Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 - Four Albums That are Cold Rocking It Without Prior Prejudice

Blessed are the noise makers, the chord crunchers, those that take it to 11; for they shall inherit the earth.

Well, Jesus might have said it had he been into crunchy guitars and big noise.

Despite dupstep, chillwave and whatever else, several bands churned out remarkable guitar driven, fuzz laden, noise pumping rock albums worthy of your time, money and future investments in hearing aids. They must all be played loud.

Times New Viking's brought a shambly, disorderly vibe to their album Dancer Equired , propelled by the profane and quick paced "Fuck Her Tears." But tracks like "Try Harder" and "Don't Go To Liverpool" aren't as tight but just as enjoyable.

It's clear that Yuck mined their Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth records for their self titled debut , but you beneath all the fuzz you get some beautiful love songs like "Georgia," "Shook Down," and "Sunday." But they still go hard, with a seven minute album closer built off ever increasing buzz.

The master class in cold rocking it can be taught by Wild Flag, with the singular text being this year's smashing debut . Though not really a debut, since the members are veterans of seminal 90s bands (Sleater-Kinney and Helium). But the opening song sets the tone and it keeps going and going. Try not dancing to "Romance" or bopping to "Future Crimes." Break out your air guitar... it's encouraged.

But for pure sex and rock n roll, there's Hanni El Khatib's Will the Guns Come Out. .A mix of blues, Stax soul, and garage rock, it's potent. Often just stripped down, vocals distorted, it's refreshing and fierce. But the stand out is You Rascal You, as Khatib sounds like he's struggling to to hold his guitar from taking over, and each bridge break he let's go a bit. It caterwauls and wails.. You haven't heard it this lustful in awhile.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 - Something About Hip Hop and R&B

I don't get a lot of music, but I really don't get much of modern hip hop. I thought Lil Wayne's effort this year was garbage, I find Drake to be boring, and Rick Ross to be less than engaging. That said, I listened to some pretty amazing hip hop and R&B this year. So maybe I shouldn't complain too much.

There was the outsized egos of Jay Z and Kanye pairing up for Watch the Throne , and album so conspicuous in its excess and grandeur it was almost impossible to see this album for what it was: two guys having a ton of fun. It wasn't the most brilliant album this year, but by forgoing any restraint, Kanye bookended last year's MBDTF with a masterpiece that had Jay around for polish.

On the flip side was The Roots with Undun , proof that ?uestlove is the hardest working man out there right now. A perfectionist to the utmost limit, he and the Roots have used their time as Jimmy Fallon's house band to make sure every note and every tap is in its right place. He's evoking pure 70s Philly era soul on this album, and it works. every track feels labored over; you just want to roll around in it for awhile.

And between those two you have two remarkable, must owns from the next generation. First is Frank Ocean's Nostalgia/ULTRA, and album that I simply ADORE. Here we have someone nimbly fusing real love problems over A+ major producer beats with an astonishing voice, to incredible effect. From enhancing Coldplay's Strawberry Swing to reinventing The Eagles' Hotel California as some sort of young urban love and divorce story, Frank Ocean is want you want playing when you're solo or lounging with company.

The second is Childish Gambino's Camp . Here we have a guy rapping about getting laid, getting drunk, and getting paid. But he's also speaking about the duality that millions of middle and upper middle class black kids are growing up with. It's a universal them of non-inclusion to be sure, but that double consciousness speaks more potently to them. And it's that awareness that elevates Donald Glover from just another rapper to the big leagues.

Best Albums of 2011 - Three Sophomore Releases I Loved

Sophomore releases are notorious stumbling blocks. You want to branch out, but you don't want to be too different. It's tough to balance all that. There were three sophomore albums from three bands that I absolutely loved this year. I wore digital grooves on my digital files I played them so much.

First you have Pains of Being Pure at Heart's Belong, a magnificent tribute to 90s Smashing Pumpkins excess rock. It still feels like their self titled debut, but fuller, richer. They've grown into this sound and they relish it.

Next is Telekinesis' 12 Desperate Straight Lines . Here we have Michael Benjamin Lerner going a bit harder than his self titled debut. It's not all sweet lyrics about being in love anymore. "I never loved you, I never loved any one." Yeah, he's a hurt dude. But this is a guy who knows how to craft a perfect pop song, and makes you hit repeat again and again.

