Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back to (Sexy) Basics

>> Featured Artist: Fountains of Wayne

I like to think of Fountains of Wayne as an underdog. But a decent amount of pop success has made it harder to do.

There's nothing overtly wrong with "Yolanda Hayes," one of the leaked tracks from the band's April release Traffic and Weather. And it took me a few listens to figure out what was keeping me from liking the tune. Some thoughts:

1) It's a bit formulaic. We have the "Getting Better" staccato guitar, but without the corresponding blow-your-brain bass work. We have a typical rhyme pattern.

2) It's about picking up an employee at the DMV. Have you seen the employees at your DMV? Have you?

3) When did Owsley become the songwriter for these guys? I swear to god this song has been on both of his albums.

Like I said, I still half-root for these guys. I want to enjoy their fun pop music. I just don't like "Yolanda Hayes," and I'm questioning how good the rest of the album could be if this was sent out as its representative.

For the Fountains of Wayne fanatics out there, that's a challenge to recommend something.

>> Album Lookout: The Magic Position

Patrick Wolf - Due Out: May 1, 2007 Low Altitude (U.S.)

Too much has been said about Patrick Wolf. And, by all I had heard, he was clearly fucked up, but you know, in an endearing way. But before I had enough time to jump completely on the bandwagon, I'm told (by Pitchfork) that the undisputed solo phenom indie prince of 2007 is stopping live performances in November. Wow. He also hints that he might cut off all "public communications." (What does that mean, by the way?)

My first thought is to Jens Lekman, whose retirement announcement back in late 2005 shocked the indie rockers - and apparently Lekman himself, as he recanted not more than a few months later.

All the hype aside, the music here is indeed quite the accomplishment. It's not something you'll love from First Listen, Note 1, but it's quite the grower. Once accustomed to Wolf's voice and intensity, the songs are almost trances. Note the layers on "Bluebells."

Let's hope Wolf is just pulling a Beatles maneuver, knocking out the touring to focus on the music. Or let's hope he was just drunk. Otherwise,I guess it's too late to issue an official request that Wolf tour with Andrew Bird.

>> Reverting to: 1972

A little Joni to welcome the spring, which is quickly turning into hot, muggy summer (thanks, Al Gore!). And, considering the looming end of Internet radio on May 15 when the new royalty rates kick in, I've chosen "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)" to commemorate the moment.

One of my all-time favorite songs, Joni sings sex as if it were a glorious road trip with the radio. Which it is. Obviously.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Meet Nestor (Part III)

NESTOR (tracks 10 through 16):
11 >> The Fratellis |Flathead
12 >> Nick Drake | Which Will
13 >> The Shins | Red Rabbits
14 >> Andrew Bird | Heretics
15 >> The Hold Steady | Party Pit
16 >> Maria Taylor | Lost Time

* * *
The Fratellis, fresh off an iTunes commercial and a Toaster post, are clearly riding the momentum of newfound fame. "Flathead," the song from said iTunes ad, is an infection of a pop song. It is so packed with hooks that I required a thorough background check into the rest of the album before I could even trust it through an entire listen. Too many hooks make me nervous. The point where they finally hook me is the third chorus break where the "Bah-da-bahs" should be, but aren't. Good play, Fratellis. Good play.

* * *
I told Nestor from the very beginning that we don't use Nick Drake anymore unless we're making a John Cusack movie. And that there might not be any Nick Drake songs left to unveil. Still, he insisted and finally won me over in a demo version of the mix in which "Which Will" brought peace to me after the pop chaos that is Fratellis. These are three minutes on the mix I couldn't do without.

* * *
Following Nick Drake with the Shins must feel like a move straight out Zach Braff's playbook. And for that I apologize. "Red Rabbits," however is a texture-rich song that brings Nestor through a delicate moment to a point where the mix can come to some resolution. As James Mercer's melody evolves, the song grows continuously brighter - until his signature end-of-the-song slight twist in the melody. On "Red Rabbits" it couldn't have been more sweetly done.

* * *
O! Where we'd be without DJ Bryan! His discovery of Andrew Bird and Devin Davis in the summer of 2005 single-handedly changed that year for me. And I'm drawn to Bird's antics in "Heretics" - yes, even the lyrics that are nearly spoken - mostly because of the way his style reminds me how much I enjoy living in D.C. I can't explain that in a way that makes any sense. But, then again, Nestor never really wanted to make sense.

* * *
The Hold Steady are one of the best bands making music today. And, still being hooked on 2006's Boys and Girls in America, I didn't think I'd surprise anybody by going out on Nestor with "Party Pit." The simple refrain of "Gonna walk around and drink some more" at the songs fade always brings me so much joy.

* * *
In the original version of Nestor, "Party Pit" was followed by "Lost Time" and the mix was capped with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It soon became clear that the mix ends with Maria Taylor's final lyric no matter what I put after it. And so I obeyed. The song, which is mostly unimpressive until the male harmony brings that perfect touch to the song - something that Taylor, in her previous efforts, has never failed to be able to do.

