Frankly, I'm more one for electric guitars, and folk tends to make me a little impatient if only because I want a man to sing like a man, goddammit, but there were some nice offerings in the acoustic world this year. I've had a bad hankering for some Greg Ashley (the Mirrors, the Gris Gris, quiet solo career) as of late, seeing as he's been strangely absent since 2007. So whilst lurking around his My Space page and finding that he's now trying to produce records more often (you can hire him for a mere $1200 per record!), I discovered that he's recorded some stuff for this fellow in Marin County, Jeff Smiler. Life must be awfully slow up in Marin, so Smiler's taught himself to play old-timey folk and hired Ashley to lay it down using his trademark lo-fi/analog recording method. Someone sign this man – I'm looking at you, Birdman Records.
Know where I didn't go last night? To see Roses Kings Castles. Where am I not at the moment? Watching Roses Kings Castles. Shame, too. The rather emo-ly named solo project of Babyshambles drummer Adam Ficek is not purely folk, actually a bit soft pop, but there is something charming about a man of Polish descent with an acoustic guitar in hand, so I thought I'd mention it here. This is the solo project he started between recording sessions with Babyshambles, and though it's back to England for him next week, you can find a few song streams, his tour blog and records for sale on his website. “Sparkling Bootz” is painfully cute, mostly because of the way he adds the teeny-tiniest vibrato to his short “o”s, all Luke Kook-like and whatnot. Fleet Foxes. You already have this record. It's real pretty. This past May, Series Two Records in Nebraska released a record by Bakers at Dawn (from Sweden!). Bakers at Dawn is a mostly-solo effort from Marcus Sjoland, and seeing as I don't quite have that knack for adjectives or imagery, I'll leave you with an appropriate description of Sjoland's music that's been snatched from Series Two: Bakers at Dawn wants his music to sound either like a cold rock wrapped up in a warm blanket, or a warm blanket wrapped around a cold rock.
A few months back I briefly mentioned Orzelda, the side project of Twilight Sad bassist Craig Orzel; in June, Orzel released The Wee Shop is Filled with Delights, which you can download from this pageand then purchase in print for a mere four pounds. Also on this page, however, is an experimental Christmas EP of sorts that Orzel posted on Christmas day, available for free download as well. It's a present! How kind. Possibly for fans of the first Decomposure record, not so much for fans of the Twilight Sad.
Orzelda – My Dress Up (.zip) Orzelda – The Wee Shop is Filled with Delights (.zip) Speaking of the Twilight Sad, one of my favorite bands to come from the UK in the last couple of years, FatCat released their The Twilight Sad Killed My Parents and Hit the Road on December 8. It's full of covers and live versions of pre-existing tracks, and was meant to help fund their recent tour with Mogwai. The whole thing is presently available for purchase or free stream at the FatCat website, and sweet Jesus, what Andy MacFarlane does with his guitar on a ridiculously thick version of Joy Division's “Twenty Four Hours!” How sweet and sparse, their cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' “Modern Romance,” highlighting James Graham's boyish brogue. The colorful tones of MacFarlane's Jaguar strings, ringing clearly like beautiful bells on a live version of “And She Would Darken the Memory,” so much less foggy than the heavily distorted version previously appearing on record. This song alone is worth the record's purchase price. Go! In the late summer, Matthew of Song, by Toad semi-fame conducted a Toad Session at home with handsome gents Meursault, and the results were absolutely lovely. You can download the acoustic session in full or as single tracks here. I recommend “Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues.” Not coincidentally, Matthew started up Song, by Toad Records this year and since has made available an album by Meursault of the same title. Available for purchase here, as are a couple of free downloads.
Exiting Arm is part three in a concept running over three records, released two years apart from one another, each following referee-faced protagonist (H)our Hero Yes. Subtle are sort of a category unto themselves, a hip hop band fronted by perhaps the most literate emcee of all, Adam Drucker/Doseone, whose artistic ability and stage persona – involving sharp jokes, speedy rhymes, and a gaze that could kill – really make the band what it is. That said, though, what other hip hop group can boast both a drum machine and live drum kit, as well as an electric cello? The music's the most important part of the music, you know. The second round of these three parts, 2006's For Hero: For Fool had been the boldest, musically, and most critical, lyrically. Drucker had, during an April 2006 interview with A.V. Club, labeled Our Hero Yes a “beat poet born in rap,” meant to represent “all fairness,” and likened his own work to a graphic novel, which is rather fitting, given how Subtle's records are made complete by Drucker's artwork. In “The Mercury Craze,” the first single from For Hero: For Fool, we were reintroduced to Our Hero Yes, “recently diagnosed as being last haver of a most unusual sort of blood,” but we suddenly became the subject of Drucker's hypothetical prodding, asked what we would do to have our blood “flushed completely and replaced with that of a nice bright white college boy.” Suddenly, an earlier reference to Vice Magazine “serving up a hard bucket of most happening blood” took on a more logical appearance.