Finally, one of my must own albums of the year, Rural Alberta Advantage's Departing . This album is stark and melodic, like the Alberta province where the band is from and takes their name. But where their debut Hometowns spoke of that isolation, Departing is about the world outside and leaving your love and family. All the tracks are phenomenal, but standouts include the driving drum of Stamp, the beauty of North Star, the powerful opener of Two Lovers and the equally poignant and bare closer Good Night. I saw the band close out their show with this number and they brought the house down.

Best Albums of 2011 - Anything Merge Records Put Out this Year

So I started working on my various lists and realized that a lot of my favorite albums in 2011 seemed to come from Merge Records, that powerhouse label down in North Carolina. They remain one of my favorite labels because they consistently put out good music, take care of their artists and after almost 23 years doing it still has a ton of energy and drive.

There's something here for everyone. Bitter love gone wrong lyrics? Try Telekinesis 12 Desperate Straight Lines. Shoegaze-y beautiful rock? Wye Oak's Civilian. Winking 70s style smooth rock? Destroyer's Kaputt. Sonic Youth noise rock (with this year's best profanity laced single)? Times New Viking's Dancer Equired. The list goes on and on and on.

Here's a short list of some of my faves that I couldn't stop listening to.

Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
Wild Flag - s/t
Apex Manor - The Year of Magical Drinking
Destroyer - Kaputt
Times New Viking - Dancer Equired
Wye Oak - Civilian
Amor de Dias - Street of the Love of Days
The Rosebuds - Loud Planes Fly Low

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best of 2011 - A Preface

I've been mulling my EoY list for awhile, and I feel a bit out of sorts.

Most of the music people who professionally listen to music said you should like I didn't like.

And listening to this past year in music made me not want to rate any of them. I have favorites above others for sure, but I honestly felt like ranking them would just be a kind of waste.

So here's my idea. I'm just going to group them together in odd categories of my liking. They will all be albums I think you should own (though some more than others).

Anyway, that'll be over the next few days... so stay tuned or something.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Plans for the Night - The Postelles at The 9:30 Club

The Postelles are returning to DC, bringing their surf/sock hop rock by way of Brooklyn sound to 9:30 Club on Friday, 21 OCTOBER where they're opening for the Wombats. We really liked their s/t debut this summer, and for $15, it's a show that has a pretty low risk/high reward thing going on.

The group put out a four song cover EP that takes on some tracks by The Ramones and the Smiths. You can pick it up for free at the site. Below is a cover that's a perfect fit, Joe Jones' California Sun. They stripped it down and cut the tempo a half sec. It's a bit more R&B infused too, which is nice.

Buy tickets to The Postelles show at the 9:30 club 21 OCTOBER

Download The Postelles cover of Joe Jones' California Sun

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What We're Listening To - Frank Ocean's nostalgia, ULTRA.

I had put off listening to Frank Ocean for some time. I don't really dig much of modern R&B, and his association with shock rap collective Odd Future just kind of turned me cold. We have plenty of hypersexed crooners rocking the airwaves right now.

But his crooning on Watch The Throne piqued my interest, especially his notes on Made In America (maybe they can book him for the MLK Memorial dedication later this month in DC). It was tender and pure, and at the very least deserved a longer look.

nostalgia, ULTRA. is a near flawless debut album with pitch perfect singing, brand name production, smart lyrics and a groove that won't quit. it is challenging in the most desirable way possible.

Frank Ocean (nee Christopher Breaux) released it for free on his tumblr in February after Def Jam signed and ignored him. Since then, critics have heaped huge amounts of praise on it and Def Jam is scrambling to figure out how to give it a formal release. The album, while not only great, is a perfect picture of everything that's wrong with major labels.

Ocean has a keen ear towards what makes good pop music. He's penned a song for The Beebs (which doesn't disqualify him... people's gotta eat). But there're no R&B throwback covers here. He adds new lyrics and soul to Coldplay's Strawberry Swing, adds more sex to MGMT's Electric Feel, and ups the despair and indulgence of Hotel California. Even Radiohead's Optimistic makes a cameo (if only to serve as his foil that "bitches" would rather listen to Jodeci)

But on the original tracks, the boards are turned over to super producers Tricky Stewart and Midi Mafia (behind hits like Umbrella, Single Ladies, 21 Questions). But that only serves to make them radio friendly for your ear. Ocean is an artist with much on his mind and his lyrics go beyond just being sexy. They're thoughtful, humble and incredibly self aware. Songs For Women is a peek inside his head on his music and why he does it. Lovecrimes is backed by Nicole Kidman's tirade from Eyes Wide Shut

Novacane could be your newest sexytime jam (put it on random with Washed Out and you've got an all night party), a compelling story of girl he met at Coachella and the incredible high she gives him. And if there's any doubt his voice isn't the real deal, We All try is magnificent.

