Why yes, we are enjoying the ride with a ‘g’

Hello everyone, we hope you had a wonderful time ringing in the New Year wherever in the world you may be!  That is somewhat belated, but there it is.  Tonight, I am proud to present The Quelle Source, who we previously covered quite briefly on FAIBW.  You remember, I thought they were French or something, but their name is actually German.  More on that later.  FAIBW has gotten away from us recently, but The Quelle Source has not, and now they have released their debut LP, called Enjoy the Ridge.

I’m very excited about this band, and about the flashbacks I’ve been having recently to my middle school punk-loving days.  It wasn’t really real punk, I don’t think–I don’t really know anything about the punk movement, to be honest–it was just MxPx and whatever they played occasionally on the radio.  But I loved it/liked it a lot because my mother would not allow me to love it, and there’s an element to some of the music I’ve been listening to this past year that reminds me of those days.  It’s the energy.  The energy is there, and a little bit of angst, and the feeling of wildness & freedom…but it’s now much more mature and backed by perhaps more training and just plain musical validity than the stuff I used to listen to as a bitty little 12-year old trying to be cool.

That’s what makes The Quelle Source incredible.  Enjoy the Ridge is alive, and it makes you want to see them live  because you know it would be an awesome show.  I would love to see them with Born Ruffians, for that matter.  So, their energy makes them awesome, plus the super cool guitar riffs (“OT5”), the fact that their album title is a sarcastic jab at their neighborhood (I so want to record an album for the sole purpose of saying that I hated my neighborhood and stupid high school also), their proven ability to slow it down (“Wives’ Tale”), the lead singer’s sweet voice, and the angsty lyrical genius reminiscent of Dear & the Headlights or the Format.  I love intelligent songwriters, especially after listening to Britney Spears on the radio this afternoon (who would have thought she’d come back?).  Honestly, I would probably listen to the same couple chords over and over again if the lyrics said something brilliant…thankfully, because of bands like this, I don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice.

Here’s another reason we know they are intelligent–thanks to Dan for picking up on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_document.  I guess technically we don’t know if they intended that or not, but we’ll just go with a yes, they did.

My favorite tracks on the album are, for their sound and for the sharp lyrics, “That’s What Bees Said,” “State Line,” and “Escalation.”  You won’t be disappointed.  And if you, like me, have a special place in your heart for fake punk (is MxPx real?) or music you listened to in years past and have since abandoned, maybe you can put down that torch and jump on board with The Quelle Source.

I believe you can hear all, or at least a lot, of their album streaming here.  You can also buy it, though.  We like when people buy things.

The Indie Handbook: Best of the Decade (2000’s)

I don't know the dog's name...
Osvaldo Golijov with Dawn Upshaw, Photo (c) John Sann/DG

Now that you’ve perused our favorite albums and songs of the year, we hope you’ll enjoy our best of the decade lists.  Since both of us were incredibly uncool until about halfway through the decade, please forgive us any gaps, although I think we’ve done our research since then.  On this page, we’ll post our top 10, but don’t worry, we’ve linked to more extensive lists.

Kristin’s top 10 albums of the decade:

10. Jason Mraz, Live at Java Joe’s (self-released, 2001): I don’t care how “mainstream” Jason Mraz is, he is an incredibly talented guitarist and singer/songwriter.  This album is a lot different from “radio Jason” like “Wordplay” and “Geek in the Pink”–it’s poetry set to acoustic guitar.  “Unfold” is my favorite track, but I wouldn’t skip one.

9. Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge, 2006): My favorite Camera Obscura album.  Lovely twee/pop to which you can dance and laugh and cook, apparently, because that’s what I do.  I discovered this band much too late.

8.  The Format, Dog Problems (The Vanity Label, 2006): Everyone knows I love the Format.  Dog  Problems is a work of angsty genius.  Incredible arrangements and Nate Ruess has the best voice ever.  I cried every night until he came back with fun., which is on my best of 2009 list.

7.  Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive, Zomba, 2006): I don’t want to say too much about this (because I’m saying so much about my other picks), and I realize it isn’t a very indie choice, but it is an amazing album, and I think its sound is pretty revolutionary.  So, thank you Justin, for bringing sexy back.

6. Belle & Sebastian, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds (Matador, 2005): I decided that compilations are allowed, even if the songs didn’t come out this decade, since it is my list and everything.  Every single Belle & Sebastian album is worth having and listening to on repeat, but this compilation happens to house some of my favorites, like “The State I Am In” and “You Made Me Forget My Dreams”.  This storytelling twee makes me so happy I could die.

5. Stars, Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts, 2004): I think Stars may have changed my life a little bit.  This lovely, cathartic electropop is actually pretty epic, I think.  “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and “Ageless Beauty” are, in my opinion, the most notable tracks.

4. The New Pornographers, Challengers (Matador, 2007): Another epic album; every song is cathartic, with haunting layers and perfect movement.  “Unguided”–the climax of Challengers.

