Category Archives: 2000s

The Microphones: The Glow pt. 2

The Microphones: The Glow, Pt. 2 (2001)

Phil: I don’t remember the first time I heard Phil Elvrum’s (now Elverum, see his interview with The Believer) masterpiece of separation and personal discovery, but I can say I have listened to this album several times in several different contexts and it stands apart as one of the finer releases of the Pacific Northwest’s Indie scene.

A friend of mine once told me she thought that every Microphones album sounded like the band practiced for four days straight without sleeping and then recorded. Production on Microphones records is almost always arrestingly simple and childlike, like no one cares if vocal tracks clip and distort or if the hard-panned guitars aren’t really in time. And Phil Elverum’s a smart guy. He could make everything line up just so if he really wanted to, but this approach to the recording process is either calculated naivete or an attention to something else altogether.

What’s important to Phil Elverum? Like any good artist, he seems to be concerned with expression; if this album was tight, in tune and clean, it would be a completely different statement. It would be an album about intentionally working through intense personal muck instead of an album about wandering around in a fog (or glow, if you will) of uncertainty, occasionally tripping over something transcendent but mostly thinking about uncertainty and its aftereffects.

“I Felt My Size” (far from my favorite track on the album) stands, in my mind, as the prime example of most of the elements that make this album exactly what it is. It starts with Elverum’s voice and guitar right up front in the mix with some noise in the very back, sounding very…Northwesty…until the drums come in and they’re just so gd compressed that you can hardly tell what they’re supposed to sound like. And then we get some weird auxiliary noises until the group choir comes in and tells us that Phil is not a planet at all, that he has found his place in the universe and it is certainly not much of one. So you have the sound of someone understanding that the universe does not really much care for them (a theme explored in the following LP Mount Eerie) and it sounds unsettling.

I think this album is unsettling because it is an unsettled album. It’s for grey days and feeling like you don’t have a clue and need to feel like somebody has gone through this all before. And so many have, but few have communicated it as well as Phil Elverum on this here album.

Glenn: I completely agree with you, Phil. This album always sounds just out of earshot — and that is unsettling. There are those albums I know by heart, from first note to last fade. London Calling, Astral Weeks, Kind of Blue, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, Abbey Road. But, for me, this album is more like The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Exile on Main Street, Amnesiac, and Camofleur: each listen is like the first listen, and something new comes to the front. The Glow Pt. 2 is perhaps the album I love best that I know least. There is something distant, almost unknowable about the album — fog, as Phil puts it.

Yet the mystical quality of the album seems steeped in the real world. For example, see “The Moon,” my favorite Microphones song. A glance at the lyrics shows it to be a straightforward narrative. But the childlike production is what makes the song poignant. Only so often do lyrics lines emerge clearly through the haze of guitars: “We walked around and stayed up late….And the wind and the mountaintop….My chest was full….And in its light I saw my two feet on the ground.” The fragments of story are more meaningful than the story itself, because you, the listener, must do the work to make sense of the song.

Phil: I’d be willing to cut “The Mansion”; I think it’s a really good lyrical centerpiece to the fog/glow of the album, but the title track is pretty stinking awesome.

Glenn: I’ve always thought that the song “The Glow, Pt. 2” would sound good arranged for brass quintet. Dig a French horn on that gorgeous vocal melody.

In fact, that’s maybe what we’re getting at in this conversation. This record glows with fog, but underneath it all lie solid melodies and good lyrics. Which is more than you can say about any other Microphones or Mount Eerie release (sorry, Phil; sorry, Phil).

Key tracks:

“I Want Wind To Blow”
“The Glow, Pt. ii”
“The Moon”
I Felt My Size

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Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Psychedelic, Rock

Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary

Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Jordy: It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been four years since this album dropped.  I remember hearing it that fall of 2005 and thinking “This is exactly how I want rock to sound: fast, hooky, dark, and triumphant.”  Isaac Brock earned his short keep as a Sub Pop A&R man and producer with this record and, in that light, I can only hope that his last four years’ energies haven’t been wasted on mere Modest Mouse albums.  He found this band right when they needed it.  They sound hungry.  (Not that they made any money necessarily.)

