31 January 2010

Catching Up with The Silent League and Good Shoes

We are going to straddle both sides of the Atlantic for this one. The first band hailing from Brooklyn, the second from London, crossing genres and styles, here are two bands that really put craftsmanship before glitz and hype. What is amazing about both of these bands is their ability to incorporate multiple musical ideas/genres into their music. Though nothing alike, they both have the ability to put forth music that you will feel both physically and emotionally. So with no further ado, here are the latest releases from The Silent League and Good Shoes.

The Silent League: “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker”

The Silent League is one of those acts that have given me many occasions to scratch my head and wonder over the last couple of years. The brainchild of Justin Russo, this is a band that believes in pushing any normal convention of genre that we normally have. At the core of it, they are a chamber pop band, using luscious arrangements, with a post-rock edge. But on their third album, “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker” (27 January 2010 in North America), this Brooklyn-based band doesn’t hold steadfast to any of the rules. The band’s claims to fame are that they understands how to compose music, how to record and produced an album for maximum effect, and avoid any overused clichés or trope. This album is no different, and may just make a fan out of some people who have never heard of them. It is a great example of musicians who can think outside of the box.

For instance, “Yours Truly, 2095” really shows how this band thinks outside of the box. Utilizing a vocoder, this song narrates the love affair with a robot (“she’s an IBM…”). The vocoder fits the futuristic image of the song, but the song is kept warm by the acoustic guitar in the background and the other analogue sounds. Essentially a pop song that brings in the big orchestral feeling between the verses, the song captures a dramatic feeling that is typical of some of the greats in music, like David Bowie. But when the song is most painfully emotionally bare, towards the end, the electronic elements fade out, and repeated over and over is “Is that what you want?” And this just adds to the dramatic magnificence of the song.

And though every song on this album has its own identity, its own personally, all fifteen songs (in under fifty minutes) seemingly glides smoothly. There are no choppy moments, speak about incredible production. But for all the production, you are not given little gimmicks (or impossibly reproducible moments for live performances). And though I have a preference for these long epic songs that wallow in some emotion (disparity, fear, anger, rage…), these short songs pack emotional power. The two longest tracks are definite jewels. “There’s A Caretaker in the Woods” (almost four-and-a-half minutes) is just one long sigh. It really never excites itself, and remains contemplative all the way through. Then there is “Final Chapter Meeting” (at slightly over five-and-a-half minutes), which brings into the mix so many elements that you’re in sonic euphoria: strings, synths, slightly affected tight vocal harmonies, and an incredible beat that drops in nearly half way through the song to name a few. At this moment you sit back and say, “Yes, this is epic.”

The only shame about The Silent League is that they are not household names. “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker” moves fluidly through each song, with a constant interplay in sounds, arrangement styles, and ingenuity. Another thing to love about this album is that the band really sports their influences, but never allows them to define their sound. Avoiding all that revival mania, this is a band that is most content with developing their own sound and their own way of doing thing. Just like the final track, a two-and-a-half minute minimalist instrumental: “How And Why Our Dads Lost The War.” Gone, at the end of it all, are the big arrangements, but still present is the visceral and dramatic power of the band. And it is when a band can generate a song like this, in many ways the antithesis of what came before, that keeps you entranced, that you are force to say, “This is great craftsmanship.” And indeed, the entire album is and you need to check it out.

Track Listing:
1. Egg Shaped
2. When Stars Attack!!!
3. Yours Truly, 2095
4. Little I
5. There’s A Caretaker In The Woods
6. Sleeper
7. Here’s A Star
8. Day Planner
9. The Ohio Winter Conventioners
10. Rules of Disengagement
11. I Go
12. But You’ve Always Been The Pilot”
13. Resignation Studies
14. Final Chapter Meeting
15. How And Why Our Dads Lost The War

Keep up with The Silent League at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Good Shoes: “No Hope, No Future”

“No Hope, No Future” (25 January 2010) is the sophomore effort by London indie rock band Good Shoes. On offer is a punk influenced, minimalist approach to music, that is neither overbearingly heady nor emotional, but enjoyable and thought inspiring. Free of the hype-machine that surrounded their debut, the band is able to experiment with more melodic and somber arrangements, and leave behind the banality of their freshman album. And what I really like about this album is that even though there are definite cues from the past, what shines through is a band with their own vision and sound. Though cluttered with punk rock, post-punk, and 90s references in their sound, you will find it difficult to accuse them on capitalizing on the sound of a band from the past.

Good Shoes most definitely selected the best opening track for this album: “The Way My Heart Beats.” The infectious beat makes you want to dance or mosh, and Rhys Jones (vocalist/guitarist) demonstrates the inevitable personal growth that we all go through: “Try and do the things you want, but you never do them for me. Try and say the things you want, but you never say them to me. And move on… to someone else, but it’s always the same problem.” Lyrically, the insight that Jones has developed is a marked difference to the more “topical” / “surface” lyrics of the first album. And hey, starting an album with a “Okay you dumped me song” is a smart move, because who has not gone through that? This sort of emotional nudity carries through the album, but never in any overwhelming way. There is just this matter of fact feel to the album that is great.

Loaded with great tracks, this album doesn’t slow down until “Thousands Miles An Hour,” which is the eighth track of ten. It is almost ironic, to slow down for a title that implies speed, but again it is that new insight and mentality the band brings to the table. The other slower track is the closing “City By The Sea.” It is also the most emotional song on the album. Before hand, though, is a plethora of gems. For instance, “I Know,” with its punkish, near sprechgesang (speak-sing) in the verse, has some simple, but mesmerizing guitar arrangements. “Under Control,” hands down my favorite track, is a spunky sexual narrative: “…her muscle tense as I tighten my grip, when smooth means rough, and soft means hard, but she always wants more and I’ve got to supply.” And then there is the dark “Our Loving Mother in a Pink Diamond.” It is not that kind of emotionally laden undertow kind of dark, but by comparison to the other songs, a heavier mood is immediately set from the first notes.

“No Hopes, No Future” definitely marks a subtle growth in Good Shoes. Though using many of the same kinds of hooks as their debut album, this sophomore effort shows more depth, has more emotive qualities, and yet is as infectious as their debut. And though I do not say this often, a rarity actually, this is a second album by a band that I like much more than the first. Debut albums are usually full of songs that a band selected from months, years of playing and writing before getting signed; of course the best of the best are selected, even for b-sides. Sophomore efforts are usually ridden with anxiety and pressure of recapturing initial success and expectations, written over a short period of time, and often lack the ingenuity of the debut. In this case, Good Shoes discarded the pressures, discarded the expectations of others, and have written an incredibly tight album that more than meets the mark.

Track Listing:
1. The Way My Heart Beats
2. Everything You Do
3. I Know
4. Under Control
5. Do You Remember
6. Our Loving Mother In A Pink Dress
7. Times Change
8. Thousand Miles An Hour
9. Then She Walks Away
10. City By The Sea

Keep up with Good Shoes at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Under Control” from their YouTube Channel: goodshoes.

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27 January 2010


X: THC is the brainchild of Michael Nova; an amazing artist, with an amazing concept - music, a film, a complete synesthetic experience that you will not soon forget. Keeping up with the dominance of the broadband world, Nova has recently finished putting together the band's electronic press kit (EPK), and I wanted it to share it with everyone. It is a definite insight to the artistry, the genesis of the project, and the reactions of an audience watching the show. I hope you enjoy the EPK and are inspired to see the show live.

