Twilight Singers: Dynamite Steps (review)

Twilight Singers

Dynamite Steps

Sub Pop Records

The Twilight Singers began as a side project for Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs. It’s now his principal endeavor and recently released fifth album. As with previous TS records, Dynamite Steps features Dulli alongside a number of collaborators. Some, such as singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur and Screaming Trees’ frontman Mark Lanegan, have been part of the Twilight Singers lineup in the past. Others, such as violinist/vocalist Petra Haden and alt-folk songstress Ani DiFranco, make their first guest appearances here.

And while having a number of collaborators in the mix keeps things vibrant and varied, the overall approach of the Twilight Singers to music-making hasn’t changed tremendously much as a result. Clangorous distorted guitars alternately blend with and serve as foils to layers of vocals, both of the sweetly sung and throatily screamed variety. As in the past, the albums’ songs inhabit a number of demeanors: brooding nocturnal visions, rollicking road songs, and bittersweet, often hard won, ballads.

But growth needn’t always mean wholesale departure. Indeed, Dulli, Lanegan, Arthur, and company seem revitalized by the updated casting, creating a record that sounds eminently more fresh and engaged than many a “post-band” project by other alternative rock stars. And at its best, on the hook heavy “She was Stolen,” the ominous yet estimably groove-buoyed “On the Corner,” and “Get Lucky,” a darkly hued mid-tempo power ballad, Dulli crafts music that both recalls some of his most engaging earlier work while simultaneously casting down a gauntlet to contemporaries half his age.

Eleventh Dream Day: “Satellite” (MP3)

Eleventh Dream Day’s Riot Now!, their first LP in nearly five years, is out on Tuesday via Thrill Jockey. The band’s also playing a handful of upcoming dates, including an appearance at SXSW.

Here’s a teaser track from the LP, the brash neo-alternative anthem “Satellite.”

MP3: Satellite


Mar 4   Chicago, IL     Riviera Theater w/Iron And Wine

Mar 19 Austin, TX Yard Dog Art Gallery (1510 S. Congress @ SXSW) = 2:55 PM

Apr 16 Brooklyn, NY Bell House w/D. Charles Speer & The Helix, Come

Apr 22 Chicago, IL Lincoln Hall w/The 1900s


Swans reform (CD Review)


My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Young God Records

Swans disbanded way back in 1997, only to reform in 2010 to record a full length LP of new material entitled My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. In the interim, their members have been involved in various projects. Frontman Michael Gira has performed with some of the other members of Swans, as well as with various other collaborators, in the band Angels of Light and as a solo artist. Despite these and other creative outlets (Gira is also an accomplished writer and label head of Young God Records), one can readily understand why he might want to return to Swans, albeit a version that features core members of the group but also includes some new faces (including a guest appearance by Devendra Banhart). The material on My Father will Guide me… is tailor made for the collective’s sonic approach.

That approach is an unusual combination of strenuous, sometimes assaultive, noise and experimental rock elements coupled with a dystopian, disturbing, yet often poignant delicacy. Here, as on their previous recordings, these two patterns of music-making frequently coexist in the same piece. No-wave signatures and blistering distortion is sculpted into incendiary, powerful climaxes. Dulcimer, vibraphone, trumpet, and strings provide a counterweight to the heavily amplified guitars. When the latters’ torrential waves of sound recede, one is left with faint vocal echoes or the gentle tintinnabulation of chimes: unnerving reverberations that seldom provide a real sense of repose.

With My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, the Swans and Gira demonstrate that they are still fully capable of creating powerful and unnerving music. Is it strange that the renewed presence of this band’s gloomy and portentous sonic world seems reassuring? Maybe it’s because now we no longer have to wax nostalgic over Swans LPs from the distant past. Instead, listeners can revel in a venerable band that’s still creating formidable work.

Serena Maneesh gets ambient

Serena Maneesh
Abyss in B Minor

On their sophomore release, Serena Maneesh retains the shoegaze feel of their debut, but tweaks the soundworld to encompass both ambient passages and buzz-toned metal-tinged digressions.

Serena Maneesh picked an unusual locale in which to record. The initial cuts were recorded in a cave on the outskirts of Oslo; later, the band fine-tuned things with Nick Terry (Klaxons, Primal Scream), and René Tinner (Can). The result combines oases of delicacy with potent swaths of distortion laden alt-rock. Fans of groups ranging from Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine to Sleepy Sun and Bardo Pond are likely to find much to savor here.

Wolfgang … Amadeus … Phoenix!?!


Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix





Phoenix has been creating music since the mid-nineties and made their debut recording in 2000; but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their fourth LP, displays them at their best to date. The release’s powerful, intricate modern pop may not resemble either of the classical composers it references – Mozart in its title and Liszt on the song “Lisztomania;” the video for the latter was even filmed at Bayreuth! But the audacity and exuberance of these gestures to such luminous predecessors, in their own way, ring true.



