13 September 2009

Catching up with the Phantom Band, Mew, the Benefits, and Street Sweeper Social Club

Though I am sad to see the summer has waned away into the nothingness of memories, I love the autumn and those chilly nights of hanging out on a mountaintop with a few friends, blasting music away in the background. Cool nights, crisp air, colorful landscapes, and late nights out in the East Village or Brooklyn, with the same group of friends, up to no good. Musically, an entire new world of releases, before the holiday season, intense shows on tight touring schedules, and my yearly process of starting to look back at a year of releases. This blog has covered well over seventy albums already this year (not to mention some retrospectives on older stuff) and a steady stream of videos we wanted to share because we really liked them or they caught our attention visually or were total cheese that you had to love it. But before moving on to anything brand smacking new, there are four albums that were released prior to September that we wanted to share with you by The Phantom Band, Mew, The Benefits, and Street Sweeper Social Club (which was written by Bloodybones, who wrote on his laptop while soaking up some rays in Florida).

The Phantom Band: “Checkmate Savage”

This is one of those CDs that was released around the time that I created this blog, and it just got right by me. “Checkmate Savage” (26 January 2009) is the debut album by Scottish band The Phantom Band. In their earlier days before release, the band flirted with many different names for the band, as well as a plethora of styles, but as they became more and more serious about the music they were performing, the name evolved into the current incantation and stuck. A six-man band (Rich Anthony, Gerry Hart, Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair, Damien Tonner, and Andy Wake), musically they are a bit darker than the average indie band. There is an air to their music that makes me wonder if Siouxsie and the Banshees influenced them, whether directly or indirectly. They share that same sort of luscious hollowness and cinematic hooks to their music.

Ultimately, if phantoms are impossible to grasp, so is their music – in a good way. Though you may hear strains of influence, what makes this band fun is that they are hard to pin down. But as I said before, there is this cinematic attractiveness to it; the arrangements will leave you in suspense during long build-ups before the beat drops, moods will change from one moment to another, and you will find different reasons to love each song on this album – much like the scenes in a movie. Here are my two picks off of the album. “Crocodile” – an incredible instrumental epic (seven and three-quarters minutes), it constantly leaves you mesmerized with their ability to generate such emotional intensity from music alone. My second pick is “Throwing Bones”; speak about a song that is hard to put a finger on. Musically, it incorporates divergent elements of music, while sporting out the most interesting arrangements of guitars on the album.

A certain (former) green-haired friend of mine continuously says how she loves this band, and I think anyone who has really listened to this album will echo her sentiments. Though only nine-song long, it is a fifty-four minute journey into a subtly powerful soundscape that is memorable and powerful. If you have not given this album a thorough listen to, check it out.

Track Listing:
1. The Howling
2. Burial Sounds
3. Folk Song Oblivion
4. Crocodile
5. Halfhound
6. Left Hand Wave
7. Island
8. Throwing Bones
9. The Whole Is on My Side

Keep up with The Phantom Band at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Mew: “No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry, They Washed Away; No More Stories, the World Is Grey, I’m Tired, Let’s Wash Away”

How is that for a title for an album? “No More Stories” (for short) was released on 17 August 2009 in Scandinavia, 24 August 2009 in the UK, 25 August 2009 in the USA, and 26 August 2009 in Japan, and it is the fifth album by Danish band Mew. Now officially a three-piece band (as bassist Johan Wohlert left to spend time with his family), Mew continues to shine through with their brand of shoegazing meets experimental dream pop. From the opening, “New Terrain,” the album will blow you away; the song contains backmasking (recording music backwards); actually, the backmasking is an entire other song, “Nervous.” Disarming, but yet appealing, right from the beginning these veterans know exactly how to hook you into their groove.

Recording the album in part in Brooklyn, there is that element of New York savvy and uncompromising conviction running right through the songs from composition to production style. Mew knows exactly how to throw out the rulebooks and get things done ingeniously by their own whims. Take “Repeaterbeater,” which does not contain the provocative title anywhere in the lyrics (“Why should I hold this girlfriend as tight as I ever could, now why should I?”) really shows how they can write from outside of their own experiences, while taking something so powerfully laden and conceptualize a new wavish, rock-pop song of it.

Mew is a brilliant band that never disappoints; here is another interesting tidbit you should keep your eyes open for. They are currently working with director Martin de Thurah filming a three piece series of videos for the album: “Introducing Palace Players,” “Repeaterbeater,” and “Beach.” Breaking with normal conventions when it comes to how they put music together, they are even willing to take risks with videos. This is not only a band that you will be in awe of with their catchy, out of leftfield music; you can also respect their efforts. Check out their work.