EPK from their YouTube Channel: xthcmusic.

Keep up with X: THC at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
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26 January 2010

The Magnetic Fields: "Realism"

For anyone else who fell in love with “Distortion” (15 January 2008), this years’ follow-up by The Magnet Fields may actually throw you through a loop, but these are the kind of albums I like: the unexpected. “Realism” (26 January 2010) is devoid of synthetic sounds, electric guitars (other than in one song), or noise pop in a traditional sense. This album is a jamboree of acoustic instruments creating an impregnable wall of sound. And if that does not catch you off guard, the chorus of the first track on the album, “You Must Be Out of Your Mind,” will: “If you think you can leave the past behind, you must be out of your mind. If you think you can simply press rewind, you must be out of your mind, son… You must be out of your mind.” And using that quote as the framing concept of the album, this isn’t a press of rewind (or reset), but rather using everything that Stephin Merritt (creative director, songwriter) has learnt, a few new tricks, and a few strong hooks that are hauntingly beautiful.

Essentially a folk-pop album, it may very well be a study in what noise pop techniques would sound like devoid of feed back, compressed sounds, or, well, out of control noise. What really shines through on this album, more than any other album by The Magnetic Fields, is the actual craftsmanship. What makes this last installment the magnum opus of the “no synth” trilogy that the album is part of (along side “i” (4 May 2004) and “Distortion”) is how focused and emotive it is. Merritt, whose songwriting talent knows no boundaries, has really hit on something on this album that is really powerful. Furthermore, to counterbalance the seriousness of the some of the songs, Merritt cleverly intercedes with moments of camp; like in “Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree,” he sings, “Why sit in your dark and lonely room? Must your every word be sincere? Here’s a vial of laughing gas perfume, see that people smile when you’re near…” And yet in that camp, there is a sense of cutting reality, a humorous critique that is completed with the following line: “If they don’t like you, screw them.”

As opposed to the word “distorted,” “realism” implies a look at reality as how it really appears, without the spin, which may be a clue to why Merritt abandoned the distortions in sound. And one recurring realism, one reality that we often wish to forget, is just how isolated and lonely we all are. This is most apparent in “Walk a Lonely Road.” A disconsolate song which sports the words “Walk a lonely road with me, I will walk with you, half as lonely we will be when we walk as two.” But there it is, even when walking with someone else we are only “half as lonely,” but never completely consoled or part of something greater than we are. And there again is another reason this is the magnum opus: it holds that ole looking glass to your face and you have to accept a reality that you otherwise might feel too uncomfortable to confront. But set to the soothing acoustic music, it allows you to sit back and enjoy the moment while allowing yourself to slip into introspection without the doom and gloom.

Whether seduced by “a grin” and abandoned “to weep” (“Seduced and Abandoned”) or realizing that “I tried hard to keep you” (“Always Already Gone”), these are songs of vast introspection and loneliness. And where the word “son” may have seemed out of sorts in “You Must Be Out of Your Mind,” it just may be that Merritt is passing on his experiences to someone younger, more naïve, and about to follow the same patterns. What Merritt has created is a soundtrack to those memories we would rather forget, but are forced to remember and actually enjoy. Inevitably, this kind of retrospection is something we will all do someday. On that note, it is time to see the genius of the final track. The album closes with “From a Sinking Boat” – which when you think about it, it is the perfect title for a closing song on an album full of songs about loneliness and isolation. “If I could walk, I’d walk away, but I haven’t slept since yesterday. The ink is sinking, the page is blurred, and I can’t read a single word. But I know I love you, know what I wrote, my last words to you from a singing boat.”

Track Listing:
1. You Must Be Out of Your Mind
2. Interlude
3. We Are Having a Hootenanny
4. I Don’t Know What to Say
5. The Doll’s Tea Party
6. Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree
7. Walk a Lonely Road
8. Always Already Gone
9. Seduced and Abandoned
10. Better Things
11. Painted Flower
12. The Dada Polka
13. From a Sinking Boat

Keep up with The Magnetic Fields at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Considering the plethora of sounds this band has but forward, I think that seeing them live is something worth checking out if you can. Here are the most recently posted tour dates; see The House of Tomorrow Calendar page for more information and more dates.

4 February, Thursday: Washington, DC USA
6 February, Saturday: Montreal, QC Canada
8 February, Monday: Toronto, ON Canada
10 February, Wednesday: Boston, MA USA
11 February, Thursday: Boston, MA USA
13 February, Saturday, Brooklyn, NY USA
21 February, Sunday: Portland, OR USA
22 February, Monday: Portland, OR USA
23 February, Tuesday: Seattle, WA USA
24 February, Wednesday: Seattle, WA USA
27 February, Saturday: Oakland, CA USA
1 March, Monday: San Francisco, CA USA
2 March, Tuesday: Los Angeles, CA USA
4 March, Thursday: Milwaukee, WI USA
5 March, Friday: Bloomington, IN USA
6 March, Saturday: St. Louis, MO USA
7 March, Sunday: Chicago, IL USA
8 March, Monday: Chicago, IL USA
10 March, Wednesday: New York, NY USA
11 March, Thursday: New York, NY USA
12 March, Friday: New York, NY USA
19 March, Friday: Manchester, UK
21 March, Sunday: Leamington Spa, UK
22 March, Monday: London, UK
24 March, Wednesday: Stockholm, Sweden
25 March, Thursday: Oslo, Norway
27 March, Saturday: Berlin, Deutschland
29 March, Monday: Hamburg, Deutschland
30 March, Tuesday: Frankfurt, Deutschland
31 March, Wednesday: Amsterdam, Nederland
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24 January 2010

Northern Portrait: "Criminal Art Lovers"

Allow me to introduce you to Jesper Bonde, Stefan Larsen, Rune Reholt, Caspar Bock Sorensen, and Michael Sorensen – better known as the Danish quintet Northern Portrait. They prove something that I have said over and over again: Scandinavian musicians are amazing and amazingly underestimated in the Anglo-American musical scenes. Harkening back to the 1980s for their cues (most obviously from Echo and the Bunneymen and The Smiths), their debut album, “Criminal Art Lovers” (18 January 2010 in the USA), delivers sleek guitar playing and dramatic vocals. And of course we have been living in a decade long revival of the 80s, but to lump Northern Portrait into the category of being a tribute band, rehashing the past, would be a bit insane. Beneath all of the cues, beneath our own desires to relive the heydays of Madchester or The Smiths, is a young band from Copenhagen that has written an album that is both infectious and thought provoking.

Right from the opening, “The Münchhausen in Me,” it is obvious that this band has some pretty sophisticated arrangements, especially towards the end of the song when the vocal arrangement is basically used in much the same way you would arrange strings or keys. The song’s uplifting tempo and joie de vivre is carried over to “When Goodness Falls.” And then it hits you: the sophistication to be able to write a song that is lyrically the antithesis of the music. Though the lyrics could easily inspire you to wallow in your own self-deprecation, the music drives you in another direction. And it is that feel of lyrical/musical divergence that you experience all over the album. It is that lyrical/musical divergence that helps to create the alluring, visceral connection with the band, while tapping your feet or full out dancing.