Certainly, synth pop signatures remain a fixture of Phoenix’s sound, as is abundantly evident on songs like the aforementioned “Lisztomania” and “1901;” “Rome” is even more New Wave-inflected than is their usual wont. But on “Love Like a Sunset, Pt. 1,” the group strays into solidly art rock territory, creating a memorable, occasionally prog-influenced, instrumental. The piece is a synthetic tone poem that is considerably attractive. When its short coda, “Love Like a Sunset, Pt. 2,” reintroduces Thomas Mars’ vocals, the effect is dislocating; the music seems to have traveled so far away from the single-ready fare one’s already heard him sing.



Range, subtlety, memorable tunes, and name-dropping Franz and Wolfie in Richard’s playground; what’s not to like?


Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Voltaic – release information; screenings

Exciting news just in from Marni at Sneak Attack:

Björk’s DVD/CD/VINYL recording Voltaic, is being released in the U.S. by Nonesuch Records on June 30 (One Little Indian in the UK, and Universal worldwide.)

This June and July, the Paris concert from Voltaic: The Volta Tour will be screened nationwide in the U.S. Beginning on June 17 the more than 15 screenings will lead up to Voltaic’s release.   Below are the confirmed screening dates and you can download the poster here.

Available in five different physical configurations, Voltaic is a lovingly packaged celebration of the past two years of activities surrounding Björk’s Volta (2007).

Find more info about Voltaic here.


June 17 Boulder, CO Boulder Theater

June 19, 20 Anchorage, AK Bear Tooth Theater

June 20 Philadelphia, PA 941 Theater

June 23 New York, NY School of Visual Arts Theater

June 23 Los Angeles, CA The Montalban Theater

June 23 Madison, WI The Orpheum Stage Door

June 23-28 Oxford, MS The Amp

June 23-28 Lake Geneva, WI Geneva Theater

June 24 Minneapolis, MN The Trylon Microcinema

June 26, 27 Seattle, WA Northwest Film Forum

June 26, 27 San Francisco, CA The Roxie

June 26, 27 Bellingham, WA Pickford Film Center

June 26, 27 New Orleans, LA Zeitgeist Arts Center

July 20 Austin, TX Alamo Drafthouse Ritz

(More dates to be announced at Cinema Purgatorio)


Mould's 20th anniversary solo release

Bob Mould

Life and Times

Anti CD

 Bob Mould

It’s hard to believe that Bob Mould is now fully twenty years into his solo career; it’s been thirty years since he founded Hüsker Dü! Some fans may prefer a specific style or period of Mould’s output over others; from his acoustic guitar-playing circa 1989′s Workbook to the electronica elements of 2002′s Modulate, his is indeed a varied corpus of work. But Life and Times doesn’t fit neatly at either stylistic extreme. Instead, it reminds us that Mould can still rock.

And boy, can he! Songs like “Wasted World,” with its visceral, shredding guitar solos, and the jaunty vocal snarls replete in the title track both serve as ample evidence. “City Lights (Days Go By)” features subtle layering of guitars and synths; but there’s still plenty of bite in the electric guitar solo breaks.

The whole album’s been in heavy rotation since it arrived, but one song in particular has been repeated the most. “I’m Sorry Baby, but You Can’t Stand in My Light Anymore” doesn’t pertain to my current, happy, domestic situation; but it’s a power pop ballad I’d have been glad to bring to bear during lousy adolescent dating situations. Simultaneously an expression of self-empowerment and a scathing indictment of an estranged lover, it’s easily one of the best hooks I’ve heard thus far in 2009. Anti is on a roll; in 2008, my favorite song was Billy Bragg’s “I Keep Faith!”

Beam's Best Rarities

Iron & Wine

Around the Well

Sub Pop


Around the Well collects two CDs worth of Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine project, including rarities, B-sides, and previously unreleased songs. Beginning with solo efforts, bedroom recordings simultaneously relaxed and inspired (“Sacred Vision”), the compilation gradually unfolds Iron & Wine’s current state of affairs: a full band capable of intricate, lustrous arrangements (“Kingdom of the Animals”).


Predictably, a few of those fans who labored long and hard to acquire the band’s odds and ends prior to this handy compilation are grousing a bit. But even the most dedicated completist will find enough new fare here to intrigue. For example, “Arms of a Thief” takes Beam’s Texas folk trappings and transports them to Persian environs: percussion-heavy and replete with undulating grooves.

Also included are selections from film soundtracks for Garden State and In Good Company. The latter film features Beam’s songs arranged to best advantage: there are copious beautiful vocal harmonies on “Belated Promise Ring” and “The Trapeze Swinger” is Iron & Wine at its most epic and expansive. Their next LP is slated for release in 2010, but Around the Well is no mere placeholder: it’s a delightful collation of fine alt-folk.


