They make reggae in Iowa?

I’ve been learning some interesting things about Malta this week. Yes, I’ve learned about demographics and language and whatever, but I am thinking of more important things here, namely the musical culture. I have learned, for instance, that there seems to be a surprisingly high concentration of reggae and ska acts on this island. (If any of our Maltese friends can explain this to me, I would love to know why. Geographically, Malta is a wee bit removed from Jamaica. Then again, I recently learned that someone I know is a particular fan of a reggae band from Iowa, so I suppose it can come from anywhere. Also, props to The Riffs for a legitimately entertaining ska version of “Smoke on the Water”.) I’ve got one of those reggae influenced Maltese acts for you in this post, as well as one which is less than reggae-ish.

Peklectrick is a project featuring Patrick Galea (formerly guitarist for Dripht, a band which also included two current members of nosnow/noalps [there’s that pesky incestuous streak again]). It would be unfair to call this straight-up reggae. Yes, the reggae-style guitar upstroke patterns are there, but add a bit of overdrive to soften the attack and Peklectrick begins to lean more in the direction of ska. And with Patrick’s half sung, half spoken vocals, he demonstrates once again something we have been telling you all week: the music of Malta deserves your attention. Check out “Reclaiming Space” on his MySpace page.

Danjeli is not a reggae act. Really, it’s nothing like reggae, or like anything else we’ve featured on the Indie Handbook thus far. Danjeli is Daniel Schembri. With a list of influences ranging from Aphex Twin and Autechre to Luciano Berio and Iannis Xenakis, one thing is clear: Danjeli is a DJ after my own heart. His MySpace lists IDM among the genres attributable to Danjeli’s music. That is not to say it is nearly as cerebral as Autechre or, say, Venetian Snares but there is still plenty to love. Take “Festin Unfinished”, for example. At first glance, it’s got a music boxy, children at play sort of sound. But as the drums kick in and the music builds something of a Yann Tiersen feel begins to emerge (think Amelie). If you only listen to one of his tracks, listen to this one.

I hear it’s nice in the winter time

If you’ve been with us for a while, you remember Dutch Week, which went over surprisingly well with you people. Since then, Kristin and I have been dying to do another theme week. We considered taking on the Netherlands again because there is still so much incredible music we haven’t addressed yet, but instead, we are heading south to a place with a surprising amount of great music being created by a population of just over 400,000. That’s right, I’ve been promising this for a few weeks now, and here it is. It is time for MALTA MAYHEM!

We’re going to get things going with my favorite Maltese band (of the ones I have managed to preview thus far). Welcome to the world of nosnow/noalps. This is a band with more than a minor funky streak, just check out the video for “Headset” below. Drawing on equal parts rock, funk, and ska, with boy/girl vocals and some nice guitar work, nosnow/noalps remind me of something like a spiffed up version of CSS and even the art school sound of the Ting Tings (both of which you ought to check out if, for some reason, you didn’t the moment you first heard “Music is my hot, hot sex” on that iPod advert two years ago). There are songs streaming on their MySpace and Facebook pages (we’re on Facebook, too). Check out nosnownoalps.com for other information and stuff not available on either of those other pages.

One last bit of news completely unrelated to Malta Mayhem. Indie Handbook favorites The Joy Formidable released their new single, “Whirring” on 7″ vinyl today (if you are a fan of TIH on Facebook, you already know this). The single includes an alternate version of “Whirring” in Welsh. Visit our Facebook page to see a video for the Welsh version, or just Google it. Of course, it’s too late to pre-order the single and have your name entered into the drawing for the Joy Formidable golden ticket, but I’m sure they will still sell you the record anyway.

And suddenly, the world is full of sunshine

Welsh shoop-pop darlings, The School, are in the studio this week to begin work on their debut LP. It is already in the running for album of the year in my book and it doesn’t even exist yet. I have posted several links to their MySpace because not enough of you followed the one I posted in this entry. Seriously, since I posted that entry, their music has been running through my head nonstop. I have a Belle & Sebastian / Tilly & the Wall type love for this band. They had better release this LP soon, because I’m getting antsy.

Speaking of which, I still can’t find the new St. Vincent record and it’s starting to get annoying. One more indie store left to check, otherwise I just have to wait and browse incessantly.