Ocean isn't as corny as Drake and not as earnest as Bruno Mars. He's more nimble and intelligent than Trey Songz, and not as overt or agressive as Chris Brown. Hopefully nostalgia, ULTRA and Frank Ocean mark the turning point for sensual, thoughtful contemporary R&B.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What We're Listening To - JAY Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne

The long awaited collab of hip-hop's two reigning titans arrived this week, after fits and starts and a lock down so tight no one heard it until they said so.

And it's good. Not great by any stretch, but it shows Jay-Z back in good form and Kanye finding the sweet spot he hit on MBDTF and keeping it going.

When H.A.M. dropped, I was admittedly not impressed. That gaudy single art, the lackluster lazy rhyming, the trash heap beats. Then came the threat of a full collab album, something Jay has quite frankly never been able to pull off. Need I remind you of Best of Both Worlds AND Unfinished Business? Not to mention Collision Course and The Dynasty.

And Kanye, notoriously a weak rapper, has been growing lyrically and eating Jay for lunch. Where Jay killed it on Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Ye destroyed it on Run This Town and Haters.

But here we are, and in a weird bit of alchemy, all these elements that together should make a miserable album instead create a solid experience.

They've invited a ton of friends to come lamp: Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver. It is an album that is singularly Kanye's vision in its scope, size and production. Prime example: they paid nothing short of a trillion dollars to clear Otis Redding's Try a Little Tenderness. It was 100 percent worth it and shows the two at their most comfortable. No hooks, horns and an Otis Redding that go nowehere, it feels simultaneously fresh and a throwback to early Kanye. Gotta Have It samples a skittish James Brown, with some assist from the Neptunes, you can tell this is going to be a party.

Jay-Z over his entire career has never dreamed this big (his masterpiece The Blueprint is remarkable for its restraint and smoothness). And at times he gets swallowed in. You would think New Life, a RZA coproduced track sampling Nina SImone would be perfect. And the idea is great: two guys rapping to their unborn children. But Jay doesn't do sentimentality (exception: Song Cry), and Kanye never sounds sincere (I find it hard to breathe in when the next track is That's My Bitch).

But when it shines, it burns bright. Niggas in Paris is possibly my favorite track on the album, built off of frantic rapping, a tapping high hat and synth, and some nonsense half bits from Ye and Jigga.

What is the end to this collaboration? These two have been appearing on each other's records for a solid decade now, so this is nothing new. I'm glad to see whatever falling out they had has been resolved. Ye still is looking up to his Big Brother, and in some ways, Jay-Z still needs Kanye to stoke that fire and hunger. But where this album leaves us I'm not quite sure.

Buy JAY Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne from Amazon's MP3 Store

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What We're Watching - Yuna's Come As You Are

It is no doubt ballsy to cover a Nirvana song. It's fairly iconic, and you want to make it your own, but you really can't improve too much on the original.

So to cover something as haunting and lyrically loaded as "Come As You Are", seems like an idea that might be better to walk away from.

Yuna, with her debut EP Decorate out on the FADER label, brought her minimalist approach to the track. But instead of the guitar singer songerwriter vibe she gives off, the cover is backed with a drum machine, some tinkling keyboard, skitter skatter electric noises, and her haunting ethereal voice.

There's no way you believe her when she croon "No I don't have a gun."

You can stream Yuna's Decorate EP at Soundcloud

Buy Yuna's Decorate EP at the Amazon MP3 Store

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What We're Listening To - Dawes' Nothing is Wrong

I'm always amazed at the different sounds that come from LA. Maybe because of my East Cost leanings, but it seems like every lost dreamer and wandering soul who picks up a guitar out there coaxes a completely different sound out of it. When I read about the revival of LA rock, I'm continually baffled, not by the bands (because they are good) but by the fact anyone would try and lump that into one box.

Case in point: dusty American rockers Dawes, who are remains of previous post punkers that fell in love with some vinyl from CSNY, Graham Parsons, The Band and Jackson Browne at some point. Their sophomore album Nothing is Wrong is a marvelous slow build of harmonies, gentle folk guitars and wandering lyrical tales.

"You got that special kind of sadness. You got that tragic sense of charms that only comes from time spent in Los Angeles" Taylor Goldsmith sings on the album opener, and you know he's talking about a girl, but maybe himself a little bit. It's mostly hazy tales of love, growth and fishing for understanding on the album, redefining Americana a little bit. I tend to lose them when they slow down too much, and songs like Moon in the Water or So Well tend to fade too much into the background. But When Dawes shines on tracks like If I Wanted Someone, The Way You Laugh and Coming Back to a Man, it holds my focus intently.

It makes me want to drive, though not necessarily to LA. Dawes is evoking a picture of America far from LaLaland. But maybe that is America.

Listen to Dawes' If I Wanted Someone on Hard of Hearing Ep  013

Buy Dawes' Nothing is Wrong from Amazon mp3

Friday, June 10, 2011

What We're Listening To - The Postelles s/t

And here comes summer, skipping over spring with a fiery sustained furnace blast for the past two weeks.

A break from the heat would be entirely all to welcome. But if we didn't have summer heat, we'd have no reason for cookouts, pool parties and all night hangouts.

So I'm thankful for the summer heat like I'm thankful for the self titled debut album from The Postelles, a fun dancey rock album. It keys up on tail end of the surf rock from last year, but crossed with the pop rock catchiness of The Strokes, Weezer or Arctic Monkeys. This makes sense since Strokes' guitarist Albert Hammond Jr produced it. It's clean and not a note out of place throughout. Think a slightly older Surfer Blood.

Sing along choruses start bright and big from the album opener and keep going til the end. White Night, Sleep on the Dance Floor, and 123 Stop are party starters for sure. The lyrics don't run too deep (Boys Best Friend is a jokey little tale about falling in love with a lesbian). It does get mildly repetitive, but that's okay cos as soon as it starts it's over. No one's gonna blame you for hitting repeat.

I'd recommend going to catch them on tour this summer, and if you're in DC see them 11 JUNE at Red Palace.

Buy The Postelles's self titled debut album

Buy from Amazon

Friday, May 13, 2011

Singled Out - John Legend covers Adele's Rolling in The Deep

So arguably the year's biggest single so far has been Adele's Rolling in The Deep. The girl can sing, though I was so underwhelmed by her first album, it's taken me sometime to warm up to her sophomore effort, which is much brighter.

But at the Childish Gambino show last week, they closed out with John Legend's cover of the song. Bare, no music, just his incredible voice with a gospel choir backing him up. It's powerful.

You can download the song from the link for free.

John Legend - Rolling in the Deep (Adele Cover) by johnlegend

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Things We Love - Amazon Cloud Drive and Player (and Google too at some point)

I started writing this post in fits and starts. I just sort of left it in the drafts pile, would come back and massage it a bit. I was going to pull the trigger last week, but couldn't find a decent graphic.

And now Google has gone and stolen my thunder with its Music by Google site. And it's storage is 20 times more than Amazon's right now for free (but unsure how free for long).

Which is awesome. More companies saying "fuck off" to major music labels and refusing to negotiate with terrorists is a good thing. Maybe this will part the waters for other companies like Spotify (which I loathe).

I still advocate Amazon over iTunes as the place to best spend your musical bucks. And since you can't buy from Google right now, Amazon wins that battle too. The Cloud Drive/Player and Google Music are changing the game radically and positioning Amazon and Google a thousand steps ahead of iTunes in digital retailer industry. The labels are hoping that Apple's cloud offering will be super fancy awesome and make Google and Amazon's look like crap. I doubt it. The've been on the wrong side of every big industry decision since Napster, and have paid the price in declining sales ever since.

But why is this so game changing?

First, Amazon and Google didn't bargain, negotiate or even notify the the major labels about their moves. Why should they? The arcane notion that labels must issue you a license on how and where you can listen to your music is dumb and a holdover from before the advent of high speed connections and cloud storage. If you buy it, you should be able to listen to it how you please, whether you store it in the cloud or on your phone or on your computer.

Second, Amazon (and at some point Google too) is making purchasing music easier than iTunes. Doesn't matter where you are (work, friend's house, laptop downstairs away from your desktop), you can buy an album, and then download it later to where you want it. They both make it easy to play on your Android device (earlier this week CloudPlayer loaded some muddled iOS play functionality).

Finally, it's easy. It doesn't take a degree in computer science to make it work. Your music is accessible whenever you want it. Just click a button to play, listen or download.

Amazon has 1,500 albums on sale for $5 each this month. Start your cloud storage up today.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What We're Listening To - Amor de Dias' Street of the Love of Days

If you haven't been paying attention, Merge Records has been churning out an incredible string of must have albums in 2011. Telekinesis, Apex Manor, Mountain Goats, Times New Viking, Wye Oak, and Destroyer have added more trophies to a case already struggling under the weight of other great albums.

