Dastardly-The Hollow

  
Rarely does an album so clearly of two minds work. The shift in tone is too great, or the styles just don’t mesh well; one way or another it crumbles under the weight of its own cleverness. Somehow Dastardly have managed to make 9 songs that don’t seem to fit together flow seamlessly on The Hollow.

There’s some consistency at the beginning, with the opening title track pulling a dark cloud over the album. The slow shoegaze-y atmosphere sticks around for a couple songs before Dastardly creeps back to some of their old ways. And that is in no way a bad thing. With their last two releases being pretty short, I was hoping some of that sound would find its way into this one. 

“Breakdown In New York City” reminds me a lot of the criminally underrated Ballads In Blue from a couple years ago. There are some new wrinkles added, but it could’ve easily been a track rehearsed but not recorded in those sessions. Lead singer Gabe Liebowitz delivers a beautiful and vulnerable vocal performance enhanced by Sarah Morgan’s harmonies.

I’m not generally one for lauding covers, but the horn work on Dastardly’s version of “St. James Infirmary” is fantastic. The soft guitar flourishes with little bits of clarinet woven through sets a very specific mood in my mind. That mood is exactly the same one I get from the absolutely brilliant 1979 Tom Waits Austin City Limits broadcast. Not sure if that’s what they were going for, but it works so well I’m just gonna assume that it was.

The Hollow is deliberate, but never boring. It rewards those who listen to it all at once. The feeling is almost like a mental breakdown-the first few songs hold together pretty well, but the further you go the more things get shaken loose and start flying in every direction. This is certainly how I would recommend experiencing the record.

If you’re in the Chicago area, Dastardly will be playing a release show at Lincoln Hall on July 10th with Gold Web and Oshwa. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance here.

On a personal note…With Mickey Davis of Maids

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A disclaimer – For the first year of my TV on the Radio fandom, I had listened to exactly zero TV on the Radio songs. Every Friday growing up, my father would meet a group of friends at a local diner inside of a grocery store for their men’s breakfast. In part to feel like one of the guys but mainly to get greasy diner breakfast away from our health-conscious mother, my brother and I would always go, and part of the deal was that each of us picked out a magazine to read while we ate breakfast as long as we put it back afterwards. At some point I graduated from Mad Magazine to Alt Press, not knowing much about the music but trying my hardest to identify with these “alternative” punks while also being a white kid from suburban Iowa with good grades.

By the time I was in middle school I didn’t go to the breakfast anymore, but out of habit I would continue to pick up that magazine whenever I was in that grocery store. I remember the day when TV on the Radio had a huge spread in the middle of the magazine – here was this mainly black (that’s important, Alt Press at that time was mainly Billie Joe Armstrong and people who looked a lot like Billie Joe Armstrong) band with a weirdo fashion style and awesome hair, who were from New York and, even in their name, seemed to embrace this weird internet age into which we had fallen. Visually, they were something familiar – alt-rock, indie rock, whatever you want to call it – but presented in a format entirely new to me.

I don’t know why it took me so long to listen to their music, but a year later I bought Return to Cookie Mountain at Half Price Books, remembering so vividly that magazine article. My stereo system at home was a collection of speakers from the Goodwill near my house; I knew enough about sound to understand that early “surround sound” meant a lot of speakers placed around a room, but I didn’t know enough about sound to realize a lot more went into that than twisting a bunch of speakers’ speaker wire together and trying to get it all to fit into the back of the receiver.

That being said, my cursory knowledge of how electronics worked didn’t diminish the effect that the first time I listened to “I Was a Lover” had on my understanding of what music was and, more importantly, what music could be. The song begins quite bare with a distorted, over-compressed drum machine (I can use all of those terms now that I make electronic music; back then I was convinced they were banging on cans or creating another sort of found object cacophony), but the pivotal moment (and the one that still catches me off guard whenever I hear the track) is right when the horns kick in. At the time, I didn’t have the words to describe what I was hearing for this, either: they were definitely recognizable instruments, but the way they started and stopped was so unnatural, so jagged and beyond the realm of any horn section I heard growing up listening to my dad’s collection of Motown CDs. Later in life (to be precise, one music composition from an expensive university later), I not only learned the word – “sampling,” a word that can elicit quite the varied response from other musicians, varying from acknowledgement from hip hop producers and “get off my lawn, this isn’t real music” scorn from those dudes who play Hendrix covers at Guitar Center – but came to embrace it wholeheartedly, as did many of my friends and peers living in a world where mp3s and music production software were equally as easy to steal.

