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It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2013

Here we are again at the end of a year when everyone trots out their “Top” lists. This is my third year of assembling one of these, and for me it is a good exercise in remembering what the hell I listened to! 2013 seemed to blow by very quickly and frankly, it took some reflection to even remember what I listened to this year. 2013 was the seventh year for It’s Time to Play B-Sides and the 2nd year at the job I got after my 2011 layoff. My wife and I moved homes again this year– five doors down from our last place in which we had spent one very unsettled year. This place is wonderful and a much better fit for us, and we have actually moved into this place– hung pictures, hung guitars and decorated for Christmas (in itself this tells you a lot). We’re looking forward to 2014 as a year of focusing on something other than where we are living.

Getting to the music of 2013, when I look at the Top lists for other websites and magazines, I missed or ignored some pretty big releases this year. More-and-more we are becoming a singles-based culture when it comes to music and discussions of whole albums from artists is falling from the mainstream. There are some big releases from 2013 that merit some mention here, I think.

Kanye West’s Yeezus was Spin Magazine’s top release. Aside from his appearance at the Hurricane Sandy benefit and hearing “Black Skinhead” a lot (admittedly a great track), I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it. Helpfully, Google Play made it a free download yesterday and I have it. The cursory listen I gave it shows West at the top of his game and the production of the album is top-notch. It was a big year for Daft Punk who lent production on four tracks on Yeezus (including the aforementioned “Black Skinhead”) and then released their own hugely-successful Random Access Memories with the internet-meme-generating “Get Lucky.”

My friend John Book mentions Justin Timberlake’s much-anticipated 20/20 Experience in his Top Albums list and he echoes pretty much what everyone else thinks– JT blew his load on Part One, and probably should have left well enough alone and not released Part Two (which hardly anyone mentions except to say he shouldn’t have released it). The week of JT on Fallon was amazing and enough for me to download the album, though I’d have to admit that I didn’t stay listening to it for very long. John Book’s review of Part One is worth a read.

Lady Gaga dropped her ARTPOP album this year and though I couldn’t believe it, she managed to release something less interesting than her last album Born This Way. I loved both Fame and the follow up Fame Monster EP— delicious slices of electronic pop with a keen sense of “now.” She has– in my opinion– devolved from being a musician and has become more focused on the spectacle.

All of that said, here is my list of the Top Albums of 2013 (In No Particular Order):

Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – Haw really delivers on the promise of the albums that came before it. Largely a vehicle for the songwriting of MC Taylor and Scott Hirsh HGM enlists an amazing cast (William Tyler, the guys from Megafaun) to help deliver their sound which is a compelling mix of 70’s folk rock, American Primitive and a side of jam-based instrumentals. I’ve been following HGM from the first releases and find the spiritual searching of Taylor to be really compelling. In 2014, Hiss Golden Messenger’s 2011 release Bad Debt will get a remaster and reissue by Paradise of Bachelors with a bonus track from the original kitchen table cassette recordings made in 2010.

Golden Gunn – self-titled – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – Hirsh and Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger make my list again with this brilliant collaboration with Steve Gunn. A super-rare vinyl release on Record Store Day, but you can get the CD and digital download from Paradise of Bachelors. Apparently Gunn and Taylor shared a long car ride to a wedding and determined that they should work together. What we have is a very hazy and wandering JJ Cale-influenced jam. Taylor and Gunn share vocal duties and Hirsh brings a compliment of keyboards and analog electronics to the mix. Excellent go-to release for some mellow jams– Gunn’s vocals remind me of Beck on his more listenable days.

Brokeback – Brokeback and the Black Rock – (on my releases I’m Looking Forward to for 2013) – Who knew that Doug McCombs (of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day) had another album of his Bass VI-driven instrumentals in him? A complete re-envisioning of Brokeback with new members provides one of my favorite instrumental releases in a while, frankly and the most consistent Brokeback release since the debut album Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table. I had a chance to talk to McCombs when he came to Iowa City with David Daniell for their tour in support of Sycamore. McCombs is a huge fan of the Tom Verlaine album Warm and Cool (and was instrumental in getting that re-issued on Thrill Jockey). This album’s reverbby clean guitar and bass recalls Warm and Cool whether that was the intention or not.

The Horses Ha – Waterdrawn – (on my releases I’m Looking Forward to for 2013) – This album had been in the works for a couple of years. Since I help them with their Facebook page I got a chance to preview a couple of these tracks last year, so I was anticipating the release. Janet Bean (of Freakwater and Eleventh Dream Day) and James Elkington (of The Zincs and lends a hand with Freakwater, Brokeback and Daughan Gibson) return with their 70’s British folk-influenced music. Janet and James bring some really gorgeous melodies and harmonies to the stripped down acoustic music. As crazy as the music industry seems and all of the “end is nigh” sentiments surrounding the ability for musicians to put music out, it is heartening to see an admittedly-niche release like this seeing the light of day– let alone in such a beautiful packaging by label Fluff and Gravy.

