So my wife and I just had our second daughter this past week. Awesome. Yes. But it also means that any posts I had in the works are going to be a little delayed… also my music reviews for www.spillmagazine.com… and really anything that requires even a moderate amount of focus. So this morning while I take a few hours at a coffee shop to catch up on email, twitter, send out some short story submissions, I’ll make my obligatory 30Hz Recommended post for new music Tuesday. I say obligatory because this past Tuesday brought us some absolutely fantastic albums that deserve your attention.
The Jezabels, Prisoner
Critics call the Sydney quartet’s music everything from alt-rock to disco-pop. The band refers to themselves, with a hint of self-deprecation, as “intensindie.” However classified, Hayley May brings some infectious swagger, a la Pat Benatar, to her frontwoman style (particularly on the mid-tempo burner “Endless Summer” and “Long Highway”), and the band borrows a small slice of the Joy Formidable’s symphonic rock. They’re also not afraid to slow the pace to play, with plenty of confidence, some alt-rock power balladry. It might sound like a mishmash of uninhabitable musical genres and regrettable nostalgia but the whole thing comes together to create the best pure “driving record” of 2012. (Driving Record: an album without a clear pinch, containing varied song-styles with constant forward momentum. As in an album that can repeat on long drives without the immediate need to swap out upon conclusion. Previous “driving record” accolades belong to Sliversun Pickups and the aforementioned Joy Formidable). The band has been a relative to-do in Australia for a couple of years. (Pittsburgh folks need to get a ticket to their show with Imagine Dragons next week at Brillobox.) Here’s the band playing a fantastic version of “Hurt Me” at the Annandale Hotel, Sydney in 2009.
Great Lake Swimmers, New Wild Everywhere
It’s time to jump in with the Great Lake Swimmers. Criminally underappreciated might begin to describe the lack of attention paid to this Canadian (oftentimes) quintet. I’m happy to see some buzz around this new release, but if it’s not on your mp3 player of choice, well, you need to fix that. The Great Lake Swimmers might be the flipside of the Jezabels. They won’t self deprecate and there’s nothing intense about anything they’ve ever done. Compare them favorably to the likes of Will Oldham and Iron & Wine. Earnest folk-rock made for being chill and contemplative. The title track from this new record might be the most raucous I’ve ever seen the Swimmers. It’s hard for me to believe that they’ve been around long enough to have released five albums (5!). Have they ever made a bad track? I’m not sure I can think of one. Ideal listening conditions: sitting outside, beer in hand, basking in cool evening temperatures and a setting sun. Here is “Quiet Your Mind,” a standout track on this album, backed by an ample string section. Just listen and get lost in the beautiful orchestration. You never knew simple, straightforward folk music could have so much depth.
Also new and noteworthy this week:
the first full length LP from Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal
and Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance a solo project from Lockett Pundt, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist from Deerhunter.
Why isn’t Fanfarlo a bigger deal? They play a brand indie-pop of reminiscent of early Arcade Fire, Talking Heads with some Beirut-style horns mixed in for good measure. I understand the criticisms leveled at them for being derivative. Sure, we all want something new, something thrilling because it’s never been done before. But at the same time, I’ve got to level with you– it’s all already been done in some form or another. To be overly brief, all art is derivative. Even the first cave paintings were inspired by real life; Death of a Salesman didn’t just spontaneously appear in the mind of Australopithecus. Why then are some critics so offended by similarly sounding music? Fanfarlo is the first modern band I’ve heard that has really nailed the mid-tempo Talking Heads groove. Most bands sound bored or restrained when dealing with that middling pace, but Fanfarlo legitimately understands what made the Heads such a pleasure.
There’s something called the Pleasure Principle. We seek pleasure in order to avoid that which might harm us. It’s in our very nature to feel comfortable with familiar music in the same way we’re going to avoid jumping out of a three-story building, just to see what happens. Fanfarlo won’t be knocking on the pearly Pitchfork gates anytime soon but they’re a tight-sounding quintet that has a lot of fun playing music. So in short: Arcade Fire? Good. Talking Heads? Good. Beirut? Good. Joey Tribiani’s Trifle Logic proves true. Fanfarlo. Good. See below for reference.
