New Music Friday

Another Friday lunch hour, another trip to Graywhale.

By the way, Team USA just scored again on Team Finland. 4-0. Gold medal bound, baby!!

It pays to open your mouth at the register. I just happened to ask if the guy had heard of Joanna Newsom. Not only had he heard of them, but the guy next to me at the other register had heard of her and had seen her on some obscure rack upstairs.

I am addicted to peanut butter M&Ms. </tangent>

ANYway, I went upstairs and grabbed it, bringing the grand total to 11 CDs for the day. Here’s the list.

  • Inkwell – These Stars Are Monsters
  • The Happies – If We Were Really Here
  • Interpol – Our Love To Admire
  • Josephine Foster – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
  • Foma – Inverness
  • Insta – Checklist for Love
  • Great Northern – Sleepy Eepee
  • God Help the Girl
  • The Fever – In the City of Sleep
  • The Appleseed Cast – Peregrine
  • Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender

I have some other Appleseed Cast and Interpol, the rest were all a spin of the Russian Roulette barrel. I’ve yet to be let down entirely, so I’m not concerned.

I still haven’t ripped the CDs I bought last week. There’s a reason though, weak as it is. So, I hook our computer to our HD TV so we can wach HD content. We have a blu ray drive in the machine, and I have a smattering of HD documentaries that are pretty cool. Since the tower is hooked to the TV and I sit on the couch and do everything from about 10 feet away, I don’t like getting up and down every 3-4 minutes to switch out the CDs. So they’ve sat in their corner for the last week.

Today, I’m buying a blu-ray player. Panasonic DMP-BD80. Some guy near my house is selling one for $100. Nice. So that means I can move my tower back to the computer desk and start ripping. Woo hoo.

Joanna Newsom – Have One one Me

Joanna Newsom has a voice that is so defiantly unrefined as to merit wonder how she ever garnered a recording contract … until you hear croons, where she seems to channel all the great big band singers mixed (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Etta James, et al) with an air of Janis Joplin at the age of 10 on helium. Not to mention her composition/instrument playing skills are phenomenal. Her lyrics are more like free-verse poetry. She’s supposedly classified as “freak-folk,” which … umm … sure. Personally, I think she defies classification. She’s not pop, rock, trance, house, or electronic. No world music influence here. She has taken a bunch of instruments and mixed them in such a unique fashion that to classify her music as one genre or another is borderline insulting. 

Thus it is that I offer you this review of Have One on Me–her latest release. The most immediately notable difference is her vocals. Call me crazy, but I’m convinced she got herself some training. I say that with all the love in the world. Her voice on Ys andThe Milk-Eyed Mender is fantastically unique, singing with such abandon and without guile. It’s obvious that she’s either consciously reigned in the raw-ness and opted for a more melodic voice on this offering.

Then there’s the matter of “this offering,” which is actually a 3-CD set, all of which are good enough to stand on their own. Disc 1 stand-out tracks are the soulful southern gospel-sounding “Good Intentions Paving Company,” the opening track “Easy,” and “Baby Birch”–the last track on the CD. It becomes more layered as the song progresses. Not sure what the song is about, but it’s haunting.

“Do you remember staring up at the stars,
so far away in their bulletproof cars?
We heard the rushing, slow intake of the dark, dark water,
and the engine breaks …”

I’m just blown away at how different her voice is on these new CDs, yet it still sounds like Joanna. I’m really impressed. The music is great as always. I’m a huge fan of the fact that she plays the harp. Very excellent.  

Stand-out tracks on disc 2: The whole CD.

Standout tracks on disc 3: Again, the whole CD.

You really need this CD. Period. Get it.

New Music Friday

A couple of things today. One, I went to the local Graywhale up near the University yesterday. Great guys in there. Really knowledgable. They know their stuff! I went up there looking for some Hungry Lucy CDs, but alas, I completely forgot to ask. Surprise to me: I didn’t know they had 4 full-length CDs. I thought they just had a smattering of recorded songs that I just happened to stumble across several years ago, probably due to the fact that every internet search yielded the exact same results: nothing except some information about Christa Belle living in NYC. At least, I think that’s what it was about. Just for kicks, I googled the name again the other day … this time with stunning results. Wiki article. Official site. Discography. The whole 9 yards.