Jack Logan and Scott Baxendale – Bones in the Desert – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – A bit of a disclaimer– I help Jack and Scott with their Facebook page and wrote their press release. That said, I did it because it is such a great record! I’ve been a fan of Jack Logan since Bulk and have had the pleasure of being able to maintain a relationship over the internet with him. He’s one-of-a-kind– a serial song writer and recorder. The mountain of work suggested by sorting through his vast catalog of releases and unreleased songs is 2nd only to Neil Young (one would suppose). He admits to needing more of a filter sometimes and when he does– like working with a great songwriter and guitarist like Scott Baxendale, the results are even more trademark Logan it seems. Guitar-rock with 70’s influences like the Stones or The Faces bolted to a uniquely Logan sense of humor and storytelling. Logan and Baxendale are pretty-well known members of the Athens music scene, so they were able to draw other talented musicians to help out with the release– which only exists physically on vinyl BTW– so we have a couple of Drive-By Truckers in the mix. Super limited release of 500 on vinyl so don’t sleep on this one if you’re a fan like I am! Jack and Scott are already working on new songs and plan to release something in 2014, but it won’t be on vinyl (at least not until they sell out of the Bones vinyl!)

Mountains – Centralia (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) – For a band who is two guys with guitars and an endless set of loopers and effects, they have a fairly wide palate of sonic landscapes from which to draw. When their Thrill Jockey debut Choral came out I was immediately a fan. I have all of their releases to date, but I feel like Centralia really was a return to some of the song structures that drew me to Mountains to begin with.

Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me Soundtrack – It might not be fair to include this release here since it isn’t an album of new songs, but as a compilation (and distillation, I suppose) of Big Star’s notable songs it totally works. The documentary film from which it is drawn is a must-see as a primer of one of pop rock’s most obscure but no less influential bands. I picked up one of the really rare orange translucent vinyl pressings done for Record Store Day in April by Omnivore Records. You can get a black vinyl version from them now.

Arbouretum – Coming Out of the Fog – (on my releases I’m Looking forward to for 2013) Right now, my three favorite guitar bands on Thrill Jockey are Wooden Shjips, Pontiak and Arbouretum. All three have a distorted psychedelic sound that I really dig and I listen to them in rotation quite a bit. Arbouretum tends to lean towards a prog-rock/prog-folk sound and Dave Heumann has really polished that sound on Coming Out of the Fog.

Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell & Angels – This was a somewhat contraversial release as far as diehard Hendrix fans are concerned. They consider this to be a kind of cash-in by the Experience Hendrix organization. EH says that this is a release of unreleased Jimi Hendrix songs post-Electric Ladyland and is presented as kind of a picture of where Hendrix was going with his sound rather than something that might have been released as an album. If you want to know what Hendrix was likely considering for the next album, you should look at the 1997 compilation of tracks titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun. The tracks on People, Hell & Angels are also tracks recorded around the same time as the First Rays material. As far as the “unreleased” statement is concerned, it would appear that most of this material has surfaced in some form or another dating back to the some would say pillaging of the Hendrix tape vaults by Reprise Records from 1971 to 1975 as well as the Sony compilations in the 1990’s Blues and Voodoo Soup. In addition there are two songs which aren’t really Hendrix songs as such, he played on them around the same time as these other songs. So, effectively this is the last of the studio songs not released by Experience Hendrix (assuming no other Dagger Records releases, which are “official bootlegs” done by EH).

Aside from all of that political mess, the release is surprisingly pleasant to listen to. A lot of effort was spent making the songs sound consistent and as if they were intended for one album. Quite a bit of work was done by Eddie Kramer to assemble these tracks from different takes to make them since most of this release was not finished at the time of Hendrix’s death. It is really great to hear a kind of stripped down to the essentials version of Hendrix– no psychedelic effects on these songs. In fact, this release really shows the guitarist that Hendrix was maybe more so than the previous albums and puts a finer point on his electric blues love.

Califone – Stitches – Califone came back in 2013 with their first non-soundtrack album since their fantastic 2006 album on Thrill Jockey Roots & Crowns. Their last album was the soundtrack to the film “All My Friends are Funeral Singers” which I really wasn’t a fan of. Stitches brings the band back to songs that aren’t burdened with some kind of vague overarching concept or having to support a film for that matter. In other words, the songs stand on their own and make for a great listen from side to side and stands up as a great companion to Roomsound, which is my favorite release out of their catalog (big ups to Thrill Jockey for reissuing Roomsound on vinyl as part of their 20th Anniversary celebration!)

