A Pop for Gourmet

Pauline en la Playa (Siesta Records)

Now, on to an Spanish indie duo that’s been around for about 10 years.  Pauline en la Playa, or Pauline at the Beach (yeah, I took Spanish 1 in high school!), emerged from the 90’s all-female pop group the Undershakers.  According to their website, sisters Mar and Alicia Alvarez decided to begin their new project, Pauline en la Playa, to bring other musical styles into the pop genre and to incorporate what they were learning at the School of Creative Music in Madrid, especially jazz styles, into the creative process.  I think you’ll find that throughout the 10 years of their existence, they have certainly succeeded.

If I had to stuff Pauline en la Playa into a genre, it would probably be more along the lines of indie folk than indie pop, with hints of jazz/blues.  The creativity is quite reminiscent of Regina Spektor, but with a wider range of instrumentation; for instance, in several of their songs, you’ll hear accordion, recorder, various string instruments, and saxophone.  The end of “Esos Besos” actually sound Celtic, to my ears and occasionally I get hints of the Amelie soundtrack.  In any case, I think you’ll enjoy the lovely sound of Pauline en la Playa, which has achieved mellow without losing the fun.  And, if you can understand the lyrics, I have a feeling you’ll enjoy them even more.  They have lots of albums out to choose from–Nothing Like Home, Termites and Other Things, Frogs Storm, Syllabary, and Baggage Physics, which came out this year.  (Excuse the English.  Google Translate became my friend this week.)  You can also start with their myspace page, which in my opinion is a very good place to start.

Guatafan is Spanish for Twee!

Happy Fiesta Roja!  I have discovered that language has made Fiesta Roja very different from last year’s Dutch Week.   The bands we covered during Dutch Week sang primarily in English; the bands I’ve been listening to from Spain sing primarily in Spanish.  It makes doing research on the bands a little more difficult, but I think it adds something interesting to the listening experience.  Coming from a classical background, I’m used to wordless music.  But generally, when lyrics actually do exist, they exist for a reason and play an important role in our understanding the work as a whole.  Then again, I’m really enjoying listening to these Spanish indie bands even though I don’t know Spanish–the emotion behind the music speaks for itself, and while understanding the lyrics would be helpful, it’s not necessary.  I guess if anything can barrel past a language barrier, it’s the arts.  I’m rambling.  Your thoughts?

Moving on, I am ecstatic to present you with Spanish twee!  Guatafan is from Valencia and seems to be brand spankin’ new, from what I can gather.  Don’t they look adorable? Maria and Suso make sugary sweet bubblegum indie pop, even more so than She & Him–think more along the lines of the School.  Their first single “Cucurucho” debuted on the Elefant Records compilation, “New Adventures in Pop,” which is a nice little compilation of songs by up-and-coming groups that need an outlet and MUST be heard!  While Guatafan hasn’t released any albums yet, I encourage you to check out their myspace page for their stuff and “New Adventures in Pop” for their stuff + other cool stuff.  If you’re looking for great summer music, you’ve found it.  My recommended tracks are “como un fan” and “la merienda”.

up! from below!

Ok, you all know by now, I hope, that I live with my musical head stuck in the sand, and I’ve totally lost any grasp I used to have on what “mainstream” means, and I feel that I must use this disclaimer in front of or behind every post I ever make, but I’m really insecure about how Eric finds all the cool new bands and I find all the bands that have been around for years and get way post-excited about them.

I did ask him last night, Eric, are Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros too hipster for us to cover? What do you think? And he asked, Do you think they’d have a drink with me? and I’m not Alex or Jade or any of their company so I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine they’d have a drink with us (by the way, I’ll be in Richmond in a couple weeks if you DO want to get a drink) and even really like us. So, that’s how we’re gauging whether music is too hipster to cover. If you’d have a drink with us, we’re good.

That being said, I ask Reid Kerley for his forgiveness and Eric for his patience and here is my new obsession: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Yes, friends, as of July 7th, the album Up From Below has been around and available for exactly one year, and yes, I am just now listening (and obsessing).

This wild ensemble, led by Alex Ebert, has pieced together Up From Below in a way similar to the way I formulate a mix–the tempos, the dynamic, the feel–they all flow together in one big musical happening; however, I tend to love the tempo, dynamic, and feel of the first 6 tracks the best of all. And “Om Nashi Me.” Eh, maybe it’s not really that formulaic…but anyway, the album carries a pervasive feeling of freedom and community. With so many band members, does that surprise you? At any given point in the album, an entire chorus seems to be making some kind of noise, whether singing or banging percussive instruments or adding a layer of countermelody. Unrefined vocals have become something beautiful and captivating through Alex and Jade, and their love song “Home” is the most passionate, honest, and freeing anthem for love that I’ve ever heard. Another of my favorites, “Jade,” precedes it perfectly.