“Crazy,” accompanied with some beautiful strumming and lead guitar interplay, is a stand out jewel on the album: “Crazy, what is this thing that is happening to me? I’m going crazy, it’s always happening to me. I rock the boat whenever there’s a chance… I’d slit the throat on anyone who wants to put me down.” Again, that interplay, that divergence, but what really caught my ear about this song is that it is not that standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus-chorus crap that so many bands rely on. Their ability to conceptualize a song and what it needs is obvious from beginning to end. There is no attempt to fit any of the songs in a mold, and there isn't any attempt to hide the musical savvy and talent behind production gimmicks or tricks.

Danish may be their first language, but they understand tongue-in-cheek as well as any native speaker of English. Just check out the title of this track: “The Operation Worked but the Patient Died” – too boot, Larsen crones “Don’t ask me how it feels?” And for those who are as attracted to intelligent sarcasm as I am, this will be one of those songs you cannot stop singing in your head over and over. And, as a friend of mine pointed out to me, if that tongue-and-cheek was not enough, in “Life Returns to Normal,” the band plays with the Volvo “my estate will take you anywhere” – forming a beautiful double entendre. The intellectual sophistication is matched by the often-time complex musical arrangements, and the way the vocals and music are constantly interplaying with one another. If the band’s goal was to write a sophisticated album, they have succeeded.

The only fault you will find with “Criminal Art Love” is that it ends. Northern Portrait has composed a musical experience that will sadden you that it does not last for hours – that is how infectious they are. Never does the album sacrifice its own sound and identity to fit nicely into the 80s revival; instead the band ingeniously meshes their 80s cues with a bit of Britpop and contemporary indie and their own unique approach and ideas, creating a mix of music and lyrical cleverness that really demonstrates artistry, sophistication, and urgency. Do not allow this listening experience pass you by.

Track Listing:
1. The Münchhausen in Me
2. When Goodness Falls
3. Crazy
4. The Operation Worked but the Patient Died
5. Criminal Art Lovers
6. Life Returns to Normal
7. Murder Weapon
8. What Happens Next?
9. That’s When My Headaches Begin
10. New Favourite Moment

Keep up with Northern Portrait at their MySpace and Facebook.
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23 January 2010

Eels: “End Times”

American band Eels is the brainchild of front man E, born Mark Oliver Everett. “End of Times” (19 January 2010 in the USA, accompanied by a deluxe edition with an EP) is the bands seventh studio album, best described as a serious album and not the fun party album you may expect from Eels. This time E is joined by Wayne Bergerson, Chris Bleth, and Andy Martin on horns (arranged by Jim Lang), Butch on drums, Koool G Murder on bass and guitar. E not only handles the vocals and an array of instruments (from guitar to percussion), he is also the producer of the album. The album is based on broken love, most probably inspired by E’s divorce, leading to the serious tone of the album. With a fresh sound and not so friendly lyrics the album is a great listen to when not everything is going perfectly in the world.

I have reviewed a few upbeat albums in the past and when I heard this album, it has hit me pretty hard. Not only are the lyrics melancholic but also the sorrow and tones used by E in each song gives the impression of heartbreak and wisdom. None of the songs rely on any voice enhancers and instead you are greeted with a voice that is as cool and raw as Johnny Cash himself. What you have in this album is a collection of songs that will definitely make you remember your own end times.

The first song is “In the Beginning” and it is a song that does not rely on highly poetic lyrics or even powerful instruments, instead the single guitar and almost silent drums drowned by the saddened voice of E telling a story that many may have experienced but few have narrated with such emotional power. Another great song that I am hooked on even when I’m not feeling down myself is “In My Younger Days.” It is just as saddening as the first song but with a more melodic backing and an almost talking-singing scratchy smoky bar singing voice; E really hits you right in the soul. Again not relying on poetic lyrics, I enjoyed each word and one of my favorite lines is in the end of the song, “In my younger days I would’ve just chalked it up as part of my ongoing education, but I’ve had enough, been through some stuff, and I don’t need any more misery to teach me what I should be. I just need you back.” That is an example of the simple yet powerful lyrics that have hooked me to this album.

The album is filled with track after track of melancholic gold and a sense of honesty. It is rare for me to find an album where you feel the honesty coming through the lyrics and no longer do the words sound like fabricated lyrics but like a life story. But it is not just the lyrics that give off honesty, so does the music. It does not rely on any guitar solos or energizing backing tracks; instead it drains all the energy out of you with the slow rhythms and lets you rest and take a break from the world, if only for the length of time of these songs. Its weird how an album filled with sad ballads can keep you interested through the entire album and have you repeating songs over and over again. If you have ever felt down or just need some down to earth songs that help relax and appreciate music for its simplicity and honesty, then believe you me this album will be your treasure in a sea of prefab pop songs.

Track Listing:
1. The Beginning
2. Gone Man
3. In My Younger Days
4. Mansions of Los Feliz
5. A Line in the Dirt
6. End Times
7. Apple Trees
8. Paradise Blues
9. Nowadays
10. Unhinged
11. High and Lonesome
12. I Need a Mother
13. Little Bird
14. On My Feet
15. And Now for the End Times – Deluxe EP
16. Some Friend – Deluxe EP
17. Walking Cloud – Deluxe EP
18. $200 Tattoo – Deluxe EP
19. The Man Who Didn’t Know He’d Lost His Mind – Deluxe EP

Keep up with Eels at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the video for “In My Younger Days” from their YouTube Channel: OfficialEels.

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22 January 2010

Happy Birthday SlowdiveMusic Blog!

Today SlowdiveMusic Blog celebrates its first birthday, and over the past few days I have been a bit reflective. The first thing I would like to say is thank you for the show of support – whether by following at the blog, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Twitter. Reading, posting comments, and even the e-mails, it has meant a lot to all of us here at SDM Blog. The second thing I would like to say is thank you to all the bands and artists who have taken the time to answer our questions and give us an insight into their craft: The Android Angel, Baddies, A Boy Named Crow, DJ Chauncey D, Del Marquis, The Fabulous Entourage, Gonzo, The Joy Formidable, Lacrosse, Metro Sunday, Microfilm, Neimo, One Hundred Hurricanes, The Onlookers, Power of Dreams, Bethany Saint Smith, Scarlet Soho, Simon Scott, Steven Severin, Superoscope, Thursday, Transbeauce, The Unravelling, and X:THC. It has been an incredible experience to keep up with new music so fervently, to reflect on older music, to express our opinions about what we love, and communicate with so many amazing artists who have given us a real insight into their crafts.

And onward into 2010!

When I started this blog, I struggled to find a jazzy and catchy name that I could live with, and no matter what I thought up of, I hated the morning after. But then I had that proverbial light bulb moment one evening: I should name the blog after something that reflects musical history. I quickly jotted a list of twenty song or album titles that meant something to me, and “Slowdive,” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, was the first one on the list and was available. (There was an official video for this song posted at the Banshees’ official YouTube page, thebansheesofficial, but it is no longer available!) Speak about one of the unsung heroes of music; this band, the brainchild of Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin, revolutionized music, inspired generations of artists, and are a paragon of artistic integrity. I created the G-Mail for the blog, and the rest is history. As homage to this band, everyone who has contributed to the blog (Belladonna, Bloodybones, Hyena, Juju, Little Sister, Mirage, and VoodooDolly) has continued that tradition by naming themselves after titles from the Banshees’ repertoire. To us, this is not about hiding who we are behind a cutesy or even bizarre name, but rather paying homage to an amazing band.

[‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” from VEVO.]

After we got together and discussed our “Best of 2009,” we started to discuss what we wanted to do differently this year. We have a few things up our sleeves, but one thing we all agreed on was the need to be consistent. This of course is difficult considering that we all have responsibilities outside of this blog – the ole nine-to-five always places demands. But typically, we try to get an album on its release day, and listen to it over and over again, in order to write a review. Our biggest effort this year is going to be to try to post a review every Tuesday, and videos twice a month. However, I am going to continue the tradition of not writing about what we do not like. What is the point of wasting your time (or our precious writing time) with that? Also, every month we would like to have a retrospective of some sort, of course videos, as well as trying to get out to more shows this year. (I remember my college years, when my best friend, Mia, and I headed out to so many concerts; her father joked that we were majoring in live music!)

Placebo - Pure Morning from PlaceboWorld on Vimeo.

[Placebo’s “Pure Morning” from their Vimeo Channel: PlaceboWorld.]

One of the greatest pleasures I have had has been working with my contributors. Of course we hardly ever all agree on any one artist, and we often make fun of each other for some of our guilty pleasures. (When discussing our “Best of…” lists, it was like a parliamentary meeting with factions siding with one another!) We take little snipes at each other and the music we listen to – and Bloodybones, your Cure snipe did not go unnoticed! But this blog, among things, has been a “journal” of sort of our musical journey. Whether it has been reflecting on the past, our discovery of new music, or our need to continually readjust and open our minds to something new, fresh, and relevant, the blog has been an incredible shared experience. And because of that, I really want to thank all of my contributors for dedicating whatever time they can. But I have to really single out that four years ago, when I met Juju, I never thought we would be this close. She does so much “behind the scenes”: managing our presence on the Internet, checking my sanity, giving me migraines, and keeping my commas in check – she has been a pillar of support and inspiration. And at the end of it all, I would not want to write with any other bunch of maladjusted, emotionally crippled, angst written group of friends.

[Joan Jet and the Blackheart’s “Bad Reputation” from the blackheartrec YouTube Channel.]

So my mom asked me recently, “So what, you think you are a journalist now?” I sat back and thought about this question, considering how I have approached this blog since the beginning, and I have to say that yes I do. No, I do not go out and search for “musical news” in the sense of gossip or tidbits about these musicians’ lives – I actually do not care for the most part what anyone does in the privacy of their lives. But there has always been a conscious effort to be fair, professional, and look for a perspective that is often ignored. I have stated that this blog is about “unsung heroes” in music, and, yes, even veterans can be unsung. The blog has always been about giving a fair shake to artists and really judging them on their own merits, and not the expectations of others; I just wish there was more time and resources to get to everyone that we have not been able to!

There has always been a conscious effort to be fair to our readers and the artists. That is the reason why I would never allow any links to download music on this site (unless an artist supplies it). This is a policy that we are not going to change; I know it makes this blog less enticing, but I stand on not posting these kinds of materials, and, furthermore, only posting videos from official providers. (Ultimately, it is the choice of any given artist how they want their music disturbed, not anyone else’s.) Furthermore, we will continue to disclose any communication or materials sent by artists and/or labels, not because it is the law, but rather because you, the reader, deserve to know any and all relationship we have with what we write about. But again, I stand fast on the idea that anything we write about we stand behind. I have too much self-respect and love for music (and art in general) to allow this site to reduce itself to pandering music and artists that we do not support in real life.

Sex Pistols: Anarchy in the UK

Sex Pistols | MySpace Music Videos

[Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” from their MySpace Videos.]

When I started this, I was alone, sort of ranting in the dark with little direction; now, it is a few of us, ranting in the dark, with a little more direction. But that is just another thing that excites me: there really is no idea where this is going to lead. So what else to expect? We hope, a little more blues, a little bit of dream pop and dark wave, and a general expansion of what we have done. As always, I (we) always welcome your suggestions (I have already started thinking about the idea of “mainstream” that one of the comments conjectured about). And though we have all these plans, a tightly made schedule, I know that life is not predictable and anything “organic” continues to grow and evolve in ways that cannot be planned for. So in that sense, I welcome what this second year brings, regardless if we originally planned it or not. With that said, I want to repeat thank you to all the artists that have contributed their time. And thank you for taking the time to read our postings.

[If you are wondering about the eclectic choice of videos, they are somehow related to the other options of what the blog “could” have been named. Though the list is much longer than that, I thought it would be interesting to somehow give a few clues to what else was on my mind.]

Now I think I can go celebrate in a not so professional way! Thanks for all the support! Onward into 2010 and year two!

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21 January 2010

Videos from the 80s...

My brother and I, back in 1986 or so, were obsessed with a local video channel: U68. We would watch all night, over our mother’s screaming to go to bed. But it wasn’t just U68 we obsessed about – we would try to catch as many videos as possible: the early days of MTV, Friday Night Videos, various countdown shows… wherever, whenever we could, we had to consume. Albeit, we would always ultimately return to U68, because we loved the selection of music more than any other outlet for videos. I think we were both depressed the day it went off the air! But U68 really started our journey of discovering music and it was something that we did together. And though the years have passed, more years than I care to shake a finger at, it was one of those defining experiences that bonded my brother and I. Typically, we are day and night, oil and vinegar, though we share the same twisted sense of humor. So I decided to live a little bit of history (live up to my promise of looking back into the past more often than I have in recent months) and share some of these videos. Again, it is so difficult to find so many of these videos from official providers, but here are ten jewels from the 80s that should never be forgotten. (And I will continue to hunt down some more of them, and even try to reach out to bands that are still around to post their older material.) I know that for many, some of these songs and/or videos will be new – which is great. You get to see some of the veterans who laid down the trends that current artists take cues from, and you get to see some veterans during their nascent years. And for others, you may very well have forgotten some of these songs, but memories are going to come rushing back! But ultimately, though I want to share this with everyone, I dedicate this post to my brother, Daniel, and our shared memory of U68 and other early video outlets. We may not always see eye-to-eye, and you really need to upgrade your musical collection, but you have always, at the end of it all, always given me your support and have been a fervent supporter of SlowdiveMusic Blog. For all of that I thank you, and I hope you remember all the late nights watching these videos together.

David Bowie’s “China Girl” from his MySpace Video page.

China Girl

David Bowie | MySpace Music Videos

The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” from their MySpace Videos page.

Don't You Want Me

The Human League | MySpace Music Videos

King’s “Love and Pride” from the KingVEVO YouTube Channel.

Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” from the Curt Smith / Tears for Fears MySpace Videos page.

Mad World

Curt Smith / Tears For Fears | MySpace Music Videos

Madness’ “Our House” from their YouTube Channel: MadTubeMTV

Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” from their MySpace Videos page.

People Are People

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

The Clash’s “Rock the Casbar” from theclashVEVO YouTube Channel.

Erasure’s “Sometimes” from their MySpace Videos page.

Sometimes (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” from their YouTube Channel: Kajagoogoomusic.

Howard Jone’s “What Is Love?” from his MySpace Videos page.

What Is Love?