The opener “You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son” is a real ass-kicker and introduces the listener to Spencer Krug’s two greatest offerings: really cool yelping vocals (which aren’t nearly as Tiny Tim-esque as some haters might assert) and pounding keyboard grooves.  I was sticking my waxy earbuds in everyone’s face that October saying, “You have to hear this shit!”

I’ll leave some of the other highlights to Glenn but not before I claim the two greatest back-to-back tracks of the indie era.  “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”  features Krug’s very best lyrical turns powered by high swirling organ and en invigorating la-la-la chorus and you’d think you couldn’t get higher.  Until the next track.  “I’ll Believe in Anything” is nothing less than a glorious stomping hymn in earnest praise of, well, Anything.  Incredible.  This pair still gives me chills after hundreds of listens.  The songs are truly durable in their form and sentiment.

Glenn: Durable is right, Jordy. I must admit that at first this album struck me as just another indie rock record. “Bound Arcade Pornographers, Broken Social Pitchfork….meh.” That stuff is good but it gets…old. It was about six months later that I found myself humming “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son” and “Grounds For Divorce” to myself, trying to keep my balance on the snow-slick streets of Chicago in winter. These are solid, catchy songs.

For me, this is a record that sounds like warmth in the midst of cold. I’m not sure why, exactly — perhaps because I first loved it in winter — but it might have to do with the sound of struggle on the record. While the band is a well-oiled groove machine (what indie rock is this furious and yet this danceable?), the songs seem to grapple their way upward from real pain toward sunlight and joy. And not in an emo way, either. When he says, “I need sunshine,” you believe him. Triumph, indeed.

One more thing: remember all those “Wolf” bands circa 2005? That was funny.

4 Essential Tracks:

“You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son”
“Grounds for Divorce”
“Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”
I’ll Believe In Anything

Buy it

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Filed under 2000s, Rock

Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica

Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (2000)

GLENN:

I had such high hopes for The Lonesome Crowded West. But it turned out to be a droney, overlong, emoish Pixies ripoff. I dug a few tracks, but soon filed it away and returned to Fugazi.

A few years later my friends were talking about “this great new band, Modest Mouse,” and the record they just picked up at Best Buy. I shrugged and picked up The Moon & Antarctica, but again, it was a little…well…iffy.

The production was crap. Many of the songs seemed just as slight as those on The Lonesome Crowded West. The singer still lisped. The double-tracked vocals canceled each other out. The guitars lacked tactility, the bass was muddled, the cymbals were too damn loud, the rest of the drums thuddy or inaudible, and when the band tried to rock it sounded like a bad car radio with the mids cranked and the high end rolled off. Plus the cover art (the old cover art, two disembodied hands shaking over some sort of lunar landscape) sucked. What, exactly, was going on here? Continue reading

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Filed under 2000s, Rock

“I’m all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town”

Warren-Zevon

Warren Zevon doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a great songwriter.  He was well-respected among other musicians, and his songs are often covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and others.  As a teenager, Zevon briefly studied modern classical music with Igor Stravinsky, and in the 1970s, he was the touring keyboradist with the Everly Brothers as well as with Don and Phil Everly on their respective individual tours.  He was also an occasional stand-in for Paul Shaffer on both late-night iterations of David Letterman’s show.

Carmelita” from Preludes:  Rare and Unreleased Recordings (2007)

“Carmelita” is a junkie’s lament and one of Zevon’s most famous songs, after “Werewolves of London.”  The song first came to my attention recently after hearing a cover by GG Allin, of all people.  The version I’ve posted is an acoustic demo, but after comparing it to the original release I felt this version was more affecting.

