Monthly Archives: September 2008

#84 mercury rev – love is pure

so today mercury rev‘s new album snowflake midnight is finally out, and what a refreshing direction it’s taken. while it’ll take many more listens before i start comparing this to their masterpieces like yerself is steam and deserter’s songs, this album strangely melds the unsettling effect of the former with the magical wonder of the latter – tensions best captured in songs like ‘snowflake in a hot world”. one of the new inclusions this time round is the strongly electronic treatment, something explored even further in the free companion album strange attractor. in the album opening “love is pure”, a broken melody seems to be going backwards as its ambient surroundings move forward in a looming thunderstorm that eventually gives way to a new dawn that’s equal parts organic and electronic. it’s as yet a new concoction awaiting refinement, but it’s sure an excitingly promising one.

mp3: mercury rev – love is pure

pop down to the official mercury rev site to sign up and download your copy of strange attractor.

#83 radiohead – reckoner (diplo remix)

up to now, there has been no consensus among my friends on radiohead‘s in rainbows, with opinions ranging from brilliant to bore. for me, it was an album i liked and am liking more with each listen. and more than half a year into its release, it’s still very much in everyone’s consciousness, especially with the remix opportunities the band has been offering to the public, first with “nude” earlier in the year, and now with “reckoner”. diplo was among the first few commissioned to remix “reckoner“, and the result is incredibly fun as you would expect of him. initially unrecognizable save for some of the original percussions, the mix moves into a prodigy-like sequence before diplo throws in a surprise beirut sample. listen out for it and marvel at how well it blends back with thom’s falsetto. thanks adrian for the heads-up!

mp3: radiohead – reckoner (diplo mix)

#82 seppuku paradigm – your witness

how do you review a soundtrack for a film you’ve never watched before? as a mercury rev fan, i’m pretty used to that since the rev have always had a cinematic approach to their music (who else records on 35mm?), but it’s still hard trying (not) to connect the song to the film’s narrative in a situation such as this. the film in question is pascal laugier’s martyrs, the controversial horrorshow on child abuse premiered at the cannes film festival this year. it was scored by parisian duo willie and alex cortes, (otherwise known as seppuku paradigm) who composed the film’s main theme “your witness”. the song, taken on its own, is cold and pensive, deliberately atmospheric even to the point of emotional disengagement – in other words, “chill”. but when considered in context of its filmic relation, the coldness becomes brutal and the distance unbearable, though in both ways beautifully executed. and if you thought that to be a tad too morbid for your liking, you might not want to know the duo’s name is inspired by the seppuku (or harakiri) suicide of japanese author yukio mishima. enjoy!

mp3: seppuku paradigm – your witness

#81 jonathan richman and the modern lovers – roadrunner

it’s formula one season here in singapore, where the city’s playing host to the first ever night race in f1 history, and i can’t wait to be there tonight at qualifying and the at full 61-lap race tomorrow! it’s been a childhood dream of mine, since following the prost-senna duels more than 15 years ago, so countless thanks to jeanie beans for the fab tickets! what i have for all of you, then, is jonathan richman and the modern lovers’ “roadrunner”. obviously smitten with the velvet underground, richman adopted the structure of “sister ray” (with who else but john cale producing) but left behind its bleeding mess in favor of a more urgent sound, creating in the process what some have considered the first ever punk record.

mp3: jonathan richman and the modern lovers – roadrunner

#80 horse feathers – curs in the weeds

album cover art seldom appears here, usually because the posts are more song-centered rather than focused on the album itself. but for today’s feature on horse feathers, the cover for their recent kill rock stars release house with no name is absolutely pivotal. the subject of the photograph references the album title, but is no mere visual translation of it. the ghosted image from a second exposure, the washed out whites, the one-sided vignettes and the overhanging vines – while sitting well in the overall dreamy feel of the photograph, also add to it elements of subtle interventions. the empty signifier in the “house with no name” suddenly weighs more heavily under the baggage of these elements, making for much less comfortable viewing. album opener “curs in the weeds” mirrors that representational affect, with its sparseness giving way under its own weight and tipping to the side every time justin ringle’s measured lyrics coincides with peter and heather broderick’s swelling strings, and it’s in each overflowing movement that the true beauty of the song emerges and remains in its hauntingly residual image.

mp3: horse feathers – curs in the weeds

house with no name is out now on kill rock stars. get your copy here!