Howard Jones | MySpace Music Videos
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20 January 2010

Baddies Answers 5

Back in November, I posted a review of Baddies’ debut “Do the Job” (link). Since then, the album has been on heavy rotation on my iPod, driving at excessive speeds while listening. The album is packed with energy and urgency, and inspires that little voice in the back of my head to say things like, “Punk is not dead.” It was a no-brainer for me: I reached out to the band, and Michael Webster (lead vocalist/guitarist) was more than happy to respond to our questions. We would like to thank Michael Webster for taking the time to answer the questions upon returning from gigging in Australia, and here it is: Baddies Answers 5.

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

I think my biggest influences are the stories that I hear; a great story or piece of news is always a great starting point for a song. Once you have one foot on the run of the ladder you gotta let your imagination guide you to the top!

I love the simple science lab sounds of Devo, the chainsaw guitars of the Jesus Lizard, the desperation of Morrissey, the insanity that lies within Killing Joke, the fact that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sounds like the devil incarnate, I love what punk meant and wished I was there.

2. Baddies has been compared to a plethora of bands (many of which are unfounded) and labeled with everything from "alternative rock" to "post-punk revival." But how do you define your own sound?

It may sound boring but our sound is just the result of these four people writing music together. Sure, sometimes one member needs to take the reins to guide the sound in a certain direction, but we are not on the bandwagon. We aren’t concerned with being part of a scene or necessarily creating one. We like what we like and we do what we do.

3. When composing a song and writing the lyrics, what is the typical process for Baddies?

Normally I either create or am fed a guitar or bass part from the rest of Baddies, I chew on it for a while, freestyle over the top of it until I get my head around where I take it vocally. Once I have an idea of what the vocals will do, we can then all get stuck in and beat it into shape.

4. In my opinion, music is often marred when it become part of a trend, which often happens in major musical centers like London or New York City. Baddies definitely stand out from the prepackaged trends of the moment. Is this the product of coming from Southend, a conscious effort of the band, something that naturally happened, or some combination of the above?

I guess it’s a combination of the both. If there is no scene in your town, then there is nothing to be a part of. I think it’s OK to be a part of a trend, if you are the trendsetter.

5. You have played intimate venues to large festivals, from the UK to Australia. How is your approach to live music influenced by venues and geography? Any plans on America?

We have no shows currently booked in the States; we have been preoccupied with Europe and now writing album number 2!

Our approach to our live shows is always to put on a show and give it 100%. I love the intimacy of a small show but also the occasion of a big show, I am genuinely just happy to be up there playing to an audience!

Keep up with Baddies at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

And a reminder: from 9 March 2010 to 1 April 2010, they will extensively be touring the UK, hitting Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leeds, Cambridge, Birmingham, Oxford, Brighton, London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Northampton, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Wrexham with the Joy Formidable. Check out their MySpace for more information.
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19 January 2010

Surfer Blood: "Astro Coast"

Have you ever had to write something and not know how to start? This is one of these moments for me; I am now on my fifth draft of this review of Surfer Blood’s “Astro Coast” (19 January 2010 in the USA) and really have no clue how I can write this to really let you know that I have been so blown away, that I have had my own little orgiastic experience while listening. Are these youngsters the next great virtuosos? Perhaps, but they have not demonstrated it on their debut. Are we going to have to redefine music and come up with new labels to define this album? Nah, unless you really are in the business of fabricating labels, of which we have too many. Are you going to listen to some great music? Absolutely! We can conjecture here everything a band needs to be successful, but the reality is that what a band needs to be able to do more than anything else is write good music. And these youngsters from West Palm Beach (Brian Black, Thomas Fekerte, JP Pitts, and TJ Schwarz) know how to put a kick-ass song together that is infectious and haunting. Not only can they do it once, but they did it ten times on one album. I am going to try and avoid saying, “Listen to this album now, it may just be one of the best albums of 2010.”

The album opens with “Floating Vibes,” and it reminds you of the opening by any veteran band that knows how to draw you into the experience. A simple song, that really demonstrates a sound pop sensibility hidden behind lightly affected guitars, but the almost 60s feel of the song permeates right through. What catches your attention right away is the vocal arrangement intertwined with the keys (the band brings Marcos Marchesani on the road on keyboards and percussion). The album is sandwiched between this and the oxymoronic “Catholic Pagan.” Beautiful string arrangement that gives away to power chords in the chorus, the song really shows that Surfer Blood is more than their typical 90s influences. The band definitely has more vision than their American 90s “alterna-rock/alterna-pop” influences. Dare I say, there is a bit of shoegaze in them.

Two tracks really arrested me – and have been on repeat for a few hours. The first is “Harmonix.” Have you ever heard the argument about pornography? The “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Okay, well it is sort of the same kind of logic. I don’t always know what makes a song good, but I know a good song when I hear it – and this is a friggin’ great song. It is alluringly mysterious, as the song flows through various different soundscapes. Here is another comparison that may be obscene to a few – think of the disco song “Supernature” (the original version by Cerrone); this song packs the kind of subtle power that it does. Then there is “Fast Jabroni.” There is a bit of new wave to this one, with a distorted surfer rock feel. Though the soundscape is more constant in this one, this is one of those thriving songs that you immediately start to imagine live. With much of the album (and knowing there is a keyboardist live), one is left to imagine just how raw the power is live, considering that the album oozes both sonic and visceral power beginning to end.

Though I have to admit that I had some fear about when bands started to reference to the nineties for musical cues, especially when they started references Britpop and American alternative, Surfer Blood has put some of those fears to rest. Devoid of rehash or revival mentality, “Astro Coast” zips through beginning to end, always changing intensity, with small inflections of style, but always with a signature sound. As far as debuts go, this is one of the best I have heard in the past few months. As far as indie rock goes, Surfer Blood may just have put West Palm Beach on the map. Okay, I am no longer going to avoid it: Listen to this album now! It may just be one of the best albums of 2010!

Track Listing:
1. Floating Vibes
2. Swim
3. Take It Easy
4. Harmonix
5. Neighbour Riffs
6. Twin Peaks
7. Fast Jabroni
8. Slow Jabroni
9. Anchorage
10. Catholic Pagans

Keep up with Surfer Blood at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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18 January 2010

Heads Up: The Sea Kings

The Internet is really a labyrinth. Navigating it and finding something you like can be quite difficult, sort of like a tourist navigating through New York City without a map. But once in a while you come across something that you immediately have to jump on, less you forget where to find it again. Recently, that something is The Sea Kings – an English folk band. I immediately reached out to them; they shared two songs with me, that are streaming on their MySpace, and this is a band you really should listen to; they may just turn you onto folk.

Currently recording their debut album, The Sea Kings (Jake Alexander, Joe Holtaway, and James Wills) combine folk sensibility with a progressive approach to their song writing, as demonstrated in their two songs streaming on their MySpace. However, I would not simply lump them into a “prog folk” group, because it would undermine their efforts. Underneath the folk music is a strong pop sensibility, a real knowledge of how to write music that is appealing, but not giving up their own distinctiveness. As they have alluded to before, the nautical influences of Cromwall (where all three members grew up) have seeped into their music, but what’s important to remember is that each member has brought their own influences and ideas about music and composition, as they all had written music and performed as solo artists prior to composing and performing together.

