Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Malfunctions or a Grand Design?

[Note: The Top 10 of 2005 are still posted, but not for long. Get 'em now!

>> Featured Artist:
The Strokes

Sometimes appliances have a tendency to malfunction in what we at the Toaster like to think of as a public, albeit ineffective, protest of what you're trying to do -- the coffeemaker doesn't want to make you today's cup; the microwave isn't cooking your Hot Pocket all the way today; or, worse, the Toaster just isn't going to bring you your hot daily bread.

That's when it occurred to us that maybe this Toaster has been letting all of you down. Hell, we've been a decent fan of the Strokes in the past. Our launch missed the Strokes' new album, First Impressions of Earth, which has received mixed reviews, by a few weeks (what was with the Jan. 3 release date?). To be honest, the Toaster has always been reluctant about this band -- with all the vocal compression, how can you trust them? (Sure, you're cool, Julian, but what's your voice really sound like?)

So we did the I'll-download-a-song-or-two-to-see-what-I-think thing and now we can't decide whether we want to butter the toast and buy the album or burn the toast (sorry for the abused analogy) and write this hyper-hyped act off once and for all.

That's where the Toaster reader comes in. Here's a song, "Killing Lies," from the album. It's the median track, we'd say, falling somewhere in the middle of the album's goodness (based on what we've heard). Not the catchiest ball in the bundle, but definitely tolerable and typically Strokes.

Based on this -- and we encourage you to download a few more -- and give us a little nudge. C'mon, you'd do it for your coffeemaker.

>> Album Lookout: With Strings: Live at Town Hall

Eels - Released: February 21, 2006 Vagrant

Eels have never really been handed the indie street cred that the band largely deserves. Without the hype and circumstance of their contemporaries, they are a band that instead inspires pure loyalty in its fans. If you like one Mark Oliver Everett song, chances are you'll probably like a lot of them.

His approach to songwriting is deceptively simple, if nothing more than because his lyrics are rooted in seemingly simplistic concepts and are put succinctly. The perception is that Eels pump out simple songs -- nothing too fancy, nothing too innovative. The unimpressed indie-street-cred handers-out mostly stopped paying attention a few years back.

Fans embrace them and pine for every new release. For those of you who don't get it, let the Toaster put it this way: Whether its ours or his life he's soundtracking, E has produced a series of undeniably honest, heartfelt, mixtape-worthy songs that catalogue one unfancy boy's life.

Eels are real.

So we bring to you a track off the live album that just hit stores last week, "Trouble With Dreams." It's E, a drummer and a string quartet from last year's stellar and quirky (pajamas?!) tour. The Toaster couldn't ask for more.

>> Reverting to: 1967

In Benjamin Nugent's opportune biography of Elliott Smith, Elliott Smith & the Big Nothing, Nugent writes that The Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina" was a heavy influence on the sculpting of the Elliott Smith vocal approach - leading to the soft, airy, and intimately pretty singing that grace and temper his often intense songwriting.

It's been on the mind lately because Eels cover it on the aforementioned With Strings live album. Take a listen, though, to the original version and see if you can't picture Elliott taking the helm.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

With Or Without Neko

>> Featured Artist: The New Pornographers

The Toaster Talks editorial staff is way too excited for the upcoming New Porn-B&S show in D.C. on March 6 (the second of the double-day billing). The New Pornographers put on an amazing show with Neko Case last year (see last week's Immaculate Machine entry), but as she is releasing an album March 7 (see Album Lookout below), the NPs will be Neko-less this spring. And with Destroyer out touring in promotion of a new album as well, Dan Bejar won't be on the tour either.

In these uncertain times, the Toaster likes to snuggle up with what it's comfortable with. The nets have been pretty well doused in new New Pornographers, so we thought we'd point to something some of us might have missed.

"Letter From an Occupant" (from the band's 2000 debut, Mass Romantic) is as close as it gets to perfect pop.

>> Album Lookout: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Neko Case - Due Out: March 7, 2006 Anti-

This is what Neko Case sounds like without Carl Newman's pop-Midas touch. Still so good.

"Hold On, Hold On" is the opposite of straightforward pop. Clocking in at just over a buck and a half, it shows off her soaring vocal talents. The album shows off her ability to stand strongly in the likes of country, gospel and folk genrese without sounding contrived. It's this versatility that makes her such a gem to the indies. Here at the Toaster, we like to think of her as a weathered, much-more-truly-country-western Jenny Lewis. Perhaps it's the red hair.

>> Reverting to: 1996

OK, we like to stay on topic here. Still very excited about the March 6 show, we decided to go back only so far in our time machine. Here's some classic Belle and Sebastian which goes out to those who are having trouble waiting just like us. "Like Dylan in the Movies" really shows just how much this band's sound has changed in the past 10 years. And still, it's surprising just how much they still sound like
themselves even though they've added all that funk and '70s pop sensability to their delivery.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Unthemed Valentine

>> Featured Artist: Immaculate Machine

A small band out of Victoria, British Columbia (Canada) brought into the Toaster's horizon when they were opening the bill for The New Pornographers on their fall 2005 tour. Their site claims they're known for their "engaging" live shows, more than a bit of an understatement. The audience doesn't know who (s)he should be watching -- the guitar player (Brooke Gallupe) who attacks the mic with his vocal delivery as threateningly as any indie-pop rocker should, the shyish but quirky keyboardist (Kathryn Calder, who is not only Carl Newman's long-lost niece but also the vocalist who will likely fill in for Neko Case for the NPs non-Neko live shows) or the shirtless, show-stopping show-off of a drummer (Luke Kozlowski).

