Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Best Band Name: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Best Album Name: Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
Best Song Title: Johnny Boy, "You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve"
Best Comeback From Oblivion: The Lemonheads
Biggest Let-Down: The Killers
Best Follow-Up to Greatness: The Hold Steady
Biggest Surprise Love: The Long Winters
Best Summer Song: Belle and Sebastian, "Another Sunny Day"
Best Winter Song: Matt Costa, "Cold December"
Best Attempt at Bringing Despair Down All Around Us: The Mountain Goats, Get Lonely
Best Album to Get Blotto To: The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
Worst Moment by a Great Band: When the Decemberists momentarily became Yes and Pink Floyd on "The Island"
Best Opening Act: (tie) The New Pornographers (sans Neko Case and Dan Bejar), for Belle and Sebastian / Christine Fellows, for The Mountain Goats
Artist That Yielded the Most Cases of Music Blogs Losing Our Respect: Lavender Diamond, love for
Biggest What-the-Fuck?: Nelly Furtado
Biggest Where-the-Fuck-Have-They-Been?: Sparklehorse
Most Concise Song: Neko Case, "A Widow's Toast"
Most Imitated: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Best Release Date: June 6, 2006 - be your own PET
Worst Release Date: January 1, 2006 - The Strokes
Most Anticipated Albums of 2007: The Shins, The New Pornographers, Voxtrot
Worst Lyrics: The Killers, "When You Were Young"
Best Lyrics We're Not Sure We Understand: The Long Winters, "Teaspoon"
Best Live Show of 2006 (Witnessed by The Toaster Talks): Belle and Sebastian w/ The New Pornographers, March 6, 9:30 Club
See you next week for the Top 100 Songs of 2006.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Mojave 3: So they decided to rock it a little harder this time around, and by all accounts, it worked. The standout tracks are stellar, and the songs that would normally merit only a listen or two actually become the album's draw. Bonus points for the album art, which distinctly reminds us of that art-kid in 7th grade's doodles. (A-)
Beck: Aside from our general "eh" response to Guero, Beck plows through with another batch of consistency in Beckdom. This might not be the best work of his career, but the dude still seems to be on top of his game and making music that is more interesting than almost everything else out there. (A-)
The Pipettes: Having finally gotten his hands on a copy of We Are the Pipettes, Mister Toaster proceeded to fall madly in love with their pop mastery. Tracks like "Pull Shapes" and "Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me" never fail to get us out of our seats (or, more accurately, singing in public with our headphones on). The madness that is Pipettes is highly endorsed. Even on the clunkers (and there are a few), the clear lack of pretension wins us over. (A)
M. Ward: Sure, we'd been enjoying M. Ward tracks we'd nabbed over the past couple years, but we were truly won over by his performance in Nashville in September. Post-War might not yield a lot of No. 1 singles, but the album plays like a pair of already-broken-in jeans feels. (A-) >> Highlight: "To Go Home" (Robert Johnston cover)
The Mountain Goats: Somwhere along the way John Darnielle got lonely. And dragged a few dozen of us with him and his new vocal approach - relying much more on a delicate falsetto that made its way onto a few tracks on The Sunset Tree than his typical straightforward vocal gait. It's not his best work, but it's hard to deny his prowess as a songwriter. We just wish there were a few more tracks we could bob to. (A-)
The Long Winters: Far and away, this was our favorite surprise find of the year. We'd heard a bit of these guys in the past and always dug what we'd heard, but on Putting the Days to Bed the band proves it's one of the most original and consistent indie rock acts out there. The art of writing a pop melody has advanced yet again. (A) >> Highlight: "Hindsight"
The Hold Steady: Looking back, the Toaster feels no shame in our premature declaration of Boys and Girls in America as the No. 1 album of the year. Craig Finn and Co. bring the house down in a way that complements Finn's compelling lyrics, recurring characters and themes of boozing, sexing and drugging. The sinning aside, this is an album about what it's like to be young. And it nails it. (A+) >> Highlight: "Stuck Between Stations"
Smoosh: Eels' opening act and Death Cab for Cutie friends Smoosh have warmed our hearts and won us over. Under ordinary circumstance (read: if Sufjan put out an album like this), it'd probably get a solid B, which is pretty remarkable considering these sisters were 12 and 14 when they recorded Free to Stay. (A-)
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: (A-)
Cat Power: (A-)
Neko Case: (A)
The Elected: (A)
Belle and Sebastian: (A+)
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: (A-)
Camera Obscura: A solid album with Belle and Sebastian-esque song stylings that strays only occasionally from where we'd like to see it go. (B++)
Be Your Own Pet: "Adventure" is a classic and the album plays so fast and fun that we see why the reviewers have fallen in love with these teenagers. But occasionally BYOP starts to grate...and, well, no amount of hype or youth or happy sunshine can beat that. (B)
Snow Patrol: Man oh man, when we first rooted ourselves among D.C. indie rockers, all they could breathe was how freaking cool Snow Patrol is. So, naturally, we were excited to hear Eyes Open. Without much reservation, The Toaster can say it's a solid album with a few excellent songs ("Hands Open," "Set Fire to the Third Bar," etc), but some moments are greatly over-reaching and overbearing in a way that Coldplay can be on occasion. It's no biggie, just not or deal. (B)
The Decemberists: After swearing our undying love for them, the Decemeberists managed to find a way to underwhelm us. Not that The Crane Wife is a bad album; to the contrary, it's probably among the best of the year. But expectations are expectations, and Picaresque set the bar awfully high. (B+)
Sufjan Stevens (The Avalanche): Even his outtakes! Even his outtakes! (B)
Ben Kweller: Just as Ben Lee did to us last year with Awake Is the New Sleep, except probably not as egregiously or completely, Ben Kweller is slipping into some adult contemporary cocoon. And there are quite a few clinkers among only a handful of keepers. Still one or two songs rank among the better he's ever written, which is why he still earns the grade he does. (P.S. You don't get as many brownie points these days for playing all the instruments on your album, especially when your band would have actually made the album better...) (B-)
Laura Veirs: (B-)
The Arctic Monkeys: (B+)
The Concretes: (B+)
The Streets: (B)
The Weepies: (B+)
Pearl Jam: (B)
Tilly and the Wall: (B++)
Gnarls Barkley: (B)
More end-of-the-year reviews to come next week...stay tuned.
