. I had no idea how much I needed this LP until I happened to randomly pick it up one day and perceive that eerie, unexplainable gut feeling that enables patient diggers to calmly pull a title that seems to be psychically super-smizing at them. This record is one of those lost 80's soft/"yacht" rock sessions that determined artists end up mortgaging their houses to afford making, perhaps owing to its existence as Eubank's sole recording, thus increasing the preciousness index. The fact that most of A Street Called Straight sounds like better, lusher songs like those America wrote for the Last Unicorn soundtrack confirms my esteem for him, ranking Jeff right up there with my other singer-songwriter boyfriends Jeff Lynne and Todd Rundgren. If only I could include a sample of "For Your Return..." or "Feels Like Me," but I guess "Kamikaze Pilot" will have to suffice.
 
Jeff Eubank - "Kamikaze Pilot" from A Street Called Straight

 
Lloyd Miller & the Heliocentrics - S/T

I like jazz, jazz is nice. Stir in a little eastern influence 'n instruments and I could jazz all night. Every track on this joint smolders but none more so in my opinion than those incorporating Indonesian elements and Gamelan scale. Also, the latest Lou Harrison, released in December, Scenes From Cavafy (New World Records), is pretty amazing, especially the tracks that feature the Gamelan Pacifica Chorus --- total swoon --- I die, it's so good!

Lloyd Miller & the Heliocentrics - "Fantasy Pt. 1"

 
Agent Ribbons - Chateau Crone (Antenna Farm)

A long time fan of the Missus Ribbons, I was delighted to get their new full length LP (!) in my clutches in 2010 at long last. Though their recordings may be only a token of their love compared to the orgy of their frank and frenzied live performances (ahem, do yourself a favor, already) I've played this gem to no end and can but come to the conclusion that Agent Ribbons are one of the best lady bands in the U.S.A. We love them: check out Amoeba's Agent Ribbons video featurette here, Chateau Crone review here and band interview (posted just before the trio became a duo, once again) here.

Agent Ribbons - "Dada Girlfriend" from Chateau Crone



 
 
 
 
Oni - Sunwave Heart (ハヤシライスレコード) & Afrirampo - We Are Uchu No Ko (Rock Action)

While Agent Ribbons has got me on the subject of awesome lady-rocker duos, Afrirampo released their final album in 2010 which may or mayn't have anything to do with the future of Oni's solo work as a folk artist. Regardless, the point is Afrirampo has broken up [*sniffle*] and delivered a double-disc swan song like none other. Though Oni's preshy earth songs provide some comfort, I'm gonna miss them あふり-red painted ladies and the total chaos of their live shows (reference the video below for a taste). お疲れ, ladies, さようなら。

Oni - "Ajisai" from Sunwave Heart


Afrirampo - "ヤーヤーエー" from We Are Uchu No Ko


Afrirampo's video for "Miracle Lucky Girls" from We Are Uchu No Ko


 

 
 
Beachcomber Trio - Live at Kahiki 1965 (Dionysus)

All Exotica releases should come packaged with a cocktail recipe, am I wrong? This LP only, hand numbered edition of 500 is not a reissue, mind you, but a lost recording of an exotic evening at Columbus, Ohio's Kahiki Supper Club, a legendary though now defunct "Tiki Temple," and includes not only a recipe for the classic Port Light tiki cocktail, but also comes packaged with a digital download coupon --- crazy, eh? Featuring house band The Beachcomber Trio, this record packs the sort of quiet, environmental excitement other live restaurant recordings released in the 60's present: the sound of the bar's waterfall, the tinkling of glasses and muffled voices sometimes offering discernible words like the man with the Jimmy Stewart voice stating "oh, that's 'Yellow Bird'" as the band begins to play Arthur Lyman's "Yellow Bird." An absolute must have for Exotica enthusiasts and theme restaurant lovers alike. And, while you're at it, pick up a copy of that Exotic Dreamers 2-on-1 reissue of Ethel Azama's Exotic Dream and Tak Shindo's Mganga! --- both worth the price of a painkiller #9.
 
Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle (4AD)

I was a little down on this at first listen (I was pining for early BR sounds), but it grew on me slowly, finally overtaking my senses at their live show at the Warfield theater last November. They've rummaged around, re-creating their musical style time after time, but they still manage to sound as beautiful and damaged as ever. The song they opened their show with, "Black Guitar," is proof of that, and, looking back to songs like "Pink Love" from Misery Is A Butterfly, it seems that Blonde Redhead still pull from their tarnished prison-house of a well, no matter how they endeavor to redecorate it. They ought to cover "Pain Cave" someday; I know they could do it right.

