Titus Andronicus to rock the record store.

April 22, 2009

I missed Record Store Day last Saturday — I had to travel down to a friend’s Patoka Lake cabin to help him celebrate his final week of bachelorhood. I wouldn’t trade the beer-sippin’, gun-shootin’, meat-eatin’ weekend for anything, but I regret missing out on the special releases, in-store performances and other trappings of this nascent (and most excellent) holiday.


If you missed Record Store Day (or even if you didn’t) make up for it by checking out Titus Andronicus’ in-store performance at my favorite Indianapolis record store, Luna Music, this coming Friday (April 24).

Titus Andronicus is in town for a Radio Radio gig with the southern rock outfit Lucero (a really excellent double bill, and quite the sleeper since no one is talking much about it), and in what has become a regular trend, Luna snagged them for a show-before-the-show.

It’s no stretch to say Luna’s in-store gigs are among the best music events that happen locally during any given year — especially if you’re a fan of Pitchfork-endorsed rock. Sometimes, the gigs are well-attended (Bill Callahan’s recent Easter evening performance packed the place) and other times you wonder why more people didn’t get the memo (when certifiably legendary British popster Robyn Hitchcock stopped by a couple of years ago, I was shocked when only about 25 people showed up). Other recent national touring artists who have dropped in to play at Luna include Nada Surf, Camper Van Beethoven, Asobi Seksu, John Vanderslice…the list goes on.

Here’s the kicker: These performances are free. You come, you listen to great music in an incredibly intimate setting in one of the city’s best neighborhoods, and then you leave, with exactly as much money you arrived with.

Titus Andronicus should be an exceptionally interesting spectacle. The young New Jersey quintet generally plays explosive, distorted, garage rock anthems that sound like the Replacements-meet-Springsteen-meet-Bright Eyes. The CD racks in Luna are sure to be shaking. See what I mean:


Primitive radio gods.

April 6, 2009
John Darnielle and John Vanderslice. Photo by Swatson Images.

John Darnielle and John Vanderslice. Photo by Swatson Images.

Tonight I’ll go to Bloomington, Ind., to see the final date of John Vanderslice and John Darnielle’s (of the Mountain Goats) “Gone Primitive” tour, where the pair will perform individual acoustic sets at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

According to my Last.fm stats, Vanderslice and the Mountain Goats are among the five artists I listen to most on my computer, so this billing is a match made in heaven. I’ve long counted Darnielle among my favorite songwriters, but in the past couple of years I’ve grown increasingly fond of Mr. Vanderslice and his crystalline, heartrending recordings.

Vanderslice will release his first full-length album in two years, Romanian Names, on Bloomington’s Dead Oceans label on May 19. The label has posted a preview MP3, “Fetal Horses,” which you can download here.

Among those familiar with his work, Vanderslice is known for his studio chops — a not altogether surprising fact when you learn Vanderslice owns a highly regarded recording facility, Tiny Telephone, in San Francisco. Vanderslice has recorded albums for a number of household-name indie artists, including the Moutain Goats, Spoon, Death Cab For Cutie and others. Along the way he pioneered a signature style using all-analog equipment that either he or somebody else coined “sloppy high-fi.” Vanderslice’s own recordings have grown increasingly less sloppy over the years, culminating with his 2007 release “Emerald City,” which sounds downright pristine, almost as if it was dipped in chrome.

According to Dead Oceans, Romanian Names marks a new direction for Vanderslice, who wrote all of the songs on piano or guitar in a makeshift basement studio prior to even setting foot in Tiny Telepone. The result, Dead Oceans says, is a Vanderslice album that’s unusually light on knob-twiddling-as-songwriting and features a renewed “emphasis on melody and structure.”

To these ears, “Fetal Horses” doesn’t sound appreciably different from prior Vanderslice recordings — and that’s cool with me. I’ll buy it regardless, as Vanderslice is one of only three or four artists whose new releases inspire me to head to the record store on release day. In the meantime, I’ll continue promoting him to anyone who will listen (or read). He’s an underappreciated talent whose songs — narratively compelling, beautifully sung and, more often than not, uncommonly moving — burrow into your brain like poetry.

