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.

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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

Please, don’t leave this world to me

It’s been awhile, gosh! We’re sorry we’ve been MIA for a bit. Eric is in Scotland looking for his true love and seeing great shows, and I had to work some late hours last week for my day job. But, this week, all is well, Eric is gallavanting around Edinburgh or some other incredible place, drinking good beer (or not, if I know Eric), and I am getting my Scottish fix from the new Frightened Rabbit album, a review of which will come soon after I’ve let it sink in a little more.

Tonight, I come to you with an overdue review of The Big Black and the Blue by some of my very favorite kindred-spirit, painfully honest, spirited young musicians, who I feel I would really appreciate if I were ever to have a beer with them, or maybe coffee, because I’m almost positive they aren’t old enough to drink in the States. Instead, I am listening to their album in my little kitchen in Virginia, and I want you to know, Klara and Johanna, I think your music should be in every kitchen in the US! Seriously, though, let’s talk about First Aid Kit.

Klara and Johanna gave us a little hint of their storytelling, mood-setting potential with their Drunken Trees EP, and with their new album, they’re expanding on that and proving to us that no, they haven’t exhausted the possibilities, and yes, they are going to keep the moving folk tunes coming. Musically speaking, these girls have something very special. They harmonize beautifully, and they know how to make their voices work with them, filling them with character…frustration and angst come through on “I Met Up With The King” (we mean nothing to history/oh thank God), while tenderness breaks through on the following track, “Wills of the River.” You’ll find these kinds of ups and downs on the entire album as the girls explore their feelings about the nature of their own lives and humanity, either by the weaving of lovely narratives (“In the Morning,” “Josefin” or by blunt expositions of their own experiences or opinions (“Hard Believer,” “A Window Opens,” “Winter is All Over You,” to name just a very few). The acoustics are well-suited to the vocals (and vice versa!), sort of a throwback to more traditional folk songs. It’s natural, it’s folk, it’s alive, it’s genius, it speaks, you’ll love it.

There’s something else aboutThe Big Black and the Blue that I love, and it’s hard to explain exactly what it is. The ladies of First Aid Kit make me proud. They unashamedly wear their hearts on their sleeves, they’re painfully self-aware (one of my favorite qualities in a person, and especially in a musician), and they’ve got great spirit! I promise this isn’t the part where I just start talking about myself, like when you’re telling someone about a story about yourself and they interrupt to tell their story about that time that the exact same thing happened to them except it was better BUT they remind me of myself, living and exploring and asking questions, realizing they don’t know it all and looking for truth, seeing the tension in the world between the aches & pains and the moments of sheer bliss, using art to express and process. First Aid Kit gets an enormous A+ from me just for that.

Up in the Air, Junior Birdman!

Up in the Air, Junior Birdman!

 Sorry, I know the picture is kind of creepy, but I couldn’t resist.  Seriously, every time I talk about Up in the Air, I have to follow it that way.  George Clooney = the new Junior Birdman.  I wish I could get a photo of him making that face.  (I really did just go look for one…and failed) 

So here’s the deal.  I don’t usually get excited about soundtracks (unless, of course, they’re done by Karen O & a bunch of little kiddies), but I am pretty excited about the Up in the Air movie soundtrack.  

I have 3 categories for the music in this movie: 

1. Instrumental music clearly composed just for the movie, probably for specific scenes.  “Security Ballet,” “Genova,” “Lost In Detroit,” and “The Snow Before Us” are fantastic tracks, fitting the mood perfectly, but you may not appreciate them as much without hearing them as part of the movie experience (although that last one may not have been composed just for the movie). 

2. Older, more classic folk songs…I love this stuff.  Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young with “Taken At All”–come on, they are classic.  Graham Nash’s solo track, “Be Yourself” may be one of the best on the album.  The acoustic guitar, the fantastic songwriting, they’re overwhelmingly comforting.  And what about Roy Buchanan?  Rootsy, downhome, honest folk.  It’s a beautiful contrast to the stark airport atmosphere, and it calls George Clooney’s character home.  Another gem is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings jazzed up version of “This Land Is Your Land,” a song that I have coincidentally always hated (I know, I know).  No more hate. 