Alex’s mysterious, unrefined voice–complete with vibrato, tonation bends, and tons of character–fascinate me. I hear so many influences in both his voice and his music that I can hardly begin to piece them all together. Perhaps vocally, he is what a David Bowie-Rufus Wainwright-Freddie Mercury lovechild would be; musically, I’m reminded of classic rock along the lines of the Doobie Brothers or the Who. The mariachi feel on “Jade” channels a Beatles-esque lightness. Even the lyrics on “Come In Please” make me think of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues,” which I do admit is a bit more of a stretch. I hope none of you are turned off by this, partly because I adore classic rock, but mostly because the likenesses are subtle and ES & the MZ’s have created an undeniably unique sound.

I am excited to see these guys in Richmond in a few weeks because I’ve heard so many wonderful things about their live shows. If their album is this great, I have no doubts about their live show. There is something liberating and wild in their music that I love, and I can’t wait to see it manifest!

P.S. If you are looking for a flute player, I’ll be in your band. kthanksedwardsharpe&themagneticzerosbye.

Here is my pathetic attempt to embed:

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros “Home” from Edward Sharpe on Vimeo.

Small & Sweet

Image by igcphotographyHello, everyone.  Guess what?  It is summer and it is 700 degrees in Virginia.  That being said, here in Virginia, we have a magnet school for the arts.  And when I went there, Natalie Prass was in the art department, but I didn’t really know her.  Now, I hear she’s in Nashville making pretty songs.

The “Small & Sweet” EP has been out for about a year now.  I’m sorry I missed it for so long, but here I am now telling you about it.  What I love about Natalie Prass is what I love about The Hard to Get, I think–fun arrangements and orchestration.  Natalie isn’t just another indie girl singer…and I have no complaints about the typical indie girl acoustic sound…but she brings an element of mystery and originality into her sound, something different from the folksy, pop, acoustic scene we’re accustomed to.  Plus, most of her songs have unexpected structures and chord progressions.  And sometimes there is horn, and often there are strings.

“An Artist’s Critique” utilizes Spanish guitar sounds, which I love.  “Jenny” and “Small and Sweet” are a bit funkier, balanced by the tender “Beg,” which begins with absolutely beautiful orchestration that floats through the entire song, giving it a romantic, almost classical sound (not speaking of music history right now) and “A Good Man,” which reminds me a lot of something from Damien Rice’s o.  However, predictably, the upbeat folk-pop “Deer” encompasses everything I love in a song, and will probably definitely (probably DEFINITELY)  be added to my summer mix (this year, aptly named “why the hell is it so hot this summer”).

Lyrically, Natalie Prass is also awesome.  And my favorite thing: she doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she takes  her music seriously enough.  But I will leave that up to you to figure out.  Us hipsters, we love to be different, but Natalie actually is.

Give and take

I have two very special things for you tonight.

1. Music to pay for, pleeeease: As I told you the last time I posted (ages ago, as it always is), I am still on my sweet indie pop and folk kick (so thank you Neon Filler for the Sally Seltmann tip). This is the reason I am asking you, begging you, DEMANDING you to pre-order Jenny O’s The Home EP.  I’ve been listening to the few songs on Jenny O’s myspace over and over again for a couple of weeks and even tried desperately to find her first full-length album Love and Sleep ANYWHERE TO PURCHASE until I found that she hasn’t released it yet.  This is confusing, but I know you can follow–she has finished her first full-length album, hasn’t released it, and is instead focusing on the release of new music, The Home EP.  Here’s the deal, though.  The girl needs some money (like us!) to release this EP.  As of right this second, she’s 60% funded and has 2o days to go.  Can we make it happen?  I pre-ordered my copy.  She’s got awesome pledge opportunities, too–just pre-order the EP, or pre-order and get a mix CD, or pre-order get a mix CD and have her write you a song, you get the idea.  But!  Don’t just take my word for it.  Listen first.  And then once you’ve done that, you can jet on over to this lovely website to help Jenny O produce her precious music.

2. Music for freeeeeeee!: Sea Oleena is one of those things that just happens to you and you’re not really sure where it came from (it came from Canada, but I mean, how does one find such a thing?).  However, Sea Oleena is Charlotte Oline and her brother, and their album Smudges is currently a free download or stream on their website.  It reminds me of the Laura Gibson/Ethan Rose project, Bridge Carols, in its mix of old, new, altered, and manufactured sounds, but it’s a bit more accessible and acoustic.  Also, the vox are purer, I think.  As an album, Smudges has successfully achieved the “parts of a whole” effect, piecing each track together so the entire album flows like water into itself.