Blonde Redhead - "Black Guitar" from Penny Sparkle

 


 


Sandwitches - Duck Duck Goose! (Secret Seven)

So dark 'n lovely, this hardly-for-kids, wyrd-pop record continues to take my breath away; there's just no wearing it out. Here's my review of Duck Duck Goose! from June 2010, and please note the Sandwitches will be headlining (!) at Slim's on January 25th as a part of an evening presented by (((folk YEAH!))) and playing a benefit for the Coalition on Homelessness with Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps at Great American Music Hall on February 9th.

The Sandwitches - "Stardust" from Duck Duck Goose!

 

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today (4AD)

I think most folks agree that this record is tops, so I'll sa
ve the drawn out, glowing review and say that when I first heard Ariel Pink was to release a record on 4AD I wasn't expecting it to be this good. I mean, it's so good that it, in the words of John Mellencamp, hurts sooo good. If his show at Bimbo's last summer taught me anything it's that Ariel Pink is the wizard spilling caesar salad all over himself behind the curtain and his Haunted Graffiti band is, well, band of the year as far as I'm concerned; they killed it,  picked it up when Ariel was putting it all down. Record of the year? Yeah, and why not? It's locked in from here to eternity as the solid shades-on, roof-off, #1 summer jam of 2010, so there you go, put that in your Discman and spin it.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Bright Lit Blue Skies" from Before Today


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Fright Night (Nevermore)" from Before Today


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Can't Hear My Eyes" from Before Today
 

Tamaryn - Waves (Mexican Summer)

Back in Virginia we used to hang out at this once a week goth night called "1708" at club 1708. It was fun, but middling though there were a lot of guys dressed like Trent Reznor. Recently I heard buzzing among fellow Amoeba peeps about a band called Tamaryn; seems they'd made quite the impression with their live show, and everyone was remarking upon their certain success and notoriety. I confess, I rushed to get a listen and found a properly elevated "1708" sound so atmospheric I could almost feel the tense softness of spilled candlewax cooling on velvet cushions. I recognized Tamaryn, the girl and the band, at a local karaoke joint about two weeks after hearing Waves for the first time. As far as I can remember she sang "Killing Moon" in the style of Echo and the Bunnymen, "Silver Spring" in the style of Fleetwood Mac and "Life on Mars" in the style of David Bowie, so her influences certainly check out. It's a shame "Love Will Tear Us Apart" wasn't in the songbook.

Tanaryn - "The Waves" from Waves


The video for Tamaryn's "Love Fade" from Waves
 
Grass Widow - Past Time (Kill Rock Stars)

Amazing music, amazing art, amazing women, amazing band. What more do you want? (Watch this...)

Grass Widow's video for "Fried Egg" from Past Time

Leland - Feel the Pain (Contempt)

This is a weird one, weird deluxe. A heap of these ended up in Amoeba San Francisco's clearance bins and many of us pounced on them like cats on nip because a.) who is Leland? and b.) how is it that he cooks so chilled? Still on the prowl for more info about Berkeley man of mystery Leland Yoshitsu, who is, it seems, sadly no longer with us but enjoys a flattering afterlife thanks to artists like Puro Instinct and Ariel Pink. Far fucking out, man.

Leland - "I've Got Some Happiness"

 
Sword - Warp Riders (Kemado)

I don't know if this would have made this list if it weren't for the most triumphant cover artwork and the buzz about this record being a science fantasy concept album inspired by Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime bearing influences from heavy predecessors like Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Nazareth. It's a killer, throwing punches that'll hit L.A.R.P.ers, Trekkies and headbangers alike right between the eyes.

The Sword - "(The Night The Sky Cried) Tears of Fire" from Warp Riders

Die Antwoord - $O$ (Interscope)

I almost forgot to include this one since most of it has technically been around since 2009, but Die freakin' Antwoord's debut received proper release in 2010! I could gush for days about how cool these people are and how folks perplexed by their act need to just chill and take it all in. And if you can, take in a live Die Antwoord show. True, you won't be any closer to understanding what the heck "Wat Kyk Jy?" is all about, but I'd wager a B.P.P. you'll be more than pleased to find yourself fist-pumping with the Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er. Check out the "What's In My Bag?" interview with with Die Antwoord at Amoeba Music Hollywood here, photos from their bombastic live performance at Amoeba Music San Francisco here, and keep an eye out for the upcoming video interview piece to accompany them in-store photos. By far the best in house performance of the year!!! Die Antwoord: yes, please!

