Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On strike

The Toaster Talks staff is on strike, demanding longer lunch breaks and a coffee machine that makes hot chocolate, too.

The negotiations are under way, and we expect to be back next week at our regularly scheduled time.

Until then:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Iron and Wine Kind of Smells Like Fall

>> Featured Artist: Pelle Carlberg

This Swedish songwriter Pelle Carlberg has apparently been tooling around in pop bands since the late '80s. Breaking solo in 2005, he seems to dwell in the pleasant-pop genre that been home to artists like Belle and Sebastian and, well, nearly all of the every other Scandinavian indie artists on the market.

Still, Carlberg has managed to bring something new to the table. His lyrics are well-written, even if they dance in and around theses and topics that have been explored time and time again. His music is part Beatles, part Beulah (even though Beulah is also certainly part Beatles).

"Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls" - easily the longest title of a song ever featued on the Toaster - is a cut reminiscent of the aformentioned Scottish indie pop outfit, from the diction to the way the dominant melody is much more complex than it seems - refusing to repeat three or four lines at a time. The track itself is more complex than comes across, building with layers that are not immediately heard.

Another interesting cut from Sweden, it would seem...

>> Album Lookout: The Shepherd's Dog
Iron and Wine - Due Out: September 25, 2007 Sub Pop

It's hard to write about Iron and Wine without a sense of awe. Everything Sam Beam does reeks of perfection and mystery. With next week's release of The Shepherd's Dog, Beam also now appears to be borderline compulsive in his output pace.

Since I caught the late show of Iron and Wine with Calexico last year, I've been high on expectations for whatever comes next. And, just as a true fan should be, I'm scared of being disappointed. After the Decemberists' Crane Wife and Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight (the latter, by the way, is far worse, but the Decemberists' follow-up to Picaresque might be the bigger buzzkill in my book), it's hard not to be a little wary of future output.

Apparently Sam Beam isn't scared. And, if "Boy With a Coin" is to believed, Beam and co. don't disappoint.

>> Reverting to: 1970

Admittedly, I'm a little light in my knowledge of "the greatest Irish songwriter" (as Glen Hansard put it at the Swell Season show last month). But this song, "Into the Mystic," which also happens to have been played during the Swell Season's encore, is as close as it gets to a masterpiece.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sounds Like Summer Fading

>> Featured Artist: The Bees

If The Bees keep making music like this, I'm really going to start forgetting they are a modern band. Seriously, was there not a British pop band named the Bees back in the late '60s-early '70s that imitated some of the best from their contemporaries and incorporated some obscure music-friendly influences to make us all get in the groove? Apparently not. But there is a band of the same name (they're actually Band of Bees on this side of the Atlantic) that are signed Virgin Records and are pumping out interesting cuts regularly from their homes on the Isle of Wight.

Take a listen to "Got to Let Go" and see if you agree.

>> Album Lookout: The Con (again)

Tegan and Sara - Released: July 24, 2007 Sire

I wrote about The Con a few months back, releasing to you all the song that everyone else had - before I had had a good listen myself.

Tegan and Sara have always had a warm place in my heart, due to their making me feel French, but before I had always viewed them as a talented pop group, making music that was almost too good for its supposed target audience.

The Con is the album I have been waiting for them to make. Yes, they're still writing as the same angst-filled protagonists. And the subject matter is still perfect for all you teens who read Toaster. But this album has something much stronger than we've seen on previous albums, something that was hinted to on So Jealous' title track. It's a depth and slight darkness seen both in their lyrics and the music that propels these songs.

"The Con," another title track, is a good representative of this blend of ambitious, confident dark-pop song that this band has come to perfect. I can easily see The Con hitting high on those darned end-of-the-year lists, which are already starting to haunt me.

>> Reverting to: 1985

A friend of mine recently admitted sheepishly to going to a Huey Lewis and the News concert this year. Who would be sheepish about something like that? Marty McFly wouldn't. Chief, you gotta be honest with the world or you're never going to be honest with yourself.*

NOTE: The "Web Sheriff" stopped by last week's post and told me the New P's don't want "Unguided" out there on the Internets. I've removed that MP3. Too bad; it's a great song.

* This might not actually be true, but we're considering starting a greeting card company...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Early Dispatches from the Stereo

>> Featured Artist: Rilo Kiley

Someimes it seems a band can do nothing wrong. That's what I would have told you had you approached me a few months ago about the new Rilo Kiley album, Under the Blacklight. Then I heard the leaked single - "The Moneymaker" - but I reserved judgment, sending a "Seriously, guys?" email to the band's info@ address late one night instead.

So it was with sweaty palms that I picked up Blacklight (with the New P's release) a few weeks ago.

Two spins in is as far as I could get. This album registers just north of "pure shit." Whatever it lacks in inspiration and interesting storytelling (two things I never thought would dry up for this combo) is made up for by forced sex themes and otherwise depraved goings-on (e.g., a disco song. Yes, a disco song - and probably not for irony's sake, unless of course it's double irony - "isn't it ironic that we actually wanted to do this and not just for irony's sake?").

The lyrics - usually the band's strong suit - are consistently weaker than anything I've ever heard come out of this band. Nearly every chorus (actually, it MIGHT BE EVERY CHORUS) comprises one words or phrase, usually including the title of the song, repeated.

Looking for something nice to say...hmm...the guitar work is usually pretty good. And, yes, there are some tolerable moments (the sole Sennett-penned tune "Dreamworld," is interesting; the start-a-dance-craze numbers "Moneymaker" and "Smoke Detector" are somewhat fun if you're drunk; "The Angels Hung Around" - even though I'm pretty sure the chorus rips off somebody else's melody - and the title track grace us with some much-needed acoustic guitar and nice melodies). But even these songs would have been easily skipped on More Adventurous. And these unoffensive songs are almost entirely drowned out by the awful (awful!) songs - "15," "Breakin' Up" - the aforementioned disco track - and the lame, cliched "Give a Little Love."

To be completely fair, I respect Jenny Lewis and company for not wanting to make the same album over and over again. Now I just ask that they move - without hesitation (i.e., cancel all tours) - to make some music nothing like this one.

>> Album Lookout: Challengers

The New Pornographers - Released: August 21, 2007 Matador

After one listen, Challengers leaves New P fanatics a little confused. Could it be that Carl Newman actually made something MEDIOCRE? Could this make August 21st the most disappointing new-release day of 2007?

But Challengers has something that Under the Blacklight doesn't - subtlety. And on nearly every track, repeated listens leave you hooked - just like on previous albums. This time it didn't come as fast.

The Onion put it this way: "If previous New Pornographers albums are the musical equivalent of Jolt Cola, Challengers is the caffeine-free diet version: less sugary, more mature, initially not as invigorating, but ultimately just as addictive."

Exactly. "Unguided," (REMOVED at the request of "Web Sheriff") Newman's attempt at a 6-minute epic, is the perfect example of this (and we're no fans of the 6-minute song, generally speaking).

Honestly, this isn't a 5-star album as each of the first three were. It's probably more of a 4-star. But then again last week I would have said it was a 3.75-star album. You be the judge.

>> Reverting to: 1967

It's summer in the Northern Hemisphere, so it's time for The Toaster to get his Beach Boys fix. I've had Pet Sounds and Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE on the mind for the past few weeks as I read the new Brian bio Catch a Wave. And now you can join me!

Here's the stereo version of the SMiLE classic "Heroes and Villains" (single version from Hawthorne, CA).