Friday, February 29, 2008

Free Fridays #2...

More free shit for y'all, the best stuff that's hit my speakers this past week...

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Baltimore (Real Emotional Trash; to be released 3/4/08)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Baltimore

Found at

Born Ruffians - Hummingbird (Red, Yellow & Blue; to be released 3/4/08)
Born Ruffians - Hummingbird
Found at

El Perro Del Mar - How Did We Forget (From The Valley To The Stars; to be released 4/22/08)
El Perro Del Mar - How did we forget

Found at

Beach House - Gila (Devotion; released 2/26/08)
Beach House - Gila

Found at

Feist - I Feel It All (Britt Daniel remix) (I Feel It All EP; released 2/12/08)
Feist - I Feel It All (Britt from Spoon Remix)

Found at

Well then, happy listening. Till next time...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Applied Communications' Heavenly Gospel...

Applied Communications - Heavenly Gospel (released October 30, 2007; Discos Mariscos Records)
It is raining outside, and I am in kind of a bad mood. I’ve been trying to work on music all day and—what can I say, there’s just no blood going there at all… like hanging upside-down in a meat locker.

I want to get something done today, though, and thankfully I have a couple of reviews due. So I reach for Heavenly Gospel, the second album from Applied Communications, and am immediately struck by the album’s layout; hand-bound with string, the CD cover is nothing more than a folded, color-copied piece of high gloss paper. Inside it is another folded, color-copied piece of high gloss paper, this time with lyrics (or something). I like it. It’s econo. It’s punk rock.

It’s absolutely the only thing about this album that I like.

Weird for the sake of being weird (or for no reason at all) has never sat very well with me. I can spot these guys’ influences, if you can call them that, within the first thirty seconds, though I do sit through the whole album: Beck (when he was selling tapes out of the trunk of his car), Revolution #9, Lard, the Descendents, video games, and lysergic acid diethylamide (or maybe just Robitussin). And masturbation- lots and lots of masturbation. Brutal, uncompromising, I’m-going-to-wind-up-with-Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome masturbation.

I really hope that these guys are thirteen, but they have a website better than I could pull off so I’m kind of doubting it.

Suffice it to say, yes this album is just that bad, and yes it has made my bad mood that much worse. It should have been called something like “Thirty-Five Migraine-Inducing Minutes, and Other Assorted Love Songs". Except that nothing on this CD can be actually classified as a song*. So I’d go with “Worse Than The Holocaust”, and call it a day.


* - Just in case you were wondering, Heavenly Gospel is made up entirely of sound snippets like truncated (or otherwise irregular) drumbeats, keyboard, um, melodies, and, finally, what can only be charitably described as somebody using a dictaphone to record a television (or something). There is nothing avant-garde at work here. The ACLU wouldn’t defend this CD. These guys should be in a Chinese prison.

Applied Communications - Awesome Fantasies

Found at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


...with Hezekiah Jones. Philadelphia based singer-songwriter Raphael Cutrufello, who goes under the moniker Hezekiah Jones, was able to give me some of his time and a piece of his mind. If you're not familiar with Hezekiah's work, take a few minutes to do that now.

Hezekiah Jones - Cupcakes for the Army

Found at

Hezekiah Jones with Clare Callaghan - Put On Your Light

Found at

Hezekiah's approach to songwriting is quite romantic, still using a typewriter to hash out his wonderful lyricism, a la one of his heroes William S. Borroughs. Being a lefty, he plays a righty's guitar, obviously flipping it upside down. That's how he gets his signature sound. And his influences are so wide and varied, as were his previous projects, that Raph can play with anyone, anywhere, anytime; whether it be guitar, piano (an accomplished virtuoso in his own right) or the accordian.

Anyway, Hezekiah Jones (or Raph, but I use the two interchangeably...) was down to trade some responses back and forth over e-mails, letting us all know what makes him tick. Here's his Favorites:

What were your favorite albums of 2007?
Chris Bathgate - A Cork Tale Wake
Frontier Ruckus - I Am The Water You Are Pumping EP, (both of those are Michigan bands) and Johnny Miles - Sign of Times (although I guess it's an '08, but I got it in '07. Does that count?)

How about your favorite albums of all-time?
Jethro Tull - Aqualung
Palace - Days in the Wake, Chris Bathgate - Throat/Sleep, and Pink Floyd - The Wall (of course!)

Your favorite new bands?

Cheers Elephant (Philly), Frontier Ruckus (Lansing, Michigan), and Sisters 3 (Philly).

