April 2008

1. MATSON JONES — A Bit of Arson (Never Hurt Anyone)

“They might as well be drawing their bows across your spinal cord.” Two cellos, a bass and drums come together for this Fort Collins/Denver, CO-based band — creating an eerie, yet still up-tempo rock quartet. The sound compared to Rasputina and PJ Harvey, the girls (cello players and vocalists Martina Grbac and Anna Mascorella) carry the band with their wrangling, jangling skills and the boys (upright bassist Matt Regan and drummer Ross Harada) keep that steady, sultry back beat. You know they’re slightly deranged, first and foremost. With restrained opening lyrics like “I’ve got people to see / and places that I need to burn down / people that I need to burn out of my head / And I know a kiss on the cheek / will not take care of everything / but you’d better give it to me, anyways, dear” snaked tightly around a Psycho-esque cello line (reeee, reeee, reeeee) — you know that if the band were an entity to be dated, you’d probably want to run far, because you could see the crazy coming from a mile away. But yet you’re still intrigued, especially when one of the girls launches into the chorus; a wild and muted Karen O-screech kind of war cry. I’ve done a lot in this blurb that compares the band to others — but don’t misunderstand me, while pieces of Matson Jones are indeed reminiscent of other projects, this is no average indie band. Dueling cellos make this absolutely one of a kind. Sadly, their label, Sympathy, tells me that the band is no longer together.

2. THE TING TINGS — Great DJ

You know The Ting Tings. I promise. They are everywhere! Certainly in the iPod commercial that started airing in the U.S. this month (“Shut Up And Let Me Go” — did you originally think it was Cibo Matto? Yeah, me too.), all over the music blogs, and definitely with this track in any stack of DJ’s dance records. Formerly Dear Eskiimo (with Simon Templeton), Katie White and Jules de Martino have honed their pop talents. Says Spin (who will always be able to review dance pop better than I ever can): “These glitzy popsters’ upbeat sonic thrusts club-punching guitars and adolescent coos, at times sounding as if Kylie Minogue attended indie-rock training camp and graduated with honors in handclaps and hipster sass. Frontwoman Katie White is pure spunk, spinning six-string jangles into breakout singles (“Great DJ”), when not rocketing lyrics about bitter breakups (“Shut Up & Let Me Go”) and proper epithet techniques (“That’s Not My Name”). Drummer Jules De Martino rocks rhythms skinny-jean clean, while a little cowbell, plunky key jabs, and a self-deprecating album title — We Started Nothing — craft a DIY chime.” The album comes out May 12th in the U.S.

3. FRED SCHNEIDER — Monster

We all know and love Fred Schneider, of the wonderful and touring B-52s. But, do ya love this 1984 effort from our pelvic-thrusting main man? Backed by Kate Pierson and Ricky Wilson (his B-52s bandmates, in this project “The Shake Society”), and with appearances in the video by RuPaul, Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) and Keith Haring — this song is hilarious. Fred grooves along, flattering himself as he deadpans lyrics about the monster in his pants, while Kate plays the damsel in “distress” with the other girls. Even funnier is that in the song’s disclaimer, Fred goes out of his way to say that “this wacky space-age song with tag team guitars…(is) about a dinosaur walking around in his polka dot PJ’s and not what some dirty-minded people might think”. Ha! Notice in the video the “monster” walking around in polka-dots ;)

Here, just watch the video. It’s delightful, it’s frivolous, it’s 80′s party chic — and it makes me wanna shake it.

Gosh, would you look at that thing! /…And I thought dinosaurs were extinct!”

