Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Shins : Port of Morrow

The Shins will leave you with questions. Why does frontman James Mercer sing with a British accent? What is a “goathead tune?” Will the Shins be the Shins after a five-year silence and major personnel changes? With regard to the first two, we may never know. However, after the release of their latest album, Port of Morrow, we can give that last question a confident “Yes.”

While the album has fewer of those little sonic flourishes– the beeps, buzzes, and shimmers– that made 2006’s Wincing the Night Away so wonderfully weird, Port of Morrow speaks to a comfortable maturation.

In the five years between albums, Mercer most notably teamed up with producer Brian Burton on one of the most buzzed about projects of 2010, Broken Bells.

With Broken Bells, we got to listen in on some other planet’s indie rock scene. Though, underneath the mellotron and synth, the sounds of the Shins was bleeding through. It was obvious that Mercer’s strong and distinctive style is the group’s lifeblood, regardless of drummer.

One of best examples of that is the new album’s first single, “Simple Song,” which has classic charging, Shins hookiness, but is more grounded than previous works. Take the line “I know things can really get rough when you go it alone.” It’s miraculously intelligible.

Another marker of growth is “40 Mark Strasse,” which showcases Mercer’s ghostly whistling and tableaux of moderate suburban malaise, but also a bolder, swelling, 80s-tinged chorus. This time around, their Brit pop bounce has been replaced with a subtle 80s sheen.

The only new question Port of Morrow leaves is whether that thing on the cover is a llama or Donnie Darko.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tallest Man on Earth Readies New Album

I'm a little disappointed the typeface isn't Helvetica.
If you're fond of the gravelly tones of the Tallest Man on Earth, you'll be happy to know Kristian Matsson is at work on a brand new album called There's No Leaving Now. It's slated for release June 12, so add that to your calendar of must-buy impending releases. Personally, I am interested in hearing "1994," because if I had to write a song about that year it would probably be about tire swings and Play-do that smells like mint.

Here's the track listing.

01 : To Just Grow Away
02 : Revelation Blues
03 : Leading Me Now
04 :1994
05 : Bright Lanterns
06 : There’s No Leaving Now
07 : Wind and Walls
08 : Little Brother
09 : Criminals
10 : On Every Page

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flight Notes: Tunes for the Traveler

Syracuse airport or bowling alley?
I'm a big believer in mix(tapes) as an art form. They're fascinating. Everyone has a philosophy on how to make one, whether it's leaning more on theme or sound. I prefer the latter. My goal is to put together a group of songs that compliment each other, take you through a mood arc of sorts and get you home in about 35 minutes. And if I've worked hard enough, you won't know 85% of the tracks.

Some folks just like to throw together some good stuff. End of story. I still can't decide whether it's better to give or receive.

In any case, about a month ago I diverged from my mixtape-making habits and started work on a collection of songs about traveling since at last count,  I've been on 17 different planes in the past 8 months. Plus, I read Walter Kirn's 2001 Up In the Air, which became the George Clooney movie in 2009. My excessive flying gave me a new appreciation for the topic and the nomadic protagonist. There's a certain amount of melancholy in mixed in with all that circulated air.

After testing driving this mix (or maybe I should just call it a playlist) for a few weeks, I'm satisfied. On a related noted, playlists and mix cds do wonders for making my daily bus ride palatable.

Anyhoodle, here's the link to "Flight Notes: Tunes for the Traveler" on Spotify. And if you've got your own mixtape philosophy, do share.

Four Eyes and Six Strings

Two Saturdays ago, I was sitting in a dark room in my parents' house, playing my dad's guitar with my eyes closed.

It was just about the only thing I could think to do that wouldn't involve me looking at something. That probably seems like a weird reason to do anything, but lately I've been battling bad headaches brought on by eyes that don't quite work the way they used to. (And you were thinking I'd gone all emo on you.) Mercifully, a pair of glasses have fixed my problems, but the first few days I had them, I was desperately doing all I could to give my eyes a rest– no Hulu, no school work, no blogging, no magazines, no books.

For someone like me, that really doesn't leave much else to do, and my desire to keep the headaches at bay outweighs my desire to ramble about who's streaming The Shins album.

But back to the guitar, I'm not particularly gifted, but I'm still grateful I taught myself to play. It's friend and a stabilizer, and most of all, it's doesn't glow. The music that comes out of it does so independently from mouse clicks.

Anyway, please accept the above song. It's "Turn Off This Song And Go Outside" by the Lonely Forest, which is a band from Washington. They released their third album Arrows in 2011 on Chris Walla's label Trans.  A friend introduced me to this earnest little tune and I think it's good advice.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So You're Not at SXSW

We know you'd rather be in Austin, TX right now gearing up for an intense week of show hopping, but alas. You are not. Happily, in this ultra connected age of the internets, there's a way to still get in on some of the South By action without leaving comfort of your desk chair. Behold:

+ NPR is streaming both audio and video March 14 and 15. Especially cool is their showcase on the 14th from Stubb's featuring Andrew Bird, Alabama Shakes, Dan Deacon and Sharon Van Etten. For more details on this and other shows, check out the the NPR Music site. 

+ As an add on to that, don't foret about NPR's All Songs Considered late night dispatches from the festival. Always entertaining. 

+ Paste Magazine is offering a 32-song SXSW sampler with a bonus issue of their mPlayer. 

+ The festival itself is introducing SXSWfm this year. It's a streaming music player online with four channels covering multiple genres from Americana, to rock, electronica and indie pop. 

So, there you have it. TMI will update if anything else pops up. Happy festival-going. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shins Round Up

They put themselves away for five years and now they're everywhere.

+ Wednesday NPR is streaming an exclusive concert on their iPad app. Thankfully, they realize not everyone has an iPad. You can watch the show on their site.

+ The Shins also turned up on the way unfunny Funny or Die sketch "Clapping Butter."

+ Finally, they'll take on the fantastically bad sound set up at SNL this week. Jonah Hill is hosting, so the Shins might just be the best part of the episode.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dent May Readies New Album

Dent May. That dear little man. If you're still caught up in the magic that was 2009's Dent May and His Magnificent Ukelele, get ready for round two. May announced his sophomore album Do Things will be released June 12, and apparently features no ukelele. Mind blowing. Also mind blowing? This line from his press release about how the album is "somewhere between ‘60s psychedelia and disco-era balladry in the vein of Ashford and Simpson."