And favorite songs of all-time?

- Suzanne Vega
Vera - Pink Floyd, Slipstream - Jethro Tull, Wondering Aloud - Jethro Tull, Bridges For Free - The Spinning Leaves, and Last Parade on Ann Street - Chris Bathgate.

What about some of your favorite shows you've played recently?

Northern Liberties Winter Music Festiv
al w/ These United States, Matt Jones, The Extraordinaires, Sisters 3, The Bee Team, and Birdie Busch.

Which musicians or artists do you really enjoy playing or sharing bills with?

Chris Bathgate (not to be superfluous), The Spinning Leaves, Birdie Busch, O'Death and Sisters 3.

Moving away from music for a second, what was the last great movie you saw?

Panic in Needle Park

Back to music. What's your favorite instrument that you own?

I guess my accordian, or my (a) guitar which Maureen just fixed up for me for Christmas!

So, where you buying records at these days?

I haven't had the money to do that in a long time. I've been living hand to mouth too long. Help me!

What about your favorite music venue? To both see shows or perform at?
Johnny Brenda's and Jimmy's Mom's House.*

Lastly, being that radio is a dying art, what's your favorite radio station?
90.9 NPR (I'm a dork).

Thanks, Raphy, for being a willing participant in our first installment of Favorites. I hope to be doing something like this a few times a month from now on. This was fun for me, I hope it was fun for you. Here's a look at upcoming Hezekiah Jones shows:


27th - Philadelphia, PA @ The Fire w/ The Spinning Leaves, The Lowdowners, Monadnoc, Macgregor Burns Band, & Nu Cultures

29th - Newtown Square, PA @ Burlap & Bean w/ Erik Peterson(of Mischief Brew!), The Spinning Leaves, & Matt Landis!!!


22nd - Spring City, PA @ Chaplin's w/ Tin Bird Choir, & Mike Pfeiffer and the Associates!!

25th - Philadelphia, PA w/ The Gunshy, and Joe Anderl (might not be doing this show, but will be amazing. the Gunshy is a must see!!!!!)


9th - Cleveland, OH @ The Barking Spider w/ The Spinning Leaves

10th - Ann Arbor, MI @ The Blind Pig w/ The Spinning Leaves, Chris Bathgate, The Mighty Narwhale

11th - Albion, MI @ Albion College Coffee House w/ Chris Bathgate, The Spinning Leaves

12th - Lansing, MI @ (Scene) Metrospace w/ Chris Bathgate, The Spinning Leaves

16th - Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live w/ Chris Bathgate, and The Spinning Leaves

19th - Newtown Square, PA @ Burlap and Bean w/ Wissahickon Chicken Shack!!!


1st - Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground w/ The Cush, and The Vitals!!!!!!!!!!!

2nd - Rutland, VT @ Sidelines w/ The Cush

3rd - Manchester, VT @ Manchester Bar and Grille w/ The Cush

Also, check out Hezekiah Jones' website.

* - for that comment about gigging at my mom's house, here's a pic of Raph in those Harry Potter glasses!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lightspeed Champion's Falling Off the Lavender Bridge

Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (released February 5th, 2008; Domino Records)

Devonte Hynes has changed a great deal since his time with the Test Icicles. His moniker, Lightspeed Champion, first struck me as a name fit for an electro-shock artist, complete with cartoon shades and a neon screen printed tee. Imagine my surprise when I check out his Myspace; he’s bespectacled, but with giant hipster nerd glasses, and favors fur trapper hats over graffiti-splattered flat brims. Apparently he’s fitting the character of thrash-punker turned country musician. No judgment here, just observation. My wiki research has led me to the news that this name is based on a comic strip he drew as a teenager; apparently the nerd look isn't just an act.

Early last year, he traveled to Omaha to record with Saddle Creek, of Bright Eyes fame. There are definite musical similarities to Oberst’s more upbeat moments and recent forays into folk-country territory, though Dev focuses on a stronger driving melody and fuller sound throughout the album. His variety of instruments, from classical strings and winds to more traditional country banjo and steel pedal add interest and cohesion. Also, the unusual pairing of his lyrical content with songwriting style brings a little extra to what would otherwise be a straightforward pop album.