Searching For A Heart” from Learning to Flinch (1993)

I very much like songs that are able to distill the complexities of love into such simple words, and yet still convey emotional depth, and “Searching for a Heart” succeeds admirably in that regard.

I Was in the House When the House Burned Down” from Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)

This is just a great song that showcases some of Zevon’s darkly comic style.

Posted by Adam

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Filed under 1970s, 1990s, 2000s, Acoustic, Live, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Who is this man

Its how you float that matters

It's how you float that matters

Simon Joyner – “The Drunken Boat” from Out Into the Snow (2009)

Pardon my absence once again, but you don’t want excuses, you want results.

What we have here is an anomaly, an anachronism, a man out of time. A Billy Pilgrim, if you will. The warm sound of tape, the warm lap steel,the electric guitar tone, the mumbling juxtaposition of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen and Dylan, the strings seemingly lifted right from the end of Astral Weeks. It’s all here. Everything about this song (especially the production!) screams “I was written and recorded in 1976!”

But no! This album came out last month! And it makes me wonder how albums (or songs) use production values to present themselves as something else entirely.  How much of the irresistible charm of this nine-and-a-half minute epic is due to its built-in nostalgia? Would Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire be as irresistible as this song if it sounded like it was recorded in the 1970s?

These are the questions I have for you, gentle reader. Please listen and consider and respond.

Also please buy this record because you want to

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Folk, Singer-Songwriter

Beatles Blitz

As most of the world knows, the entire Beatles catalog will be re-released next week Wednesday to coincide with the release of the Beatles Rock Band vidya game. The game, I must admit, looks pretty fucking sweet especially for those of us who like to sing harmonies:

Check out the full song list.

I pre-ordered a few of the albums already to fill in gaps in my collection or to replace damaged discs.  It’s gonna take all my self-control to not go out and buy a PS3 just to play this game.

What do you think?  Is all of this a crass attempt by Apple Records, the remaining Beatles, and the estates of the dead ones to make millions and millions of dollars?  Or, is it simply a way to turn a whole new generation on to the greatest, most influential pop music of all time?

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1960s, 2000s, Pop, Rock

Poll: Original versus Cover

New Order – “Love Vigilantes” from Low-Life [1985]

Iron & Wine – “Love Vigilantes” from Around the Well [2009]

Submitted for your approval:  two versions of the same song.  The original, by New Order, and the cover, by Iron & Wine.  Both have their merits, but this is a fight to the finish (is there any other kind of fight?).  Which version of the song is better?  This is completely subjective.  I like both versions of the song for different reasons.  I appreciate New Order for coming up with the song and writing such great lyrics, but I feel the Iron & Wine version is more evocative and truly does justice to the lyrics.  But now, instead of bloviating, I am going to make my voice heard in the poll, and so should you.  It takes two clicks.

Posted by Adam

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Filed under 1980s, 2000s, Acoustic, Folk

“In-dee-pen-dent. In-dee-pen-dent.”

The Books – “That Right Ain’t Shit” from The Lemon of Pink (2003)

I think I can speak for my fellow SWR-ians by saying that the Books fucking rule. I heard them live once on a wintry night in Chicago; I was shushed during the boring-ass opening act by an overweight beardo hipster; the Books killed; in a blissed-out stupor I talked with one of the Books afterward. The cellist. His accent was too thick to understand. I tried to shake his hand and he wouldn’t have it. (Later, Jordy asked me, “Is that what you call him? Is he a Book?) Their live set, to be sure, was fantastic. The kind of show where time disappears.

At any rate, our pal Rob tipped me off to the fact that the Books are working on a new album, to be released in the next year. In the mean time, they’re touring. I missed ’em in NC; don’t make the same mistake.

Buy the Books (or just any old book, I recommend Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan)

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Folk, Instrumental, Post-rock

“This whiskey priest he burned the church to keep his girls alive”

New Pornographers

The New Pornographers are, in large part, responsible for indie rock’s ascension to broader popularity over the last 8 years or so.  Its supergroup make-up has resulted neither in self-destructive clashes of ego nor a stagnation of pop song ideas.  Helmed by kick-ass songwriter A.C. Newman, they rarely cut a dud tune.  I’ve seen them live a couple times and they have always been exuberant and tight.

