Archive for March, 2009

Alexandra Hope

Alexandra Hope’s sparse instrumentation reminds me of The White Stripes.

Alexandra Hope (click for more pics)

Alexandra Hope (click for more pics)

She also plays as a duo, but she’s the guitarist/vocalist while bandmate David Muller drums and plays piano. The absence of a bass and the bare bones production gives their songs an almost D-I-Y quality, much like a lot of Jack and meg’s stuff, and I tend to like a bit of that as an antidote to all the slickness out there (even in some of my other faves. Rcrdlbl.com has a free download of the “hot” (at least on Indie 103.1) single, “Whatever You Want” , which they allow me to link HERE. Do go to her MySpace page and check out the rest of tunes, including her “tribute” to Madonna’s “Lucky Star”. I see a bit of both Lily Allen and Patti Smith in her looks….how can THAT be, since they don’t look at all alike?

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Shrag, The Thermals, Swanton Bombs, Eugene McGuiness, The Henry Clay People, Art Brut

shrag_portraitIn response to djeddieo’s recent recommendation, The Ettes, I present Shrag.  Not quite the same throwback as The Ettes, but they are a mostly-girl punk group from the UK so I’m unfairly throwing them in the same mix.  Shrag’s take on their punk is a little more methodic than the peppier Ettes.  Ghosts Before Breakfast brings memories of old school Brit girl punk, like X-Ray Spex.  But FortyFive 45’s is clearly the song that will pave their way.

thethermals_r1
Additional cred goes to Shrag as they are MySpace friends of The Thermals. Here you can hear the title track off of their upcoming album Now We Can See.  Immediately recognizable as The Thermals, this tune is a little more radio-friendly sounding than most tracks off of their previous (amazing) album The Body, The Blood, The Machine.  But don’t be fooled, one quick listen to the lyrics and they certainly haven’t softened their commentary.

sbswan1I had initially heard Shrag on the Huw Stephens BBC1 podcast, where I also heard the London duo Swanton Bombs (which I’m learning is the name of a professional wrestling move).  I don’t know how to describe these guys, but I’m the most excited about them of any band in this post; at times polished (Turnstile), at others rough (I Like It)…  I can’t decide which I like better.  My current favorite Sorrysayer sounds like a cross between Ray Davies and Jonathan Richman backed by The Fall.  Their current 4-song EP, Mammoth Skull, is available at iTunes.  You can also download their debut LP for free here.  The duo is made up of Dominic McGuinness on guitar, piano and vocals and Brendan Heaney on drums.

If you like the more polished stuff, Dominic’s brother Eugene McGuinness has a music career going in his own right.  Eugene’s approach is much more of the cool, pop crooner type.  So cool, he even has a song called Fonz.

hcp1The Henry Clay People are an LA based group whose MySpace description appropriately reads Americana/Indie/Rock.  But the songs about working and drinking, and even traces of Skynyrd guitar fills (listen to Something In The Water), don’t fall flat as some corny southern rockers.  Mixing in nods to Pavement and Modest Mouse keeps an interesting edge.

Finally, I haven’t quite decided if Art Brut are a novelty act or not.  Their 2006 album Bang Bang Rock and Roll is a very smart and funny work of punk snarkiness.  Even so, I let their follow up album, Its A Bit Complicated,  fall to the wayside; most likely of fear that their tongue-in-cheek approach may not continue to stand up past one album.  Well, their next one, Art Brut vs. Satan, is due out on April 20.  It was produced by Frank Black, and apparently has a song that pays tribute to the Replacements… With those two factors I may have no choice than to get back on the Art Brut train.  Alcoholics Unanimous is the first single…

Bryn Christopher, Emiliana Torrini, Lady Sov and more…..

I’ve actually been listening to Bryn Christopher for a few weeks; why I haven’t posted about him I’m not sure, but I know I did worry that his sound might seem derivative of, of all things, Gnarls Barkley. “Crazy” was one of those songs that was an obvious smash (to me) right out of the box. When I included it on a compilation CD in May 2006 (pre-blog days) it had yet to be played on Boston radio, and soon thereafter it was beyond inescapable, much like prior picks I’d made, like “Hey Ya” by OutKast or “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba (not that I’m always so clairvoyant; I remember digging thru crates of records to find a discard of mine that had gotten huge in the months since I poo-pooed the promo copy I’d received: Everything But The Girl’s “Miss You”).  Anyway, I had hoped that “Crazy”, which I assumed was a one-off for CeeLo and DM, would spark a slew of colaborations between soulful vocalists and slick deejay/producers. Instead, it got so big that Gnarls became a actual band with tours and a follow-up record (that wasn’t awful but wasn’t “Crazy” either).

Anyway, back to Bryn.

Bryn Christopher

Bryn Christopher

He certainly has the CeeLo vocal chops, and production, while not that of a DJ, is rock solid. Check out the best song of the bunch, “Smilin'” at his website or on his MySpace page (I unearthed this great BBC1 blogpost that speaks at length about the “something missing” quality of the song, without really identifying the problem; perhaps that’s part of what took me 3 weeks to post about him). I suspect we’ll hear more from him, hopefully with even better material and production, but, in the final analysis, “Smilin'” is worth your listening time (like many other current faves, I first heard it on Passport Approved).

Emiliana Torrini

Emiliana Torrini

Emiliana Torrini, who’s “Me And Armini” was featured on my December volume 13, has a hot new single, “Jungle Drum”. The Icelandic former soprano with the Isabella Rossellini looks (with an Italian dad, of course) looks to be having a blast in the video, which is not embeddable, so check her website and MySpace page to view and for more info.

With as much attention The Cure is getting currently due to the release of “Perfect As Cats”, a two disc tribute featuring Cure covers by 37(!) different bands, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Lady Sov’s “I’m So Human” track, which samples (and largely copies a verse from) one of my old favorite Cure songs, “Close To Me”.

Lady Sovereign

Lady Sovereign

I recall that when I first heard M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” I resented the “Straight To Hell” sample, and I believe I may have posted a rant about it, equating it to Soho’s use of “How Soon Is Now”, which created a generation of listeners that misidentify the “classic” original as a rip of the copy! Well, M.I.A. certainly did eventually win me over (long before that awesome Grammies performance while 9 months pregnant), and I predict Lady Sov will as well. I’m not saying her “So Human” will be as big as “Planes”, just that I won’t be changing the channel every time it comes on (maybe every other). Here’s the video:

Smashproof (not sure who Boston Yanks are)

Smashproof (not sure who Boston Yanks are)

I haven’t been a fan of US hip-hop since the days of Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force, but plenty of rap/hip-hop from other countries, mostly the UK, find their way to my stereo. New Zealand’s Smashproof has the number one song in their country for the last 4 weeks with “Brother”. Featuring guest vocals by Gin Wigmore, the song and its video have created major controversy, as it details a real life case from a year or so ago in which a young Polynesian graffiti tagger was killed by the white guy whose fence he tagged. I believe the guy got off lightly and much protesting ensued. Not since Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” have I heard such social commentary in US rap.

It’s not supposed to be embeddable, so this copy of the vid I found may stop working any day:

Lisa Hannigan

I have a soft spot for sweet (not scratchy) female vocals, like Victoria Bergsman, Lykke Li, Feist, Lenka, Yael Naim; all mentioned here at one time or another. Of course I like lots of other categories of female vocals (Aimee Mann, for example, straddles multiple genres for me), but the quietly breathy variety brings me back to the days when I could spend all day Sunday in bed with the newspaper and cup after cup of coffee, then tea. Well, I no longer can justify hours and hours of laying around “recharging”, or whatever that was, which makes the occasional 3 minute “mini-break” with an admittedly twee song that much more valuable.

Lisa Hannigan

Lisa Hannigan

Ireland’s Lisa Hannigan is a great new addition to my list. Of course, she wouldn’t be new to me had I been a fan of Damian Rice, who had featured her vocals since 2001. Having missed that boat, I was delighted to have tuned in to, of all things, The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, where Steven Colbert had Lisa as a guest on Monday night. She performed a song called “I Don’t Know”, which prompted some fun banter when Colbert asked her the title before the performance. Hear the beautiful CD version on her MySpace page, or watch this very watchable video:

In advance of the September Ireland release of her solo debut, Sea Sew, the song “Lille” was released as a free download on her website (where it’s now 89 pence, but I found it free online HERE), or watch another very watchable video (this one I couldn’t take my eyes off during first view):

This is the rare CD I recommend buying in its entirety, or just purchase it as a download for $7.99 HERE.

Other standout songs include “An Ocean And A Rock”, “Keep It All”, and “Sea Song”.

Who needs oldies???

I had already decided upon the title of this post when Catherine Wheel’s “Black Metallic” (1992) came on my satellite radio. Okay, I stand corrected: an occasional oldie, preferably underappreciated and seldom heard, is a good thing. I’m sure “Black Metallic” still gets regular rotation on WFNX’s Leftover Lunch, but I’ve so long ago stopped listening to my local stations that I’m not really sure (generally too much late 90s grunge, not enough stuff from this – the 21st – century). Video being easier to post than mp3, here’s “Black Metallic” for those so inclined (I couldn’t bear to watch past 20 seconds, but I did listen).