Midnight Surprise, the second UK single, is the equivalent of a centerfold, featuring one of the most successful longer-than-long songs I’ve heard in a while. Clocking in at 9:55, it flows and changes throughout, similar to The Decemberists’ The Island, Come And See, The Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel The Drowning (this doesn’t do The Decemberists justice but it’s the best I can do). The radio friendly version is cut to 3:23, shaping it to a more basic song structure. It takes skill to drag a song out to three times its length without inducing boredom, but this song works, maybe just because the attempt is unusual. The longer length allows for more space between verses, giving him time to build to the chorus with the addition of picked acoustic, banjo and pedal steel. Also, a new melody grows from around the three minute mark, melding into a sweet, minimal female line, then to a layered vocal effect, then a short electric guitar jam and finally to a classical strings chorale which brings all of the elements together. I’m sure the shortened length is passable for many, but I enjoy the experimentation of connection between different lyrics and melodies; call it a pop symphony.

Following this lush sound is Devil Tricks for a Bitch, a solitary wallow in self pity. You know that saying, “Bad things always happen in threes”? That’s just a mindset- people fixate on their problems and blow them out of proportion to fit the stereotype. When they don’t happen in threes, no one notices. This song starts, “'I’m gonna assume that my phone is broken/ Delivery reports have ruined my life/ Half a bowl of cereal's left me choking/ Choking on time”. Everything’s just worse from there; I dislike the song because it’s unashamedly whiny, but I’m sure it’s relatable. Its saving grace is a mature string arrangement that pointedly fits the mood of the song.

The only other song that stands out in its weakness is Salty Water; it’s extremely repetitive and the layered vocals don’t add much interest, while the lyrics (I’m riding so high/ So high upon a wave) can’t save the song.

As far as decent songs go, Let the Bitches Die, Dry Lips, and Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk have driving melodies matched with lyrics focused on a tired music scene, his depression, and self-loathing. There are wise observations couched in juvenile phrases, as well as sweet flashes of longing and youthful loneliness: “Sometimes in the cold night/ My phone rings/ But it’s not you”.

My favorite song, however, is the first following the intro, Galaxy of the Lost. The reasoning behind its release as first single is clear; it shows his desire, his weakness, his understanding of melodic movement throughout the song, as well as a tune comprised of a solid piano line with classical guitar and strings. The chorus’ melody soars, and is unexpectedly powerful considering his choice of words: “Guzzle down/ My neck will burn as we kiss/ And I’m sick in your mouth/ I know you want more/ Lick my open wounds and add some ice/ And choke on my sick vice/ Oh girl/ The lights are on”. He’s no poetic genius but in a way that works with his music; the candidness of his lyrics is at least personal and better than affected airs.

Though what Dev does is anything but groundbreaking, his catchy pop-country-classical sound is appealing. There are lyrical weaknesses, to be sure, but those can be overlooked in the name of amateur songwriting; the blend of instruments works well with his vocals and scattered harmonies from his female counterpart, creating a decent album.

Grade for the album: 72

In The News...

Things happen in the world of music seven days a week. A lot of it happens on the weekends, so we're powerless to stop it. In an effort to post something everyday, we're going to start randomly posting newsworthy items on here, things you should know. Or things we should know. At least someone should know them...

At any rate, here's some stories catching my eye.

Oh, shit. The Hold Steady's new album is officially recorded and mixed, awaiting mastering. It's going to be called Stay Positive. As for a release date or a tour of the states, you just hold steady, we'll let you know.

The Hold Steady - The Cattle And The Creeping Things (from Live At Fingerprints)
The Hold Steady - Cattle And The Creeping Things
Found at

Los Campesinos! are set to drop their first full-length this Tuesday, and eventual world domination is sure to follow. The funnest "new" band since, uh, well, fun's not really allowed in Indie Rock, as having an exclamation point in your band's title isn't really allowed either. But it is allowed in the international world of twee-core. Here's the video to Death To Los Campesinos!

How come you ain't gonna visit San Francisco? A whole slew of bands announced tours this past week, and alas; they're not coming this far west. Some of these bands were just here, so I'll let it slide, but some bands canceled their fall tours and still haven't re-scheduled (ahem, I'm looking at you Decemberists...) They'll be here, let's just hope it's by the time the summer concert season gets into full swing. Iron & Wine and Spoon are two acts I'd like to see, but they're not even crossing the Rockies. And Radiohead, hasn't announced anything this side of the Mississippi as of yet. You lucky east coast bastards!

And the Oscar goes to... Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova? Everyone's favorite little indie flick that could, Once, won one last night with their song Falling Slowly. Actually, Hansard wrote and recorded that with his original band, The Frames, but being the centerpiece to an exceptional movie released last year it had to be nominated. And that created some controversy, as there always is in showbiz, but if this song wasn't nominated, that'd be an even bigger tragedy. Three cheers for the underdog!