3. Finally, and I hope you aren’t bored yet, we get the newer (and I use that term loosely) folk-rock tracks.  Dan Auerbach isn’t exactly new, but his “Goin Home” is, I think, and it’s a good one.  My favorite tracks, though, are Elliott Smith’s “Angel in the Snow,” and Sad Brad Smith’s “Help Yourself,” which practically everyone is talking about now.  I had the kind of experience with Elliott Smith in this movie that I had with Belle & Sebastian in Juno, not having heard the soundtrack yet.  I felt smarter than everyone in the theater for actually knowing what it was…but then I felt like a stupid jerk for thinking that kind of thing.  Anyway, of course I was excited to hear the sweet sweet sounds of Elliott Smith, and I was excited to be seeing a movie that could be accompanied sensibly by him.  You would be too.  

The tears, however, stayed away until “Help Yourself.”  I’m not sure that the scene was actually that sad, but here’s the deal.  In a movie that gets you thinking about relationships and connections, and that reminds you that your best experiences are rarely the ones you have by yourself, when a song like this starts playing during a semi-emotional montage, well that’s it for you, isn’t it?  “I know you’ll help us when you’re feelin better/and we realize it might not be for a long long time/but we’re willing to wait on you/we believe in everything that you can do/if you would only lay down your mind”–these lyrics hit a soft spot for all of us, they hint at what we’re all needing.  We’ve been on both sides of it.  We want someone to be with us, to wait for us, to tell us they believe in us, and we’ve had to be with people, wait for them, pick up their slack.  Up in the Air explores relationships in an incredible way, from several different angles, and this song, to me, is the climax.  Am I advertising as much for the movie as I am for the soundtrack?  Well…yes. 

Send for me a Spirit Guide

Hi, guys.  Although I don’t really want to follow Eric’s last post because of its relevance, the world needs more music, and someone’s going to have to bring it, and it might as well be me.  Also, it may be a little less relevant, but Evening Hymns did release Spirit Guides only just a few months ago, and I’m pretty sure the tour just ended.  So, yeah.  My last post on Ohbijou was really just a ploy to eventually talk about Evening Hymns, and eventually I’m going to have to cover Friends in Bellwoods because I’m really loving the layered, orchestral, organic art coming out of … Bellwoods.  Canada never fails me.

So, we here at TIH sort of like to make up lots of standards to decide whether the album you listen to is the greatest album ever.  For instance, I have eleven favorite songs that change every day.  Eric takes it to the next level with Super Desserts,  I think, which is great.  I’m basing my new rule on Spirit Guides, and that is, you know the album you are listening to is the greatest album ever if there is a track where all that is happening is a thunderstorm.  And you probably are thinking, “what?  If I want to listen to a thunderstorm, I can just listen outside.”  Except you can’t, can you?  I can’t, because it’s not raining here, and it’s definitely not thundering, and I don’t live in Lakefield, Ontario, and I don’t know what the rain sounds like there, there where Jonas Bennetta was on November 1st.  Eric can’t listen to one either, because he lives in the state of Freezing, where it snows instead of rains, and where it’s always winter and never Christmas.  Just kidding, spoiler alert, Narnia isn’t real, but it sure snows a lot in Ohio.

Seriously though, the fact that Jonas would put a track with just a thunderstorm reflects something true about the whole album.  Organic is making some kind of comeback, and I haven’t learned how to put organic musicality or organic sound into words yet, but I’m working on it.  Either way, Spirit Guides is all about the organic.  Song titles like “Dead Deer,” “Mountain Song,” “Mazinaw Lake,” “Tumultuous Sea,” and “Cedars” are indicative of lyrics focused on both the peace and chaos that accompany natural elements.  Evening Hymns does a great job hashing out the peace and the chaos, too.  The melancholic harmonies of “Cedars” will put you in a trance, the structure changes of “Tumultuous Sea” reflect just that, and if you like Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” that’s great and everything, but you should probably listen to a less Starbucksy mountain song and it should probably be “Mountain Song.”

The music major that is still hiding inside of me somewhere (I was a music history major for awhile…quit THAT because I thought I could only listen to classical music…I was wrong) loves the orchestral nature of the album, too.  Sure, there’s acoustic guitar and more acoustic tracks (“History Books”), and that’s one of my soft spots anyway, but there’s practically a mini-orchestra, also.    What a great way to capture lots of different emotions–with the voices of different instruments.  Tracks like “Tumultuous Sea” and “Mazinaw Lake” contain long improvisational sections, and whether or not they actually are improvisations, the feel is that the sound is something coming from inside the musicians.  The idea of something beautiful coming straight out of a person and their instrument, without all the fuss that is songwriting…that is freedom.