The reason I might argue that there’s no need for oldies is the abundance of new music faithfully rooted in old genres. Take, for example, Dan Auerbach’s recent solo release, Keep It Hid.

Dan Auerbach

Dan Auerbach

As authentic to the delta blues as anything that the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, or my beloved J. Geils Band ever did, yet offering  the freshness of discovery that only a new release can, Keep It Hid can be sampled at Dan’s MySpace page. Normally, authentic blues is not my cup of moonshine, and, true to my nature, it’s the track “Heartbroken In Disrepair” that really graps me, with its tremeloed guitar smacking of the shaggy seventies, even while evoking Johnny Marr’s iconic “How Soon Is Now” riff. Check out the non-video video here:

Buy the vinyl LP and enjoy the scratchy sound at the bargain price of $8.99! [I was recently told that I’m showing a propensity toward “scratchy female vocalists”; not sure I agree, but I’ll cop to Dan’s scratchiness]Dan is the lead singer/guitarist of Akron, Ohio’s The Black Keys, recently highlighted here by Buzz Biscuits, and he churns out equally faithful bluesy rock on their current CD, Attack And Release.

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady

Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady has always sounded, to my ears, like a Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes tribute band, perhaps one in a rock opera or Broadway show about that segment of rock and roll that requires a saxophone and a Hammond B3 organ. No surprise then when I heard that they had been selected by Bruce Springsteen to cover “Atlantic City” for the “Heroes” benefit album.

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[Benefiting children affected by war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, the CD took 15 “legends” and asked them to pick one of their songs and a new artist to cover it; click the CD image above for more info]

This is a cover of the very faithful variety, likely even to please Springsteen fans. Hear it HERE.

Jamie Lidell

Jamie Lidell

I’m surprised Jamie Lidell isn’t more popular, what with the explosion of post-Amy Winehouse neo-sixties soul/R&B all over the UK having spilled over to the US. Heck, even the neo-crooner category of Michael Buble, John Pizzarelli, and the other Jamie, Jamie Cullum, could share some of their admittedly limited spotlight. Britain born and based now in Berlin, Lidell’s current release, Jim, has a couple of standout tracks. Check out “A Little Bit Of Feel Good” and  “Another Day”, in video form, below (again, easier to post….me? I listen without watching).

Of course, my favorite Jamie Lidell song is still 2006’s “A Little Bit More”, made familiar by a Target commercial. Hear it HERE.

The Vivian Girls

The Vivian Girls

From Brooklyn by way of New Jersey,  The Vivian Girls evoke that era before stereo and high fidelity were even important. Their eponymous debut CD is a quick listen, with 10 tracks barely breaking 22 minutes. Surfy, garagey, and lo-fi, “Where Do Run To” is the standout, in my opinion. Click their photo above to go to their website, or find their MySpace page HERE.

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Hey Ocean

Hey Ocean

Hey Ocean is certainly more like what you’ve come to expect from me: bouncy, happy, non-scratchy, female pop. From Vancouver, the quartet gets jazzy and folky at times, but generally settles into unthreatening pop territory. Check out hook-laden “Too Soon” now, before it gets picked up by adult contemporary radio (do they still call it that?) and gets played all over the dial. You can listen and download it HERE, at a Dutch website I stumbled upon. Their MySpace page gives a little more, but “Too Soon” is the gem.

The Magnificents, Nick Harrison

Here’s a song that sounds like it could be an undiscovered 80’s recording – let’s all try to name what influences we hear! (I’ll start….I hear The Alarm!)

The Magnificents

The Magnificents

The Edinborough quartet actually first released this on an EP in May 2007, but it’s just starting to get big buzz, and rightly so. An oft quoted comment from their MySpace page reads “If you are too tight to pay for it try a torrent site or sit between two stereos, one playing Lou Reeds Metal Machine Music and one playing ABBAs The Visitors very loudly. The effect is very similar. You f***ing skinflint.” Sounds good, but I’d recommend just spending the dough! Seven bucks for the download HERE.

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Nick Harrison works the ska beat, in the sincere English way, as opposed to the caffeinated California style. Check out “Oi Rude Boy”, and be assured I’ll be rockin’ this tune when I’m in Jamaica this April:

Click HERE.

Nick Harrison, cheeky monkey

Nick Harrison, cheeky monkey

Originally a drummer, the 24 year old switched to singer/songwriter when he couldn’t get drumming gigs, and we’re the beneficiaries. Read his whole bio, if you like, at his website, or go to his MySpace page to hear 5 really fun tunes from the new CD, One Drop, out now and available HERE.  Nick and his trio are currently on tour in the UK.