Adding to that list is the debut from Amor de Dias, the new duo featuring Alasdair MacLean of The Clientle and Lupe Núñez-Fernández of Pipas. Street of the Love of Days is a fantastic album, echoing the gentle Brazilian samba and bossa nova of Getz/Gilberto/Jobim. It is one of the most gorgeous releases I have heard all year.

Recorded over three years with the help of friends and when they had time from their various tours and main bands, Núñez-Fernández and MacLean are two peas in a pod complenting each other perfectly. Lupe occassionally sings in Spanish, to delightful effect on songs like Wandering and Late Mornings. Alasadair takes lead some, cooing on House on Flint to come dance, an altogether pleasing comeon. But the song and album sounds like a dream you can barely catch, so lounging lazily seems like a better activity.

If you're looking for something to help you fill upcoming weekend morning at home or those afternoons that meander into dusk, Amor de Dias' Street of the Love of Days will fit that bill nicely.

Street of the Love of Days will be available 17 May 2011.

Buy Amor de Dias' Street of the Love of Days from Merge Records

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Fort Lowell Records!!!

A year ago, one of my oldest friends launched a record label, promising to revive vinyl 7 inches and push out music from local Tucson bands.

And with that, Fort Lowell Records was launched.

Now it's a year later, and six releases issued, it's still rolling along. I've had the pleasure to be a critic and to play label music on my podcast. But mostly I've had the pleasure to be a fan. FLR Head Honcho James Tritten has done an amazing job. Here's to many more years brother.

Like those long ass cigarettes from Virginia, you've come a long way baby.

Head over to the site and pick up some tee shirts or better yet, buy a release or two. Music sounds better seven inches at a time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What We're Watching - Wye Oak's Fish

Wye Oak's video for their song Fish (off Civilian) is a just as gorgeous as their lush beautiful music.

With spectacular artwork from fellow Baltimoreans Katherine Fahey and Michael O'Leary, it's silhouetted shadow puppets will stick with you.

f you don't have Civilian you should get it. It's a fantastic album.

Wye Oak - Fish (Official Video) from City Slang on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What We're Listening To - Jamaica's No Problem

Aside from the fact that I really like it, I'm kind of unsure what to make of French pop duo Jamaica and its album No Problems. It's immensely enjoyable, and what could be easily dismissed as a Phoenix ripoff it bucks that notion at each turn. It's more like a dancier, funkier Hall and Oates.

Stick with me here.

Justice's Xavier de Rosnay produced it, so it's got a certain polish to it; every guitar strum, drum pop, and layered effect starts and stops on cue. But listen to tracks like Gentleman or She's Gonna. These are fun filled, 80's adult rock kissed songs, with the strolling guitar and faux r&b singing.

That's not an indictment, cos Jamaica has a definite understanding of what makes you move. Simple chorus and lyrics (possibly the result of French to English singing... see Phoenix) are through and through, repeated for an effect that's more instrumental than conveying a message. Album openers Cross the Fader and I Think I Like U 2 beg to be played in the middle of weekend pool party in July.

The remixes on the deluxe edition are even more delicious, mor spaced and synthed out versions of the original.

It's an album that is ringing the bell to welcome in summer. Mix it in with a few tracks John and Darryl for an even better time.

Buy Jamaica's No Problems at the Amazon mp3 Store

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On The Horizon - The Head and The Heart

Last month when we interviewed Matt Bishop of Hey Marseilles, he put on our radar fellow Seattle band The Head and The Heart. Pushing out their self-titled debut over the weekend on venerable Sub Pop, you're likely to hear a lot about them soon.

And you should. Sweet harmonies and a mild alt-country twang with a heavy dose of folk, The Head and The Heart make music reminiscent a more tender, listenable Ryan Adams (remember that?).

You can pick up two tracks (Down in the Valley and Lost in My Mind) from the band at its website in exchange for your email address. I like both tracks (and the rest of the album is just as good too), perfect Sunday afternoon music to drift off to.

Download The Head and the Heart's Down in the Valley and Lost In My Mind from the band's website

Buy The Head and The Heart's self-titled album from Amazon mp3 Store

Friday, April 15, 2011

What We're Watching - Superchunk's Crossed Wires video

Superchunk always does solid, kinda goofy videos. The clip for the song Crossed Wires (off 2010's EXCELLENT Majesty Shredding) is no exception. Sort of a basic premise of strapping a camera to cat, you see the kitty party with strippers, hang with some bums, and stickup Jon Wurster. Entertaining all the way around. Also a reminder that Majesty Shredding is a good springtime album.