I have to say that writing a review of Spirit Guides has been pretty difficult for me because while I do love it a lot, it’s very hard to put into words exactly what Evening Hymns has done with it.  What makes an album reach into your soul like this?  That sounds like total cheese, but seriously, I want to know.  These are indeed evening hymns; there’s something very personal, even intimate, about Spirit Guides, and that’s just what you need, I think.

Send for me a Spirit Guide/send for me a ghost/you became my shadow/as I was driving down the coast
lit up the stars in the desert/revealed the bending of the night/I held onto your hand and I/got pulled into the light
and I saw you in flannel/drifting, taking off with a pocket full of cedar/and your hand so soft
and I knew that you were with me/because I heard you turn and say/
that everybody’s gonna live forever/and no one ever dies, anyway

“2 words”, says Eric, “theremin and accordion”

We have another guest post for you tonight!  We love guest submissions, and always encourage them for many reasons, but until now, Dan Holloway has been the only one to really run with our invitation.  Tonight, I introduce to you Kate Metcalf, a fellow musician, anthropology-lover, and dear friend to us both.

First of all, for the sake of full disclosure, you should know that I have an ongoing love affair with everything Swedish. Blame my heritage if you want, but they have just about everything cool in spades. I mean really, Volvo, ACNE, Nina Persson, and H&M all call Sweden home. It makes me wish I did too, just to be as cool as them.

So having said all of that, I am in the throes of yet another freak-out for Sweden because they are the homeland of one of my new favorites, Detektivbyrån. The thing I love about this band is that they are chock full of seemingly far-fetched combinations made to seem totally plausible, like “of course this is the most natural, obvious thing in the world.”

They combine Swedish electronica from Stockholm and traditional folk music from their childhood region, Varmland. They dress like rock stars and live on a little farmstead outside of Gothenburg. But leaving those things far in the dust are their instrument combinations. Theremin and accordion, Moog and glock, traktofon and music box, toy piano, real piano, shoes, scissors, oh my! They are an amazing relief from the tried and true but often tired voice, guitar, drums combo. They are a purely instrumental group, with nary an ax in sight, that manages to do what I never thought possible with instruments like theremin and accordion. They make it all very, ridiculously cool.

At this point, Detektivbyrån has two records available, E18 and Wermland. Both have a few tracks bearing a striking resemblance to the music of Yann Tiersen in Amelie, which I love. They in fact cite Amelie as one of their major influences along with their time spent as street musicians when glocks and accordions were conveniently portable. Now they’ve taken those influences and melded them with electronica and synths to craft a very distinctive and genre-spanning sound about which they say this:

“Indie kids come up to me after shows and tell me their parents gave them an accordion as a birthday present, they started to play it since they listened to us, and that’s one of the most beautiful things I can hear after a show. Then there’s an local radio station which has this accordion special every Thursday and usually there’s just old traditional stuff, but they really dig us and play for the old people out there, and these people send cute e-mail to us, they are glad we are taking care of their accordion tradition.”

So fantastic!

If you want to hear more, hop on over to www.detektivbyran.net to check them out, download a couple songs, and even stream both albums. Even better, hit up the store for the CDs or vinyls. They are ridiculously affordable and the guys send out all their orders personally, so they’ll sign the covers if you say pretty please.

why you runnin?

Well, if I didn’t enjoy Lissie half as much as I do, it would have been more difficult to pull myself away from Rock Band tonight to write this post.  However, despite my incredible growing drummer genius, I will take some time to write (and to listen).  Before I begin, though, just because we’ve got some little seedling ideas, Eric and I would like to know how many musicians reading would be interested in getting involved with an American version of the In A Cabin With project.  We’ve talked about it before, and we aren’t making any guarantees that we can make it happen, but we’d really like to at least see how much interest is out there.  And who knows?  If there’s enough, maybe we can make it happen, or at least help it along.  So let us know, via Facebook or Twitter or email.