3.  White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry V2, 2001): I don’t think anyone can deny that the White Stripes have made their mark on the music industry over the past 10 years–but which album is their best?  I’ve seen other albums on other lists, but White Blood Cells is my favorite, especially for “Hotel Yorba,” “Fell In Love With A Girl,” and “We’re Going To Be Friends”.

2.  Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge, 2004): EPIC.  In my search for cool, I listened to Neon Bible before I ever heard Funeral, and while Neon Bible did indeed make my extended list, Funeral is groundbreaking.  What a sound!  What lyrics!  Thank you, Arcade Fire.  “Crown of Love” and “Wake Up” are my favorite tracks.

1.  Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum, 2007): There was no question here for me about the best album of the decade.  This album reflects the work of a phenomenal classically-trained multi-instrumentalist with a great comprehension of musical theory and folk tradition.  His lyrics fascinate, and his arrangements stagger.  Can I pick a favorite track?  “Scythian Empires,” “Fiery Crash,” and “Armchairs” have the most plays on my iTunes.  Andrew Bird, we love you.

[see Kristin’s other favorites]

Eric’s Top 10:

10. We Leave at Dawn, Envy & Other Sins (A&M/Polydor) – In my mind, Envy & Other Sins is the most significant casualty of the hipster delusion. I don’t care if they won their record deal on a TV show, We Leave at Dawn is still (and by a wide margin) the best album I heard in 2008. Their official break-up in July of this year will forever be a black mark on 2009, but then, even that gave us Malpas, so, you know, it’s not all bad…

9. Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories, Regina Spektor (Sire) – Another collection of impossible to find independent releases, this is Regina Spektor at her best, back when the only people who listened to her actually knew what anti-folk means.

8. Bring Me the Workhorse, My Brightest Diamond (Asthmatic Kitty) – Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond is another one of those enigmatic figures cultivating the no man’s land between pop and classical music. And she packs a punch. Reared on a healthy diet of Pierre Boulez, Nina Simone, Radiohead, and a dash of PJ Harvey, Workhorse was unleashed and it knocked me clean into next week—which is not meant to take anything away from the follow-up A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, but I had to pick a favorite. [Read my interview with Shara.]

7. Want One, Rufus Wainwright (Dreamworks) – This is not Rufus’s harmonically adventurous album by any means (Release the Stars is), but in terms of campy grandeur, I challenge you to find any album that can reach this level without making a complete fool of everyone involved. With such sweeping epics as “Oh, What a World”, “Go or Go Ahead”, and “14th Street”, it’s a physically exhausting listening experience—and worth every minute.

6. Super Extra Gravity, The Cardigans (Stockholm) – It may come as a surprise, but The Cardigans probably have more to do with this the existence of this blog than any other band. Hearing this album on one of the British Airways in-flight music channels in January of 2006 opened the floodgates, if you will. It is, by far, the band’s most mature record to date and a major shift from the satirical bossa nova spirit they championed in the mid-90s. Pick up the UK bonus tracks edition if you can, because the final track, “Slow”, is the bleakest love song you will ever hear with a pretty slick symmetrical division of the octave (at the major third) to close it out.

5. Cuilidh, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine) – I took a few months off, then listened to this album again Christmas Eve and came to the following conclusion. This is the most beautiful album I have heard. Ever.

4. Why Should the Fire Die, Nickel Creek (Sugar Hill) – One word: “Eveline”. This is Nickel Creek at the pinnacle of their combined compositional ability. I’m still waiting for that “Hello Again” tour I hope you are planning.

3. Ayre, Osvaldo Golijov/Dawn Upshaw (Deutsche Grammophon) – Yes, if you insist on seeking your identity in the esoterism of the avant-garde, you may keep telling yourself that Osvaldo Golijov is too much of a populist to be taken seriously. All I know is that 4 June 2007, the night I heard Dawn Upshaw perform this song cycle as part of the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow series, still ranks among the top five most glorious experiences of my life.

2. Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, Belle & Sebastian (Rough Trade/Matador) – Even though these songs all came out in the 90s, this is the first time they have ever been collected in the one place and, as far as I know, the only remaining way to obtain most of these recordings, so it counts. Ever wonder why B&S have the devoted following they do (ourselves included)? The answer is buried among these 24 tracks.

1. Végétal, Emilie Simon (Barclay) – The most intricate, controlled, and breathtaking effort from the woman I consider the quintessential songwriter/composer of the last decade. After three years, I am still peeling back layers of sonic architecture in hopes of reaching the foundation of this subtly monumental achievement. Emilie Simon is creating the future of music, and I don’t think even she realizes it. This is, quite simply, the masterpiece of the decade.

[see Eric’s full list of 51 albums]

I (Eric) would like to introduce one last superlative before we bid adieu to the first decade of the 21st century. That is “Most Vexing Album of the Decade”. To me, the winner is clearly In Our Space Hero Suits, the debut from Sweden’s Those Dancing Days. I’ve been listening to it for about a year now, and I still can’t figure out if I actually like the music, or if I just think the singer, Linnea Jönsson, is really cute. Watch the video below, and help me figure this out.

