Reblogging: NPR Links Update

Been awhile since I’ve dumped some links. This time I seem to have a whole boatload…So let’s get to it then.

All the Links after the jump…

Best Song I’ve Heard All Day — Early 2011 Favorite

(part 943 in a 1001 part series)

I’ve only just now gotten around to listening to this band Yuck this weekend after their debut album came across my desk this past week. But wow… I think I might have a new favorite for 2011 and the year hasn’t even started yet.

This song “Rubber” in particular grabs immediately with some of the beefiest shoegazer distortion I’ve heard this side of black metal and ’90s grunge. But once you get into its melodic trance, it becomes so cathartic. The band can be powerful poppy garage rock or they can be sweetly melancholy and minimal. Mark my words, this band will be one the interblogs will be talking about this year — at least until some sort of backlash happens. But enjoy it while you can.

Check out their weird and pretty gross at times, yet strangely beautiful (and NSFW) video for “Rubber.” Beware, it has both a nude woman and extreme closeups of dogs getting washed and groomed. Do what you will with that information.

Yuck – Rubber from Yuck on Vimeo.

More videos after the jump

Best Song I’ve Heard All Day — ‘This Is War’

(part 929 in a 1001 part series)

One of my favorite new music discoveries this year has been the duo Houses, who’s album All Night was one of my most heavily played albums from about October on. As I said in my recent Song of the Day write up, their minimalist electronic music is dark, hazy and yet completely blissful and emotionally cathartic.

So I was happy to find — albeit belatedly — that they recently released a new song, “This Is War,” on the site Alternative Apparel. This one eschews the electronics and samples for a dirgey piano, washed out guitar lines and haunting vocals that build to climactic peak that recalls The Antlers, The National or Deerhunter. Apparently a holiday song, here’s what Houses’ member Dexter Tortoriello writes about the music:

Holiday songs are often about snow, gifts or family – all of which are happy and nice – but when you stop and think about it, most holidays are based around very serious events. Christmas is, at its core, a recognition of the birth of one of the most famous and controversial figures in history. His birth and life are a truly incredible story in themselves, regardless of your personal beliefs. The song is about that very first Christmas day. It’s a haunting yet beautiful melody; we chose not to use the electronics that we’re known for on this song and opted instead for a more traditional composition. It seemed fitting.

Needless to say, it’s great. Check out the video below:

Houses Gift to Alternative Apparel from Houses on Vimeo.

Jeff Tweedy Goes Solo In The District

Jeff Tweedy performing live in Washington D.C. (Credit: Francis Chung)
Jeff Tweedy performing live in Washington D.C. (Credit: Francis Chung)

Jeff Tweedy solo shows are pretty durn rare these days, especially away from Chicago, and more especially out here on the east coast. So it was an incredible treat to get the chance to see the Wilco-mastermind perform here in Washington D.C. at the historic Lincoln Theatre.

The entire set was nearly perfect: a mix of old classics from Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, intermingled with some newer fare from later albums, and even a few rarities tossed in. It was sparsely lit with a single spotlight, with a simple black curtain backdrop and a few guitars surrounding him in a half arc behind him. It was much like what I envision an old Bob Dylan acoustic show might’ve been like. It was at times both heartfelt and beautiful and yet surprisingly funny when Tweedy would cut wise with the sometimes overly-talkative audience. That Jeff Tweedy is one quick and witty dude.

And while there were many favorites from the night — “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” “Via Chicago,” “A Shot In The Arm,” “You Are Not Alone,” and a completely un-amplified rendition of “Acuff Rose” to close out the night — I was wholly enamored and taken with his acoustic performance of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”

The version he played to open the entire show was so stripped down and re-imagined from it’s original Krautrock form that it even took me a few to figure out what song it was. But it was absolutely gorgeous, making me hear that song and it’s lyrics — now imbued with an even greater sense of melancholy and lonely stillness as he sings “It’s good to be alone” — in a totally new way. It truly set the tone for the rest of the superb show for me.

This mp3 here of that song is from the New York show at the Bowery Ballroom performed a few nights before I saw him (I couldn’t find my show yet)… But wow!


Judging By The Cover: Five More Great Cover Songs From 2010

For the past year I kept an ongoing list of nearly every cover song I came across — from live performances, YouTube clips, web series, compilations and charity albums and more. From that list I whittled it down to two 5-song lists during the year: a mid-year list Five Great Cover Songs From 2010 (So Far) and my year-end round-up of the 5 Best Cover Songs Of 2010.

Originally that final list was intended to be full-on top ten, but we cut it down to what I thought was the most essential. Here are the remaining five from that list:

Atlas Sound: “This Wheel’s On Fire” by Bob Dylan (from Bedroom Databank)

Atlas Sound‘s Bradford Cox has been among the most consistent and prolific artists in recent years. But in 2010 — a year that already saw the release of a gem of an album with Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest — Cox surprised everyone by dumping a whopping four volumes worth of bedroom demo tracks on his blog for free download. These Bedroom Databank recordings were certainly a treat for fans of his blend of ambient indie rock and experimental electronic music, yet it also stirred some controversy when Sony initially ordered him to remove the tracks. But what’s gotten somewhat lost is how great so many of these songs are, including the track that likely sparked the ordeal, a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan and The Band‘s “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Here, Cox tempers the song in his trademark moody haze of noise and reverb, creating a ramshackle, if not melancholy version that both honors the original and repaints it in his image.