Back to the star of tonight’s post: Lissie, and her recent E.P. (11/10/09), Why You Runnin’, 5 songs well worth your $3.99.  Here’s the deal.  I live in Virginia, and there were people in my high school who rode camo-painted trucks to school with the confederate flag hanging from the truck bed.  People are, you know, SOUTHERN.  Not my favorite thing in the world.  You know what else isn’t my favorite thing in the world?  Country music.  Get that freaking Kenny Chesney crap away from me.  But the thing is, there are some singer/songwriters that I feel belong in the country category and are not the stereotypical crap they play on the country music station where Carrie Underwood claims to like shots of whiskey (oh well in that case you must be country, Carrie)…rather, they’re the salt-of-the-earth, agricultural, honest musicians whose chords and twang come straight from the heart.  Joe Purdy, Great Lake Swimmers, Samantha Crain…and Lissie.  I would just call them folk, but I don’t know.  Sometimes country seems to fit, in a good way.

Why You Runnin’ has a country/folk feel that doesn’t piss me off, somewhere between Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (even the cover sort of looks like his), Janis Joplin, EmmyLou Harris, and Iron & Wine.  The maturity of Lissie’s voice really blows me away–it sets itself apart rather than falling into line with the various “types” of female voices (the Paramore “alternative” voice, the Ingrid Michaelson “folk” voice, or just tweeeeeeeeeeeeee!!).  She is, to reference God Help the Girl (what is life without good Belle & Sebastian/Stuart Murdoch references?), a bonafide “down and dusky blonde,” who makes beautiful soulful music that she means.  While “Little Lovin” is catchy and quick, the other 4 songs on this EP are quite slow, and absolutely convincing.  “Oh Mississippi” is hands down my favorite song, and I love Lissie’s voice backed by that hymn-like piano.  Her arrangements use captivating, mournful echoes…it sounds almost like she recorded in a cathedral, and the lyrics speak of life experiences in a way the listener can feel is sincere.  You feel like, she has roots and people to look up to and she has experienced things that have made her more whole, more alive.  She comes from someplace where people love her and where she loves, where she’s been given room to grow as a person and into a person.  Her sincerity is clear and inviting.

So, I invite YOU to listen to her myspace and then cough up a few bucks to buy the EP.  Also, feel free to share any thoughts about country and folk and what they even are.

apologies and old valentine

Hi everyone!  As some of you know, I’m getting married in 10 days, and for that reason, I’m feeling more ridiculous than normal, and kind of like everything is floating around in my head and I can’t get a grasp on it.  I locked my keys in my car yesterday for the first time in my entire life.  My head is not screwed on right, and it will probably only get worse until November 8th.  You’ve been warned.

Yesterday one of my friends said he resisted reading The Indie Handbook for a long time because we sound pretentious.  Ok, he didn’t say we sound pretentious, he was actually really nice about it, but the basic jist was that we sound sort of stuck-up and obsessed w/being indie.  And this is one of my friends.  He knows me.  He likes me (I think).  So I have no idea what you guys think when you read this, and I don’t know how Eric feels about me saying these things, but I would just like to clarify.  If you read our About the Indie Handbook page, you will understand our goals.  But if we come across as biting, condescending, or elitist…I’m really sorry.  When it all comes down to it, I really don’t think I’m better than anyone else.  I don’t like myself very much most of the time.  I think the music I listen to is pretty great, and I want you to listen to it and like it too, partly because you may not have heard it and I think a) you deserve to hear as much good music as possible and b) good music deserves to be heard, and partly because I want to connect with you–I want you to appreciate what I appreciate, and I want to be understood.

We don’t really care about being indie (I mean come on, read Eric’s “The State I Am In” post), whatever that means.  We don’t really care what Paste magazine says is cool (except to be mad when they think STUPID things are cool…haha joooooke…).  I hope you don’t take our sarcasm for elitism, and if you do, there’s not much else I can say about it at this point…so, I apologize.