The Indie Handbook: Best of 2009 — The Songs

The Secret History - Photo by J B Hardy

So much of the best music we heard this year was not released in album form. So we thought it only fair to give some credit to those artists who released some of the most brilliant work of 2009 as EPs, singles, compilations, free downloads, MySpace and Last.fm streams, and YouTube videos (as well of a few albums we just never managed to obtain copies of).

Initially, I considered ranking these, but the thought of putting some of them before others broke my heart. Instead, they are divided into two groups: “Songs we really like” and “Songs we can’t live without”. Kristin’s picks and mine are mixed together, though a handful of these tracks appeared on both our lists. Those songs are marked with an * (read: asterisk).

Also, the moment I post this, I will think of at least a dozen other songs that ought to have been included. Oops. I guess that’s what the blog archive is for.

You can find most of these songs on MySpace/Last.fm/Facebook/YouTube. So, if you missed one, go find it. I don’t have time to insert all the links right now.

Songs we really like:

Swimming in Speakers

“Serve Them Well”, Swimming in Speakers (Swimming in Speakers EP)*
“When We Swam”, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down (Know Better, Learn Faster)
“Out There”, The Subhuman (Sur la Route)
“Dance Serene”, The Hard to Get (Looking Good EP)*
“Fragile Meadow”, In a Cabin With the Black Atlantic (Reverence for Fallen Trees)*
“Vengeance is Sleeping”, Neko Case (Middle Cyclone)
“Marilyn”, Nic Dawson Kelly (Old Valentine)
“While the Flies”, The Joy Formidable (A Balloon Called Moaning)
“French Navy”, Camera Obscura (My Maudlin Career)
“Man Sings About Romance”, Laura Marling (Ghosts EP)
“Doubtful Comforts”, Blue Roses (Blue Roses)

Blue Roses - Photo by Danny North

“Mockingbird”, The McMakens (Sleep Easy)
“Fly Me Away”, Annie Little (Fly Me Away EP)
“Dearheart”, Dear Reader (Replace Why with Funny)
“Close My Eyes”, The Peekers (Life in the Air)
“It’s Not the End of the World Jonah”, The Secret History (Desolation Town EP)
“Gin and Platonic”, The Just Joans (The Smittens/The Just Joans Split EP)

Songs we can’t live without:
“You’re Gonna Miss Me”, Lulu & the Lampshades (youtube video)*
“Girl On an Unmade Bed”, Lisbee Stainton (Girl On an Unmade Bed)
“Songs in the Night”, Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers (Songs in the Night)
“So Many Ways To Die”, Bombadil (Tarpits and Canyonlands)
“Funny Little Frog”, God Help the Girl (God Help the Girl)*
“Tyrannosaurus Rex for Christmas”’ The Lovely Eggs (A Very Cherry Christmas 5)*
“Worried Shoes”, Karen O & the Kids (Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack])
“Prayer for a Marriage”, The McMackens (Sleep Easy)
“Let It Slip”, The School (Let It Slip EP)

When I was 12 (the old lineup, as far as I know)

“Make Believe Hearts”, When I was 12 (Dear Eskimo)
“Cradle”, The Joy Formidable (A Balloon Called Moaning)
“Thig am Bata”, Julie Fowlis (Uam)
“In Knowing”, Swimming in Speakers (Swimming in Speakers EP)
“Bobby On Repeat”, Parlours (MySpace only)
“Fais Battre ton Tambour”, Emily Loizeau (Pays Sauvage)
“Lalita”, The Love Language (The Love Language)
“Under Her Sails”, Malpas (MySpace only)
“On My Usual Catch Up with Cecilia”, Hari and Aino (free download)

The Indie Handbook: best of 2009

The best according to Kristin:

10. Our Temperance Movement, Cats on Fire (Matinee)
9. A Balloon Called Moaning, The Joy Formidable (self-released)
8. The Yearling, Piney Gir (Hotel)
7. The Life of the World to Come, The Mountain Goats (4AD)
6. Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack], Karen O. and the Kids (Interscope)
5. Tarpits and Canyonlands, Bombadil (Ramseur Records)
4. God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade / Matador)
3. Aim and Ignite, fun. (Nettwerk)
2. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD)
1. Know Better Learn Faster, Thao w/ the Get Down Stay Down (Kill Rock Stars)

Honorable mentions: A Very Cherry Christmas 5, various artists (Cherryade); Reverence for Fallen Trees, The Black Atlantic (In a Cabin With / Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck)

The best according to Eric:

10. Rockwell, Anni Rossi (4AD) – If you caught Camera Obscura on their US tour this summer, you now have a better idea just what one girl and her viola are capable of, but I saw Anni twice this year, and I still can’t believe it.

