Big Star- Sister Lovers (1974) {CF Edit}


There was an American band in the late 60s and early 70s who made quite a name for themselves by playing rock and roll. Their records were good, but they never quite reached the critical mass that The Byrds, The Beatles, or The Rolling Stones did.

By the time their third album was coming around, they had signed to Stax Records, which was falling apart and going bankrupt. The band was splitting up, and the singer Alex Chilton was having his own personal issues to deal with. He did what every musician should do, which is deal with his stuff openly and on tape.

Sister Lovers (so-named because he and the drummer were dating two sisters; this cd is also known as "Third") was Big Star's third record, though many consider it Chilton's solo outing, recorded with session musicians, the band's drummer, and an ambitious producer who wanted to carry the session through to fruition.

Sister Lovers is a bizarre collection of songs that ping-pong between sheer bliss, caustic sarcasm, utter detachment, total loneliness, and tongue-in-cheek. In a way, it was indie rock way ahead of it's time, and Sister Lovers nails the sonic experiments, loose arrangements, and sheer coolness that a lot of homemade rockers tried to sound like. Even in 2011, it sounds like it was recorded last month, which says a lot!

A lot of crazy-huge bands (R.E.M., Yo la Tengo) refer to as one of the most influential of all time.

I could go off on how I like each song, but everyone in the world has beat me to it. So there.

Rykodisc finally released the "official" version of Third/Sister Lovers, including bonus tracks, in 1994 or so with a setlist picked by Chilton. I have to say that i liked and didn't like it. For one thing, it's very hard to cobble any kind of cohesion together out of the songs, that make Pet Sound's diversity sound relatively tame. For another, it is 17 songs long, which is far too many, in my opinion. It also includes a handful of cover songs that range from campy to utterly atrocious.

So-called purists will get all huffy, but i made my own tracklist that has a more natural listening arc to it, and i also made my own album art (since the reissue is pretty fugly). To me, it's the strongest tracks put in an order that a skeptic would really appreciate.

(A little aside: This is Chilton's year, as people are performing Third live all over the place. This poster was from North Caroline, i believe, but a superstar cast was doing this in New York City also. Flattering or self-serving?)

Luke Temple- Snowbeast

You know you have a good friend when they email you to write, "Hey, this cd makes me think of you. I think you'd like it."

Luckily for me, when someone does that, they're often right. Luke Temple was recommended to me by a good friend and I ended up really being drawn by it. I really got hooked on it when i was riding my bike downtown on the way to see Camera Obscura play live. This is an amazing "Hot-summer-night-on-a-bike" cd-- lots of swirls, loops, ambiance, textures, and great vocals. The songs are simple and catchy, and they fade and wash into each other, so that the whole of the album is greater than the parts of it.

Snowbeast (nickname for yeti) made me think about songwriting and recording differently. Luke Temple sings in this great haunting register, and layers his vocals at parts. There is a strange absence of low end stuff-- hardly any bass, etc. But it's really the high, lonesome vocals that do it for me. Plus the gurgling synth textures and "less is more" approach. The tracks are eerie, pretty, and haunting, which is like icing on the cake.

Give it a chance, listen to it a couple of times, and I bet it'll grow on you.

By the way, this image was taken from the Daytrotter Sessions site (which you should look into, if you haven't). Luke Temple with an armful of Yeti.  Wacky.


Josh T. Pearson- Last of the Country Music Gentlemen (2011)


Some musicians achieve this cult status that will elevate anything they do to a place of legend. I wonder if Josh T. Pearson isn't approaching that place. I sense that the hype surrounding this record--not the record itself--smacks of hipsterdom. You can be sure that Josh Pearson's first record in ten years is a huge deal. MOJO and The Times already gave it 4/5 stars. Hmm.... So how is it really?

I was and remain an enormous fan of Lift to Experience, but was less than convinced by Pearson's acoustic output following the band. I know the legend, the stories of the bassist's wife dying while on tour, the drummer getting mailed an actual boot as a way of being kicked out of the band, the singer's dad being a preacher who refused to work since God would give him the means to live as a test of his faith. Et cetera, et cetera.

But when I first saw the album art for Last of the Country Music Gentlemen, i realized just how at risk Pearson is of becoming a media pawn. Why does he need to be seated with a shotgun next to hot models who contrast greatly with his "authentic" image? For someone who has notoriously shirked from fame, this is either a good omen or a bad one...