Happy xmas, folks.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
From: The Toaster
To: You, Beloved Listeners
You might know this, but Washington, D.C., is the capital city of the United States of America! Congratulations, Washington!
Not only do Washington residents get to pay taxes without having voting representation in Congress (giggle), but they also get to get propositioned by its indie rock scene. Let's French, fronted by Randy Chugh, is a rock and roll band that wants to sexify the room everywhere they go. Their stage presence, if not their tongue-kissing prowess, is undeniable.
The comparisons to Interpol - made by pretty much everyone who's ever heard both bands - are well deserved because Chugh's vocal delivery is disturbingly similar, but in a way that just makes you wish Interpol was a more lively band. We recommend "Boys and Girls" from their self-released three-song EP.
Mister Toaster has frequented two recent Let's French shows in the D.C. and reports back that they might just well be the next band that make it outside the district. Happily, though, he also reports that none of them appears to be able to cast a vote in Congress. Thank god.
To: Man Who Died for Our Sins
Sufjan Stevens' declaration to the world earlier this year - "Bite me. I bet you Pitchfork will even eat up my outtakes with a spoon." - was bold. Perhaps even bolder was his next foray into published music, which was Volume 5 in his set of Christmas EPs. (It's like Jesus gets born every year.)
Sure enough, Pitchfork gave this one a rich 7.5, leading everyone on Earth to the conclusion that Sufjan can do no wrong. His next album will likely be the first in a collection of 7" records about all the vitamins in Flinstones vitamins.
But, in the sake of holiday spirit (read: we're always drunk), we're actually going to say positive things - again - about Sufjan. In reality, it's hard to be mad at Sufjan, especially when he's singing "Take it easy...You make it sound like Christmas is a four-letter word" on "Get Behind Me, Santa." And bonus points for the play on the White Stripes' title, not to mention the fact that it's a dialogue with Santa himself.
So, Sufjan, our neverending quest to discredit you has been foiled again. And we could actually get excited about that vitamin project...
To: Paul McCartney, 2006
From: Paul McCartney, 1979
Poor Paul. Wasn't 2006 the year that all of us were waiting for, with the promise of the "When I'm Sixty-Four" box sets and world tour?
Instead Paul is going through what appears from the outside one of the most vicious - and public - breakups in Beatle history.
So we're taking this opportunity to try to cheer Paul up.
An aside: You know, this song would be quite unbearable if it wasn't for that crazy synth and the occasional muppet-like sound effect, which have us whimsically bobbing our heads and, you know, feeling it.
[Thanks to our brethren over at Noise for Toaster for posting this, as well as a depressing take on it by Tom McRae, which is perhaps more appropriate for Sir Paul...]
Next week in the Toaster: A look back at the year in album releases; in three weeks: Top 100 songs of the year
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Red House Painters
The Toaster has developed some sort of unhealthy love for Mark Kozelek, whether he's being Sun Kil Moon, he's all on his lonesome or he's out with his old band, Red House Painters. And even though we ran into some dude who claimed his friend slept with a band member and set in motion the break-up of these guys, we can't claim we know these guys. At all.
At first, "I Feel the Rain Fall" feels like a too-simple alt-country number, perhaps something off a reel of songs meant for Johnny Cash to record (especially with that low note that caps off the verse lines). By the time it finishes, its unpretentious, catchy melody and lyrics stick around for another drink. And then we all end up doing something we will probably say we regret, but don't really. And here we find Ubu placing the Red House Painters firmly in the first half of November 2006.
While Secretly Canadian reports that, "in case you haven't heard, 2006 will be the year of Danielson," the Toaster is, to be honest, a little scared of that prospect. Though "Time That Bald Sexton" makes us smile and bop back and forth every time we enter a verse and commiserate with the lyrics we can decipher - "Oh, wasted on the job!" comes to mind - Danielson is just a little too out-there for the full Toaster endorsement. Ubu is on board, however. So take that how you will...
How can the Toaster issue a mix without a too-cute, too-short song to break up the monotony of three-minute numbers. And here we look to The Who's Tommy, the legendary rock opera that became an opera and a musical and probably a Saturday-morning cartoon, not to mention its story line being ripped off almost entirely by The Wizard.
Anyway, "There's a Doctor I've Found" fills its role well.
Thanks, Ubu, for baring all right here on The Toaster Talks. To request a copy, please contact Mister Toaster - in any way you can.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
One last beautiful mix into the sweet, sweet 2006 air...His name is Ubu.
>> Featured Artist: Band of Horses
When Band of Horses hit the scene with March's Sub Pop-released Everything All the Time, the Toaster found itself confused over the masses of music blogs swooning over "The Funeral," which Mister Toaster himself dubbed "an otherwise decent song."
The hype cruelly shattered with one swat of the Man Behind/Who Is the Toaster, we all moved on with our lives, leaving the Seattle band behind - you know, to think about what all those mp3 blogs had unwittingly done.