William Tyler – Impossible Truth – William Tyler is a noted sideman from Nashville. He’s probably best known as one of the sidemen in Lambchop and The Silver Jews, he also lends the occasional hand in Hiss Golden Messenger. In addition to bringing his Telecaster-based atmospherics for other bands, he has his own solo career and has put out a couple of really amazing guitar instrumental albums on Merge Records– one of them 2013’s Impossible Truth. Recommended if you’re a fan of the American Primitive style guitar work of Leo Koettke or John Fahey.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor – Arcade Fire continues to be the band that knows how to use social media and mystery to hype a release. Their 9/9/9 campaign coupled with some strategic radio and TV appearances including a Saturday Night Live stint and the following “TV Special “Here Comes the Night Time” certainly drew some attention from me. I loved The Suburbs and it’s attendent theme of, well whatever they didn’t like, and Reflektor still exhibits some of those themes, although this time they are pulling from Haitian music for influence. Overall the record is really well done, and even in its weaker moments (and it has some to be certain) the album is still really engaging. Arcade Fire is typically accused of having really huge egos and really it is that kind of audacity that can produce an album like this. I compare this album to Talking Heads’ final album Blind which also pulls some similar rhythms in its Carribbean and South American influences.

Lissie – Back to Forever – Lissie has had an impressive streak of releases so far starting with her debut album Catching a Tiger in 2010, followed by some great covers (“Bad Romance” upstages Gaga’s in my opinion) which were collected in 2012’s Covered Up With Flowers. Lissie provided very distinctive backing vocals on the Snow Patrol album Fallen Empires which was a favorite of mine and was produced by Jacknife Lee (who also produced the two Tired Pony albums). When I heard that Jacknife was producing Back to Forever, my expectations were pretty high and I wasn’t disappointed! The album has Lissie pretty much pissed off all the way through it and the results harken back to a time when strong women wrote powerful anthemic songs– Pat Benatar and Stevie Nicks come easily to mind. Every song on this record is a winner and I can play this album pretty much every day and not get tired of it. I got Sherry a copy on CD for her car and she plays it as much as she plays Lyrics Born (that’s a lot, folks!)

Cheynne Mize – Among the Grey – Speaking of strong anthemic songwriting– Cheyenne Mize (no “Marie” apparently) signed to Yep Roc and released a brilliant follow up to her 2010 album Fall to Rise and 2011’s We Don’t Need EP. Where those two releases showed her versatility in instruments and style, Among the Grey shows Mize is an out-and-out rocker sounding sonically grungy like this year’s answer to PJ Harvey. Beautiful record.

Love Over Gold – Fall to Rise – Continuing our “Girl Power” section is Pieta Brown’s first side project Love Over Gold. Named after a Dire Straits album and song, Pieta partnered up with Aussie musician Lucie Thorne for a barebones duo. Pieta met Lucie during a tour of Australia a few years back and thought that collaborating would work. It does. Lucie’s style is a perfect fit for Pieta and this album is filled with beautful vocal harmonies and emotion. I wrote a review of Fall to Rise for Little Village (here).

Caroline Smith – Half About Being a Woman – Minnesota artist Caroline Smith released three albums from 2008 to 2011. For her latest album Half About Being a Woman, she changed things up by making an album influenced by 70’s and 80’s R&B– a departure from her more indie folk-sounding previous albums. The whole process and struggle (she was worried she’d alienate her fanbase) is documented in the half-hour documentary “My Way Back Home.”  Personally, I really love the direction she is going– it’s great to her her sing out and belt some of these songs!

The Shouting Matches – Grownass Man – I was torn about whether to put this album on the list or Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) other 2013 release as part of Volcano Choir – Repave. Both are almost opposite ends of the spectrum. The Shouting Matches is a stripped-down blues-influenced affair– similar to Black Keys. Repave is Volcano Choir’s 2nd release and it owes more of a debt to Bon Iver than the previous album did, in my opinion. When it gets down to it, I listened to both quite a bit, but I find Grownass Man to be more satisfying (and more entertaining) in its straightforward direction. Even though the Bon Iver moniker is on hiatus indefiniately, I’m happy to see Vernon is still creating music and producing.

Dawes – Stories Don’t End – Album #3 from Dawes finds the band setting off on their own having stepped away from their label ATO. Lots of quotes from Taylor Goldsmith about trying to change the widespread idea that they are somehow indelibly a 70’s throwback band (my words) and lifting off the mantle of “Laurel Canyon Sound” that they acquired when PR people didn’t know what to say about their first album and its obvious influences. That said, Stories Don’t End is not really a departure from the first two albums. If anything, it is a continuation and maturity of the band who is coming to grips with their identity and sound. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the external reviewers and PR people portray about Dawes because what really matters is strong songwriting, amazing vocal harmonies and live shows. It’s probably a good thing that three albums in, Dawes isn’t trying to shake things up dramatically– they aren’t even 30 yet!

The 4onthefloor – Spirit of Minneapolis – Album #2 from the Twin Cities storming blues rock band and their signature crazy-eyed spirit is still in tact. In a similar fashion to their first album 4×4, the songs on Spirit of Minneapolis have been percolating in their live sets dating back to the 4×4 days and I’d say that the songs are pretty much interchangable between the two albums. It’s not a criticism as much as an observation. If you love 4onthefloor, you’ll love this album, too. Gabe Douglas has been working on an album from his side-project Silverback Colony which should come out in 2014, I suspect.

