Merge Celebrates Twenty Years with a Compilation that Benefits Fourteen (!) Charities

ScoreIt’s hard to believe that Merge Records has been around for twenty years. In 1989, the imprint was started by Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan to release the band’s recordings and assorted side projects. Merge has since grown into one of the most successful indie concerns around.To celebrate twenty years in the record business, they’ve released Score, a compilation of songs by Merge artists covered by Non-Merge artists. A host of prominent participants include the Shins, Broken Social Scene, Death Cab for Cutie, and the New Pornographers. Proceeds benefit fourteen charities, chosen by the collection’s curators.

The comp is cause for philanthropists to rejoice; music fans too! St. Vincent joins forces with the National on an affecting rendition of Crooked Fingers’ “Sleep all Summer.” Apples in Stereo supply a peppy version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 3.” Barbara Manning provides an ardent, rousing take of Portastatic’s “Through with People.” Magnetic Fields’ “Yeah! Oh Yeah!” receives a suitably spare bedroom pop reading, an eloquently lyrical duet from Tracey Thorn and Jens Lekman. Meanwhile, Death Cab for Cutie works a bit against type, trading their often ethereal arranging aesthetic for a bit more grit and darker hues on Superchunk’s “Kicked In.” Overall, an impeccably selected collection of cover songs, featuring a variety of (frequently interesting)approaches: what’s not to like?
CarouselSave a Carousel

Some of my happiest moments as a child were on the old carousel at Nunley’s Arcade on Long Island: riding the horses around the loop; gazing with a mixture of excitement, awe, and a bit of fear at the carved lions and tigers.    A close second was the tire swing:
I hope some readers will consider voting to help restore the Paragon Carousel, favorite haunt of Merge artists Neutral Milk Hotel! Details from the press release are below.
The Paragon Carousel  is a beautiful machine  that has been my dear neighbor for many moons.  Now  81 years old, it is in need of a little love and attention in order for it to survive.  
It is my  sincere wish for the Paragon Carousel to be a part of the magic of long seaside summer afternoons for many years to come.  But it might not get to.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where the great whirling contraptions of mechanical music and light are not as profitable to operate as other things, and carousels are worth much more taken apart and sold in pieces to museums, where one  must pay to look at them behind glass, rather  than having  them simply existing in the world that we now all share.    
I spoke with Jeff and Scott and Jeremy about this and they  agreed that I should, on behalf of  Neutral Milk Hotel,  make an appeal to the good people who might have enjoyed the music made over the years, because we think you’d understand especially, and want to help.    
We humbly ask you to  vote!

The Paragon Carousel is competing with 24 other historic Massachussettes buildings for a grant of   $100,000. The historic site with the most votes wins, and anyone anywhere can vote. We would love it if by our collective effort we could ensure the continuation of this grand place.  It only takes a moment and you can do so  here

You are allowed to vote once a day  until  May 17th . Your vote means a great deal to all of us at Elephant Six. Places like this are  so special. They deserve to exist in the same world that we do. So we can visit them with our bodies,  not just our memories and dreams.  

We’d like to thank you for your help and for spreading the word.

 ~Julian Koster  with Jeff Mangum on behalf of Neutral Milk Hotel



Mono + Orchestra


Hymn to the Immortal Wind

Temporary Residence CD TRR 148


To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Japanese post-rock collective Mono recorded their first collaboration with symphony orchestra: Hymn to the Immortal Wind. Given the band’s penchant for evincing classical signatures, this addition of acoustic instruments seems a natural step in their musical development.

What’s more, the band does a fine job of incorporating the orchestra without de-fanging their music’s rock-imbued heft. Thus, “Ashes in the Snow,” the album’s opener, builds from a gentle introduction, which sets up a repeated harmonic progression on which the whole dozen-minute piece will be based, to a thrilling wall of soaring guitars and strings with propulsive bass drums underneath. While limiting such a large canvass to a four measure chaconne could easily get tiresome, the constantly shifting instrumentation and frequent dynamic gradations keep “Ashes” a fascinating, slowly evolving tableau.

“Burial at Sea” spotlights an affecting neo-baroque classical nylon-string guitar-bass duo which gives away to a sweeping full-band prog-rock anthem. “Follow the Map” combines piano, acoustic guitars, and the occasional bluesy slide against chamber strings in a fetching extended passage; this is followed by a climactic orchestral tutti. Both compositions go much further than many prog/orch collaborations to effectively use the orchestra’s strengths with a keen awareness of balance and timbre.

“Silent Fight, Sleeping Dawn” features a beautifully mournful tune in the lower strings, set against delicate minor-key piano arpeggiations; the piece is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Nyman or Gavin Bryars in its minimalist aesthetic. “Pure as Snow” is similarly conceived, juxtaposing lush high strings against percussion in a portentous funeral march. Once again, the band organizes things around a phrase-long harmonic ground; and while the presentation is haunting, one occasionally wishes for more rhythmic variety. This concern is somewhat ameliorated on “The Battle to Heaven,” which incorporates drum kit more prominently.

“Everlasting Light” closes the recording with a stirring celestial vision; sustained guitar melodies are haloed by violins; then buoyed to a thrilling finale by a wall of glorious E-major. Hymn to the Immortal Wind is resoundingly successful.




Number of the Beast


Art Brut vs. Satan

Downtown/Cooking Vinyl


My IPod finishes syncing, and now has 6.66 GB on it.

The album just added: Art Brut vs. Satan.

I add an MP3: quickly!

The latest recording from Art Brut continues its winning mixture of post-punk energy, and witty humor; but this time out, the band brings its approach to bear on a wider range of subject matter, including some weighty issues. Produced by Frank Black (Pixies), vs. Satan includes preponderantly propulsive, three-minute missives. Catchy riffs are found throughout, but particularly sizzle on “Alcoholics Unanimous,” “The Replacements,” and “The Passenger.” Over these, lead singer Eddie Argos’s talky declamation encompasses a host of topics; but he’s most in his element singing about the colloquial, albeit from a quirky vantage point.

His passion for comic books – a topic about which he regularly blogs – is explored in “DC comics and Chocolate Milkshake;” the woeful state of the recording industry is brusquely lamented in “Slap Dash for No Cash.” Argos is also able to channel adolescent angst, Peter Pan fashion, and creditably sing about its awkwardness (“Am I Normal”) and rites of passage (“Summer Job”).

The Mephistophelian motif of the LP’s title is overtly grappled with on “Demons Out,” but a related, constant theme is the wages of overindulgence.  Partying takes place in “Alcoholics Unanimous,” “What a Rush,” and “Twist and Shout;” its Bacchanalian excesses at times seem to be celebrated. But upon waking up the next morning with “Mysterious Bruises,” Argos seems to acknowledge that Never Never Land doesn’t go well with an open bar.

Still, vs. Satan is no tidy morality play; we are left wondering whether Art Brut or Old Scratch will have the last word. I’m rooting for the guys with the guitars, not whatever it was that tried to possess my IPod!

Art Brut vs. Satan

Explosions in the Sky celebrate 10th Anniversary with Summer Tour

 Explosions in the Sky


Hard to believe that Austin rockers Explosions in the Sky have been making music together for ten years. If you haven’t heard 2007′s All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone, get thee to a record store! Better yet, get out and hear them this summer – tour dates below.



6/27 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Palladium with No Age and Eluvium


6/30 New York, NY @ Central Park Summer Stage with Constantines


7/2 Chicago, IL @ Congress Theatre with Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy)


7/4 Austin, TX @ Stubb’s Waller Creek with The Octopus Project and The Wooden Birds


7/11 Toronto, ON @ Toronto Olympic Island with Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle and Beach House, and more


9/9 Antwerp, Belgium @ Ampitheatre Riviernhof


9/11 Dorset, UK @ End of the Road Festival


For ticket information, visit these EITS links:  /

Better Than Ezra: New album in May; MP3 to Preview

BTW Photo1-120.jpg

Mainstream rockers Better than Ezra release a new album on 5/12. The band is giving listeners a taste of Paper Empire with a free download of the single “Absolutely Still.”

MP3: Absolutely Still (download)

BTE is also touring throughout the US this spring and summer; venues and dates below.


Apr 25 – TPC of Louisiana – Avondale, Louisiana
Apr 26 – Jazz &Heritage Festival – New Orleans, Louisiana
May 1 – The Windjammer – Isle of Palms, SC
May 2 – Rosewood Crawfish Festival – Columbia, SC
May 29 – House of Blues – New Orleans, Louisiana
May 30 – House of Blues – New Orleans, Louisiana
Jun 2 – Flytrap Music Hall – Tulsa, OK
Jun 3 – Harrah’s Whiskey Road House – Council Bluffs, IA
Jun 5 – Taste Of Fort Worth – Fort Worth, TX
Jun 6 – House Of Blues – Houston, TX
Jun 7 – House Of Blues – Dallas, TX
Jun 9 – Soul Kitchen – Mobile, AL
Jun 11 – City Limits – Delray Beach, FL
Jun 12 – Jannus – Tampa, FL
Jun 13 – HOB – Orlando, FL
Jun 14 – Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
Jun 16 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC
Jun 17 – Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA
Jun 18 – Alive At The Square – Buffalo, NY
Jun 19 – Irving Plaza – New York, NY
Jun 20 – Paradise – Boston, MA
Jun 23 – House Of Blues – Cleveland, OH
Jun 25 – Vogue Theater – Indianapolis, IN
Jun 26 – 4th Street Live – Louisville, KY
Jun 27 – House Of Blues – Chicago, IL
Jun 28 – Summerfest – Millwaukee, Wisconsin
Jul 24 – Kansas City Live – Kansas City, MI
Jul 25 – The Pageant – St. Louis, MI
Jul 30 – Alive @ 5 – Stamford, CT
Oct 7 – Walt Disney World Resort – Orlando, FL
Oct 8 – Walt Disney World Resort – Orlando, FL