So, no St. Vincent post (again), but I’ve got something equally fabulous for you. I went to my first Manchester Orchestra show last night, and not just because, apparently Andy’s father (at least I think it’s him) serves on some board with my uncle and my dad, but because I was promised it would be the best show of my life. So maybe Jeremy was wrong and it wasn’t the best, but was a great show. The most impressive thing being that, for the first time in years, I saw three amazing opening acts who, in my mind, were on par with the headliner. You ought to check them all out:

Fun

Audrye Sessions

Winston Audio

We will get to all of them eventually, but for now I want to focus on Winston Audio because they took the stage first and, due to a scheduling mix-up on my part, I missed half of their set. If you are planning to attend any of the remaining dates on this tour, do not, make that mistake. (And if you are not planning to be there, change your plans and get there on time.) We are talking solid rock here, like a blues infused southern grunge, cleaned up but still sufficiently scruffy. Think of something on the heavier side of Consolers of the Lonely era Raconteurs, minus the electric presence of Jack White. (This is no fault of Winston Audio, of course, there are maybe three people in the world who can begin to approach that Jack White aura.) I am posting a video below. The sound is kind of tenuous, but listen closely and you might hear a tinge of “Carolina Drama”. Of course, you could visit their MySpace to here a higher quality recording from their new album, The Red Rhythm.

Seriously, catch this tour if it comes anywhere near you, it is a power-packed lineup. Winston Audio will also be heading out on the road again in late summer, in August, I believe.

Dutch Week, Part the Third: Ember

Today, Kristin and I heard from one kind reader offering to answer any questions we may have about the Dutch. Admittedly, my knowledge of the Netherlands is limited by the fact that: a) I am not Dutch and b) I have never been there. I would like to invite any of you Dutch folks reading this (and I know there are some of you) to share with us anything you think we ought to know, though I can’t think of any specific questions at the moment. For now, here is a short list of a few things I do know about the Dutch:

1) They are tall.

2) They speak better English than most Americans I know.

3) They are, consistently and without exception, among the most excruciatingly beautiful people in the world.

4) Tulips.

5) They have a killer football team with a relentless and potent attack style offense and an luminous orange kit that can surely be scene from the moon who, ultimately, did not live up to my expectations in the last European Cup.

6) Yes, Kristin, Dutch is a language.

7) The music scene is, apparently, perfect.

Take, for example, Ember, a five piece from Haarlem/Amsterdam. No pretentious, abstract descriptions are necessary to categorize Ember, and apparently the band agrees, content with a one word description. They are a rock band. That is all they are. And that is all they ever need be. It’s like Letters to Cleo as Josie and the Pussycats, slightly tousled, with a flair for the dramatic, and Dutch.

But don’t take my word for it. Please, please, please go listen for yourself (I say please because I know that most of you have still not downloaded The Very Sexuals’ Post-Apocalyptic Love like I told you to). There are three tracks up on their MySpace. I would love to describe them to you, but my internet connection has gone wonky on me and I can’t even begin to think about streaming anything. But I was really digging it this afternoon.

Coincidentally, I found these guys through a link on We Swim You Jump‘s MySpace (yes, in fact there is a bit of an incestuous streak running through The Indie Handbook). So, if you have failed to stay current on our Dutch Week festivities thus far, I suggest you get caught up. Come Saturday, you’ll wish you had.

Now that I think of it, I do have one question for you all:

Do you know my Dutch friend? She lives in Amsterdam.

Brian McSweeney again (thank God!)

Did you all do the responsible thing and listen to the Joy Formidable? If you didn’t, no worries, I will continue ramming them down your throats in the future. But now for a glance into my past.

In a sense, I grew up with MATTHEW. They formed in Chicago in 2000, were picked up by Rykodisc in 2001, and released their first album, Everybody Down, in 2002, during my Freshman year in college (just outside of Chicago). But more than that, the band includes former members of Seven Day Jesus and All Star United, two of my favorite bands from high school, both of which played at the second rock and roll show I ever attended. (Another member of ASU went to my little college and lived in the room next door to mine [or so I’ve been told] 10 years before I did.)

I bought that album soon after its release, thrilled to see Brian McSweeney’s (of SDJ) return to the music scene. I loved that record. The most immediately noticeable characteristic of MATTHEW’s music is McSweeney’s seemingly endless voice. It is the heart and soul of this album. His seamless blend of power and falsetto lend such a plaintive quality to every word he sings, you will want to follow him everywhere. Just listen to him sing at the end of “The Darkest Night”: “We’ll shine among the stars…there’ll be no dark/consumed within your fire/we’ll blaze with no restraints…in love…alive”. Seriously, guys. Go listen to it on their MySpace and tell me I’m wrong (hint: I am not). Everybody Down got me through my Freshman year, and many stressful times that followed.

