New Music from Isobel Campbell

Earlier this evening, Isobel Campbell, Mark Lanegan’s frequent collaborator and co-conspirator (formerly of Belle & Sebastian) announced via Twitter that fans could download for free her reimagined version of Franz Ferdinand’s “Walk Away” in exchange for an email address.

Though her work with the former Screaming Trees frontman has been turning several heads over the last half-decade or so, and the tour for their Hawk LP (2010) remains the most properly brooding and seductive live show I have ever scene, Bel, as a solo artist, has remained sadly elusive. The current cover of “Walk Away” is, I believe, the first we’ve heard from her since Milk White Sheets in 2006. Those familiar with the Franz Ferdinand original should take note, this is a complete reimagining of the urtrack—more closely related to the great French chanteuses of the ’60s and ’70s than any Glaswegian guitar pop you’ve ever heard—more Françoise Hardy than Franz Ferdinand.

While Milk White Sheets, blew me away by frequently applying adventurous, contemporary melodic counterpoint and harmonic colors to traditional songs and folk melodies, “Walk Away” recalls an earlier vein in the enigmatic Ms. Campbell’s body of work. Built on the foundation of a subdued jazz drum kit, simple bass line, and sustained chordal string harmonies, a fairly prominent glockenspiel countermelody to complement to her soft, sweet, and breathy vocals provides much of the textural interest here and hearkens back to her first post-B&S album, Amorino, or, even more so, to her days as The Gentle Waves.

If you follow her various social media outlets, you understand how elusive Bel can be. With only some 70 tweets to her name, you’d be forgiven for believing she’d given up on the music thing entirely. But with a recent uptick in Twitter activity (including this promising post from just over a week ago), and now the offer of this new track, it seems likely that there might more for us Isobel Campbell devotees in the relatively near future. Until then, head over to her website and trade your email address for a glimpse of what’s to come. Then, tell all your friends to do the same.

Follow Isobel on Facebook and on Twitter (@Isobel_Campbell)


Introducing Possimiste and some free music from Jherek Bischoff

Sometimes, it can be difficult to trace an artist’s origins. Sure, there’s always the old fallback that all music is descended from Pavement, but, in certain cases, it isn’t clear whether an artist has emerged from a vacuum or is the result of a synthesis of myriad influences. And then there’s Possimiste who, by all accounts, may as well be a girl with bat wings who lives in the forest (which is, in fact, exactly what her bio claims she is).

What we can say about the nineteen-year-old Estonian (who has, thus far, seen fit to keep the details of her story a secret) is that she has one hell of an adventurous, if not altogether revolutionary, artistic vision. Materializing out of the same sort of nebulous origin pools characteristic of so many great Estonian musicians (e.g. Arvo Pärt; Erkki-Sven Tüür), Possimiste creates what are ostensibly ethereal pop songs that flutter just beyond the realm of identifiability. Seemingly equal parts Ólöf Arnalds, Islaja, and Emilie Simon (circa La March de l’empereur or Végétal), her music also evokes abrupt and appropriate mood changes worthy of Pärt’s Te Deum or the best of T.S. Eliot.

But it is in her music videos where Possimiste’s vision really shines. Ranging from dark and brooding to delicately whimsical, they are works of exquisite beauty. The most recent video single “Clockworkbird” (below) or the earlier film “Behind the Seas” could just as easily be live-action editorials assembled from the pages of Lula Magazine as music videos. So, while I may as yet know next to nothing about the woman behind the music, I can say for certain that I haven’t been this excited about a new artist since the first time I heard Emilie Simon five years ago. My gut tells me Possimiste has a lot to offer us and I, for one, cannot wait to see where she goes from here.

You can find links to free downloads of much of Possimiste’s music on her website.

And then there’s this, a little preview and free mp3 from Jherek Bischoff’s (Parenthetical Girls, The Dead Science) upcoming debut Composed. The first single, “Young & Lovely”, features Bischoff’s long-time partner in pop Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls) and French chanteuse SoKo. A limited run of 7”s (500 in the US and 500 in the UK) will be released on Record Store Day next week (April 21) with B-side “Eyes” featuring the one and only David Byrne. We’ll cover the LP in greater detail as the late May/early June release dates (UK/US, respectively) approach. For now, you can refer to my review of the live performance as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall back in February. And don’t forget to grab the free download of “Young & Lovely” from bandcamp or the embedded player below.

