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show | Atlas Sound @ the Biltmore, Vancouver BC

rarely do i encounter a band or artist that forces my eyes closed during a live show; however, Bradford Cox‘s performance as Atlas Sound last night caused this reaction in me. the sounds he creates, the looping and layering that comes so easily to him, baring blind instinct and emotional process for all to experience: i was overwhelmed and at times found myself head down, eyes shut, visualising the layers of beautiful notes and the letting his pure, easy, melancholic voice wash over it all.

Cox seems to have a love/hate relationship with his audience: he seems to have a genuine want/need to please, but with a tinge of resentment for the structure of a stage performance, and the level of tolerance the general audience has for experimentation with new works and old favourites. though it also it seems also that Cox tends to be over-critical of himself and his performance.

Cox told a story of the last show he played in Vancouver, which by his account was the most horrible show he’s ever played, letting the audience down terribly. but, before Bradford Cox took the stage last night, i heard about that show from someone who had been there. the guy had never heard of Atlas Sound or Bradford Cox before, but after hearing him that night, he left the show before Broadcast, the band he had come to see, took the stage. after seeing him perform, i can understand that Cox could have that effect… in fact, i’m surprised that he would have been opening: following Bradford Cox’s set would be pretty difficult.

Last night’s show was opened by Frank Broyles (from the Balkans and Cox’s other project, Deerhunter) and Carnivores. Frank Broyles was the perfect opener for this show,  his set consisting of merely him, his vintage blonde Jazzmaster, and his pedals. the Carnivores would have fit in better opening for the Disappears and the Fresh and Onlys a couple of weeks back, but provided a good palate cleanser between Broyles’ and Cox’ sets.

the video above and the mp3 below are my two favourites from last night’s show. also, if you like what you hear, be sure to check out  Deerhunter. enjoy!

Atlas Sound :: Mona Lisa

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list | seven best dead lover songs

valentine’s day in our house is a lot like new year’s eve: sometimes we feel like celebrating, sometimes we don’t. when we do, it’s usually because we’ve recently realised that we missed our anniversary (which falls just before new year’s eve…), and we should do something… k* and i feel that rather than blowing the bank on one day of the year, we actually try to show each other love through our everyday actions. so this valentine’s day, since we did miss our anniversary again, we’ll celebrate by opening a good bottle of red wine, making a charcuterie plate, and watching the first few episodes of season two of Treme, which we haven’t got around to watching yet. most likely in our comfy pj’s with a cozy blanket. no biggie.

for me,valentine’s day serves as a reminder to appreciate k*, rather that a obligation to spend money and put on a big to-do. so when i started to see posts about the best love songs for valentine’s day, this is the list that came to my mind as a kind of anti-valentine’s list… i can’t help it, i’ve got a pretty dark sense of humour… plus, they’re all really great songs.

Little Miss Higgins :: Frankie

i found six recordings of “Frankie” (also known as “Frankie and Albert” or “Frankie and Johnny/Johnnie”) on my hard drive including versions by Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Bob Dylan, and Charlie Patton. the song is said to be rooted in a real life story, though there is disagreement on which it is based on…little-known Miss Higgins has a great big voice that goes oh so well with her vintage guitar tone and old-school style.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy :: Molly Bawn

as with many other traditional songs, “Molly Bawn” has several different name variations, such as “Polly Bawn”, “Molly Brown”, and “Molly Vaughan”. there have been 88 different versions of the song documented. it was originally a traditional gaelic song. here, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy performs it live in Edinburgh with Harem Scarem and Alex Neilson.

Townes Van Zandt :: Marie

if you haven’t heard “Marie” before, i guess i’ve given away the plot twist by putting it on this list… this was one of Townes Van Zandt’s later songs, showing that the well sure didn’t run dry. depressing as hell, but he tells a vivid story. images run through my head with each verse like the song had an accompanying movie. one of the best storytellers ever.

