Saturday, March 26, 2011

Listening Habits 02-03.11

This month’s edition of Listening Habits collects the first batch of 2011 albums that have occupied our time in the first few months of the year plus a couple of 2010 releases that got quite a few spins recently. Add Anna Calvi’s debut to the mix (it was at the top of our previous selection) and you have our new music soundtrack for the first quarter of the year.

We have already discussed the 8th albums for both PJ Harvey and Radiohead here, so this time we’ll start our highlights commentary not with the records at the top of the list, but with the most talked about album of the moment which, of course, is none other than "Angles", the long overdue comeback of The Strokes.

The once tight New York City gang has grown apart in the five years since their last work together and now the vibe we’re getting from the interviews is more of the “stay together for the kids' sake” type. The opening synth-reggae notes of "Machu Picchu" don’t do much to raise our understandably lowered expectations, but the familiar sounding first single "Under Cover Of Darkness" that follows it, takes us back to better times for the band. "Last Nite" it ain’t, but it’s certainly a track that could claim a place in the track list of their seminal debut. The sense that the band is trying to return to its earlier sound is soon dissolved by the failed ’80s new wave-pop of "Two Kinds Of Happiness" and the surprising, first-rate manic rush of "You're So Right" that follow. After its first four tracks both the strengths and weaknesses of "Angles" are becoming apparent; the album, whether by accident (the awkward recording process) or by design, is trying to accommodate way too many disparate influences and the end result is uneven but with enough sparks of brilliance to satisfy the thirst of the devoted fan. This frustrating lack of consistency makes "Angles" The Strokes’ weakest work so far, but as the non-stop spinning of the record this week has proven, there’s still plenty of thrills to be had with our old pals even if the help of the skip button is required this time.

Among the best releases of the last couple of months we also find the fifth album by Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers, the sophomore effort from Swedish siren Lykke Li and the twelfth studio album by art-punk veterans Wire (more about them in our recent live review).

Former Afghan Whigs’ leader Greg Dulli has struck a new creative streak in recent years and after the grunge powerhouse that was "Saturnalia", the album he made in 2008 in collaboration with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins, he is back with the Twilight Singers giving us the amazing "Dynamite Steps", a record that truly lives up to its name, combining explosive rockers like "Waves" or "On The Corner" with dynamic slow-burning numbers like "Get Lucky" or "Gunshots". Guests include Mark Lanegan, Ani DiFranco, Joseph Arthur and The Verve’s guitarist Nick McCabe but make no mistake; "Dynamite Steps" is Greg Dulli’s show and he makes all the right moves to make us relive the glory days of ’90s rock.

Lykke Li’s "Wounded Rhymes" is my definition of a great pop record. In the three years since her promising debut "Youth Novels", Lykke Li has grown into a captivating performer who is able to express in a vulnerable but powerful voice the lows of heartache and unrequited love and exorcise them with magnificently dark pop music that can be at the same time both sad and uplifting. The two excellent singles "Get Some" and "I Follow Rivers" find worthy opponents in "Youth Knows No Pain", "Rich Kids Blues", "Sadness Is A Blessing" and "Jerome" in the competition for best album track in a record where weaknesses are few and far between. The only question that remains unanswered after listening to "Wounded Rhymes" is who would have the heart to turn down the affections of Lykke Li and cause all this heartbreak. Whoever is this man of stone, perhaps we should thank him for inadvertently inspiring Lykke Li to create one of the pop albums of the year!

Top 20 Albums

1.   Let England Shake - P.J. HARVEY
2.   The King Of Limbs - RADIOHEAD
3.   Wounded Rhymes - LYKKE LI
4.   Dynamite Steps - TWILIGHT SINGERS
5.   Red Barked Tree - WIRE
6.   Angles - THE STROKES
7.   The King Is Dead - THE DECEMBERISTS
8.   Kiss Each Other Clean - IRON AND WINE
9.   Collapse Into Now - R.E.M.
10. Yuck - YUCK
11. Violet Cries - ESBEN AND THE WITCH
12. The People's Key - BRIGHT EYES
13. Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes - SOCIAL DISTORTION
15. Rolling Blackouts - THE GO! TEAM
16. Ventriloquizzing - FUJIYA & MIYAGI
17. La Sera - LA SERA
18. Rough Trade Shops Counter Culture 10 - VARIOUS ARTISTS
19. The Inevitable Past Is The Future Forgotten - THREE MILE PILOT
20. False Priest - OF MONTREAL

