Around the World with the Yearning

ER-1223For nearly 30 years, Elefant Records out of Madrid has been refuge for musicians out of step with the present. Whether it’s Brill Building throwbacks like The School or disco holdovers like Fitness Forever, Elefant artists more often than not feel as if they’ve been plucked from a different era.

Take Me All Over the World, the latest from The Yearning, finds multi-talented songwriter and instrumentalist Joe Moore looking back into the past, finding inspiration in the age of Getz and Gilberto. The six tracks on Take Me All Over the World are well-steeped in all the hallmarks of the bossa nova era while occasionally veering off for a dalliance with French chanson.

It is not simply the instrumentation which draws such an easy comparison to the classic bossa nova recordings of the early 1960s. It was an era when easy lyricism and reasonable melodies were considered assets (decades before we decided that singers who looked like they were in extreme pain were superior musicians). Maddie Dobie’s vocals perfectly recall the star turns of Astrud Gilberto whose landmark recordings, you may recall, sound more like a wistful sigh than a pop star with something to prove.

Music-making is a universal human impulse, singing as natural as speech. There is no sin in intricacy or complexity. Neither is there any shame in effortlessness. All too often, we forget that. The Yearning have not, eschewing the laborious shouting often mistaken for singing in favor of approachable melodies that actually allow the lyrics to do the talking. For those of us hoping against hope for a return to an age before “more notes more loudly” became the dominant philosophy of Pop Vocalism, The Yearning may be exactly what we’ve been—well—yearning for.

Take Me All Over The World is available CD, Digital, and 10″ vinyl from Elefant Records.

Advertisements

On Pins and Hot Sand

The last time I saw Fever Fever, it was 3AM, the waning hours of Canadian Music Week and the end of a long day including a wake for the White Stripes and more coffee than should ever be consumed by any reasonable human being. And though I’ve been pretty much useless since I left them in the narrow cramped corridor backstage at Toronto’s Rivoli nightclub, with major festival appearances on both sides of the Atlantic and a new album in the works, the band have been anything but. I said a while back that I was really excited about some stuff coming up on new Norwich label Gravy Records – well, this is what I was talking about.

‘Pins’ is the first proper single to be lifted from the Fever Fever’s upcoming album and, like the free single (‘Teeth’) released earlier in the summer, finds sees band in the studio with producer Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey; Anna Calvi). It’s a formula that seems to be working, because ‘Pins’ finds the Norwich trio in top form. It’s the sharpest thing we’ve heard since ‘Monster’ broke out and bashed our faces in 18 months ago. Have a listen and maybe you’ll begin to understand why I ran halfway across downtown Toronto at 2AM to hear them. Just be careful you don’t hurt yourself.

‘Pins’ is available as a digital download and a (very) limited screen printed CD single.

Speaking of big things from tiny labels, Hollows (from my old home, Chicago) have put out a couple of domestic releases – a 7-inch on Trouble In Mind and an LP on Addenda (good luck getting your hands on that one) – but now they’ve taken their organ-driven pseudo surf across the pond to Soft Power Records (indiepop offshoot of online record shop Soft Power UK). Now the kids at Soft Power have been making a valiant go at it since the label launched about a year ago, but imagine my surprise last week when I learned they had managed to release a single by one of my favourite bands from here in the good old Midwest without me noticing.

However it happened, I’m glad it did. They’re an ideal pairing (this from a guy who’s spent the last week caught in a C86 vortex). The recent disintegration of The Like has left a gaping hole in the 60s girl group sound. They’re some pretty big shoes to fill, but, for my money, Hollows are the band to do it. And with another dark December looming ahead of us, the summery sounds of Hollows are just what we all need to keep us warm through those grey Scotland days and frigid Chicago nights (not to mention, ‘Hot Sand’ is the perfect soundtrack for that ironic midwinter beach party I know you’re all planning).

The single, ‘Hot Sand’ b/w ‘Shapeshifter’ (limited to 300 copies) is available from a handful of retailers, including Soft Power UK (naturally).

We’re So DIY!

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from Seattle’s Math and Physics Club (well, technically not for me since I first heard them just as I was getting involved in this blogging racket about 15 months ago). But it’s been three years since the release of the band’s last EP, Baby I’m Yours. So, for the collective “we”, I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do is another bright spot in a year that is producing no shortage of indie pop magic. Then again, what else do you expect from Matinée Recordings?