Buy Superchunk's Majesty Shredding from Merge Records

Or from the Amazon mp3 Store

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On The Horizon - City Reign

We received an email in our Shimmy Shake inbox the other day which caught our attention, since it started off with praise for one of our reviews. It was a from City Reign, a band in Manchester. They simply said I might like their music and they didn't want to clog my inbox up with junk, so reply back if I wanted a track.

The tracks they sent back were definitely worth it. Released on their own Car Boot Label, Daybreak is a nice bit of anthemic guitar noise pop (Think a happier sounding Yuck). Lead singer Chris Bull matches bright harmonies against guitarist Michael Grice's fuzz. It's pleasant all the way around.

The Daybreak single (along with an extra live track The Line), will be available 9 May. Though I'm not sure where. Check their blog out for more info.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What We're Listening To - Pains of Being Pure At Heart's Belong

"Be you and the best possible you there is." Probably something you heard your mother, guidance counselor, or some self-esteem guru mutter over and over again. But it's the truth. Growth is good, but why go try and reinvent yourself, mucking up the best possible you there is?

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have taken this bit of wisdom and run with it for their sophomore album Belong, turning in again another marvelous album chock full of jangly guitars, brainy love lyrics, and whispery vocals.

But the guitars have gotten louder, the sound slightly more full. And instead of so much John Hughes nostalgia, the band is looking towards the alt rocky 90s (assisted by Flood and Alan Moulder, who produced The Smashing Pumpkins Simaese Dream, Mellon Collie, NIN's Downward Spiral, and some EPs for My Bloody Valentine). Heart in Your Heartbreak and Belong are the biggest sounding things they've done, and the band is better for it. And tracks like Strange and My Terrible Friend (with that nonstop drumming and synth overload) are just as familiar as anything before. It's shoegazey/dream pop that's on the verge of exploding. And it's delightful.

Listen to your mom. She was right most of the time.

Buy The Pains of Being Pure At Heart's Belong from the Amazon mp3 Store

Buy the CD or LP from Slumberland Records

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Singled Out - Will Currie and the Country French's Tommy Douglas

The feeling of political discomfort isn't isolated to America or the immolating North African Coast and Middle East. Our nice neighbors to the north aren't terribly in love with their political leaders either. But as opposed to painitng their prime minister up like The Joker and bringing guns to a political rally, Will Currie and The Country French wrote a song.

An ode to the greatest Canadian, Tommy Douglas is a Burt Bacharach-ian/Ben Folds-esque romp of a song, pleasant enough in melody, but strong in its wish for a great politician like him again. "What we need is Tommy Douglas, men who speak and follow through," Will Currie sings. A young Pierre Trudeau or Stephen Lewis would fix everything.

The song is off their "Awake, You Sleepers!" album out later this year on Murderecords. You can pick up the track in exchange for your email from the band's website

Play it, think of spring, and be reminded of progressive greatness.

Download Will Currie and The Country French's Tommy Douglas from the band's website (in exchange for your email

Friday, March 25, 2011

Interview with Matt Bishop of Hey Marseilles

I really like Hey Marseilles' lyrically dense, sonically rich folk pop. I was super excited to see them at Sixth and I Synagogue last year, since they don't often tour too far from their Seattle base. Lead singer Matt Bishop was kind enough to answer a few questions for the shake

The Shimmy Shake: How did you all start? And the name, just an affinity for French Mediterrean sea towns?

Matt Bishop: We started as a lot of bands do: college pals realizing we had a shared affinity for the same instruments and bands that played them. We would mess around with song ideas in Nick and Philip’s basement studio, keep finding others folks to play on those recordings, and eventually we booked a gig with everyone. The name is primarily a product of our appreciation for Euro-ness and rhyme.

SS: The SHow would you describe your sound? I've heard it described as orchestral folk to indie pop chamber rock.

MB: Those are fair descriptions. We like pop tunes, acoustic instruments, strong melodies, and compelling arrangements. We like songs to move and turn corners quickly. We like taking as many layers from our recordings as we can and playing that out live. Just orchestral folk pop works too.

SS: One of my favorite things about the album are the lyrics. They're all such descriptive stories, I feel like I'm reading letters between you and friends. Where do you get the ideas? Any backstory to certain songs? What are some of your favorite songs from the To Trunks and Travels?

MB: In writing lyrics, I like to create a visual scene for the listener, a portrait more so than a story. On the record there are references to the ocean and mountains and plains and highways and all sorts of things I experience when I travel around the Western U.S. Which is probably why the record ended up having a consistent travel theme. “Cannonballs” was written driving through the endless flatlands of Montana; “Cigarettes” I wrote on a bright afternoon at Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park; “Calabasas” manifested itself after a California road trip. Certainly there are stories in those songs, but by and large they follow pretty common formulas related to relationships and philosophical meanderings.