In early 2003, word in the blogosphere was that MATTHEW were headed back into the studio. But, while touring in support of the first record, Rykodisc dropped the band. I thought they were gone forever. According to MySpace, though, the band have finally put out a self-released follow-up, Army of the Rabbit and Mouse. It is supposedly more organic and less slick than the first record. I can’t say for sure. None of the songs are posted on the site.

But I don’t need a preview. I trust this band implicitly. Now, I just need to figure out where to find a copy.

Don’t get dramatic, this ain’t the movies

The mark of a great album is that your favorite song will change every week or two.  Real life example: David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.  Can you really pick a favorite?  First it will be “Changes” because even though it’s way overrated and you want to be cool, it will be the first Bowie song you ever hear and will suck you in immediately; then it will be “Life On Mars,” then “Queen Bitch,” then eventually you’ll wrap back around to “Oh! You Pretty Things” until you finish off with “Bewlay Brothers” before you realize that “Bombers” is really freaking awesome…

But I’m not here to talk about Bowie, as much as I love him and his fancy outfits.  I’m here to talk about Dear and the Headlights’ sophomore album, Drunk Like Bible Times, which was released back in September on the indie record label Equal Vision.  Dear and the Headlights are living proof that you don’t have to be “indie” to be indie.  They have no silly instruments, no incredible bios, and no skinny androgynous-looking boys or girls.  They may or may not have written their Wikipedia page themselves, and whether or not anything on the page is true doesn’t really matter because you won’t find any other information about them on their website or their myspace.  Not to mention that their “story” as told by whoever actually did write about them on Wikipedia is maybe the most boring thing I have ever read next to the back of a shampoo bottle.

However, once you’ve listened to this album for about a month, you’ll realize your favorite song has changed at least four or five times because not only is there not a bad song on this album, every track is a gem.  Musically, these guys are fantastic.  The chord progressions are interesting (although unlike Eric, I’ll probably never be able to tell you what they are) and the form changes enough to keep my ADD self from skipping any tracks.  They have good movement over the entire album as well, hooking you with the catchy first track, “I’m Not Crying, You’re Not Crying, Are You?,” leaving you trying to catch up with “Talk About,” and then bringing you back down to peace with “Parallel Lines.”  “I Know” may be the most unexpected track (and the best drinking song), with the drums sounding like a tap dancer and a great little clapping/yelling session at the end.  What really pulls together the band’s raw style, though, is Ian Metzger’s voice.  First he’s singing, then it gets a little too intense and he’s gotta yell for a second, then he’s cool and he’s just gonna sing again.  He’s not Bright Eyes or Bob Dylan, talking through everything, and he’s not freaking Rufus Wainwright, lovely and classically trained.  He’s passionate, vulnerable, and raw, and the rest of the band is right there ready to join him.

While musically, Dear and the Headlights knows what they’re doing and they do it well, they are incredibly lyrically focused.  They are angst without emo and wit without whining, which isn’t surprising; after all, you don’t have to look much further than the name of the band or the name of the album to appreciate their cleverness.  “Talk About” is one huge string of metaphors (“I’m a passed out priest in an AA meeting/and they’re checking my pulse trying to make a decision/I’ve got those rolled back eyes but nothing’s clouding my vision”)-you’ll be speechless by the end of it, after which you will proceed to listen to it as many times as it takes to learn all the words.  The lyrics on “If Not For My Glasses” might err on the side of emo if not for their sheer brilliance (“I love your face, the way it moves, your murky mouth, your eyelid brooms/and I’m feeling that cobweb apprehension…You say I’m your white cast kid, I was born for your cares/ why you gotta label me now?”) but the lack of jadedness on “Parallel Lines” and “Flowers for My Brain” (“We’re swaying in subconscious subways so insane/but your thoughts still bring flowers for my brain/ and I still pull my hands past your ribcage/ hoping my movements might find their place at your side”) proves that they have hope despite their more-than-occasional cynicism.

I could really go on and on about the lyrics on this album, but I’d rather you check them out yourselves.  Any decent cynical idealist will appreciate the wit and the intensity.  And bonus!  You’ll have a new favorite song every week!  As for a sneak preview, you can check out some of their concert videos on myspace, but good luck trying to find any music videos from this album.  My recommendation: grab some beer and some friends and get Drunk Like Bible Times!  (But please drink responsibly.  This is a message from The Indie Handbook.)