Wooden Shjips – Back to Land – A band I kind of slept on until this album came out. Like I said above, Wooden Shjips is one of my favorite new guitar-based bands on Thrill Jockey along with Pontiak and Arbouretum. All three bands lean towards layered distortion and psychedelic rock. If you’re a fan of the “stoner rock” or “desert rock” genre with bands like Queens of the Stone Age or Fu Manchu this band fits right in, though they’ve never been tagged as such that I’m aware. The vinyl packaging for this record is fantastic– die-cut outer slip jacket exposes the art on the inner sleeve similar to Led Zeppelin covers from the 70’s. My copy is one of the limited pink vinyl pressings which is pretty cool.

Releases I’m Looking Forward to in 2013

The month of January was named after the Roman goddess Janus who had two faces.  Like the goddess, January is the month of the year when we both look back on the previous year that is over as well as ahead to the year coming up. I just posted my favorite releases for 2012— here is a list of releases that I’m looking forward to in 2013.

Mountains Centralia (January 22) The Brooklyn duo of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp is back with another couple of slabs of acoustic/electronic experimental ambient music (a couple of slabs in the vinyl version anyway). I’ve been a big fan since Choral and can’t wait to get this on the turntable.

Camper Van BeethovenLa Costa Perdida (January 22) David Lowery’s non-Cracker concern is back with its first release since New Roman Times in 2004.

Arbouretum Coming Out of the Fog (January 22) David Heumann is back with another slab of his folk-inspired distortion. If you are one of the early orders at Thrill Jockey, the vinyl comes in “Fog White” – I have one and it is beautiful.

Brokeback Brokeback and the Black Rock (January 22) – Doug McCombs of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day returns with his solo project, Brokeback. Started in 1997, Brokeback had two 7″es and three albums, with the last one out in 2003. Ten years later, Brokeback is resurrected in a new lineup which includes Pete Croke and Chris Hansen of Head of Skulls! (emphasis theirs) and James Elkington of The Zincs, The Horses Ha and Freakwater. The album is typical atmospheric reverbby guitar instrumentals.

Local NativesHummingbird (January 29) – The Local Natives are back with their sophomore release. I loved their first album Gorilla Manor, and got to see them during the first Daytrotter Barnstormer tour. They managed to tour for two years on that album. If the first track “Breakers” is any indication, Hummingbird is a strong followup.

Jacob JonesGood Timin’ In Waynetown (January 29) – Just in time for the hubbub over Nashville due to the ABC TV series of the same name, Jacob Jones is releasing his first album in two years. Instead of his typical roadworn acoustic folk country, he hit the studio with an album inspired by the classic R&B of Ray Charles and the “Keep On Movin'” parties on Monday nights at The 5 Spot.

Hiss Golden MessengerHaw (April 2) – MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch are on a roll. After a very polished release of Poor Moon in 2011 which was followed by a collection of odds and sods in 2012 called Lord, I Love the Rain they are done with another release Haw, which is due to come out on April 2nd and has members of Megafaun on it. Look for a review by me soon.

Golden Gunn – TBD (April) – As if a Hiss Golden Messenger release isn’t enough, Scott and MC are collaborating with Steve Gunn on an album which, from the sounds of the little bit I heard, will be more jamming and more stripped down (if that is possible).

Dawes Stories Don’t End (April 9)- The mighty Dawes return for a third album. This time they are releasing the album themselves through their management Q Prime— their first two albums were released by Dave Matthews’ label ATO. I’ve heard a couple songs from the new album live already, and it’s sounding like a great one. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Taylor Goldsmith said, “Obviously we have our influences, and I know that some of what we do as a band is of another time, even simple aspects like guitar solos. So I get it, I’m not mad at it, but at the same time, we just wanted to make sure people saw us as a modern band as well. With this album, thanks to what [producer] Jacquire [King] is really good at, we’re able to stay a rock & roll band and maintain classic qualities, but at the same time, it makes sense that this record is coming out in 2013.”

Jack Logan & Scott Baxendale – Bones in the Desert (TBD) – Jack Logan is back with his first release since 2006 or so. This time he’s partnered up with Athens, GA master guitar luthier Scott Baxendale. Joining them on the record are members of Drive By Truckers.

The Right Now – EP (First Half of 2013) In an interview with Chicagoverse, Brendan O’Connell says that the Chicago R&B band has demos collected that they can draw from to make an EP!

Dick Prall – Dick is releasing a song-per month, which he kicked off in October of 2012. The plan is to make the songs freely downloadable with a full-album of the tracks plus some bonuses available at the end of 2013.

Horses Ha – TBD – Carried over from last year’s list. The album is pretty much complete and a continuation of the first album Of The Cathmawr Yards. Here’s hoping that Janet and James, coming off the recent Freakwater tour will be energized and ready to release this.

History – (First half of 2013) The remains of the Iowa City band The Wandering Bears have formed a new band called History.