This Dan Bejar (of Destroyer) tune is a perfect example of the band’s high caliber and features terrific vocal harmonies from Neko Case.

The New Pornographers – “Streets Of Fire” from Twin Cinema (2005)

This album is a new classic.  Buy it here.

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 2000s, Rock

Wurlitzer piano favorites

wurlitzer

Few instruments play melancholia like the famed Wurlitzer Electronic Piano. Its touching tremolo is often overlooked but always critical to whatever tune employs it. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

-Neil Young – “See the Sky About to Rain” from On the Beach (1974) [buy]

Neil brings the piano to the center of this song, often sending Ben Keith’s slide guitar to the side. Nevertheless, they complement each other very well.

-Kris Kristofferson – “Epitaph (Black and Blue)” from The Silver Tongued Devil and I (1971)

This song inspired the post. The Wurlitzer is probably meant to lend a more funereal mood as if it wasn’t morbid enough with the vocal and string arrangements. (Buy this album. Fans of John Prine, take note.)

-Wilco – “Jesus, Etc.” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) [buy]

Leave it to Wilco, classicists that they are, to prop the Wurlitzer up in the modern era.  Its use here is primarily as a rhythm instrument under all the strings and plucking. It doesn’t so much sing as propel the song. A lot like Supertramp might use it. Did somebody mention Supertramp?! Man, that was a great band… like Boston, but not as loud and better.

-Supertramp – “The Logical Song” from Breakfast in America (1979) [buy]

The piano is the spine of this song and, indeed, much of the album. How about that sax solo halfway through? That’s killer. What a slick song, eh?

Any other examples you’d care to cite?

*Update (7-30-09): Adam brings up the Fender Rhodes piano, which certainly has its place among the great gear of the 60s and 70s.  The Rhodes’ sound is a bit sharper and jazzier than the Wurlitzer.  I usually associate it with Bitches Brew as played by the late, great Joe Zawinul.  See Glenn’s homage and hear the Rhodes in action.  Also hear Zawinul and Jan Hammer in two different fusion outfits featuring the Rhodes.

As for rock, Pink Floyd owed a lot of its sound on Dark Side to the Rhodes.  Also, see the intro to “Sheep” from 1977’s Animals.

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1970s, 1990s, 2000s, Rock

a little more Curtis

A while back, I mentioned that I thought Curtis Mayfield an unsung musical genius. Turns out the man is plenty sung, not least by Kayne West, who sampled Mayfield’s excellent “Move On Up” in his less-excellent-though-still-good “Touch The Sky”:

Curtis Mayfield – “Move On Up” from Curtis (1970)
Kayne West – “Touch The Sky (feat. Lupe Fiasco)” from Late Registration (2005)

Not sick of that horn riff yet? Check out the Jam covering it here, and Curtis himself bongo-jammin’ it here, sans horns.

Earlier I had posted one of Mayfield’s classics from his famous Superfly soundtrack, “Little Child Runnin’ Wild.” Here is a demo version, a little less ominous, featuring fewer chord changes and a brighter groove:

Curtis Mayfield – “Ghetto Child (Demo Version)” from Curtis reissue (org. 1970ish)

Finally, here’s a classic from the group that gave Curtis Mayfield his start, and for which he did some of his most beautiful writing:

The Impressions – “You Must Believe Me” from People Get Ready (1965)

Have a funkdafied weekend, y’all.

Buy Curtis Mayfield here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1960s, 1970s, 2000s, Funk, Hip-Hop, Pop, Soul

“So much beauty and just enough time to figure out how to destroy it”

Jeff W., is that you?

Jeff W., is that you?