From the opening bars of “Jimmy had a Polaroid” (also the first single off the album), the boys staked their claim to a permanent spot in my amorphous summer road-trip rotation, further cementing their position with the singable shuffle of “We Make a Pair”. Frequently, I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do finds Charles Bert’s vocals reminiscent of the tonal clarity of Sondre Lerche, especially on tracks like the sparkling “Will You Still Love Me” (alongside Jen Garrett [Stuporville]) and the traipsing theatrics of “Everybody Loves a Showtune” (which could easily be mistaken for a lost New Vaudeville Band B-side).

And of course I have to mention the closer “We’re So DIY”, which I am unofficially adopting as our official theme song. Check us out selling records in the back. / Hand-designed custom jacket with a badge. / We’ll never carry up the charts / but we’ll be the indie stars / that everybody hearts. / We’re so DIY! I couldn’t have said it better myself (in fact, I am half tempted to replace the “About Us” page with the lyrics to this song). It is clear from this album that Math and Physics Club know the way to an indie kid’s heart and, for the rest of the general public who don’t already, they’ve provided a road map. The whole trip will take about 25 minutes.

Download – Math and Physics Club, “Jimmy Had a Polaroid” mp3

Also from Matinée this month is Dealing In Antiques, a 20-track collection of EPs, B-sides, and new recordings by Finland’s Cats On Fire. Dealing In Antiques is essential for anyone who loves good pop music, Scandinavia, or the lingering ghost of the Smiths. Oh, by the way, most of the EPs these tracks are taken from are sold-out, so this is the only way you’re going to hear them. So, buy it. It’s 20 tracks and a brilliant investment, at least it is if you’re sort of person who likes the sort of music that you can enjoy. It’s provided hours of entertainment for me since I first listened to it last week—that is, when I haven’t been busy reveling in Math and Physics Club (see above).

Download – Cats On Fire, “Your Woman” mp3

J’adore Eux Autres

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

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

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

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

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

Loveless Unbeliever

Score: 99

I find it ironic that Loveless Unbeliever, the debut LP from The School, begins “An apology for today, an apology for a lifetime”, because I feel I owe them an apology. I recently discovered that, in my first posts about them (over a year ago, now), I called The School “twee”. I was young and new to this business, but now that I know better, it is only fair that I admit my mistake.

There’s more to The School than twee, of course. They’ve carved out a niche in that sliver of sixties throwback between Camera Obscura and The Pipettes—and what a home they’ve made there! For my money, no one embodies the golden age of pop music better than the kids from Cardiff. Loveless Unbeliever is replete with all the memorable hooks, striking melodies, and tasteful orchestrations, and Liz Hunt’s vocals are nothing short of intoxicating—I still get chills every time I listen to “I don’t believe in love” (also featuring former drummer Rob, now of Voluntary Butler Scheme).

The long-awaited LP includes most of The School’s hard-to-find early material (it’s missing Christmasy songs, including my favorite “Kiss you in the snow”, and “And Suddenly”, a Left Banke cover). And it’s a good thing the old releases have been included, because amongst them are some of the band’s best songs, such as: “Let it slip” which is essentially a perfect pop song, and “I don’t believe in love”, with a melody as sweeping as the lyrics are heartbreaking. And, lest you get the impression that this is an album built on the strength of recycled material, the seven new songs are every bit as memorable as the old stuff. The first single, “Is he really coming home”, picks up right where the Let It Slip EP left off, whilst “Can’t understand” and “Hoping and praying”are two of the most unabashedly fun tracks on the album.

Loveless Unbeliever has been a long time coming. The School were signed to Elefant Records in 2007. In the meantime, there have been some lineup changes and a quite a fuss over their early EP and singles—no doubt all contributing factors to the long wait for this album. Then again, maybe that’s just how long it takes when you set out produce an “album…full of pop hits”. Regardless, there is no filler on Loveless Unbeliever, only 37 minutes perfect indie pop that will spend weeks at a time in your stereo (personally, I’ve just reached the one month mark). Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another three years for The School’s next LP, but, if it’s even half as good as this one, it will have been well worth the wait.