Har-di-Har – Third EP/LPI loved the first two EP’s released by the Cedar Falls husband/wife duo Har-di-Har. The third EP in the series is supposed to come out pretty soon. Andrew Thoreen told me that the plan is to bundle the three EP’s together into a physical release (possibly vinyl!).

UK Anglo-Folk Band Red River Dialect IndieGoGo Campaign In Its Final Hours…

When M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger and Dave Heumann of Arbouretum both recommend a new band, I immediately check it out.

Red River Dialect is a Cornwall, UK-based band fronted by David Morris that has earned some well-earned praise and recognition since their inception in 2009 or so. Some live show bills with bands like Pontiak, Arbouretum and Hiss Golden Messenger have helped expand Red River Dialect’s fanbase.

The band is attempting to self-release their second full length album, which was recorded last summer– a follow up to their 2010 debut album White Diamonds. Their goal is to raise $2,000 (US) via IndieGogo to press up CD’s and vinyl of this album, titled awellupontheway. With less than 24 hours left, they have raised $1,408 of the $2,000 needed– so they are really close. If they don’t make the full $2,000, they will still certainly release the CD and digital downloads.

Not surprisingly maybe, the sound of this band is somewhere between the spiritual wanderings of Hiss Golden Messenger and the Anglophilic Folk predilections of Arbouretum. Their songs also recall the BritFolk sound of bands like the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention with more psychedelic leanings. In the first free mp3 download of “Dawns Man” I hear some Nick Cave and Joe Strummer as well. In any event, I’m really impressed with the release, and am happy to bring it to you, my gentle readers for consideration for support. The indiegogo campaign has the usual spread of options one might see on a kickstarter campaign (kickstarter doesn’t allow non-US campaigns, so they chose indiegogo) from digital only, all the way up to deluxe options with vinyl, CD and a CD-R of some demos. For the U.S., we can get vinyl plus a CD shipped for $28 which isn’t bad considering the shipping charges.

I, for one am looking forward to the possibility of spinning this album on my turntable, so I hope they make it!

Click Here to visit the Red River Dialect IndieGogo page for awellupontheway.

Here are two free downloads from the new album, plus a sampler of all of the track on Bandcamp:

They are going to include a CD-R of a recent live performance opening for James Blackshaw for anyone who contributes to the campaign. Here is a sample of that show:

 

10 Releases I’m Looking Forward to in 2011

Since I just finished my Top 20 of 2010, it has me looking towards 2011 and the releases that are rumored, speculated or actually announced. Here are some releases I’m looking forward to (in no particular order).

The Second Dawes Album (May 2011) – I wrote an article about this release and speculation about what tracks are going to be on it. The first Dawes album- North Hills was released in 2009 and has had pretty strong legs as far as carrying the band to national recognition. The songs that Dawes is playing on the road are as good as the ones on their debut, in my opinion. The album is already recorded and ready for release, but won’t see release until May of 2011, as it is waiting on…

The Middle Brother Album (3/1/2011) I wrote about this “supergroup” made up of members of Deer Tick, Delta Spirit and Dawes here. For Christmas, the band made the track “Me Me Me” available as a free download if you signed up for their mailing list. Middle Brother are planning a tour with all three bands in the spring which should be one of the big indie tours of the year. I have already pre-ordered the vinyl, which will come with a bonus 10″ record with four songs from the sessions that didn’t make the final LP.

Chicago Odense Ensemble – (Spring 2011)Chicago Odense Ensemble is another “supergroup” with members of Tortoise, Chicago Underground Collective and Causa Sui. The basis of this record was recorded when the members of Causa Sui were in Chicago in 2008.  The sessions, which were largely improvisational in nature, were recorded and brought back to Odense by Causa Sui member Jonas Munk and edited into the resulting tracks on the album. I’ve had a chance to listen to a pre-release of this, and agree with the early reviews and press about the album in the references to late-60’s Miles Davis In A Silent Way era work.

Arbouretum – The Gathering – (2/15/2011)Arbouretum is one of the many projects that David Heumann performs and records under. I’ve mentioned the Thrill Jockey 15th Anniversary Shows from 2007 where I was first exposed to Arbouretum and made me an instant fan. The Gathering is the fifth studio release for Arbouretum (which includes a split LP with labelmates Pontiak). The first track from the album available as free download is “Destroying to Save” which showcases the signature sea of fuzzy distortion that Arbouretum is known for with Heumann’s epic poetry.

Eleventh Dream Day – Riot Now – (3/15/2011) – When Doug McCombs played The Blue Moose in March of 2010 with David Daniell, I got a chance to talk to Doug about what was coming up for him. At that time he mentioned that Eleventh Dream Day was going to do a residency at the Hideout in May where the band was going to work out new songs for an upcoming release. Well, they did the residency, and their first new album since 2006 titled Riot Now is coming out on 3/15!

Kelly Pardekooper – untitled as yet – Former Iowan, currently Californian, Kelly has announced that he is going to start working with Bo Ramsey on his next album, which would be his first since 2007’s Brand New Bag, which is still one of my all-time favorite Iowa-related releases.