I’d love to tell you more about Gardens & Villas live set but quite frankly I missed the entire thing because I had to get my daughter to bed. The my wife is 9-months pregnant and largely incapable of dealing with a highly-energized (nearly three year old) daughter. So it goes. I bought their solid 2011 debut album on vinyl to make peace.
Fronted by the Swedish Simon Balthazar, Fanfarlo started minimal, opening with a personal favorite track and the first song on their latest album Rooms Filled With Light: “Replicate.” Thanks to Youtube user pghmusicreport for uploading video from this show.
The sparse orchestration of the track allows for a cross-section of the sound. Isolated violin. Keyboard. Bass. A couple of songs in, Simon finally began some chatter and mistakenly suggested it was the band’s first trip to Pittsburgh. He was immediately corrected by Cathy (violin, keyboard, vocals) and his drummer Amos who pointed out someone in the front row who had done some drawings of them at that prior show at the Brillobox. Quick wit, from a drummer. I texted my wife to tell her about the drummer with the quick wit. She didn’t believe me.
The band played tight but chatted loosely. Later in the show Cathy again corrected Simon who had incorrectly pronounced the name of the opening act (Vill-ahs rather than the correct Spanish pronunciation Vee-yas). And they had another good laugh at Simon’s expense. Amos later apologized for taking the last small white Fanfarlo T-shirt from the swag booth. Bassist Justin Finch praised some sing-a-longers (specifically the tall guy in the black hoodie) who knew all the words to their songs and then (without pointing fingers) chided those that sang-a-long but didn’t know the words (“It’s actually quite distracting and you should study up before next show.”) All in good fun. I prattle on about their stage prattle because it’s part and parcel with a band that’s up there having fun with their music even though the actual performance goes pretty strictly by the book. There was very little deviation from the recorded versions of the songs. I wouldn’t expect new-ish bands to do much free-styling. Simon, however, seemed to cut loose a little bit on “Harold T. Wilkins” — the standout track from their 2009 debut. Video again courtesy of pghmusicreport.
So maybe they’re not the most original or the most innovative band. They’re comfort food for the ears and an inherently likeable UK-based quintet that spins carefully orchestrated indie-pop . In these days when a single Pitchfork review can mobilize entire legions of potential fans and bloggers in either direction, it’s a shame that Pitchfork review unfairly labeled Rooms Filled With Light a waste of time. I doubt I have the pull to override even a fraction of the negativity but I’m going to do my best. Listen to Fanfarlo. Support the tour. And learn your lyrics.
Somehow global domination has alluded Delta Spirit. Today the band released their third record of feel good, kick back with a beer, boozy, whimsical and toe-tapping rock music with an garage-born soul. Early in their career the band got mislabeled with “root rock” and “Americana” labels. These guys would be just at home on a California beach as they would in a frat house in New England or a bar in Mississippi. Their rock is a universal variety and though I understand everyone’s tastes are different I dare you not to like this band. If you don’t, well, you might be wrong.
This is a fan made video of their new single California:
Here’s my favorite track of theirs, played at SXSW 2010:
Three albums in, Delta Spirit hasn’t made a bad record. While this new one takes greater lengths to shed the “Americana” label, it doesn’t lose any of the fun.
Order the deluxe vinyl from the band’s website here and receive a limited edition signed poster. Too bad the super deluxe bundles with the signed piano key and t-shirt are sold out. I’d have been into some more tchotchke swag.
Other than releases from old standbys and auto-listens Andrew Bird, the Magnetic Fields and White Rabbit, there was little to recommend on this sixth day of March, 2012. But I do strongly recommend that you check out Yellow Ostrich’s excellent Strange Land. Here’s video of the band playing a track from their prior release — The Mistress — on KEXP.
If you like what you hear, purchase the new album here (Vinyl + MP3 download available).
So so so so so much new music has come out within the past month. I needed to highlight the ones deemed 30Hz Recommended. I’m not going to spend a crap-ton of time doing this because there’s bad new TV to watch this week (and then immediately dismiss). Also I’m going to poo poo a popular pick because I’m the one with the microphone and I don’t care what Pitchfork thinks. (more…)