Family of the Year Play “Hero”

lomavistaListen to this track by evocative and melodious Los Angeles-based folk-rock with indie rock flourishes outfit Family of the Year. It’s their radio hit “Hero” as taken from  their 2012 album Loma Vista.

“Hero” is the best thing on the radio that I’ve heard in some time. It’s an instantly accessible, and somehow familiar melody of the type that you think you’ve heard before, but haven’t. That’s pretty rare too. Maybe this is the type of tune they’re going to use to play out the end of an episode of some TV show with some soulful teenage lead. Maybe they already have.

But, who cares.

This song carries a poignancy of its own.

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The Breeders Play “Cannonball”

Listen to this track by dual-Deal led, once The Pixies/Throwing Muses offshoot band, The Breeders. It’s their trademark “modern rock” hit “Cannonball” as taken from their 1993 Last Splash album.

The band emerged when two secondary writers from the aforementioned parent bands – Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, respectively – shared tour dates by the end of the 1980s when both of those bands appeared together. This side project gave the two writers a chance to frame their songwriting free from the competition with the primary writers in their bands.

Donnelly’s involvement would be temporary, cutting one record, Pod in 1990, and the Safari EP the following year. Then she bowed out to form yet another group, Belly. Kim Deal took on her twin sister Kelley to replace Donnelly. The two had played music together from an early age, even before Kim joined the Pixies. As such, it would be a reunion of sorts. It would be this line up change which turned out the Breeders’ most popular album in Last Splash, scoring certified platinum sales the year after it was released.

This sterling result was perhaps helped along by the band serving as an open act for Nirvana in 1992. But, whatever the reasons beyond the high quality of the record itself, this song would be an enduring tune for the decade, well-preserved when you hear it on the radio today, of course. And why’s that?

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10 000 Maniacs Play “These Are Days”

Here’s a clip featuring college rock jangle-merchants 10,000 Maniacs. It’s “These Are Days”, a defiantly anthemic, dancing-on-a-gargoyle optimistic tune, the studio version of which to be found on the band’s 1992 disc Our Time in Eden,. That record would be the last one of which to feature founding singer, now solo-artist, Natalie Merchant.

Another version of the song would appear on their  MTV Unplugged live album the following year just before Merchant struck out on her own.  As such, it’s really the perfect end-of-an-era tune for a band who began in 1981, fronted by a seventeen-year-old Merchant, who eventually became a full blown songwriter in her own right, and a very deft one even with this tune alone. She co-wrote this with guitarist Robert Buck, hitting #1 on Billboard’s “Modern Rock” chart.

The band became known for a jangly, Smiths-style guitar sound by the end of the ’80s, when they were beginning to get out of their college rock musical neighbourhood to explore the outer reaches of the mainstream. But, along the way they revealed their subtleties, too. Read more

The Rest Play “Who Knows”

Listen to this track by tenacious Hamiltonian indie outfit the Rest. It’s “Who Knows”, the lead off track from their newest record Seesaw, a record that follows up 2010’s Everyone All At Once.

The band is based in the extremely fertile, varied, and vibrant scene in Hamilton Ontario.  Bands out of the Hamilton scene, many of which I’ve featured on this blog, are hard-working and close-knit. Maybe it’s a working class ethic that drives them to succeed.

I used the word ‘tenacious’ above to describe The Rest for good reason. For, The Rest fought harder than most to bring their latest record to us, as if the job isn’t hard enough for an independent band working up momentum for themselves. Here’s the story.

One key component to the Rest’s recording process was their producer, former Junkhouse guitarist, and sought-after producer at Caroline North recording studio, Dan Achen (City and Colour, Feist, Mojave), also a friend, and mentor . But, during the recording process, Dan passed away very unexpectedly.

Given that he’d played a major part in guiding the band, this loss alone would have been enough to delay the production of the new record. This is not to mention the added burden of losing a friend. But, they soldiered on.

Yet, there would be more to face for the Rest in bringing their record into the world. Technology has empowered many a band starting out in this age of Internet, FTP file sharing, and other other computerized innovations. Yet, sometimes technology turns on you, as it did with the record.

Due to a hard-drive glitch, the completed tracks they’d worked up were chucked down a deep, digital hole – disaster! But where technology was the cause of seeming failure, it would also provide a solution, too. Black box technology of the kind they use to retrieve information from airplane disasters, they had their record back six months later – disaster averted!

The resulting record is a varied beast, with this lead track establishing their overall sound, yet punctuated by other textures including a kind of post-punk afrobeat in another song “Laughing & Yearning“, which aggressively competes with “Who Knows” as my favourite track on the record. Needless to say, the quality is high, with the artists who made it having brought it through the fire to get it to us.

During the month of May and into this month, the band released one song per week. But, now you can buy your copy of The Rest Seesaw in its entirety, including a vinyl copy from Auteur Recordings.

For more information about The Rest, investigate The Rest website.


First You Get The Sugar Play “Tell Your Mama”

The cover of the upcoming, self-financed First You Get The Sugar debut album

Listen to this track from nervy nouveau new wave nabobs with a dancefloor fixation, the Montreal-based four-piece First You Get The Sugar. It’s a highlight from their upcoming debut record, “Tell Your Mama”, a tune that mixes rock instrumentation with post-punk attitude, in turn with a danceable groove that will get everyone up under the lights and onto the floor.

The key word here, good people, is groove. It’s an asset in four-piece indie bands that isn’t exactly plentiful. But, First You Get The Sugar has it in spades.

The band themselves are an amalgam of geography as well as style, with members hailing from here in Vancouver (bassist/vocalist Mick Mendelsohn), Toronto (vocalist/guitarist Adam Kagan), San Francisco (guitarist/vocalist Alex Silver), and Montreal (drummer/vocalist Daniel Moscovitch). And there’s got to be some TV nerd DNA in there; the name of the band is a reference from The Simpsons. You fellow TV nerds all know which one. Read more

The Black Keys Play ‘Your Touch’

Here’s a clip of indie-blues rock two-piece champeens The Black Keys.  It’s their song “Your Touch” as taken from their 2006 record Magic Potion.  Warning: This clip involves a lot of gun play, murder, ghosts, unabashed lip synching, and not a bass player in sight, good people.  This is the blues as it was meant to be , haunted by the spirits of Hound Dog Taylor, also a bass aversonist of some renown, and of course Junior Kimbrough, a man who the ‘Keys covered heavily in their earlier career.  Yet, this isn’t exactly blues, is it?

One thing about the Black Keys – Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitar, and Patrick Carney on drums –  is that even if it’s hard to deny that they’re playing music that is heavily indebted to the blues, they are positioning the blues not so much as roots music interpreted by an indie band so much as a framework for another kind of modern indie guitar rock. In the Black Keys world, if rock music is the baby sired by the blues, than the sire still has something to teach the mouthy little brat after all.

The skill it takes to pull off that stylistic inversion is not to be compared, even if the knee jerk reaction is to draw a parallel with the White Stripes. Read more

Commerce Performs “In Your Bones”

Listen to this track by four-piece Tennesseans who have been dubbed Commerce – Matthew Little on vocals/guitar/keyboards, Ethan Henley on bass, Tim Rufenacht on guitars, and drummer Josh Shores.  It’s one of the offerings, and my favourite, off of their recently released 6-track EP What Happens Now.  The EP is a harbinger for a forthcoming 14-track record coming out in the fall of 2010 called Things I Say Versus Things I Mean.

This band formed in 2008, after a series of personnel shifts.  They immediately commenced writing and recording together. And with this song, you get the sense that a number of disparate sources are being pulled in to create something unique.

When first exposed, my reference points were latter day post-punk inheritors such as Modest Mouse with a bit of Grandaddy, too.  On this track, this is largely due to the moody lushness of the arrangement, and the call and response vocal, which peppers the song with echoey and vaguely menacing background interjections, all undertaken by singer/guitarist/keyboardist Little, and in contrast to his deadpan lead.

The band cite influences all over the stylistic map, perhaps exposing t the diversity of music scenes current in the American South as a whole, a region from which these guys hail, specifically Johnson City TN. Yet with Spoon out of Austin TX, REM out of Georgia, and the Flaming Lips out of Oklahoma City, among other examples,  the American South has been proven to be more than just a heartland for the roots of modern rock music over the years. As evidenced by the music from this band, it remains to be a hotbed of intricate, emotionally engaged rock music that pushes towards the future rather than just in reference to the past.

For more information about the band and more music from them, check out the Commerce band MySpace page.

Also, you can follow Commerce updates on Twitter, as well as joining the Commerce Facebook page.


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.


The Submarines Sing “Swimming Pool”

Here’s a clip of effervescent California popsters the Submarines with a slab of sonic sunshine, “Swimming Pool”,  as taken from their 2008 Honeysuckle Weeks album.  I saw this band only yesterday.  And I now have a crush on lead singer Blake Hazard.  Too bad for me she’s married to guitarist John Dragonetti.