A Sinister take on Hardware

Another Halloween and my pitch-perfect J Alfred Prufrock costume still hangs in the closet gathering dust. One of these days, I swear, someone will finally invite me to that esoteric modernist literature-themed costume party that simply must exist somewhere in the folds of civilized society—but, as it stands, this year is looking like another night indiscriminately hurling candy at strange children and ensuring full holiday bookings for all local practitioners of dentistry.

But, to get things started, how about a little Halloween double-feature, beginning with the latest video from Birdeatsbaby. We brought you the first single from the new album back in August and now they’re back with the second (the title track) “Feast of Hammers”. Of course, if you’re already familiar with these Birdies, you know they’re music is always streaked with a dash of the macabre. But with the video for ‘Feast of Hammers’, they’ve really outdone themselves—so much so, in fact, that they’ve produced a censored version of the video. And, out of respect for those readers who may be somewhat prone to squeamishness, I’ll only include the PG-13 version in this post. You can watch the explicit version here. All I can say is, Lars Von Trier would be proud.

Then there’s our old friends from Chicago, The Cell Phones who’ve always had a flare for the darker side of life. They’ve got their own Occultish Halloween epic making the rounds. The only thing missing here is an altar of naked virgins. And, if that’s not enough, they’ve also done a 27-minute haunted house soundtrack (which you can find here) and a brand new EP (Hospital Spaceship) which includes the gruesome, Phil-Spector-does-in-the-Ronettes closer, ‘Husband’.

Still not enough for you? Well, out today, just in time for Halloween, is a free bit of dingy foreboding from Norwich breakcore artist Sukoshi. From exciting new Norwich label Gravy Records, ‘Claw Hammer’ is but a taster of things to come from Sukoshi’s imminent debut on the same label, due in February. In fact, there’s plenty of exciting stuff to look forward to from Gravy HQ, but that’s another story for another day. With his spoken-word samples and dark and dirty, sinister embellishments, it’s easy to imagine Sukoshi as the evil twin of Mr. PSB himself, J. Willgoose Esq. It’s no wonder, then, that Rob Da Bank is such a fan.

Merry Christmas from The Shoe (and also from me)

The Shoe

I got you something. Well—I wanted to get you something. I was recently given some demos of dubious legality that I thought I might pass along to you all, but serendipity and my fear of the RIAA finally got the better of me. And besides, I’ve got something even better for you. More specifically, Jena Malone has something better for you.

A few of you may remember this post from about 20 months ago (that’s about 12,000 years in Internet Time) in which I confessed to one of my several celebrity crushes and passive-aggressively suggested that Jena Malone and Lem Jay Ignacio (a.k.a. The Shoe) record a Christmas song that I could one day include in an Indie Handbook Christmas compilation. Well, I may not have a full compilation album to give you, but I do have a new track from The Shoe called ‘Mary’s Xmas’.

It’s been a while since I’ve featured something quite like this, but it’s a cool track that bears repeated listening, especially if you dig some of the more off-kilter stuff like The Babblers, Slapp Happy, or The Fibonaccis. You can download ‘Mary’s Xmas’ below.

While we’re at it, you might like to know that The Shoe should have their EP on iTunes some time in January coupled with a few shows in the vicinity of L.A. And, even more exciting, there’s a new album due in March as well as even more tour dates. Hopefully, I’ll have more information for you as details become available, but you should probably keep an eye on their website anyway.

Download – The Shoe, ‘Mary’s Xmas’ mp3

Those Dancing Days – ‘Fuckarias’

Normally, I wouldn’t dedicate an entire post to one song (that’s what the Tumblr page is for), but I’ve been nothing short of obsessed with ‘Fuckarias’—the new song and video from Those Dancing Days, released this morning—all day.

For a long time, I was on the fence about Those Dancing Days. Was my love for them grounded in the music they make, or was it simply the manifestation of an immense crush on Linnea Jönsson? But hearing ‘Fuckarias’ for the first time this morning has left me with no doubt whatsoever. It is definitely the music.