Die Antwoord - "In Your Face"


Die Antwoord - "Zef Side" video thingy

Of course there was a ton of other great stuff I could include, but it's 2011 already and I'm excited about new, newer and the newest things too. So, I'm gonna stop here. Except to say how about that R. Kelly, is he classing up his act or what? King of soul 2010: R. Kelly, bitches!
 

 

Chateau Notes: In Conversation with Agent Ribbons -- Their Shophomore Release, Chatueau Crone, Drops Today!

Posted by Kells, October 12, 2010 01:33pm | Post a Comment

Agent Ribbons
is, plainly put, one of the most bewitching band of ladies I've ever encountered in a live setting. Their raw feminine energy and rosy demeanor create an infectious dynamic tension when they perform their songs, almost as if they dare the shadowy figures sulking (most likely) at the bar to rise on invisible strings and sway like moths enchanted by the shine of the widow's web. Yes, lawd, these salty sirens have the ability to spellbind when their signature sibylline sound mingles with such fetching aesthetic fury --- it's a lusty mix heady enough to have you hooked in an instant.

A little while back I had a chance to chat with the missus Ribbons after they played a brief but burning hot set at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. Here guitarist/vocalist Natalie Gordon, drums/accordion/vocalist Lauren Hess and violinist/cellist/vocalist Naomi Cherie dish about their newest release, Chateau Crone, on Antenna Farm records, which hits the shelves at Amoeba today, their move from California to Texas, upcoming projects and other sundry subjects!

First of all, fabulous show! I think I can speak for everyone when I say I only wished it had been longer (it was a short set, but people were fist-pumping!). Are there plans in place for a proper Chateau Crone tour?

Natalie: Ha ha, I don't know if any tour we ever do is a 'proper' anything tour, but we definitely intend to do a great deal of touring in the next year.  We'll be in Europe for the winter, on the west coast for late January and early February (you can bet your money on a longer set this time around!), and we're planning a New Zealand tour in the spring with Uni and her Ukulele. We hope to tour the U.S. one more time before taking the summer of 2011 off so that we can write new material.
 
Lauren: Hopefully during that west coast jaunt in January or February we'll be able to hit up some spots we weren't able to on this tour, namely Sacramento, Modesto, Nevada City and Portland.
 
So, the last time I saw Agent Ribbons in San Francisco was at the Fillmore Auditorium (which was super exciting!); please talk about what that was like. Natalie, you were barefoot right?
 
Natalie: Yes, of course I was barefoot! Shoes -- at least, the attractive kind that I prefer --tend to be fairly unpractical for unruly stage behavior. I feel like I'm running around in my backyard if I remove my footwear, but I do keep the shoes on for some occasions...usually if I'm concerned about the electricity being well-grounded. Going barefoot on a stage full of electrically-powered gear is a big gamble, but I like risky business.
 
Lauren: The Fillmore show was the absolute best show of the Camera Obscura tour. It was basically a homecoming show, so many of our friends and family were there. My family was treated with VIP status and had a little section of their own to watch the show. I was really touched that my Grandma, who is a big supporter of us, was able to see us on such a legendary stage.

Naomi: Playing at the Fillmore was such honor especially since I've studied a lot of music history. My favorite part was walking through the halls and looking at the walls, which were lined with hundreds of show posters from decades past. It was also neat because there are all these little traditions like the barrel of apples when you walk in and the fancy dinner all the bands get to sit down to upstairs before the show.

The Fillmore show was the first time I saw (and heard) Naomi with the band; is the vibe onstage any different playing as a trio?
 
Natalie: Adding Naomi to the band was a big change for the band in many ways, but I see it as a much-needed challenge that came at the perfect time. Not only do we have more at our disposal dynamically, but there's another world of nuance, dissonance, harmony, etc. that wasn't available to us before. When the band was just drums, guitar and vocals, it almost didn't even matter if my guitar was in tune or not! Now, that is quite a priority for obvious reasons, but it's so great because the added dimension has opened a floodgate of ideas for us and I think we are running with all our new freedoms. Lauren has begun to do quite a bit of vocal harmonies now and after adding a new instrument, and feeling secure about it, we feel as though we can try whatever we want without fearing change. I think it was weird at first to have another presence onstage that was standing up and moving around next to me since I'm used to having run of the place! But it's really wonderful and I enjoy working off of her energy so much...we're finally finding our balance and it makes performing so much more fun!