Anyway, with that in mind, I went to Gray Whale to see if they had any of their CDs. Completely forgot. However, I did walk out with some great new stuff.

  • Bluebrain – Soft Power
  • Q Stands for Q (QsfQ) – In Dreams Awake
  • Cazals – What of Our Future
  • Sam Champion – Slow Rewind
  • The Court and Spark – Witch Season
  • Elf Power – Creatures
  • Gentlemen Reg – Little Buildings
  • Silversun Pickups – Pikul

I find it odd that Pikul was still in its original plastic with the original security seal. People … THIS IS SILVERSUN PICKUPS. You know … Lazy Eye? Checkered Floor? Panic Switch? Yah. I’m just saying.

Interestingly enough, none of the band members are actually named “Sam Champion.” Gonna have to find out the reason behind the name.

It’s pretty cool when you go to the counter and the guy behind the counter says, “Nice stack of music! You have some really good taste.”

“Okay, yah … but here’s the thing: I know one of those bands.”

*blank stare*

“You mean you’ve never heard of most of these bands? You’re just buying them?”

“Yup.”

“Wow. Umm … why?”

Then I spell out my criteria for buying CDs: insert and CD art can’t suck and song titles can’t suck. As a general rule, I try to avoid CDs with the artist’s face covering the whole CD (read: a la Diane Birch). However, there are times when I let that go and take a gamble (i.e. Diane Birch). For the most part, it’s always paid off.

These CDs all have that asthetic that I require. It doesn’t have to be the second coming of Picaso or Michaelangelo, just not stupid looking. The Sam Champion CD utilizes a minimalist approach to the cover art, employing a single color on a white background, but it works.

Anyway, I swear I covered this in another post, but I can’t find it. Oh well.

So that’s the new music for now. From Gray Whale, anyway.

Next up: Review of the new Hungry Lucy CD.

Hungry Lucy – Pulse of the Earth

I wasn’t even aware that Hungry Lucy even had a discography, much less a new CD. I immediately looked for stuff on iTunes. They have everything, including a live CD. Interesting.

Hungry Lucy is the musical child of Christa Belle and War-N Harrison. Together since 1998, they have provided some amazingly haunting songs. Christa handles the vocals, music and lyrics; War-N handles the music writing and sound loop programming.

Being that I’ve enjoyed their music for a number of years with what scant sampling of their work that I have (all of which seems to be from Apparitions), I thought it appropriate to buy their most recent offering and give it a whirl. I like dark electronica (She Wants Revenge with a LOT more layering) … I had no reason to think that this CD would be a let-down. Think Depeche Mode meets the Sundays with their foot on the break.

To be sure, this CD is far from a let-down. Hints of some Celtic influences on “Hill.” Nods to “The Empire Strikes Back” on “The Standing Ones” (there is no way, they didn’t throw that in on purpose; it is note for note, if not right on pitch, the opening to Darth Vader’s theme), rich layering on each and every track. Even on such “stripped down” songs such as “Sunday Smiled,” where there are parts piano, cello, accordian, very light synth, and some sound sampling,

Sound sampling, drum loops, instruments, shuddering bass … and then there are Christa’s vocals, adding the icing to the richly layered cake. She uses her voice in a very subdued and emotional way, eschewing her capabilities to add to the feel and composition. Her voice has a breathy sort of quality, like you would expect from Alison Shaw of Cranes fame, except not nearly as high or child-like. There are moments, such as the end of “Simone,” where she shows that she can add a much stronger dynamic to her vocals … she just opts to keep it toned down. For the overall feel to the CD, it totally works. The melancholy she evokes blends perfectly with the atmostphere of her and War-N’s art.

Dark. Brooding. Lush. Sonic landscapes of gray and mood. This would be a great CD to listen to while driving in a PNW or east coast rain storm, or while you’re watching it out your bedroom window.

If you’re fans of dark wave and sullen electronica, I would highly recommend them.

