Tag Archive for 'Isotope 217'

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 10 Albums of 2011

Here we are in the final month of 2011 and it is time for the Top lists. I started this last year for the first time, and I think it was a pretty good exercise. 2011 for me personally was a time of change– I was laid off from a job I had for over 13 years and spent most of 2011 unemployed. As I write this, I’m happily employed, though I’m having to deal with the fallout of being unemployed for so long.

If it wasn’t for the friends and contacts I made through this blog, the time I spent unemployed would have been unbearable. As people found out about my family’s situation, they reached out with concern, help and well-wishes. Frankly, writing for this blog and the other places I sometimes contribute gave me a much-needed distraction as I experienced first-hand the employment conditions and lack of hiring in the U.S. It seems like things are turning around, but we are far from recovery, I’m afraid.

So, I look at this list of albums as being kind of a soundtrack for my unemployment– sometimes expressing hope, sometimes expressing despair, but 2011 was a good year for music. As 2012 brings new hope and opportunity for me, I look forward to bringing my music blog into its sixth year.

While there were a lot of notable releases in 2011, these are the ones that spent the most time in rotation for me– had more staying power.

1. Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon – M.C. Taylor’s post Court & Spark band makes my list for the second year running– Poor Moon is a full-band companion-piece to last year’s Bad Debt in that they share a few songs. You can read my summary and review here. Mike’s in the running for 2012, too, as he has started work on his next album already!

2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver – Like last year’s The Suburbs from Arcade Fire, this is an album that will make a lot of 2011 “Top” lists. Already the album has been nominated for a few Grammys. I was not a fan of the first album from Justin Vernon, but this album quickly has found a seat in my regular rotation and gets played often at my house. The fact that it shares common DNA with the brilliant album from Eau Claire-Minneapolis supergroup GAYNGS helps, too.

3. Pieta Brown – Mercury – With a boost of moral support from her new label home Red House Records and continued support from her musical family and friends, Pieta Brown has created what is her best recorded statement to date. I wrote a review of Mercury for Little Village here.

4. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire – In some regards this album can be heralded as the triumphant return for Ryan Adams whose last new studio effort was 2008’s swansong for Lost Highway as a label and The Cardinals as a band, Cardinology. Life has changed pretty dramatically for Ryan who seems to have embraced his life and career with new perspective. Ashes & Fire is a return to the simpler sound of Easy Tiger— arguably a sound he has refined and polished. For a guy whose love of metal and punk are public record, he has the ability to make some of the most beautiful folk-rock-country songs this side of Neil Young. He is on a sold-out solo acoustic tour at the moment as he re-familiarizes himself with his legacy and live performing in general. I hope he gets the itch to bring a band on the road with him in the near future.

5. Dawes – Nothing Is WrongDawes is back and their sophomore release is even more confident than their first album, Taylor Goldsmith is embracing his role as lead guitarist and this album features some very polished guitarwork. In 2011 we saw more of the indie space contributing videos to VH1’s Top 20 and Dawes spent a week or two with “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” I think that the almost-universal embrace of Dawes’ own spin on 70’s singer-songwriter classic rock is showing that people are looking for strong melodies and honesty in the face of mostly manufactured pop music. The songs for Nothing Is Wrong got a lot of mileage on the road, many songs were familiar to dedicated fans like me, it will be interesting to see what the next songs will be like. I don’t expect any dramatic change in the band, but I would like to see some envelope pushing– maybe a change in production.

6. Kelly Pardekooper – YonderKelly cut his songwriting teeth here in Eastern Iowa writing and recording his first five albums while he lived here. A brief jump to Wisconsin and a permanent displacement to the yonder of L.A. seemed to silence the songwriter, but after some recognition by the new tastemakers that assemble soundtracks for TV shows he was kickstarted to record his most Iowa-sounding release to date with Bo Ramsey and a band of Backslider regulars. Relased in the fourth quarter of 2011, I’m hoping the album gets some legs in 2012 before returning to the lockers.

7. Canasta – The Fakeout The Tease and the Breather – Technically this release from Chicago band Canasta came out late in 2010, but I heard it in February when they made a stop in Iowa City.  This quote from my article for Little Village says it all, “There nestled in the extensive list of influences is what appears to be the nearly 30 years of my record collection. While this list seems impossibly diverse on paper, the thing that unifies all of these artists is a strong knack for melody and composition that Canasta brings in spades.” Watch their great video for “Mexico City” here.

8. Chicago Odense Ensemble – self-titled – This album– a meeting of members of Tortoise and Isotope 217 and Causa Sui– had been announced for months before it was eventually released this year by French label AdLuna. A sliced and diced approach to assembling a record from hours of improvisational recording by the group a la In A Silent Way resulted in a beautiful record with gorgeous packaging to match. You can read my article about the release here.