#79 blur – popscene

i was talking to b today when she asked what got me started on music, and there could only be one answer to that – blur. the expanding, bloating and later self-imploding brit-pop scene was what i was immersed in at that time, rooted in a culture that was anything but my own. in 1992, “popscene” was all prepped to be blur’s first single in a year and due to usher in their modern life is rubbish album, but in a case of bad timing and even more atrocious press, it failed so miserably that the band took it off the album. “if you didn’t f**king want it in the first place, you’re not going to get it now”, quipped now-estranged guitarist graham coxon. and so “popscene” became blur’s lost single. some might have regarded it a pity, but i think leaving an explosive, blaring gem like this under the covers might just have been the best thing to do, a testament to the contradictions and ironies of our music industry today, perfectly hidden for every new fan to stumble upon.

mp3: blur – popscene

#78 brightblack morning light – oppressions each

in brightblack morning light‘s “oppressions each”, every sigh is heard as the song waltzes in its own time, drenched in reverb as if played in an empty hall where even the dust on the wall trembles along. it’s a soulful, spiritualized piece that mourns and aches with an air of heaviness that weighs down on even the lightest shoulders. production wise, the sound is musky and archaic, but in its content, the message is universal. i haven’t heard the rest of the motion to rejoin album that “oppressions each” is taken from, but judging from this delicately treated dr john-inspired track, the haunting music of rachael hughes and nathan shineywater will continue to seep through the cracks and overflow the consciousnesses of lands beyond their own.

mp3: brightblack morning light – oppressions each

#77 butcher boy – days like these will be the death of me

i’m not sure how this one escaped me, but scottish band butcher boy‘s debut album profit in your poetry is an understated classic, combining the bittersweet taste of glasgowian charm with the lyrical prowess of john darnielle. it was released last year on the how does it feel to be loved label, an offshoot from the well-loved bi-monthly london club nights of the same name that’s featured guest djs ranging from stuart murdoch to stephen street. butcher boy’s frontman john blain hunt has also been running club nights of his own – the national pop league which has been immortalized in camera obscura’s “knee deep at the npl”. next month, the album will be re-released in the states by red eye, so i thought i’d share with everyone my favorite song of the lp, “days like these will be the death of me”. armed with a wry bleakness even morrissey would approve, the song closes the album with a pensive dalliance that reminds me of the extended ending of blur’s “resigned”, the mood of which fits perfectly.

mp3: butcher boy – days like these will be the death of me

can’t wait for the reissue? get the album now from the HDIF store!

#76 banjo or freakout – archangel (burial)

what do joy division and burial have in common? and how about banjos and freakouts? if you’re starting to feel a little disoriented, don’t worry as that’s exactly what’s going through in my head right now as i listen to banjo or freakout‘s cover of burial‘s “archangel”. banjo or freakout is the schizophrenic moniker of london-based alessio natalizia from turin, who’s been making dissonant waves lately resembling a more freewheeling atlas sound. in his version of “archangel”, there is indeed both banjo and freakout working in distracting tandem with each other. while the vocals seem to mimic will bevan’s original dream-like verses, another wedge is thrown into the equation in the form of a cynically placed percussion that sounds almost entirely lifted from joy division’s “atrocity exhibition”, except mixed even lower than the original opener of closer. the results are surprisingly coherent, considering the melding of two badly-guised covers that strangely enough sticks together in one hazy fog.

mp3: banjo or freakout – archangel (burial cover)

i’m waking up to… interviews brass bed

earlier last week, we featured louisiana band brass bed, with the immensely catchy “olivia” – one of the gems found in their self-released debut album midnight matinee. the record has an uncanny ability to draw the attention of music fans and obsessives from past and present, building upon a myriad of influences from classic pop by the kinks, the beatles and the beach boys to modern eccentrics, ranging from the psych pop of the flaming lips to generous helpings of the experimental indiepop of the legendary elephant 6 collective.

more than simply the sum of its influences, brass bed has been impressive in creating a sound that references these undeniable influences without limiting themselves to any one influence or any genre for that matter. the result is an enjoyable journey through pop history that looks forward rather than back. and it’s the process of creating this impressive debut that forms the subject of our interview today, with frontman christiaan mader kindly giving us an insight into all that goes into brass bed.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the band got together?
The band began as a 3 piece recording project founded by myself, Peter, and Jonny. We spent a couple of weeks over a summer home from our separate colleges in my parent’s house playing with a digital recording deck I had. We practiced composition, layering and dubbing, and arrangement with an assortment of about 13 songs. To be honest, looking back most of those tracks were rubbish. Oddly enough, 2 of those tracks are still in our repertoire though. One of which (On The Road) appears on Midnight Matinee. Kind of weird now that I think of it, that we have a song that we wrote at 19 and 20 appearing on an album 4 years later. Sheesh, I’m kind of blabbing here. Anyway, we started Brass Bed as means to perform the tracks we recorded. So we added a buddy to play keys, bass, and guitar and we started playing that stuff live, eventually making an EP. He went to school and we ended up writing Midnight Matinee as a 3 piece. We got Andrew and Jacques shortly after to tour with us, and they’ve since become permanent members of the band, included into our writing element. That aimless chattering of a story brings us to 2008 as a 5 piece.

I understand you guys had done a couple of home recordings prior to Midnight Matinee. What prompted the step to take it to a new level with this debut release?
In short, we graduated college. Most of that home recording stuff was done on breaks from school. Jonny, Peter, and I went to school in 2 different states so treating a band seriously was not really an option. We knew that we wanted to pursue what we had professionally, and we jumped at that opportunity when we graduated. That afforded us the time to tour, build a fan base etc. to get us enough confidence and money to hit the road and enter a professional studio.