Cissi Efraimsson
Cissi proving my point. How hot is that, eh?

Catchy as ever but more driving than anything from In Our Space Hero Suits, if this is the direction the girls are headed, then their future is exceedingly bright. And, as her performance on ‘Fuckarias’ will once again attest, Cissi Efraimsson is easily one of the most solid (and under-appreciated) drummers in pop music. Seriously. Watch the video.

As if I needed another reason to be depressed about missing Bowlie 2…

Those Dancing Days are set to release their sophomore album, Daydreams and Nightmares, on the first of March. For now, download ‘Fuckarias’ for free.

God, I love these ladies!

Give and take

I have two very special things for you tonight.

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

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

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

Look, mp3s! Legal ones!

I have mentioned Super Desserts before (way back when no one was reading this blog), but several months ago, I promised them a full review of their album. Barefoot in the Disenchanted Forest really isn’t like any album you’ve seen/heard before. Then again, super Desserts aren’t like any band you’ve ever seen/heard before. For instance, when was the last time you paid $5 for 21 songs with titles like “Under the Guise of Darkness, Clara’s Hands Look Like Ninja Fighting Stars (We Won’t Talk About Her Nose)” on a CD with a 26 page photocopied collage booklet packaged in a 7-inch vinyl record sleeve? For that matter, how many bands have you seen that use glockenspiel, ukulele, banjo, and sitar along with strings simultaneously, all the while reveling in the melodic capabilities of the bass clarinet? Are you starting to get the picture?

“Ghost Song” mp3

“Fran’s Song” mp3

Clearly, I cannot address every song, so we’ll just stick with a few of the highlights. “Four Seasons” (yes, each track has an alternate, simpler title) is a great opener, if only because, within 20 seconds, you have a clear sense of how intricate Super Desserts’ instrumental textures really are. (It is, however, a great song in its own right.) The track opens with ukulele, shaker, and glockenspiel for a few measures before adding banjo, harpsichord, and bass clarinet and, finally, choral, sing-along-style vocals. (And that’s the thing about this band, every song is like listening to a group of friends gathered in a pub or someone’s living room or round a campfire with whatever instruments they have on hand, singing and playing for the love of music. And that is just what every Super Desserts show is like. It’s the kind of genuineness that Fleet Foxes might have been capable of were they not from the self-obsessed Pacific Northwest.)

Eight tracks in is the clever two-minute gem, “Ghost Song” (written by Justin Riley). Who could not love a song with lyrics like “And if you are ever feeling lonely / Have a little séance and I’ll talk to you,” or “Maybe I can join a band of angels. / I may not have a body, but I’ve still got soul”. Late in the album falls “Jump Out of the Way”, one of Eve’s. The second half of this song is particularly stellar as the whole band joins the fray in a manner similar to the second half of Nickel Creek’s “Helena”, but in a somewhat stripped down (in volume only) sense. There are several other great tracks worth mentioning, like “Funeral” (“I once made out with my cousin from Cleveland / I thought she was beautiful / When my sister caught us (Oh no! Oh no!) / We were so embarrassed.”) or “Peckin’” (based on a poem by Shel Silverstein and a melody by some local fifth graders) which returns as an instrumental in a blues rock jam at the end of the Southern gospel revival style “Hammock”.

I want close out this review with one last song, my favorite, “Fran’s Song”. Despite an altogether uninteresting title (even the longer version is somewhat ordinary: “Clara is Sitting on a Sofa Next to Her Half-Brother and is Having a Completely Normal Conversation with Him”), it is the standout for me. This is as close as Super Desserts get to a normal song and the only time piano/glockenspiel-ist Fran Litterski (who also wrote it) takes center-stage. And I think it’s that ordinariness that most resonates with me. Her voice is sweet and pleasant to listen to, which further elucidates some of the prettiest, purest lyrics on this record (“I find it beautiful when I see older people holding hands. / I see that and I want it so bad, / but I know that there’s a life to live right here before that comes / I just want to know that it is something that I’ll have.”) Even a “hardened critic” like myself feels that way sometimes (read: constantly) and cannot help but melt upon hearing them here. (I had better stop listening to this song soon, or my nascent crush on Ms. Litterski is just going to get worse, and we all know how badly those things work out for me.)