 MP3: “The Trapeze Swinger”

Mark Nelson's latest CD

pan american.jpg

Pan American

White Bird Release

Kranky CD 128


A dozen years in, Mark Nelson’s Pan American project is still with the same label (Kranky) and still creating fascinating ambient soundscapes. But one shouldn’t mistake continuity for stagnation!

Indeed, there’s a combination of novelty and comfortable familiarity to be heard on the LP. Joined by bassists Jim Meyering and William Lowman and percussionist Steven Hess, Nelson pursues a more collaborative sound scheme than on some of his more soloistic recent recordings.  Hess’s co-authorship of two of the cuts, as well as his tasteful vibraphone playing and drumming, lends an organic quality to “For Aiming at the Stars” and “Dr. Robert Goddard in a Letter to H.G. Wells, 1932.”

At the same time, there are echoes of Labradford, Nelson’s other outfit, to be found amidst the reverberant soundscapes here. “There Can Be No Thought of Finishing” and “Literally and Figuratively” feature deliciously sepulchral (and ever so well-recorded) bass drones; akin to bass-lines found on some of Labradford’s most winning work (E Luxo So, Fixed: :Content). Indeed, Meyering’s strummed chords provide a beautiful counterpart to Nelson’s treble-register harmonic pads.

“Is a Problem to Occupy Generations” demonstrates a capacity to be simultaneously ambient and experimental; its questing melodies are awash in reverb, arching towards an endpoint never quite to be reached. Conversely, the folk-like pentatonic phrases that inhabit “There is Always the Thrill of Just Beginning” seem to give the lie to much ambient-inspired “World” music, by eschewing its easily palatable background designs in favor of a more enigmatic – and far more interesting – hypnotic blurring.

Pan American remains a hardy, worthwhile endeavor; White Bird Release features some of Nelson’s most beautiful music to date.

Pitchfork Festival Dates, Lineup


As the Chicago winter reluctantly becomes the spring, and the charcoal grills and lawn chairs emerge from hibernation, the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival — to be held in Chicago’s Union Park Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19 — is pleased to be announcing even more undeniably unique and ground-breaking acts performing at this year’s event. Saturday will see performances by Beirut, DOOM, Lindstrøm, and Ponytail and on Sunday, the festival will be adding Frightened Rabbit, The Mae Shi, DJ/Rupture, and Dianogah to the ultimate festival lineup of the summer.

Those who remember the speed with which tickets sold out last year should not find it surprising that the number of 3-day passes is quickly diminishing and should be sold out within the week. Those who have not purchased tickets yet should visit the official festival website.

 Remember, ticket buyers can go online and “Write the Night” by voting for the set list of their dreams for the bands performing on Friday night. The ballot boxes are open until June 12. Those who have already purchased a ticket but have yet to vote should be sure to check their purchase confirmation email for a link to the polls.  


Friday – “Write the Night: Set Lists by Request”

Built to Spill

The Jesus Lizard

Yo La Tengo



The National

Beirut *



The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

F**ked Up

Plants and Animals

Matt and Kim

Lindstrøm *


Ponytail *

Charles Hamilton

The Duchess and the Duke



The Flaming Lips

Grizzly Bear


The Walkmen

Pharoahe Monch

Blitzen Trapper

Frightened Rabbit *

The Mae Shi *

Black Lips

The Very Best


Vivian Girls


DJ/Rupture *


Dianogah *

* Just added

About the Pitchfork Music Festival:

This year marks the fourth anniversary of the Pitchfork Music Festival — and the fifth time Pitchfork has presented a music festival in Union Park. The three-day event will once again showcase a wide range of global artists on three stages, with a focus on forward thinking programming at a reasonable price. Beginning with the music and continuing through all facets of its production, the Pitchfork Music Festival is dedicated to providing both attendees and musicians an overwhelmingly positive, comfortable, and fun experience. In years past the Pitchfork Music Festival has proven to be the best event to see indie stars in key, ascendant points in their careers, as well as a wide range of established and widely loved artists that appeal to a diverse audience.

An independently run, consistently sold-out festival, Pitchfork attracts more than 45,000 fans of all ages from 45 states and 11 countries. With over 50 individual vendors, as well as specialty fairs, the Pitchfork Music Festival offers attendees a wide range of activities on top of its stellar musical program. Additionally, the fest not only supports local businesses and the local economy, but also promotes the Chicago arts community as a whole.

Pitchfork Media is the premier destination for music criticism, news, features, and audio/video content. With more than 1.9 million unique readers per month and over 20 million page views, Pitchfork has earned one of the internet’s most loyal followings and a reputation as the music world’s primary tastemaker.

Tickets for the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival are on sale now. More bands will be announced in the coming weeks and further information can be found here.