4. DELIA DERBYSHIRE — Doctor Who Original Theme

Delia believed that the way the ear/brain perceives sound should have dominance over any basic mathematical theory, but as with most things in life it is important to know the rules in order to advantageously bend or break them.” Born in England in 1937 (d. 2001), Delia Derbyshire was a pioneer of electronic music. A long-time BBC Radiophonic Workshop mastermind, she is known best for this track, the 1963 original arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme for “Doctor Who”. Without the invention of synthesizers and/or multi-track recorders, the ahead-of-her-time musician created her pieces in a very D-I-Y manner: using first concrete sources and square-wave oscillators. Then, Derbyshire recorded individual notes on magnetic tape, razored them apart and rearranged them by hand, finishing off the song with filters, tuners and tape loops to create the other-worldly, space-age effect that was the result. Grainer was so impressed by the end product that he asked that she be given co-composer credit. At the time, though, BBC bureaucracy preferred that the members of the Workshop remain anonymous — so Delia did not receive any royalties or credit for the arrangement.

5. THE GERMS — Circle One (live)

Los Angeles legends The Germs reigned fast and furious. Formed in 1977, their first gig at the Orpheum entailed vocalist Darby Crash sticking the mic into a jar of peanut butter and the inexperienced band (disaffected youths who didn’t even have any songs written yet) making noise for 5 minutes until they were kicked offstage. It was a fitting start for the band, these misfit kids who embodied punk rock and didn’t really know what else to do with themselves but thrash about, snarling, learning to play as they went — creating a definite SoCal sound for the time, and even being heralded as the “Los Angeles Sex Pistols”. “The lyrics came from reams of notebooks Crash had filled during his middle-high school days and they’re a manic mix of adolescent angst, Nietsche narcissistic philosophy, and supposedly include inspiration from Oswald Spengler’s ‘Decline of the West’” — the rest of the band were his friends, his support (Lorna Doom, Pat Smear, Don Bolles). This is crusty punk, the kind of punk that directly led to the hardcore genre. Punk to be respected. Just three short years after the band’s first gig, Darby Crash intentionally overdosed on heroin — his dark and depressed side getting the better of him. Unfortunately, any notoriety surrounding his death was eclipsed by the murder of John Lennon the following day…

Fun fact: Belinda Carslisle, front for the Go-Gos, is a former Germs member.

6. BARR — The Song Is The Single

Brendan Fowler is a conceptual artist based in Los Angeles (currently in New York). While it’s true he is best-known for this project, the “music/performance/object+ephemera” called BARR, in the art world he is a steady figure, an alter ego called “Disaster” that seeks to address bands out there with questionable names (Jay Reatard is one) in the hopes to understand them. It’s a flip side to Fowler. BARR was created to uplift and empower while Disaster is aimed to darkly affect the viewer and/or listener; be “morally negligent”. The thing about BARR is that it’s a construction/deconstruction. The end result is a still an unfinished product in so many ways. Mainly a solo project (occasionally backed by a band), BARR is spoken word, like a sort of easygoing slam poetry delivery, about “exploding the process of creation as much as it is about continuously navigating the turns of basic existence, while documenting and celebrating the journey, scrapes and all.” The songs are paradoxes; simple, attractive little pieces that make fun of themselves, paired sometimes with on-stage mime antics.

7. JOE MEEK — Magic Star

“The stories, near unbelievable, are strange but true. In a flat on the Holloway Road, four people bang their feet on the stairs, stomping their way to a sixties pop-defining number one. The microphones that record the din are attached to the banisters with bicycle clips. There are singers in the toilet and string sections in the kitchen. In the bedroom, his feet lost in a carpet of reel to reel tape and tangled wires held together with chewing gum, a thick-set man in a suit sets the controls for the heart of British popular music. These stories would be fantastic enough without rumours of black magic, gangland threats and a pill-popping climax of paranoia, rapidly declining fortunes and murder. The Joe Meek story is a B movie script without a home.” (This article on Meek is incredible)

1962′s “Telstar” is decidedly the arrangement for which Joe Meek is known best. After having written it for his house band The Tornados, it became the best-selling instrumental of all time. It’s a perfect example of Meek’s voracious attempts to showcase the pageantry of the Space Race. In typical Joe Meek form, the recording combines multi-tracked musical parts, echo, electronic gadgets and homemade sound-effects, outer space overtones and clavioline keyboard to produce one of the greatest of his sonic experiments. This, “Magic Star”, is Joe Meek himself — his vocal version of “Telstar”. It is shockingly different. Whereas “Telstar is nearly psychedelic in its experimental guitar frenzy, “Magic Star” sounds as if it could’ve been recorded by Pat Boone. It’s syrupy sweet, 50s-reminiscent pop at its finest.