Their 2005 release Ones and Zeroes proved poppy enough for our tastes, but a little thinner and more hollow than the "engaging" live show. It almost feels like a rocked-out Mates of State at points, which is not at all conveyed on stage. On the whole, it's solid, infectious pop à la NPs that make for a damn-good listen. "Phone No." is one of the best on the album, second only to Toaster 2005-charter "No Way Out."

The Toaster especially like the chorus lyric: "Call me up when the feeling strikes you / I'll call you up when I've got nothing to do."

>> Album Lookout: Super Extra Gravity

The Cardigans - Released: Oct. 17, 2005 (Europe); TBA (U.S.) Universal International

The Toaster never really got into the Cardigans back in their American heyday. And until the end of last year, we could have sworn they had either disbanded or died in the same plane crash that took Aaliyah from us. Apparently not.

"I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer" comes out of the school of thought that songs with longer titles not only make the music blogs go bats (So much typing! Well, Cardigans, the Toaster has called your bluff), but also require smaller fonts on the back of your album cover.

It's also the first song the Toaster has posted in which the lead singer issues a number of instructions to the listener as if (s)he were a dog. All we know is this is not what we remember thinking the Cardigans sounded like back when they graced VH-1. And it makes Mister Toaster upset that it's now been four months since the album was released in Europe -- and still no progress on setting a U.S. date?

Now this rocky-glossy little number has been making its way on the Internets for months and even made some year-end lists. The Toaster issues it here in the hopes that it's not that long before Super Extra Gravity makes it into your neighborhood record store (which, for 98 percent of our readers, is Wal-Mart, Best Buy or your turnpike travel plaza of choice).

If you want to buy this album now, you can. Just be prepared to pay that extra shipping (literal shipping...it's got to cross the ocean).

>> Reverting to: 1969

Back when Mister Toaster worked at a record store, one of his bosses made the brash statement that the Kinks were the Beatles except without all the shiny packaging. And, in fact, that made them better than the Beatles.

Clearly, Mister T did not react kindly. It was two years before he actually bought a Kinks album.
While they're no Beatles (come on!), they have made some of the Toaster's Hall of Famers ("Waterloo Sunset," anyone?). Meanwhile, "Victoria" has been stuck in our heads for days. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Toaster's Moving to Tuesday Nights

Side note: So, the network has already moved "The Toaster Talks" to Tuesday nights. We're told it's just a better programming fit and has nothing to do with lagging ratings. (Mister Toaster is already in talks with Showtime to pick up the contract should it come to that.)

>> Featured Artist:
Sun Kil Moon

This marks two weeks in a row in which we know very little about our featured artist. All I know is this is the guy (Mark Kozelek) from Red House Painters and he's from Ohio.

It's the song, this time, that has prompted the posting. It's from the group's 2003 release, Ghosts of the Great Highway. Although it clocks in at over 6 minutes (everyone needs an editor, Mark), "Carry Me Ohio" has such a wonderful melody and feel to it. And when we can make out the words, they're good too.

Or maybe it's just because Mister Toaster is from Ohio.

>> Album Lookout: The Life Pursuit

Belle and Sebastian -
Released: Today on Matador

Belle and Sebastian has long been a powerbroker in the House of Toaster. We actually really liked Dear Catastrophe Waitress quite a bit -- not their best, but damn good nonetheless.

So, it's with great excitement that the Toaster presents The Life Pursuit, which is being hailed as the band's best since If You're Feeling Sinister. It's even won over Pitchfork -- something that's nearly always an uphill battle for an established band.

Some songs sound like good-ol' B&S, like the advance MP3 release, "Another Sunny Day." But other songs head bravely into new directions -- hitting up different styles as if they were in a Jelly Belly sampler.

"Funny Little Frog," we're told is the first single from Life Pursuit. It's got a very Beatlesque feel to it, which comes through after you stop noticing how Motown it sounds. I hope the four songs we've heard are indicative of the quality of the rest of the album. If so, it could be a contender for best thus far of 2006.

[Another side note:
A friend told us that B&S routinely has the longest melody lines of anyone in the pop biz today. It's like pointing out the fact that you can never hear Frank Sinatra breathe; once you notice, you can't stop paying attention to it.]

>> Reverting to: 1972

"Which Will" - So it took a Volkwagen commercial to get Nick Drake back on all of our radar screens. Yes, it's a very pink moon. And those are very low notes, Nick.

There are two truths: Nick Drake songs make every movie soundtrack a little bit better. And Nick Drake songs make every journey with your iPod (or your choice of personal music device) a little bit more movielike.