9. Actor, St. Vincent (4AD) – Though my review of this album for a certain e-zine was “improved” by some hack of an editor who considered my avoidance of clichés downright unpalatable, Annie Clark remains one of the great musical geniuses at work these days.

8. The Big Machine, Emilie Simon (Barclay/Universal) – It’s a departure from her last (and my favorite) album, Végétal, but this, the first of what you might call Emilie’s “American” recordings, proves that a creative powerhouse starting anew is still better than any number of pop idols doing what they do best. [interview]

7. Uam, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine/Cadiz) – I hesitated to include this since none of the songs on this album were even written in this century, but few (if any) have done more to make one of the world’s great musical traditions relevant again than Ms. Fowlis. That combined with impeccable musicianship and a killer set of tunes spanning several centuries are enough to obliterate my reticence.

6. Pays Sauvage, Emily Loizeau (Polydor) – On her sophomore release, Emily Loizeau copes with, among other things, the loss of her father. In the process, she will tear your heart to shreds – and you will never again be more happy to be heartbroken. If you had told me a year ago that a French woman would prove this year to have a better grasp of American roots music and slave songs than almost anyone I’ve heard in recent memory, I’d have written you off as a complete nutjob (no offense).

5. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD) – Apparently, it’s been a good year for 4AD. “French Navy” is probably the catchiest song by a band I like that your average Starbucks customer may have actually heard this year. Still, I think “Honey in the Sun” is my favorite from the second Scottish act on this list.

4. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors (Domino) – The only album on this list that I do not actually own and I am ashamed. Even worse, I missed their Columbus show this year because I suck. I streamed this about 3,487 times when it was streaming on the NPR website. Holy crap, it’s brilliant.

3. Lungs, Florence + the Machine (Universal Republic/Island) – You Brits have been hearing about Florence Welch for ages now, but I guess Paste hasn’t given the American indie subculture permission to trade in their Grizzly Bear CDs for one of the most monumental voices of the decade yet, not to mention the super sexy percussion. But her time will come, kids. Now is your chance to get in on the ground floor. I suspect that, if I’d had more than two months with this album before writing this, Florence + the Machine would be finishing even higher on this list.

2. A Balloon Called Moaning/First You Have to Get Mad, The Joy Formidable (self-released) – If you have not heard of The Joy Formidable by now, you a) live outside of the UK and/or b) do not read this blog enough. Technically, these are two albums, one studio and one live and there is a lot of overlap between them. But together, they prove two things conclusively: The Joy Formidable are the best unsigned band in the world (yes, I said it); and they are the band to watch in 2010. If you don’t already own these albums, ask yourself why and the go out and buy them. Then, when they play their three shows in NYC with Passion Pit in January and all those cool Brooklyn kids think they’ve discovered something groundbreaking, you can (gently) remind them that you and some unenlightened hick from the Midwest got there a year before them.

1. The Love Language, The Love Language (Bladen County) – This album took 150% more turns in my car stereo than any other album released in 2009. That fact alone made my album of the year decision an easy one. (Not a bad accomplishment for one guy sitting alone in his bedroom.) Then there is the fact that the live incarnation of The Love Language, which is considerably larger, put on what is, at the very least, the second best show I saw this year (Los Campesinos are pretty phenomenal in their own right). I am speechless just thinking about it, so go back and read what I wrote after that show, if you’re interested. And, Stuart McLamb, if you’re reading this, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this record. I hope I won’t have to wait too long for a second one.

Honorable Mentions: Welcome to the Walk Alone, The Rumble Strips (Island); God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade/Matador)

Everything’s coming up Rose’s

Photo by Marc Atkins (www.marcatkins.com)

I’ll make this quick. I am in Chicago, stealing an hour between design concept meetings and wedding rehearsals to write this. It’s been a busy weekend so far and I still have another 48 hours and 400 mile drive to look forward to. I’ll be honest with you, I’m exhausted. Wednesday, I made the seven-hour drive here after working a full day. At least I had the Pipettes to keep me company for the last 250 miles of my trip (the album that is, not that I would have minded if one or all of them had decided to tag along). And after all that quality time together, I thought it was only fair that I give the post-Pipettes work of Rose Elinor Dougall a more substantial share of an entry than I did last time.

If you know the Pipettes, you probably love them just as I do. This really isn’t anything like that. It’s not the 60s girl-group sound with an edge that the Pipettes execute so well–and I don’t think I would be as enamored with it if it was. Her solo work is more atmospheric: swirling guitars (“Fallen Over”), synthesizers, unorthodox chord changes that extend phrases just long enough to hold your attention, and more frequent use of minor tonalities give the music a darker character. Of special note is the balled “False Hopes” in which sequential modal piano fills and masterfully placed dissonances combine to create a song that is cathartically heartbreaking.

To date, she has released three singles (“Another Version of Pop Song”, “Fallen Over”, and “Start/Stop/Synchro”) which are still available for purchase at here. More recently, however, the folks at Vinyl Junkie have put together a compilation called Singles 1,2,3 featuring the first three singles plus an additional demo, “First Time This Year”. And, in case you were wondering, work on a full-length album is being “tied up in a lovely ribbon” as I write this. In the meantime, head over to MySpace to hear a handful of tracks while you wait for the real thing. Still, I am hoping they’ll finish tying up that ribbon soon, because, honestly, I’m not sure how much longer I can survive without this record.

The preliminary sketches for the T-shirts look brilliant. I think I’m in love. I’m not going to show them to you just yet–not until we finalize a few more details–but in the meantime, check out some examples of Brittney’s work and also her Etsy shop. I’m pretty sure she’s a genius.

Here’s the video for “Start/Stop/Synchro”:

if you’re not in love with the christmas songs that are just too sad to sing

So after my terror at seeing someone has changed my laptop  background to a photo of Lady Gaga wearing a dress made of Kermit dolls (thanks, Josh, and also, at least she is wearing something), I decided that I’m not in the mood to post anything too serious, and it is a good night to post about more Christmas music that you will most certainly LOVE even if you are a complete Scrooge!  Even if it isn’t as serious as Evening Hymns, which I promise I will write about soon (my promises mean very little, sorry), you will SERIOUSLY love it.  Mwahaha I’m amusing.

Eric and I have somewhat different Christmas music sentiments, but when it all comes down to it, I think we both agree that in general, Christmas music is so completely different from what we normally listen to, and what we ever really want to listen to, that what’s the point of listening to it?  If Christmas music is going to suck, I don’t care if it’s about Christmas and I love Christmas, I’m not subjecting myself to it.  Mariah Carey & Bing Crosby don’t count.  Anyway, but then he and I both found some fabulous Christmas albums that sound like the kind of music we already really like to listen to but they are about Christmas and also they are kind of funny, so, hurray!  Here’s another album for you to purchase and obsessively listen to all the way through Christmas!

A Very Cherry Christmas v. 5 (thanks, Cherryade!), although perhaps a bit irreverent at times, is the most fun and clever Christmas album I’ve ever heard.  It includes artists I’ve never even heard of which is awesome, as well as The School, Das Wanderlust, Foxes!, Shrieking Violets, etc.  Thankfully, it isn’t overproduced; on the contrary, some of it sounds like the musicians had some wine and decided to record something seasonal, and to be honest, that kind of music is quite alright with me.  Whatever indie leanings you have, A Very Cherry Christmas accommodates.  My personal fave is twee, more affectionately known to me as “tweeeeeeeeeeee!” so I very much enjoy “Let Me Be the Fairy,” “What the Hell,” and “The Escape From Aled Jones.”  But no worries, there’s something for everyone…folk, punkish, electronic, cathartic, and just plain weird.  I swear I hear ukelele on more than one song on this album, and the recurring oompah theme, the bells, and the occasional choir backing makes everything feel so seasonally amusing that I don’t even want to scream when I hear it.  There is even a poem and a story/interview.  They are gems, let me tell you.

Here is another thing I love about this album: it says what we are all thinking.  It’s a bit irreverent, yes, but Christmas as a whole has become a little more than a bit irreverent, so I pretty much really enjoy the precious love songs, the sad lonely break-up songs (go ahead, tell Santa your problems), the songs about the magical qualities of snow and the lameness of mistletoe, and the songs about having to spend time with family you don’t like.  Thankfully, I like my family, but still.  I love Christmas and Christmas lights and making cookies and buying presents for people…but still.  This is clever and cynical, so I like it.  Also, I’m not sure how to bring it up, but the Tyrannosaurus Rex song is awesome.

So, thanks, I guess, for saying what we’re all thinking.  We all want someone to pull crackers with, and we want to do it to music that doesn’t suck.  Garrett, if I could get you anything for Christmas, I would get the Academy to give you an Oscar for your movie ideas because even though you haven’t built a single set, I know it’s my favorite movie yet.  And can we spend our first Christmas in space?  And Christmas involves a lot of drinking.  I learned this in London, and so these songs are pretty relevant.  Why deny it?  Happy Christmas, everyone.  Check it out on iTunes–the tracks are a bit switched up, but you’ll figure it out.  And read more here.

The Secret Love Parade is a secret no longer.

Photo by Roelien (roelien.com)

So, I have one tiny, insignificant piece of news (if you can even call it news) to get out before we get down to business tonight. It’s not even important, really, but I figure if I make it public, people will be more likely to make sure I actually go through with it. Ready? I have decided to start a record label. (Oh, the irony…) And it’s just me on this one. Kristin has a life and stuff, but I don’t…no friends, no girlfriend, or much of anything cool like that. All I’ve got is time. So, for those of you who actually like the music we talk about here, well, I am going to do what I can to make it at least a bit more easily accessible. And if you’re an artist with some recordings you might be interested in releasing as a limited run EP on CDR, well, we’ll see…

Now, for music:

I have to say, I think Holland may be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I wasn’t sure about that until this morning. Sure, In A Cabin With, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and my friend Deborah are pretty amazing, but for some reason, I wasn’t convinced. But today, I had email from Matthijs van der Ven, who heads up a project called Onder Invloed (it’s bloody brilliant, and sometime in January, I will explain why). Anyway, as I was exploring Onder Invloed, I came across The Secret Love Parade. And I fell in love.

