Girl Talk

At the risk of revealing myself as A) behind the times, and B) a complete tool, I’m going to share that I’ve recently gotten back into heavy exercise. At the gym, I usually listen to (here’s where the “complete tool” part comes in) This American Life or some other talky podcast where I don’t have to worry about (tool again) consistently high-energy beats. But praise be to Pittsburgh’s Greg Gillis, whose Night Ripper from 2006 is a (the behind the times part) mashup masterpiece that (tool) keeps my adrenaline PUMPED, man! For my money, Z-Trip is still the high-water mark of such guerrilla hip-hop-classic-rock-punk-pop-whatever mixing, but what Gillis does with the riffs from The Pixies, the Strokes and Weezer in “Hold Up” helps me burn 500 calories in two minutes. Girl Talk’s newest, Feed the Animals, is available here for whatever price you want to pay, which I’ve already done so that I can take my workout to anotha level of behind-the-times toolness. Join me and feel the burn!

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Lee “Scratch” Perry

About 10 years ago on Thanksgiving, my grandpa waited until everyone had their mouths full, as he did when he really wanted our attention, then he shared a dream he’d recently had about how he was Santa Claus. In the dream, he was surrounded by adoring elves. Pretty cute, huh? Except they weren’t elves — they were strippers peeling off their skimpy green outfits and jockeying to, ahem, take a ride on Santa’s bowl full of jelly. Naturally, my mom and aunt were appalled. And, naturally, I had to bite my lower lip hard to keep from blasting my stuffing across the table. Man, I miss him. I hadn’t thought of that story for a long time before hearing Lee “Scratch” Perry’s “Pum Pum,” the dancefloor anthem from Perry’s ambitious new album, produced by his pal Andrew W.K. Most people know Perry as a legendary Jamaican musician and producer who helped create both the signature waka-waka sound of reggae and the signature stoned production quality of dub, among other influential moves. He is a giant among giants despite his diminutive stature — truly a living legend. He’s also a dirty old man. I can’t sincerely say that “Pum Pum” is one of my favorite tracks right now just like I can’t say that this Spring-Winter pairing of W.K. and Perry is the same as Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash, but I can say that it’s pretty fascinating. The crazy old bastard in the multicolored hat manages to mix reggaeton-style beats and synths with pornstar moans, lots of dirty-talk and, inexplicably, Jesus. Or that’s what I think he does. Truthfully, I can only understand about half of what is going on at any given time in “Pum Pum,” but I’m pretty sure it’s naughty. That’s part of the allure. Some are calling Perry’s new album a return to form. That may be so, but to me it sounds more like a lovingly perverse old coot flipping the bird at all of us and speaking what’s on the unfiltered side of his mind. Grandpa would be proud.

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Conor Oberst

Merge Records has this up-and-comer named Conor Oberst. Have you heard of him? He’s been in all sorts of bands or something. Now he’s releasing a self-titled album, which would make you think that it’s just him and a guitar but really he has this group called the Mystic Valley Band, which is a trip because it’s talking about the valley in Mexico where the album was recorded when you would think, from listening to “Danny Callahan,” that it was recorded in a not-so-mystic valley closer to Oberst’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Much of the album has that same vibe: reflective roadhouse ballads with rousing instrumentation and lush lyricism. This Conor Oberst fella writes some decent songs. He might just have a future. You heard it here first.

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Azeda Booth

Here is the sum total of what I know about Calgary, Alberta, Canada: it was the host city for the 1988 Winter Olympics; it is the host city of the annual Calgary Stampede, a crazy-ass Old West chuckwagon race and rodeo; and if you want to cross the street in Calgary but you’re not at a light or a designated crosswalk, just wave your hand and the cars in both directions will stop for you. That last thing may be a lie, but it says something pretty outstanding about Calgarians, and Canadians in general. Could you imagine waving your hand in midtown Manhattan, along Wilshire Blvd. in L.A., or even along Whatever Major Thoroughfare in your U.S. or European city and have drivers stop for pedestrians? Crazy! Such civilized behavior may explain the pleasant surprise of Azeda Booth, which as far as I know is the first band from Calgary of which I’ve been a fan. Azeda Booth’s ambient pop is certainly civilized, with its soothing electronic chimes, muted guitar and high, light vocals. Their new album feels like the heyday of Darla’s Bliss Out series—perfect for bringing calm to a cluttered, chaotic mind. Their older tracks, which were all I could find available to the masses, are just as blissful. All in all, it’s not what you might expect from Calgary, if you know the place as well as I do.

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J. Tillman

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with J. Tillman, the Seattle-based songwriter with a melancholic voice and American Gothic disposition…and more facial hair. “Steel on Steel” is a pretty and melodic ditty that may not be the most summery of songs in the other 49, but you get the feeling that it’s the perfect antidote to that Peugot Sound Gray.