Moving on, today I wanted to write about Nic Dawson Kelly, but that stuff sort of sidetracked me, but I’d like to get back on topic and talk about music again, if that’s alright.  The other day I was listening to Nic Dawson Kelly’s debut album Old Valentine at work, and one of the students asked me, “are you listening to folk music?”  To avoid more explanation, I said that yes, I was listening to folk music, but in reality, Old Valentine is much less easy to label, more of a folk-blues-rock mix.  I could have sworn that somehow the White Stripes had slipped in at the beginning of “The Musician” (“We’re Going to Be Friends”), but after the first few chords, the whistling and one-of-a-kind voice gave it away as something completely different.  How to describe Nic’s voice?  At first, I wanted to compare him to Coner Oberst, but I feel like Nic has a better grasp on technique and is less grovelly/talky.  It seems kind of lame just to call his voice unique, even though it is different from anything I’ve ever heard and in a good way.  He just really knows how to use it, like a classically trained musician; like I said recently, you find that once an artist knows the rules, it sounds/looks/feels better when they break them.  Nic knows what he’s doing, and he uses his voice in a ton of very cool ways–shaking and narrating and teasing–and, like Will Sheff from Okkervil, you can hear the emotion in it.  This is great because he achieves tenderness, sarcasm, and fun convincingly, with soft chords (“Marilyn”, “Oh Well”) or playful swagger (“The Musician”, “Old Valentine”) backing evocative vocals.  As for the album itself, I’m impressed with how well-crafted it is.  The songwriting is beautiful and the flow is perfect.  I was afraid at first that it would be too country, but it definitely isn’t; there’s a level of soul in every song that is incredibly refreshing and works as a nice balance to the harmonica/acoustic guitar sound.  Frickin’ awesome.  I think Nic Dawson Kelly is a definite up-and-comer, or whatever the crap you call it, and I’m excited to encourage you to buy this album!  On iTunes!  Tonight!  You can even get a first listen on his myspace, just to prove it.  My favorite on the album is “Marilyn,” just fyi.  Precious.  And look at that precious face!

wearing lampshades & onesies has never been cooler

posted by jake on musicu.be...whoever that is

Happppppppy Monday!

(I know things are way less funny when I have to explain them… I always seem to have to…but did you guys see the 30 Rock Valentine’s Day episode with Rachel Dratch playing Jack’s hooker and she’s like, “Happppy Valemtime’s!” in the most sloppy drunk voice ever?  Because that’s the voice I was referencing.   Happpppppy Monday!”)

My ipod-in-the-car thing broke and lately I’ve been listening to music a) at home and b) at work, which has greatly limited my music-listening time.  I spend a lot of time driving.  Anyway, so lately my work music has been 6 little songs by Lulu & the Lampshades.  Lulu & the Lampshades is from London and I get the impression that sometimes they wear lampshades and maybe onesies?  But maybe not always?  But Lulu & Luisa & Jemma & whoever the crap else is in the band (I’m very confused about this) make me grin because their voices are so lovely and soulful, and they are paired with great sounds SUCH AS ukelele sounds, and also apparently melodica/accordian sounds.

Here’s the deal.  The dynamic girl duo bit reminds me of First Aid Kit, which I love.  The acoustic style of “Cherry Coke” and “Something New” remind me very much of Jaymay.  Their accents remind me of Kate Nash (oh whatever, I’m a stupid American, I even listen to Pink sometimes).  But you know what is really fantastic?  As much as I love acoustic, folk, coffeehouse stuff, they are not all/only that.  For instance, “Impasse” follows no generic structure…just some strums and “ooh ahhs” and some words, too.  I know when I explain it you think “oh that sounds like coffeehouse to me” but you’re wrong, and you should just listen to it.  On “Elastic Limbs” you will pee yourself because the melodica and/or accordian (sorry I can’t tell the difference, really.  My music major didn’t focus much on these two particular instruments, although my friend Wesley does play the accordian and I am wondering now why I didn’t think of this when planning my wedding*) is so freaking awesome!!!!  The sound is really something special.

And, here is something cool, Lulu & the Lampshades has a new single out, and it’s called “Feet to the Sky,” and I think it is PERHAPS my favorite of the songs on their myspace.  It’s pretty catchy, but not in a way that pisses me off.  There are hand claps and precious lyrics and tempo changes–I love tempo changes because no one ever seems to make use of them in anything other than instrumental music.  And all in all, these girls are quite talented and fab and I want you all to listen to them immediately.

*Speaking of weddings, I’m getting married in November (7th, actually) and Eric is going to need help posting for about a week.  Any takers?

Finally, if you read nothing else, at least WATCH this video.  It is the reason these guys are my new heroes.  I used to play this game when I was…12 or something?  But I sure as hell couldn’t do this.  I think also it is a drinking game…that I need to play.  ASAP.