But that moment, as well as the rest of the song, struck me the same way that magazine spread did the first time I encountered this band. It was both familiar and foreign, recognizable as parts but somehow unexpected when put together. Without reading too much into it, maybe that’s what I needed in that “not yet coming of age, starting to understand the depth of emotion but unsure what to do with that information” phase as a teenager, when my fear of the unknown and desire for something different equaled each other out. The lyrics of this song were of secondary importance to me, but there’s a line late in the song that says, “How many styles did you cycle through before you were mine?” This song and band weren’t a stop on my cycle of musical styles; instead, I still carry this song with me because it, more than any other, provided me an example of how a new style, a new means of expression, a new phase didn’t have to be comprised of unfamiliar parts but instead could be the result of taking what one already had, chopping it up in a sampler, throwing in a little hip hop and distortion, and creating something entirely new.

Ezra Furman-Perpetual Motion People

  
After a few years of Ezra Furman fandom, you start to put unfair expectations on the singer. The past five years have seen a few great albums come out of the Evanston native. Every time a new record is announced I think “No way this could possibly be as good as the last one.” And time and time again, I’m proven wrong. Perpetual Motion People raised the bar once again, continuing Furman’s reign as North America’s best songwriter.

I had the chance to see Furman with his band The Boy-friends a couple months ago, so I had a rough idea of how a couple new songs would sound. The singles were already out at that point and they’re both phenomenal. “Lousy Connection” gets better every time I hear it. But there were still 8 or 9 tracks to be discovered. After listening it’s easy to say that we’ve struck gold once again.

“Haunted Head” is an early favorite for favorite non-single. The lyrics are typical Furman-clever, honest, relateable: “I’m naked now, because it doesn’t really matter when the shades are down. I was born this way I’ll die this way. I don’t know how I’m ever gonna tell myself the truth.”

The secret weapon on Perpetual Motion People is Tim Sandusky and his saxophone. Peppered throughout the record are moments of sheer woodwind brilliance reminiscent of Clarence Clemons on the E Street albums. Not only does it make the individual songs better, but it helps ease the transition from aggressive rock tunes to the more doo-wop and soul sounds of tracks like “Body Was Made.”

Furman sings about identity, sexuality, and feelings of alienation with a frankness and eloquence most can only dream about. His ability to write catchy pop songs that capture the essence of so many problems facing humanity is fascinating. Perpetual Motion People is another in a long line of albums that makes me wonder what he could possibly do next.

One-Sentence Reviews: 6/30/2015

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Kacey Musgraves-Pageant Material: Miss Congeniality 3 Red Solo Heels

Muse-Drones: Matt Bellamy’s songwriting will never improve

Jeff Bridges-Sleeping Tapes: I wish all my dreams sounded this good

Thundercat-The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam: In heaven, Thundercat is on bass.

Third Eye Blind-Dopamine: Stephan Jenkins finally “Graduate”s-into middle age

Florence And The Machine-How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: How Boring, How Uninspired, How Void Of Life

Jamie xx-In Color: More like Jamie zzzzz (thanks to Sam for letting me use this one)

The Vaccines-English Graffiti-They had to hit a slump eventually.

Brandon Flowers-The Desired Effect: Flowers’ solo work reminds me how great the other guys in The Killers are

The Tallest Man On Earth-Dark Bird Is Home: Definitely his weakest album yet, but it’s not terrible

Desaparecidos-Payola: It’s been over a decade since their last album, but they don’t miss a beat

Nate Reuss-Grand Romantic: Hit skip and carry on

Top Ten: Seinfeld Episodes

  
With every episode of Seinfeld now streaming on Hulu, I felt like it was a good time to look back and ponder which are the best. It’s been talked about before, and I think there are a few episodes that everyone can agree hits all the notes that make Seinfeld great (“The Contest” is the most popular pick for best, but it isn’t my favorite). Below, find the ten episodes that I think elevate the show to the lauded “Greatest Sitcom Ever” level it currently holds.