Ryan Adams – Blackhole – Another album in the extensive archives for Ryan Adams. Blackhole was started before he left Lost Highway (over Christmas 2005) and except for “Tomorrowland” and “Disco Queen” which came out as the third release of his aborted Digital Singles series in 2009, these are all songs that have not been leaked elsewhere. Based on posts on Facebook, Blackhole is actually completed–  he did some recording with Jamie Candiloro earlier this year, and if we are to believe a picture he posted of him holding a record, also mastered for vinyl. Those posts were done before the May release of his metal album Orion. December brought another vault release Cardinals III/IV, which was distributed by Orchard/TVT which gave the release much more widespread availability than his own PaxAm website would. He posted to Facebook that Blackhole is “basically Love is Hell Part 3” with “lots of shimmery guitar love.” Certainly the two tracks already available sound a lot like his Smiths-leanings than his Grateful Dead-leanings and I welcome more rock from Ryan. Posts from this week on the archive have people freaking out that PaxAm’s online store is down and there was a now-deleted comment on Facebook that he was sick of dealing with customer service issues with the online store. I’d say there is a very good chance that we see Blackhole released this year since it seems to be mastered already, and it will probably get the same distribution as III/IV.

DJ Shadow – untitled as yet (Spring 2011?) The long-awaited follow up to DJ Shadow’s 2006 Hyphy-influenced release The Outsider is likely to be completed before Shadow ventures out for another tour in May, per comments made on a video about the “Live from the Shadowsphere” tour. Based on the live performances of “I Gotta Rock” and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it vinyl single release of “Def Surrounds Us” and “I’ve Been Trying” we see a sort of return to form for Shadow. He stated in an interview that this release would not be as focused on collaborations as The Outsider was.

Lady Gaga – Born This Way – (5/23/2011) – I make it no secret that I’m a fan of Gaga, The Fame and The Fame Monster were both really strong releases. I’m not going to debate that it wasn’t territory that had been covered before in pop music. The leadoff single of “Born This Way” will be released on 2/13. Based on what I’ve seen so far of new songs on her current tour, we’re seeing some of her rock leaning material. The song “You and I” is constantly compared to Elton John and it is clear he is an influence. Notably, the new tour will have The Scissor Sisters as supporting act– they worked with John on a track on their last album.

Bermuda Report – untitled as yet (date TBA)Bermuda Report is a new band from Abbie Sawyer formerly of The Diplomats of Solid Sound. She and her band jreleased a freely-downloadable EP of songs worth checking out in December– jazzy and bluesy. You can read my review with The Little Village. Abbie says that they will be heading back into the studio soon for a full album release this year.

New Live Release from Arbouretum – Couldn’t Hit It Sideways

It was a happy surprise for me this week to find out that Arbouretum released a new recording! Part of the burgeoning Baltimore Indie scene which seems to favor sludgy guitar tone, Arbouretum is singer/songwriter/guitarist David Heumann with a rotating cast of supporting characters. Arbouretum has been on Thrill Jockey for the last three releases (2007’s Rites of Uncovering, 2008’s split with Pontiak Kale, and 2009’s Song of the Pearl).

On April 10th Arbouretum and another Baltimore duo The Expotentials played a gig at a secret venue known only as The Granfaloon. For this show, Arbouretum trotted out the over-51-minute composition that makes up the new CD/download and second release from Aural Slate— the house label for the Baltimore/D.C.-scenester blog Aural States, which I discovered about the same time I found out about Arbouretum. Aural States is worth following and it is a dream of mine to run a boutique label, so I’m watching Greg Szeto’s progress in this space closely– he’s off to a good start with his second release Couldn’t Hit It Sideways by Arbouretum. Couldn’t Hit It Sideways is 51-minutes of churning, chugging improvisation and exploration of a simple and familiar chord progression. To many the concept of this recording might seem tedious and repetitive– and certainly I wouldn’t recommend this as a first exposure to Arbouretum as it doesn’t showcase the strong vocals and lyrics from Heumann. However, even with the 5-minute sample that is provided one can see how Heumann creates and tears down guitar lines– subtle changes that roll over the constant rhythm anchored by the bass and drums laid down by Corey Allender and JV Brian Carey.

The physical CDR will be available at the live shows Arbouretum is doing this Spring (some with Pontiak!), but you can get either 320Kbps mp3 or FLAC (yay!) for $5 from Aural Slate.

Click Here to getcha some Arbouretum!

In other Arbouretum news, the blog Bmore Musically Informed has an mp3 download of Arbouretum’s show from the G Spot on 1/29/10. The show features a great selection of Arbouretum tracks and closes with an astounding version of Neil Young’s “When You Dance I Can Really Love” joined by Wye Oak!

Click Here to see pix and the link to download that show!