Lauren: Natalie and I had a very strong dynamic as a duo, which was great but also problematic since we basically molded our sound live and knew how to play together exclusively. Having Naomi in the band has forced us to propel forward and get to know our songs and instruments much better. I really love how the live show feels now; there is another person to interact with and play off of which really helps our stage
presence.
 
Has Naomi's coming aboard at all shifted the songwriting/music-making process for Agent Ribbons?
 
Natalie: Well, I honestly felt my songwriting taking a weird shift right before she joined the band, which is one of the reasons we spontaneously invited her to be a part of Agent Ribbons despite the frowning logistics. It just didn't seem right to only have guitar and drums when we started working with the new material...something was definitely missing and we didn't know what it was. When Naomi started to play with us, it was weird because she fit perfectly into the new songs, but the older material was a bit awkward for her to play on since it had been designed for sparseness. However, we make it work now, and pretty much all the new songs we come up with have a definite place for her, so I guess the short answer to your question is "yes!" The song structures have changed some, and also melodically I'm more attracted to lines that will sound good with harmonies since Lauren is singing now.

Lauren: I also say "yes!" We have an amazing violinist who is not only capable of playing anything but [also] coming up with really beautiful parts as well; we have more room to be more elaborate and experimental.
 
I love the concept around your new album Chateau Crone, it is really the sort of place I can fathom losing myself in, like, forever. How did that idea for the album come about?
 
Natalie: There are so many different chapters to this story. A lot of it has to do with my mom because I remember her always telling me that falling in love was a beautiful thing but that it wasn't always forever, and that if I didn't end up finding "the one" that I couldn't let that effect my sense of self-worth. I'm always open to the idea of a life-partner or a true love, but I don't rely on it and definitely don't fear the idea of never finding it. My closest friends are very passionate people and I watch them fall in and out of love all the time -- as I do -- but the real love story is in our friendship and our sincere investment in each other. I love reading about matriarchies or societies where groups of women run communities with the help of men that are not their lovers, such as brothers and sons and grandpas. Men that are romantic interests are sometimes in the picture, sometimes not. Sometimes forever, sometimes not. We want a community where we can grow old together and support each others' dreams whether or not we have husbands or wives or other permanent installations! A place where you don't feel like you need a boob job to look great...an extended family that has plenty of sources of advice and inspiration. The nuclear family is dead, in my opinion, and in an era where aging women are still not considered more valuable to society, I would like to start from the ground up and redesign the template for happiness.
 
You pointed out that night at the show that you not only cherish the effect the legendary Little Edie Beale has had on your life, but that you also have a "little Edie"-esque aunt who inspires and supports Agent Ribbons. What's her story?
 
Lauren: My aunt Lisa, who now is our band aunt or "bant," has been a big influence on my life from as long as I can remember. From playing the Cramps, Rubella Ballet and the Cure for me super early on to her free spirit nature, Lisa has always left an impression on me and is continuing to do so with our band and friends. She has gone on a couple tours with us and just has the best outspoken attitude and ends up being everybody's friend. On our last tour with her, she brought a whole slew of costumes and assumed different characters at our shows including a deranged circus clown, a psycho baby and an international spy. She basically blows us outta the water when it comes to theatrics! 

Natalie: Auntie Lisa is a brave and adventurous woman that has believed in us from the start. Since the day we met, I've looked up to her as a role model in many ways and she always makes our travels more interesting! Though she's Lauren's aunt, the band has collectively adopted her.

Naomi: Auntie Lisa is our Little Edie. She's helped the band out in a lot of ways like lending us money for instrument repairs, helping us secure a touring vehicle, etc. Her free spirited and kooky ways have been very inspiring and she's probably our band's number one fan. She's kind of like a nutty fairy godmother.
The song "Your Hands, My Hands" is clearly a masturbation jam: was this song intentionally written that way or did it, ahem, come organically?
 
Natalie: Hmmm. Well, let's just say that it, ahem, came organically and that we intended for it to do so.
 