In May 2008 there arrived Exiting Arm, the liner notes of which reference 2004's A New White, and which is supplemented by a websitewhere we're provided new artwork and poetry, proving if anything that, tangentially, (1) this concept has been ridiculously thought out, and (2) the high and nasal voice with which Drucker speaks on stage is in fact another mere part of the Doseone character. But the record is an interesting point of comparison with the record that recently preceded it, the tone and transition between “Day Dangerous” and “The No” not unlike that between “Middleclass Stomp” and “Middleclass Kill” in 2006. There's not as much clearly spelled out social criticism this time around, though there is “Unlikely Rock Shock,” where Drucker raps, “The fate of your life may go cold...May be determined by how good you look in white” in a “6ft tall man's world.” “The No,” as much a dark rock song as “Middleclass Kill,” finds Drucker referring to public school as a “cell” that provides the artificial light necessary to give birth to a skeptic. Okay. But there's also a lot of creativity in the music, still heavily influenced by early hip hop but thick with percussion, like that of Jel's drum machine on “Sick Soft Perception,” and endlessly layered vocal tracks, like those on “Hollow Hollered.”
Sadly, the group's now on indefinite hiatus. However, Doseone is a collaboratingmaniac and for the time being is set to take part in some top secret project with Mike Patton and Tunde Adebimpe (god damn!).
The last time I'd seen L.A. band Darker My Love, they – or, rather Tim Presley and Rob Barbato – were filling a couple of gaping holes that had been left in the Fall by members who'd suddenly quit mid-tour. Admittedly, that 2006 show had been awfully draining. But Darker My Love, on their own, have got really fabulous style and grace on stage, charging this mesh of brooding rock and mod jams through long, long tunnels. On record they can be a bit predictable, even poppy, but the flow is so much darker and smoother (sure, coffee, why not?) on stage. A touch more entertaining, though, were this show's openers, the Lumerians, whose 80% instrumental psychedelic freakout made me reconsider the idea of Los Angeles psych rock as stale – truly, kids, they provided an experience complete with visuals, hair and endless wow, with a vinyl album solid enough to match. And of course, slightly more concise rockers the Soft Pack (formerly the Muslims) improved upon “American” with an unexpectedly punk touch of sloppiness and greater growl from Matt Lamkin, who'd not long before greeted all with a quick, “Hi, we're the Soft Pack. Or something.”
I'm in New Orleans and massively bored on a terribly rainy evening. Honestly, how much fried crap can one person eat? How many dancing drunks can one dance with? I'm missing Los Angeles. So, here are some L.A.-ish updates on musical things over which to be excited in the coming month or so.
1. One douchey review after another and the Muslims were finally convinced to change their name. So now they are the subject of douchey interviews under new name the Soft Pack. But they're still a ball or two of a live band and they're opening for the Night Marchers (John Reis! Woohoo!) at the Brixton on December 30 (13 bucks a ticket, 100 "J" Fisherman's Wharf, Redondo Beach, 90277).
2. If you're into passively doing good for others, there are a couple of benefit shows happening in Los Angeles this month. On December 21, the Smell will be holding one for the Downtown Women's Center, which is a really fantastic shelter that serves as both a drop-in station and a permanent housing facility for homeless women. More info on the calendar here, but if you can't go (or don't like lady-fronted punk rock), please support the Downtown Women's Center - it's a great transitional space with rehabilitation opportunities, really an ideal shelter, and if you bring an in-kind donation you can take a tour to see exactly who your stuff is helping.
3. Another one, this time snatched from a mass e-mail, is notice of a show being put on by F Yeah Fest, LA Record and the Eagle Rock Music Fest on December 19 (see above flyer). Entrance, Blank Blue & Underground Railroad to Candyland are playing with soon to be announced special guests (though they're claiming a DJ set by Bruce Willis? Hey-o!) at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock - 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. The show is all ages, and tickets are $7, or $5 if you donate a sealed toy or blanket. Toys will be donated December 20 to the Union Rescue Mission and Midnight Mission, and blankets will be cleaned and handed directly to those who come to a Christmas Day dinner (details here if you're on Facebook). Plus, Entrance rocks socks.
4. The Henry Clay People play Spaceland on New Year's Eve and Nightmares on Wax is coming to the Echoplex on February 2 (hurrah hurrah!).
It's sort of curious that Mike Ness would tour as a solo artist these days, seeing as he's now the only original remaining member of Social Distortion. But then, it's a detour from the punk rock that's carried his career, the opportunity to be an all-American figure, singing outlaw love songs. Even this detour is capable of drawing L.A.'s rockabilly kids and greasers out from hiding, though, and prompts fights just as well as it'll draw a circle pit while a cover of Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice” is playing. Forty-six-year old Ness is a flawless act, his best performances mimicking some of his best recordings – for two, “Crime Don't Pay” and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” off 1999's Cheating at Solitaire. These days he's shunning drugs and praising Obama; he's also slick as his hair and speaks and moves with finesse, posing with his Les Paul the way it's meant to be held, playing with the authenticity and heart you'd hope for from such a man. From under his cowboy hat he squinted with a fury lacking the slightest bit of phoniness or irony. Before we could whine for a Social D song, he gave in and ended on “Down Here (With the Rest of Us),” only to return for an encore session, throwing on that hat and completing the night with “I Fought the Law.”
Among the established musicians joining Ness on stage were guitar virtuoso/pedal steel player Chris Lawrence and guitarist Jonny Wickersham, who's been filling a gap in Social Distortion since Dennis Danell's untimely death. Also sharing the stage were English openers Guana Batz, who stretched their set from psychobilly as old as their 26-year history to an unexpected cover of “Johnny B. Goode” and – hell, why not? – a tailored rendition of Led Zeppelin's “Rock and Roll.” As with Ness and his band to follow, everything came out just rough enough, led by a raspy, loquacious Brit named Pip and a beautiful black Gretsch.
There looks to be about one video of the show on You Tube.