Drive-By Truckers – “The Opening Act” from Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)

I’m a little late to hop on the Drive-By Truckers Mechanical Bull Ride, which is too bad, because they used to play down here in Greensboro on a fairly regular basis. While their latest album is not nearly perfect, this song is.

“The Opening Act” is a Tonight’s The Night-esque epic. The bit toward the end, where the narrator sees the sun “rising over a Technicolor horizon,” is a beautiful example of how good bands use color and variation in music to illustrate the dramatic weight of the lyrics. The song just seems to lift off right there.

Buy it here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 2000s, Country, Rock, Roots rock

“Joan of Arc rules Northeast, where the poor and the hipsters meet”

the protaganist of the S-K song below

the protaganist of the S-K song below

Sleater-Kinney – “Light Rail Coyote” from One Beat (2002)
Bill Fox – “Portland Town” from Transit Byzantium (1998)

I’m off to Portland, OR for a week of this, this, and this. So I offer two of my favorite Portland songs, including one from our main man, Bill Fox.

What are your fave geography tunes?

Buy S-K

Bill Fox is on iTunes, but you can check him out here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s, Acoustic, Folk, Punk, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Elvis Costello, live


I caught Elvis Costello at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA Thursday night.  I haven’t heard much of his new bluegrassish album but he and the band sounded pretty good.  To be honest, I have trouble dealing with great rockers outside (particularly, after) their prime, be it EC, Dylan, or otherwise.  It just seems weird.

In keeping with his appropriated American identity, he played a lot of stuff from King of America (Indoor Fireworks, Brilliant Mistake, American Without Tears) and even one from Almost Blue (Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”):

He also covered the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” which seemed to draw more applause and singing-along than “Blame it on Cain” or “The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes.”  They also did a nice work-up of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.”

Other highlights included a couple tunes from his incomplete concept opera about the life of Hans Christian Andersen.

Buy EC

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 2000s, Bluegrass, Live, Rock

“I can stay awake all night”

I caught Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in Alexandria, VA over the weekend and thought it a terrific show.  Will’s brother Ned opened the set in the duo Old Calf which was also very good.  Oldham’s band was really excellent: great singing and very tight.  They even played Glenn’s and my favorite selection from the Superwolf collaboration.

As a further sample, here is one of my favorite tracks for a rainy day:  Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – “Raining in Darling” from I See a Darkness (1999)

If you’re in or near any of his next dates, do try to check him out.  I guarantee a good time:

Tuesday, May 26
Knoxville, TN
Bijou Theatre
(w/ Lichens)

Wednesday, May 27
Asheville, NC
Grey Eagle
(w/ Lichens)

Thursday, May 28
Carrboro, NC
The Arts Center
(w/ Lichens)

Friday, May 29
Atlanta, GA
Variety Playhouse
(w/ Lichens)

Saturday, May 30
Birmingham, AL
Bottletree
(w/ Lichens)

Tuesday, June 2
New Orleans, LA
One-Eyed Jacks
(w/ The Howling Hex)

Wednesday, June 3
Baton Rouge, LA
Spanish Moon
(w/ The Howling Hex)

Thursday, June 4
Houston, TX
Walter’s on Washington
(w/ The Howling Hex)

Friday, June 5
Austin, TX
The Mohawk
(w/ Howling Hex)

Saturday, June 6
Dallas, TX
Granada Theater
(w/ Howling Hex)

Monday, June 8
Little Rock, AR
Sticky Fingerz Chicken Shack
(w/ Bachelorette)

Tuesday, June 9
Memphis, TN
Minglewood Hall
(w/ Bachelorette)

Wednesday, June 10
Nashville, TN
Belcourt Theatre
(w/ Bachelorette)

Thursday, June 11
Newport, KY
The Southgate House
(w/ Bachelorette)

Friday, June 12
Columbus, OH
Capitol Theatre
(w/ Bachelorette)

Saturday, June 13
Lexington, KY
Red Mile Round Bar
(w/ Bachelorette)

Buy all your favorite Drag City releases

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s