I found this band not through the usual channel – which is the iPhone commercial that featured their earlier sing “You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie” – but rather through a fellow Vancouver blogger Miss604, who posted that they were playing the very well-hidden, although extremely cool,  Biltmore Cabaret.  Upon hearing the clips here, I resolved two things:

  1. To go to the show
  2. To go to other shows more regularly, as put on by mostly niche bands who haven’t gained the traction it takes to stop playing little clubs, which therefore means you’re standing a few feet from them as opposed to watching them on a Jumbotron.

The performance of the Submarines was preceded by two other bands of merit.  First, the Mumblers who are from Seattle.  They are a kind of shoe-gazing Old-style R&B band, with a full-on brass section made up up trumpets, a euphonium, a french horn, a sax, and an English horn, all swapped between three guys.  Their material is a sort of early 60s R&B, with a bit of New Orleans trad, as filtered through an indie guitar group.  Did you get that?

The second band was the very good The Morning Benders, led by an impossibly skinny and bowl-cut rocking frontman of some considerable vocal skill and stage charisma.  The band delivered a number of British Invasion references that make me think that there are more bands than the Shins trying to corner the market on this kind of sound.  Live, these guys were dynamic, with an attack which was a bit more feral than that of their album, Talking Through Tin Cans which has pop charms of its own .

But, the headliners The Submarines were the apex of the program, a full-on guitar-pop extravaganza as led by a duo and their dutiful drummer manservant.  Their show was an excercise in pop craftsmanship, bubbly-stage banter from Hazard, and an economical use of technology – guitars, loops, and even some one-handed mallet percussion – that made more from less.  Blake Hazard’s impressions of Vancouver centred around our friendliness as a city, noting that even the ‘fuck you’ graffiti on the wall in the bathroom was accompanied by an ‘have it your way’, which she labeled as ‘the Burger King of Fuck Yous’.

Still, the band seemed genuinely appreciative of us as an audience, and launched into each number, including this one, with verve, a sense of playfulness, and with incredible, undeniable personality.

To hear more from the Submarines, check out the Submarines MySpace Page.


Morphine perform ‘The Other Side’

Here’s a clip of guitarless indie heroes Morphine with their song “The Other Side”.  The song is taken from the band’s Good album, their debut in 1992 .  The band set out to push the boundaries of doing without conventional rock ingredients and adding a touch of noirish jazz to the mix instead.  Their signature sound is that of the night itself; a little hazy, a little threatening, and ultimately very elegant.

During their 10-year recording span, Morphine created something which might be described as the aural equivalent of film noir, but without the obvious trappings.  Not bad for a trio made up of a baritone sax, a drum kit, and a two-string bass.

The band is mistakenly thought of as being named after the opiate morphine, when in fact it was the intention of the group to be associated with the mythical god Morpheus, loosely translated into folk culture as The Sandman.  Perhaps this also referenced frontman Mark Sandman.  But Sandman was interested in creating dreamy night music, his nom de plume notwithstanding.
The band is mistakenly thought of as being named after the opiate morphine, when in fact it was the intention of the group to be associated with the mythical god "Morpheus", loosely translated into folk culture as "The Sandman". Perhaps this also referenced frontman Mark Sandman. But he was interested in creating dreamy night music in any case, his actual last name notwithstanding. Sandman frequently referred to the band's style as 'low music', because of his baritone singing voice, and band member Dana Colley's baritone saxophone

It took time for record labels to take to the group’s sound, based as it was on an approach which allowed a lot of unfilled spaces  in the music.  The band was attached to a small scene in Boston, where leader and songwriter Mark Sandman had been involved in a number of bands before forming this one.

It was a small Boston indie label Accurate-Distortion that eventually took a chance on how unconventional the group was and put out the album.  Eventually , they were picked up by major label Dreamworks, and their definitive album Cure for Pain proved them to be an unique draw in the guitar-strewn landscape of 90s indie bands.

When I first heard this particular track “the Other Side”, I was sure I was hearing some lost Jim Morrison collaboration with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.  As such, it crosses all kinds of boundaries in terms of style, but also of time as well.  Thematically, this is can be added to the list of songs about death which contributes somewhat to how it transcends any specific era.  Mark Sandman’s death while onstage in Rome of a heart attack in 1999 at the young age of 46 perhaps increases this song’s mystique.  But despite this, we’re all on our way to the other side.  The rest is just a question of the scenery we chose to look at on the way.

After his death, the remaining members of Morphine, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway, along with other friends and family, established the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund, a children’s charity in the Boston area.

For more music, open your ears and check out the Morphine MySpace Page.