Meanwhile, one of our trusted blogger friends (we can't remember which one) posted "The Great Salt Lake." And Mister Toaster sent out a brief statement: "Oops."
This song, which begins the denouement of Ubu, combines a compelling melody with catchy stop-start instrumentation. We all hear a little Brian Wilson in the lead vocal, and - could it be?! - is that a remnant of that Christopher Cross song we hear?
Great tune, sure to do well on the 2006 charts.
>> Album Lookout: Two Thousand
The Toaster first got a taster for these guys when they opened for the Decemberists on the 2004 tour. After the show, everyone but the lead singer (typical...) came out to talk to fans and sign copies of their latest release, 2004's Trial of the Century.
Again, we remained underwhelmed by what got leaked and filed everything away for a second listen at a later date.
When Ubu started bringing the crew together, it kept coming back to "So Far We Are," which wound up slated as an alternate track and worked its way in to the Big Time after it kept getting stuck in Mister Toaster's head.
The rest of the mix is history; the rest of the album...um...we're still unconvinced.
Toaster mix connoisseurs have commented that Ubu has more than your typical load of "oldies." The Jewels' "Opportunity" is the cement that holds the mix's intro together, unstable as it is from all that new flava.
The Jewels' biggest hit may be deemed a classic by All Music Guide, but it gets drowned out by all the amazing music coming out of the early '60s girl group scene. What's more, The Jewels hail from our nation's capital, and we couldn't be prouder to give a shoutout to our fellow DCers.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Ruth Brown
It was a long, wonderful run for Ms. Brown. We'll miss you, Ruth. Here's "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean."
The Beatles, or more accurately George Martin and his son Giles, have completed the Cirque du Soleil remix of the Beatles' classics. And, to much avail, they didn't screw it up. This isn't Mamma Mia, after all. Indeed, it's tasteful, even subtle at times, and interesting. Its take on "Strawberry Fields Forever" is particularly noteworthy.
While the Toaster hasn't heard quite enough to give it a ringing endorsement, our collective interest sure is piqued.
Previously we posted "My Sweet Lord." We've been notified by the authorities that we are required by law to post the Chiffons' Laurie Records' release "He's So Fine."
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Daniel Johnston
Mister Toaster had been meaning to get out to see The Devil and Daniel Johnston for months. Sadly, the D.C. screenings were few and far between. And then we had to wait for Netflix to get it in stock. Alas, it arrived and lived up to all expectations.
There may not be a more fascinating true story in rock music today. Somewhere at the intersection of mental illness, fragility and Beatlesque songwriting talent lies Daniel Johnston, who - spiting all the sung premonitions of his death - is still alive.
Traveling in singer-songwriter circles, it's hard not to hear about Johnston, whose severe manic depression and striking and wildly honest, childlike and arguably schizophrenic performances have paved for him a road to an unassuming cult status. Voices all over the rock community - from David Bowie to Beck to Clem Snide - sing his praises and his songs.
Devil portrays an unstable, artistic, reclusive Johnston growing up in a conservative Christian home with parents that had no idea how to handle his talent and/or eccentricity. His expulsion from home leads eventually to his unlikely emergence on the Austin music scene and, later, drugs and a further psychological deterioration. His songs center around stories of God and the devil, good and evil and - most importantly - a single case of unrequited love that has served as his muse for more than 20 years.
The film, which is highly worth seeing, leaves the audience understanding that Johnston deserves every bit of his cult status.
In lieu of passing on something recent and well produced, here's a cut off his first homemade cassette, Songs of Pain. "Wicked World" shows the playfulness with which Johnston approaches songwriting. Not to mention his sincerity.
So Trail of Dead fanatics dug Worlds Apart just as much as they had its predecessor Source Tags & Codes, even if the critics didn't.
Still, So Divided comes out of a turbulent time for the band, which contemplated breaking up before it started work on this, the group's third album.
Trail of Dead's range is hard to miss - as it defiantly wavers between pop classicism and introspective guitar-heavy rock.
Most entertaining, the band's swagger is intact. On "Stand in Silence," the band , as it did on the title track from last year's Worlds Apart, starts with a sample of human screams - this time, it doesn't sound so much like cheering. What begins like a punk-pop outfit morphs suddenly into a airy, heroic piano-centric solo that screams of Beethoven's catalog. And then it's back to the attacking pop song as if to leave on a bang.
With the tragic demise of Tower Records comes good sales and opportunities for us all to beef up our record collections. Mister Toaster made a long-overdue foray into The Byrds catalog, having barely more than a classic rock-radio IQ when it comes to the jangle-, country-rock '60s.
>> Reverting to: 1966
"Eight Miles High" was introduced to a good lot of us in a rock 'n' roll history course as one of the most psychedelic, drug-ifnluenced songs in history.
To reduce this gigantic single in pop music history to drugs is a crime and will not be tolerated on the Toaster Talks. The song's driving bass line, angelic harmonies and jaunty (tripping, perhaps) guitar solo override easy drug references and place this song into a more appropriate category - as one of the most interesting pop singles of the 1960s.
Monday, November 06, 2006
>> Featured Artist: The National
The Toaster is getting up early to campaign in the V-A aujourd'hui. We are posting early with the knowledge that we're either going to be too ecstatic or too devastated (and, either way, drunk) to do it later. And because we have a history of jinxing our beloved Democrats with optimistic predictions.
The National made it out of 2005 as one of the most critically acclaimed newbies on the scene. In the context of today's election, "Mr. November" fits in nicely. In fact, we're pretty sure Sen. George Allen is using that "I'm the new blue blood. I'm the great white hope" lyric in speeches, and we all know that the president borrowed from the "I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders" line in his 2004 race.