A long short interview with Brían Ó hAirt

If I had to guess, I’d say there are about as many Irishmen living in Dublin, OH as there are native Scotsmen living in Granville, 36 miles to the East, which is, approximately, six. But none of this matters on the first weekend in August, when the city’s Irish population increases at least tenfold, augmented by tens of thousands more people who think they’re Irish. (I admit that, once upon a time, even I, now vehemently proud of my Scottish heritage, found myself wishing I could be cool like my Irish friends during the weekend of the Dublin Irish Festival. I really ought to write our Chief and beg his forgiveness.) They come for the music. They stay for the scones. (Ok, so maybe the scones thing only applies to me. Most of them probably stay for the music as well. And the beer.) And there is a lot of music, and pricewise, it is probably, when you think about it, one of the best values out there for such a comprehensive festival covering a (sometimes startling) range of styles.

“…And that’s all Irish music,” Brían Ó hAirt (singer and concertina player for the band Bua) assures me, but “we really are a traditional band. We do some progressive stuff, but most of the things that we do are traditional, [even though] we compose our own tunes sometimes or play newly composed tunes from other people”. Only fifteen minutes ago, the band were on stage, wrapping up their final set of the festival. Fifteen minutes from now, they will be on their way to Ontario for their next festival appearance. Our interview will be short, but Bua are the only band I have bothered to see twice this weekend and I have to talk to this man. I need to find out what makes this band who they are.

But what drew me to Bua (MySpace) in the first place? We don’t necessarily tend toward the traditional here at The Indie Handbook (well, at least not publicly*). Aside from the superb musicianship of, and obvious chemistry between, all of the band members (Brían, Brian Miller, Jackie Moran, Chris Bain, and Seán Gavin) there is the fact that this Brían also speaks fluent Irish (not a skill one necessarily expects from most people living in the St. Louis metro area). As one who has a weakness for, and is prone to, eccentricity in any form, I am intrigued by anyone who would bother to learn such an impractical (at least by contemporary American standards) language as Irish. Brían’s reason:

“I’d heard Irish for the first time when I was in junior high, and I was kind of a bookish kid at the time, so I looked stuff up and started learning things on my own. And when I started junior college, there were courses offered, and by that time I had a pretty good understanding of it. And when I moved to Ireland I progressed even further, because I was in Irish speaking areas and I was using it all the time.”

And what about the road to traditional music? Let’s face it, Brían would not look out of place fronting a Belle & Sebastian cover band (for the sake of argument, we’ll call them Judy and the Dream of Horses).

“I had been doing music my entire life, and when I reached the end of high school, there were three roads really: you could go and get your degree in classical music, or enter a jazz program; but I didn’t really feel like my voice suited that or that it felt like it was really a way to express myself. But, when I heard Irish singing for the first time when I was fourteen or fifteen, it hit home, really, and kind of pulled me in.”

I think I speak for Kristin as well when I say that we appreciate, admire, and endorse such an earnest pursuit of any art form. Add to that the fact that Brían’s delivery and vocal quality is perfectly suited to the music that he is performing (his voice is pure, uninhibited by that affected nasality that so many artists seem to view as a prerequisite for success and the delivery unadorned, allowing the songs to speak for themselves) and the result is bound to impress. But what thrusts Bua beyond the range of “good bands” to the level of the “truly excellent” are the four other stellar musicians standing (and sitting) on that stage.

“There was a band before called Gan Bua (Jackie and Chris were kind of the instigators for that), but a few of the band members moved on with their jobs and careers, so Chris approached each of us about joining the band… And we play well together. That’s kind of the secret. It just clicked. We all seem to work well together.” He continues, “and [there are] connections within the band, too. We’re not all connected together in the same way. Brian Miller and I may be connected in a way that maybe Brian and Chris are not, but maybe Chris and Seán are connected in a way that Brian and I aren’t. There are all these smaller pairings with their ideas of music and the kind of tunes they play. So, overall, there’s more cohesiveness in the group because of those smaller groupings.”

So, this is Bua, folks. Get to know them. You’ll be a better person for it. Their album An Spealadóir is out now on Mad River Records. There is, I believe another one currently available as a download only. And you owe it to yourself to catch a live performance. After all, that’s where many of these songs grew up, long before anyone you or I know ever heard them.

*Personal confession time: For some time now, longer than most of you have known me, I have toyed around with the idea of a serious pursuit of Scottish folk music. Five days after I met Brían Ó hAirt, I bought a beginner’s guide to Scots Gaelic and a Gaelic dictionary. It is happening, kids. And if any of you have an in at the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen and would like to put in a good word for me, I would be eternally grateful.