Official website: http://www.hungrylucy.com

Samantha Crain – Songs in the Night

If there is one new artist I want to see succeed, it’s this girl.

I don’t know where, I don’t know how … in whatever manner, I somehow came across her 5-song EP The Confiscation. 5 songs. 5 original, unique, completely different songs–each a gem unto themselves.

A quick search of Amazon revealed that she has one CD–Songs in the Night-. I wanted to order it, but I thought it best to check with my CFO (read: wife) before initiating such a purchase.

That was in August of last year.

Flash forward to this past Monday. I now have a new job that requires less CFO input. Such being the case and finding myself in one of those “Mondays are for the weak” type of days at work, I decided to get away to Gray Whale. Their indie bin is unrivaled in the state.

In short, I walked out with 9 CDs (amongst them was the free Alela Diane CD), one of which was Samantha’s Songs in the Night.

What I’m about to tell you is just my opinion, and there may be some dissenters. Know this, dissenters: you are only cheating yourselves.

She and her band are as unique as it gets. A blend of acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, bass, wurlitzer, mandolin, mini moog, a couple of tracks even use a trombone … all mixed with an incredible sound that is mixed to perfection. Bits of folk, blues, country, and rockabilly,

The lyrics are both inspiring and haunting. Songs like “Long Division” leave you wondering where your sense of self comes from. “If not from above, if not from below, if not from within, then not even so.” I could be wrong, but I believe “Bananafish Revolution” is a nod to JD Salinger’s story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” It wouldn’t surprise me if it were. Read the story, listen to the song … strong correlations.

My favorite part of the CD is Samantha’s vocals. There is not a more unique voice in all of music-dom, with the exception of maybe Azam Ali. Channeling a little Edie Brickell mixed with some Etta James, Samantha adds a heart-rendering quality to her vocals that is all her own. Soulful and sorrowful, powerful and soothing, she has a dialect that is distinct and beautiful. Her voice is simply captivating. It’s not that words fail to describe it–it’s that you really need to hear it to appreciate it. Her inflection is different than anything you’ve ever heard.

Here’s the beautiful thing: get this CD and you’re coming in on the ground level, to use a MLM term (not that I like MLMs, but stick with me on this). By that, I mean you’re going to be among the first to hear her and get to know her music. You’ll then tell all your friends about her (at least the friends you truly care about), who will spread it to their friends. Soon, the whole will know her music, and YOU get to say that you helped spread the love. Everyone should have the chance to hear her. Help get the word out!

Official website: http://www.samanthacrain.com

Diane Birch – Bible Belt

I was in Barnes & Noble just because. I’m not a fan of buying movies or CDs there because they’re ridiculously over-priced. A perfect example is this Yellowstone: Battle for Life blu-ray disc (yes … I bought it). On my iphone, I have that awesome red laser app that zaps the bar code of books, CDs, movies … pretty much anything. It pulls back the cheapest local and online prices. The B&N I was in charged 24.99. If I weren’t so tired and had thought to actually use the app, I could have saved at least $5 by pointing out that their other store 3 miles away had the exact same show for $5 less. Alas, I had it out of the cellophane before I even thought of using the app. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Another thing I saw sitting on one of the end caps was a CD that was in Amazon’s “If you like ‘X’ artist, you might like ‘Y.’ As I was checking out Samantha Crain’s discography (which is really just her Songs in the Night CD and a 5-song EP), I noticed that Amazon “recommended” Diane Birch’s Bible Belt CD. I added it on my list of things to possibly check out.

Back to B&N. On one of their end caps was Diane’s CD for $10.99. I though, “Why not …?” so I picked it up too. Came back to work and threw it in the CD player.

First off, the difference in styles between Samantha Crain and Diane Birch are vast enough that I don’t see how they’re even making the recommendation. Samantha Crain is as unique as a green diamond. That’s in musical style, vocals … the whole package is a style unto itself.

By way of comparison, Diane Birch takes a page from the soul/gospel/50s. To be fair, I guess the title “Bible Belt” should have been at least a hint of what to expect. But after linking her to Samantha Crain, I could not have been more surprised at the disparity in styles.