Jonsi: “Time To Pretend” by MGMT (from BBC session)

Taking a big, production-heavy pop song and winnowing it to the bare melodic essentials is harder than it might appear, especially when it’s MGMT, a band built around a huge sound. But in a March interview and performance session for BBC Radio 1, Jónsi delivered a stunning solo piano reduction of MGMT’s big pop hit “Time To Pretend.” Even when stripped of its buoyant dance beats and infectious tapestry of electronics, the song remarkably holds up. But more impressive is the delicate yet soaring falsetto of Jón Birgisson which establishes a somber yet lilting mood. Jonsi’s own music has always been transfixing and transporting, but with this cover, the enigmatic and joyful singer shows another side to his personality.

OMD: “VCR” by The xx (from digital single)

A lot of times a cover song serves as a way for an established band can show support to the next generation. That’s certainly has been true for artists like Bowie performing with TV on the Radio, Bruce Springsteen with Arcade Fire, or in this case, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark doing a cover of The xx‘s “VCR.” The minimal, icy music of The xx is very clearly influenced by ’80s pop and electronic artists, especially Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. So it’s not all that much of a surprise that OMD would both attempt this song, but also expand upon it with a subtle touch. While equally as stripped down as the original, OMD’s take is less detached and aided by the warm analog instrumentation and sweet crooning vocals of Andy McCluskey. It’s a satisfying expert rendition from the synth pop pioneers.

Portland Cello Project featuring Laura Gibson and John Moen: “Dazed And Confused” by Led Zeppelin (from From The Land Of Ice And Snow)

Compared to artists like The Beatles or Bob Dylan, the music of Led Zeppelin is rarely malleable and more difficult to make your own and still retain the band’s seething intensity and edge. So much of their identity comes from that searing, explosive energy, that no matter what an artist does, it often pales in comparison. What make so much of this year’s Zeppelin tribute record, From The Land Of Ice And Snow work is that many of the artists choose not to beat them, but join them in a smart way. “Dazed And Confused” stands out amongst other great renditions because of the way the Portland Cello Project and Laura Gibson play with the tension and release dynamics. With Gibson’s ghostly voice and strings that eerily swoop and trill down the neck, they build the anxiety and paranoia. Then with a cathartic burst from John Moen’s drums, the tension breaks. And with the wash of distorted cello riffs that mimic Jimmy Page’s most fearsome guitar solo, this version serves as an example of how to put a small sonic stamp on such distinctive classic.

Aloe Blacc: “Femme Fatale” by The Velvet Underground and Nico (from Good Things)

Aloe Blacc’s Good Things is one of the few recent soul records I’ve heard that doesn’t pretend to be of another time. Sure, his songs have those stylistic flavors — a steady back beat, a deep grooving bass line and some killer horn stabs. But it’s the way he pushes those ideas forward (see his killer single “I Need A Dollar”) rather than attempting to recapture a retro sound like many of his peers that gives his voice an extra weight. Aloe Blacc’s smoldering rendition of The Velvet Underground and Nico‘s “Femme Fatale” renders the song as a powerful soul ballad that could easily serve as the opening theme to a James Bond film. The song captures the intoxicating mystery, and even danger of falling for a beautiful woman, and he’s helpless to stop himself. “Femme Fatale” is not only one of the record’s strongest songs, but it nearly tops the original by giving it a completely changed perspective.

Joanna Newsom Tribute is out for Oxfam!

I was fortunate to play on a track that was contributed to this album a few months back.. Someone saw a youtube video we put online from a show and asked that we record a studio version of the track for this Oxfam fundraiser. Donate and download here:

Track list / Artist list here: (I’m on Baby Birch by Sarah Katheryn)
1. Billy Bragg: “On a Good Day”
2. Josh Mann: “Bridges & Balloons”
3. M. Ward: “Sadie”
4. Ian Cooke: “Monkey & Bear”
5. The Moscow Coup Attempt: “Sprout and the Bean”
6. Owen Pallett: “Peach, Plum, Pear”
7. Joel Cathey: “Book of Right-On”
8. Melissa Stylianou: “Swansea”
9. Ben Sollee: “Sawdust & Diamonds”
10. Chris Leeds: “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
11. This Is Deer Country: “Easy”
12. Francesco Santocono: “’81”
13. Guy Buttery: “Book of Right-On” (instrumental)
14. Ian Cooke: “Colleen”
15. Jennifer Schmitt: “This Side of the Blue”
16. Rosa Hinksman: “In California”
17. A Voice Heard on Baer Mountain: “Autumn”
18. White Elephant Gift Exchange: “Inflammatory Writ”
19. David Miele: “Soft as Chalk”
20. Sandhorse: “Flying a Kite”
21. Sarah Katheryn: “Baby Birch”
22. Kristina Forrer: “On a Good Day”

Here is the video that landed us this gig: