Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Yr Radio Releases Almost Free Collection

All of last year, the Free Yr Radio Tour called on some of the moment’s most established alternative acts to put on shows benefiting indie radio stations across the country. Now FYR has put out an extremely rewarding collection of songs from these bands, and it’s available for $0.99 (yep, all 12 songs) at


It’s worth going through the brief soul-selling sign-up process. Here are a few highlights:


Favorite Track: “Blue Steel,” by White Williams. The Greg Gillis confidant keeps up his brand of uncompromisingly satisfying basement electro. Who else is obsessed with that old Phoenix song featuring Erlend Øye, “If I Ever Feel Better?” (I only consider this song a “guilty pleasure” because of the insane amount of times I’ve listened to it. Bass line . . . so . . . danceable . . .) If you feel like I do about it, this White tune might prove the gratifying follow-up that alliance never gave us.


Most Disappointing: “In the New Year (live),” by the Walkmen. This tune is just so damn good: the group’s signature, dirty rhythm guitar sound; that swelling organ; the desperate vocals of lead singer Hamilton Leithauser. But on this live version, the instruments are turned down way too low, and Leithauser’s once vulnerably hopeful vocals turn into a melodramatic grunge growl. Bummer.


Sleeper Pick: “Past and Gone,” by King Khan and Saba Lou. Little-known, low-fi garage singer King Khan duets with his middle school-age daughter. Over tender, broken chords coming through a reverb-happy tube amp, Khan and Lou sing, “Can’t be bothered to be sheltered or find my way home / Won’t you help me, please?”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Early Verdict on M. Ward's Latest (With Thanks to NPR)

Forget about Social Security, NPR is the federal government's gift that keeps on giving. Earlier this month, gave us exclusive peeks into new albums from Animal Collective and Bruce Springsteen, streaming them before they were released. Now it's M. Ward's turn. His upcoming Hold Time isn't due out until Feb. 17, so this is a welcome teaser for us overanxious fans.

This album, for better or for worse, establishes Ward's new, post-She & Him identity. It's Matt 2.0. He's smoother around the edges, less ethereal, and just a happier dude. That's not to say Hold Time isn't a collection of beautiful songs--it is. Just don't expect the type of sounds or emotional jolts we got from Transfiguration of Vincent. This album is at once an amalgam of his past work and another step down the path Ward chose on 2006's Post-War, his most accessible work to date.

The angst that once bred almost entire albums of beautiful, acoustic meanderings (read: the underrated Duet for Guitars #2 and the unassumingly striking End of Amnesia) has taken a back seat. And Hold Time seems to confirm that the dreamy, downtrodden fantasy world that made Transfiguration of Vincent a classic -- all full of theremin and distant, Tom Waits-style, honky-tonk piano -- won't be showing up again any time soon.

Even Hold Time's acoustic-only tunes, like the love ditty "One Hundred Million Years," feel lively rather than weary, more reminiscent of Post-War's almost danceable "Chinese Translation" than, say, Transfiguration's rending, defeatist "Undertaker."

Ward has moved away a bit from that otherworldly gloaming that gave his first four albums their appeal, but in doing so he's opened up. This makes for Hold Time's most intriguing element: lyrically, Ward is showing us more of himself, and he's doing it with a characteristically philosophical contemplativeness. "I watched my own habits die hard and it was painful / Sometimes it's painful in the light of the truth," he sings on "Never Had Nobody Like You."

The jury is still out on this one -- twelve angry men waiting on a CD-quality listen. For now let's just be grateful for NPR as we wait for the real thing.
  • Click here to watch the new music video to Hold Time's most remarkable song, the tantalizingly brief, haze-encased title track.
  • Click here to find a free download of the mp3 of the electric, rollicking "Never Had Nobody Like You." (Just click the "Download free MP3 now!" button and select, "Save Linked File.")

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Look Both Ways #1: Animal Sounds

When I listen to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, I often imagine all five members passing smiles to one another in the studio, feeding off a collective vibe as they sing into their microphones. Usually, I sing along. When I listen to Animal Collective, I get sucked even deeper into the musical process. I often find myself adding something to their explosive, communal music--perhaps I’ll sing a rhythmic “dah dum” on every downbeat, or maybe add a harmony line.

On Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys’ famous vocal harmonies comprise only a fraction of what makes this music feel so bright and inviting. And if there is one band today that builds on the Beach Boys’ collaborative rubric, breaks down another wall, launches their musical pastiche into another universe, it’s Animal Collective.