As for the music, it's all acoustic finger picked guitar and a voice. The lack of instrumentation works in his favor and makes it sound huge and powerful, even at its quietest. It goes from being as beautiful and transcendental as Jeff Buckley to reaching the dirtiness and unforgivingness of Vincent Gallo. I can't decide if it's beautiful or repulsive, which I guess is a good thing. It's definitely an uncomfortable listen-- I keep imagining Mark Kozelek listening to it, sulking, feeling out-emo-ed.

"I'm Josh, and this is my band."
The first song, "Thou Art Loosed," is an intensely beautiful song that sets the rest of the album up deceptively, so that when i listen to it start-to-finish, I feel this immediate rush followed by a long letdown (comedown?).In a way, LotCMG doesn't feel that out of the ordinary, and it's not anything that any old washed-out, unrecognized country singer couldn't have made. And then in a way, when you listen closely, you wonder how someone could make you feel so beautiful and filthy at once.

* * * *
This interview excerpt is from My Old Kentucky Blog:

My Old Kentucky Blog: Are we hearing mostly first takes?
Josh T Pearson: The first three are on Last Of The Country Gentleman are. You know, the songs are so goddamned long. Once you get up over ten minutes, I wasn’t about to do it again. But if you get to minute five and it’s not working, just do it again. I agonized over the takes, rather than the recording process or the mic setups. Being such a personal record, I’m not going to lie, it was tough. Sometimes it would take ten minutes just to recover from a take, sometimes a few hours. I hope I don’t have to go through that again. I actually went gray overnight.

MOKB: Now that it’s done, and it met your standards, how do you feel about the record?
JTP: I don’t know, man. It seems like a terrible thing to do…to be happy about such a sad record. This record is definitely for other people. I can’t listen to it. I think it’s a good work, but I hope I don’t have to look at it for a very long time. It’s just too personal. If I was outside of myself and heard it, I’d think the guy was a real dick for doing it because it’s just too bare and honest.

Lift to Experience- Falling From Cloud Nine E.P. (1997)

I first saw Lift to Experience at the Cocodrie in San Francisco. They played after Pedro the Lion and remained one of my favorite bands of the decade (while Pedro remained one of my LEAST favorite).

They sold a tour-only EP that i'm guessing is pretty hard to find now. Uploaded for all your LTE junkies.

It doesn't sound nearly as good as their debut under Bella Union, but in a way it is a nice document of what they sounded like live. Consider it an early statement before they came to the conclusion they did (aka Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads).

CD Info:

1. Falling From Cloud 9
2. With the World Behind
3. Arise and Shine
4. Liftin' On Up

Mixed By - Dave Willingham , Lift To Experience
Performer [Lift To Experience Are] - Brian (64) , Josh* , Josh*
Recorded By, Mastered By - Dave Willingham
Written-By - Lift To Experience

First printing of 500 released in 1997 with limited edition trading cards of the then current members: Josh Browning, Josh Pearson and Brian Smith.
Second Printing of 500 released in 2000.
Both presses have the same cover art but different colors and fonts.
Recorded & mastered by Dave Willingham at 70 Hertz in Argyle, Texas.

All tracks recorded live, except vocals and tambourine 9/24/97.

Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out


Best known for playing in The Rentals and That Dog., singer/violinist Petra Haden recorded an acapella version of The Who Sells Out on an eight track recorded (borrowed from Mike Watt). ...Um... I don't know if i really need to describe any further.

I love how she removes a lot of the Who's theatrics to reveal this tender counterpoint to the original version. It's definitely goofy, but also really pretty in parts. I recommend alternating listens of this version with the original just to get an idea of her sense of humor.

The best part might be her interpretations of all the commercials, though i still prefer her version of "Tattoo You," which makes it sound eternal and gorgeous. I love that shift in thought from "How gorgeous" to "How ridiculous!" Bravo, Petra.

Watch Petra (plus nine other women) sing "I Can See For Miles:"

Latin Playboys- Dose


You may have heard of Los Lobos, who hail as California's longest-lasting full rock outfit. They're good and all, but their recent Disney cd makes most people reach for one of those airplane barf bags preeeeeetty fast.

But back in 1999, they put out a second album under a side-project pseudonym Latin Playboys (which has to be one of the coolest band names ever. Do you notice that i get fetishistic about names? I can never come up with a cool name!). The legend has it that Dose was recorded entirely with instruments bought from thrift stores, and it shows. The guitars are wonky and out of tune, and the instruments sound terrible; however, since Los Lobos are practically the most talented musicians who have ever walked the face of the earth, the playing is incredibly solid and it comes across as a revelation.

It turned a lot of Lobos fans off since it's a) abrasive as all getout and b) not really a group of songs as much as weird sketches. It almost sounds like an early Ween record, but with a huge Mexican influence. For me, the rough aesthetics plus the Mexican sabor plus the inconsistency makes this one of my favorite early Summer records.

I first heard this at a house party in Knoxville and realized--in an exaggerated epiphany-- that the music i had been listening to was really lame, and that there was tons of incredible music i hadn't discovered yet. 

Blue Hawaii- Blue Gowns


The downside of having an awful band name (besides having an awful band name) is having would-be fans slew through dead-end internet searches to find information on your band. Let that be a lesson to you, future bands "Total Recall," "Barak Obama," and "Santorum."

For now, it's best to focus on just how nice this cassette is (CASSETTE!!!). You can think of it as a dreamy, blippy, poppy beach record, but it still has that shimmery sound to it that i associate with Scandinavian sonics, or 4AD records from the late 80s. It's Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Braids' vocalist, who is quickly becoming one of my new favorites) plus a boy playing instruments, and it has all the great aspects of a folk guitar duo without any of the painfulness. Does anyone else notice this great and weird keyboards/effects-becoming-the-new-guitar-of-folk phenomenon? I like guitar and all, but it's nice hearing the same aesthetic with a different sonic palette.

The lyrics get confessional/awkward ("when i picture you thrusting into her"), but they always come across as being comfortable and inviting. This whole cassette is start-to-finish very solid. Warm, spacey, bright, faraway, and just nice. 

Maybe it is more like the beach after all.


Rayon De Lune- Aromates/ Michele Claude


This is a hard cd to sum up, but it's one that is really amazing. It's apparnetly a French group, but they definitely are drawing from a variety of musics in the region.

I'm not doing it justice. But if you have any interest in jazz, Arabic/Andalusian, gypsy, and eastern classical music, give it a listen.

Here is Amazon's description:
"Michèle Claude and his Ensemble Aromates had a French hit album in 2005, Jardin de Myrtes, which appeared on both classical and pop charts for several weeks. Now this exciting artist and his group offer what is possibly an even better album, combining the musical idiom of Al Andalous in Spain with the timbres of the organetto, psaltery, harpsichord, and a rich selection of percussion instruments. Ensemble Aromates consists of classically trained musicians evolving into different musical horizons--medieval, baroque, contemporary, jazz, gypsy, and salsa. They love improvising, and pay tribute to musicians from all traditions, oral and written."

Damien Jurado- Saint Bartlett


When people think of Damien Jurado, they probably think of a sensitive northwestern singer/songwriter who likes to play lots of acoustic guitar and have women sing with him. I, for one, have thought that his last few cds just seemed like a blurring of one continuous album that never really stuck out to me. That's probably not a fair assessment.

Saint Bartlett, which was produced by Richard Swift, really caught me off guard. It's a very solid record: the songs are catchy, haunting, and distinctive. But the thing that really sealed it for me are the great idiosyncratic percussion and doo-wop sensibilities. It's still a Damien Jurado record, but it sounds like one that would be playing in the background of an episode of Twin Peaks.

His songs always seem confessional, but they're often from the point of view of others. This record was apparently made while several friends were going through divorces, in hospitals, etc. The different points of view make it "read" like a collection of stories by Ray Bradbury.

It's a really affective record. I have some days when I pull in to work on my bike and all i can think of is the endless loop that he sings on the first song: "Trying to fix my mind, trying to fix my mind." This has been one of my favorite records of the past year.


Shields Down- Powdered Sugar Avalanche


Powdered Sugar Avalanche combines the Everything But the Kitchen Sink Brian Eno brand of pop music with the whirled sonics of My Bloody Valentine and the instrumentation of Magnetic Fields. It's ultimately a group of pop songs, but sounds a bit like Alan Lomax engineered a group of pop musicians that Brian Eno arranged and Kevin Shields produced. It's all over the place, in a nice way, i think.

The 'band' consists of brothers Ben and Leif Fairfield, who both make their own cds, and Lisa Chuang. Ben Fairfield tends to make poppy songs in the vein of Jack Johnson or Elliot Smith while Leif prefers the overall sound and feeling of songs, more akin to Brian Eno or Andrew Bird.

The songs here are shrouded in imagery and feel a bit like reading a book on a remote ocean shoreline. It has a song in Thai, a Chinese boys choir, and lyrics about Japanese history. It's familiar-enough as a pop cd, but even at its most intimate, it still feels pretty far off and abstract.

"Any Kind of Day" feels a bit like Sarah McLachlan-meets-Cush and "SwanDive" nearly sounds like Jeremy Enigk with a looser backing band. I have always appreciated bands that rotate lead singers, and i especially like the three part harmonies.

* If you ever get a chance to pick up a physical copy, it's printed letterpress! Woo ha!

Leif Fairfield- Facts of War

Leif Fairfield- Facts of War (2011)

Troubadour musician Leif Fairfield first cut his teeth with the 2005 "Delaware Sessions," a Berkeley-birthed cd that made pop music really tiny, basing songs around plucked violin and tentative vocals. Facts of War is his first full length offering since (with a smattering of EPs scattered throughout) and finds the emotional attachment cranked up a few notches, with some improved musical chops. An audio chronicling of his relocations from San Francisco to Knoxville to Cincinnati, this cd is full of screechy noise, darker lyrics, and pop sensibilities.

This cd squishes the devotional with the confessional, blurring the personal with the projected. And like all of Fairfield's cds, it has at least one song about suicide and/or dying. Go figure.

Think of it as a sound lasagna, with layers of violin and effects, filled with vocal harmonies, and drizzled with a small sprinkling of acoustic string instruments. Recommended for fans of Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear, and Brian Eno.

Featuring Peralta Pirates Bryan Maurer and Matt Kronbach, plus Cincinnati staple Sonic Elf. 


Filip Zelway- Phamilial (Twilight Edit)

* NOTE: This is the first link i have posted that was removed due to "copyright infringement. I translate this as: Nonesuch Records (or Mr. Zelway himself-- the band he plays for has a sharp dislike of not making money) has a stick up its collective arses about sharing digital music. Hence, the vehement misspelling of Mr. Zelway's name (which is actually cooler than his real name! You paying attention, Fil?). You'll get the drift, no? I am reposting the link with a different title. 


Hey dude- have you heard of this really cool band that no one has ever heard of called "Televisionead" (actual name revoked: see note above)? Well, it turns out that their drummer, Filip Zelway took a page from James Iha's book and put out his own cd of songs that sound as far as possible from the chaotic behemoth of exacting sound that probably weighs on his shoulders every day.

Basically, think NICK DRAKE. This cd is so quiet, so acoustic and finger picked that it gets poo-pooed like young hipsters (Pitchfork) and embraced by aging yuppies (NPR). But it deserves a little more credit than that: it's basically just a really pretty record, packed with songs about his family members (hence the title). Musically, it's the equivalent of eating macaroni and cheese on a rainy day: it's really simple yet satisfying.

It's not groundbreaking by any means, but it just might grow on you. A very good early morning Sunday record.

*(Note: I omitted my least favorite songs which are borderline cheesy. For that reason, i call this the Twilight Edit-- not after the vampire franchise, but after the time of day when this record seems most appropriate).

Braids- Native Speaker


a) one part early 90s classic 4AD sound (already recipe for greatness),
b) one part Gang Gang Dance,
c) one part Siouxie and the Banshees, and
d) one part Lars Ulrich.

Imagine really tasteful synth textures (i know--oxymoron, right?), female vocals with lots of personality and strength, super huge pop sensibility, soul, and the feeling of being seventeen years old on a spring break camping trip. Braids is really my thing this week.

Wearing a truly terrible band name on their sleeves, Braids are a four piece from Montreal, Canada. They could fit anywhere in a bill with Cocteau Twins, an aggressive version of Slowdive, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Animal Collective. Really, really great stuff that can fill your heart on the cloudiest day or brightest summer day.

Singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston is part of another poorly named group (Blue Hawaii), who sound basically like Braids, but less polished. Standell-Preston is interesting: she gets comparisons to Jenny Lewis and Bjork (which--C'MON!--has to be the laziest comparison someone could ever draw); however, she sounds to me like Joanna Newsome singing electronic music.

Love 'em.

Meet your host

My photo
Another musician, interested in and inspired by music from different times, different cultures, and different intentions.