Tag Archives: Matador

Spoon: The Band We Can All Count On

They say you shouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t like puppies or babies. That’s kinda how I feel about anyone who doesn’t love Spoon. I mean…what’s not to love? Soulful vocals and witty lyrics; smart, economical instrumentation; beats and rhythms that make you DANCE; all peppered with hoots, hollers, grunts and groans that let you know rock music is supposed to be visceral.

Full transparency: Jake Brown was not always on the Spoon train and I can tell you that there were several whispered conspiratorial conversations around the office keg. We considered executing the 25th Amendment until he started to come around. I am pleased to say the state of the GLONO union is now strong.

Hot Thoughts is Spoon’s ninth studio album and builds on the same blue print established way back on 2001’s Girls Can Tell. This is a band who is consistent, if not creatively challenging. Once they broke (albeit slightly) from the jagged corners of their first two albums, the mold was set and they’ve honed the product more than redesigned it. And I am totally down with that. It’s a wonder how consistent, and consistently good, Spoon is. Given how shitty things are elsewhere in this country it’s really nice to know we can count on a solid record from this band every 24 to 36 months.

One area of exploration I have enjoyed from these guys is their occasional dips into dance-y pop music. I think it started with 2005’s “I Turn My Camera On,” which is a staple of any indie kid’s dance mix. This year we have “Can I Sit Next To You” as an early contender for Summer Jam 2017. It’s the kinda song that will make middle-aged dudes pine for pool parties that don’t include swim diapers.

If you’re reading this then you probably already have the new album so I’m not going to sell it. But I’d love to open up a conversation in the comments about the elements of Spoon that make them our favorite band. Because there are common elements, some of which are noted above and some of which get turned into criticism for other bands. Why?

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New Spoon video: Can I Sit Next To You

Video: Spoon – “Can I Sit Next To You”

Spoon – Can I Sit Next To You

From Hot Thoughts, due March 17 on Matador.

Like a lot of Spoon songs “Can I Sit Next To You” takes a few spins to reveal its mysteries. Simple and supple, groovy and woozy, each sound placed deliberately in the mix, this becomes the soundtrack to walking through crowded streets on a sunny day. “Gonna get kicks every night / no one’s holding me back / no one’s changing my mind.” Let’s go.

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Cat Power – Sun

Cat PowerSun (Matador)

The story goes that when Chan Marshall set off to begin the follow up to the very hard to follow up The Greatest, she presented her progress to a friend. She could tell that the new material didn’t grab her friend in quite the manner that she hoped, and after some additional probing, the friend declared that the new songs sounded pretty much like any other Car Power song.

And Chan Marshall was tired of sounding like the “old” Cat Power.

More power to her–pun intended–as the process of avoiding stagnation has given rock and roll some of its best moments.

It has also given it some of its worst, and the risk for epic failure gets greater when artists begin to incorporate other styles and genres that are way beyond their limits. For example: Bob Mould may be a fine dj on the weekends, but that doesn’t mean he makes a mean EDM record.

More to the point, it doesn’t mean that I want to hear a Bob Mould EDM album either. I want my musical heroes to be brave enough to listen to that bit of self-doubt in their heads that says, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Chan Marshall shouldn’t be making records like Sun, plain and simple. That’s my opinion, and it comes from the same one that thinks The Greatest was a risky album on its own. It, and to a lesser extent Jukebox, positioned Chan into promising new direction. Instead, she has now squandered that promise into a half-baked record of songs that seem to insinuate that the recording session for Sun was nothing more than one big distraction.

There are beats, rhythms, vocoders, beeps, and other creations that seem to be the result of a shopping spree in the electronics area of Guitar Center. There’s no rhyme or reason to when and why these sounds are introduced in a song, so you’re left to assume that shit just kept getting added on until Chan finally had the empathy to say “Stick a fork in it. It’s done.”

The nonsense starts early. The opener, “Cherokee,” gradually brings the listeners into Chan’s left turn, starting with a shimmering guitar before the manufactured beats make their entrance.

And you know what? It’s ok for a moment. When Chan mutters “Never knew love like this,” she sounds like she’s on the other end of a dial-up internet connection. Big beats come in and things get a little shaky, but again, Marshall hides it with a great chorus of repeated “Marry me to the sky,” bringing a bit of a lyrical connection with the song title.

Then, at exactly 3:05 into “Cherokee,” the sound of a fucking hawk or some other bird comes in. Immediately, I was like “What the fuck was that?!”

I quickly rewound and discovered the truth, and it was at that moment that I decided that I didn’t like the new Cat Power album.

The title track is just an overloaded mess of processed vocals and I’ve even started to lose interest into the briefly infectious lead-off single, “Ruin.”

My wife, who owns quite a large collection of Glee product, declares “3, 6, 9” as “strangely good” while it only makes me say, “I see what you did there!” What Marshall comes up with is a hooky bit of prose that repeats ad infinitum.

The darker moments are the best, and they will be the only moments that I’ll end up leaving in my playlist after this review posts. “Always On My Own” and “Human Being” are harrowing tales, but it’s “Manhattan” that serves as the best interpretation of Marshall’s desire to be different.

With it’s cheesy drum machine and simple, four-step piano phrase, Marshall double-tracks her voice with an emotive lead over her trademarked low-end mumble. “Don’t look at the moon tonight,” she warns “It will never be Manhattan.”

How can I stay mad at a line like that? I can’t, but I can leave off a good chunk of Sun and wonder if this is the work of a woman who’s heart isn’t in it anymore. Because Sun sounds more like an obligation, if you ask me, with each and every electronic addition seemingly introduced to cover up the fact that the album has very little heart behind it.