The Sea Kings, Greenwich Park, Summer 2008

What will catch many people by surprise is the lusciousness of their three-part harmonies. But even though their harmonies are intricate, as much of their arrangements, this is a band that is quite straightforward: three guys on their instruments, no gimmicks, no production tricks, just straightforward music. As demonstrated by the track that is playing, “Sails and Boards” (which the band has given us permission to stream here), the music relies on the lyrical and musical imagery, along side of the intertwining vocal harmonies with the musical arrangements, to generate a strong emotional undertow. This is not the generic folk music you have come across in the past (at least not in my experience). Listen to the track again, and admit that you are waiting for the debut of this album as much as I am.

Create a playlist at MixPod.com

Keep up with The Sea Kings at their MySpace page.
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14 January 2010

My Luminaries: “Order From the Chaos”

Considering that the music that goes onto debut albums has probably been written and refined over years before a band getting signed, it is usually a better indicator of what a band has to offer by listening to their sophomore effort. Releasing their second album, though their first studio album, "Order from the Chaos" (last year in digital form from Noise Trade, limited hard copies as of this month at bigcartel), My Luminaries has officially confirmed that they have the musical chops that may extend them into longevity. This is the perfect follow-up to their live debut. The album says a lot about who they are as a band; a band that prefers substance and craftsmanship to over-the-top antics and gimmicks, they have written and collected some of the most beautiful songs I have listened to in a long time.

It is not often that I come across an album which really expresses the signature of a band so crisply - you would think these guys and gal are veterans! “Parasol,” the lead single off of the album, is a very soft song. The major differentiating factor that sets what kind of band they are is their guitar playing. While listening, I get this 50's esque feel from the strumming and sound from the guitar - could it be a vintage? "Parasol" (for those who are unfamiliar with the term) is synonymous with umbrella. But a parasol, on a symbolic level, plays a figurative role as it not only a means of shelter, but also security, which I found to be very touching.

Remember that game we use to play as a kid, “Which one of these things do not belong?” I often find myself playing that same game when I am listening to new music. While listening to “Heads Will Roll," I heard the sounds of the harmonica and felt a bit uneasy because harmonicas may be small but deliver big sound, which can easily overwhelm most other instruments. But to my surprise, it tied in with the music perfectly and the guitar playing was exquisite, just as throughout the rest album.

I could rant about this album for a while, but I don’t want to spoil it for you because it is something you should experience for yourself. Don’t half ass it, give it two listens, three listens, and truly appreciate their craftsmanship. (Even when SDM heard the album, his first reaction was: "Shit, this is beautiful.") The album is available as a free download, via Noise Trade, to those who refer the album to five friends, which is a great way to advertise but it is also available to buy online. However, as mentioned above, the CD is limited to 750 copies, so snag yourself a copy before it’s all gone! Also, here is one other reason to go to the Glastonbury Festival this year: My Luminaries will be playing the Queens Head Stage on Thursday, 24 June 2010.

Track Listing:
1. Order From The Chaos
2. Welcome To The Family
3. Parasol
4. Ambition
5. A Little Declaration
6. Homewrecker
7. Clementine
8. The Sound Of Music
9. Heads Will Roll
10. The Firemen
11. Won

Keep up with My Luminaries at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is their video for “Welcome to the Family” from their My Luminaries Vimeo Channel.

My Luminaries - Welcome To The Family from My Luminaries on Vimeo.

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13 January 2010

The Android Angel Answers 5

I came across The Android Angel’s “Glow Worm” a few weeks after it’s release, and it was one of those moments that I really wanted to kick myself for not being on top of this one. There was something about the strumming and pure emotional power that really caught my attention. After posting my review of the album (link), I had the chance to communicate with The Android Angel (Paul Colto), who took the time to answer a few questions. As real as his music, these responses really show more than a musician, but rather the man behind the artistry, not to mention that I got to pick up a new British idiom. I would like to thank Paul Colto for taking the time for answering 5. Enjoy!

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Like most musicians, I love to listen to as much music as I possibly can. Guitar bands I’ve always loved and whose songs I have grown up with and studied a great deal include Mercury Rev, Spiritualized, Super Furry Animals, Radiohead and The Mars Volta. I also love classic songwriters like Neil Young and Bob Dylan alongside more contemporary ones like Cornelius, Bon Iver, Caribou and Antony and the Johnsons.

Non-musically I try to incorporate everything and anything beautiful that I see and feel in reality, or in dream, in some way in my music.

2. "Android" always connotes something cold and inhuman to me, but your music is all too human and full of emotional contexts. So, why the moniker, "The Android Angel?"

I’d basically lived a wilderness existence in England for five years after University and felt like I was going insane. So two years ago, inspired mainly by the poems of William Blake, I gave up my various vices to just write, record and perform music that I enjoyed making. The Android Angel, as a musical project, emerged. I’d like to think that the name represents the detached isolation of devoting your life uncompromisingly to your art but to be totally honest, I can’t remember why I chose it.

3. It seems like many musicians are taking their cues from the past to the point that they sound like veterans, but you have not gone down this road. Though every musician has influences, as an artist, how important is it for you to have a signature sound that is your own and not the past's?

To be honest I don’t really think of it. Android Angel is an outlet that provides me with complete control and freedom to make music for no reason other than enjoyment. There’s no agenda, I simply make whatever music I feel like making. When I’ve got 10 or 11 songs I record them all to the best of my ability and then release them in the hope that other people might gain the same satisfaction listening to them as I do making them.

4. Your strumming really caught my ear. Out of curiosity, do you have a favorite guitar? How about your other instruments, any favorites?

Along with all my other uninsured equipment, my favourite guitar was stolen from the back of my car in July last year. I realized once it had gone that I’d bonded very closely with that guitar because I wrote a lot of the songs that are making me the musician I hope I am becoming on it. It was an Art and Lutherie acoustic guitar I inherited from a girl who bought it on a whim but never really played it. I sourced a replacement on EBAY a few months ago and we’re getting on pretty well so far.

As far as other instruments go, possibilities never seem quite as infinite as when I’m playing the piano. I’m not that good at it, but I know enough to get what I need out of it. I love playing the drums but I have a very fractious relationship with the electric guitar - we have a bit of history…

5. You essentially recorded "Glow Worm" on your own, but during live performances there are two other musicians present. For those of us who have not seen you live (yet), what can we expect to see and hear that we would not expect from listening to the album?

I toured the first record with just a drummer, but for the “Glow Worm” show in London in April I’ve got a bass player on board too so that we can do some of the heavy rock music from the record alongside the acoustic stuff. Having bass and drums will also give me the chance to play some songs from my first album “Bless” in full technicolor for the first time.

On the first tour we’d finish each set by getting people in the crowd onstage to play percussion on the last song which worked a treat. I’d like to think we’ll come up with a way to take it to an even higher level this year – perhaps we could completely swap places so by the end all the crowd is onstage and the band is the audience. Hmm…

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

Also, do yourself the favor and head over to iTunes and pick up the latest album, “Glow Worm.” And of course, you could also pick up the debut album, “Bless.” (I did a bit of the ground work for everyone – listed below each album are the direct links to the national iTunes’ stores by album.)

“Glow Worm” (30 November 2009)

New Zealand
The United Kingdom
The United States of America

"Bless" (24 December 2008)

New Zealand
The United Kingdom
The United States of America
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12 January 2010

Vampire Weekend: “Contra”

Vampire Weekend, hailing from New York, combines, amongst things, an indie rock sound with elements of African popular music. As a result, it is hard to really put a finger on a label for them, which is a good thing, though worldbeat has been thrown around. For those that have not had the pleasure of listening to the amazing rhythm and overall sound of African music, this will be a great experience. “Contra” (12 January 2010 in the USA, though available on iTunes with bonus tracks since 8 January 2010) is the band’s sophomore effort. The band is composed of Chris Baio bass guitar and backing vocals, Rostam Batmanglij keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals, Ezra Koenig on lead vocals and guitar, and Chris Tomson drums and percussion. But the band is greater than its member; together what is on offer is strong music, with an international flair, and amazing craftsmanship.

The band’s second album does not disappoint in the slightest bit. In fact, you would have to be insane to even consider this to be a sophomore slump. The melodic instruments are complimented by the soft soothing voice of Koenig and mystifying backing vocals that give the album a unique feel. The album is filled with an array of instruments that mesh together in a melodic storm. The first track of the album is “Horchata” and from the very beginning, the song is very upbeat and the lyrics are ambiguous, allowing the listener to make his/her own conclusion. Every song has its own unique rhythm and overall sound, except for Koenig’s voice. Add this to my favorite sounds on the album, which come in short bursts, that give a Caribbean feel that make you feel like you’re just another person on a beach somewhere or in a Caribbean paradise with no worries.

The album manages to smoothly transition from track to track, making time fly as you listen to the mesh of sounds that work so well. It’s amazing. Nothing in the album feels rushed and the songs are able to calm any listener and just put the mind in a state of calm bliss. As the songs are not emotionally draining, they are a thrill to listen to repeatedly. Although the overall tone changes from song to song, there is this sense of intensity that each song exudes, demanding attention. There are straightforward tracks like “Holiday” about simply wanting a holiday, but as you listen to carefully to each song and the guitar and rhythm of the drums, it feels like you are on an actual holiday. Yet, the album isn’t all about simple lyrics that are meant only to numb your mind. One of the songs I find myself listening to on repeat is “Giving Up the Gun,” which is slower then what I would consider a party song such as “California English.” “Giving Up the Gun” has a very strong presence and lyrics that will cause much thought and provocation not because of its complexity, but simply because of the actual topic the lyrics are discussing. While I believe that there is one song that will capture the attention of the listener from child to adult, this specific song was the one that hit me the hardest. With a quiet intensity the backing repeats as the singer begins to reflect on someone’s life. My favorite lines in the song are “When I was seventeen I had wrists like steel and I felt complete, now my body fades behind the brass charades and I’m obsolete.”

While I have had some experiences with some albums that try to take advantage of youthful situations, the songs in the album seem very honest and pure. For example, the song “Run” does not wallow in talking about love and internal bliss, but rather what is narrated is that he is willing to run with the person. The sound of his bliss when saying running and emphasizing “you” makes it more personal and touching. Then there’s the song “Cousins,” which is the albums lead single. This song is simply a hectic energetic ball of musical bliss. The fast paced guitar and drums topped by Koenig’s overly-excited voice gets the listener pumped without even knowing what is being said half of the time because of the overall speed of the lyrics.

I would love to discuss each song but I feel as though I should leave some surprises. And believe me, they are worth it. After your first listen, you will be arguing with yourself just what song is your favorite. The album has a great allure that makes it difficult to skip any track. It is overall a great album and sets a high standard for what is going to be released this year. The songs will not disappoint, as your emotions will be running wild, as one moment you’re dancing, and the next you’re slipping into a tranquil state of mind. Great voice, great arrangements, great experience, a great album – “Contra” is not an album you should miss!

Track Listing:
1. Horchata
2. White Sky
3. Holiday
4. California English
5. Taxi Cab
6. Run
7. Cousins
8. Giving Up the Gun
9. Dipolmat’s Son
10. I Think Ur a Contra
11. Giant – iTunes bonus track
12. California English, Part 2 – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Vampire Weekend at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
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10 January 2010

Placebo: Retrospective on "Placebo"

What started in 1994 is the start of the band that I hold dearest to my heart, Placebo. Releasing their eponymous debut (16 July 1996), the band was originally composed of lead singer Brian Molko pairing up with guitarist/bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Robert Schultzberg (Steve Hewitt was the original and preferred choice, but he was not able to join the band as a full-time member because of former commitments until 1997), and they are the continuation of a musical tradition / legacy that David Bowie set blazing in the 70s. The band possesses a similar persona and stage appearance to Bowie and their sound is just as obscure and diverse. Placebo is the epitome of what many may call “teenage angst” but they can’t possibly be compared to other bands of the same category. Despite their seemingly raw lyrics, Placebo is so much deeper and poetic than that. It’s not about the endless issues that teenagers engage in even though it may seem so. It’s about the period of adjustment, from childhood into adulthood, the issues that everyone can relate to and the fact that “nothing ever, ever goes our way.”

As the years go by, Placebo apparently grows up from singing about teenage issues to deeper issues that an ordinary person deals with throughout life. As they grow, so do their music. However, as great as they are, they may take a while to adjust to and love. Their sound is sometimes harsh and jagged but at one point, deathly catchy to anyone from anywhere. You can’t help but sing alongside Brian’s eclectic voice and varying falsetto. Their lyrics are provocative and vulgar at times as they are so different in terms of sexuality, identity and appeal. However, it is what sets them apart from other bands that appeal to the same audience.

Their debut album contains the song “Nancy Boy” which is probably Placebo’s most known single from their early years. It is what they are known for, Brian’s bisexuality and androgyny, Stefan’s homosexuality, and [insert drummers name’s] heterosexuality (Placebo’s drummers have always been straight). Despite the usual insults to Brian looking effeminate, it is what he is known for. Nancy boy literally means a feminine and homosexual boy, which Brian completely claims as his act in this track and album. His feminine features, his bob-cut, short and black hair completely sets the mood of the stage and may confuse, entertain and change the minds of millions of listeners. The song has various elements: humor, relation, ambiguity, and curiosity. The chorus “And it all breaks down at the role reversal, got the muse in my head she's universal, spinnin' me round she's coming over me, me” can sound pretty but be hard to make sense of; however, the lines “Does his makeup in his room, douse himself with cheap perfume, eyeholes in a paper bag. Greatest lay I ever had” makes perfect sense. That is one of the many beauties of this band: the interchanging between concrete and abstract lyrics. Certain lines of lyrics may seem so paradox but the lyrics are relatable and understandable.

The album’s first track, “Come Home,” describes a situation as being “Stuck between the do or die” he feels “emaciated,” “Glass and petrol vodka gin, it feels like breathing methane. Throw yourself from skin to skin, and still it doesn't dull the pain. Vanish like a lipstick trace, it always blows me away.” With just reading these lyrics, it may seem that the mood of the song is dreary and almost depressing; however, it is upbeat in terms of Brian’s voice. The energy that comes out of his voice is unbelievable. The descriptions of the emotions are so vivid it captures an age within a lyric.

“Teenage Angst,” probably within my top-ten favorite Placebo tracks, has one of the best lines I ever heard in music. “Since I was born I started to decay. Now nothing ever - ever goes my way.” The track is short, sweet, and simple and it gets the point across. There is no complexity to the song, it is exactly what the title implies, simple teenage angst.