So The Submarines missed a few opportunities to get into the Toaster Talks with their June release, Declare a New State. The album's title was begging for it, for sure, especially from us representation-less folks.
Still, every song is just a little too sad -- and understandably so; the album is a package of duets serving as an obituary to the fizzled relationship between the two songwriters. The happy epilogue is the the couple got back together and got married during the making of Declare a New State.
Even "Vote," which has nothing to do with voting, but rather a lack of motivation to do so due to that damn breakup. Lyric: "On Super Tuesday I wanted to die." In Mister Toaster's insistence about not getting too prematurely happy about tonight, The Submarines found their place in our post.
See, Republicans, we're sad.
Before everyone starts yelling about how our "reverting to" section is getting less and less dated by the week, we might point out that we have gone back in time six years from last week's all the way back to the last decade.
>> Reverting to: 1999
The Toaster Talks is tired of every damn campaign pumping out "Born to Run" and "Won't Back Down" at their rallies. Each time it reinforces the notion that these guys have absolutely nothing new to say. "No, sirs and madames, I too will not back down. I intend to stand my ground as well. Health care for all!"
So, the editors down here started coming up with dream songs for our indie candidate's campaign soundtrack. We sped through dozens, never really landing on the right one. The New Pornos "The Laws Have Changed" felt good; Salt 'n' Pepa's "Whatta Man" had potential, as long as we're talking about a male candidate who isn't afraid of being framed as a sex machine; "Mr. November" above might have been a bit too blunt; and "Hold On Hope," the classic Guided By Voices ballad just seemed a bit too hopeless.
Then came The Flaming Lips to save the world. "Race for the Prize" misses on a few lines as it's a song about scientists, not politicians. But we love the devotion and determination these "humans with wives and children" give toward the cause - the cause of winning. There are some great phrases one would think would be about campaigning - "forging for the future," "hope against hope," "where the pressure is too high," "for the good of all mankind," etc. Just tune out all the "microscopes" and the opening "two scientists are racing..."
It is decided.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Ben Gibbard
For Halloween, the Toaster dressed up as an amplifier. And The Toaster Talks has set its sites as a clearing house for "Thriller" covers (see our earlier Petra Haden entry).
Yes, this the ol' Death Cab-Postal Service frontman going solo on some MJ at some undetermined live show.
In the words of Camus, "I love me a good 'Thriller' cover." So do we, Albert. So do we. And, wow, some of those lines ("beast with 40 eyes"?), well, let's just say we never quite heard them so clearly before.
After a self-induced contentious split with Sony/Colubmia earlier this year over how many damn songs would be on Pretty Little Head, Nellie McKay is finally releasing the full version on her own label, Hungry Mouse (which, like McKay, doesn't seem to have an operating official site).
The good thing for McKay, though, is that the material seems to be just as strong as that on her debut double album, 2004's Get Away From Me. She's still clever - almost annoyingly so - and turns a mean lyric when you're not looking, a talent that would make Elvis Costello proud.
With the lovely-angry vocal delivery Nellie seems to have spent her 24 years mastering, "There You Are in Me" jumps out as an immediate winner, as do "Cupcake" and "Columbia Is Bleeding" (the latter, we're told, is not a dig at her former label).
Everyone you meet secures a wretched seat within your memory
Wipe their filthy feel upon the yearning of your soul
There you are in me
As the title of today's post suggest (other than that we ended up wearing angel wings and a eye masks in the makeshiftest of makeshift costumes) is that the release of K. Fed's long-awaited debut album has finally fallen upon us. Where were all the leaked MP3s and music blog previews? Where was all the promotional appearances on Inside Edition? Where is Britney in this critical time for her is-he-significant other?
>> Reverting to: 2005
And after a glace at the track list, where did "Y'all Ain't Ready" and "PopoZao," the two tracks that were test-leaked to the welcoming arms of music enthusiasts and pavarottis everywhere?
Mr. Fed, please issue an explanation. Until then, we'll leave with the preview snippet of our favorite "lost" K. Fed barnburner, "Y'all Ain't Ready."
[OK, we do love the lyric to "Privilege" (whose MySpace version is notably dirtier than the version streaming on his website), most notably "I'm in love with the herb just like my wife." How'd he get that one by Brit's publicist?]
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
We apologize for the delay. Of course, we blame it on our brand-new toaster, Brando (above). See how Brando makes everything bigger!
>> Featured Artist: Aimee (F'n) Mann
Some of us are enthralled with fast cars. Others like beer. Or chocolate. In that way, Aimee Mann could sing us the back of a Neosporin tube and make us swoon.
Of course, she just violated all that's right in the world to release a Christmas album(!). We aren't kidding. The songs we secured from unnamed sources took us to the edge, Aimee. So we're going to forget about this transgression and just pretend One More Drifter in the Snow is an album filled with different versions of Joni Mitchell's "River" (the best "Christmas song" of all time, which doesn't appear on the track list, but was covered by Aimee here).
Somewhere an indie songwriter is shedding a single tear. Badly Drawn Boy is broken. Yeah, that's three underwhelming albums in a row, and he's officially on indie probation. Hell, Born in the U.K. makes Have You Fed the Fish? look like Rubber Soul.
The title track wouldn't be painful if all Damon Gough's intentions weren't so blatantly relayed to us in the form of a Doves/Strokes/Killers-like drum track. We want to say, "He's trying too hard," but all the evidence points to one of two conclusions: 1) he's not or 2) he's washed up.
"Degrees of Separation," thus far into our listening, is the only thing that comes even close to being a song of Gough's previous caliber. But even it wouldn't be a standout track on About a Boy or Badly Drawn Boy's stellar 2000 debut, The Hour of Bewilderbeast.
We hereby on this 25th day of October, 2006, are officially calling on Astralwerks to drop him like he's burning. Maybe then he can go back to his four track and nail out something more his speed.
As previously referred to, Blue's "River" is a Joni Mitchell masterpiece, not just the best "Christmas song" around, but it has got to be the best song that could hit your headphones during those long, cold walks home.
>> Reverting to: 1971
(By the way, we'd like to point out that this year the Toaster finally commemorates the coming Christian holiday before Starbucks and its damned red snowflaked to-go cups. Thank you.)
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Sprites
While the The Toaster stumbled onto the Sprites, we were mildly amused, especially by the "true story" of the lead singer Jason Korzen's failed attempts to become a blogger, "I Started a Blog Nobody Read" from the latest LP, Modern Gameplay. For him, we suggest this WikiHow.
We're still fairly amused and somehow feel a strange draw to the indie dorkiness of the whole outfit, which we understand is mostly just Korzen. Perhaps it's cameraderie. Nothing more, nothing less.
There's an adage we like: When life names you Evan Dando, make Lemonheads. As much as we like saying "Dan-doooo," we also can't blame Evan for abandoing the solo project after one album to go back to band that gave us things like "The Great Big No" and a decent cover of "Mrs. Robinson."
"No Backbone" is the first single from the long-avoided (and perhaps also long-awaited) self-titled Lemonheads album. Our first thought: someone needs to tell the lead guitar to stop taking all those uppers. Half of what he does is absolutely unnecessary and it gets in the way a bit. (The rest of the stuff is good. Nice work).
With Dan-doooo's catchy and seemingly effortless songwriting, the Lemonheads don't miss a beat from where they left off. This is both good and bad, though, because it sounds a lot like a outtake from Come On Feel the Lemonheads. NM, NL.
File this under "formative years" in Mister Toaster's Hall of Fame. We're not (that) proud.
>> Reverting to: 1985
It's pure Starship. Glorious synths, 'verbed out harmonicas and tasty melodramatically beefy guitar riffs. It's "Sara." NM, NL.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Christine Fellows
While the United States is busy funding wars and wiretaps, our logging-friendly neighbors to the north have been busy funding artists like Winnipeg's Christine Fellows. (From the liner notes: "We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Music Fund for this project.) The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle ascribed Fellows the almighty title of his "favorite songwriter," which says more than we can say right in a blog entry.
Fellows' songwriting is unique in that she is not a songwriter as much as she is a storyteller. Her lyrics, often without rhyme or obvious meter, read like a novelist's journal entries. Listen to "Vertebrae."
2005's Paper Anniversary could be the most overlooked, untrumpeted album of that year. The writing is inspired and seemingly thematic. If it wasn't enough to have a solidly written album, merely listening to Fellows' voice triggers something in the nervous system.
The Weakerthans' John K. Samson has good taste in wives.
Sean Lennon's career hasn't not taken off. He's a relatively talented songwriter and he has a decent voice. He's got the backing of Capitol Records and his celebrity friends. And by all accounts he couldn't be a nicer guy.
He's just not his father. And because of that he will never escape into the realm of greatness.
His first album was just weird, even though it supposedly showed much potential as some revisionist historians have now remembered. The potential, of course, was lived up to (it's good to live up to something when you're Sean Lennon) with last week's release of Friendly Fire.
"Dead Meat," the pre-release leaked track, has Lennon sounding more like Elliott Smith or Badly Drawn Boy than the Sean Lennon we knew. It's a solid track, without a doubt. And the video features Lindsay Lohan. Woot.
[Bizzarely, it seems Sean was dating Lindsay Lohan, after 2005's New York Post public request for a girl between 18 and 45 and with an IQ above 130." Lohan apparently repaid the debt from being allowed to date a Beatle spawn by appearing in the video and giving him Hollywood cred.]
Having just seen The U.S. vs. John Lennon on what would have been his 66th birthday (and was Sean's 31st, as well as the 31st anniversary of John and Yoko's winning their immigration fight), we felt it appropriate to dish out some more Lennon.
>> Reverting to: 1970
Plastic Ono Band was Lennon's first solo album and the only one influenced directly from his primal scream sessions. It's also an album of loss and longing, mostly for his mother, but also from the loss of his band earlier that year.
"God" hits home in a way that only some Lennon songs do; he self-references, knocks religion, politics and culture (including idols Elvis and Bob Dylan) and comes back to a haunting resolution, "I don't believe in Beatles. I just believe in me. Yoko and me."
On the heels of the band's March 1970 dissolution, this statement seems particularly tragic - not foolhardy or silly as it might later have translated.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Perhaps its the mere thought that I've followed this band from its first Kill Rock Stars release through currents of critical acclaim and the well-earned signing to Capitol Records.
Perhaps it's the fact that Colin Meloy is such a quirky, cool guy - in person, on stage and in song. (Perhaps it's because he found my hurried, nervous story about having a friend from school who shares his name amusing. Or acted like it.) Perhaps it's his showmanship; his self-deprecating stage humor; his Lennon-like personality.
Perhaps it's that Meloy & Co. are - as far as anyone can tell - the rightful heirs to the Neutral Milk Hotel legacy. The intensity in the songwriting combined with an often awkward mention of body parts (sinews?).
Perhaps it's that they have positioned themselves as the band for the learned, liberal indie music snobs of the world. And the fact that my friends can throw a dance party/sing-along soundtracked only by their albums.
Perhaps it's just that they have yet to let me down - once.
But, on most coherent days, I must admit The Decemberists are my favorite band on the planet. Only under the influence of amazing shows by other artists (New Pornographers, '05, Mountain Goats '05, Hold Steady '06 are among them) do I hedge. Most I know have embraced The Decemberists as well, and I purchased Picaresque for more than 5 people last year.
The first time I realized they had struck such an endearing chord was when "Billy Liar" charted - back when I served as DJ Tanner on ACRN's "Faces For Radio." The rolling, catchy melody and the off-beat vocabulary ("Let your legs loll on the lino!") stuck.
On Picaresque, the band created - as far as I am concerned - the best album of 2005 and the most coherent work of its career. While the album had many stand-outs, you could play me any track and I assure you I'd swear up and down that it was my favorite on the album. "On the Bus Mall" made its way onto DJ Bryan's late 2005 mix and quickly became an emblem for just how perfect that album was.
...which brings us to The Crane Wife. Those of you looking for a long-winded preview are out of luck. We have purposely avoided listening to much beyond the leaked title track (The Crane Wife 1 & 2) or reading much of the critical fawning out there (8.4 on Pitchfork), mostly because we don't want to cloud our thoughts on the album. After all, this is one of the few bands out there still crafting albums. And I supsect we'll be featuring it a bit more near the end of the year, as we wrap 2006 in all its shiny bows.
-Mr. Toaster, Washington, D.C., October 3, 2006
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Sparklehorse
A few of us really got into the It's a Wonderful Life album back in the summer of 2001. And Mister Toaster was famously unimpressed with the live show when the band opened for R.E.M. on its 2003 tour. And then there were three years of silence.
We can't tell you why, but we root for this band.
So, it is with this introduction that we tentatively wade into the new material (Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain), released today on Astralwerks. And we do so with the Toaster's first-listen favorite, "Don't Take My Sunshine Away." It's quickly becoming an anthem, seeping into our guts the way "Piano Fire" did way back when - albeit with less gusto.
We've already expressed our feelings about October 3. [It's sad that ...Trail of Dead will not be joining in the fun, as it was announced today that the album won't be released until November 14.]
The Hold Steady make us want to be drug addicts. And have friends who are too.
Most of all, and this is reflected in nearly everything about this band, the Hold Steady is alive. The Hold Steady has a tone all its own and Craig Finn et al. pretty much bleed originality (launching a YouTube-like site as a promotional tool for the new album), celebration and excitement. This band is one of three or four bands making music today that give us faith in the whole process.
Here's the much celebrated first single "Chips Ahoy" for us all to savor until that fateful day arrives.
>> Reverting to: 1970
It doesn't matter. We love our George.
"My Sweet Lord" was one of the jewels in his solo masterpiece All Things Must Pass. Just months before he died in 2001, he commented on the album:
"To be able to do all my own songs on one record was a novelty at that point, you know. Only the fact that people have written about the reissue have I realized that it spent seven weeks at No. 1."
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Alexi Murdoch
Before "The O.C." got a hold of this guy, Zach Braff did. The young'n Scottish sensation got "Orange Sky" onto Garden State. Alas, it was not on the soundtrack we all got in our stockings that year, and so he was forgotten, cast aside like Scotland itself.*
Alexi put out Time Without Consequence in June without the help of the major labels that awaited him. It seems Alexi is one of those artiste types who doesn't compromise his music.
"All My Days" is the opening track, a Drake-esque number right down to the finger picking pattern. And, though the Toaster does not encourage Nick Drake emulation, we must appreciate when a songwriter can actually produce something worthy of the comparison. "All My Days" has our attention, and - we're sure - Volkswagen's too.
* with the exception of aforementioned "O.C." stardom.
October 3 will be a new beginning for 2006. Or maybe it will be a signal that, indeed, the year has been uneventful for indie music. Alongside this new album by the ever-trying Beck, new works from The Hold Steady, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, and The Decemberists have forced us to put a clothespin on our junk.
The Information certainly sounds like a vast improvement over the mostly underwhelming 2005 release, Guero. His work with Nigel Godrich, who had just come from a lot of Macca publicity, has sounded fresh.
And the Toaster must recognize with much appreciation the trusting mass leaks that Beck's folks have overseen of this new album, ushering video upon video onto YouTube for the kids to gnaw in anticipation. Pitchfork can hardly breathe.
"Strange Apparition" is graced with a sweet Band-esque piano and acoustic guitar rhythm track and the obligatory harmonies to boot.
We await the day with our checkbooks out.
Mister Toaster recently read that Wanda Jackson is Neko Case's grandmother! Where in the shit did that come from and how did the Toaster editorial staff miss it?
It turns out we missed it because it's not true.
Wethinks a reporter accidentally missed an "and" in Neko's wiki entry. Still, it gives us reason to highlight one of the coolest vocalists in rock's history, and so we will propagate that lie with great fervor.
Here's "Kansas City," and it's not the version the Beatles covered.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Suzanne Vega
It's been a busy week for Mister Toaster, trying to keep up with music business as _ + _ business keeps him in the office 12 to 14 hours a day. He travels to the Big NYC this weekend for the Save Darfur Now rally in Central Park (Sun., 2 p.m.).*
Suzanne Vega is the latest performer confirmed for the rally, and she came highly welcomed by the thirty-somethings on staff. Still, it's important to note she became the "first established musician to perform live in an online 3D world," according to the love of our life.
"Luka" and "Tom's Diner" showed us all that Vega could write a damn-fine pop song, however atypical the subject matter. And we really wanted to post "Tired of Sleeping" for obvious reasons. But in the end "Gypsy" was begging to be posted. Good enough to end a genocide? We'll let you know next week.
Yeah, The Toaster featured The Long Winters on the lovely Bro disc. And at the time, we promised to give a "lookout" to the band's 2006 release - which, for the record, is a keeper. For a band that has existed primarily on the peripheral of our attention spans, Putting the Days to Bed solidifies them in, at the very least, a role of indie-rock consistency that is rare enough to be noteworthy.
While "Ultimatum" is both on the album and an Oct. 2005 EP, it serves as the glorious climax before an absent come-down and thus requires posting. And, you know, the title sends a message too.
* Thanks to Joe for putting the Toaster up for a weekend. (Hug)
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Tegan and Sara
It's rainy outside. And Mister Toaster is coming down with something. So, we revert to some canned love. And nothing says canned love more than Canada. Enter stage left: Tegan and Sara, the twins who have been "bound to explode" on the pop scene for way too long now. Hell, we first got a taste of them in France in 2003, where FNAC had a pretty respectable display up and we were sold.
The White Stripes even covered the duo's 2004 hit "Walking With a Ghost." Now "Grey's Anatomy" is getting in on the action. Here's hoping there's some new T&S coming down the pike.
But, first, a Prince cover ("When You Were Mine") straight from their cute Canadienne amps.
Pitchfork loves it. Allmusic loves it. Oh, the pressure.
As you all know, the Toaster doesn't react well to this sort of stress. Or all those Bright Eyes comparisons, for that matter. Yeah, he usually spews out a "ehh...take their word for it," lame-ass post and leaves it for you to decide.
This time, Mister Toaster is faced with the decision on whether to stay overnight in Nashville later this month to catch the M. Ward show. So, upon his request, the editorial staff here did some digging. And, you know what? We like what we found.
If you can get past M. Ward's sound -- the verbed-out and soft vox, the mostly slow tempo, the dramatic strings -- you'll uncover quite the material, even if you can't quite make out the lyrics.
"Poison Cup" starts Post-War out elegantly. The chord changes and melody intersect really prettily and the song picks up into an up-tempo Phil Spector pop song. It's hard to sound stripped down and wall-of-sound at the same time, but M. Ward pulls it off with grace, and even the cha-cha-cha beat that caps the song doesn't come off as too contrived.
We guess we're staying in Nashville for the night. Know any good hotels?
>> Reverting to: 1998
The Samples are, allegedly, one of the most popular touring bands of the early nineties. Excuse Mr. Toaster; he was only ten-ish.
The band, according to its online home, has been around for 20 years. And they pride themselves on their evolving music style, adapting to the pop of the day. Well, we discovered them on their pop-bliss record, Here and Somewhere Else, which was themed loosely by a theme of aging and a longing for youth, all approached with a Brian Wilson-esque outlook on the world -- not to mention with that indie rock Brian Wilson voice of Sean Kelly.
"Sea of Broken Hearts" sounds like a Brian Wilson song -- the harmonies, the crushing lyrics and backing arrangement and, of course, all that freaking water talk. That, or it could be a Waterboys song. Yeah, we could see this on the "Waking Ned Devine" soundtrack.
"Throw me nets...throw me anything to hold."
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
>> Featured Artist: The Mountain Goats
As summer winds down, the Toaster likes to pop on albums that will make us sad. It all stems from the 2003 Beck-vs.-E battle of who could be the most depressed on an album. (Beck won out because with Sea Change as the Eels' Shootenanny! actually had some upbeat material on it). This fall, John Darnielle is determined to depress the shit out of us.
And yet his brilliant songwriting makes it all listenable and "put-it-on-repeat"able. It's no Sunset Tree or Tennessee or We Shall All Be Healed. But the majesty of lonely has never been done better, and slowly but surely, Darnielle is becoming the high hurdle of American songwriters.
Yo La Tengo has won our early award for best album title of the year (a close second was Jewel's I'm So Scared of You, and I Have a Crooked Tooth). The Toaster has always enjoyed the songs on which Ira sang. The leaked song from Beat Your Ass, "Beanbag Chair," is the perfect track to get our interest up. After buying the retrospective Prisoners of Love last year, we've been aching for new stuff.
Let's hope it pans out well.
>> Reverting to: 1966
You don't feel that first snare crack the same way without hearing the famed introduction to this song. Getting heckled from his own crowds for "going electric," Bobby D (who had another critically acclaimed new album out today) was having a relatively rough time that spring with his "loyalists." At this particular concert in Manchester (mistakenly referred to as the "Royal Albert Hall Concert") on May 17, Bobby completed the set with "Ballad of a Thin Man" and as he was heading into his closer, the hit "Like a Rolling Stone" one of the rabblerousing folksters in the crowd yelled out "Judas." Bobby mumbled back, "I don't believe you...You're a LIAR." And then, to his band, "Play it fucking loud!"
The energy, the anger, the frustration that made this song so wonderful is tripled into what might be the most passionate live recording we've ever heard. That snare crack still gives us the golden chills.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Praise for Bro is out of this world. It even had a spin or two soundtracking Kramerbooks and there are now copies floating all over the Earth.
>> Featured Artist: Lily Allen
It's summer. The Toaster included, we all like to unplug and get in the pool. Lily Allen seems to jump in with us on "LDN" even if the lyrics are kind of a downer and we suspect her optimistic chorus ("Sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why would I want to be anywhere else?) is a bit sarcastic.
This Brit's debut, Alright, Still has a number of tracks that the indie kids like to dance to. And she fits right in on Bro.
So you want to keep dancing? Track 3, "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex," brought to you by the lovely Brazilian pop group CSS, which stands for Cansei de Ser Sexy, which we're told is translated to Tired of Being Sexy. Hott.
Indeed, music is our great-grandaughter.
>> Reverting to: 2003
The Long Winters have a new album out, which is in queue to get its review from Mister Toaster. Investigating the new album, however, brought to our attention "Cinnamon," which polishes up the second side of this mix. Upon hearing the sheer catchiness, Bro insisted. And the rest will go down as history.
Dig in. Next week we'll resume our regularly scheduled programming.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
>> Featured Artist: Regina Spektor
Featuring Regina Spektor seems a little easy for the Toaster. Her debut, Begin to Hope, has seen vast critical success. Admittedly, our skepticism of anything with mainstream hype kept us away like a kid among grown-ups at our parents' New Year's Eve party.
Then we got wind of "On the Radio," a ditty that reminds us of Fiona Apple and Nellie McKay. The piano-songwriter prodigy thing has been done. Hard. So why Regina Spektor when we have too many Tori Amoses out there to begin with?
For one, something just feels fresh about Spektor. Whether it's the playfulness of her vocal delivery or the intricate construction of the lyrics, she's endearing. And heartfelt.
She fools us with lines that seem simple, but hit hard. She turns hearing "November Rain" on the radio into something momentous and touching. For those of us who don't believe in Guns 'n' Roses, this is quite the accomplishment. I'm not sure she's a Fiona just yet, but this single is good enough for Bro. And it's good enough for us.
>> Album Lookout: Dog Problems
The Format - Released: July 11, 2006 Nettwerk
We're a bit behind on The Format, too. Mid-summer rave reviews got our attention, and we liked what we heard. Bro requested "Time Bomb" to lead off the mix with some explosive harmonies à la Queen. Frankly, there are so many hooks in "Time Bomb" that when tossed together keeps the listener's attention. The transitions are interesting, musically complex at moments and catchy as a velcro shoe buckle.
Interestingly, a friend of a friend dated the lead singer of this band, ending poorly but with a damn good story - not just another NYC breakup. Sadly, however, the story is not for public consumption.
>> Reverting to: 1973
Mister Toaster has a habit of taking songs that are a bit kitschy and painting them as heroicly poppy. Olivia Newton-John's cover of John Denver's sing-along "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is marvelous for such a purpose. Bro only needed the church-choir intro to set the tone and make his move, but here's the full version - you know - out of fairness to Olivia.
Take us home.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
It's a good thing the songs they write will change your life, because The Shins are calling their fisrt mulligan on a release date. Now we're hearing early 2007. Alas, we figured we'd remind everyone that we haven't heard from them in three years.
Of course, the Shins themselves argue this is the best stuff they've ever done, and they're very appreciative of the additional time they've been given. Considering every artist is always working on the best stuff he/she has ever done, we're cautious. Let's all pretend it's still 2003 when we were all "Young Pilgrims."
>> Album Lookout: Ben Kweller
Ben Kweller - To Be Released: September 19, 2006 ATO
Another artist we haven't heard from in a few years is actually going to put out a record this year. And soon.
Ben Kweller, older now, is also convinced this is the best stuff he's ever done. We can't argue with that...the lyrics have always been a little iffy. But lyrics were never Ben's strong point. His pop sensibility has always outshone all the details. And in person, he has won over Mister Toaster with being obsessed with the Toaster's red cord blazer.
"Penny on a Train Track," the first song released from the forthcoming self-titled album, is strong and seems to take a step forward - into musical ability and maturity of topic - from the last album, 2004's On My Way. He's still only like 25. We still hate his youth.
>> Reverting to: 1971
Joe and his neverending pursuit of the perfect classic rock song has found a number of gems that the Toaster had never heard. This James Taylor classic marks the best he's ever done.
That's all we can say: "You Can Close Your Eyes." One of the best songs ever written.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
DJ Bryan got to this band first, scoring high on the 2005 Toaster Countdown with "Be Gentle With Me." This charming - if wimpy - indie outfiit's latest single, "Hugging My Grudge," does not surpass the aforemention, perhaps just because "Gentle" seems to embody the band's entire sound and persona.
Still, following in the Toaster precedent of Nilsson and Cat Stevens, this song carries that same summer end-of-the-hot-damn-day calming effect that the Toaster enjoys so much.
>> Album Lookout: Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird)
The Sleepy Jackson - Released: July 26, 2006 Capitol
If you were to ask the Toaster in 2003 "Sleepy Jackson or the Strokes?," he would have bit his can't-be-too-trendy tongue and said "Strokes." Not that the Australian dance-pop gods couldn't make us dance with pop sensibility or smile with a clever turn of lyric.
The Sleepy Jackson, however, have jumped into the lead - by taking some time off. The Strokes have issued two underwhelming releases since 2003, while The Sleepy Jackson are back with a long-awaited, long-titled follow-up.
"I Understand What You Want But I Just Don't Agree" is similarly long winded in its title, but it's near-perfect pop to boot just in time for a late-summer release.
>> Reverting to: 1992
Another of the Toaster's hall of famers, XTC's Nonsuch was a coming-of-pop for Mister Toaster. On "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" Andy Partridge pulls a McCartneyesque ditty out of his hat and pretty much says, "Top this!" to the other Beatle bands out there.
I'm not sure McCartney himself has come close to topping it, you know, in the post-1992 era. OK, perhaps that's unfair. But life, summer and the Toaster are not fair, friends.