For me, the song "I'm Alright" has a very girls of summer/Breeders sound to it, which I absolutely love. How  much does the whole 1990's mainstream "alternative"-to-riot grrrl spectrum of girl rockers influence Agent Ribbons, if at all?
 
Lauren: I'm the big riot grrl/girl punk fan of the band! I have over 250 all female/female fronted 7" records and am constantly collecting. I listen to a wide variety of music, but grrl bands will always be my favorite. I try to bring that DIY spirit and punk attitude to the band when I can. On tour we listen to Girls in the Garage compilations which were a big influence on that song.
 
Natalie: The 90's affected all of us simply due to [our] growing up in the 90's, but I'm more so a fan of bands like Guided by Voices and Built to Spill than I am of Riot Grrrl. I missed that boat somehow, so I wouldn't say that what we do is informed by it much. But yeah, The Breeders in particular are a stand-out exception and I've always loved the Deals' vocal ideas. Actually, one of the reasons we recorded much of Chateau Crone with Manny Nieto was because he did a lot of work on The Breeders' Mountain Battles and we were excited about that. He did all of the recording for "I'm Alright."
 
A friend of mine (who is a Morrissey fanatic) pointed out that "I Was Born To Write Sad Songs" possesses something of a Morrissey vibe, both musically and lyrically; is she far off the mark? What is the story behind this hit?
 
Natalie: I can totally see what your friend is referring to! I am a Morrissey fan but hadn't thought about any similarity before. It's funny because I actually originally wrote that song for the band Cake shortly after we toured with them. They said they were recording a new album, so I thought it would be cool if I could write a song for them to record. Unfortunately I never got around to finishing it in time to show them, but it was for the best because I think it's more suited to us anyway. We recorded it on the fly with our friend Chazz in Austin and I wrote the bridge that day. He set me up in a tile bathroom for the guitar and vocals, and Lauren wrote her drum part as we went along!
 
I really love the song "Grey Gardens" --- it's satisfying to hear it on the record after enjoying it live time after time. Natalie, you mentioned before how movies are a major influence to your song-writing. Are there any movies making songs in your head lately?
 
Natalie: YES! I only discovered Jodorowsky this year, and I'm totally obsessed. When I moved to Austin this year, I finally started catching up on loads of films I've always wanted to see but never could because I didn't have a computer or television! I want our next album to be totally Jodorowsky-inspired, especially Holy Mountain. And I want to take lots of pictures for the artwork in Arizona and Texas with my new Diana camera since it has a kind of color-saturated sensuality that matches that whole aesthetic. In Holy Mountain there is this scene of this couple in a wood-panel room and a four foot toilet, and the woman has green hair...this room is my inspiration for what I want my next bedroom to look like and what I hope the next AR album will sound like!
 
I gotta know: right now, today, what would be the ideal Agent Ribbons cinematic "sick day" triple feature?
 
Natalie: OH MAN, this is so hard...You said "right now" so my choices will reflect the present moment and not necessarily my favorite films, so here goes: The Karate Kid, Holy Mountain and Princess Mononoke. I wish I was sick right now!
 
Lauren: Personal Best, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Naomi: I can't even remember the last time I've been to the movie theatre. How about some old faves: Amelie, Vertigo and...The Little Mermaid!

It's exciting to know that Chateau Crone will be issued on vinyl! Any plans to have your debut album, On Time Travel And Romance, re-issued on vinyl?
 
Natalie: Unfortunately, I don't think so. We don't even have the masters because the awesome guy who recorded the album -- Jim Sandelius -- passed away recently. He had the only known masters and they're gone forever, I'm pretty sure. Oh well. It's not really an album meant for vinyl anyhow, so I'm not worried about it.

Naomi: I've never thought about that but I think an On Time Travel and Romance vinyl release would actually a really good idea!

It seems like, generally speaking, the songs on Chateau Crone pull from more autobiographical content than the more story-telling inspired vibe of your debut, could this be related to homesickness? Do you miss California?
 
Natalie: You're right, it's very autobiographical. And yes, I do miss California a great deal. The songs were all written before we moved to Texas, but since we were on the road nine months out of the year even when we were living back west, I was always thinking about home and the people I was far away from. There is probably every single emotion known to mankind on Chateau Crone because our lives were pure chaos and adventure and longing throughout the duration of working on it, seasoned with tragedy and doused with a gravy boat of pure luck.
 