I well up watching this.

March 18, 2009

John Vanderslice sings “The Parade” while walking around the streets of Seattle. Can’t wait to see him with The Mountain Goats in Bloomington in a couple weeks.

More Morrissey than you bargained for.

January 31, 2009


The Red Hot Chili Peppers have nothing on the Moz. (I like how they hid the fat guy in the back, BTW.)

You know, artistically speaking, Morrissey has aged better than almost all of the artists I liked in college, and I firmly believe that’s because, on some essential level, Morrissey has always been somewhere around 60 years old. Funny that he was always so strongly associated with teenage angst, rebellion and all of that, because I can’t think of anyone more misanthropic and curmudgeonly in a get-off-my-lawn kinda way than the Moz. His new song sounds good, too. Check out the vid, below.

I bet Malkmus spells it “phantasy” football.

January 15, 2009

124711__malkmus_lI’m too cool for several things.

I’m too cool to approach famous or semi-famous people in a setting where a conversation between us would never naturally occur.

For example: I went to see Stephen Malkmus in concert last year. Prior to the show, Malkmus walked into the pub where I was having dinner. Now, I wasn’t too cool to text two of my friends to tell him he was there. But I was far too cool to get up and say hi to Malkmus, who was sitting alone sipping water and watching an NCAA basketball tourney game. He gets bugged by strangers all the time. Why interrupt the dude just to have a brief and awkward conversation? I’m way too cool for that.

Another thing I’m too cool for is fantasy sports. I played fantasy football once a couple of seasons ago, just to see what it was like. It was predictably lame, no doubt due partly to the presence of several profoundly apathetic players in my league. By week 7, half the owners stopped bothering to update their rosters. After it was over, I walked away thinking, “Man I’m glad I’m too cool for that, because it’s really boring.”

So you can imagine the vortex of bewilderment I was thrust into when I read, via Deadspin, that Stephen Malkmus is an avid, passionate fantasy sports player. According to an interview with Malkmus at Rotoworld.com (its tagline: America’s #1 Source For Fantasy Sports News!) Malkmus “is one of those guys that who will always field a strong fantasy team, regardless of the sport.”

The writer (who, coincidentally, mentions seeing Pavement in ’95 at Lollapalooza in Indianapolis) continues: “He’s smart, committed, does his research and is active on the waiver wire. Regardless of what else you have going on, those ingredients are the start to a recipe for fantasy success.”

This isn’t some joke article from The Onion. This is a real interview posted on web site devoted exclusively to fantasy sports news. It also tells us that Malkmus’ fantasy sports basketball team is named “Widespread Perkins” and that his wife gets pissed when he’s one the waiver wire while cooking dinner. “It’s better than internet porn, right?” Malkmus quips. “Especially during dinner!”

It’s good to know his wit is still intact. Meanwhile I’m left wondering what to do with this information, or how it will affect the things I thought I was too cool to do. Because Malkmus used to be the poster boy of too-cool. In the early ’90s he was too cool to tune his guitar, sing on key or dress like a rock star. Yet in 2009, he isn’t too cool to utter the phrase, “Baseball is all about the roto, basketball is all about the head-to-head match-ups.” What does it all mean?

No pleasure. Only pain.

January 8, 2009
Joy Division in 1979. © Paul Slattery / Retna Ltd.

Joy Division in 1979. © Paul Slattery / Retna Ltd.

I can’t recall what motivated me to buy Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures when I was in high school. I may have been drawn to Peter Saville’s excellent cover art — a stark black and white image that resembled a drawing of dozens of tiny mountain ranges stacked neatly on top of one another — and which in reality were the radio waves of a dying star.

What I do recall is my initial reaction to the music. I was nonplussed. Bewildered. Slightly intrigued, but, more than anything else, terribly disquieted. It was icy, terse, neurotic. It sounded like someone trying, unsuccessfully, to work through a terrible mental illness. I didn’t like it. Not at first, anyway.