Nowadays, a huge number of largely unknown bands are building in exciting ways on the best of classic rock, folk, soul and ’60s pop. I’ve decided to write one post each week that sheds new light on a recent album by comparing it to what I see as its parent, of sorts, from years ago. (The posts will normally come out on Tuesdays.) This week, I’ll line up Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, released on vinyl Jan. 6 and CD last week, with 1966's Pet Sounds, an album that many critics consider history’s greatest.

“I really want to do, just what my body wants to,” Animal Collective member Panda Bear sings on the swelling and exploding “Guys Eyes.” Panda’s vocals here immediately recall those of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson: He takes one strong melodic phrase, belted in stretched-out vowel sounds, and builds above and around it with harmonies and background vocals centered on counterpoint.

“You Still Believe in Me” is Pet Soundsclosest analog to “Guys Eyes,” musically and lyrically. Wilson sings a repetitious melody that climbs up then dips down, and the Boys cap it with a chorus harmony so rich it’s hard to find an overarching melody.

The orchestral sounds of “Believe” (and of other Pet Sounds gems like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows”) are distinctly baroque. Harpsichords and chimes and horns swim around each other in a goopy warmth. “Guys Eyes” and the rest of Merriweather also give the feeling of an immense ensemble, but this is a wilder one. Continuing to move away from their earlier work as freak folkies, Animal Collective have essentially made an electro-pop album, with high and hooky vocals backed by synthetic bass drums, whirly organs and indescribable sounds (how’s that one for a music writer’s cop-out?).

On "Believe" and "Guys Eyes," respectively, Wilson and Panda demonstrate knacks for refreshing self-critique as they beat themselves up over questions of fidelity. Wilson sings, “I try hard to be strong, but sometimes I fail myself.” Panda goes deeper inside his own head: “I want to do just what my body needs to / If I could just hold all the thoughts in my head and just keep them for you / I want to show to my girl that I need her / If I could just purge all the urges that I have and keep them for you."

Some friends who have no patience for Animal Collective tell me that the group’s music sounds like a broken record. There’s some merit to their complaint. For an entire minute on “Brothersport,” Merriweather’s magnificent closer, we hear an overwhelming repetition of what sounds like an out-of-whack organ; a distant synthesizer; and a police siren, brought to life and pissed off. But why not have some fun? Play Brian Wilson for a day and seize on these relentless phrases to add your own harmony to the mix. Now you’re instantaneously a part of the Collective, and you understand how beautifully the line can be blurred between observing art and participating.

  • Click here to see Merriweather's first music video, a trippy, goopy clip for "My Girls." A higher-quality version is streaming from their Web site,, but that may change soon. Sure sounds like the Beach Boys. Looks . . . totally different.
A version of this piece first appeared as a column in the Jan. 26 issue of the Tufts Daily.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All Tomorrow's Music

A weekend's parties tend to come and go with a soft, sibilant deflation. We're left to throw back a couple ibuprofen, pick up the Dixie cups, wash out the stains, and start over again planning all tomorrow's parties. With music, thankfully, it's not like that. Each new work gets listened to, pored over, loved, reviled, shrugged at, then thrown into that same reactive cauldron with all the other music that's ever been heard. It grows on itself, it morphs and makes freakish children, and it leaves us to perpetually absorb All Tomorrow's Music.

This blog's name is deceptive (duh). Justifying its first word would be a Sisyphean task. So instead of trying to catalog "all" the records that are about to hit stores, this site will focus more on analysis of music that's highly anticipated and/or noteworthy.

In terms of that "tomorrow" in the title, the focus will absolutely be on new releases, although there are always reasons for a glance in the opposite direction. 2009, for instance, marks the 50th anniversary of the year that more than any other changed the shape of jazz to come. I'll take advantage of this with a series of posts on some of 1959's watershed jazz albums. I'll also publish an extended piece every week that compares a new release to a legendary "parent" album, of sorts, from years ago; the first installation lines up Animal Collective's buzzed-about Merriweather Post Pavilion with its Beach Boys-bred progenitor, Pet Sounds.

Most of the music I write about here will inevitably be of the "indie" stripe. (One look at this week's Top 40 is proof enough that tomorrow's music, the stuff with true staying power, remains in a subterranean world that most radio waves dare not penetrate.) But there's room for anything here, from jazz to hip hop to last gasps from still-hanging-on classic rockers.

A domani.