SS: There was a really slow burn with this album, from it's release in 2008 to it catching fire in 2009 and 2010. How'd that happen? Is it hard to promote an album for that long?

MB: I think it took a bit of time for it to garner a larger audience just because we spent a while trying to figure out how to get it to people. For most of us, Hey Marseilles has been our first real venture into navigating the music business and what it means to be a band. There are a lot of things to do outside of making a record that translate to people actually hearing it, and we took some time figuring that out.

In terms of promoting the record for that long, the biggest challenge was just having to play the same songs for so long. Inspiration and creativity were hard to come by in those circumstances. But in working on our new record for the last few months, I think we’ve found our groove again.

SS: Another band that we really enjoy (Telekinesis) is from Seattle, but a lot of bands from the upper northwest are writing this great music, with incredible melodies and lyrics. Like I don't think you could have this sound come from Brooklyn. What is it about the area that breeds such good music?

MB: Lots of clouds + needing to stay inside + drugs necessary to deal with gray (primarily coffee) = good music.

Also, once sun comes out = inspiration to make more good music.

SS: I have this image of touring being a nightmare with so many people. How does it work?

MB Having seven dudes means we always needs a trailer hitched to the van and if we stay in a hotel we’ll need a couple of rooms. That’s about it. And sometimes figuring out how to fit on stage, but that always works itself out. Like any band, you have to learn how to acclimate to each others’ strengths and weaknesses or you won’t be a band for very long.

SS: I saw you posted that the band is working on new songs. What do they sound like? When are you looking to release your next album?

MB We have high aspirations that the record will come out at the end of 2011. My general assessment so far is that the songs won’t stray too much from To Travels & Trunks musically, but they’ll reflect a growth and maturity we’ve developed as musicians in the three years since finishing that record.

SS: What are you listening to now (besides what I imagine are your recording tracks)? What are some of you favorite bands that readers should check out?

MB: Agesandages. Campfire OK. Loch Lomond just released a fantastic new record. Our friends The Head &a\ the Heart are releasing their debut nationally; if you haven’t heard of them yet, you will soon

Buy Hey Marseilles' To Travels and Trunks from Amazon's mp3 Store

Download the track Rio from Hey Marseille's website for the price of your email address

Singled Out - Title Tracks' All Tricks

DC's Title Tracks will pushing out their sophomore release In Blank 19 April, but John Davis is dribbling out songs on his website here an there, and they sound good.

All Tricks keeps the same momentum from It Was Easy, and is still full of that pop punk goodness.

If you're in DC, the band is doing a release party at Black Cat Backstage on 20 April. Tickets are $10.

Preorder Title Tracks' In Blank from Ernest Jenning Records.

Download Title Tracks' All Tricks from Austin Town Hall

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's Just Business: Pains of Being Pure At Heart Release Album Digitally One Week Early on iTunes, But You Should Just Wait to Get It

The new Pains of Being Pure At Heart album Belong (Slumberland) officially drops next week on 3/29. It sounds incredible, more of the same but better in ever way possible. Still lots of jangly guitars and a band that only sees the 80s through John Hughes colored glasses.

You can pick up the album early if you'd like from iTunes, where it's available today. It doesn't come with any bonus material, no videos or extra tracks. The digital booklet will be the same as if you got it next week.

It does however come with a higher price tag. iTunes is selling it for $9.90. The Amazon mp3 store will sell it for $8.99, almost a full buck less. For an extra 10 cents, you can buy the vinyl from Slumberland for $10 (and they put a digital download code in there too). Even buying the CD from the record company is cheaper than buying the digital download from iTunes.

All that to say, iTunes is a rip. And it's no hate on Pains or on Slumberland (who do great work and push out really great music from really great artists). But it's still me spending a dollar, and if I have to choose whether to keep that buck in my pocket, or give it to Steve Jobs, well, that's an easy choice.

Buy Pains of Being Pure at Heart's Belong from the Amazon mp3 Store for $8.99 (available 3/29/11)

Buy the CD or vinyl from Slumberland Records

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Singled Out - Hanni El Khatib's Build. Destroy. Rebuild

There's a lot to like about Hanni El Khatib. He's got rock star ready looks and an insouciance that seems like he earned it. And he tears through songs with such a ferocity on guitar it's impossible to not notice.