9. Kerosene Circuit – self titled EP – This was an EP that really reached out of the stereo and shook me. Rockin’, diesel-powered bar chords. You can read my review for Little Village here.

10. The 4onthefloor – 4×4 – Minneapolis stompin’ bar-blues band The 4onthefloor may seem on paper to be tied to a schtick with each member of the band playing a kickdrum on stage, but the formula of 4/4 time heavy blues is one that works. Lead singer Gabe Douglas transforms to the on-stage personae of the possessed while riding the chugging rhythm provided by the rest of the band. The album captures a lot of this live energy, but catch them live if you can.

(Upcoming Release) Calexico Maps Alternate History in “Road Atlas” Vinyl Box Set Out 11/22/11

 

The dusty desert highway of Tuscon-native band Calexico’s 15-year career is dotted with a notable collection of passionate Latin infused Americana (for lack of another general category to place them). While the band may not be familiar to most, their music shows up in many places– from interstitial music in NPR to movie soundtracks and in their many collaborations (including one fantastic album with The Iron and Wine). If only for these works, Calexico will stand as one of the important and influential American bands.

Along this same highway of releases are the roadside attractions of Calexico’s self-released albums. These generally “tour-only” albums were released under Calexico’s own imprint Our Soil, Our Strength and served sometimes as a clearing house of studio demos and projects that didn’t make it to other albums, live albums or other experiments. Ironically, maybe, it was through one of these albums that I was first exposed to Calexico. Someone posted the instrumental collection Travelall as mp3’s on the internet newsgroup alt.binaries.sounds.mp3 which left me initially of the opinion that Calexico was an instrumental post-rock similar to Tortoise. (I didn’t know it at the time, but Travelall has Thrill Jockey artists Rob Mazurek (Isotope 217, Chicago Underground), Doug McCombs (Tortoise, Brokeback, etc.), and Noel Kupersmith (Brokeback, Chicago Underground Quartet) on it which lends some weight to that idea).

This misconception was quickly dismissed with the 2006 release of Garden Ruin which quickly made me a fan of the band and motivated me to get all of their albums, including the tour-only releases which were all limited releases and quickly fell out of print, so I had to resort to Amazon and eBay to track the ones down I couldn’t get from the band’s website and from the band during the Garden Ruin tour. All of these releases are essential to the fan of Calexico, as they provide valuable insight to the band’s creative workouts. Not forced into an album format that would have appeal to a more casual listener, we are treated to a much richer view into the true heart of the band which include an audio treasure trove of atmospheric instrumentals, audio experiments, home demos, live performances, one-off collaborations and outtakes.

After the announcement of Touch and Go/Quarterstick records– Calexico’s US label– in early 2009 that they would stop distribution of albums for a while I was concerned about the future of the band’s releases. The label managed to squeak the brilliant Carried to Dust in 2008, but that wasn’t the last release from the band– they put out the live album Live at Ancienne Belgique in 2009 on their own label, and produced the soundtracks to the documentary Circo, and the soundtrack to Don Cheadle-Brendan Gleeson Irish crime flick The Guard.

So, you can imagine my excitement hearing that Calexico is releasing a vinyl box set titled Road Atlas 1998-2011. Encased in a cloth hardbound box and limited to 1,100 hand-numbered sets, Road Atlas 1998-2011 collects the tour-only releases, plus the aforementioned live release and the Circo soundtrack as well as a 40-page book by music journalist Fred Mills. In addition to the 12-LP’s, the box will include mp3-downloads of all the tracks, PLUS BONUS other unreleased music not found on the LP’s or the band’s regular releases! Here is the breakdown:

ROAD ATLAS 1998-2011
Limited Edition Hand Numbered 12 LP vinyl boxset of Calexico’s tour only CDs
Includes:
98-99 Road Map LP (originally released on CD 1999)
Travelall LP (originally released on CD 2000)
Aerocalexico 2xLP (originally released on CD 2001)
Scraping 2xLP (originally released on CD 2002)
The Book And The Canal 2xLP (originally released on CD 2005)
Toolbox LP (originally released on CD 2007)
Ancienne Belgique-Live in Brussels 2008 2xLP (originally released on CD 2008)
Circo- A Soundtrack By Calexico LP (originally released on CD 2010)
MP3 download codes for all the albums
MP3 download code for previously unreleased Calexico tracks
A 40-page perfect bound book of photos, handwritten notes, and extensive liner notes
A heavy duty, linen wrapped, screen-printed slip case to house it all!

Priced at around $130, the box will be available via the band’s website, Touch and Go, Amazon and Insound.com. For those that don’t want to drop that kind of cash, there is also a great compilation CD of tracks from the box available as well.