Track Listing:
1. New Terrains
2. Introducing Palace Players
3. Beach
4. Repeaterbeater
5. Intermezzo 1
6. Silas the Magic Car
7. Cartoons and Macrame Wounds
8. Hawaii Dream
9. Hawaii
10. Vaccine
11. Tricks of the Trade
12. Intermezzo 2
13. Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy
14. Reprise

Keep up with Mew at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Benefits: “Seize the Day”

We are going to stay in Denmark for two in a row. I came to hear the Benefits’ debut album, “Seize the Day” (11 May 2009), at Gray Door Studio, where it still continues to be played in heavy rotation. Principally a duo (Ilang Lumholt and Thomas Stengaard), which brings two other members on stage with them (Peter During and Mikkel Riber), the best way to describe they music the produce is heavily American influenced music with European sensibility.

Essentially a pop band, incorporating a lot of R and B elements to their music, the Benefits are at their best when Lumholt is at his most soulful. But the European sensibilities kick in with how the beats come in and out, how the music is highly layered and textured, and the electronic elements. Typical of all great Scandinavian bands, the Benefits pay meticulous attention to small details. Just take the track “You Ready, Let’s Go.” Starting with a simple piano arrangement, the electronic elements slowly flutter in, never allowing you to register the developing arrangements. The beat drops out of nowhere, and what you have here is one of the most fluidic songs of the year. And it is not all soulful music, “You Drive Me Crazy” (“You drive me crazy… bitch!”) looks towards surfer and 60s rock ideas for a kitschy ditty. And in “Living in an Igloo,” they experiment with the percussion, mixing, and a cacophonous melody.

From one album, the Benefits have shown the potential to grow in many different directions, or perhaps they will continue to genre-bend. What is definite, it is a shame that more people have not heard of the Benefits – so here I go again: go to their MySpace and click the “Friend” feature and support them if you like what you hear. It is going to prove very difficult State-side to find their music, but possible if you have access to a shop with a great import section. But the more followers, the more buzz, the more likely there will be a formal American release.

Track Listing
1. Seize the Day
2. I Wanna Do It
3. Code Red
4. Last Night
5. You Ready, Let’s Go
6. Come Home
7. Physical
8. Every Sucker
9. You Drive Me Crazy
10. Living in an Igloo
11. Are You Happy Now?
12. Last Night – acoustic

Keep up with The Benefits at MySpace.

Here is their video for “Seize the Day”; also here is a live performance of “I Wanna Do It” supporting Rihanna. Both are from their official YouTube Channel: thebenefitsmusic.

Street Sweeper Social Club: “Street Sweeper Social Club”

This one is for people who have had to sell their stuff to get by. For the single parents having to make ends meet any way they can. This is for the kids in the hood who struggle to survive today, keeping their head down and their noses clean in hopes to see tomorrow. For the workingman on the grind: This is Street Sweeper Social Club.

Never being one to sit still and keep his mouth shut, Tom Morello’s (of Rage Against the Machine fame) travels have brought him to Boots Riley to form Street Sweeper Social Club. Always political, always edgy, always holding in front of your face what’s uncomfortable and overlooked. The elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. This record rides those elephants in with air horns blaring and fists pumping; a wakeup call to the masses. The self-titled debut (16 June 2009) has Morello’s tried and true mix of funk, rock, and hip-hop behind Riley’s poetic yet poignant vocals. Political hip-hop over rock, that’s what we’re talking about here. And it works. Thematically the record doesn’t just take a stab at the excess and corruption of the upper class, it straps a vest made of dynamite to its collective chest. It’s one big “Fuck you!” to those in power.

I first heard of Street Sweeper before their evident name change, as support for the recent Nine Inch Nails / Jane’s Addiction tour aptly called NIN/JA. I downloaded tour sampler tracks and “Clap For The Killers” caught my attention. As a guitarist and gear junkie, immediately I thought “I know this sound, who is Street Sweeper?” After a little homework I heard the first single “100 Little Curses,” and I was hooked. This is not one to be missed.

Track Listing:
1. Fight! Smash! Win!
2. 100 Little Curses
3. The Oath
4. The Squeeze
5. Clap for the Killers
6. Somewhere in the World It’s Midnight
7. Shock You Again
8. Good Morning, Mrs. Smith
9. Megablast
10. Promenade
11. Nobody Moves (Til We Say Go)
12. Promenade, live – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Street Sweeper Social Club at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “100 Little Curses” from their YouTube Channel: streetsweepermusic.

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