They’re two girls (Aino Vehmasto and Janna Coomans). They’re from Amsterdam. So far, so perfect. And they write “postmodern romantic pop” with synths and organs and guitars, blips and beeps and beats, charming melodies, perfectly executed Camera Obscura-ed vocals, and Philip Glass-y arpeggios. And as for the listening experience, I have to agree with the Onder Invloed analysis: “you’ll instantly feel better than you were before. Worries fade away, no more thoughts on all the things you still have to do before the end of the week….It’s the complete combination of the dreamy songs, instruments and voices which will get you careless in less than fifteen minutes”. I really couldn’t have put it any better. I’ve listened through their MySpace four times now, and I am ridiculously giddy.

Check out “My Secret Love Parade”, “Free at Last”, and “Always You”, then the other two tracks, then buy their album. (Don’t fight it. You know you want to. I want to. I also want to be their friend, but I am reasonably convinced that I will never be cool enough.) So maybe my affinity for this band isn’t so secret. But why should it be? I think we could all do with a little Love Parade every now and again.

Here’s a live video from the Amsterdam Songwriters Guild:

And here they are covering Midlake’s “Roscoe” as part of the Onder Invloed project.

I am lost in the sand building you a pyramid

this image is from INDYWEEK.COM, mmk?

Thanks to everyone who came to our blog today and helped us make 2,000 hits in the month of November!  We realize that in the scheme of the interwebs, we’re little babies, but this was a big deal for us and we’re excited that you guys are excited about The Indie Handbook.

Also, I want to remind you guys that no matter where you are in the world, Free e-Day has officially begun!  Check out the website for lots of wonderful & free bits of creativity.  We owe a huge thanks to Dan Holloway for his help with our blog–we’ve been proud to have him as a guest writer, and his work with Year Zero Writers is an amazing endeavor that we, who at least like to sort of think of ourselves as creative thinkers, can definitely get behind.

To reward you for faithfully reading our blog today so that we’d hit 2,000 hits, I will actually make a new post, and it will not be about how Camera Obscura is my new Belle  & Sebastian, but rather it will be about a lovely band I’ve recently fallen in love with that reminds me of hobbits.  Bombadil always makes me think of Tom Bombadil (Lord of the Rings?), and they have released their very first music video!  According to Bombadil, the video of “So Many Ways to Die” uses old public domain footage to “tally up all the different ways there are to die (and live!).”  That sounds depressing, I know, but I promise it is the opposite.  There is no living without risk, without chance.  I’m actually reading a book sort of about that right now, but it’s not self helpy which I feel like a lot of those types of books are, but all my feelings and thoughts about that will explode out of me into my other blog where I talk about my feelings and thoughts about things in a very rambly fashion that often seeps onto this blog, and I apologize.  I try to keep it contained on the other one, but it just erupts like a volcano inside of me.

ANYWAY I am watching this video and I FRICKIN LOVE BOMBADIL and I think maybe they have emotions and thoughts that erupt like mine.  Watch it now!!

So anyway, since we’ve never mentioned them before or anything, let me say that Tarpits and Canyonlands , the album containing “So Many Ways to Die” possesses all the most important qualities of a brilliant piece of art, a piece of human connection. You want to know what these qualities are, probably, and that’s fair, but I don’t have any energy tonight to say them poetically and I don’t want to just throw them out there with ugly words. They say they love the unexpected, they love, in a song, when everything changes; this much is most definitely clear. They build and they come down and they do what they want. They are wild, raw, and free–like Born Ruffians meets the Mountain Goats meets Yo La Tengo. Tenderness meets uninhibited emotion! If you have forgotten why you (yes YOU) love indie folk, if Fleet Foxes have been drowning out all other voices, if the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack just wasn’t enough for you, it is time for you (yes YOU) to listen to Bombadil.

Also, maybe it’s just “where I am in my life,” but Bombadil’s lyrics speak to me. They ask questions, and I think we survive on questions. Obviously having just gotten married, the songs “Marriage” and “Honeymoon” are both at least a little bit relevant, and I may even post all the lyrics to one of them just because I can. Sorry, is that too personal? I don’t think so. What lies behind that honeymoon? Are you the reason I get mad? If we fell in love in an aeroplane cabin pressure would you take my name? How many ways are there to laugh? Did you really think you had it the worst of all?