Please talk about your move to Austin, Texas. Has the relocation affected Agent Ribbons very much?

Naomi: It's great for me because I'm from Austin and have been flying back and forth from Texas to California for tours and recordings for the past year. It's nice not to have to hop on a plane every couple of weeks and it's great to live in the same town and be able to practice and collaborate more often.

Lauren: I absolutely love Austin; it was great move for me on a personal level and an even smarter move for us as a band. Initially I was going to stay in California, but then it became very apparent that the band would lose so much momentum if I was in another state. It's been great for us all to be in the same state, it's given us time to practice and work on band stuff.

What are the biggest differences between Sacramento and Austin? How are the thrift stores, the food, the scene, the audience, etc?

Lauren: Austin is a much more active city in general but it still feels like a small town some days. I feel that people are doing so many art and music related things in Austin that encourage each other to create and participate. Sacramento has really creative and interesting people but sometimes the scene is not where it should be and has a tendency to die out for a while before getting great again. We accomplished so much in Sacramento, there is no way we would be able to be nurtured and supported in such a positive way anywhere else. Also, I think Sacramento has way better thrift stores! When I lived with my parents in a suburb of Sacramento before leaving for Austin I had access to an entire thrift store route that I would frequent, including a place where clothes prices started at 40 cents. I scored amazing finds all the time! I miss my Sac thrift stores!

Here's my "Teen Beat" question: do you have names for your instruments?
 
Natalie: Since my guitar is a Danelectro, I often refer to it as "The Danny" but I also think personifying instruments is a little bit creepy for some reason.
 
Lauren: Well, not exactly, but I describe my drum set as a mystical tiger eye set. My guitar, which I seldom play in this band, is called "Super Glorious."

Naomi: My old violin had a name but it got stolen out of our van last summer during our tour with Camera Obscura. My new violin doesn't have one yet, but it's an antique from France so it should probably be something French. I'm taking suggestions...
 
Is there a particular song you most look forward to playing every night?
 
Natalie: I love playing "Wood, Lead, Rubber" due to the built-in dance moves, but I think that when we are lucky enough to have a great sound system, "Wallpaper of Skin" is us at our best.
 
Lauren: Probably "Grey Gardens," "Bird in the Mirror" and "I'm Alright."

Naomi: "Wallpaper of Skin" is definitely one of my favorites and one of our most intense songs. "Your Hands, My Hands" is fun too, and of course "Wood, Lead, Rubber" which is usually our grand finale.

Do you think you'll ever write a particularly "maritime inspired" song for nautical nerds like me? (I can't help it: I grew up on a beach in NC famous for pirates and shipwrecks and things.)
 
Natalie: I'm on it, baby!

Naomi: A nautical song would be really fun...and we could all wear matching sailor outfits?

Are there any particular artists or records you're been listening to lately?
 
Natalie: I also want to answer this question without naming the usual suspects and actually talk about latelies, so music that I've listened to a lot of in the last couple months would be Robert Charlebois, Gogol Bordello, Broadcast, Pulp, Captain Beefheart and Jonathan Richman. Captain Beefheart is something that has always been around me, but I started listening to him a lot more this summer, and I'm also really feeling the 80s lately, though it seems to have no effect on my songwriting.
 
Lauren: I'm in a Kate Bush phase again, particularly the album The Dreaming. Also, Crass and Silver Apples and the Mamas and the Papas are some of my favorites right now.

Naomi: I've been checking a couple of fun girl bands like Wet Dog and The Coathangers. We also played with an amazing sister duo in Tucson called Acorn Bcorn. I don't think they have a CD out but you should really check them out if you get a chance.
It was super cool that you could get together with Dame Darcy for your release through Seven Inch Project. Do you have any other artists, visual or otherwise, that you dream about working or touring with?
 
Natalie: I really wanted to put out a split 7" with the band Paranthetical Girls last year. I wrote to them about it and they came to see us when we toured with Camera Obscura, but we played a dreadful show that night and I'm sure they're not interested anymore! I'm obsessed with this visual artist named Olaf Hajek that is big and famous, so maybe some day we'll have a big enough budget to have him do some artwork for an AR release!

Naomi: There is an embroidery artist in Austin called Jenny Hart who I would really love to get to do a band portrait for an album cover or poster for us.