And there's a lot to want to like about his upcoming June release, Will The Guns Come Out. Take the track "Build. Destroy. Rebuild." On its surface, it's reminiscent of early Jack White, garage-y and bluesy. But The rhythm and melodies are more than that, more funk and 70s era soul than what the White Stripes or other Detroit garage rockers brought to the table.

If you didn't check out the highly polished and stylized video for Loved One, do that. Then grab Build. Destroy. Rebuild and thrash around a bit yourself.

Download Hanni El Khatib's Build. Destroy. Rebuild from RCRD LBL

Buy the 7 inch Build. Destroy. Rebuild b/w Loved One from Innovative Leisure.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Andy on R&B

We like the blog First World Problems, run by twitter pal Andy. It's smart, funny, and constantly hitting up new music.

Andy has written a really solid essay on R Kelly's Ignition, white guilt, and mainstream music (Remix), probably one of the more interesting things I've read on the internet in a long time. Give it a whirl, I think you'll like it.

Of course, whenever I hear Ignition, I think of Dave Chapelle.

What We're Watching - Hanni el Khatib's Loved One

What's that? You're looking for some catchy authentic sounding garage rock?

I think you'll be digging Hanni el Khatib's Loved One. It's from his album Will The Guns Come Out which drops in June.

Played over shots of people enjoying a seaside midway, and a single camera chasing some doe eyed model, this is priming the pump for summer time.

What We're Watching - Wale's The Break Up

Wale is leading a one man effort to get you to love the DMV.

And his video for his song The Break Up has lots of stuff we like in it. It's got shots of Howard's yard, sped up soul samples, and Morgan Freeman as narrator. It even kinda makes me want to like 500 Days of Summer, which in my humble opinion, is one of the worst films ever made.

Anyway, watch it, and wish you were in DC for this awesome spring weather

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What We're Listening To - Disco Vietnam's TOTALLY AWESOME DECISIONS

I'm late to the Disco Vietnam bandwagon, but I'm going to bet that you probably are too. No worries, because they haven't run out of copies. On 2010's TOTALLY AWESOME DECISIONS, Disco Vietnam is crafting what I can only describe as some of the best fucking power pop out today.

Part hyperbole, part flattery, it's all truth. Disco Vietnam's Barry and Kenny Schwartz are making music that's aggressive, fun, catchy, and surprisingly meticulous in its production. Harmonies and three chord guitars run rampant. At times it reminds you of the best of Weezer (you remember, when they were good), songs about being young, but it goes further than that. They're imbued with the wisdom that age brings but not forgetting the sting. On the EP closer they proclaim "Even if the world starts over, I will still be here by your side. This song's not about you anymore." Little Infinity, Homecoming Queen, Luck Into Skill, and the rest are simply well crafted song.

An even better song not on the album (but available via Amazon) is the 2008 single The NP (Natalie Portman) a quasi ode to the actress. All eight tracks together make a terrific little package.

Buy Disco Vietnam's TOTALLY AWESOME DECISIONS directly from the band for $5

Buy Disco Vietnam's The NP (Natalie Portman) from the Amazon mp3 Store

What We're Watching - Bruce Springsteen's Tougher Than The Rest

I really liked the Title Tracks cover of Springsteen's Tougher Than The Rest. It's a sweet, older love song, kinda showing what love really is: tough, abused, scratched and beaten up on the edges. Title Tracks makes it a little more tender, but Springsteen's original with that gruff voice makes it the best.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Concert Review - The Rural Alberta Advantage at Rock N Roll Hotel, Washington DC 3/13/11

"It's so nice to see a sold out sign when you roll into town," Nils Edenloff bantered in between songs to a packed house of 400 people. And though a little bit behind schedule (opening band Pepper Rabbit brought its Keane-esque rock out about 30 minutes late), they put on an incredible show.

Pushing through most of the songs from their latest release Departing (an album we very much like), everything sounded more full. Edenloff's voice didn't sound as thin as it sometimes can on the record. Paul Barwatt's drumming was even more ferocious and Amy Cole's multi instrumenting even more pronounced.

Getting the famously not dancey DC set to dance is always a problem, but as the show heated up and encouraged by Edenloff's proddings ("I think this is a dancey song" he said of Frank A/B, a song about a deadly rock slide, so WTF), head nodding eventually turned to bouncing and pogoing. A woman in front of me was writhing like a pole dancer, so whatever gets you going I guess.

The highlight though was for the final encore song, when the band came into the audience and closed out with an acoustic performance of Good Night. Powerful to say the least, I heard lots of people muttering "shit" or "Holy fuck" as the walked out. Couldn't agree more.