Now … having said all that, I will admit that I find this CD relaxing and refreshing. Yes, her style is not at all unique. No, she doesn’t bring anything particularly ground-breaking to the table. Does she need to? No. Most artists don’t. Tune in to your local “alternative” music station to hear the same song over and over and over. 🙂 However, what she does offer is a gift of composition that is well-layered. She has a varied list of instruments that are scattered over the whole CD. Electric guitar, piano, bass, violin, trumpet, Hammond organ, tamborine … some tracks even have whole horn and/or string sections. She wrote every note on every song. That’s talent. Enya does the same thing, although with a much larger arsenal of instruments. However, Birch is only 27. She has some time to catch up.

She could be at home in Nashville, Montgomery Alabama, Atlanta or in Dixie. She could be just as at home in your local church choir.

Here’s the thing I find interesting. This is her first CD. She has a *lot* of potential. It will be a privilege to follow her career.

Alela Diane – To Be Still

I was at Gray Whale this afternoon for a quick music fix. I’m really digging the fact that a lot of their used CDs are $2.99. I bought their discount card for $20 several years ago, which means I get $1 off for every CD.

Maybe it’s because I go in there a lot. Maybe it’s because I’ve probably bought about 50-60 CDs there since Ocotber. As I was rooting through the indie bin, I found Samantha Crain’s “Songs in the Night” CD. I just about passed out. I had been meaning to pick it up from Amazon, but I never got around to it. Now it’s just sitting in the local used CD shop indie bin. SWEET!

I took my stuff to the register and chatted with the guy about her CD. “Have you ever heard her?”

“Yah, she’s really good.”

“She sounds a lot like a mix of Regina Spektor and Feist.”

“Hey, yah. That’s spot-on.”

She sound like them. Amazingly gifted vocal talent, great folksy blues music. Just an amazing CD. If you have the chance to pick it up, do so.

But that’s not what I’m going to write about. Not today, anyway.

So I also got a couple of blu-ray discs. They keep the actual discs behind the counter, and put the cases out on display. Because I bought everything upstairs, I had to go back down to the main level to get my discs. Thankfully, Kylee was interrupted by a relatively lengthy phone call because it gave upstairs guy a chance to come downstairs. He and I got to talking again, and he ended up handing me a copy of Alela Diane’s new CD, “To Be Still.”

“Have you ever heard her?”

“No. Haven’t.”

“Here. Take this. If you like Samantha Crain, you’ll probably dig this chick.”

“Cool. I’ll check it out. Thanks!”

Musically, the first thing I heard was a steel sliding guitar. Not exactly my cup of tea, and I instantly thought Super … a country CD. Could’ve used this last night for a coaster.”

How wrong I was. Keyboards, steel guitar, acoustic guitar, light drums … mellow.

That was the only CD I listened to on the way back to work. Vocally, she sounds like a folksy version of Bat for Lashes meets Dido.

Then there are the lyrics. She reminds me of Suzanne Vega in her level of detail and poetic style. She pours her heart and soul into her vocals to help paint the scene that she portrays–not in a boistrous or overbearing way … she sings at a perfect level fitting for her music.

Here are the lyrics to “Dry Grass and Shadows.”

There are things that I’ve seen in my head
While I’m sleeping in bed
That do not wither in the morning light

I’m taken back
O I’m taken back
To the dry grass and the shadows

Thinking I’d like to look at your teeth
Lined up in perfect rows
A maze of childrens’ feet in orchard trees
Where the flat lands stretch inside your mouth
And when you laugh all the star thistles stumble out
The flat lands stretch inside your mouth
And when you laugh all the star-thistles stumble out
Strong spines of valley hills
All overgrown in gold
Look softer than a spool of old silk thread
But if we walked down with our feet
I’d be pullin’ spines and barbs and fox-tails from your skin
O if we walked down with our feet
I’d be pullin’ spines and barbs and fox-tails from your skin

There are things that I’ve seen in my head
While I’m sleeping in bed
That do not wither in the morning light

I’m taken back
O I’m taken back
To the dry grass and the shadows

I’m excited to find the rest of her stuff. She has strong staying power.

Official website: http://www.aleladiane.com

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