June 30, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

I’m still recovering from my weekend, what with all the SoCo-sponsored libations in the hot hot sun that set off other fun and unexpected happenings (like my rookie winning streak at the Klacker dice game, netting me a championship $7 –seven dollars!!– all in singles). Incidentally the SoCo also improved both my Cornhole game and my Rock Band skills (oh! doubtful!!).

Here are a handful of new songs I’ve been digging lately, the first two from bands I saw this weekend:

Eagle Seagull
This was the first thing I heard coming into the festival Saturday, and I was impressed with the soaring, rich layers of melody and caught by the singer’s voice. Eagle Seagull are from Nebraska, and something has been made of them sharing the same “scene” as fellow Cornhuskers like Bright Eyes or Tilly And The Wall, but I frankly hear more similarity to British bands like The Cure. In fact, I incorrectly thought they were from England, and that I’d caught a hint of accent there. I especially enjoyed watching their cool-as-ice violinist play her minty green instrument with panache. This tune is from their 2004 debut Eagle*Seagull.

LSD (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds remix)
Bassnectar / Insane Bangers
I wrote some in the Paste article just how much I enjoyed the set by DJ Lorin Ashton, aka Bassnectar, an SF/Berkeley artist who I’d never had the thrill of seeing live before. He only played for an hour but I doubt there was a single person there who was not enjoying themselves, stretching that 60 minutes out into what seemed like much longer. Amidst all the flailing dancers, even this guy got into it (and he tried to dance with me but I didn’t want to break him or anything; he looked brittle!):

Ah, Colorado. Anyways, this song was one of the crowd highlights of the set — made better when combined with the delight that Ashton took in watching all of us as he recreated it with his laptops and turntables. I recommend an experience with Bassnectar when he comes through your town.

The Notwist
As previously mentioned on Fuel/Friends, German ambient-indie band The Notwist are finally giving us some new music, and the day is here (er, past). The Devil, You + Me was released June 16 on Domino Records, and I am loving its muted elegance, deceptively urgent percussion, and swirling overall presence. I’d wondered what they had been up to and according to a reader, they’ve been busy with side projects in between 2002′s Neon Golden and the new album. They released an album with spoken-word/rapper Dose One as 13&god in 2005 and some members are also in the Munich band Lali Puna, who released their third album in 2004. But it’s good to hear a full new Notwist album, and I think it will sound especially fitting once the summer heat dies and the crispness of autumn hits the wind.

Song For

There’s a delicious thrum and counteractive pause on this song, almost like holding your breath — an atmospheric sense of foreboding. Named for a small California town halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield (some hot fun to be had out there, let me tell you), Earlimart has been making oft-dreamy tunes for almost a decade. For this new record, the rotating cast of Earlimart whittled down to just Aaron Espinoza (him) and Ariana Murray (her), their graceful harmonies intertwining like a dance. Because of Espinoza’s friendship with the late Elliott Smith, many comparisons will never cease, but he has acknowledged the ways that the friendship influenced his music — here there might be something between the lines, a quality in the timbre and the breath. Hymn and Her is out tomorrow on Shout! Factory.

On My Mind
Irish band Romantica first blipped onto my radar with singer Ben Kyle’s gorgeous duet with Ryan Adams when they opened for him on tour last Fall. A chance encounter with that cover on my iPod this weekend (and the consequential singing along in harmony all the rest of my day) sent me trawling to their MySpace to see what they are up to. On this song, I find the combination of his Irish lilt alongside a very American-heartland brand of music to be simply irresistible, as he sings typical lyrics of desperation and heartache like “You’re too young to get married, honey, you ought to be sleeping around” (listen for that fantastic pronunciation of the final word). Their MySpace lists shared hometowns of Belfast and Minneapolis, and this song sings about MPLS locales like First Avenue with a charming brogue. I’m just getting into their 2004 album It’s Your Weakness That I Want, and you can catch them all this week at Summerfest (4 shows?) if you’re a Milwaukee type.

Also folks . . . it’s a time of change around these parts — I start a new job tomorrow, among other major shifts. Wish me luck! Also, go download “Mover,” a new b-side from The Verve for free this week on their site. It’s a big song.

[top image credit orange32]

June 23, 2008

New from the Verve: Love is Noise (official stream)

A first listen to the official studio version of that song I first saw performed at Coachella . . .

STREAM: Love Is Noise

The single is to be released August 4th on Parlophone, and the first new Verve album in 11 years will be out on August 19th (which is, incidentally, my birthday. Thanks R-Ash!).

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November 18, 2007

Win a new Brit Box compilation, and listen to the re-formed Verve in Blackpool

New contest! This one tails nicely on the heels of my anglophile’s paradise post last month about the Britpop movement. If you find yourself with some UK-centric leanings in your musical selections, here’s a new box set you might wanna throw down for.

The Brit Box: U.K. Indie, Shoegaze And Brit-Pop Gems Of The Last Millenium is out this week on Rhino Records, collecting 78 songs out of Britain from 1984 to present that celebrate “the essence of cool.”

I have one box set to give away! In rad packaging, you’ll get:

-DISC ONE: 1984-1990. Early modern British influencers like Stones Roses, Happy Mondays, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Smiths, Primal Scream
-DISC TWO: 1990-1993. The hazy shimmer of the shoegaze movement is traced through acts like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and The Telescopes
-DISC THREE: 1994-1995. Britpop explodes in a crushing supernova. Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Elastica etc.
-DISC FOUR: 1995-present. Where we’re going – Ash, The Verve, Super Furry Animals, Mansun, Placebo and more

The 80-page liner note booklet comes with with interviews, memories and essays from Creation Records founder Alan McGee, seminal producers Stephen Street and Alan Moulder and an assortment of artists. Full tracklist here.

To celebrate the release of this box set, vLES (a “virtual Lower East Side” web community set up by MTV) has some special programming this week. Brett Anderson of Suede will be on MTV’s Subterranean tonight to talk about the Brit Box, and on Monday vLES will have an online “Britpop Round Table” streaming from the Bowery Ballroom with Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone (who wrote this excellent ‘lil book), Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel (who I tragically omitted from my last Britpop post) and John Hagelston from Rhino Records. Check here for a full list of the other Brit-centric programming this week.

So, they offered me one box set to either keep, or for contesting. Do not ever say I don’t love you: leave me a comment to win my promo copy of the Brit Box set!

And to wrap up the last contest before we move it along: Aikin from Licorice Pizza was picked as the random winner of the NYC DVD set. Thanks for all the wonderful stories.

* * * * * * *

Speaking of awesome music wafting from across the Atlantic, how ’bout that re-formed Verve? They’ve now hit the road, back together in the original lineup, and just completed six shows earlier this month in the UK.

Since the odds of them coming through the U.S. seem to be about the same odds I get on a Stereophonics tour, I have to satisfy myself with reading what folks said about the experience, and trolling YouTube for hazy cellphone video clips. From the moment they first took the stage on Night One in Glasgow, they’ve been playing some seriously rad sets. This vantage point makes me tingle (from the second night in Glasgow):

And listening to this boot from a few nights later at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool does nothing short of give me little frissons of excitement up and down my spine – hear the crowd sing along with Sonnet, or the wild roar that greets Bittersweet Symphony.


[Thanks to taper: Pete Bullock]

This Is Music
Space and Time
Gravity Grave
Weeping Willow
Life’s An Ocean
Sit And Wonder (new song)
Velvet Morning
Already There
Stormy Clouds
Let The Damage Begin (b-side)
On Your Own
The Rolling People
The Drugs Don’t Work
Bittersweet Symphony
A Man Called Sun
Lucky Man
Come On


And a bit of scene-setting from someone lucky enough to be there:

I was at [the Blackpool show] – arrived just in time to hear ‘Mad Richard’ announce ‘This Is Music’… It was great to finally see the band in their original conception- no extra guitarist, no string section.

What was even more impressive was the fact that so much 1st & 2nd album stuff was on the set…even ON YOUR OWN & MAN CALLED SUN (personal faves). One could argue that a mediocre, crowd satisfying ‘last album’ set would have been enough. But could you really have seen Nick McCabe agreeing to re-form for that kinda live package???!!

Must say [the Empress is] the best venue for this type of gig. Ok the acoustics are not entirely set out for rock bands but the surroundings always make gigs at the Empress very unique. There’s also that ‘outta town’ mentality where a band has purposely avoided the more suitable venues within the vicinity (Manchester Apollo/Uni, Liverpool Uni) and gone with the face of Seasides past ‘Blackpool’-not to mention the sprung floor!…magical!

Overall a grand night had by all…now lets see how the bigger gigs go next year!

October 6, 2007

Live Forever & the Britpop explosion (“I’ve been on the shelf too long / now it’s time to hear my song”)

Britain in the mid-90s was a chaotic, creative, music-centric place to be. As Thatcher’s tenure as PM ended and a fresh start began under Tony Blair and the New Labour party, there was a simultaneous crackle and thrum of musical vibrancy that is explored in the 2003 documentary Live Forever (by filmmaker John Dower). On the surface it’s the story of the music, the “Britpop sound” and those who made it, but it also tries to get deeper underneath to look at the society at that moment and what fed this burgeoning supernova.

As a complete outsider to this specific moment in world history myself, but a fan of the music that ended up on my plate because of it, I thought it was fascinating to see one view of the context behind it. As Louise Wener from the band Sleeper says of those days, “There was a sense of a kind of excitement that something was changing — perhaps this music was foreshadowing something else.” The documentary undertakes the Herculean task of trying to examine the music through the social and political context of the mid-90s, teasing out its larger implications to the fabric of a generation. This is always tricky.

The story is mostly told through first person interviews from those who were there. You’ve got the big three represented in Oasis, Blur and Pulp, but also a number of other musicians and commentators. These conversations were illuminating and entertaining — not counting a few statements of general unfair snobbery related to my own culture, like “Americans have tremendous confidence, but not much talent,” and one remark that I obviously vehemently disagreed with regarding Seattle music of the time: “The only really decent group were Nirvana” (I said “Unh!” to myself and looked around at no one else sitting there with me, in indignation).

Along with snippets of music videos, concerts, newsclips and articles, the interviews carry the bulk of the story. Damon Albarn seems to have grown up quite a bit, his segments were pensive and thoughtful, accompanied by his strumming on a ukulele. Jarvis Cocker had some fantastic stories of those years and I enjoyed hearing his articulate reflection (but really, whatever he says, I just love his voice – deliciously smarmy and all rich velvet molasses). Liam was a complete wanker for most of his bits –so secure in his obvious awesomeness, relentlessly turning questions back around on the filmmakers, giving evasive answers, sitting there with that haircut and those mirrored shades sounding like he’s got a mouthful of marbles– but Noel was hilarious and awesome. Example: Towards the end, Noel’s talking about how they were in a studio one day next door to the prepubescent dance-pop of S Club 7, and how he seriously thought they were “special needs kids” there for a tour of the studios and for the free food. Touche.

The film goes through the peak years of the Britpop sound, which were right smack in the middle of my high school years — a time when pretty much every single act coming out of Britain making pop/rock music was tagged part of “The Britpop Movement.” As surely as so-called “grunge bands” of ’90s Seattle shrugged away from the label, many of these Britpop bands weren’t thrilled with the simplistic categorization, but it did create a crackling excitement and level of buzz for their music that took them places they otherwise wouldn’t have gone just a decade prior.

So which Britain was it?

Is it the carefree abandonment of youth epitomized by Supergrass frolicking on the beach, singing lines like:

We are young, we run green, keep our teeth, nice and clean
see our friends, see the sights, feel alright

We wake up, we go out, smoke a fag, put it out
see our friends, see the sights, feel alright

But we are young, we get by, can’t go mad, ain’t got time
Sleep around, if we like, but we’re alright

The disaffected uncertainty (yet faith in music) of The Verve in “This Is Music”?

I stand accused, just like you
for being born without a silver spoon
Stood at the top of a hill
Over my town I was found

I’ve been on the shelf too long
Sitting at home on my bed too long
Got my things and now I’m gone
How’s the world gonna take me?

. . . Well music is my life and loved by me
I’m gonna move on the floor with my sweet young thing
Down down down, down we go
till I reach the bottom of my soul
This is music

Blur’s cocky questioning of having it all in “Parklife”?
The paranoia and ‘the sound of loneliness turned up to ten’ of Pulp’s “Fear”?
The indomitable conviction that you and I are gonna live forever?

Listening to the variety of sounds coming out of Britain at the time –all classified by someone or another as Britpop– shows you a bit of how meaningless the term really was. In the film, an interviewer asks Jarvis Cocker of Pulp as he sits on his bed by an open window, curtain fluttering in the breeze, about how his song Common People was called by one reviewer, “the perfect encapsulation of the Britpop aesthetic.” Jarvis just shakes his head, sighs a little, and says, “Oh no.”

Regardless of what it all means (and really, who knows what it all means), this is good music, and the film is 86 minutes well spent.

I had a lot of fun putting this mix together after watching the documentary, combining songs I remember liking the first time around with new discoveries and recommendations from friends on that side of the Pond. According to the film, the Britpop sound inhabited a relatively ephemeral period of time, starting ’round 1992, hitting boiling point in April ’94 with the release of Blur’s Parklife, followed in August by Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. In a similar scene that echoes the film Hype!, bands were getting signed at the height of the frenzy after having played together for mere weeks, with only a handful of songs written.

Some say that the death of the era came with a resounding thud in August ’97 with the release of the cocaine haze manifesto Be Here Now by Oasis. Other say it ended more around the time that footballer Gareth Southgate missed a penalty kick in the Euro ’96 semifinals against Germany. Come on. Is an era that exact? Go ahead and argue either way, influences started before then and the sound carried on after, but I’ve tried to mostly focus my own little mix in the thick of things, from ’94-’97.

And as with any label, you can debate it til the cows come home who fits into the category or not, so some of these may not gel in your mind as Britpop. I lack the immediate expert knowledge in this area, being more of a “grunge rock” girl myself when this was all going down (I shudder at that term, see?!). Snag the whole zip, enjoy the flow for some perfect weekend listening. In general, these make me feel a jaunty sense of optimism — and maybe slightly disaffected, but such were the Nineties, right?

Waterfall – The Stone Roses
Alright – Supergrass
God! Show Me Magic – Super Furry Animals
This Is Music – Verve
Parklife – Blur
Kelly’s Heroes – Black Grape
Common People (live at Melkweg 1995) – Pulp
Interview clip from Knebworth ’96 – Noel Gallagher

(discussing Kula Shaker & Liam’s Musical Tastes)
Hey Dude – Kula Shaker
Alright (live at Glastonbury) – Cast
Change – The Lightning Seeds
Faster – Manic Street Preachers
Wake Up Boo – The Boo Radleys
Lenny Valentino – The Auteurs
Line Up – Elastica
Step Into My World – Hurricane #1
Animal Nitrate – Suede
Hundred Mile City – Ocean Colour Scene
Getting Better – Shed Seven
She Makes My Nose Bleed – Mansun
Girl From Mars – Ash
Be My Light, Be My Guide (live) – Gene
The Fear – Pulp
The Only One I Know – The Charlatans
Live Forever (live at Glastonbury) – Oasis


It’s worth noting that although some of these groups didn’t survive the end of the decade, many of them have gone on continue recording music that is just as good (and in may cases better) than their mid-Nineties output. Verve is reuniting and touring, Jarvis Cocker has a swanky euro-cool solo album out now, I rather liked Ocean Colour Scene’s last one, and Ash just rocked my world with their newest single. Media frenzy or no, the talent lasts.

It’s as James (the band from Manchester) said in the fantastic smack of their 1998 song “Destiny Calling”:

So we may be gorgeous, so we may be famous —
come back when we’re getting old.”

June 26, 2007

Sweet symphony: The Verve reunite

The Verve just announced some big news today — they are reuniting after eight years apart for a new album at the end of the summer and several shows this fall. Even though they’ve all slagged off on each other with vitriol in the intervening years, saying that a complete Beatles reunion was more likely than a Verve one, the statement released today says that they are “getting back together for the joy of the music.” Isn’t that sweet.

Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, and Pete Salisbury were back in the recording studio in London last week, and tickets to a handful of UK shows go on sale July 6th. Here’s to hoping there’s some amazing music waiting to come out from their reunion. In related listening, these are the demos from the Urban Hymns sessions at West London’s Olympic Studios in 1996 & 1997. The information that came with these when I sleuthed them out on a dare reads:

These are the legendary Urban Hymns demos recorded by Richard Ashcroft during 1996. They are from an analog source, but the quality is very listenable, all the instruments and vocals are present and clear. Verve drummer Peter Salisbury plays drums on most tracks, and most likely Simon Tong plays as well although no one is sure of the lineup other than Ashcroft and Salisbury. There are 3 songs from Urban Hymns, two b-sides from that album, 3 tracks that a few years later would appear on Ashcroft’s debut solo album, and eight unreleased tracks. Obviously, the absence of Nick McCabe from the proceedings is a negative, but the unreleased tracks and early versions of other songs make a nice addition to the Verve catalog.

OCT 13, 1996 – AUG 4, 1997
Space and Time
Song For The Lovers
One Before Dinner
Misty Morning June
Lord I’ve Been Trying
The Drugs Don’t Work
C’mon People
A Little Bit Of Love
Lord, I Guess I’ll Never Know
Monte Carlo
Oh Sister
New York (Siren mix)
One More For The Lovers
It Takes Two


November 15, 2006

The Verve EP (1992)

The first studio release from The Verve (way before Richard Ashcroft went solo, started sampling Curtis Mayfield, and volunteering at youth centers in a drunken haze) was the self-titled EP in 1992 (on Hut Records). It’s a swirly, ethereal bit of Brit-rock shoegaze history.

There are five songs on this EP, which clocks in at a lengthy 31 minutes (thanks to songs like the ten-minute opus “Feel”). Four of the 5 songs were never re-recorded or released on any Verve album. It’s a must-have for Verve completists, or for those of us who could use some spacey psychedelic music every now and then.

Gravity Grave – The Verve

A Man Called Sun – The Verve

She’s A Superstar – The Verve

Endless Life – The Verve

Feel – The Verve

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November 29, 2005

Undiscovered Gem #1

From time to time you unearth a song from an artist you know and love that has somehow escaped your notice. Hence the title of this post, an undiscovered gem.

I greatly enjoy Ben Harper, but never bought his Live From Mars album for some reason. Just came across the beautiful cover he does of The Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work” and I love it. Check it out.

“The Drugs Don’t Work,” Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

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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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