What makes Placebo amazing is that they are their music. There is no pretense or attempt to hide who they are. And though the 80s would accept androgyny and queerity, the 90s, set with grunge in the USA and Britpop in the UK, would not. (Sure Britpop would flirt with “sexuality,” at the end of it all these artists always asserted their heterosexuality or claimed to have no “homosexual experiences.”) Placebo was not going to allow their narratives to define the reception of their music. Though some markets would not embrace Placebo from the start, they could not close them out completely. Attested by their arena and stadium performances, as well as festival headlines, all over the world, this album, “Placebo,” is the start of a musical era where musical and songwriting talents trumps bigotry and narrow-mindedness. And what talent proves is not that Placebo has given the world an amazing, defiant stance on bigotry, but rather what Placebo has given the world is a musical legacy that is greater than their individual parts. Placebo moves from average band to icons and institution, and it all started with this incredible debut.

Track Listing:
1. Come Home
2. Teenage Angst
3. Bionic
4. 36 Degrees
5. Hang On to Your IQ
6. Nancy Boy
7. I Know
8. Bruise Pristine
9. Lady of the Flowers
10. Swallow

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

Here is their video for Nancy Boy from their PlaceboWorld Vimeo Channel.

Placebo - Nancy Boy from PlaceboWorld on Vimeo.

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09 January 2010

Bethany Saint Smith Answers 5

I had the chance to see Bethany Saint Smith perform at the Fontana's (NYC) last month. This is definitely an artist that you need to discover and follow, and I would like to thank her personally for taking the time and answering 5 for us, especially since this is my first interview for SlowdiveMusic Blog.

1. What are your musical and non-musical influences?

My musical influences… it’s an interesting subject, because growing up, I wasn’t too familiar with the tunes of Muddy Waters or Johnny Cash. The first time I heard a Muddy song was because my bass player here in NY, Jon Fallin grew up learning guitar on Muddy’s accord. When I heard “Champagne and Reefer,” I thought, “How did I not know about this man?” Susaye Greene of The Supremes wrote my first review and she noted, “Bethany has the instincts of an aged American Blues Singer, makes you wonder what she’s lived through…” and that I sounded of “early sixty’s Odetta.” At this point, I’ve never heard of Odetta, but I’ve heard this reference before, so I took up parading around her tunes, hearing such a big sound of wisdom, it drove me to question my existence in songwriting. When I really started to listen to Johnny Cash, I thought, “Now how can I get that dollar bill, chugging train sound in my blues?” I wanted to sing like Muddy, and play like Johnny. I like to collect my musical influences, and savor their words and notes, the blues and country that people nowadays fear to embody. To me, it was a new bible of rights and wrongs, something I’d never had the chance to read until I could appreciate it, had I come to hear of it in my childhood years. I certainly was living in the blues, but had no time to reflect on it with such a young mind.

2. Sadly, the bluesman/woman is a dying breed; there are very few prominent blues players performing live these days. As opposed to repackaging and re-labeling the blues, you speak from its core. One always hears of artists being inspired by Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters, yet your performance takes listeners right to that period. As a blueswoman, do you feel a certain responsibility to keep that heritage alive; and, do you think there could be a possible renaissance for the blues?

When you wrote that bit about closing your eyes and hearing the ghosts of Muddy Waters and Johnny Cash, you sparked a damn good flame in me. After meeting Odetta a few times in New York, and after speaking to her about her movement in the blues and folk world, I was more inspired than ever to take blues back to the level that it was real at. When someone says, “twelve bar”, I think, “go time.” Nina Simone said it well, “You’re pushing, you’re pushing, just relax, you’re pushing it, it will go up by itself, don’t put nothing in it unless you feel it…” in her recording of “I Shall Be Released.” I relate well to that phrase at the core. The blues will take you, and you cannot push it, if it doesn’t come naturally, it won’t, by God and please, don’t push it. I met The Black Oil Brothers (Tony Manno, Anthony Maietta, Timmy Ryan) of Chicago when they were on tour in 2007, followed them around until they let me sing some tunes with them at their last show. I gave them my chords, they played it, I felt a core of me that had been buried for some time. Then we became The Black Oil Family. A year later, we recorded an album in one weekend at Manno’s apartment, with Maietta engineering (the Tony's). That whole weekend was filled with extended Black Oil Family, several other names contributed on what will be called, "American Honey." Then the Tony's flew here to NYC where we sat in my Brooklyn apartment, working on the tunes we’d not played for several months, then to Fontana’s that night for the first gig ever. The blues was unleashed and provocative. Something about the blues you and I can talk about has moved so far beyond what the ghosts could call the Blues. Music and its core value has nearly disappeared, ask anyone who’s a musician under the age of thirty who’s making more than a million bucks a year. It’s my duty to call it and keep it how it is and should be. I feel it, it’s real, not taught or read. It’s something I sing and write, something I can call “ours.” If and when there is a renaissance for the blues woman, I swear, it would take many more men and women like you to make it rattle and shake.

3. Don't think we missed the 70's funk and disco influence in some tracks: how did they manage to find their place on a blues record?

My New York City band, (Bethany Saint Smith & The Gun Show) has a wide variety of sounds, lots of blues, soul, country, surf and funk. When we formed a few years back, I was new to the band aspect. My songs were mostly written in three count, with dark, melodic Country undertones, but these guys took me to another level. I own a sequin dress, so why the hell not? My drummer, Daniel and I have the same dirty, dark ideas of what my songs can turn into, motivating a lot of the old soul feel. Let’s talk to Aretha and James, see what they think. I love those legends, their ability to make people move got really under my skin and I started to funk around with those big sounds.

4. On a cold wintry night in the city (much like we're experiencing now), where can one find comfort from the elements as well as comfort for the soul; what are some of your favorite clubs/venues to relax and/or perform at?

I’ve been in New York for almost four years now, coming from San Francisco, California. Each year we lose some of the best clubs and venues. Mo’Pitkin’s in Manhattan on Avenue A was my first love, now I put all my trust into venues such as Lakeside Lounge, Banjo Jim’s, Ace of Clubs and Terra Blues, depending on my craving. Lakeside Lounge has one killer bank, every night of the week (and the best jukebox with everything from John Lee Hooker to Waylon Jennings). Banjo Jim’s is a perfect winter spot, because who doesn’t like to go hear a good night of honky tonk, full of life and somber smiles. Ace of Clubs is under ACME, a Cajun restaurant…. ‘nuff said. Terra Blues will welcome you at the bottom of their entry staircase, belting out the infamous Blues player of the evening… you really feel like you’re in for something evil and delicious, which you are. I have performed at all these spots, and love them all.

5. Any famous last words for our readers?

There are two types of music, good and bad. The first type was mastered by names you don’t often see on billboards in the past couple of decades. The second type of music is made by people that couldn’t tell you who those artists even are. Good, solid, down home blues is measured by the craving people have to hear it. Perfection is only a skill and playing, loving the blues is something you’re born into.

Keep up with Bethany Saint Smith & The Gun Show at their MySpace site. Also, Bethany Saint Smith has her own MySpace. She can also be found on Reverb Nation, Sonic Bids, and Avenue A Records.
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