Mark Lanegan :: Little Sadie

i’m a sucker for a deep voice, which is probably why i picked this version for the list. Dylan’s also got a great recording of this song, but i like Lanegan’s emphatic guitar on this one.

Bob Dylan :: Barbara Allen

Barbara Allen” isn’t just a song, it’s a three century-long story. Bob’s version is still the best i’ve heard, though i’ve heard many versions of this song… Bob Dylan has also recorded “Pretty Polly”, “Little Sadie”, and “Frankie and Albert”. the man knows a good (murder) ballad.

Uncle Sinner :: Pretty Polly

i have two favourite versions of “Pretty Polly”. Dock Boggs did a fantastic rendition of it in the 1960s for the Folkways Recordings. Uncle Sinner’s recording is very similar, but i love the new century feel. the deep vocals and the stomp add to the darkness of the song’s content, but is balanced well with the lovely mandolin.

Frank Fairfield :: Ruthie

this song sounds like it could be one of the oldest of the bunch, but “Ruthie” was indeed written in the 21st century. Frank Fairfield’s talent and passion for old American music is commendable. he has a way of transmitting that passion through his performance in even the quietest, gentlest of songs. like this one.

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listen | the Tarantula Waltz

i accidentally discovered the Tarantula Waltz (musician and songwriter, Markus Svensson) while searching for another YouTube video. the “Scandinavian Minds” video i found distracted me from my original mission. i looked for more videos by the Tarantula Waltz, but i wasn’t terribly impressed by their full band performances…

recently, i came across the video for “Majestic Jaws”, and was once again spellbound. the obvious comparison to draw is between Markus Svensson and Kristian Matsson of the Tallest Man on Earth: both are Swedish, both perform under an alias, both are influenced by American roots music to create their own dark versions of finger-picked guitar based indie-folk. but they are also quite different. have a look at the following videos to draw your own conclusions.

“Scandinavian Minds”

(go to 1:00 to skip Justin Townes Earle talking about the introduction of crack cocaine to American society…)

“Majestic Jaws”

(go to 0:30 to get right to the song without the artistic intro shots…)

“Erase the Space Between Us”

(go to 0:30 to miss the Swedish intro…)

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Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Black Cab Session

Bonnie Prince Billy – Black Captain from Black Cab Sessions on Vimeo.

this is the 100th recording from London’s Black Cab Sessions.

 for any Portlandia fans out there, this reference will resonate: the 1890s are alive in Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy… he’s an eccentric man, to say the least, and has rocked the turn of the 20th century look for almost two decades, making him well ahead of his hipster time.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (aka Will Oldham) has been making music in various incarnations, from the Palace bands in the early 90s to his new moniker, since 1993. my favourite song of his is “My Home is the Sea” from the album Superwolf, which he recorded with Matt Sweeney (of Chavez and Guided By Voices). albums of note, for me, are Beware and the live recording Is it the Sea?. his last album was Wolfroy Goes to Town from 2011, which has the studio version of “Black Captain”. it is also worth a good listen.

also, check out Black Cab Sessions’ website for more incredible recordings from Laura Marling, Calexico, Alela Diane, First Aid Kit, Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, the Antlers, Johnny Flynn, Richard Thompson, Cave Singers, Fleet Foxes, Our Broken Garden, Bon Iver, and many many more… some really great stuff there.

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coming soon | the Shins :: Port of Morrow – March 20

You gotta hear this one song; it’ll change your life, I swear.
that’s what Natalie Portman says to Zach Braff in the film Garden State before introducing him to the Shins‘ “New Slang” (check out the scene here, if you haven’t seen it). it certainly changed the face of indie rock when they released their first album Oh, Inverted World in 2001.

“The Shins” started as the title of a song by frontman James Mercer’s former band, Flake Music, from the 1997 album When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return. that album is a wonderful prequel to the 1998 EP debut from the Shins, and you can clearly see the musical path Mercer took to get to Oh, Inverted World from there.

i spent a great deal of time on the public transit after the album’s release, and it became the go-to album of my daily commute. it was like being transported into my own minor-keyed world: solitary and strange, edgy and ethereal.