10. The Invitations

9. The Understudy

8. The Puerto Rican Day

7. The Andrea Doria

6. The Soup Nazi

5. The Contest

4. The Library 

3. The Chinese Restaurant

2. The Parking Garage

1. The Outing

Best Songs (So Far) Of 2015

  
It’s been a pretty good year for music so far. Last week I posted my top albums that have come out this year (up to Friday of last week). Now it’s time for the best songs list, which I’ve limited to 25 (and yes, two of those spots are taken by Leon Bridges so deal with it).

25. The Decemberists-“The Singer Addresses His Audience”

24. St. Lenox-“Just Friends”

23. Of Montreal-“Virgilian Lots”

22. Hiatus Kaiyote-“Shaolin Monk Motherfunk”

21. Leon Bridges-“Lisa Sawyer”

20. St. Vincent-“Teenage Talk”

19. Fort Frances-“Anonymous”

18. Ivan & Alyosha-“Easy To Love”

17. Molehill-“Gain Green”

16. The Mountain Goats-“Heel Turn 2″

15. Torres-“Cowboy Guilt”
14. California Wives-“Over & Over”

13. Natalie Prass-“My Baby Don’t Understand Me”

12. Gloom Balloon-“You Are Shadowless, I Am Windowless”

11. July Talk-“Summer Dress”

10. Shilpa Ray-“Shilpa Ray On Broadway”

9. Ike Reilly-“Born On Fire”

8. Bhi Bhiman-“Moving To Brussells”

7. Thundercat-“Them Changes”

6. Desaparecidos-“Backsell”

5. Ezra Furman-“Lousy Connection”

4. Beck-“Dreams”

3. Kendrick Lamar-“King Kunta”

2. Leon Bridges-“Pull Away”

1. Tobias Jesso, jr.-“How Could You Babe”

Leon Bridges-Coming Home

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The popularity of genres comes and goes with the wind. One day nu metal is all the rage, the next boy bands are popping up all over the place with no end in sight. It’s hard to predict what will be the next big thing: tastemakers create buzz around what they think will take off, but they aren’t always right. And sometimes random things will pop up from a genre that used to be popular and have a weird kind of life of its own. New jack swing isn’t the rage it once was, but “Uptown Funk” would certainly fit in that category and I think that one did pretty well.

There’s another weird thing that happens sometimes: a record harkens back to another era so sincerely that the demographic for record sales boggles the minds of the executives. That seems to be the case with Leon Bridges new album Coming Home. Not only was the release horribly mismanaged by his label, it appears they have no idea what kind of mass appeal their artist holds. People everywhere from teens to seniors can find something to enjoy here.

Bridges brings the soul for the entirety of Coming Home, with a voice reminiscent of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke (though I’ll wait a few more records before the real comparisons start). The whole album, recorded in the singer’s hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, oozes with old school class. The silky smooth vocals dance over horns and doo-wop bass riffs. You can almost picture Bridges standing under a lamppost on a dark street, snapping his fingers and crooning the night away.

There are a couple contenders here for best song: On first spin the standout was definitely “Lisa Sawyer,” an ode his mother. After a few more listens “Pull Away” started to make itself more known, providing a much different view of a relationship with a woman than “Sawyer.” Bridges wears his heart on his sleeve, and writes his lyrics as straight up and honest as possible:

“My pillow bears a tear of a man in pain
Our love, I thought I could sustain
Don’t worry about me anymore
Cause I’ll be gone by the morning time”

Listening to the whole record can get a little repetitious, but enjoyable. There were four singles released before the album, which was probably overkill because if you’ve heard the singles there isn’t much to surprise you on the record. That doesn’t ruin the absolute joy that is listening to Leon Bridges sing, so I still recommend getting Coming Home one hundred percent. If you’re a fan of soul music I’m sure you’ll be very pleased with what you get.

You can download a copy from iTunes here (pre-order now, out 6/23/15). Leon will be touring the United States in the fall. You can find all dates on his website here.

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