Thursday, April 30, 2009

Doves - Kingdom of Rust

The other day I came across the review of Doves’ new album, “Kingdom of Rust,” in an unlikely place: Rolling Stone. You might think it quite surprising that I was looking inside a Rolling Stone in the first place, but even more surprising was the fact that Rolling Stone were bothered to write even a short piece about Doves, a band from the UK that hardly cause a ripple over here. Soon I understood though – it was an opportunity to open with the following byline: “UK trio create epic tunes about (what else?) boring UK.”

What can I say about this kind of thoughtful journalism, but try and write a little about the Doves album that reaches past the merely trite…

I have to work hard not to be swept away by “Kingdom of Rust.” Doves make me melancholy. Their music is moving, but I must confess there is something more particular about my sadness in this case. Doves are from my long-lost hometown of Manchester (UK!), so I’m not claiming journalistic objectivity this time around, but then again, I don’t think I’m completely off the mark when I say that “Kingdom of Rust” is a really warm, engaging album. Doves’ bass driven song construction, mixed with Jimi Goodwin's vocals, create tracks that are much less elaborate then their hometown counterparts Elbow, but remain capable of being similarly ‘epic’ – here, at least, the Rolling Stone piece has some value.

Tracks like “10.03” are an achievement the band should be really proud of, building to a frenzy you might not expect from their commonly seen malaise. “Compulsion” too, shows that Doves have some swagger in them too, along with all the poetry.

Doves are definitely a band worth checking out, if you can stomach all the ‘boring UK’ associations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TONIGHT! The first RSL music showscase of the year.

Please join all of us at Ryan's Smashing Life tonight at Great Scott in Allston, for our first showcase of the year. We are featuring four great bands for a princely sum of $8.

Show your support for independent music! See you down there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

PJ Harvey and John Parish's "A woman a man walked by"

Let me give some context for what I’m about to say about PJ Harvey and John Parish’s new album, “A Woman a Man Walked by”…

I am a PJ Harvey obsessive. Her last CD, ‘White Chalk’ easily made the top of my best albums list for 2007. It was the kind of record which made me want to go and spend a couple of thousand dollars on a piano (which I can’t play) and spend the next year trying to write even a single line a haunting as those she had put down. The list of great work from PJ Harvey doesn’t end there. Who can forget albums like “Is this desire?,” with its vicious industrial scrawl, or the exquisite “Songs from the City, Songs from the Sea.” Just in case I haven’t made my point, perhaps I can introduce my cats: tabby female “Polly Jean” and long haired ginger female “Harvey.” Yes, when I fixate…

So it’s a sad day when I come to “A Woman a Man Walked by” and have to admit that it has some serious problems. There are some dubious lyrical choices. The lyrics to “April” seem surprisingly prosaic, for example. “Pig Will Not” ends with Harvey shouting “I will not” again and again, and makes you wonder if she really has anything to say this time around.

There are still some great, moving, tracks, like “Passionless, Pointless” and “Leaving California,” but the overall album is very uneven. I’m a little more bitter at this because the single, “Black Hearted Love” is deceptively like an excellent track from “Songs from the City…,” so it raised my hopes that this might be the best new release of the year from an established act. That accolade still goes to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs right now (perhaps until Maximo Park next month?). Meanwhile I’m sad to say Harvey needs to rethink things a little, if she’s to produce the great new music I know she is still capable of.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion - "The Spire" by my band, Wring.

I simple can't resist telling you about a big development in my own musical life this week, after months of writing about other people's CDs. My band, Wring, has just released our first EP, "The Spire." You can get the EP, FREE, through our website,

"The Spire" is a little over fifteen minutes of music that I've been working on with my friend Art Baron for more than a year. I've also had help from good friends, and I want to acknowledge their great work: Thank you Stephanie Tyburski, Kevin Herlin, and Josh Olivier Mason. I also want to thank Jill for all her work on the website build and photography. Thanks too go to Colin Sapp for mastering the EP.

I'll leave the reviews to you, while I get started on the next one...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tom Thumb and Leonard Mynx at TTs, Monday!

It’s a Sunday, and I know how you feel. But tomorrow doesn’t need to be just the beginning of another grey week working in the city, because you can take my advice and head out to TT the Bear’s Place for a night of really great (not to mention cheap) entertainment from none other than Tom Thumb (who produced one of RSL's top albums of 2008!), along with a rising star who has traveled all the way from Oregon just for you: Leonard Mynx.

Tom Thumb should need no introduction at this point – he’s simply one of the best to come from Boston in the last couple of years, and his folk tracks are a mix of euphoric and poignant at one and the same time.

Mynx has a little darker tone, brooding on tracks like “Valley of Sickness and Death” and “Mary.” He sings elegant and beautiful music which can carry you with densely woven lines like “In the grave yard, below the Ferris wheel/ The stranger takes his pose/ Out across the barren field/ Mary gave a rose to a ghost.”

This show will definitely be worth your time tomorrow night – don’t miss out on either of these great folk artists.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Super Furry Animal's "Dark Days, Light Years"

A little while ago I wrote about the Fleet Foxes, and I had some problems with their generally lovely sound. It was too close to the sources it was taken from, so you wondered, despite its beauty, why you shouldn’t just listen to the originals. Now I’m going to put my head on the block again, and argue that another album that is at least as beautiful, and is borne of some old music too, is worth treating in quite a different way.

The Super Furry Animals’ “Dark Days, Light Years” comes from a really idiosyncratic musical world. I have been a fan of this band for more than ten years, and I’ve seen them produce folk, punk, massive prog rock and hard electronica. This new album, as much of any of its eight predecessors (! – yes, a band you’ve been missing out on!), gives you a strange sensation from the beginning. It makes you feel like you can hear where it came from – perhaps 70s disco at times, or 80s hair metal, or psychedelia - but you can’t for the life of you get back there. It’s a crazed concoction all their own.

SFA are a band who play complex, moving music while holding the slightest of wry smiles as they do it. My brother-in-law listened to the opening track (“Crazy Naked Girls”) with me recently, and seemed slightly irritated by that smile. He felt the outlandish humor of it was contrived, because the huge shredding guitar solos that run through it were really compelling, but SFA were too cool to admit it.

Perhaps that’s true, but I think it’s fair to say that SFA never smirk at us as they play. The humor is offset by the beauty of the harmonies on a track like “Moped Eyed,” or the swirling eight-minute build of tracks like “Cardiff in the Sun,” which is too euphoric to be just a joke. They are serious about music, but they know that without the humor, they would quickly become way too serious to be digestible by the rest of us.

Let me say that “Dark Day, Light Years” is certainly not SFA’s best. That would have to go to either “Guerilla” (1999) or “Phantom Power” (2003). But there is no average work from this band, just as there is no average sound from any album they make.