Chutes Too Narrow was released in 2003, and i had it on heavy rotation as well. “Kissing the Lipless” is one of my favourite songs to sing at the top of my lungs with the windows rolled up driving on the freeway… it’s liberating – don’t judge me.

2007 brought Wincing the Night Away, and then: nothing.

for four long years indie hipsters and indie-folk scenesters have been wishing for and wondering if another Shins album was ever going to materialise. well, here it comes, folks! and if the above song is any indication, it will be warm, dreamy and filled with Mercer’s otherworldly sounds and ghost-like harmonies. when you play the video for “September” above, do yourself a favour and read the lyrics that float across the screen as well.

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‘cover story’ | five best Springsteen covers

bruce springsteen cover songs

Bruce Springsteen is a songwriting and performing legend. his songs bleed working class New Jersey. when i was young, my mom loved Springsteen’s The River and Born in the USA. at the time, i just thought it was “mom music”. after developing an appreciation for Americana and Roots music, i rediscovered ‘The Boss’. the first song i really paid attention to was “Thunder Road”. Springsteen has a seemingly effortless songwriting voice, and his expression of setting is almost magical. lovely, lovely sad songs with an undeniable underlying strength in his characters, no matter how tragic their stories.

Camera Obscura “Tougher Than the Rest”

Camera Obscura performs “Tougher Than the Rest” very much in their own way, but its tempo falls somewhere between the original and Emmylou Harris‘ cover, making a sweet blend of Americana, Country Folk and Scot Pop. this is the B-side of one of my favourite Camera Obscura tunes, “Sweetest Thing”. i love her voice on this track.

Tortoise & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy “Thunder Road”

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s haunting vocals accentuate the loneliness, desperation and resignation in Springsteen’s lyrics. the change in key adds to this, and makes it almost more of a dirge. interesting approach that i’m not sure would have worked had anyone other than Tortoise and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy tried it.

Crooked Fingers “The River”

Taken from Crooked Fingers‘ Reservoir Songs EP of 6 cover songs, this one has all the oomph of the original, with Eric Bachmann’s own North Carolinian twist. Bachmann’s arrangement uses electric guitar and banjo picking, making the song seem more contemporary yet also giving it that vintage emptiness that is present in so many old Appalachian folk songs.

Justin Townes Earle and Joe Pug “Atlantic City”

(the audio clip above is a live recording. skip ahead to 0:57 if you would rather not listen to the pre-song banter.)

Justin Townes Earle and Joe Pug are two of my favourite singer songwriters to gain popularity in the last few years. i love that they play this song true to Springsteen’s intentions, yet their own style still shine through: Earle’s simplified Travis picking with his sledgehammer thumb thumping out a bass line; and Pug’s strong, emotive vocal harmony and urgent harmonica.
click here to see a really great version of Earle covering this song solo for the AV Club Undercover sessions.

Junip “Ghost of Tom Joad”

atmospheric, almost ethereal, and very much Junip, it took me a while to realise that this was a cover of the Boss. So different from the original, but a wonderful interpretation nonetheless.

any covers you think i’ve forgotten? please leave a comment so i can check it out!

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show | Alabama Shakes (w/Quiet Life) @ the Media Club, Vancouver

i heard about the Alabama Shakes through a tweet. i’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but really, i’m just glad i heard of them. the Live from the Shoals video for “Hold On”  was trending, and it’s no wonder why. it’s hooky, upbeat, and Brittany’s passion and pipes give me goosebumps. so back in November, when the show was announced, i picked up tickets immediately. the Media Club is small, and i knew it would sell out.