Arbouretum On Tour and On Taping Shows

Dave Heumann of Arbouretum

In anticipation for the Spring and Summer tour in support of Song of the Pearl, Dave Heumann posted from his blog today stating his official stance on taping his shows.  I applaud his “taper-friendly” stance, and contributing to archive.org is also a very cool thing and should help spread the word about his band. Dave comments on the archive.org page that he’s going to contribute some shows as well!

In essence, we are into it, as long as it’s done with sharing as the goal. We have several shows already posted already on archive.org. All of these have been recorded locally by Baltimore Taper Jeff Mewborn, a huge music fan who has been very generous with his time spent recording not only us, but lots and lots of other bands.

If you are someone who tapes shows and would like to record us, that’s great- the more, the merrier…ESPECIALLY if you don’t mind uploading it to archive.org afterward, or just making us a copy so that we can. I will be happy to give you the setlist after the show, and will do my best to update this blog with our setlists as well.

I’ve posted here in the past about a couple of shows that Jeff “Baltimore Taper” Mewborn has recorded, and they are very good and I find myself listening to them often.

The current list of tour dates for Arbouretum is posted on the MySpace page. Right now there are dates through June with a concentration on the East Coast, with a May gap that hopefully will bring Arbouretum closer to the Midwest.

Click Here for Dave Heumann’s Blog

Click Here for the Arbouretum MySpace page

Click Here for the Arbouretum archive.org page

Click Here to listen to “Another Hiding Place” from Song of the Pearl performed live January 30, 2009.

New Arbouretum Album Song of the Pearl Due 3/10/09

Yesterday via the Arbouretum blog Dave Heumann announced that the next Arbouretum album to be titled Song of the Pearl is recorded and will be released 3/10/2009 Although it doesn’t say, it will likely be released on Thrill Jockey as 2007’s brilliant Rites of Uncovering and the 2008 split LP with labelmates Pontiak Kale was.

In a recent e-mail with Dave, he said that he’d be touring through the Midwest in Spring ’09, so I’m hoping he ends up close to me. I’m sure he’ll play Chicago, but a stop in Madison or Iowa would be welcomed.

Here is the tracklist:

1. False Spring
2. Another Hiding Place
3. Down by the Fall Line
4. Song of the Pearl
5. Thin Dominion
6. Infinite Corridors
7. The Midnight Cry
8. Tomorrow is a Long Time

I’ll post more information as I get details on this release.

Here is a recent show from Arbouretum from November 7th in Baltimore at the Talking Head taped by none other than the Baltimore Taper. Other than “Flood of Floods” from Kale, these song are from Song of the Pearl so you can get a listen here first!

B-Sides in the Bins #29 – Boston – Newbury Comics 7/31/08

My last business trip to Boston was happily full of music between seeing Sheryl Crow and getting to run to Newbury Comics before dinner the next night. Thankfully, the restaurant we were going to was just down the street from Newbury Comics. I had hit their website before we went out and they had listed in their Top 100 Vinyl Records sale that Beck’s new album Modern Guilt was on sale as was Endtroducing by DJ Shadow. I was disappointed to find out that these were apparently on-line only, and not in-store. I still picked up a couple of records, though.

Beck – Modern Guilt (LP, DGC Records B0011630-01, 2008) ($14.99) This album just begged to be released on vinyl– from its retro Blue Note-looking sleeve, to the production by Danger Mouse– so I was happy when they announced its release. The record is a hefty 180g slab, and there is a sheet included with lyrics and credits. In addition there is a code to download 320Kbps mp3’s of the album that were ripped from vinyl! I downloaded them promptly and compared them to my other 320Kbps rip from CD. Before the first track “Orphans” you get a needle drop sound and after the last track of side one “Youthless” sound of the needle lifting again. This is repeated for “Walls” and “Volcano” on side two. Cute. The coupon says “This higher quality sound has been taken directly from the vinyl playback — offering a broader sound spectrum to enhance your audio experience.” Well, I don’t know about that. It’s a pretty good rip, but even 320Kbps is compressed. They should have offered .wav’s if they wanted to maintain the fidelity. I read a lot of reviewers complaining about Modern Guilt dismissing it as Beck fronting Gnarls Barkley and other really clever criticisms. This is probably my favorite Beck album next to Sea Change which was another misunderstood Beck album.

Arbouretum/Pontiak – Kale (LP, Thrill Jockey Thrill 201, 2008) ($12.99) This is an interesting release in that the only physical media will be vinyl. Thrill Jockey, consistant with all of their vinyl releases in the last year also includes a coupon for a free mp3 download which is great. BTW: all of the mp3 downloads from the Thrill Jockey store are 320Kbps, so there is someone there who gets it. This is a split release between Arbouretum and Pontiak. This is the third release for both bands. I saw Arbouretum at the Thrill Jockey 15 shows last December and was floored by their live performance and their 2007 release Rites of Uncovering is in regular rotation for me. Both bands try their hand at covering John Cale songs in amongst original songs. Arobouretum tackles “Buffalo Ballet” from Cales very influential and groundbreaking 1974 album Fear. “Buffalo Ballet” is a beautiful song and Arbouretum’s take on it leaves it pretty much in tact other than adding some sludgy distortion goodness to it. (Note to self: go buy Fear) Pontiak takes on two songs “The Endless Plain of Fortune” from Cale’s brilliant Paris 1919 album from 1973 and “Mr. Wilson” from the 1975 follow up to Fear, Slow Dazzle. The original tracks for both bands are great and stand up well against their recent releases. I especially dig the track “Green Pool” from Pontiak in which the slapback echo vocals ride the wave of a circular guitar line and slinky bass to a crest that fits nicely next to their very delicate take on “Mr. Wilson.” “Green Pool” ends waaaay too soon. I hope they jam a bit more than the 3:27 lets them do in a live setting.