How has the whole experience been so far?
Its been a learning experience. Not to say its been frustrating, but I never imagined the amount time and attention to detail was required to make a successful record by yourself. The good news is, I think this release is building the connections and experience to make the next release much easier.

Do you think that would have been very different if you were signed to a label?
Yeah, at least I hope so. Someone else would definitely have done the leg work that we had to bear. It’s certainly not impossible, hell I’m talking to you in Singapore right now! But I do think with label support we’d have more time to focus on what we actually do well, that is writing and performing music.

For me, Midnight Matinee is very revealing of the numerous influences in your music, sometimes in a very direct way (the Beatlesque sighs in “Polar Bird” and the Beach Boys harmonies throughout the album, for example). How did it work for you, bringing all these elements together?
That’s just the way its been natural to us I think. We have very short attention spans for specific sounds, so we tend to try everything listen to. My feeling is if you spend enough time sort of practicing different writing styles through the songs we write, that you develop your own voice. Especially when you include the creative voices of 2 or 3 other people. So if I wrote a song that had a direct inheritance from the Beatles, Jonny would say be listening to the Flaming Lips or Os Mutantes or something and somehow that influence would creep in somewhere.

One thing I’m sure, you must love the Kinks very much, considering the number of “character” songs you have (Olivia being my favorite). Is this album more of a foray into creative writing, or is it inspired by stories from your own lives?
If by creative writing you mean, our twisted minds, I’d say creative writing. I’ve been working on writing different character pieces in the Ray Davies‘ style, and its not an easy one to master. He’s got a deft hand at being critically humorous and insightful, without being too silly or cheesy. Olivia is about as close to that as I’ve gotten, although at the time I wouldn’t say I was actually trying to write a Kinks song. But I think that’s an example of how those influence just sort of creep in. Lord knows I’ve listened to Arthur and Something Else enough. Jonny wrote James Fellows Jr long before we recorded, and I think that’s a damn good song in the same sort of Davies’ character sketch, but I’m not sure if that was intentional. We wrote Olivia sort of together. He came up with the idea of the “Oliviaaaaa” chorus at the end in the vein of Victoria, or Gloria, or something. We wanted it to be an “ia” we knew that. So we put that on top of a recording I had done by myself, and I wrote out a verse melody and middle part. And came up with a little piece about voyeurism.

The song’s just not the same without the “ia”s! And I love the voyeurism bit, which really brings the songwriters back into the picture, doesn’t it? I don’t see that kind of authorial awareness very much today, and it’s so much more beautiful when you deal with olivia’s own alienation at the end.
Hey thanks! You know one thing that I’ve notice over the past couple of months is that folks who’ve heard the track and like it tend to think its about a girl that I suppose I would be in love with, which is obviously far from the case if you listen to the lyrics. Love is not at all a topic here. Strangest thing I’ve found is girls on Myspace named Olivia (or at least I assume they’re girls) that want to use it on their profiles etc. To be sure, I think Olivia is the sympathetic character there, I don’t speak of her negatively so much as I speak negatively of her circumstances. But still, the gut reaction the listener gets (I hope) is that its a pop song. It makes me feel kind of subversive to have some sort of commentary in there that folks initially think is a silly love song.

And how have listeners and fans been responding to your songs as a whole?
I’d say very well, and across a nice diversity. We’ve had folks from all kinds of different crowds tell us they love our pop sensibility. I think some folks are kind of refreshed to hear something that’s relatively cheery and catchy but not vacant or color coded.

That’s so true. I recently made that comment to a friend as well, that it’s so much harder making a good, sincere happy record that doesn’t end up sounding cheesy. Is the “cheery and catchy” sound something that you’re trying to achieve, or does it just flow out naturally for you?
I’d say for the time being, yes. But I do think we delve into some other moods on the record with BBC Midnight Broadcast, Postcard Paris, Killer Bees. Actually now that I think of it, the record is more ballad laden than I remember. Material we’re working on right now definitely tends toward that cheery pop direction, but I’d also say its getting more dissonant and progressive with the new line up. I think we always try to be “catchy” in the since that we want the melodies to be memorable, not necessarily any technical feats or anything. I yearn for a time when Pete Townsend could be both a guitar smasher and a writer of pop songs. Maybe its wishful thinking, but I’d like to think that we could make some catchy and cheery music that it’s also somewhat violent. It certainly feels that way to me when we play this stuff live. On record we think. Live, we thrash.

What can we expect in future from Brass Bed?
Mastery of the hemisphere! No seriously, I think you can expect to see us putting a new record out in 2009. It will be the first album written as a 5 piece. From what we’ve written already its getting somehow more weird and more pop at the same time. We’ve grown a lot hitting the road, and I think our palette has gotten much wider with the new members.

All the best for that! Will definitely look forward to that record! Thanks again for the interview.
Thanks for taking the time ask insightful questions, Dan! It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.


brass bed’s midnight matinee is now out and available for sale at cdbaby and mp3 download at itunes and amazon. the band is also currently on tour, details of which may be found on their myspace site.

mp3: brass bed – bbc midnight broadcast

mp3: brass bed – olivia