It is a record that began with a notion that it needed to be different, when it should have been looked at as a record that needed to be better than The Greatest.

Video: Cat Power – “Cherokee”

Cat Power – Cherokee

MP3: Cat Power – “Ruin”

New Pornographers – Together

The New Pornographers - TogetherThe New PornographersTogether (Matador)

The New Pornographers are one of those bands that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if not for Glorious Noise. The fervor of some of this site’s regular bulletin board contributors was so intense for this band at one point that you actually felt you had to buy a New Pornographers album as admission to reply to any post.

I’d like to know how many of those same supporters feel about this band since 2005’s Twin Cinema, because in my ears, there’s a sense that Carl Newman and company have lost bit a steam in their bid for power-pop perfection.

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Harlem – Hippies

Harlem - HippiesHarlemHippies (Matador)

One of the most wonderful things about garage rock is its inherent sense of brevity. It’s a world where three-chords are cause for a celebration because logic dictates that two-chords is surely enough for any decent rock song. And why waste time on overdubs when the effort of merely rewinding the tape would take thirty seconds away from getting started on rolling tape for a new song?

Harlem, a three-piece garage band from Austin, certainly subscribes too much of the genre’s basic points-and there are more than a few fine examples of their Nuggets devotion on their sophomore effort, Hippies. But like many young Americans, they should go back and study the source material to find out when it’s appropriate to shut the fuck up.

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Beggars Group Knows What’s Up

BeggarsI’ve known for a while that the Beggars Group has its shit together. This might be “inside baseball” but as the publisher of an online music zine, I’ve been very impressed with how their publicity department deals with us. Each release from their four labels (Matador, 4AD, XL, and Rough Trade) is promoted with a free, easily shareable MP3, and review copies are distributed far more simply than any other label. It is no coincidence that we review more stuff from Beggars than from other labels; they make it easier for us, and we’re kinda lazy—sometimes too lazy to even send an email requesting a promo.

Now, after reading this interview with Beggars founder and chairman Martin Mills, I realize why they’re great: the dude running the show is hella smart.

“You read the industry is 60 per cent of the size it was ten years ago. But that 40 per cent that has gone is almost entirely the cream at the top. Records that sold two million now sell 500,000 – that’s where that’s gone. At the same time it’s easier to sell those slightly smaller levels.

“What’s called pejoratively ‘the new middle class’ is someone like, say, Calexico or Midlake, who can sell 100,000 plus records every time they put out a record; they can play to 3-4,000 people in 30 or 40 cities around the world. And they can make a pretty good living out of that, doing what they love doing, and can do it on their own terms, and that’s fantastic. We’ve got a bunch of bands like that, they’re not necessarily seeking stardom or riches. That’s incredibly healthy.”

You just don’t expect to read quotes like that from a music exec. It’s refreshing. Mills has lots of insightful opinions on a variety of topics, and he makes a shitload of sense. He wants his artists (and his labels) to get paid, but acknowledges that “some of our best purchasers are also pirates.” It’s a complex world we’ve got here, but this guy reminds us that it’s a great time to be a smart independent label.

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Shearwater and Wye Oak Live In Iowa

Shearwater Shearwater and Wye Oak at Gardner Lounge

Grinnell College, Iowa, April 7, 2010

“Excuse me!” I yelled to the young man who was walking through the parking lot where I ended up. “Could you tell me where Gardner Lounge is?”

I was on the campus of Grinnell College, a private and wildly expensive college located in the sleepy Iowa town of Grinnell (population 9,500). There’s not a lot to do in Grinnell, which is why the college uses some of the $45,000 it charges undergrads each year in tuition to bring in top-tier alternative bands for the students’ amusement. The best part about these shows is that they’re free and they occasionally let the rest of us dumb Iowa natives into their exclusive buildings to witness the event.

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The Ponys – Check The Door

The PonysMP3: The Ponys – “Check The Door” from the Deathbed + 4 EP, out digitally on April 20 on Matador. Vinyl comes later.

Perfect, poppy summer music for these unseasonably warm spring days! Oh wait, no it’s not. It’s as dark and gloomy as ever in Ponyville. And you wouldn’t want it any other way, right?

The Ponys: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist BricksTed Leo & the PharmacistsThe Brutalist Bricks (Matador)

Where have all the rude boys gone?

They’re pounding the pavement, looking for work in our wi-fi layered neighborhoods, too busy trying to become a part of the system rather than rebel against it.

It’s called getting older, and while it’s something to fear for a few years in your twenties, you eventually begin to realize that it’s inevitable. The least you can do is to hide just how much you’ve really sold out to your friends who are still holding on to their righteous ideology while perfecting their latte art instead of perfecting their resume.

Don’t worry. They’ll eventually sell out too and all of that progressive zeal will be replaced with complacency and compromise. Hell, even Ted Leo is beginning to get softer lyrically while cleverly revisiting the same blend of Attractions‘ bash that made him such a vital voice during the Bush II administration.

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Pavement – Quarantine The Past: The Best Of Pavement

Pavement - Quarantine The Past: The Best Of PavementPavementQuarantine The Past: The Best Of Pavement (Matador)

To call it a cash-in would be a bit of a disservice since 1) nobody really buys cds anymore and 2) those that still do are faced with diminishing floor space, so every cd that is on display seems to be a compilation out of necessity.

With that said, I’m willing to bet that nearly everyone who is growing hard over this year’s Pavement reunion has every track on this “best of” compilation. The best of is in quotations because those very same fans are probably growling at the tracks that were left off Quarantine The Past.

For me, those songs would be “Starlings On The Slipstream, Silence Kid (Kit),” “Fame Throwa” and “Rattled By The Rush.”

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