Anyway, they are poets. Enjoy them.

p.s. it’s funny that they have a prologue in the middle of the album

p.p.s. Bombadil, I’m sad that you were in Norfolk the week before I got married. I did not see you, nor did I see you play.

p.p.p.s. here are the lyrics to ‘Marriage’…because I can, I said.

what would you say to marriage

after the 200th time I told the same joke

and then I broke your favorite watch with my heel

what would you say of true love

after the 200th time I told you I loved

and then I blew your confidence with a lover that was in my past

I thought you knew, I thought you knew

this was marriage

would you still find me pretty

after the 200th time I wore the same skirt

and then I hurt your dream job offer because I was scared

would you still buy me dinner

after the 200th time I dropped my silver fork

and the nursery rhyme stork never brought a baby to you

I thought you knew

I thought you knew

this was

just two names on a court certificate

20 years and the same kiss

and I thought you knew

I thought you knew

this was marriage

thoughts on pop culture, what i’ve been doing for 3 weeks

Well…I’m back!  Sorry about all the time off (not really sorry), but I’ve been settling in to a new house and a new routine and all that, so that’s my excuse.  Oh, also I was in Florida for a week sitting by a pool and drinking a lot and going on airboat tours in the Everglades, so, that’s my other excuse.  I feel a little bad for sticking Eric with writing so much, but also he knows more than I do, so you guys were really getting a good deal.

Let me inform you that while Garr & I were in Florida, all we had to listen to was the radio, and the only station we could agree on was a Fort Meyers/Miami station that played top-40/rap.  DJ Scrappy’s monologues about Kim Kardashian’s “fine ass” and his compassion for domestic violence victims (probably singularly fueled by Rihanna’s suffering) were just too outrageous to pass up.  Since then I’ve also made up a story in my head about Lady Gaga really being brilliant and her whole image being completely satirical and mocking of the very industry that pushes her music and the very people who love it.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the case.  Also, I was dragged to New Moon by my friend because it was his birthday and I like him more than I hate Twilight, and the only thing that got me through it other than laughing at all the melodramatic teenage vampires and werewolves was the soundtrack, which included tracks from Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent, and Thom Yorke.

Perhaps the most redeeming thing I’ve done in the last few weeks musically (getting married trumps everything) happened on Saturday night, when I went to a Camera Obscura show here in good ole Hampton Roads, where the area tagline should be, “where no one good ever comes to play.”  Except they did the other night, which was cool, because Papercuts and Camera Obscura were both (duh) incredible and it had been way too long since I’d been to a good show.  The venue was kind of strange, though–it was an actual theatre.  There wasn’t really room to get up and stand up front or to get up and dance around, and so everyone pretty much just sat there and swayed, other than some little kids who were dancing up in one of the boxes.  My sister and I eventually gave in and tried to get to the front and dance…whatever.  I’ll go back to the Attucks Theatre if they keep bringing in good people.  ANYWAY, off topic, I had only ever listened to My Maudlin Career so I went to the library and stocked up on older C.O. albums and have enough to keep me busy for a bit, anyway.

The opener, Papercuts, is definitely worth mentioning to you guys.  They’ve been around for awhile, but I’m a latebloomer and had never heard of them.  Their most recent album, You Can Have What You Want, came out in March of this year.  They have a very full, layered sound, with a lot of wonderful synth that creates that sort of ethereal musical fog we all know and love.  Jason Quever’s voice makes Ben Gibbard jealous, I think, because he achieves melancholic preciousness without whining.  Just kidding, I like Ben’s voice, but I like Jason’s better.  Anyway, apparently while I was sitting on my butt before Camera Obscura came onstage, my sister and husband went to get drinks and had a mini-conversation with Jason outside by the merch. table.  So, great job me for missing a prime opportunity to ask any questions at all to post on the blog.  From what I can gather, Jason likes playing music and says that either us coming to see Papercuts play or him playing in Papercuts is better than being bored (it was one or the other, I can’t remember what they said).  It’s okay, talking to people in bands scares me anyway.  You can check out their myspace page here.  Their older albums are clearly worth checking out as well, I especially like Can’t Go Back.  Moody music makes my life on rainy days like today.

And finally, for those of you in the States, happy Thanksgiving!  And wherever you are, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend of love and peace and appreciation for all the good things in your lives  and in the world.  And the bad stuff too, I guess…to quote Frank in Little Miss Sunshine, talking about Marcel Proust:Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing.”  So…happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Emilie Simon gets the Big Machine up and running

Emilie Simon at BerlinI followed her for years – not in a creepy stalker way, but the way any true fan tracks the career of an artist he or she admires – spending countless hours in dusty independent and secondhand record shops near university campuses and enlisting the help of friends and family in Europe to track down a catalogue of records that you just can’t get here. It was all very calculated and deliberate. Meeting her, on the other hand, was (almost entirely) an accident.

It was on one of these prospecting expeditions (in search of a release date for her latest album, The Big Machine) that I caught a glimpse of Emilie Simon‘s tour schedule. Noticing almost immediately that the next show was scheduled to be in Chicago, I, without thinking, sent off a message to (literally) the only American contact I could find and several hours and half a dozen emails later, we had plans to sit down for a cup of tea after soundcheck.

