Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: Elliott Smith

Taking a break from our standard format, the Toaster Talks introduces the Hall of Fame series, in which we pick three songs from artists that make up the Toaster's daily bread.

This week it's Elliott Smith. Sure, he's the typical indie singer-songwriter most mentioned in "oh-he-sounds-like" circles (I'm like a happier Elliott Smith; it's like Elliott Smith, if he was a reggae band with a 1930s pop flair). This, we suggest, is only a testament to the man's songwriting credability, which he built on demos and low-fi basement recordings into the studio gems he'd later produce and indie snobs would later reject.

Picking three songs is incredibly difficult. Alas, it's our task.

"I Better Be Quiet Now" - Figure 8 (2000) - The first Elliott song Mister Toaster fell in love with. The doubled vox, the subtle, complex guitar part that acts as the lone accompaniment. In retrospect, this was the sound that had made Elliott distinctive, the lovely melodies and tear-you-down lyrics. In the end, the "sound" is just Elliott's complex simplicity - which he retained throughout his career, whether it be recorded by a four track in his basement or with a tracking producer in a studio.

"A lot of hours to occupy / It was easy when I didn't know you yet / Things I'd have to forget"

"Pictures of Me" - Either/Or (1997) - Just like the way it rocks with Elliott anger. The whole song is strange and understated with Elliott alternating between singing in the lower and higher registers -- from the creepy near-whisper to his sweet near-yelling. It's a song with an arrangement hinting at the kinds of harmonies and tone changes that would show up on future albums.

"I'm not surprised at all, and really why should I be?"

"Sweet Adeline" - XO - (1998) - The perfect start to the Toaster's favorite Elliott Smith album. Its simplicity, the sound perfected on Elliott's previous albums, bursts into the chorus at 01:33, indicating XO would be a new kind of Elliott Smith record - a collection of high-fidelity, precisely produced songs that bring Beatlish pop sense to the somber lyrics. The result is the creation of a new signature sound, as the piano, organ and drums takes the hook from Elliott's acoustic.

"Make it over, make it stay away. Or hate'll say the ending that love started to say."

Monday, April 17, 2006

From Ottawa to Tucson to Ruston, La.

>> Featured Artist: Kathleen Edwards

As the 26-year-old Ottawa native (that's Canada, not Idaho) enters her creative prime, her elders must be getting nervous. Hell, the Toaster knows that the young'ns have always been intimidate by her songstylings and her machismo-induced folk, which she's pumped out consistently through her early twenty-ish years.


There's not much to say here. We just wanted to admit that we're big fans. Everytime the Toaster spins one of her discs, we're won over once again. "Somewhere Else" brings those fun horns reminiscent of a Van Morrison song or something. And what a lyric.

You can listen to the entire album, Back to Me, here.

>> Album Lookout: Garden Ruin

Calexico - Out: April 11, 2006 Touch and Go / Quarterstick

Normally the Toaster Talks would dock points for any band whose frontman attempts to wear a trucker hat at the 9:30 Club in 2005. But that show with Iron & Wine was one of the best we at the Toaster have seen, so we forgive - but have now issued a written warning.

The good reviews Garden Ruin have seen have made Mister Toaster consider picking it up, even though he's never really been wowed with this band - except, again, in their precise and respectful backing of Sam Beam. "Cruel" comes off at first as a little eerie in its alt-countriness. We supsect the sparseness of the piano lead over the ominous acoustic-guitar chords may be the cause.

Just as Iron & Wine tracks are layered beyond belief, blanketed in countless instruments playing simple parts, Calexico have created an understated opening track that doesn't make the listener want to hum it back (or even press repeat, perhpas). This song, as we suspect is the case with the band as a whole, requires nurtured listening. The Toaster isn't wholly sold yet, but it's on its way.

>> Reverting to: 1998

We gotsta go way back to the late nineties for this gem. Bringing up the rear of Neutral Milk Hotel's classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel's "Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2" leaves listeners goose-pimpled. It returns to the story introduced in the fourth track (complete with vague Anne Frank references), inverts the melody a tad and finally reverts to the original song for a fifth "Two-Headed Boy" verse.

