Man, recessions suck. It’s all work, work, work. I’ve been woefully ignorant of all of these Internet happenings except perhaps Twitter because, y’know, that’s just quick random thoughts, right? But what we could really use in these lean times are free MP3 downloads. So god bless you for going strong with 3Hive, Sean and Joe and Clay, because there’s so much great music out there and, long hours be damned, we gots to share the sharing! Like Chicago’s Helicopters, a group that got its first major exposure by winning a battle of the bands contest that gave them a slot at Lollapalooza. And they didn’t stuff the ballot box, either. Like the Chicago Man of the Decade, Helicopters offer a complex yet accessible brand of hope that is a sea change from a cynicism that has prevailed for too long. It’s no small feat considering they have three primary songwriters. Such musical trinities can lead to a garbled mess of influences. And while you’ll get a smorgasbord on Sizing Up the Distance, from synthed new wave reduxes to driven guitar anthems to emo wails, there’s a common thread of pop craftsmanship that pulls it all together. These are some finely crafted gems, and at least one of them is free. The Spring thaw is upon us, and hopefully the financial thaw is about to follow â€“ and with Helicopters, my thaw soundtrack is coming together nicely.
Wintermitts is a quartet from Vancouver, that inexplicably chipper Canadian raintown that is lax on the doobie laws and serious about its pop music. Wintermitts is so serious that it features accordion and flute regularly and bring in horns, harmonica, melodica, and even glockenspiel for extra-special occasions. If that weren’t enough, they’re also serious conservationists â€” they gave away an Heirloom tomato seedling with their previous CD, aptly, Heirloom. But wait…there’s more. They sing in French sometimes, and sometimes is perfect because us monolinguists can enjoy how they make an octopus a symbol for true love (really, it’s not far-fetched at all once you know that octopi have three hearts) in English and then enjoy whatever blah blah blah they’re saying in French on tracks like “Petit Monstre.” Seriously, Lise Monique Oakley can be singing about emptying the litter box for all I know and I still want to grab her and say “Kiss me, mon amour!”
The Singing Saw
â€Saws are tremendous pranksters, and the ruse of causing Human Beings to believe that they are actually playing them is perhaps the most beloved and persistent joke in Saw-kindâ€™s long history.â€ Thatâ€™s funny because when I think of saws, I usually think â€œsharp teethâ€ and â€œmissing fingers.â€ Of course, Iâ€™ve never been intimately involved with a saw and, though Iâ€™ve heard melodies made from them, I believe this is the first time Iâ€™ve heard saws sing with no accompaniment. Julian Koster â€” he of The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel â€” coaxes from the saws a sound that is eerily placid. Yes, itâ€™s shrill and not for everyone, but itâ€™s quite lovely if youâ€™re in a right merry frame of mindâ€¦and if youâ€™re tired of the same-old holiday songs sung by pompous humans. The bewilderment comes roughly every three minutes or so as you realize, holy crap, youâ€™re listening to an entire album of holiday standards played on a piece of actual hardware. But, as Koster notes, Jesus was a carpenter. Who knowsâ€”after a particularly stressful day of sermonizing and house framing, maybe the Son of God sat down with his saw, bow and a goblet of wine and conjured a soothing rendition of â€œSilent Nightâ€ to remind him of that fateful evening away in the manger.
Pale Young Gentlemen
The Pale Young Gentlemen are indeed pale. But unless my eyes have deceived me, theyâ€™re not all gentlemen and at least one of them is gonna get a smack from mama for their chauvinism. Maybe thatâ€™s why thereâ€™s all of this talk of only having one good arm, and running through barley and other slightly macabre circumstances. â€œThe Crook of My Good Armâ€ is an escape songâ€”the string section is low and immediate, the guitar is frantic, and the vocals and lyrics fall somewhere between Tom Waits and Rufus Wainwright. What theyâ€™re escaping from, weâ€™re not sure. But thereâ€™s a good chance itâ€™s mamaâ€™s wooden spoon.
The Hush Now
A couple of weeks ago, I was putting together some mix CDs for my wife for her birthday and, as usually happens, I loaded them up with Hall & Oates. She likes them. I say I donâ€™t. Yet the truth is that not only is there an H&O song that is indelible in our romantic history, but those goofy-looking dudes wrote some pretty fine pop songs. There, I said it. The Hush Now said it, too. The poppy quartet is fronted by Noel Kelly, who almost died listening to Queen and who draws on The Apples in Stereo and Built to Spill, among others, for comparison to their frenetic power chords and his own melancholy tenor. But, for all of their â€œindie-pop-shoegazerâ€ (their words, not mine) name-dropping, itâ€™s that touch of Darryl and John that gets me every time.
It was a colder-than-normal Sunday when the new Horse Feathers CD went into the car stereo. We had the boy and his cousin with us and were searching for the perfect pumpkin patch to take their photo â€” yâ€™know, to get that genuine â€œweâ€™re a happy familyâ€ feel. The patch we found turned out to be muddy and, as a result, a messy wonderland for the boys. The music was a wonderland for us grown-ups: soft vocals with shades of Iron & Wine and St. Vincent, acoustic rhythm and sweet stringed melodies. It even got the little turds in the back seat to pause for a second of reflection before going back to demanding cookies and juice.
The Gay Blades
Clark from The Gay Blades sat down and recorded this song a few days after he heard that Paul Newman had passed away. He, like myself and many others, thought Paul Newman was about as good as actors, and men, got. Perhaps he just wanted to remember Newman or perhaps he wanted to offer a eulogy. Whatever it was, he picked well. In Cool Hand Luke Newman sang â€œPlastic Jesusâ€ to mourn the death of his mother. Clark sings it as much more of a celebration, which you get the feeling would have suited Newman just fine.
Thereâ€™s nothing like a good protest song. There are plenty such songsâ€”heck, whole bands, that just arenâ€™t any fun. They take themselves so seriously and make music for people with no sense of humor or joie de vivre. That ainâ€™t me, â€˜coz I get the joie, baby! So does Frank Hoier. I bet if he watched the U.S. Vice Presidential debate last night, he started strumming â€œJesus Donâ€™t Give Tax Breaks to the Richâ€ about halfway through. And I bet if his bandmates the Weber Brothers were there with him, they started strumming and picking right along. And I bet that if anyone else was there, they all clapped and stomped their feet and sang along. And I bet instead of getting angry at the people who might rule the free world in a couple of months, they all smiled, laughed, and felt the joie!
Goldcure is an Austin-based group that sings about love, god and other things that keep us up at night. Though you might expect such subject matter to tend toward theatrics, thereâ€™s something calm and reassuring about how the vocals and guitars shimmer and shine around each other. Goldcure is certainly not playing to Austinâ€™s fabled bar scene with such erstwhile calming yet expansive ditties, similar to their city-mates in Shearwater. Itâ€™s enough to remind you why youâ€™re up in the middle of the night in the first place.