I’m still bummed that Pontiak didn’t make their show in Iowa City due to the floods. I’m hoping they’ll be back soon.

Free Downloads: Some Baltimore-related Live Downloads

As I mentioned earlier, Baltimore’s Arbouretum is releasing a split album with new Thrill Jockey signees Pontiak called Kale. The two bands played one show together in Baltimore on June 4th at The Talking Head. I knew about the show, but I didn’t know that the show was taped and available for download via Aural States which is a blog/site dedicated to happenings in the music scene of Baltimore.

Arbouretum headlined and played a set of mostly tracks from Rites, but also included one of the covers from Kale “Buffalo Ballet.” A great set, in my opinion.” Pontiak’s set was also very good and included “Dome Under Sky” from Kale.

The opening act was another side project of Dave Heumann from Arbouretum called Television Hill. Television Hill is more of a throwback folk/blues outfit, but still very good. This set is available from Beatbots which also covers the Baltimore scene.

Big thanks to Jeff the Taper who made these recordings available.

Click Here to stream or download Arbouretum’s set.

Click Here to stream or download Pontiak’s set.

Click Here to stream or download Television Hill’s set.

Aural States is also hosting a live set from Wye Oak from March along with an interview. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to catch the show next weekend with Pontiak and Wye Oak in Iowa City!

Rare Thrill Jockey Vinyl Discovered and Back In Stock

When I was at the Thrill Jockey 15th Anniversary shows back in December Bettina Richards told me that there was a cache of out-of-print Thrill Jockey vinyl that was discovered at their UK location. She said there was some Tortoise available among other titles.

Last Friday Thrill Jockey sent out an e-mail announcing that these titles are in stock and available for order. Some of these are impossibly rare and it’s pretty cool that they are back for a limited time. In addition to the vinyl, there are copies of Tortoise’s The Lazarus Taxon 3 CD / 1 DVD boxset that are priced lower than the original $19 price because they have some slight wear from shipping.

Don’t miss out on getting these, there won’t be another chance like this! The titles are limited to two per customer. The following titles are back:

Arbouretum – Rites of Uncovering – Arbouretum put on a great set at the Anniversary show. I reached out to David Heumann, who is also part of the great instrumental group Human Bell– to purchase a copy. The vinyl for Rites of Uncovering has been out of print for a bit with the only other vinyl in existence available from the band on tour.

Extra Golden – Ok-Oyot System – You’ve read some about Obama’s favorite Benga band on playbsides before. This is the group’s debut release on vinyl and a regular spin of mine from 2006.

Gray Market Goods – Soldier of Fortune / We Live in the Future– This is early Tortoise member Bundy K. Brown’s project from 2003. Apparently sample-based. I’ve not heard anything from it.

Daniel A.I.U. Higgs – Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot – 900 copies available from this solo release from Lungfish member Daniel A.I.U. Higgs.

Nobukazu Takemura – 10th This is one of the eclectic electronic artist’s more notable releases. This album includes “Fallslake” which Tortoise covered for the Plum box set (you can hear Tortoise’s version on their MySpace page currently). A Stereolab-sounding song, I think. update: this is now back out of print… SOLD OUT!

Chicago Underground Duo – In Praise of Shadows This is one I’m interested in picking up. Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor’s project.

Archer Prewitt – Three Archer Prewitt– from the venerable Sea and Cake’s third release, and debut on Thrill Jockey (his previous two LP efforts In The Sun and White Sky were released on Chicago label Carrot Top). Usually known as the silent partner in that band, he kicks his vocal talents to the fore and shows that his Anglophile pop whiles are as worthwhile a listen as Prekop, in my opinion.

Trans Champs – Double Exposure The Trans Champs are a combination of Thrill Jockey artists Trans Am and part of The Fucking Champs. This album was made via sharing tapes between the band.

Tortoise – It’s All Around You Wow, don’t miss out on this! It’s safe to say that this is the only Tortoise vinyl in print. Thrill Jockey is only asking a paltry $11 for this, and recent eBay auctions are creeping into the high $20’s. Update- Out of Stock!

While you’re putting your order together, don’t forget to pick up the amazing Plum 7″ box set— there’s only 50 left! The 15th Anniversary MegaMix by Trey Told ‘Em is still around, too.

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