I fell in love in a wicker chair – Super Desserts are Twee As Folk

Twee As FolkSome time in the last 20 minutes, warm and sunny Columbus has become Galveston circa 1900. As I glanced out the window a few moments ago, the sight of horizontal rain and trees bent nearly in half* came as quite a surprise. Though, I daresay, if those turn of the century Texans had been spinning the latest Super Desserts album, Twee As Folk, on their phonographs as I have been, they wouldn’t have noticed the approaching storm either.

Attached as I am to the title Twee As Folk, it is (I think) a touch ironic that it be applied to this particular album (the second in five months) as the term “twee” is less applicable to this one than it was to either Barefoot in the Disenchanted Forest or Banjo Forever. That is not to say that Twee As Folk is any less clever (or just plain fun) than the previous releases—see the rollicking “Wicker Chair” or “Missy Madame” (a cover of Columbus locals The Curiosities/Maza Blaska) to allay any concerns—but that it is a more mature album, expanding on the musical ideas hinted at in previous albums.

For one thing, the band make more effective use of the myriad instruments they cram onstage, evolving from band to indiepop-chamber-folk ripieno orchestra (“Give Your Mom a Call” and “Turn Up the Sunlight”). Likewise, several tracks on Twee As Folk put more emphasis on rhythm, even incorporating a northern soul-tinged groove beneath folk instrumentation on tracks like “Winter Is Here” or the laid-back, summery shuffle of “Crush On You”. Then there are the long phrases and willingness to toy with dissonance, evident on several tracks, but especially “Margaret Yang” (dig the background vocals…).

Of particular note on Twee As Folk, however, are the vocals, with more than half of the band taking lead duties at one point or another—and all of them good performances. Even those who habitually took lead roles on previous records are sounding particularly good on this one. But, by far, the most pleasing discovery for me has been newish band member Ianna. Until now, I’d never heard her sing lead on anything, but the effortless clarity of her voice—think a richer, silvery version of Catherine Ireton from God Help the Girl—has left me wanting  much (much) more. For now, I’ll have to be content to listen to “Vector of Affection” and “Fall Down” on endless repeat.

With an album like Twee As Folk, it is difficult for me to pick favorites—I have listened to nothing else for three days now—but if pressed, I would point out that “Everybody Loves To Be Loved”, “Fall Down”, and “Wicker Chair” have the highest playcounts, respectively. And then there is the fact that it hasn’t even been six months since Super Desserts released Banjo Forever. Under normal circumstances, most reviewers (myself included) would be skeptical of a band that can turn out an album in a matter of months, which makes the current album all the more remarkable.

Now, I suppose an indie-folk chamber orchestra with about half a dozen songwriters can afford to be prolific, but with Twee As Folk, it’s not as if Super Desserts have simply produced their second decent album of 2010, but a legitimate contender for Album of the Year.

So, download the two tracks I’ve posted below and, if you’re lucky enough to be a Columbus local, head over to Wholly Craft at 7:00 Friday night (June 4) for the FREE(!) release show and pick up a copy for yourself. For the rest of you, the album should be streaming in full on the Super Desserts bandcamp page some time in the next day or two.

*It turns out there were also tornado sirens sounding. I was too distracted to notice those, as well.

**The narrative-style subtitle from Barefoot In the Disenchanted Forest also make a return appearance on this album. The subtext: “We need a bass clarinetist. Also, we miss Steve”.

Download – “Wicker Chair” mp3

Download – “Winter Is Here” mp3

They Play Fleet Foxes Better Than Fleet Foxes

Who are they? First Aid Kit! And aren’t they cute?  Eric’s going to need a first aid kit for his heart!  (I’m so clever…)

I’ve been really slacking on my reviews lately.   I need to sit down and write some album reviews, but recently I haven’t had enough time or emotional energy for that (story of my life).  Also, my job pretty much equals staring at a computer screen all day.  I know, I know, no excuses.  I will write some bonafide album reviews ASAP.  In the meantime, I am trying desperately not to let you down.

So, for tonight, another EP I cannot purchase on iTunes because it is Swedish.  So I will see what I can do on Amazon.  But for now, check out First Aid Kit’s myspace.  They aim for the hearts, not the charts!  And that, my friends,  is the best thing a band can do.  Writing and playing good music also helps.