8. MONT DE SUNDUA — Space Beast

After releasing an album and EP, “Month of Sundays” broke up, but not before recording in 1998 a self-titled sophomore album. It was finally released nearly a decade later on Jim James’ Removador label, in May 2007, long after each member found success in other projects. Funny how that happens. Band members James (My Morning Jacket), Ben Blandford and Dave Givan (Insects) formed in Louisville, KY in 1992 — a high school effort that encompassed the psychedelic aspects of their influences, the grunge rock aspects of the time and the southern bluegrass aspects of their hometown roots. This is the opener of the nearly-lost LP, a very appropriately-named “Space Beast” that layers up and powers through. No lyrics, just signature Jim James wailing and droning jam band guitar, complemented by fairly simplistic and steady drums. The band chemistry is mature and creative, orchestral in nature at some points. A stoner’s ear fuck, ride it.

PS: Jim James? Super-talented, awfully handsome, and a really, really nice guy, to boot. I met him in the Artist’s Lounge at Lollapalooza 2006, but I have a handful of friends who went to school with him and corroborate my claims ;)

9. TIMES NEW VIKING — Drop Out

I think it’s pretty obvious that I jammed this on this month’s mix at the last minute. It sticks out like a sore thumb! Off of Matador Records’ Intended Play 2008 (a freebie disc for your downloading pleasure), the band caught my ear and I knew I had to share them before they’re a household name! The band hails from Columbus, OH, and they do a pretty amazing job on their MySpace of describing what they sound like, so I’ll be doing a bit of cut n’ pasting here:

“Breath in: snuff a line speed, a half hour jump on your cheap amplifiers, salad yet once a half hour with you yet cheaper guitar against the wall. Write eleven popliedjes, lay the emphasis on cryptic and forget everything your song teacher you ever learned has. Seek your neighbor girl on and tell her that your musics will make. Lay her emphatically from that she must not try to sing. Stick, now that you it really are, also just your tongue between her lips till you certainly are that they that rather has not. Give her then you eleven popliedjes and (optioneel) a guitar. Question her these eleven popliedjes with you together to not to sing, expect of it surplus. Mess what with the buttons on the amplifier, let the hamster of your neighbor girl also once over the strings run, sign the head of the father of your neighbor girl on the skins of a Bears Smit drumstel, call her feather ten-year-old little brother and lay from that its father him really real hatred. Breath out: and voila, Yourself Summoned. Sounds good? Sounds in it really yet better. Blessed with a delicious dose ADHD-spontaneity and a fine nose for popmelodieën know Tim New Viking on Summoned Yourself a particular charming pot borrow-fi garagepop down to dump. A kind of contemporary version of The Shaggs, but then without the implicit family tie. More a neighbor boy-neighbor girl tie thus.”

10. NIGHTMARES ON WAX — Flip Ya Lid

Get yer subwoofers ready for action, here comes “Flip Ya Lid”, a super-toasty roots reggae dubby bass track infused with the spirit of a man raised by soul. George Evelyn, the Leeds-based “Waxer” better known as DJ EASE (“Experimental Sample Expert”), released this track as part of 2006′s cosmopolitan personal retrospective “In A Space Outta Sound”.

(MC) “Ricky Rankin ensures that Flip Ya Lid is a genuine highlight on an already strong album. With the dub bass breathing in and out like a mighty set of bellows, he delivers a pertinent, thoughtful song about the state of things. All undercut with the funny and it’s true line from the title; “What’s to flippin’ do? So many people flippin their lids. Again, what strikes you is the sincerity and soulful quality, but it’s humble and unassuming in the same moment, so it’s not even remotely preachy. By the end you won’t know if you’re nodding to the beat or the sentiment, but in truth it’ll probably be both.”

Says Evelyn about the track and Rankin’s participation: “The great thing about that track is that Ricky never even came to do that track; he came to do a different one that didn’t actually make the album. We finished pretty early and went to get some weed. We got back and just knocked this beat together. I was saying let’s do something new, knocked a beat together, and he was freestyling. I said yo just go in the studio man, just go in the booth, and I just pressed the record button, and he freestyled the track. That day we had been talking about social issues and the way things are, between riot police on the street, and this was when all the ASBO stuff had just kicked in, and he was pretty freaked out by it all. So the actual influence of the day and that track is about how people should just calm down and take time out for each other.”

Fun fact: This song was supposed to be on the documentary’s soundtrack, but Wax On (Evelyn’s record label since 2006) didn’t get back the release on time! ‘Tis the downside to being so popular and busybusy! Aww.

11. FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE — Swimming

So much press about the UK’s Florence Welch and her backing band of musicians called The Machine. Named “Best Gig of SXSW” by famed music mag NME, they’ve since been all over everyone’s radar. And why wouldn’t they be, given the below-shown performance clip?

The sound is a chick with a bone to pick, but who’s also happy to wait around for you and notice the little things in life while doing so. Welch’s voice is like Natalie Merchant version 2.0, strong and secure while also so fragile and lilting. This is rock and roll, you feel a little dangerous listening to this music; a little on edge. You, too, could break at any minute. You’re just as unpredictable as Florence, but you still let her call the shots. Why wouldn’t you, she’s out to kick your ass anyway, you might as well.

12. TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA — Wish Liszt

It’s almost funny to put this band on the April mix, since the New York City-based group is best known for their renditions of Christmas songs. This song is no exception, off of 2004′s “The Lost Christmas Eve”. Part of a symphonic fairy tale of sorts, this version of “Wish Liszt” is the instrumental version, eerily and with a The Balkans-meets-hair band sort of influence outlining the “toy shop madness” that is going on at this part of the album. With The 60-piece orchestra’s rock opera style wasn’t at first accepted by the industry, but with their tour placing as the #21 most popular tour, it’s obviously more of a success than some higher-ups might have thought. When asked what Trans-Siberian Orchestra really is, founder and composer Paul O’Neill replied, “It’s about creating great art….The purpose of art is to create an emotional response in the person that is exposed to that art. And there are three categories of art; bad art, good art and great art. Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the person that is exposed to it, i.e.; a song you hear in an elevator and it does nothing to you, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as if the wall had been blank, a movie that chews up time. Good art will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad, you hear a song about love and you remember the last time you were in love. Great art will make you feel an emotion you have never felt before; seeing the pieta, the world famous sculpture by Michelangelo, can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they’ve never had one. And when you’re trying for these emotions the easiest one to trigger is anger. Anyone can do it. Go into the street, throw a rock at someone, you will make them angry. The emotions of love, empathy and laughter are much harder to trigger, but since they operate on a deeper level, they bring a much greater reward.”

13. GRAND BUFFET — Total Control

For 12 years now, the artists Jackson O’Connell-Barlow and Jarrod Weeks (“Lord Grunge aka Jarrod Weeks aka Viceroy & Grape-A-Don aka Jackson O’Connell-Barlow aka Plaps”) have been creating contemporary lo-fi-meets-old-school beats. Their pop hip-hop (“pop-hop”?) arrangements border on the experimental. It’s obvious that the two just get together and groove and the rest comes naturally; just falls into place. They just really love music and strive to make their own; put their own spin on whatever they’ve already got. The indie hip-hop legends are rumored to have sold 15,000 CDs out of the back of their cars, in true DIY spirit, they’ve toured extensively with acts too numerous to mention — they are underground heroes who poked their noses into the mainstream but don’t really give too much of a shit about having done so. “Total Control” is off of the 2007 release “The Haunted Fucking Gazebo” — a digestable album that teased toward the release of this year’s “King Vision” while also giving a satirical adult’s kind of Scooby Doo feel. With lines in this track like “Big Brother treating us like fucking cattle”, the duo combine pop culture and “hot rap-style shit” to please entirely.