As I approached Berlin Nightclub and heard the sound of “Opium” emanating from behind the swinging doors, I had no idea what to expect. I am not exactly a veteran of the club scene and I had never even heard most of the songs on the album she was touring, but walked in, trying as best I could to look like I knew what I was doing. What I found: half a dozen people prepping and decorating for the party that night, Elizabeth (my contact), and Emilie on a small stage in the middle of the room surrounded by machines and a keyboard. I stood and listened as she finished her soundcheck, attempting to recover the carefully planned talking points that had fled my memory the moment I came into the presence of my all-time musical idol. How do you cover such an impressive body of work in 20 minutes? You don’t, but the attempt became markedly easier when I discovered that we have a great deal more in common than I ever thought I would with anyone I consider a true genius.

Her first two albums (Emilie Simon and Végétal) and her soundtrack for the French version of March of the Penguins, included some of the most intricate textures I have ever encountered in the course of a four-minute “pop” song. The Big Machine is different, though. You could think of it as the first of her “American” works the way you might “Dvořák’s “New World” symphony. After all, she’s been living in New York for almost two years now.

“At the beginning, I just came for vacation and I enjoyed it, so I decided to stay longer. And I ended up moving here. I think it was just the right timing for me. I was between two albums, so I finished my tour and came here,” she says. And any such dramatic change is bound to make an impression: “I don’t know why, but there is something very intense and creative about New York with all of the artists…but something very noticeable to me when I was in New York was that it was full of a lot of energy…. I don’t want to say that it’s more energy or something, it’s just different and because you are not used to it, it is very noticeable, so it’s really inspiring.” It’s that spirit of change that was such a factor in the new sound heard on The Big Machine.

“I think I had a way of doing things from the first album….I was sort of building the basics. For the album after that, I feel like it was a little bit the same way of working: that I was experimenting and still building and I needed to change – to try something else…because…there is a point where you know that you are totally capable to do that again and again and there is no point in doing that again and again.” And so, the IRCAM alumna and winner of three Victoires de la Musique set out to reinvent herself. “I thought, I am going to stop writing on the computer first and see what instruments I need the most for writing songs and it’s been the keyboard, so…for a long time I was writing without a computer, without programming and everything, just working on the composition itself, the song and its structure.”

As a result, her vocals, once set back within the instrumental texture of her songs, have been moved into the foreground, featuring more prominently than ever before. “The other albums are more…like: I have my studio; I can spend a lot of time programming details and the vocals become a part of the instrumentation and are in balance with the other elements. This one was more about the energy and this kind of urgency of writing…. I was moving every week; I had a keyboard and that’s all…It was more of a raw energy, so the vocals took a lot of space because I needed to express myself and I didn’t have all the sounds.”

But such “urgency of writing” is the nature of an album conceived almost entirely in a live setting. After a short set at the Roxy in L.A. where she played several of the new songs for the first time, Emilie embarked on a five-week residency at The Cutting Room in New York. “At the Cutting Room… I was adding a new song every week. So every week I had to finish the programming of a new song and make it ready to be played.” That live atmosphere was maintained throughout the recording process as Emilie “decided to keep [the] energy of experimenting on stage and find [her] band and record”. And she seems happy with the results, assuring me that “everything was like it was meant to be like this”.

Still, someone so involved in the intricacies of composing, as Emilie is, does not relinquish control easily: “at the beginning, I thought maybe I’m going to find the right producer for this album and ask somebody else to produce it…but I didn’t find this perfect person that I can trust so much more than I can trust myself…. And because I produce all my own albums now, I really know what I like, what I don’t like, and trusting somebody else – it has to be amazing, and I trusted and I worked [on] this album with really amazing people and I opened a lot,..but I still kept being the producer of the album because I know where I want to go…I was more like the captain, but the crew was amazing”.

That amazing crew included Kelly Pratt and Jeremy Gara (both of Arcade Fire) and John Natchez (Beirut) as well as sound engineer Mark Plati (David Bowie, Alain Bashung) and Renaud Létang (Feist, Gonzalez…) who mixed the album. The result is an album that “is very different from the other ones: a lot of energy – a different type of energy – a lot of it because of New York and the kind of energy I’ve felt there. It’s the influence of New York on me”.

As we walked back to the club, part of me wished she had an extra day or two to experience Chicago’s own characteristically unique energy that slips so often and unfairly unnoticed beneath the glamorous cacophony of the coasts, rather than the 22-hour reality of airports, traffic, and Belmont Avenue (and you ever do have the time, I hope you will let me know). No offense to the neighborhood, but the one block stretch between Berlin and Starbucks at Clark and Belmont (much of which was under construction at the time) is not exactly the pinnacle of what my beloved Chicago has to offer. Still, for a few hours on October 15th and for reasons I cannot even begin to express, there could have been no more perfect place.