The very short description of Smudges on the Sea Oleena website says the album “is to be listened to as a sort of rough draft; a preliminary sketch to a beautiful portrait.”  This description is perfect.  The tracks are long, flowing, and minimalistic, as if the music just came pouring out in one long thought.  But it’s absolutely lovely.  I love rough drafts.  Brainstorms.  Stream of consciousness.  Jam sessions.  I almost always use the first, passionate thing I’ve written in favor of making lots of edits.  Is this lazy and foolish of me?  Well, yes, probably.  But there’s something so pure about the transition from the mind to the medium, and that purity is definitely found here in Smudges. The website says the tracks will be released at a later date.  Whether they are cleaned up and refined into a final draft, or whether Sea Oleena will release this “rough draft,” it is (and will be) beautiful.  Download or listen here.

Lisa Mitchell

These days I’ve been feeling very specific in my musical needs…and I like it that way.  Sometimes I am flighty, seeking blindly for something to appease my musical hunger.  I make mixes which all fail to please me.  Right now, however, I know exactly what I want.  And it makes me happy.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been shifting back and forth between our beloved Regina Spektor, Lisbee Stainton, Jaymay, and my newfound fave female artists, Lisa Mitchell and Jenny O.  There’s just something about that folk/pop I can’t help but love.  And I used to hate female vocalists, too!  No more of that. 

I’m not sure that Lisa Mitchell really counts as indie anymore, since she’s signed with Warner and she won some awards in Australia, but I’m going to go for it anyway.  It looks to me like maybe in the UK and Australia, people know her, but we have readers in America too, right?  And when I’m not sure, I’d really rather just put it out there and make sure it’s been said.

Lisa Mitchell is great.  I’ve been listening to Wonder on repeat.  There, I said it.

No offense to her, but “Lisa Mitchell” is a pretty boring name, not at all reflective of her music.  With a voice that’s sugary sweet like Zooey or Kate Nash, a lovely folk/pop sound, and unassuming, thoughtful lyrics, Lisa’s music is perfect for these warmer days.  I was first introduced to “Coin Laundry” from Wonder (“there I was sitting on the top of the world/In a coin laundry/Well I could have been royalty/sitting in the palace like a queen”) and I was hooked by her creative use of percussion, which is kind of a weird thing to be hooked by, I guess.  But seriously, several tracks on Wonder feature really interesting percussive effects (“Oh! Hark,” “Red Wine Lips,” “Sidekick”…all in a row!).  I also love her whistling and fantastic layered BGV’s.

When it comes down to it, most of her songs are just plain playful, putting a lovely folk spin on Aussie pop, not quite as sassy as Kate Nash, but just as adorable.  However, she sometimes dips a little into folk/rock, spicing up the album with “heavier” guitar and harmonica on tunes like “So Jealous” and “Sidekick.”  Beyond the bubbly pop tunes and the spice, Lisa also gives us tender, affecting songs as “Pirouette” and “Love Letter,” impressing us with the sweet sincerity of her lyrics– “come lay down in the water/we’re all sons and daughters/rest your head on the altar.”

So, listen to Wonder.  Also, watch this video.  ALSO, am I the only one who thinks she looks like Audrey?

J’adore Eux Autres

Hi, guys.  Happy Thursday.  Soon it will be May, and you know what that means, right?  Our contest!!  Which we will be announcing in May!!

Also, I have a few gems before I get on with Eux Autres.  I thought about reviewing the new New Pornographers album, Together, but I decided not to because … I don’t know.  I just decided.  But, you can listen to them on NPR’s Exclusive First Listen, and because I love them, I think that you should.  You should also check out Josh Ritter’s new album, especially “Another New World.” It is quite possibly the most beautiful song I’ve heard all year.  Maybe.  Finally, check out this crazy video of music that is actually painful to listen to.

On to other things.  Like “them other,” or Eux Autres, a band that has apparently been around from quite some time but has not gotten the audience I think they deserve.  I’ve spent some time this week listening to their 2 full-length albums…I’m pretty impressed.  Their blog indicates that a third album is well on the way, which I believe has the potential to really put these guys on the map.   She & Him and the School have been quenching my thirst for new, pure pop for a few weeks, but this week I’ve begun desperately searching for more…it’s like an unstoppable hunger…and there was Eux Autres, waiting for me.  For years.  Plus, instead of dream pop, Eux Autres falls more under the category of garage pop.  So, you get all the summer sweetness of pop and all the angst of real life.  I love it.