Top 20 Tracks

1.   The glorious land - P.J. HARVEY
2.   Down by the water - THE DECEMBERISTS
4.   Your fake name is good enough for me - IRON AND WINE
5.   Lotus flower - RADIOHEAD
6.   There is a light that never goes out - DUM DUM GIRLS
7.   I heard you say - VIVIAN GIRLS
8.   Youth knows no pain - LYKKE LI
9.   Uberlin - R.E.M.
10. Under cover of darkness - THE STROKES
11. Moreover - WIRE
12. Holing out - YUCK
13. In youth is pleasure - THE NEAT
15. Warpath - ESBEN & THE WITCH
16. Devils hearts grow gold - LA SERA
17. Buy nothing day - THE GO! TEAM
18. Sixteen shades of black & blue - FUJIYA & MIYAGI
19. Singularity - BRIGHT EYES
20. Alone and forsaken - SOCIAL DISTORTION

PJ Harvey - The Glorious Land

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wild Flag live @ SXSW

We couldn't make it to Austin, TX (a bit too far away from Athens, GR) but we're watching from afar and taking notes! Here's a great video of indie supergroup Wild Flag (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, Helium's Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole from Minders) performing the new track "Romance" at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop during KEXP's broadcast at SXSW. Their highly anticipated album is expected in the fall and here you can read more about Wild Flag's SXSW shows in Austin. Sounds awesome...

Wild Flag - Romance, live on KEXP (March 16, 2011)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wire, live @ Gagarin 205 (Athens, March 13, 2011)

The DNA of all post-punk music and its many variations and mutations over the last 30 years is based on the minimalistic but perfectly formed sonic outbursts that Wire recorded between 1977 and 1979 in their first three immaculate LPs.  The band's influence goes beyond punk, and can be heard in the musical output of numerous acts throughout the years, from R.E.M., Guided By Voices and Blur to The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand to randomly name a few. So even when the members of Wire (Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Gotobed, Bruce Gilbert) occasionally took a few years off to do other things, their music never stopped being as relevant as anything that the latest next big thing had to offer.

34 years on from their seminal debut "Pink Flag", Wire has released its twelfth studio album, the fine "Red Barked Tree" which musically is closer to the band’s more melodic, electronic pop-inclined '80s period, and has gone on the road once again. This time, luckily for us, this road brought them for the first time ever in Athens for a long overdue concert in front of their admittedly not numerous but certainly devoted Greek fans.

The almost 90-minute set kicked off, to my delight, with "Comet", one of the standout tracks off their 2003 "Send" LP, the best work of the band’s more recent output, and continued with the rockin’ "Smash", one of the tracks from the new album. Wire has never been a nostalgia act, so although the audience (myself included) would have loved to listen more tracks from their seminal first period, it was "Red Barked Tree" that formed the backbone of their live set with a total of 8 tracks. The highlight of the new batch was "Moreover" (video below), an art-punk gem as great as anything Wire did back in the '70s, which was actually followed by one of the few tracks that they played from that period, "Two People in a Room" off "154". Not surprisingly, given the new material’s closeness to their '80s sound, it was 1988 LP "A Bell Is a Cup... Until It Is Struck" that got the best representation from their past work with three tracks ("Silk Skin Paws", "Kidney Bingos" and "Boiling Boy"). Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey (aka Gotobed) and touring guitarist Matt Simms left us after two encores with the title track from "Pink Flag", a glorious finale to a set that may have left out an important part of the band’s history but still packed a mighty art-punk punch!

Wire, live@Gagarin 205
It is worth mentioning that the support act for Wire’s first Athenian gig was Victory Collapse, one of the best local post-punk bands, that presented their very promising new material. Let’s hope that the release date of their first album is not too far away!

Victory Collapse, live@ Gagarin 205

Wire - Moreover, live@ Gagarin 205, Athens (March 13, 2011)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

CMC Radio: Blackout

We haven't done it in a while, but I feel it's time for another CMC Radio web-broadcast, the seventh in the series and the first one for 2011. The latest 12-song mixtape has a running time of 49:02 and if we are to believe the genre descriptions given on the artists' MySpace profiles then you're about to listen to an eclectic mix of tango, alternative rock, experimental blues, post punk, gothic grunge, easy listening garage, southern rock, religious glam, electro and minimalistic new wave. In other words some really cool music from mostly new names that came to my attention recently and I believe that they deserve your attention. Click the link below to find the playlist on MySpace and keep on reading this post to find out what's on offer in our seventh mix:

1. Blackout - Anna Calvi

As you may already know, Anna Calvi is one of our favorite new artists of the year, and the title track of our playlist is one of the highlights of her excellent self-titled debut as well as her latest single release. It is out on March 21st and is backed by a cover of the Elvis Presley classic "Surrender".

