The Pernice Brothers Play “Working Girls”

Listen to this track by Dorchester Massachusetts indie-pop concern The Pernice Brothers. It’s “Working Girls”, the lead track off of their 2001 album World Won’t End, their second full-length record.

The record was released on their own label after a brief hiatus between this one and their debut, plus side projects from principle songwriter Joe Pernice. Previous to this band, Pernice and his brother Bob had been in alt-country band The Scud Mountain Boys. With this new fraternally monikered band formed in 1997, it’s the jangly sunshine of a mid-to-late sixties strain West Coast pop that is the primary set of colours to be heard.

With that sound established, the lyrical content of the tunes is less of the hopeful variety, and more in line with themes of quiet desperation. This song is one of the best examples of that tension between sunshiny music, and distinctly cloud-covered words. Who is the central character here, and what does this song have to say about her? Well, that she’s a dreamer in a dead end job, unable to remove herself from her course. How many people do we know like that? Perhaps none that will confide in us about their situations, or even admit it to themselves. Maybe we can relate to her more directly than we’d like to ourselves.

As such, maybe it’s not just this one person being sung about in this tune. And maybe too this isn’t just about being frustrated in one’s job, either. Read more

Joel Willoughby Sings “Hazelnut Moon”

Listen to this track by folk-pop singer-songwriter who hails from just down the road from where this is being written – Abbotsford, British Columbia. It’s Joel Willoughby with the single “Hazelnut Moon”, as taken from his 2010 EP Rain & Pocket Change, his third EP.

Even though Willoughby is a local artist to this blog, he was raised abroad, specifically in Kenya where he attended an English boarding school. It was while he was abroad that he picked up a sense of the world’s diversity. And it was during this period that his imaginative impulses as a songwriter emerged.

Joel Willoughby
Joel Willoughby (courtesy of

Later, he’d be a member of Maplewood Lane, and Dawntreader – as a drummer. Then, it was coffeehouses and folk festivals as a solo artist here in the Pacific Northwest, along with two EPs (Closer to Home in 2004, and Do You Have Something To Say? in 2008).

Here on this song, it’s the pop hooks and an almost child-like sensibility that makes it shine. Easily avoiding the trap of being over-earnest, there’s whimsy to be found here to balance off what can be found in the lyrics; a song about being unavoidably in love, and knowing that the end is inevitable even before it starts.

Apart from the lyrics, it’s the arrangement that makes it an appealing pop confection, with subtle electronics, ebullient mallet percussion, and sparkling banjo supporting a wide instrumental spectrum. Maybe it’s the whistling part that caps it off, an element that is irresistible enough to have enabled the song to enjoy some radio play here locally, and to be an effervescent feature on stage in front of a crowd too.

Last week, I got to see Joel, along with keyboardist and singer Lindy Enns, and multi-instrumentalist (and producer) Jonathan Anderson, at the Biltmore Cabaret.

And we all whistled along.

If you want to whistle along at home, and for those of you who are more visually-inclined, check out the video for “Hazelnut Moon”, which is of the same spirit as the song itself, created by James Adkins.

To catch Joel Willoughby live yourself, you can review the show schedules at

Also, be sure to check out his newest EP, with the self-evident title of The Radio Friendly EP, which features a new track, plus some remixes of some of his older material.


Catlow Plays “House Arrest”

Listen to this track by former Dirtmitts vocalist Natasha Thirsk’s solo project Catlow. It’s “House Arrest”, a track from her most recent record Pinkly Things, the long-awaited follow-up to her debut Kiss The World, and recorded right here in Vancouver.

The song is a jangly, spangly, pinkly, pop song that hearkens back to the days of classic pop radio, with Thirsk’s ebullient vocals not a million miles away from Debbie Harry, and with several sumptuous references to that same anthemic sound that mixes rock instruments with synths.

When her former outfit The Dirtmitts disolved after their second record, mostly due to various members’ family commitments and subsequent moves, Thirsk needed to start again. The result of that initial impulse was 2006’s Kiss The World under the name Catlow; a new name for a new beginning, and with a new set of musical landscapes drawing from influences as disparate as New Order to BRMC.

It was a time to blaze a new trail for herself, now well established. Among other things that happened around the time of her debut, her solo work gained some new ears when her song “I Am Loved” was featured in an episode of Being Human, a show based (even if its not set) in Vancouver, much like Thirsk herself.

Like her past work on the debut, “House Arrest” and the new record off of which it comes is a highly accessible, yet sonically varied, making for some compelling 21st century power pop . The song was recorded in Vancouver’s The Factory, co-produced with Marcel Rambo and Hayz Fischer. In addition to collaborations on the production side, Thirsk sought out collaborators on the songs as well, working with Dave Hodge, Jamie Di Salvio of Bran Van 3000, and Mike Miguel Sanchez, to name a few.

“House Arrest” is the first single to the record, which you can buy on iTunes along with the rest of the album.

To connect with Natasha and her fans, be sure and “like” the official Catlow Facebook page.