Falling Slowly (from the David Letterman Show, 9/11/07)

There's the news in the music world. As if anything else matters...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Mountain Goats' Heretic Pride...

Another review? Yeah, that's right. I told you that we don't stop.

I'm really pleased to have listened to this album over the last week; musically it's the most sophisticated of their career and one of my favorite bands over the last few. Allow me to present...

The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (released February 19th, 2008; 4AD Records)
John Darnielle has written and released fifteen albums since 1991, largely on his own- meaning that most of the Goats' releases are just solo recordings into his trusty Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox. You can't get much more lo-fi than that. So until he started gathering a loyal following, everything was done on the boombox, with just a few songs done on a 4-track. Not until 2002's Tallahassee did success come in the form of a record deal with 4AD as Darnielle worked on that album with a full band in an actual studio.

The urgency from his earlier work is still here, witnessed in his amazing lyricism. That's how his last offering, Get Lonely, garnered him an honorable mention in my best-of list from '06, and the immediacy of All Hail West Texas makes it one of my favorite albums ever. I love concept albums, as Darnielle explains right on the cover of the record that it's "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys".

A master story teller in his own right, he paints such an accurate landscape of the human condition it's kind of unsettling. He's told me bits and pieces of my own story, wrapped in the silk of gorgeous pop melodies. When speaking of excellent American lyricists of the last ten years or so, there's a few obvious mentions* and for the uninitiated, there's John Darnielle.

On the opening track of Heretic Pride, Sax Rohmer #1, Darnielle creates an impending sense of loss with the imagery of broken bricks, fallen sign posts, hawks circling over rabbits, and capsized ships at sea. H
owever, he is saved by the calming reassurance to the subject of his admiration through the lines: "I am coming home to you, with my own blood in my mouth, I am coming home to you, if it's the last thing I ever do..."

San Bernardino has a lovely string arrangement, and relates a story of bringing a new child into a couple's world, as the last lines of the song is the child reading the highway sign into town and saying "San Bernardino welcomes you..." Looking deeper into that meaning, I'm thinking that this may be either a tale of adoption or abduction. Ambiguity allows the listener to make up their own meaning, and songwriters who leave their ideas as open-ended as possible employ a certain enigmatic appeal that draws me in and holds my attention hostage. Which is a really good thing.

The title track chronicles a mob pulling the narrator from his house and dragging him down the street for a moment of reckoning, a trial by fire if you will. It's as if this description relates the events of The Spanish Inquisition, where mob justice reigned supreme and heretics were burned at the stake in the name of God. Yet the narrator feels a sense of pride, laughing at the faces which are about to kill him, knowing some great secret that only death can reveal.

There's always going to be that one song from every album that speaks to me above all the others, and Autoclave is the one that gets me here on Heretic Pride. An autoclave is basically a pressure cooker used to heat substances above their boiling point, as Darnielle compares his heart to that heavy vessel. "When I try to open up to you I get completely lost/
Houses swallowed by the earth, windows thick with frost/ And I reach deep down within, but the pathways twist and turn/ and there’s no light anywhere, and nothing left to burn/ And I am this great, unstable mass of blood and foam/ And no emotion that’s worth having could call my heart its home/ My heart’s an autoclave..."

Giving a voice to the voiceless, namely the witches of Salem, Massachusettes in the 1690s, The Mountain Goats slip into a groove replete with church organs over a reggae beat as John recounts the legend of the infamous Witch Trials. Told from the male point of view, his lover burned at the stake for her alleged witchcraft practices, he lays down by the water and remembers their days together, especially their days before coming to the New World. It's a sad song, depicting the madness of the Puritan congregation and the wreckage left behind.

If I could take a moment to interject a personal point of view; this record is forcing me to think about how these types of attacks on so-called heresies still take place today, shrouded in paranoid activities like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s and The Patriot Act of today, which are reckless,
demagogic public attacks made with unsubstantiated accusations, as well as personal attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents not on the side of right-winged douchebags leading us into and endless war on terror. If anything has ever been learned about forcing a doctrine of supposed morality onto the masses, it's that we're really being led into a cultural decay of sorts, going around the world and exporting our agenda onto other nations when it's not even clear what our agenda actually is. It's time for a change.