14. THE NIHILISTS — Motorpsycho

Says the Prague Post about the sound of CZ’s native (Moimir Papalescu and) the Nihilists: “Voodoo hoodoo: Romanian-tinged rock gets an electronic jolt” . Rocking all jagged and punky not unlike The Cramps, The Nihilists bring swampy rock to the 80s, though they were a modern-day outfit. They are happily stuck in the quicksand of synth, darlings of the underground, a quaking time warp of analog and neon. “Their shows – featuring Sonja’s seething vocals, Hank’s manic howls, Moimir’s fresh beats, Peter’s sax-experiments, and Wratislaw’s wild drumming – are famous for raw punk energy and massive electric sound.” I found this track on the 2005 “Berlin Insane” compilation, put out by Pale Music in support of the festival by the same name. The band did break up in late 2007, but you can find a very familiar line-up in Prague’s Kill The Dandies!

15. MUTE MATH — Reset

The title track from 2004′s “Reset” (the now out-of-print EP), this track is an introspective, heady and crashing instrumental. A Portishead-style beat, ambient, electronic and grooving. The four piece (originating from New Orleans) has scattered influences that are apparent without being obvious, and touch on everything from DJ Shadow-styled beats, moments of beauty and grandeur a la Bjork, and vocals that pay legitimate homage to Police-era Sting. When asked about this vast expanse of musical territory that we are asked to find them dwelling within, (vocals/keys) Meany replied, ‘I blame it on the past forty years of music’. They act on the idea that their magic is to be found in the mixture of countless thoughts. Their live show thrives on this random energy too involving homemade instruments, live sampling, a junked-out keytar, and the kind of freak-outs that keep any given performance worth the price of admission.”

[Another track so close to making it on the soundtrack for the documentary. Bummer it didn't work out.]

Fun fact: Sept 19, 2007Mute Math made television history by being the first band to perform live…BACKWARDS! On “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, the band played “Typical” in its entirety — a song made famous when the Israel Anthem-directed video was shot with the band members playing the song backwards. It took the band members three weeks to learn their parts.

16. THE DRAMATICS — In The Rain

A Stax classic and a #1 R&B hit for these “Me and Mrs. Jones” artists. Formed in Detroit in 1962 as “The Dynamics”, the band had changed their name by 1967 and had this hit by 1972. A known band in the industry, through a few hit songs as well as numerous appearances on Soul Train, this track made it to #5 on the Billboard Top 100 and spent a month at the top of the Hot Soul Singles chart. This is the longer, 5-minute version of the song, not the 3.5-minute version that was recorded for the “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” album. You should check out these cats for yourself, truly, but I’d almost be surprised if you call yourself a music-lover and haven’t already.

PS: They still tour! Of course not the original line-up, but still…

17. MOS DEF — Ms. Fat Booty 2

This song can be found on the 1999 release of “Black On Both Sides”, the highly-lauded sophomore effort from the much-loved Brooklyn-ite called Mos Def, but I found it on 2000′s Lyricist Lounge 2 (this being a track shared with Ghostface Killah) compilation by Rawkus Records. Really, who doesn’t like Mos Def? He’s a musician, an actor, a notable collaborator, an award-winner; well-respected in any circle I’ve ever known. His sounds are approachable, intelligent and progressive. People say he’s defined/redefined what the genre of hip-hop is! There’s not much more I can say about the man that hasn’t already been said somewhere on the web. So, Google him if you want more — no doubt you’ve already heard this song, somewhere, already. It’s just on this mix for fun, a “fat booty”-shaker to start off the summer. I have bigger fish to fry than to be wasting my time blogging about Mos Def! Ha.