Tight Knit Alt-folk from Sub Pop

Tight Knit
Sub Pop

Sub Pop is well known for its support of indie and experimental rock. In recent years, the imprint has also supported a series of releases by artists strongly influenced by folk and roots music: notable examples include Iron and Wine and Fleet Foxes. Vetiver’s latest full length recording, Tight Knit, is another fine example of Sub Pop’s support for folksy pop.

After making an album of covers in 2008 (Thing of the Past on Fat Cat) and then changing labels to Sub Pop, front man Andy Cabic and the rest of the band sound refreshed, and better rehearsed; their songwriting its most memorable to date. Indeed, several songs pass the ‘singleworthy’ check. “Everyday” is the one currently getting the most airplay, but the supplely rustic “Rolling Sea,” “Through the Front Door,” and “More of This” are considerably lovely as well. There’s a prevailingly relaxed vibe about the music-making that is enviably effortless-sounding; a spontaneity amidst the tight ensemble playing elusive to so many other acts. Tight Knit, yes; but overflowing with musicality.
 Tight Knit

Deacon: Bromst, Tour

Dan Deacon
Car Park

Dan Deacon is the latest in a series of recent indie artists whose music pits self-recorded laptop electronica against a panoply of live instruments, with stirring results. Unlike his previous work, which consists entirely of electronics, Bromst is a much more collaborative affair. In fact, Deacon is bringing fourteen musicians on tour with him to realize its material in live settings (concert information below).
One listen to Bromst, and it’s easy to see why Deacon’s bringing along reinforcements; the artist is willing to let things get busy – even occasionally to clutter the soundscape. Arcade-game whirrings and buzzes infiltrate “Red F” and “Get Older,” while the expansive indie rock “Of The Mountains” builds layer upon layer of synths, drums, and guitars into a flurry-filled, delightful aural feast. Meanwhile, “Wet Wings” employs a host of overdubs of Jean Ritchie singing rustic folksong “The Day is Past and Gone” in goose bump-raising canonic overlaps. The LP’s stylistic range is impressive: “Woof woof” plays with dance-electronica and varied vocal samples in energetically buoyant fashion, while “Surprise Stephani” displays its electronica opposite: lushly multi-textured, slowly evolving IDM. Deacon might consider a live recording of the Bromst tour: it’d be fascinating to hear how the songs evolve.

Tour announcement (Forcefield PR)
Dan Deacon launches his massive US Spring tour in support of his new album, Bromst.   This tour will feature a full 14 piece live ensemble similar to the one that performed with him at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple back in Dec. but will have different members.   Baltimore bands Future Islands and Teeth Mountain are set to open the entire tour.

Dan Deacon’s live ensemble for this tour:

Benny Boeldt: keyboard, sampler, synthesizer
Denny Bowen: drum kit
Andrew Burt: guitar, violin
Andrew Bernstein: saxophone, guitar
William Cashion: keyboard
Stephe Cooper: mallets, guitar
Dan Deacon: voice, electronics, keyboard, sampler
Gregg Fox: drum kit, mallets
Justine Frye: cello, mallets
Chester Gwazda: keyboard, sampler, synthesizer
Kate Levitt: percussion
Kevin O’Meara: percussion
Sam Sowyrda: mallets
Gerrit Welmers: keyboard, sampler, synthesizer

all shows with full live ensemble, and with Future Islands and Teeth Mountain opening:

04/03 Philadelphia, PA First Unitarian Church
04/04 Baltimore, MD Floristree
04/05 Williamsburg, VA The Little Theater
04/06 Asheville, NC Orange Peel
04/07 Knoxville, TN Catalyst
04/08 Birmingham, AL Bottletree
04/09 Athens, GA 88/cp
04/10 Atlanta, GA Masquerade
04/11 Tallahassee, FL FSU / Club Downunder
04/13 New Orleans, LA The Candle Factory / The Heavy
04/15 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon
04/16 Houston, TX Orange Show
04/17 Austin, TX Emo’s
04/18 Ft. Worth, TX The Ft. Worth Modern Museum
04/20 Tempe, AZ The Clubhouse
04/21 San Diego, CA Che Cafe
04/22 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour
04/23 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall
04/24 Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom
04/25 Seattle, WA The Vera Project
04/26 Vancouver, BC Richards on Richards
04/29 Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court
04/30 Denver, CO Bluebird Theater
05/01 Kansas City, MO Pistol S.C.
05/02 Minneapolis, MN Triple Rock (2 shows, early and late – 5pm and 10pm)
05/04 Madison, WI Majestic Theatre
05/05 Milwaukee, WI Turner Hall Ballroom
05/06 Urbana, IL Canopy Club / Club Void
05/07 Chicago, IL The Metro
05/08 Mt. Pleasant, MI CMU / The Wesley Foundation
05/09 Detroit, MI Contemporary Art Institute
05/10 Toronto, ONT The Deleon White Gallery
05/11 Montreal, QC La Sala Rossa
05/12 South Burlington, VT HG Showcase Lounge
05/13 Cambridge, MA Middle East Downstairs
05/15 Brooklyn, NY Danbro Studios at The Brewery
05/16 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom
05/17 Washington, DC 9:30 Club

Deastro: Detroit’s Sci-Fi Synth-Pop Superhero!

Deastro: Moondagger debuting on Ghostly


Ghostly International

At age 22, Randolph Chabot has already been prolifically active. With three self-released albums to his credit (composed in his parents’ basement), Chabot has, along the way, created a compelling performing persona for himself: Deastro. One part comic book superhero, one part sci-fi synth-pop front man, Deastro has become a compelling addition to the Detroit indie scene.

2009 marks the full-band debut of Deastro with Moondagger. Lively drums underline busy arrangements, filled with walls of eclectically bleeping synths, sweeping neo-prog progressions, and effusive vocals. There’s an enthusiasm in the music-making that’s contagious. While the overall tempo of Moondagger is hectically paced, causing the momentary marvels to pass by at dizzying speeds, it is well worth the requisite re-listening to catch all the fine melodic touches and jubilantly attired microhooks.

Sage's Blue-eyed Soul

Rachael Sage

Rachael Sage  


MPress Records

One of the criticisms frequently leveled at singer-songwriters is that their songs “all sound the same.” It’s a Catch-22 for pop artists: they need to create a recognizable ‘sound,’ but have to avoid a musical kind of typecasting. Happily, Rachael Sage isn’t content with sameness, but strives to put an indelible stamp on a variety of styles. On Sage’s latest, Chandelier, she adroitly deploys the recognizable elements of her material – punchy rhythms, swooning melodies, delicately shaded harmonies – into arrangements for a variety of forces.

“Vertigo” and “Beloved” are principally dramatic piano ballads (with excellent support from cellist David Eggar), while “Invincible” adds layered backing vocals and a full band to the proceedings. But some of Sage’s best moments on the CD are the songs “Angel in my View” and “Moonlight and Fireflies,” where she explores ‘blue-eyed soul,’ enlisting a horn section and a fine crew of backing vocalists. Sage’s singing is at its most supple and her keyboard voicings elegantly adopt the lilt and swing of the style; demonstrating that each arranging choice has been incorporated organically, not just for the sake of difference. It leaves one simultaneously wanting more of this strand of her music-making and confident that Sage has still more surprises in store.

MV & EE: Alt-folk with drones and microtones …

 MV & EE

MV & EE with the Golden Road

Drone Trailer



Matt Valentine and Erika Elder (professionally MV & EE) have a tellingly named publishing concern: Child of Microtones. While the duo’s latest recording with their band the Golden Road, Drone Trailer, does indeed include drones, the music never seems static. Rather, these children of microtonality create shimmering, slowly but constantly evolving soundscapes. Some of the compositions hew closer to bona fide songs of the alt-folk variety; “The Hungry Stones” puts the sonic experimentation on the edges of the proceedings and places Valentine’s gentle singing and acoustic guitar strumming front and center. On “Weatherhead Hollow,” the singing becomes more blurred, receding from the foreground into a tapestry of keening guitars, Fender Rhodes, and slowcore rhythms.

The title tune features a fetching introduction; drones swell, pedal steel swoons, and glissandi whirl about in the cracks between the notes. This yields to a countrified psych-folk song, in which trippy singing is distressed by layers of instrumental experimentation.  The album closer, “Huna Cosm,” presents arcing guitars and lap steel over a sepulchral bass ostinato in a burnished, rustic valediction.