The cohesion completed by "Pt. 2" makes Aeroplane a work worth listening to once every other month - an album so intense, beautiful and fun that no one's really sure if it'll be beat. It's safe to say it hasn't been topped yet. And with Neutral Milk frontman Jeff Mangum currently vanished from the scene, I don't think anyone even dares to try.

A special thanks to DJ Bryan for his bringing this song off the shelf onto his last mix.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Introducing Tug

[Editor's Note: This is the first Mister Toaster mix of 2006. Please get in touch with the Toaster for a hard copy.] >> All links are currently active.

While the Cherry Trees Are Still in Blossom
April 2006

1 Bob Dylan >> Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance
2 Nada Surf >> Blankest Year
3 The Strokes >> You Only Live Once
4 Jens Lekman >> Julie (rmx)
5 The Pipettes >> Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me
6 Belle and Sebastian >> White Collar Boy
7 The Elected >> Fireflies in a Steel Mill
8 Neko Case >> A Widow's Toast
9 Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins >> The Big Guns
10 The Apparitions >> Electricity + Drums
11 A Band of Bees (The Bees) >> A Minha Menina
12 Ohio Express >> 1, 2, 3, Red Light
13 Voxtrot >> The Start of Something
14 The Flaming Lips >> The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song
15 Arctic Monkeys >> Riot Van
16 The Concretes >> On the Radio

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hype Hype Hooray.

Editor's Note: Next week, Tug, Mister Toaster's first mix of 2006 will be released. Stay tuned for a track list. (Psst. That also means the rest of 2005 and some early 2006 MP3s are coming down).

>> Featured Artist: Death Cab for Cutie

Having now seen this band twice (and winding up disappointed a bit both times), The Toaster has been conned into seeing them again by the band's paired matching with Franz Ferdinand next week.

Don't get us wrong. It's not the O.C. popularity that's got us down. It's just that Ben Gibbard and Co. don't really reproduce their sound well live. Too many songs drag on past the point of losing the unobsessed fan's interest (we shall hereafter call this the "Sin of the Dead"). The high moments are high, to be sure, but the low moments are just really (s)low.

On the bill with Ben Kweller in 2003, opener Ben took the cake and crowd love (a third of the crowd didn't stick around for the whole Death Cab set); closing a double-billing with Stars last fall, the band did nothing to move our opinions, except proving to be significantly less weird than their opening counterpart.

What's worse, Plans is nothing short of solid. The Toaster can't even hate Death Cab like so many have after the band OC'd. Half the songs are well better than par for the indie course, and most of the other half aren't entirely awful. Sure, it's not Transatlanticism, but - then again - little is, and little they produce in the future will compare.

So here's hoping for a charm this third time around. Or, at least, let's hope Franz Ferdinand gives Mister Toaster his money's worth. In the meantime, here's a fun cover from a Ben Gibbard solo show. Good god if it doesn't bring a little bit of gloss out of the original, showing the gritty truth underneath. (We all wish the fans wouldn't be laughing and cat-calling; they lead to the deterioration-implosion that finishes the song and leads to the - sorry - cut-off ending).

>> Album Lookout: "In Colour"

The Concretes - Due Out: (Today) April 4, 2006 Astralwerks

As Yuppie Punk points out, "Just because they had a song in a Target commercial doesn't mean they suck." Ah, the ol' song-in-a-commercial-or-too-hyped-popular-television-program syndrome.

The album has been ripped by Pitchfork (4.7 out of 10) and deemed near-golden by Allmusic (4/5 stars). To be honest, it's more Mister Toaster's sister who's always been big on this Swedish combo. But the Toaster Talks is digging all the band's stuff off In Colour thus far. Perhaps it's a bit more polished, but where we come from, "Polish goes on everything but the baby's pacifier."

Be a judge for yourself...Here's the latest single, "Chosen One." (although not the Toaster's favorite track, "On the Radio")

>> Reverting to: 1974

Anyone who knows Mister Toaster knows he can't get himself enough of the Jackson Browne. "Late for the Sky," off the album of the same name, shows the reason. It's a superb song that proves to be quite sad, considering his first wife committed suicide less than two years later. Great line: "Now for me some words come easy, but I know that they don't mean that much."