it was an *incredible* show, setting a very high standard for those to come this year… i find it truly amazing that Brittany is able perform with the same fervour night after night on the road. when they took the stage, she announced this was the first show they had played outside of America (hah, suck it, Toronto!). today, an @TimbreConcerts tweet quoted the band saying “Vancouver was the best crowd we’ve ever had outside of Alabama”. the energy was fantastic: the audience and the band fed off each other all evening. they actually got a Vancouver crowd to MOVE. (we’re infamous for our attentive, unmoving rapture whilst seeing a band perform…) the response for “Hold On” was tremendous: appreciative, awestruck and celebratory. it just grew from there. they rockabillied us with “Heavy Chevy”, wooed us with the a mind-blowing “You Ain’t Alone”, and stoned us with the cover of Led Zeppelin’s (well, Howlin’ Wolf’s…) “How Many More Times”, which capped their encore. every song in between evoked something different and fantastic from the crowd. if you have the chance, SEE THIS BAND LIVE. you will not regret a moment. here’s a video i found on YouTube from last night’s show. it’s a little blurry, but the emotion’s still there.

and here’s a performance of “You Ain’t Alone” that, for me, got blown out of the water last night in Vancouver…

the opening band was Quiet Life, an indie folk outfit from Portland OR. they gave their all readying the crowd for the Alabama Shakes, and by all accounts, were successful. they started off with a couple of acoustic numbers, building up song by song to a fully electric band. kudos to them for performing a great set despite the absence of their bass player, who had to leave for New York yesterday due to a family emergency. Styrofoam Jones from the Alabama Shakes got up and helped them out with a couple of songs, having learned them about an hour before the show. here’s a video of my favourite song from their set, “New London”.

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review | First Aid Kit :: The Lion’s Roar

despite their recent emergence onto the North American music scene, Sweden’s First Aid Kit introduced their music to the public back in 2007. the sisters sent their demo Tangerine to a Swedish radio station, and it received airplay that summer. Joanna and Klara put out the EP Drunken Trees in 2008; their debut full-length album The Big Black and the Blue came out in 2010, followed by a massive world tour.

First Aid Kit has performed Lua with Bright Eyes (personally, one of my fave BE songs) on stage in several cities while on tour with them during 2011, including this performance in Birmingham AL. indie-folk pioneer, Conor Oberst, and indie blues-rock icon and talent scout, Jack White, have had a large part in First Aid Kit’s hype and support in North America for their sophomore recording, which is a testament to their talent and songwriting abilities. they have also brought Patti Smith to tears with their cover of her hit “Dancing Barefoot”. Mike Mogul, who is in Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk with Oberst, also produced The Lion’s Roar for the Swedish sisters. their harmonies are unmistakably like those of last year’s darlings, the Fleet Foxes, complete with the same heavy vocal reverb. but i love that stuff.

“The Lion’s Roar” sounds like the aural bliss that would come of  a three-album smash-up of Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, My Morning Jacket‘s Tennessee Fire and Midlake‘s Courage of Others. have a listen for yourself…

“Emmylou”, has the backbone of a country song playing on the car radio in the 1970s, but the pretty lyrics give them away as modern young romantics. here’s the band’s video for you to enjoy…

as for the rest of the The Lion’s Roar:

“Blue” is lovely: laced with a lazy, summery 60s pop atmosphere. “This Old Routine’s” soft strong beat, and the gentle chug of the southern-steeped “I Found a Way” make me want to get in my car and drive. the gentle, lulling, soft darkness leads me into my own head (which, admittedly, isn’t hard- i live there a lot…). The upbeat “King of the World” (featuring Conor Oberst), with its bright horns, warm fiddle and simple guitar progression, is the perfect closer. As much as prior tracks envelop me, this song is like a gentle release from First Aid Kit’s arms- an encouraging push back into the world and out of my head.

The Lion’s Roar is the sound of a Sunday morning in your pyjamas with a pot of strong coffee, a great book, an armchair and some solitude. it’s the sound of comfort and contentment: it creates a beautiful space to curl into and revel in their lovely voices, which seem to stop time, if only for the 45 minutes it takes to listen to the album.