Eux Autres are brother and sister Heather and Nicholas Larimer plus buddy Yoshi Nakamoto.  Imagine Saturday Looks Good to Me with Jenny Watson and Ben Kweller as the vocalists.  I thought these guys might be foreign (because I’m stupid), but actually the entire band lives in San Francisco, and so again I will talk about American music while Eric covers Europe.  Eux Autres definitely focuses more on vocals and songwriting than on instrumentation, but because of the vocals, I’m okay with the less layered sound.  Although they’re poppy, they have a bit of an edge to their sound, not quite lo-fi but still a little unrefined, and it works really well.   And sometimes they sing in French, which is fun!  Their songs are unassuming, sincere stories and sentiments, which make for absolutely lovely and sometimes badass tunes.  Do I recommend one album over another?  Not really.  I have favorite songs from each album, and I think both are worth your ear time.  In fact, you can listen to all of their albums in full on their website, euxautres.bandcamp.com.  NOW WATCH THIS VIDEO IT IS SO CUTE.

*Have you seen this video?  I still love half the songs regardless of how generic they are, but I found it so interesting that our ears have such simple chordal preferences.

I take it back, I take it back!

Hi, everyone!  We here at the Indie Handbook have a very important announcement to make.  Throughout the (glorious) month of May, we’ll be running a big indie contest, and we want EVERYONE to take part in it.  We have some fantastic prizes lined up that I’m not sure I can disclose yet (Eric, I’ll leave that to you), and hopefully, we’ll have some other special surprises to supplement the awesomeness of the contest.  I’m actually just kind of throwing the “more cool stuff” idea out there in anticipation that we can come up with other cool stuff, but the prizes are seriously existent and fabulous.  But, in order to get this contest up and running, we need some things from you.

What do we need from you?
1. More prizes!!  Ok, we will survive without more prizes because what we’ve got is great, but the better and more abundant the prizes, the more fun for you.  So, if you are a musician/artist/creative person and you have anything you think would be a kickass prize, let us know!
2. Become our fan on Facebook.  This will make more sense later.

Stay tuned–we’ll be announcing the contest and prizes soon.  In the meantime, try not to be too bored.

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Now, down to business.  I have to admit, sometimes I read things I’ve written, especially things I wrote a long time ago, and I’m really embarrassed.  For this reason, I refuse to link to the post I wrote almost exactly a year ago about She & Him and how un-indie they are and how Paste sucks for making the album Best of 2008 and how everyone just likes Zooey Deschanel because she’s cute.

I won’t link to it, but I will tell you right now that I’ve listened to Volume Two and I’ve watched the video for “In the Sun,” (thanks Laura–by the way everyone, Laura’s at an Elton John concert tonight and I am pissed I’m not there), and I love She & Him.  You know what?  After I wrote that post about how much they annoyed me, and how listening to them doesn’t make a person indie, I listened to Volume One for like 3 weeks at work.  I hated Zooey Deschanel because all the indie boys love her, and you know what?  I give up.  I love her, she’s effing adorable.  My god, everything is just coming out, isn’t it?

Volume Two is great, an extension of Volume One in title and sound.  Zooey and M. (can I call him M.?) have kept that lovely, melodic, sugary sweet pop sound but have matured in their BGV’s and layered harmonies.  I like hearing a bit more of M. and what he can do, and the arrangements/instrumentals are spot on.  I mean, let’s be honest.  She & Him are like the Fun Dip of the musical world.  I can’t listen to it and not be happy.  Even the sad songs make me happy.  Something about it all seems exaggeratedly simple, almost devoid of the typical emotional connection between the musician and the tunes.  If there is even the tiniest streak of confession in this album, it is so heavily veiled that it has little effect on the listener…and I think that quality puts She & Him in a category of their own.  Plus, Zooey’s voice is just about perfect.

I’m not going to review the entire album, but I do want to address another thing about that horrible post I wrote a year ago.  Here’s the thing…my whole premise for hating She & Him was that people think listening to Paste’s Best of the Year album makes them indie.  Eric and I think and talk a lot about what indie is (we can’t really figure it out) and we laugh at hipsters, because gosh,  the whole thing just seems ridiculous.  When it all comes down to it, we want to listen to whatever the hell we want to listen to, and we want you to do the same.  We would just prefer whatever it is to be good, created by talented and creative people who put some heart into what they do, because why wouldn’t you want to be a part of something good?  So whatever indie is, I’m sorry for telling you that you can’t be it because you listen to She & Him.  Although if you are a hipster, I will still laugh at you.

Next post: Eric, admitting his love for Fleet Foxes.  And flannel.  Stay tuned.

Sweet Disposition

Happy Spring everyone!  At least here, it feels like it has finally arrived…actually it has skipped to summer and we have 90 degree heat, but whatever.  There’s something very seasonal about music, and I’m looking forward to what spring and summer will bring this year.  But more on that later.  Right now, I’m listening to an album that came out in October.  I know, I know, a little late, but to be fair, The Temper Trap makes beautiful music and they deserve a good review.  Also to be fair, I don’t know that I am often on time.  You should be used to it by now.  This review was supposed to be finished last week before I went to Florida…oops.

Anyone who is up on Australia’s latest big talents, Diet Coke commercials, or the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack will recognize the hypnotic, electric “Sweet Disposition”.  My husband has been listening to this track on repeat for awhile now, and it’s about time we check out the album Conditions as a whole.  The craftsmen of this lovely track are Australia’s indie pride, The Temper Trap, loosely termed as an alternative indie rock band among the ranks of Bloc Party, MGMT, or even (well, I don’t know) the Gorillaz.  Whatever, I like the Gorillaz.

If you pop in Conditions expecting to find 9 more versions of “Sweet Disposition,” I can’t promise that you’ll find what you’re looking for.  Sure, most tracks share the same moody electricity and soaring vocals…Dougie Mandagi possesses an incredible range and sweeeeeet falsetto (the opposite of Andy Bernard, Office fans).  Somehow, though, each track surprises me–I didn’t expect the bizarre paradox of awesome album structure as a whole–really, everything fits!– and such difference in song style.  Tracks like “Love Lost” and “Resurrection” mix 70’s funk with modern layers, guitar riffs, and builds.  I hear classic rock influences in “Fader” and “Science of Fear,” and maybe some Brit-rock influence in “Down River.”  “Soldier On,” like “Sweet Disposition” sets itself apart from the rest of the album, but because of its more haunting, acoustic sound, which doesn’t phase into the Temper Trap’s classic layered, harmonic sound until the very end.  Lyrically, I have less of an idea of what’s going on.  Maybe I’m spacey or just stupid, but I think Conditions is a nice thinking album, and I’ve been satisfied to do just that while I listen, rather than picking for all the lyrics.  Sorry.  I know they are there for a reason!  Anyway, overall, this album is completely worth a purchase for reasons other than the lovely “Sweet Disposition.”  I’m really most impressed that I can use the phrase “the Temper Trap’s classic sound.”  I do believe that they’ve done a spectacular  job introducing themselves with Conditions, giving us an idea of all they have to offer, and a creating a sound that is indeed their very own, no imitation.  We’re ready for more!

As winter gives way.

I have to say, Eric’s trip to Scotland lined up pretty well with Frightened Rabbit’s sophomore album release, Winter of Mixed Drinks.  And since I couldn’t go with Eric to Scotland to see incredible shows and meet wonderful people/be best friends with bands, this is my tribute post, in the form of an album review.  Dear Scotland, your music is really good, great even, and I am pretty happy about Frightened Rabbit, so thank you.

If the word has not lost all its meaning to you by now because of its overuse, I contend that Winter of Mixed Drinks is indeed an EPIC album.  The intensity of the lyrics, the tension in the chord progressions, the slow, measured construction of layers, and the unceasing rhythmic drive demand it be called what it is.  However, I do own a thesaurus, and so the words “monumental” and “colossal” may also be used.  There is not a wasted track on this album; it is perfectly refined without losing its edge.  Not a single song lacks that passion and sincerity that I demand out of a good album; in order for an album to be “whole,” the listener needs to know that the lyrics mean something to the musician.  We don’t want distance.  As a person who lives with fierce emotion, I appreciate hearing that emotion elsewhere, rather than just seeing it in myself.  Affirmation, connection.  Words without a sense of musical genuineness mean almost nothing.  If you can write lyrics, but not music…find a friend.  What I’m trying to say is…Frightened Rabbit has got it right.  They affirm, and to those who aren’t so emotional, they evoke.

So about these lyrics.  Painfully romantic homages to loneliness weave through every track, gushing with confessions of loss and weary coping.  The imagery moves from dynamic, almost frantic on tracks like “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” and “The Loneliness and the Scream” (It wasn’t me, I didn’t dig this ditch, I was walking for weeks before I fell in) to stagnant exhaustion on “Skip the Youth” (I would but I am so tired, if I can’t shake myself I can’t dance with you)Winter of Mixed Drinks tells of heartbreak with little hope, and I have to think of “Living in Colour” as the light, hoping that based on the title, the listener knows that life moves in seasons, and the winter of mixed drinks, the season of despondency, is not eternal.  Force the life through still veins, fill my heart with red again.