2. Glass Prayer - Religious To Damn

A very new and exciting discovery; Religious To Damn's debut "Glass Prayer" was  Rough Trade Shops' "Album of the week" this week and as they put it in their newsletter it is "a must hear for fans of Zola Jesus, Siouxise and Fever Ray". I haven't listened to it yet, but both tracks that are available for streaming here are excellent. The title track features an ethereal vocal performance from singer Zohra Atash which brings to mind Cocteau Twins' Elisabeth Fraser while the bass-line sounds like a tribute to Japan's late, great Mick Karn.

3. (Bounce House) Demons - Chelsea Wolfe

An impressive track from Wolfe's blood-chilling album "The Grime and the Glow" released at the end of 2010 on Pendu Sound. A beautiful gothic nightmare.

4. Lick My Fins - Clara Engel

And speaking of beautiful gothic nightmares, here's Clara Engel and one of the standout tracks from her 2009 release "Secret Beasts", an intense, dark folk-blues record with influences ranging from opera to Diamanda Galas. The track is available for free download here, where you'll also be able to stream her quite impressive discography.

5. Philadelphia - Standard Fare

The track that topped 2010's Festive 50 at Dandelion Radio. It's from their 2010 debut "The Noyelle Beat", while here you can check out their brand new single "Suitcase".

6. Belong - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

The title track from the upcoming, highly-anticipated sophomore album from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, which adds a surprising Smashing Pumpkins influence to the mix.

7. Austere - The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable's formidable debut "The Big Roar" offers more evidence that the big rock sound of '90s bands like the Pumpkins is about to make an impressive comeback.

8. White Horse - Cold In Berlin

More '90s influenced gothic grunge-punk from Cold In Berlin who released their debut "Give Me Walls" at the end of last year.

9. Wooden Bones - Follow That Bird

My favorite band from last year's excellent Matador compilation "Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010" offers a new (?) track on their MySpace page and promises a full length some time this year according to their website. Fingers crossed!

10. Stilyagi - Puro Instinct (ft. Ariel Pink)

Puro Instinct are sisters Piper and Skylar Kaplan and this dreamy single featuring Ariel Pink is taken from their recently released debut "Headbangers In Ecstasy". Fun fact: the title "Stilyagi" is Russian and translates to "style hunter" or "hipster". Check out here the brand new video for the song.

11. In 20 Years - Void Vision

For the electro finale of our playlist, two highlights from the excellent "Rough Trade Shops: Synth Wave 10" compilation, notable for their sensual female vocals. Void Vision's offering was originally released as a limited 7" on Blind Prophet in 2010 while Cosmetics' kinky "Black Leather Gloves" comes from the "Soft Skin" 7" which came out the same year on Captured Tracks.

12. Black Leather Gloves - Cosmetics

Bonus track: Religious To Damn's "Drifter" from the album "Glass Prayer" on M'lady's Records - here's the video:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who Took the Bomp?

Watching documentaries is usually not as fan as going to a gig, but given that Le Tigre is currently on hiatus, the upcoming DVD "Who Took the Bomp?: Le Tigre On Tour" by Kerthy Fix (who also directed "Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields") is the closest thing we have to the Le Tigre live experience nowadays. As we've read here, the film documents the band's 2004 world tour. That's a year before we had the opportunity to catch the band live here in Athens in an unforgettably fun and eventful summer night at Bios in June 2005. Go here to read Le Tigre's memories from their Athens visit and check out below a clip of  the band playing their classic "Deceptacon" from the new documentary:

Le Tigre - Deceptacon

And to round out the Kathleen Hanna experience, here's the video for the killer Bikini Kill tune "Rebel Girl":

Bikini Kill - Rebel Girl

1980: Top 50 Singles

With the unveiling of our "Best Albums of the '00s" list last month in Cool Music Database, we have finally completed the project of presenting all of our top albums lists from the last three decades. Starting today, a new series of posts begins in C.M.D. and the focus this time is on the singles. Click here to check out our 50 favorites from 1980 led by the first UK No.1 chart single for The Jam, the mighty blast that is "Going Underground", a track that still resonates with the same urgency 31 years later (it was originally released on March 10, 1980). 

Better still; hit play on the widget below to stream our full 1980's Top 50 - this is Radio C.M.C.!


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Arctic Monkeys vs. The Strokes

The super sounds of the '70s: The new Arctic Monkeys track goes for a heavy, glam rock vibe, while The Strokes return to the lean punk grooves of their early sound with added '70s rock radio melodies. It's a good intro to both bands' latest material, but we'll have to wait for the albums to see if they can recapture the glories of last decade.

Arctic Monkeys - Brick By Brick

The Strokes - Under Cover Of Darkness