[For more, read our interview with The School]

I take it back, I take it back!

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

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

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

——————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I had friends in Bellwoods

There is one word for the way I have been feeling recently: unmotivated.  Can we just get that out of the way?  Great, thanks.  I apologize.  We’ve had snow days for the past three days (don’t ask how much snow we’ve gotten–it’s really shameful.  Hampton Roads is not capable of handling any amount of snow whatsoever) and so now I have the opportunity to sit down and listen and write and not have all my energy zapped by my day job.  The only problem I have now is that the cat is using me as his monkey bars.

Because my cool high school friend Reid gives me music sometimes, I have been listening to Evening Hymns’ Spirit Guides.  I was going to do a write-up on that first, but now I have discovered Ohbijou and I think because they are sort of Evening Hymns’ roots, I will write about them first.  Ohbijou is from Canada, and something cool is that in 2007, they put together a compilation CD for Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank called Friends in Bellwoods, which is named after a house where 2 of the members live in Toronto, and they just got their friends together and made an album, I guess.  I like those kinds of things, I think they’re pretty cool.

But I’m not going to talk about Friends in Bellwoods because I’m going to talk about their most recent not-Friends-in-Bellwoods (2009) album, Beacons.  It is one of the albums that reminds me that I should never make “best of” lists because I can never listen to enough music to know if I’m really covering the best.  Who knows what’s out there that hasn’t been heard?  I wish I had heard this before I’d made my best of 2009 list.   Beacons was released by Darling You Inc., under exclusive license to Last Gang Records, and it features some of TIH’s favorite instruments, like glock, harpsichord, violin, electric piano, and mandolin.  The atmosphere of the album is perhaps what makes it so special(duh).  Reminiscent of The New Pornographers or Mates of State, bass and/or piano and/or strings often provide a nice driving bassline as a foundation for more layers upon layers, building into eventual catharsis…my favorite.  “New Years” and “Memoriam” are both perfect examples of this.

Something else I should mention: Casey’s voice = beautiful.  I’ve heard some complaints from mostly really annoying people who I don’t like very much in the first place about how “indie girls all sing the same way.”  Well, if you think “indie girls all sing the same way,” you don’t listen to enough good music.  I understand where the sentiment comes from if you have only ever heard Paramore and Flyleaf and A Fine Frenzy, but if you have heard the White Stripes and Stars and Samantha Crain and Belle & Sebastian and God Help the Girl and Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis and Ohbijou, you would think before you spoke.  Also, I’m sorry, but what is indie in the first place????  I still don’t know and refuse to concern myself with it.  All this to say, Casey’s voice is uniquely lovely and flexible–haunting, strong, and delicate.  So if you are under the impression that “all indie girls sing the same way,” you have 2 choices.  You may stop reading this blog and continue complaining, or you may listen to Ohbijou and sit in awe at the vocals.

And Casey’s haunting voice matches the lyrics.  This is an album for winter, I think, exemplified on “Black Ice” (the winter brings a heaviness/this weight is a hand/over the things i shouldn’t say/there’s black ice, no sign) and “Cannon March” (mother shoot those cannons off/destroy this wicked place/the winter brings peculiar things/to thaw and leave no trace).  The lyrics are poetry, beautiful even apart from the music and fantastically complemented by it.  All in all, I suppose the album is pretty dark, but there are traces of light and hope that make it anything but depressing.  I don’t know.  I enjoy it.

Some of my favorite tracks are “Wildfires,” “Eloise and the Bones,” and “Make It Gold.”  “Wildfires” is great because it drives, and Casey’s voice is especially well-suited to the long phrasing.  I adore the ups and downs of the phrasing, the syncopation of the melodic line juxtaposed with the constant driving percussive downbeats and bassline.  I don’t know what I love about “Eloise and the Bones”–the lyrics aren’t so much lighter, but the sound is, and I think I really appreciate that.  “Make It Gold” has precious music box feel at the beginning which is done really well–I find that bands can easily screw this up and make it feel gimicky, but Ohbijou doesn’t–instead, it’s tender and a bit nostalgic, until again, the layers build and end in catharsis.  My favorite thing.

If you want to listen, check out www.myspace.com/ohbijou.