First Aid Kit is a lovely indie folk two-piece: sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg.  You’ll be charmed at the first acoustic lilt of “You’re  Not Coming Home Tonight,” especially as the girls’ voices blend into lovely, melancholic harmonies.  Klara and Johanna’s voices are an awesome combination of playful, rich passion, and their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” shows this off beautifully, especially at the end with “I don’t know what I have done, I’m turning myself into a demon.”  Honestly, I like the Fleet Foxes and everything, and even though they are overrated, I understand why they are–because they’re creative and wonderful, obviously–but I like First Aid Kit’s cover better than the original.  They downplay the acoustics and emphasize the vocals, which are strong and full of character.  If you haven’t already noticed, I really love when singers know how to use their voices in creative ways, almost as actors.   Maybe this comes from studying classical music for so long, but in any case, it reflects the singer’s own passion, talent, and all  in all just makes them a whole lot more interesting to listen to.  You can hear another example of this in “Jagadamba You Might”–the girls’ moody ooh’s and aah’s lead into almost-scat, and still fit the eery folk perfectly.  Finally, “Cross Oceans” is not to be forgotten, with its rhythm-based acoustics.  Despite the moodiness of their tracks, something about First Aid Kit is still uplifting.

If you don’t already love Swedish music, start here.  I know I’ll be keeping my eyes out for First Aid Kit to be more readily available in the States.  For now, here’s the Fleet Foxes cover.  Leave your comments and let us know what you think–better than the original?

Follow An Indie Band Wednesday: The Best Day of the Week!

Hello and welcome to Follow An Indie Band Wednesday highlights!

First, some “housekeeping” that isn’t really housekeeping.  Tonight, Eric is too pissed to write (Do we listen to indie music because we are depressed, or are we depressed because we listen to indie music?  I don’t know, John Cusack, I just don’t know) so I am bringing you some fantastic bands to become obsessed with.  Also, if you listen to my mix from Monday now, even though it is Wednesday, I will not harass you about it next Monday.

Anyway, back to Follow An Indie Band Wednesday!  Last week, due to Malta Mayhem, we had to give up our routine and fill our day with Maltese music; today, we are back on Twitter listening to tons of free tracks and myspace pages of great indie bands, and there’s pretty much something for everyone!  You can check it out here, and if you don’t feel like blindly listening to everything posted or if you just really value our opinions (can’t blame you for that), here are some highlights:

We here at The Indie Handbook have multiple musical personalities, and while sometimes I just need some delicious girlie twee, I can be pretty badass.  And Transfer is for when I’m needing something badass.  I’m tempted to call them rockabilly, but that’d be way too extreme…they’re western rock with a bit of grunge.  I like the mellow feel of “Like a Feather” and the build on “A Bitter Pill,” so those are my recommendations for this fine Wednesday evening.  Also, the vox on “Sinking Sailing” remind me vaguely of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” which is always a good thing.  Transfer comes from San Diego, so if you’re a local, I suggest you go find them and be friends with them.  At the moment, I’m begging for an east coast tour…

Now for something completely different…The Aquamen, because all their songs are named after drinks!  But seriously, they are, but also seriously, you’ve been looking for your fun summer music, and I am giving it to you now.  Thank me.  Or better yet, thank the Aquamen.  You know that song “Tequila” where the only thing you do is dance around and then yell “Tequila” in the middle of it?  This is way better.  As San Francisco natives, these guys have learned to capture the beach in sound–it’s a tiny bit garage and a lot of sassy guitar, with very few lyrics, but you don’t care.    Think of a more drunken Ruby Suns.  The Aquamen are playing your quintessential surfing summer drinking tunes and you will listen to them and you will love them.

POPPOPHEADERAlright, I may have been seduced by his precious myspace page.  The adorable picture, the explanation that “Pop plays the six string while Pop plays the blues”…I’m just cute-ed out.  Maybe Pop Pop just started this project recently and joined myspace less than a month ago, maybe Pop Pop is what some people call their grandpas, I don’t care. The Indie Handbook is about what we like, and I like this, and you very well may like it as well.  It is lo-fi, acoustic, the lyrics are lovely, and Alex Thraikill has a voice bursting with character, almost reminiscent of The Mountain Goats.  It’s just so adorably likeable.   You can follow him on Twitter, too.

While you’re listening to Pop Pop, check out his friend Oberhofer.  This is why we like Follow An Indie Band Wednesday…everyone’s got friends!  Oberhofer’s wildness reminds me of the Born Ruffians…the vocals on “I Could Go,” for instance.  It’s very free, kind of dancey, and the lyrics are sassy, and as we all know, sassy lyrics (think Dear & The Headlights) are some of my favorite things in the world.  I could go on, but this post is taking me forever to write and I wish you would all just listen when I tell you to!!  And I’m telling you to!!

Thanks for reading and hopefully listening to our highlights!  This blog is worthless if you do zero listening.  Also, we want to emphasize again that we adore your comments and want to hear all your thoughts!  Seriously.  Just go for it, tangent in our comments.  We’ll love it (or at least I will, and it’s mostly my opinion that matters.  Eric just does badass interviews.)

Much love, my dear musical friends!

Jaymay…did I hear her first?

Yes, I did hear her first.  I heard her before Starbucks put her on one of their mixes.  Reasons I am reviewing her now:

1) Dutch week starts in 45 minutes (eastern time), that is if Eric is still going for it, and she is not Dutch, soooo…
2) If I don’t hurry up, they will not only be playing her in Starbucks, but they will also be playing her in Gap (I heard “Asleep on a Sunbeam” by Belle & Sebastian in there a couple of months ago, p.s.), and then she will lose her indie cred completely.  But I like her.  So there.

When asked what he would choose to eat if he could pick his last meal, famous chef, food writer, and world traveler Anthony Bourdain said that he would want comfort food…maybe meatballs.  And comfort food is what Jaymay is to the indie/folk music scene.  While lacking the depth of musical theory knowledge, elaborate instrumental combinations, and massive numbers about which bands like the Polyphonic Spree and Pink Martini can boast, Jaymay gives musically and lyrically pure, laid-back, melancholic, driving-in-the-rain perfection.

Although she’s originally from New York, Autumn Fallin’, Jaymay’s first complete album, came out in November 2007 in London on the Heavenly/EMI label.  “Sea Green, See Blue” has been featured in the embarrassingly pathetic CBS television show “How I Met Your Mother” and on a recent Starbucks mix.  Oh, how ironic that Starbucks would be indie…

Back on track, Autumn Fallin’ provides a unique mix of jazz, folk, and acoustic influences.  “Hard to Say” has the most notable jazz influence with its swing rhythms and dominant chords–if only Jaymay wouldn’t save her improvised mouth trumpet scat for one track!  While not one of her songs isn’t absolutely beautiful–light and moving, with simple chord structures–her storytelling sets her apart.  Through each track’s narrative, she wears her heart on her sleeve, begging for personal connection.  And she gets that connection, as love for a friend (“Gray or Blue”), the impossibility of reconciling some situations (“Ill Willed Person”), and transitions and regrets (“Sea Green, See Blue”) are all situations not unfamiliar to us.  Not to mention that Jaymay has a sparkling and seductive voice, less bizarre than Jenny Lewis’ and less boring than Norah Jones’.

We’re all praying that this precious coffeehouse brunette can avoid selling out to Starbucks or crappy CBS television shows, but she seems to have enough Punky Brewster spunk to stick it out in the indie/folk scene.  Save Autumn Fallin’ for one of those days when you’re dying for some lovely introspectiveness.

she is so cute.

[happy Easter, by the way.]

Andrew Bird in concert – NPR All Songs Considered

Andrew Bird played the first of two sold out shows at the Chicago Civic Opera House last night. The single greatest musical experience of my life took place in that building and I would love to be there tonight to add another to my list. But I won’t be. I will have to settle for this live set from the NPR All Songs Considered archive.

I first encountered Andrew Bird on the cover of Time Out Chicago (I love that magazine!) about two years ago, on the heels of his Armchair Apocrypha. He was selling out large venues then, too. The difference is that now they sell his music at Starbucks (a rant on this topic is forthcoming). This is unfortunate because it means his indie reputation is about to be shattered. Andrew Bird the status symbol will be no more and all that will be left is the music (which, let’s face it, is pretty much the least important aspect of the image we are trying to cultivate out here in the blogosphere).

We, of course, will continue to support him (he has long been a favorite of ours): neither of us has to worry about his or her reputation (Kristin’s is pretty much set now and I never had much of a future to begin with). Still, so long as I have your attention, I urge you to head over to npr.org and listen to this live set because it is brilliant, because he whistles better than you can read, and before it defines you as a soul-less trend-chaser incapable of independent thought like I am.

**NOTE** Tragically, near the end of last night’s show, Bird’s trademark violin slipped from his hands, fell to the floor, and, apparently, cracked in two. We will, no doubt, all mourn with him.

Sara Masterson

Ok, I know I owe you all a real post very soon and I swear I have one written, but I’m just spazzy and busy and it’s taking me awhile.

But to tide you over, I’m at work and listening to Sara Masterson on myspace and loving iiiit.  She just released a new EP called Hale Street Sessions, and I’m telling you all that you need to check out her myspace and then buy her E.P.  She’s adorable, she’s coffeehouse, she’s acoustic/jazz, her voice is beautiful, and her lyrics are meaningful … so!… you have no reason not to love it.  Plus, for those of you in or near Chicago, she’s a local, so check out her show schedule.

http://www.myspace.com/saramasterson