Anyway, I’ve talked a lot and you’re probably bored, but I like Super Desserts. A lot. So, check out the MySpace and the website and the mp3s (above and below) and the Facebook and our Facebook and I’ll leave you alone now.

“Ghost Song” mp3

“Fran’s Song” mp3

Laziness takes lots of energy

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit lazy with my posts lately. If you haven’t, pay attention, because I am about to be lazy again. How lazy? Today, I am going to tell you about a band that broke up eight years which aligns nicely with a tale of serendipitous googling that I am going to (in the name of Dickensian expediency) save for another post later in the week. But first I am going to tell you about some CDs I got from Subroutine today.

Today I got some CDs from Subroutine Records, namely AC Berkheimer and the Sugarettes. You may remember them from Dutch Week. If you weren’t with us for Dutch Week, you can find them in the drop down menu to the right. I also got my autographed copy of the new 7-inch from the Joy Formidable. I trust you all have yours by now as well, since I’ve been urging you for months to order one.

Anyway, on with the irrelevant posting. I mentioned Universal Hall Pass on Facebook on Friday. Did you listen? It doesn’t really matter, because I am talking about Splashdown tonight.

Splashdown were one of those indefinable fusion-type bands drawing on elements of electronica, jazz, and trip hop. Add to that the vocals of Melissa Kaplan who can turn a Middle Eastern maqam like nobody’s business (if you’ve listened to UHP, you know this already) and you can have no trouble understanding how, in their five years together, Splashdown won such a dedicated following. In that time, the band released two EPs (Halfworld and Redshift) and an LP (Stars and Garters)

I am going to come right out and say that I really like Stars and Garters. And I have no trouble admitting that I like it for primarily one reason. “So Ha” has got to be one of the best tracks on any album that I have ever heard. It will take you a month just to figure out the time signature, if you can settle on one at all. I’ve been listening for over a year and the is what I’ve got: 16/8; 10/8; 6/8; 2/4; and 12/8 (both 3+3+3+3 and 3+3+2+2+2, often simultaneously). A couple minutes of this, and even Brahms would have been all cross-eyed and sweaty.

The band also recorded two other LPs (Blueshift and Possibilities), both of which were shelved by Capitol Records at the time of the band’s demise and will never be released. It’s a funny thing about record labels though. No one really cares what they think anymore. I know I don’t (or else I’d be gagging for, or thanks to, Tinted Windows like those other people). The band now encourage fans to share their music, for free, even the “never-to-be” released LPs (silly record execs). You can find most of them (and a few live recordings) here and check here to pick up a copy of Redshift.

If you like what you hear from Splashdown, check out Freezepop and Symbion Project, both projects by Kasson Crooker as well as Anarchy Club which is not so much my thing, but it is the current musical home of Adam Buhler. I hope you know by now the name of the other band I think you should check out.

Sumer is icumen in

We haven’t posted in a couple of days, so here’s a quick one for you. I say “quick” because, if you act quickly, you can download lal meri’s “Dreams of 18” for free at Amazon. It’s only available today (3 May), but if you miss it, just head over to the band’s MySpace where there is a widget that will let you download it tomorrow or whenever. Also, I have a widget for you, no downloads, though. If you click it (which a lot of you won’t for some reason) and it works (which these things never seem to do), you will hear exactly what you’d expect from a Six Degrees band.

What’s that? You say you don’t know what to expect from San Francisco’s Six Degrees Records? You’d better click that button, then. And also, know that you’re missing out on one of my all-time favorite labels (Pacificka, CéU, Bebel Gilberto, and Cibelle once upon a time). Lal meri, like the others, has that trademark laid back sound but with a distinct Indian influences (sadly I can’t differentiate between North and South Indian influences anymore, but it’s good to hear a tabla outside of a World Music class). Add to that Nancy Kaye’s vocals (which have that sandy Fiona Apple quality) and the occasional guest spot from the lovely Pooja Lal and you’ve got a sort of Indian trip hop with a Brazillian flourish. It’s perfect for summer. Very sexy. Sexy is good.