Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Release: Grass Widow

In 2009, the three women who comprise Grass Widow released the year's best debut full-length. As it came out on the tiny Make-A-Mess imprint, it flew under the radar of most of the "indie" covering sector.

Yesterday saw the release of the group's second album Past Time on the larger Kill Rock Stars label. This, along with some other factors (like being invited to open for Sonic Youth at Prospect Park), should raise Grass Widow's profile considerably. It's probable that those who missed out on the band's debut will be quick to heap praise on their sophomore long player, knowing full well they need to catch up on a good thing. However, the consensus thus far of those who heard and liked Grass Widow's self-titled debut seems to be that Past Time is a weaker record.

And I say that's bull. Past Time is both less "punky" and poppy" than the band's first album. As such, it's a bit harder to find an easy point of entry. Yet after a few spins, it becomes obvious that Grass Widow's songwriting hasn't slipped. They're just less interested in conventional verse-chorus-verse structure this time out than they were previously. Rather than provide direct hooks to hang your hat on, Grass Widow invite you to luxuriate in their singular sound. Their voices (the band's harmonies are top notch) and instruments weave in and out of each other. Each element is distinct and sometimes oblique yet they seamlessly form a whole. That may read as being challenging and it can be but Grass Widow is also stealthily inviting. They prove that rock music doesn't need to loud or noisy to be uncompromising. Nor does it need to be traditionally catchy to burrow its way right into your brain's pleasure center.

In 2010, it's increasingly difficult and rare for a band with a simple guitar/bass/drums/vocals lineup to forge a unique sonic identity. Grass Widow have done just that. Even more impressive is that they've managed to do so relying solely on their playing and songwriting, with no noticeable production tricks to lean on. (It should be noted, however, that production is much improved from the debut.)

A few days ago I posted a video from Past Time along with a bunch from other artists. They've since released another. At the risk of redundancy and borderline sycophantic hyperbole, I'm posting this one as well. If it's my duty to inform you of music that should be part of your life, then shoving Grass Widow down your throats (to paraphrase Fox News talking heads on healthcare) outweighs all other concerns.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Best Dave Kendall Impression

I'm sure you're all at least fleetingly familiar with the cable television network whose name is ostensibly a contraction of "Music Television." Their programming has mainly consisted of content other than music videos for so long that complaining this about seems as old fashioned as finding a station that plays nothing but videos to be novel in the first place.

And let's be honest, those who do pine for the days when MTV aired only* videos are likely coming from a purely nostalgic perspective**. During their time as the de facto national radio station, it's not as though MTV was in the habit of presenting its viewers with cultural flotsam any less reprehensible than Jersey Shore***.

Still, I'd be lying if I didn't admit MTV shaped my nascent taste on some level. I gravitated to their late Sunday night dumping ground for "alternative rock" just before that became a highly marketable term. For the short-term cost of being groggy and irritable in class on Monday morning, I was exposed to a lot of bands for the first time. The Pixies and Nirvana, sure, but also Bettie Serveert and Teenage Fanclub****.

So in that spirit*****, here are some music videos:

First up, we've got the new video from Ted Leo and Pharmacists, directed by Tom Scharpling and starring a bunch of Best Show regulars (though, sadly, not Spike or Fredricks from New Port Richey). As some of you may have deduced, this was the big announcement promised by Leo in a lengthy and mostly sincere blog post on Friday. I don't mind bragging that I got a special preview of this video nearly two months ago (and have the tweet to prove it).
I'm sure you're going to want to watch the above a few more times. Once you're ready to move on, below are a pair of videos from Grass Widow and Super Wild Horses. They both have quite good albums being released tomorrow on Kill Rock Stars and HoZac, respectively. (They are also both comprised entirely of women, though that's hardly relevant, right?)

Next up, here's a video from Austin's Woven Bones. Their debut album, In and Out and Back Again, came out earlier this year on HoZac and is well worth hearing. Who knew HoZac's promo budget included video expenses?

We're going to wrap things up with a "cult classic" from Christmas. I nearly wrote a "Used Bin Ubiquitous Bargins" post about this song's parent album, In Excelsior Dayglo but then I saw this. As I'm not fan of redundancy, I decided to scrap it. Needless to say, even though you can download this out-of-print album for free, you would do yourself a favor if you pick it up the next time you see it in a used bin.

*Or, at least, mostly.
**Though it's possible they just have bad taste.
***In comparing Adam Curry to Snooki, you'll see that even hair height has remained remarkably consistent.
****And Jesus H. Jones, some embarrassing blind alleys I'd rather not discuss in a public forum.
*****Also in the spirt of easy content that allows me to post to this blog more than once a month/appeasing the publicists nice to enough to continue to send me zip files of new releases.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Saturday Morning Funnies

(This show has aged remarkably well.)

I'm not exactly sure what times and days of the week get the most web traffic, though I'd suspect Saturday mornings are pretty low. Hence, my strategy here. I figure since no other websites bother to update at this time, there's a vacuum to fill.

The timing works for every demographic. Those with children will be online desperately trying to find something to listen while their kids are blaring Kidd Video (that's still on, right?) on the TV. Single, childless people will be waking up hungover, going over to the computer and checking their Facebook to see if the pics from the party they went to (or weren't invited to) have been posted yet. And BAM! there's the link to my latest podcast.

Needless to say, I've got this whole internet marketing thing down.

Or, more likely, no one will see this and I'll have to repost on Monday afternoon when people are sitting at the office desperately looking for something to do besides work.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

New Release: Bottomless Pit

With each release of a new record, there was a bit of a running joke among the small but highly devoted following of Silkworm: "It's their best album since the last one." While fans certainly had their favorite releases from the band, it was their way of acknowledging that being Silkworm fan meant buying into them totally. The band was remarkably consistant (not the same as static or repetitive) and loving one of their records more or less meant you had to love them all, as the band's essential qualities were present in everything they released. To do otherwise meant you were either extremely nitpick-y or didn't really like them all that much in the first place.

Songwriters Tim Midgett (bass/vocals) and Andy Cohen (guitar/vocals) retired the Silkworm name following the tragic death of drummer Michael Dahlquist at the hands of a reckless motorist in 2005. They subsequently formed Bottomless Pit with the rhythm section of Chris Manfrin and Brian Orchard. Midgett switched over to guitar, a move that made sense as he was playing more and more guitar on Silkworm's later albums. Mournful and cathartic, the band's initial releases were quite good but seemed a bit tentative in some ways, as though Midgett and Cohen were unsure on how to continue without their longtime collaborator (or, perhaps, even if they should.) Replicating the chemistry of a 15 year musical partnership couldn't have been the most unchallenging of tasks.

Bottomless Pit's latest album, Blood Under the Bridge, comes out today on the Comedy Minus One label. It's the band's most assured release to date, a record that finds Midgett and Cohen equaling the glory of their former group with apparent ease.

I've written extensively on Silkworm before (click here, if you care to read) and there are a few key differences in Bottomless Pit's sound, mainly the duel guitars. And Orchard wisely doesn't try to replicate Midgett's signature fat bass. But mostly everything that made Silkworm is present here. Midgett and Cohen are both in fine form as songwriters, offering some of the best tunes of their career.

Alternating between stately elegance and hard crunch (and equally adept at both), their songs evoke a kind of serene melancholy. Lyrics like "There's no such thing as too much time" ("Rhineland"), "A slip of the knife and, oh, we're in love" ("Summerwind") and "So many fuckers in this world" ("Late") suggest that some sadness is inevitable in the human experience and making peace with that is difficult but necessary. Instead of sliding into despair, the music offers hard fought redemption.

The group meshes beautifully. Midgett and Cohen finally seem comfortable in their new roles. Midgett's guitar provides foundation and Cohen's adds color. Cohen is justifiably known for his lengthy solos, which often flirted with excess and indulgence but worked perfectly. Here, he's mostly kept himself in check though he does get to stretch out a bit in the jaunty "Late" and the stomping closer, "38 Souls."

It's tempting to say that Blood Under the Bridge is Midgett and Cohen's best record since whatever Silkworm album happens to be your favorite. If you don't know Silkworm, it's equally tempting to throw out the names of a few of their records as essential entry points. However, Blood Under the Bridge is so excellent a piece of work, it would be fallacious to deny it's as good an introduction to Midgett and Cohen's work as any. Though there's been a fair amount of 90s indie rock nostalgia around of late, this record is far more vital than say, the Pavement reunion. I recommend its inclusion in your household as soon as possible.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Term Limit Up for Mayyors

It is my sad duty to report that one of the better bands to emerge the past couple of years, Sacramento's Mayyors, are calling it quits. The band's lack of web presence in the digital age (no website, no MySpace, no Facebook, no Twitter) gave them a certain mystique, which is sure to be enhanced even more by breaking up before releasing a proper full-length or going on a national tour.

I never got to see the Mayyors perform live as they never made a sojourn to the East Coast. If the three records they made during their short lifespan (all already highly collectable) are any indiction, they would have been something behold. Fortunately, a live set they recorded for WFMU at the 2009 SXSW has been preserved for posterity.

Since he actually got a chance to see them, I'll live it to Chunklet's Henry Owings to eulogize the band properly. And I'll leave it to these fan made (I'm pretty sure) videos to show why the Mayyors' handful of records got me as excited as any I'd heard in recent times:

The final Mayyors shows are as follows:
08.13.10 - pdx, or - SMMR BMMR @ Plan B w/Woven Bones, The Lamps, Wounded Lion, Meth Teeth, GGreen, Burning Yellows, Myelin Sheaths, Therapists, Manic Attracts, Fist City, $12, 21+, 6pm

08.14.10 - pdx, or - HOUSE PARTY @ 110 n. failing w/Jonny X & the Groadies, GGreen, Big Black Cloud, all ages, $5, 8pm

09.03.10 - daly city, ca - @ Serra Bowl w/Ty Segall, Culture Kids, Blasted Canyons, all ages, FREE, 8pm

09.05.10 - davis, ca @ d.a.m. house w/Thee Oh Sees, The Lamps, all ages, $5, 7pm
It would be more more or less impossible for me to make the Portland shows (despite a pretty incredible lineup for 8/13), but I may have to hitch it out to NoCal for that first weekend in September. Anybody in the area want to put me up for a few days?