I know you're concentrating on your touring Chateau Crone (just released today!), but are you working on anything new at the moment? Any future projects for Agent Ribbons in the works?
 
Natalie: We have a small pile of songs that we're planning on working on a bit during the holidays and then we'll hopefully flesh them out next year. Lots more vocal harmonies happening on this batch. It's hard to say what they'll sound like when we actually figure it all out though, since our material changes a lot as it drifts down the assembly line!

Naomi: We want to release another 7" as soon as we can. We have a lot of ideas in the works but we really need to invest in some pedals and proper equipment before we can pull some of it off. There are also a couple of songs we'd love to do once we replace our broken accordion and toy piano!
Thank you so much for your time, ladies! We're wishing you luck on your current and future tours and looking forward to your new material! Hope to see you again real soon.

A Grey Garden for All Seasons: Agent Ribbons Tour Their Chateau Crone

Posted by Kells, August 23, 2010 01:47pm | Post a Comment

There may be many preshy "dream-girl" bands performing nightly under the radar out there, but perhaps none of them so bewitchingly swoon-worthy yet so storybook-ready to bear both fang and claw as Agent Ribbons. Tonight the trio, who have rightly been equated to sounding like Girls in the Garage doing the Three Penny Opera, will be appearing at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco (along with Girl In A Coma and Gringo Star) as they tour in support of their sophomore effort entitled Chateau Crone, slated for release on Antenna Farm Records this October 12th.

Since starting out as a duo in 2007, singer and guitarist Natalie Ribbons and drummer Lauren Hess have toured the U.S. tirelessly, playing with such noteworthy acts as Camera Obscura at the Fillmore Auditorium last year as well as sharing stages with bands like Cake and the Detroit Cobras. Their debut full-length release On Time Travel and Romance first hit the shelves at Amoeba Music in the form of custom-crafted CDs housed in handmade sleeves that showcased a tangible penchant for bygone aesthetics held together by found feathers, bells, lace, ribbons, glitter, glue and more than a little bit of stitch-witchery. Said debut has since been re-released on Broken Carousel and the ladies have collaborated with visual artist Dame Darcy on their limited edition candy-apple green vinyl release for Seven Inch Project as well as delivering a second 7", Your Love Is the Smallest Doll, released on Acuarela Discos in Europe and Japan, which marked the first appearance of Naomi Cherie on violin and cello. Originally from Sacramento, Agent Ribbons uprooted to Austin, Texas, which may or may not have something to do with their being banned in the U.K. in 2008.

At first listen Chateau Crone comes across as an album spurred by a strange arrangement of influences and genres, both musical and visual, yet every minute of it sounds threaded like baroque pop gems beaded concertedly in a triumph of heirloom costume jewelry. From the opening track "I'm Alright," which plays like a sunny Breeders/Elastica-esque summer beach jam complete with three-part harmonies and hazy, post-feminist allure; to songs like "Dada Girlfriend," what conjures up heady visions of languid, balletic graces akin to women as "green fairies" in Art Nouveau absinthe advertisements; to the plaster-cracking rocker-track "Wood, Lead, Rubber," that comes very close to capturing the shock of the missus Ribbons' live performance sound, the record seems to suggest gypsies canvasing the limitless expanse of a tannin-stained teapot (see track four, "I'll Let You Be My Baby"), or getting down in the Winchester mansion via a rabbit hole guest starring the Shaggs (see track seven, "Your Hands, My Hands"), or a possibility-ridden attic of functionally aged wardrobes (see track six, "Wallpaper of Skin"), or a displaced estate where one might escape to meet the Beales of Grey Gardens (see "Grey Gardens," track two) for sweet tea with Golden Girls on their banana-leaf steeped lanai (see track eight, "Oh, La La!"). It is, frankly, all that and then some, yet, nothing quite beats seeing these girls pound out their otherworldly girl-next-door compositions in the bare-footed flesh, as they truly give 200% of themselves on stage, balancing honest minimalism with theatrical rawness given what they have previously referred to as their "limited means" of musical outfitting (of course, that was said before Miss Naomi joined the band). I would say that with the kind of gumption these girls pack into a stage show, instruments other than their very presence are almost unnecessary!

For a look at the fabulousness you'll be missing if you don't make it out to the show tonight check out this interview/performance piece put together upon our falling in love with Agent Ribbons after their live instore performance at Amoeba Music in Berkeley.