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Bowery Boy Blue

If it’s possible to have a father figure whom you’ve never actually met, Neil Young is mine. Ever since I can remember, he’s taught me some valuable lessons just by picking (or swinging) at his guitar, blowing into his harmonica, and singing in that sweet, cracked falsetto. You get the sense that Bowery Boy Blue has learned a lot as well. Zeb Gould (who, with his wife Megan, also makes music as Stereofan) certainly borrows from Young’s catalog for both his quieter moments and for his way with guitar fuzz. But he’s equally enamored, as with Will Oldham and many of his kind, with the gothic roots of Americana. The result is songs that are somber, heartfelt, and sublime.

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Joe Pug

There’s been a fair amount of turmoil in my life of late: relocation from The Big Northeastern City to The Little Southern City, new job, first house, first child—basically we’ve inadvertently fit all of the major milestones of adulthood into about a 12-month span. It’s got me a little out of sorts, which may explain why I’ve gravitated more than normal toward singer-songwriters. Surely I’m softening in my mid-30s, but there’s just something about an acoustic guitar and a single voice that brings focus to my overactive mind. Joe Pug’s voice and guitar have a particular resonance in this regard. Pug is a Chicago carpenter by day and a troubadour by night. He possesses the eyes, mop, and even a hint of the vocal cords of a young Bob Dylan. More importantly, he possesses the strumming fingers and lush songbook of an all-American folk singer. In Pug’s hard plucking, exaggerated choruses, and lyrical vignettes you can draw a pretty straight line from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen to Steve Earle to Josh Ritter. Like all of them, Pug is a populist at heart, a singer who can’t help but talk about all of us when he sings about himself and can’t help but sing about himself when he’s talking about all of us. I’m a sucker for a good line and this one from “Hymn #101” is one of my favorites right now: “I’ve come to meet the sheriff and his posse/ to offer him the broad side of my jaw/ I’ve come here to get broke/ and maybe bum a smoke/ we’ll go drinkin’ two towns over after all.” It could just be a comic-tragic put-on and you probably have to feel some turmoil yourself to truly appreciate it, but “Hymn #101” is full of lines that will fill you with both heartbreak and euphoria. It’s good to be reminded that that’s why we listen to music in the first place.

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My opinion on and knowledge of Brazilian music and film are about the same: I like what I see and hear, but I can’t claim to have heard a whole lot. Although I will say that if you haven’t seen City of God you haven’t truly lived. That’s only a little bit exaggerated. I like what I heard of this Kassin+2 as well. Apparently they’re a pretty big deal on their home soil, and this record is a big deal for how, gasp, accessible it is. Yep, “Ya Ya Ya” is probably one of the more edgy tracks on the album—most of the rest plays out with the bossa nova warmth you might expect from the various members of the Gilberto clan. If they can get experimental with the same gusto that they get smooth, they’ll be spending plenty of time on my iPod as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer.

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The Lovely Sparrows

They’re on Abandoned Love records and of the song “Chemicals “Change” they say ” It’s been well noted by many music journalists that this was a break up record. Roger that.” So you can probably guess where on the lyrical spectrum that The Lovely Sparrows fall. But as with Okay from last week (I seem to have a mini-fetish with acoustic guitar right now), the story about this music is much more than the lost love and disappointment expressed in the words. Shawn Jones has a mildly forceful vocal range with a hint of Texas drawl, like a mixture of Eef Barzelay and Edie Brickell. There’s some Modest Mouse in there too, or at least what Isaac Brock might have become if he’d been raised in the Hill Country instead of the rainy Northwest. The Lovely Sparrows undoubtedly do their hometown of Austin proud in live performance because these two tracks, for all their polish and shine, sound like they would fill you with the joy of Jones’s despair in concert. And indeed, that’s what you’ll find on tracks recorded for the excellent Daytrotter Sessions.

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The first time I listened to Okay was somewhat of a brief and cynical experience. Too cute in its depression, I thought. Their upcoming album Huggable Dust is made up entirely of one-word-title songs that run an average of about two and a half minutes. It’s quirky before you even press “play,” and it gets quirkier once Marty Anderson starts in with his lonesome little-boy quaver over an acoustic guitar and other sounds and instruments reach for a melancholy kind of folk-pop. Yes, it’s a bit of a lo-fi cabaret. But it’s one you won’t want to stop watching thanks to how personal those somber lyrics are made to sound through Anderson’s home recording aesthetic. Fans of Daniel Johnston, The Flaming Lips, and the Elephant Six collective will find much to like. The rest of you might, too.

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