Back to the album review. The next track is very cryptic- So Desperate; a plea made in an Episcopalian churchyard out of desperation. In The Craters On The Moon, possibly the retelling of Galileo's controversial theory that the Earth revolves around the sun, as the Catholic church ordered him under house arrest for the last nine years of his life, eventually going blind. And Lovecraft In Brooklyn, the lone "rocker" on the album, chronicles famed science-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft's tumultuous time in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, where he was unable to find any work due to the large immigrant population eventually driving him insane with racism and causing him to flee back to Rhode Island.

Master storyteller that he is, Mr. Darnielle narrates the legend of Tianchi Lake, or Heaven Lake, situated on the border of China and North Korea. Myth has it that several large lake monsters dwell within the deep of the water, and the song is an account of how the masses flock to the lake in an almost reverent fashion, waiting for the monster to arrive and offering gifts and prayers to the Nessie of eastern Asia.

Ever see that 80s flick Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah? How To Embrace A Swamp Creature is that movie set to words and a melody in exactly three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, told from the mermaid Madison's perspective. No mention of John Candy and Eugene Levy, however.

Darnielle gets into the mind of a rapist on the stark and haunting Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident, re-enacting a sexual assault in a bathroom, and trying to wash the crime off his hands; "when I washed my hands/
I ran the water hotter than I could stand/ Half rising to a crouch/ Sinking back down to the floor/ when you’re walking keep your head low/ Try to leave no traces when you go..." The definition of a heretic is "anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle", and rape itself is an act of heresy, as are all sex crimes.

Experimenting again with reggae styles,
displayed on the tune Sept. 15th 1983. An ode to Jamaican legend Prince Far I, who was shot at his home on that date in a dispute over money. Recalling the events of that fateful day, as the ambulances arrived the house still smelling of onions from the dinner that Michael James Williams (Prince Far I's given name) had cooked for some friends. "Long dinner with some friends/ Way out way out in Portmore/ Servants of the pharaoh/ Slip in through the open door/ All business/ Bearing knives and zip-guns/ So get on the floor now/ every last one/ Every last one..."

The closer on Heretic Pride; Michael Myers Resplendent, weaves back and forth from the perspective of the actor playing him and the deeds he is to commit as the star of Halloween.
Comparing the first two lines of each verse, we have: " I am ready for my close up today/ Too long I’ve let my self-respect stand in my way..." and "I spent eight hours in my make-up chair/ Waxed my chest and shaved off all my hair..." Clearly, this is the "Hollywood" Michael Myers. Then the first two lines of the chorus: "But when the house goes up in flames/ No one emerges triumphantly from it..." Two sides of the same coin, off-screen and on. It's an unmasking of an icon down to his raw self, asking will the "real" Michael Myers please stand up?

I'm all about this album, moved mostly by Darnielle's lyrical mastery and intrigued by his fictional subjects. In an interview, he was asked how he comes up with his subject matter. "Certainly the stories in the songs aren't things I've lived through, unless they involve Portland, Oregon and large amounts of alcohol, in which case they're pretty autobiographical."

In closing, I'm going to make a comparison, and it may be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me: John Darnielle is a latter day Ernest Hemingway,
making mix-tapes for our disaffected generation...

* - obviously; Will Oldham, Colin Meloy, Jeff Tweedy, Sam Beam, Chan Marshall, Jeff Mangum, Elliott Smith, Ben Gibbard, Matt Berninger, Craig Finn, David Berman, Bill Callahan, Britt Daniel, Sufjan Stevens, Damien Jurado, Elvis Perkins and Raph Cutrufello are the folks I usually mention.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Free Fridays!

We're going to start giving away music. That's right, every Friday I'm going to post free mp3s. It'll basically be the five best new songs I've come across in the past week, free, for your listening enjoyment. Sometimes we'll post more (if the case may be) and if it was a bad week, we'll post old stuff, too.

The Mountain Goats - Autoclave (from Heretic Pride, released 2/19/08)
The Mountain Goats - Autoclave
Found at

Atlas Sound - Recent Bedroom (from Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, released 2/19/08)
Atlas Sound - Recent Bedroom
Found at

Hot Chip - Wrestlers (from Made In The Dark, released 2/5/08)
Hot Chip - Wrestlers
Found at

The Ravonettes - Dead Sound (from Lust Lust Lust, released 2/19/08)
The Raveonettes - Dead Sound
Found at

Los Campesinos! - Death To Los Campesinos! (from Hold On Now, Youngster, to be released 2/25/08)
LOS CAMPESINOS! - Death To Los Campesinos!
Found at

Yeah. So go buy these albums. They're all really good. And check back daily, because we'll be reviewing three of these albums this upcoming week...