Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Repeating Myself

(Above: a man who knows his repetition.)

Ever since I began doing this podcast two and half years ago, it's been a sort of unofficial policy that I'd never play the same artist twice. (The exception being new releases, naturally.) I figure with such a wealth of music out there, why would I subject listeners to the same artists over and over when I could be introducing them to something new? Variety is the spice of life, they say. I even compiled a list of all the artists I've played with the intention being a spotting groups I hadn't yet played who would be worthy of inclusion.

Well, latest podcast, I made a bit of a blunder. I not only played an group I'd already played, but played the exact same song as well. And you know what? None of you called me on it. Perhaps, everyone is fine with the commercial radio policy of giving particular tunes 200 spins a week.

So from now on, I'm going to relax this policy just a bit. There's still a wealth of great bands I've yet to play. I'll get to them eventually, I'm sure. In the meantime, if you think hearing the same bands on this podcast once every year or two is terrible monotonous, you just let me know.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Release: Reading Rainbow

One of the more striking performances I've seen in the past year was from Philadelphia duo Reading Rainbow when they opened for HoZac labelmates Super Wild Horses. Their stage setup was noteworthy because Robbie Garcia (guitar, vocals) and Sarah Everton (drums, vocals) faced each other instead of the crowd. I know nothing (nor do I care to speculate) about Mr. Garcia and Ms. Everton's relationship offstage, but this simple act radiated a subtle but undeniable joy and intimacy. Informed by the K/C-86 vibe that's become fashionable of late, their sound was remarkably full given the minimal instrumentation. The two person harmonies felt absolutely lush. I stuck around for Super Wild Horses. They were fine but couldn't help but pale in comparison to their openers.

Today sees the release of Reading Rainbow's second album and HoZac debut, Prism Eyes. Does it capture the uncommon buzz of the band's performance? Well, perhaps only partially. What played as a bold declaration of identity in a live setting comes of as just a bit samey-sounding on record. However, it's an inviting sound in which listeners can easily luxuriate and there's enough variety here to prevent Prism Eyes from becoming monolithic. Plus, Reading Rainbow's stronger melodies easily distinguish themselves. Songs like "Wasting Time," "Always On My Mind" and the title track are some of the most infectious of the year, outclassing most of band's peers among the new naive.

Prism Eyes may not quite replicate seeing Reading Rainbow live, but a fraction of a transcendent experience is a lot more than most bands offer. You should probably check this one out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Know Your Genre

It's things like the above (stolen from Judd Apatow's Twitter feed) that make me think I should be much more specific in my iTunes store description.

Speaking of genres, how much come indie types can't come up with good subgenre names? What was the last one? Freak folk? Chillwave? Nobody wants to subdivide, I suppose. Metal fans cleave their medium into tiny slivers, but everything from U2 soundalikes to pure noise is "indie." Mostly this crowd just revives and misapplies terms like "lo-fi" (anything with distorted guitar that's harder than Sufjan Stevens) and "garage" (see prior).

I tried to get Curmudgeon-core (over 35 and reads Terminal Boredom) into the popular lexicon but no one was biting. But I'm making an effort.

The next podcast will be devoted entirely to "mustache punk."

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

New Releases: Tyvek, Parting Gifts, Hank IV

I know a lot of you were probably disappointed by the results of last week's election. However, there are reasons to be cheerful, such as the release of the three albums below. I have confidence that the purchase of all three by all of my readers will be enough to kickstart the economy and leave us in good shape for 2012.

Anticipation for Tyvek's debut album was almost impossibly high. Based on a handful of fantastic singles and a well deserved reputation as an incendiary live act, the band were anointed the great hope of the lo-fi/DIY/garage/punk/whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-it underground.

When their self-titled full-length was finally released in May of last year, disappointment was probably inevitable. Though a fine and adventurous record, some felt the album diluted the white hot intensity of their single with frequent Swell Maps-style song fragments and odd excursions. The consensus seemed to be "it could have been better." It probably didn't help matters that the original lineup was breaking up while the album was being assembled.

Tyvek's second album, Nothing Fits, comes out today on In the Red with all traces of excess excised. In other words, this is the Tyvek album you've been waiting for.

Though chaos is an essential part of Tyvek's approach, here they focus all the clamor and weirdness that sprawled all over their prior LP into their songs. The result is an unrelenting attack. Songs pummel you one after the other, never allowing you to catch your breath. This is not to say Tyvek are a brutal or punishing listen. Far from it, actually. Though they're not especially interested in melody, the band has a unique sense of tunefulness. They know just where to place a sudden stop, timing shift or blast of noise for maximum impact.

We could have a lengthy discussion whether or not punk rock actually exists in 2010. That's a topic for another time. But if you wanted to argue the "pro," Tyvek would be exhibit A. Nothing Fits is a strong contender for album of the year.

Also out today on In The Red is Strychnine Dandelion, the debut album from the Parting Gifts, a new project from Greg Cartwright of Reigning Sound and Coco Hames of the Ettes. Though the album definitely has the loose informal feel of a side project, it's still a blast to listen to. New tunes from a songwriter of Cartwright's magnitude are always welcome and he turns in a couple of gems here. Cartwright has also proven himself the master of unearthing obscure but brilliant Jagger/Richards compositions. The Reigning Sound's cover of "I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys" was one of the highlights of Time Bomb High School. Here the Parting Gifts dust off "(Walking Through the) Sleepy City," which is expertly intoned by Ms. Hames. Just try and listen to this version without smiling. Actually, one could say that about this entire album.

The third Hank IV album, creatively titled III, is also out today on Siltbreeze. Unlike the two records above, I haven't actually heard this one yet as Siltbreeze is not in the habit of playing the promotional copy game. Still, since the Hank IV's prior two platters made my best-of lists for their respective years and since they were possibly the best live band I've seen in the past half decade or so, I'm going to go ahead and recommend this one sight sight unseen (or, more accurately, sound unheard). If it stinks, that's on them, not me.

Update: Just prior to publication of this piece, the Hank IV released a video for the lead off track from III, so I've now heard at least a percentage of the album. It's awesome. Check it out here.