Fun fact: Mos Def makes it as #69 on the “Stuff White People Like” list. HAHA.

Fun fact: Mos Def’s little brother Jermone lives here in Portland!

18. PAW — Lolita

The foursome from Lawrence, Kansas debuted their sound on 1993′s “Dragline”. Since it released in 1993 during the grunge heyday, and record labels were vying to sign them based on projected marketability, the band were lumped in to the “grunge” genre. But, these are not scenesters or dudes jumping on some bandwagon. Look at where the band came from! These are hillbilly musicians who wear their hair long and their shirts checked because…they are from farming territory and, uh, this is what they wear!

This track is really indicative of the band’s talent and commercial success, with lead singer Mark Hennessey growling these totally disturbing lyrics (that unfortunately always remind me of the Jenny character in “Forrest Gump”): “Hush child, or I’ll close your pretty mouth. / Lolita, spread your pretty legs / So Daddy can see just where he wants to pray / The sun shines through your flimsy dress / Put your little body on display / Yeah, I didn’t mean to hit you so hard / I didn’t mean to push you too far away / Yeah, i didn’t mean to hurt you so bad / I didn’t mean to push you too far away / For you to come back home.” Reminiscent of Bush and other alt-grunge bands from this era, “Dragline” is long out of print — but you can still find it used on sites like Amazon. Round out your collection and pick this up — and if you’re lucky you might find the vinyl single for “Lolita”…”Legend has it that Paw met in jail, while this is probably just another rumour made up by the Melody maker, Dragline has a feel of having been written behind bars. This is one of those transition classics that often gets over-looked, with bouncing bass-lines more akin to Jane’s Addiction and short heavy riffs similar to early Tad, the best bit about this album are the songs that are carried by Mark Hennessy’s powerful, yet whiskey-tinged voice. Not quite a classic, but a damn good record to add to your heavy rock collection.”

Fun fact: I am pretty certain that Paw’s video for “Lolita” is the first video I ever saw on that old MTV show “Headbanger’s Ball” (kids these days don’t know what they’re missing, “Headbanger’s Ball” changed my life and certainly my musical tastes). I’d post the video here but can’t find it on the web! Readers, help? If you’ve got it, send it :)

19. THE BARBARIANS — Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl

“In the pantheon, they are a footnote; a garage band that recorded one album and a handful of singles. A handful of musicologists suggest they were the very first punk band ever, pre-dating The Seeds. The high point of their career together was a single appearance on a filmed musical variety program, and a very peculiar single…” This track an anthem for early punkers vs. hipsters everywhere! Inspired by the British Invasion of the early 60s, the grody Provincetown, MA garage band bangs out this track, with their one-armed drummer Moulty using his left-hand hook to keep time. The band only had the chance to record one album, for Laurie Records, in early 1965. “The standout cut is the single, “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?”, which some claim is the first punk song; a statement of purpose and rumination on long hair, it had an aggressive jangle to it, and was delivered with a sneer, in an era when bands were still trying to make cheerful….The album isn’t a classic of musicianship, but it does capture a time and era like almost no other record, and has long been a prized trophy for collectors. The producer was Doug Morris, who later went on to become President of A&M Records. Morris got a co-credit on ‘Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?’”

20. DEVENDRA BANHART — So Long Old Bean

It took Devendra Banhart most of his life to become a true recording artist, though the “king of the freak-folkies” probably always had it in him. One day, during an argument with a girlfriend, a light bulb went off: “…I realized I could write about anything I wanted…It was like being constipated and then taking a suppository.” The Texas-born, Venezuela-raised Banhart got his lucky break during a sound check at L.A.’s “The Fold” in 2000, when a friend of Young God Records owner Michael Gira discovered him and took home one of his CD-Rs. The rest is history. The wandering, homeless minstrel known as Devendra Banhart had found a musical home. Says Gira: I first heard the crude home made recordings of Devendra Banhart, then a homeless, wandering, neo psych/folk hippie artist and musician, not yet 21 years old. We released these recordings on YGR because we’d never heard anything quite like them, ever. His voice – a quivering high-tension wire, sounded like it could have been recorded 70 years ago – these songs could have been sitting in someone’s attic, left there since the 1930′s. The response was astounding . Devendra soon moved here to NYC (from SF), where he lived in squats, couch-surfed, and finally found himself a home (very recently), suddenly riding a tidal wave of press acclaim, 3 or 4 US tours, tours in Europe, a special feature on NPR (for God’s sake) – in short, a seismic shift in his fortunes. He’s the most genuine, least cynical and calculated artist I’ve ever known, and he deserves every bit of the good things now coming his way. He’s also one of the most innately talented, magical performers I have ever heard. Period. He GIVES. This kind of generosity and breadth of emotion is all too rare these days. Whether the songs are pained, twisted, whimsical, or even sometimes weirdly silly, aside from being fantastically musical and expertly played, they are also utterly sincere, and devoid of a single drop of post modern irony. In short, he’s the real thing.”

["So Long, Old Bean" is archaic and woozy...like a dream; like a cowboy Elvis Presley on pain pills. You can find it on 2007's "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon".]

Fun fact: Lindsey Lohan interviewed Banhart back in 2006. At that time, he made her a mix tape. Then, in 2007, Banhart made more mix CDs for Lohan while she was in rehab. Two of ‘em, actually. Aw.

Fun fact: Banhart dates actress Natalie Portman.

21. THE AGE OF ROCKETS — Avada Kedavra

“Orchestra driven indie rock” out of New York City. With 23,000+ friends on their MySpace it’s hard to imagine them the “small baby unsigned band” they claim to be, but looking at the facts it’s true. They say “labels don’t like us” — maybe that’s only true because they truly are a popular underground success story. The intro to this recording is startling, a an abrupt opening that reminds me of my Madrigal days when we’d all sing in a circle to best hear each other. Then, that blippy drum machine beat… “With a name like Age of Rockets, you’d expect the band to sound like it does. Nerdy, melodic, lamenting, sweet and yearning. The urge to compare them to the Postal Service is almost undeniable, but the album firmly holds its ground, and is anything but a genre-clone.”

Check out this track on the freshly-released sophomore album by the band, 2008′s “Hannah”.

22. TENDER FOREVER — The Magic of Crashing Stars

Leave it to K Records to sign this unhinged Frenchwoman and put her on tour with the mighty Old Time Relijun. Her adopted nom-de-rock (“Tender Forever”) and her weird album title both evoke a vast sequence of limp penises. Yet this is an album about love, not lust, so let the limp penises dangle and let your jaw drop in wonder at the Anglophone beauty with the big teeth and bushy eyebrows trying to emulate the magic of old Har Mar Superstar. It doesn’t quite work as an album, yet I can’t escape the fact that my heartlight’s been turned on. This happens a lot at K Records, doesn’t it?” This song is for Natalie, my first friend in Portland who introduced me to this artist and who describes her musical tastes as being “clicks, beeps and tambourines”. This is the ringer on her phone, the song (#12!) she plays on repeat in the car on rainy days, the song that gives her that faraway look, especially when she’s recounting the first time she met Tender Forever, a.k.a. Melanie Valera, in a Whole Foods. Valera is a local artist who splits her time between Portland and (Bordeaux) France, creating a sassy Franco-American pop project. “Being the girlfriend of Tender Forever’s Melanie Valera has to be as much of a curse as it is a blessing. On the plus side, your French expat squeeze writes nose-wrinklingly cute, keyboard-driven pop songs that thoroughly convey the depths and assorted complexities of her feelings for you. On the minus side, she’s a musician who must put these lushly intimate forget-me-nots out into the world at large.” This lo-fi, DIY, fierce karaoke-style debut release by Tender Forever, “The Soft and the Hardcore”, came out in December 2005…the new album, “Wider” dropped last December.

Fun fact: check out the Tender Forever MySpace for a saucy little acoustic cover of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love”.

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