And now Nestor is yours to love. Treat him well. And go get a drink - on him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Meet Nestor (Part II)

NESTOR is a collection intended for the winter-to-spring transition, one that brings hope of a new beginning for all of us - only to crush it with a fresh dose of wintry reality.

Last week, I left you with some tracks to serve as an appetizer. To recap,
we had:

NESTOR (tracks 1 through 5):
01 >> Clap Your Hands Say Yeah |Emily Jean Stock
02 >> Voxtrot | Soft and Warm
03 >> Aqueduct | As You Wish
04 >> Arcade Fire | Keep the Car Running
05 >> Gianni Ferrio | For Whom the Bell Tolls

To start a mix with a track off their latest LP is probably a bit unexpected. You might already know that I've never been with the with-it crowd on CYHSY. But, to be fair, this is one of the most fun songs I've heard this year. From the driving acoustic guitar that seems to sink into your skin to the handclaps and bell chimes to the nearly unintelligible lyrics (this usually pisses me off about these guys) to the bass/drum explosion breaks, "Emily Jean Stock" screams urgency. And so does Nestor.

* * *
Voxtrot has won me over time and time again, and "Soft and Warm" is yet another shred of evidence that this band has something Wilsonian in them. There's still many a jury out on whether this will hold up on the band's first full-length, due out later this spring, but for now I'm happy issuing a glowing recommendation.

* * *
Aqueduct is not an artist known for its subtlety, and so it came as no surprise when David Terry set about issuing his ode to The Princess Bride, it came out something like this.

* * *
"Keep the Car Running" gets Nestor closer to God.

* * *
When I caved and bought the Curb Your Enthusiasm soundtrack, it took a few listens just to keep from chuckling at each track change. Gianni Ferrio's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," once you get the image of Larry David out of your head, is Nestor's throwdown. He's calmly saying, "I beg you to bring it."

NESTOR (tracks 6 through 10):
06 >> Of Montreal |A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger
07 >> The Broken West | Down in the Valley
08 >> The Byrds | Jesus Is Just Alright
09 >> Dntel (feat. Jenny Lewis) | Roll On
10 >> The Long Winters | Ultimatum

* * *
Now that Of Montreal is doing Outback Steakhouse commercials, legitimacy issues abound. I mean, all I see are blooming fucking onions when I listen to their music these days. Not that that's a bad thing. At least not for Nestor.

* * *
The Broken West played a great show last week as a warm-up act for The Long Winters (below). Their take on California pop isn't completely unique, but it sounds effortless at times, especially on "Down in the Valley." A solid song for a solid guy.

* * *
You know, I toyed with the idea of subtitling this mix "He's My Jesus," but then decided against it, as the mix was being issued on Good Friday and I didn't want to beg the question of whether this is a concept album. Even though Nestor equals devotion, it is not a devotion to a higher power - unless that higher power is wonderful Vitamin C! The Byrds' version of "Jesus Is Just Alright" shows how vague, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, references to Jesus should be done. And those guitar licks knocks me out.

* * *
I don't expect much from Dntel, seeing as how I've already given all the Postal Service credit to Ben Gibbard. But teaming up with other letter carrier Jenny Lewis, Jimmy Tamborello reeled me in. I imagine it was more the fact that Jenny Lewis seems do no wrong in my heart and that damn melody would get stuck in my head for days on end. But the pressure that builds from the Dntel backing track provide a perfect complement for Lewis' songstyling and provide some depth to a song that would otherwise be a little repetitive.

* * *
I've posted "Ultimatum" before, and I've already confessed my love for The Long Winters, but Nestor wanted his share. And now look at where we are.

Next week, The Toaster will feature the last six songs from Nestor: An Offer That You Can't Refuse. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Meet Nestor (Part I: a sneak preview)

It's that time of year once again, folks. The first mix CD from the 2007 Toaster Talks Collection hits the shelves Friday, and the buzz is already starting to stir in the bushes.

This is the first of three weeks dedicated to NESTOR, a collection I hope you'll all embrace warmly but hesitantly - a similar embrace to the one you'd give Aunt Netty - before you fall dangerously in love with it. (And on that last point I think I'd prefer it if you dropped the Aunt Netty line of thinking).

But, because this is a sneak preview (and because I'm making my first jaunt - long-overdue - to Rock & Roll Hotel
with fresh-out-of-Africa Bill to see The Long Winters, The Broken West and Stars of Track and Field tonight), I'll just leave you with some tracks to munch on:

NESTOR (tracks 1 through 5):
01 >> Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | "Emily Jean Stock"
02 >> Voxtrot | "Soft and Warm"
03 >> Aqueduct | "As You Wish"
04 >> Arcade Fire | "Keep the Car Running"
05 >> Gianni Ferrio | "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

Whet that appetite!