Joy Division wasn’t the first band I had to grow into. Another one that mightily challenged my then-virgin ears was the Velvet Underground. But that was a matter of sloppiness and shitty production values more than anything. With Joy Division, it was a matter of the band’s unnervingly canny ability to conjure the demons of its lead singer, Ian Curtis. It was disturbing on a very elemental level. Anthony Wilson, founder of the legendary Factory Records, put it this way: “Punk enabled you to say ‘Fuck you’, but somehow it couldn’t go any further. Sooner or later someone was going to want to say, ‘I’m fucked’, and that was Joy Division.”


Ian Curtis

Unlink so many goth bands — who always seemed comically melodramatic to me — Joy Division had a bone-chilling directness about it. There was no hiding from the pathological despair. The throbbing bass, metronomic drums and deliberate guitar were each eerie and foreboding in their own ways. But most unsettling of all was Curtis’ voice. Blood-curdling in its austerity, it was the sonic equivalent of black.

I finally got around to watching the Ian Curtis biopic Control last night. My initial reaction to it was similar to this one by Noel Murray at the AV Club. Writes Murray:

What [director Anton] Corbijn doesn’t get is any kind of reasonable explanation for how such a normal-seeming guy and the three moderately talented lads he shared a stage with managed to write and perform songs as shattering as “Disorder,” “She’s Lost Control,” “Transmission,” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Something reached down and touched them. But what?

If you’re a Joy Division fan, whether or not you’ll like Control depends on what you want out of it. If you’re cool with a conventional narrative that humanizes Curtis (the other band members are treated peripherally) while revealing how his epilepsy and an unhappy marriage (in which his own unfaithfulness, the movie suggests, exacerbated his depression) led to his suicide, you’ll find it satisfying. But if you’re looking for insight into how Curtis and his bandmates managed to write such original and devastatingly dark music, don’t bother. Instead, just watch the Youtube clips. Here’s a nice one.

Emusic > iTunes.

January 7, 2009

Remember Napster? Weren’t those the days?

Oh to be young, innocent and free to download MP3s with guilt-free abandon. It seems strange now that we once tolerated such slow download times, but goddamn, it felt good when that status bar hit 100 percent. I introduced myself to an incredible amount of new music thanks to that free, easy and magical service. And when it no longer availed itself to me, I moved on to the next best thing. Audio Galaxy was no slouch, and beyond the spyware it installed on my PC, I had few complaints about Kazaa.

Isn’t it strange that each of these services still exist?

I was thinking about this today as I read about Apple’s upcoming new pricing system for iTunes MP3s. Instead of 99 cents across the board, they’ll be available for 69 cents (older, not so popular songs), $1.29 (the latest big hits) and 99 cents (everything else).

That’s all well and good — but who even buys music from iTunes? I don’t know anyone. Scratch that — my friend Brad does, and the reason I just remembered that is because he loaded a bunch of his iTunes acquisitions onto my hard drive, which (annoyingly) I couldn’t upload to my system due to anti-copy restrictions set by Apple. But that’s something else the company is doing away with in a move the New York Times says will “help shape the future of the online music business.”

Anyway, my friend Brad uses iTunes. But by and large, my friends who download music from the Internet either get it for free or buy it from Emusic.

Personally, I prefer the latter. Oh, I justified the free downloading thing for awhile — “We live in a post-modern consumer society” “The musician hardly sees any of the profits from sales anyway” “If I like it, I’ll buy the album and spread popularity of the artist by word-of-mouth” — but then I started writing about music as part of my day job and learned that nearly every musician would far prefer you pay for his music than steal it. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So I buy music from Emusic. And I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new way to legally acquire music online. The price is very reasonable — with a starter plan of $11.99 for 30 downloads a month, it sure beats iTunes — and it has an incredibly interesting and eclectic selection. While you’ll often have trouble finding some of the more commercially successful stuff (I’ve most recently been disappointed to find no Thin Lizzy or ELO), Emusic more than makes up for it with a lot of genuinely obscure, awesome albums. Every month, I use at least half of my downloads on artists entirely new to me, and over time I’ve added a number of truly bizarre and beautiful songs to my collection. Like, for example, this Christian garage rocker by ’60s oddities The New Creation: