November 10, 2009

La da da da: The Features, tonight!

[The Features: “Thursday” from Lake Fever Sessions]

Thursday (Lake Fever Sessions version) – The Features

THIS is precisely why I am looking forward to seeing The Features tonight at the Bluebird. Their set at Monolith was one of the absolute best of the entire weekend – just electrifying. They’re in town to open for The Whigs.

Also, check their new Gigbot Downlow’d interview, conducted by my friend Robert B. Rutherford from Everything Absent or Distorted.

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September 19, 2009

The wet, wet glory of Monolith 2009 (come see what we saw)


The third annual Monolith Festival took over scenic Red Rocks in Colorado last weekend, with one of the most pleasantly-varied assortment of music yet, and I found much to entertain my ears. Perhaps I was more motivated this year than last, but despite the rain Saturday and drizzles on Sunday, I constantly found myself making tough choices between acts slotted simultaneously that I wanted to see. It’s good to have more than enough choices at a festival, running back and forth to catch the next buzzed-about act — and I certainly did at Monolith this year, along with lots of other folks.

Having just come from the massively spread-out Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, I was struck by how small and intimate this festival still feels. Despite being packed in with several thousand of my closest concert-going friends of the Western States region, Monolith still felt like a boutique arrangement, with five stages squeezed into the rather compact natural park. I got to see some terrific folks.

Let’s start with a nice assortment of three videos I shot, showing why this is a marvelous festival:

Anni Rossi – “West Coast”

Rahzel – Beatboxing to “Seven Nation Army” and “Sexy Back”
(White Stripes and Justin Timberlake covers)

Monotonix, not yet showing his hairy buttcrack.

The diversity of artists this year was terrific. From discovering a new singer-songwriter with clever lyrics and gorgeous viola-playing skills (like Chicago’s Anni Rossi, who reminded me of Regina Spektor with strings), to clapping and hooting along while Rahzel (from The Roots) beatboxed his way through some wickedly enjoyable covers (that’s me laughing on the video when he announces “Remix!” and then does just that), to the roiling crowd response to Tel Aviv punk/rocker/remover-of-clothes Monotonix (who performed most of his set on the shoulders of the audience, and pulled his terrycloth shorts off in glee), Monolith kept me hopping (and climbing).

LISTEN to how I fell in love:
West Coast – Anni Rossi

Concert-companion Dainon and I are gonna tell you about a few other loves we each experienced during the weekend. One that we both agreed on is The Features from Tennessee, recently signed to Kings of Leon’s 429 Records, and one of the absolute best live shows I’ve seen in a long time: propulsive, melodic, catchy rock with a winning wail. I told the Facebook during the set that I thought I’d just bruised my thighs with the force of my leg-drumming. Their set meandered from awkward-punk-pop songs about falling in love on a Thursday to blistering rockers like this one:

Dainon says: True to the name they’ve attached to their music, The Features ought to really be featured on your radios, car stereos, and subconscious. Add one tiny, bearded man-wail to some of the loudest feeling music in all of Monolith (they filled up alla that wide open, Red-Rocked empty space) and you’re left with a band that demands you stay with them as they go about propelling themselves forward. Onward and up and through the hoops that should make ‘em famous. Prediction? They’ll be big. The band will overcome their height. The Features make you proud to be a lover of music. They’re a budding secret that needs passing on.

Thursday – The Features

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes were definitely the most visually and kinetically stimulating band I had the pleasure of getting up close and personal with all weekend. I’m not sure I’d listen often to their utopian fantasy music that belongs frolicking wildly in a peyote-induced dream somewhere, for sure, but this band (fronted by a man not named Edward Sharpe, like whoa) wowed me with their obvious joy.



Dainon says: Cotton Jones looks like a bunch of guys had just stumbled in from a sleepy, fishing town (after a long hard day of the deep-sea fishing even) and decided to try their hand at some sangin. This is the beautiful stuff, the kind that sounded best on that darkened stage with those red lights—ambiance was on their side. This is the performance that invited the festival audience to catch its breath before stumbling on to the next. It was as invited as it was needed. In this world, flannel was spoken and razors were ignored. In this place, love is whispered through sidelong glances, key tickling and warm-on-a-rainy-day songs.

I (Heather) love this song even more after seeing it shimmer and slowly coalesce live:

Blood Red Sentimental Blues – Cotton Jones

I just thought I’d tell ya, all the demons have been slain / there’s no need for hesitation, honey I been re-arranged…



Denver’s Natural Selection at the opening night party was more fun to dance to than Chromeo’s shiny DJ set, for sure. I love basslines that make my chest vibrate and my teeth rattle in my head while I shake my hips. That sounds like some sort of torture method as I read that sentence back but trust me, it is fun. This bi-city band (Denver + St Louis, somehow) is a “funk-disco attack” of the finest variety — and appears to have a required uniform of a) awesome denim mini-cutoffs b) gold pants and a vest, no shirt or c) neon. Totally works for me.


Dainon says: The Grates are a happier, skippier take on that early No Doubt action, whether you choose to squint your eyes and go about seeing Gwen in its lead singer or not. There’s a sailor suit here, lots and lots of skipping and a smile so bright, your heart has no choice but to go boom (read into that whatever you choose to). She even took time to tell us about her having farted about 100 times since she’d got there on account of that crazy CO altitude. What’s more? It was endearing. Then again, what isn’t in an Australian accent? All’s I know is I wanted a hug when it was all over, if just to transfer some of that pixie-tastic energy over my way. For a good time, pick up either of their two albums. For a better one, go to a show and give the singer a shoulder ride when she asks for one, because she will. She so will.


I mused out loud during M. Ward‘s dense and gorgeously-rocking set that I seem to forget how much I adore his music. This was the first time I had seen him live solo (once with She in SF), and I decided during his set that a) Post-War is probably on my list of top ten albums from this decade that I will continue to listen to for years and years to come and b) his catalog really expands and becomes much more raggedly rocking in concert, in a very very good way. I was also transfixed by his anachronistic peculiarness, which reminded me of a traveling salesman+blues musician from the 1930s or something, one that truly knows his way with a guitar. He’s so interesting to watch, and completely his own.


Dainon says: There’s a weird energy that accompanies Of Montreal and its stage show, though it never fails to puzzle me. I can’t make sense of what’s going on, though I try so earnestly to do so, every single damn time even. Still, if you can manage to get past the tiger-headed humans, the half-naked men, the munching on genitalia, the leotards, the sparkling blue eye makeup and the feather boas, well then, Of Montreal treats you right. They’ve a show to go with their story to go with their music. As in they’ve got groove in their respective hearts. Is it Prince light, as goes the rampant accusation? Maybe. One thing’s for certain … the band’s avid followers will make the floor shake every single time, even if it is made of heavy rock. Boogie yer two shoes, indeed.


All my pics –and more commentary– are over on Facebook, if you’d like to see the rest of what we did and how we barely survived (spoiler: Dainon had a run-in with a drag queen, I got my lip caught in a can while shotgunning a beer). It was a long, pretty rad weekend:

Opening Night & Saturday

And here’s a few more, just because there was so much to see. Next year, you should come.

CHROMEO (video: “Tenderoni“)



phoenix(what album cover does that remind me of?!?)


September 9, 2009

you could be my guiding light, shining on the vinyl bright


The Features are a little band from Sparta, Tennessee who deserve more attention than they get, and ever since I first heard their fresh and off-kilter pop in 2005, I’ve been wanting to see them live. Finally, that’s happening this weekend at the Monolith Festival (1:30pm Sunday on the mainstage), where I’ll also get to dance around and doot-doot-doo to songs from their new sophomore album.

Some Kind of Salvation came out this summer on the brand-new Kings of Leon imprint of Bug Music, the first signing by KoL. I think I’ve always thought of The Features more as quirky multi-instrumental indie-pop — maybe in the same breath as The Format, since I first heard both on the same shiny mix CD from a prescient friend in 2005. But listening to their development on this album I definitely hear a tinge of what we might call anthemic Southern howl that attracted the Followills to their doorstep.

200px-somekindofsalvation Lions – The Features

(watch a few more new songs on their Lake Fever Session from last month)

There’s a bright and bold awkwardness to their music, and I mean that in a completely wonderful way. They’ve been playing together since junior high (they’re my age now, so that’s a long time) and have hoed a long row to get to the place where their sophomore album is garnering some well-deserved buzz. After their 2004 debut release, they were dropped by Universal Records, allegedly for not agreeing to cover a Beatles song for a commercial. Their current sophomore album was first self-released last year, before Kings of Leon met them, toured with them, and got behind their latest efforts.

But still and forever, I think this song from their 2004 album Exhibit A might be one of my favorite songs to put on a mixtape ever; it captures that jittery bliss of music so perfectly for me.

Blow it Out – The Features

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
other times I’m probably found
somewhere between a pair of huge
speakers pushed by vacuum tubes

Let it down, watch it go round & round
here I’ve found that I’m alright

If you’re happy and you know it
turn the volume up and blow it out
Blow it out

You could be my guiding light
shining on the vinyl bright
To help me find a place that’s best
where I can lay my arm to rest…

In addition to Monolith, The Features are touring a ton this fall, including many dates with those Kings of Leon.

November 24, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

As excited as I am to bust out my near-expert turkey skillz this week, I kinda hate late November. Around this time of year I suffer from unrelenting twinges of anxiety every time I listen to part of a new album, because great is my worry about excluding a late-year release for consideration as one of my favorites of the year. What if I just don’t know it yet, and mistake that for not loving it? Will I adore it come February? What kind of a huckster am I?!

I’m reprising my talking head role (like Max Headroom) on NPR’s World Cafe this year, and I am so aware of all the wonderful music this year held, and the inverse proportion to my amount of listening time. Sigh. I think I have 8 of the 10 favorites nailed down with two dark horse spots left to be filled. Wish me luck. What are your favorites of the year?

A few more tunes from 2008 that are very good:

City of Electric Light
Chad VanGaalen

The opening lines of this song are among my favorite this month: “And I thought you were the moon in the sky, but it turned out you were just a streetlight, you were burning like a hole in the night.” Ah, the old story of mistaken identity; an error that many of us make. This track traces the journey from infatuation to disillusionment, and uses what sounds like xylophones. You cannot go wrong. Calgary’s Chad VanGaalen makes shiny, multi-instrumental homespun recordings, with his newest release Soft Airplane out now on Sub Pop.

Not The One
Francois Virot
My NYC friend Cara posted this track from Francois Virot out of Lyon, France, saying that he had a “sort of shambolic happiness, a violent acoustic guitar player type. he’s got the right kind of crazy going on in his voice.” I love the torrent of strumming acoustic guitar as percussion, and the way he flirts with an untamed edge throughout this song. As he repeats, “It’s over now; I’m not the one, not the one, not the one…” it’s as if he is primarily trying to convince himself. Virot has a bunch of tour dates coming up, but mostly all in France. My brother is teaching English in Calais for the year, so maybe he can scrape together the funds to see this guy — this kind of passion would be amazing live. Yes or No is out now through Red Eye Distro.

To Ohio
The Low Anthem
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, The Low Anthem has made a fantastic album that friend Bruce says sounds like a night ride home in Joni Mitchell’s car. That’s the best way I’ve heard yet to capture what this song feels like, from a band who hand silk-screens their CDs with love and says their ethos is “not entirely jaded yet: music that really is music, not an advertisement. Imagine that.” Citing influences in the vein of Dylan, The Band, Tom Waits and Neil Young, they vacillate between stripped-down acoustic arrangements and a more rollicking jam that echoes modern contemporaries like The Felice Brothers. The female vocal harmonies on this song also add such a warm and bittersweet undertone. The band is currently unsigned, and their album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is out now.

The State I Am In (live on BBC)
Belle and Sebastian
From 1996-2001, Glasgow’s twee extraordinaires Belle & Sebastian recorded five sessions at the BBC for folks like John Peel, Mark Radcliffe, and Steve Lamacq, and they are now releasing this look into their early years as a band. If it’s possible for the songs to take on an even more vulnerable timbre, they do here. I enjoy hearing the intimacy of these sessions, the acoustic takes on favorites, and the four previously unreleased songs. The BBC Sessions is out now as double-disc on Matador (second disc is a live gig from Belfast in 2001).

The Features

In 2005, I fell in love with the awkward indie pop of Nashville’s The Features, with their song “Blow It Out” (celebrating sitting between a pair of speakers and playing vinyl very loud) making it onto pretty much every mixtape I created that year. This first single from their new album Some Kind of Salvation pulses with darker textures, and surprisingly reminds me more of The Killers. How did that happen? It’s an interesting development for this ebullient band.

January 8, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

A crystalline and lovely dream last night involving me slow-waltzing with Ryan Adams in a high school gym with paper streamers all about (yeah, have no idea where that one came from but I ain’t complainin’) reminded me of an interesting effort I read about called The Dream Project.

It involves people calling in and leaving scratchy, half-coherent messages on a dedicated voicemail line (often right after waking), and then a cadre of artists works to visually represent those dreams as part of a larger project. The only catch is that they ask for dreams with “a strong narrative flow and clear landmarks so that others may follow the trail.” So that summarily eliminates me, unfortunately. My midnight brain is too random to make most of my sojourns followable by anyone else except me.

And actually, this project also reminds me of one of my favorite Dilbert comic strips.

. . . Here are five songs on my playlists this week that you may enjoy.

Deep Water
Ryan Auffenberg
This new demo song from San Francisco’s Ryan Auffenberg (“One To Watch“) is first in the lineup this week because it reminds me of a soundtrack to a dream, from the opening lyrics about some moments staying with you, to the soporific feel of the chorus, “deep water grows cold the further down you swim.” Perfect. Ryan’s put this new song up on his MySpace page, he’s got a few tour dates this month on the West coast and was recently picked up for a little featurette on San Francisco’s KFOG. I still recommend checking out all of his work, and think we’ll be hearing good things from him in the future.

Is That The Thanks I Get
(live on Conan)
Ahhh, Wilco. You Tweedy fans are a passionate bunch, and trying so hard to convert me. I am only not a hardcore fan yet because of benign neglect. Reader Chuck recently sent me a 10-song “Wilco Starter Kit” to try, once again, to transform me into a rabid fan, and so far he has been fairly successful. I recently came across this new song, a fantastic soulful Memphis piano romp performed several months ago on Conan. This (and other new songs) are potential inclusions on the upcoming Wilco album (May 2007, Nonesuch Records), and I like what I hear so far.

I Will Wander
The Features
Tennessee’s The Features are guys that I love to root for; you may recall a mention a few months back on this blog about how they were dropped from their label for refusing to cover a Beatles song for a credit card commercial? Well, the same sound that drew me to madly adore their 2004 track “Blow It Out” is still alive and kicking on their recent Contrast EP. I am digging the marching cadence of this song — the feel reminds me of a sort of Modest-Mouse-meets-Devo.

Children of December
Been listening to The SLIP‘s Eisenhower CD (on Bar/None Records) for a few months now and always meant to write something but somehow it kept getting passed over — but no longer. This is simply a fantastic song from the opening vibrating notes. I think the first thing I read about Boston’s The SLIP came from a quote I read from Jim James of My Morning Jacket who raved about them, saying, “‘Children of December’ is the song that hit me hardest – the way the guitar and the melody interlace, it’s incredible…It could even appeal to some kid who really likes punk rock. It’s really challenging.” Their Eisenhower album sounds fresh to these ears, and was co-produced by the band and Matthew Ellard (Elliott Smith, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Morphine).

After The War
Sleep Station
Here’s a random tune that popped into my inbox after my recent Cotton Mather post. Reader Barry from NYC writes, “I suspect you’re a big power pop fan who loves those pronounced Beatles influences with jangly guitars, close harmonies, all the good stuff. Seeing that’s the case, I thought I would attach a song by a band you may not know called Sleep Station. I love this song, and the album it comes from, After the War (their strongest record), generally sounds like a cross between the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Good stuff.” I agree and think I am going to get this CD for further listening (an $8 bargain!). I find this particular tune to be a pleasant modern-day update on “Golden Slumbers.” Thanks, Barry!

Oh, and if perchance you are looking for some good books for 2007, Scatter O’ Light is doing a great series on music-related reading, and yours truly just scribbled together a few suggestions off the top of my head for her part 3 (part 1 on U2-related tomes is here and part 2 on best rock bios is here). Happy reading!

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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