[UPDATE: July 11, 2012]

Catlow is playing live here in Vancouver. Here are the dates, good people:

July 12: Vancouver, BC @ Electric Owl
July 14: Savary Island, BC @ Riggers Pub
July 28: North Vancouver, BC @ Cates Park (MusArt Festival, 5pm)

The Sundays Perform ‘Here’s Where The Story Ends’

sundays-readingwritingarithmeticListen to this song by fey-indie poster children The Sundays, as led by the ethereally-voiced Harriet Wheeler.  This would be the band to inspire a great many indie-pop bands on both sides of the Atlantic, from The Cardigans to Sixpence None The Richer. The song is taken from the band’s 1990 debut album, and accepted as their masterpiece, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

To me, the Sundays serve as something of a bridge between the 80s and the 90s, from the garish, dance-obsessed, over-produced world of 80s pop to the spare basics of guitar-bass-drum-voice that became so highly valued later.   And “Here’s Where the Story Ends” is interestingly titled in that respect; that the aesthetics of pop music were shifting yet again, and that one era was switching over to the next.

Yet, The Sundays and this song didn’t come out of nowhere.  The band formed when the Smiths were making waves in Britain, and were making their mark on the way pop music as made by guitar bands.  The Sundays were certainly included in this trend, with Harriet Wheeler becoming something of a light-and-airy texture that perhaps is something of a cheerier cousin to that of Morrisey’s  contrasting Noel Coward-esque moan.

But, while many bands were allying themselves to the burgeoning baggy scene, centred in the Northwest of Britain at the end of the 80s, The Sundays were bringing it all back home for the next decade.  There are no dance-rock textures to be found here.  But, the seeds of indie guitar music from that point on could be found in their music, breaking out of provincial Britain and branching out to Europe, and the States, where this album went gold.

If the story was ending in once sense, it was certainly the beginning of another story.


Kingsbury Manx Play “Porchlight”

Kingsbury Manx Let You DownHere’s a clip of ambient guitar band Kingsbury Manx with a live version of their 2000 cut “Porchlight”, my favourite track from their album Let You Down.

As far as how guitar rock has evolved in this decade, I think one stream of that evolution rests in the idea of mood and restraint.  In this, Kingsbury Manx who hail from North Carolina, are major proponents even if they go largely unsung in the wider world.  When I first heard Doves, a band from England who may be a bit higher profile, I thought of these guys immediately.  I think both bands are exploring similar sonic territory, with a traditional guitar, bass, drums used as a means of creating an atmosphere, not unlike an approach with sequencers and laptop technology allows electronica acts.

I picked up Let You Down in Camden in London, based upon the strength of a review.  And I was both surprised by its simplicity, and haunted by the way it used traditional rock instruments to set a scene.  And the vocals on the album served no different a purpose.

At that time, Radiohead had released Kid A, and everyone was musing about the death of indie guitar rock, with several “post-rock’ albums in the wings to represent the new dawn for the guitar on rock albums.  Where I don’t think this record held the keys to the future in that respect, I do think it repositions what a guitar-bass-drums set up can mean – instruments to create a mood, not necessarily to bolster traditional pop songs in a rock idiom.

For more recent music from these guys, check out this video by Kingsbury Manx which really brings out their “Simon & Garfunkel Meets Pink Floyd” sound.


Lambchop “Up With People” Re-Mixed by Zero 7

Listen to this track of the Zero 7 re-mix of Lambchop’s “Up With People”, a track featured in its original form on the Nashville collective’s Nixon album from 2000.

Lambchop emerged in the mid-90s, a collective of musicians under the musical direction of vocalist and songwriter Kurt Wagner.  With an eclectic mix of styles, the group are identified mainly by the sort of brittle beauty to be found in the arrangements, and in Wagner’s impressionistic lyrics, delivered in a hushed sung-spoken baritone, as if being whispered in your ear.  Although in the centre of it all in Nashville, the band’s major appeal is in the UK, which may be how British duo Zero 7 came to serve as re-mix producers on this tune.

It’s hard to place exactly where this song fits in terms of genre.  It certainly touches on the restrained sub genre of Americana, with some orchestral pop overtones, choral gospel and smooth soul thrown in. This is true of most of Lambchop’s music, which may be one of the reasons it’s so compelling.

Ultimately, “Up With People” is a mood piece about the state of the world, about our lack of perspective as to where we’re steering our own destiny.  The cool lounge-jazz that vaguely evokes a 70s feel brought out in the re-mix really bring out some of the contrast in it.  The song itself is successful in mirroring what many consider to be a pervasive form of delusional optimism that the world will take care of itself, even as ‘we are screwing up our lives today’.  If the sound of the song embodies the optimism, then Wagner’s lyrics undercut it by revealing the foolhardy choice of not taking responsibility for the excesses of our culture.

For more about Lambchop, check out their MySpace page

And for Zero 7, you’d do well to check our their MySpace page too