I created a special 32-minute mix of tracks from the box to get you in the mood including these tracks:

“Hushabye” from Aerocalexico
“Ghost Writer” from The Book and the Canal
“Waitomo” from Toolbox
“Escrito En La Piedra” from Circo
“Two Silver Trees” from Anceinne Belgique – Live in Brussels 2008
“Dona Lupe” from Circo
“Chachaca” from Travelall
“Griptape” from The Book and the Canal
“Wind Up Bird” from Scraping
“Glowing Heart of the World” from 98-99 Road Map

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD ROAD ATLAS MIX – A MIX BY PLAYBSIDES.COM

Upcoming Release: Mazurek’s Starlicker Trio Brings “Double Demon” on 5/17/11 and Tour

On a snowy night in January I had an opportunity to see Rob Mazurek’s newest band in an incredibly intimate setting at Monk’s Kaffee Pub in Dubuque, IA of all places. Starlicker is a trio made up of cornet player Mazurek, Jason Adasiewicz on vibes and John Herndon on drums. The trio played a dynamic set of improvised jazz punctuated by frenetic and muscular solos by each. I had my appetite whetted for their eventual release titled Double Demon, which is due out on 5/17 on seminal jazz and blues label Delmark.

Starlicker Live at Monk's Koffee Pub

Double Demon represents another title in Delmark’s recent re-entry into the world of vinyl– Mazurek’s last release with his band Exploding Star Orchestra (of which Adasiewicz and Herndon are also members) Stars Have Shapes was part of Delmark’s first two releases, so it’s clear that they want to take advantage of Mazurek’s following, who may know of him from his Thrill Jockey releases as Chicago Underground and Isotope 217.

In conjunction with the release, the trio is heading out for a few dates in the Midwest and East Coast in May, with another stop in Dubuque on May 20th for Dubuquefest– a free arts festival.

Double Demon Tracklisting:
1. Double Demon (6:13)
2. Vodou Cinque (6:22)
3. Orange Blossom (4:07)
4. Andromeda (5:40)
5. Triple Hex (9:22)
6. Skull Cave (6:33)

Here is some video I shot at Monk’s of an unreleased (or possibly renamed?) track called “Horseshoes”

I also recorded the full show with my handheld recorder and Rob gave me permission to post a track. This is an mp3 of “Triple Hex” live at Monk’s Kaffee Pub, January 18, 2011.

Triple Hex Live at Monk’s Kaffee Pub 1-18-11


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.

Members of Tortoise, Isotope 217 & Causa Sui to Release Chicago Odense Ensemble

AdLuna Records is a label I’ve been following for a little while due to their ties with Thrill Jockey artists. AdLuna is a boutique-ish label out of France which has a penchant for free jazz and funk (well, and one folk release). They released their first three releases in 2008. Due to the low volume of releases from the label, they are able to focus on the packaging of the releases. All three CD releases are in a unique 5.5″ x 7.75″ book style cover– printed on high-quality card stock with a matte finish. In the case of Rob Mazurek’s Abstractions on Robert D’Arbrissel (AR001CD) release, there was a 10-page full-color booklet included in the cover. In the case of Doug Scharin’s project Activities of Dust, whose sidemen included Jeff Parker (Tortoise), Bill Laswell and Bernie Worrell, in addition to the CD of their release A New Mind (AR003CDDVD), a DVD titled “Return to the Original Matrix” which was produced by Doug Scharin.

Last week AdLuna announced that their next release would be an album from Chicago Odense Ensemble. Chicago Odense Ensemble is a group made up of Rob Mazurek (Chicago Underground, Isotope 217, Exploding Star Orchestra), Jeff Parker (Tortoise, Isotope 217, Exploding Star Orchestra), Dan Bitney (Tortoise, Isotope 217), Matt Lux (Isotope 217, Exploding Star Orchestra), Brian Keigher (aka DJ Warp), Jonas Munk (Causa Sui, Manual) and Jakob Skott (Causa Sui). Evidently derives its name from the fact that Mazurek, Parker, Bitney, Lux and Keigher all call Chicago home and Causa Sui members Skott and Munk are from Odense, Denmark.

I was not aware of Causa Sui until I heard about this release so I checked them out. They are spacy-stoner rockish instrumental group. Kind of Doors-meets-Hawkwind, I suppose. I’ve been listening to it quite a bit in the last week, and the influence of Causa Sui should make for a really great release! From the press release is a quote from Jonas Munk, “The closest reference for this kind of music is probably early-1970’s proto-fusion jazz that strived for a similar synthesis of jazz improvisation, psychedelic rock, Eastern and African sounds and the use of the studio as a musical tool instead of merely a recording facility.”

The release, which doesn’t have a date yet, will come out in CD and 2 180g LP versions as well as digital download. AdLuna sent me some pictures of the proposed packaging which they are still formalizing. I also included the pretty cool teaser trailer for the release.

Stay tuned for more details as they come.

Click Here for AdLuna Records which will release Chicago Odense Ensemble this year.

Click Here for Chicago Odense Ensemble’s MySpace Page.

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