Friday, October 31, 2014

"Everybody" -- Bonfire John

Happy Halloween!

Here's a single from Bonfire John's latest album, College. Bonfire John is based in Indiana and signed to Tree Machine records. The song feels warm and relaxed, like the Midwestern summer this song was written in. Enjoy!

You can check out the rest of the album at Bandcamp.

Bonfire John -- Facebook, Bandcamp, Tree Machine Records

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ruff Talons -- CRUSHED

A few weeks ago, when I first heard this album, I would have said something like "It's like Sleater-Kinney rising from the ashes!"

Except that happened. (Oh, and guess who has tickets for one of their FEW US dates? Me. And guess who did a bizarre little happy dance to the amusement and bemusement of the students hanging out in my room when I managed to buy them? Probably somebody else too but also me.)

So this is pretty much anything you could ask for in a punk rock album: fun, spunky, energetic, catchy. These guys are Canadian but maybe they'll venture south of the border soon.

Ruff Talons -- Bandcamp

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Modern Folk -- American Mountain

j moss is doing a really cool thing over at In case you haven't checked out the site, moss posts any and all submissions as long as the artists is independent. In other words, he's way less selective than I am but always posts consistently great music. moss makes music of his own, as well. Here's some more of his bedroom folk.

Most of the songs on this album are traditional, though you'd be hard pressed to tell which is which (except for the last track, "Nightmares," which has more of a garage rock feel.) My personal favorite is "The Mountain." While it's not exactly my favorite song to listen to, it's definitely the most interesting on this album: moss combines his fascination with traditional music and minimalist shoegaze to astounding effect. American Mountain is a cool artifact of indie music and the directions Americana music has been expanding into. That is, after all, what moss's blog is all about.

The Modern Folk -- Blog, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

NQ Arbuckle -- The Future Happens Anyway

If M. Lockwood Porter made me decide to breakup with my most recent person, then NQ Arbuckle's the one who planted the seed of the idea. (So thanks or maybe not? But actually, thanks.)

I almost didn't write the review. This album is damnably hard to find online through legal channels. It's not that I didn't want to buy it -- I just wasn't sure how I could get sample tracks up here. But when I finally got my ears on it, I fell incontrovertibly in love (perhaps there's only room in my heart for girls or sad songs) and knew that you, dear reader, needed to fall in love, too. Arbuckle's warm earthiness will tug at your heart strings whether you're feeling contemplative, sad, or thrilled to be alive.

Overall, though, The Future Happens Anyway has melancholy in spades (as if you couldn't tell from the title.) The opening track, "Gravity," encapsulates the rest of the album: Arbuckle's warm, earthy voice envelopes you in familiar country rock chord progressions and astute, literary songwriting. "Hospitals" became my favorite song on the album -- if it's about what I think it's about, it echoes exactly what I wanted to say to a friend of mine recently but couldn't find the words for. More importantly, it's an unabashed celebration of live in an album that's mostly about its little disappointments. It's the anthem you should have on your permanent playlist.

As for the song that made me think about breaking it off? That was "Hot Shot":

I think of you like fire
You're a patio smoker [what is that?]
You're hotter than laughter
You're all that I fear
And everything I'm after

Seems to me like if you're with someone whom you don't feel that way about (or they don't feel that way about you), it's time to queue up "I Know You're Gonna Leave Me"

NQ Arbuckle -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Six Shooter Records

Monday, October 27, 2014

Michael Leonard Witham -- A Scandal in the Violets

I'm finally back and hopefully I won't have to see the inside of another hospital for a good, long time.

I've been sitting on my hands to tell you about Michael Leonard Witham's debut since I first listened to in August. A Scandal in the Violets is the kind of album that made me want to write this blog in the first place.

Witham's voice and songwriting style is reminiscent of Michah Schnabel's solo work ("Sorry Girl But the Show is Over" could easily have come from his pen.) However, Witham is a rougher around the edges than Schnabel, which is not a bad thing. Instead of drawing self-conscious inspiration from other literary works, Witham's songwriting is much more direct -- which is to say, it's gut-punchingly honest.

Comparisons aside, though, Witham absolutely stands on his own. This is folk punk at its best, stately music and rough-hewn themes, simple melodies and vivid lyrics. This is the magical sweet spot so many (and believe me, there are many) strive for but never quite achieve. Witham's got staying power and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Michael Leonard Witham -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Friday, October 24, 2014

VIDEO: "Mexico" -- Emily Mure

And in what is hopefully the last of my video odyssey for a while, here's Emily Mure's enchanting cover of Cake's "Mexico":

Emily Mure -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blog Alert: Chicago Acoustic Underground

Due to some real life stuff, I haven't had a chance to write a review in a while. While you're waiting, check out Chicago Acoustic Underground. They offer a vast array of some of Chicago's finest singer-songwriters. This week, they're featuring Mendeleyev.

Chicago Acoustic Underground -- Official

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

VIDEO: Common Shiner -- Social Mediasochist

I'm back from the dead! And just in time to give you Common Shiner's latest Halloween-appropriate teen slasher romantic comedy video.

I fell in love with Common Shiner's first album a about a year ago. At the time, I said they were easy on the ears but way too smart to sell out. "Social Mediasochist" is on that debut album. The video proves the band's ethos -- gentle, self-aware, and damn funny. If you like what you hear, check out their work below.

Common Shiner -- Bandcamp, Facebook, Free EP on Noisetrade

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

M. Lockwood Porter -- 27

I've been playing the living fuck out of M. Lockwood Porter's 27. He shared a private Soundcloud playlist with "the media" last week and, based on the play counts, I can tell I'm not the only one.

Let me explain to you how powerful this album is: the first song inspired me to break up with the person I was seeing. I could tell she wasn't going to stick around, so after listening to "I Know You're Gonna Leave Me" and crying hysterically, I worked up the courage (for like a week) and did the deed.

27 has a fuzzier, rock'n'roll feel than Porter's debut album Judah's Gone. While Judah's Gone was certainly a more lonesome album, 27 crashes its way through breakups, lust, contentment, cynicism, and nostalgia. Apparently Porter's got a year on me, so maybe I'll feel a little bit darker than I currently do. I've got some great music (probably one of the best albums of the year) to accompany me in the meantime.

M. Lockwood Porter -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

JAPAN 2014: Gui Gui Sui Sui

As it turned out, the oft-lauded Gui Gui Sui Sui had a concert in Tokyo during my last night in Japan. It's amazing to think that a Yank and a Brit could travel halfway around the planet just to see each other, but such is the power of the Internet. The concert was in a little expat bar called Gamuso, which looks like this:

When I told my Tokyoite friends that the bar was in a neighborhood called Asagaya, they just laughed at me. Apparently it's a neighborhood of old people. And then this punk bar.

I have to say that, overall, you might as well skip Tokyo unless Gui Gui Sui Sui is playing. The city itself is rubbish, and that's not me being a snobby New Yorker. It's me being a snobby New Yorker who got stranded because I couldn't navigate Tokyo's five different transit systems, all of which stop running at separate times (addendum: all of which stop running), and then had to figure out how to get back to my hostel when it was 90 degrees at 1 AM and literally every single person I spoke to was extremely hostile.

There must be people who visit America and hate New York City but love everything else. That's how I feel about Japan.

With that being said, Gui Gui Sui Sui (aka Dann) is a perfect gentleman. He came to his show all dressed up:

And he even shared his toys:

Another attendee taking a stab at Gui Gui Sui Sui's skateboard bo diddley
Dann's gotta be well over 6 feet tall, and he's totally ripped. The sight of the guy jumping from the stage, wailing on his guitar, rolling on the floor while shredding, etc. etc. would have been unsettling on it's own, but the skull mask and cape added a bit of danger to the whole thing. ("Guiguisuisui" means "hungry ghost.")

A Guiguisuisui show is definitely an experience -- if you've listened to his music you know it's raw. Seeing it in person is primal. This must be what music was like in the Neolithic Age: sacred, confusing, and a little bit scary, reverberating around a tiny dark space. Maybe one day Dann will wash up on our shores. But if you're reading this from Southeast Asia, take a peek at Guiguisuisui's tour schedule. It's absolutely worth putting up with Kafka-esque transit systems the journey.

Guiguisuisui -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Killing Off Characters -- Pigs

We interrupt our mini tour of Japan for catching up on grading, lesson planning, and an electronica trio called Killing Off Characters.

When James sent his music my way, he noted that he wasn't sure if it fit on the blog.

I'm not really sure either but I like the perky melody on "Pigs" so here -- have a listen.

Killing Off Characters -- Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp

Japan 2014: Good Time Charlie's Saloon

As I may have mentioned a ways back, I lived in Japan for a few months. So when I came back this summer, I wanted to spend some time off the beaten track. And so I headed to Kyushu.

Kyushu is the island just south of Honshu (the main island with a J shape.) If you want to get to Okinawa, you have to take a plane from Kyushu. Although Kyushu has a rich culture in its own right, it is truly the boonies -- complete with hicks and bumpkins. In Kumamoto, once the most powerful city in Kyushu and the site of the final rebellion against Western incursion in the 1800s, two different people pointed at me and said "oh, look! A gaijin!" In the words of Eminem, "you all act like you've never seen a white person before."

Kumamoto has plenty of things to see in its own right, I guess. But between the 100-degree weather and the hostility, I wasn't really having much of it. Wikitravel, however, told me of an annual country music festival at the foot of Mt. Aso, an active volcano.

The night before, I had wandered Kumamoto's main drag, desperately searching for water, food that didn't have soy sauce in it, and maybe a little live music. As I walked in a dehydrated haze, I saw a sign for "Good Time Charlie's Saloon." This seemed like an odd coincidence -- maybe Kumamoto really is the south and more than one person loves country music in Japan?

I came back later that night.

Pictured: accidental racism
Charlie's a country music enthusiast who organizes the afore-mentioned music festival. He speaks English (and Japanese) with a perfect twang. He and his band perform sets for anyone who's there seven nights a week. The bar serves Coors, Coors Light, custom-made Jack Daniels with his picture on it, and astonishingly expensive Coca Cola. 

Charlie got his start in country when a friend of his on the US base introduced him to the music. He soon began touring US bases in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. He's been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry for spreading the love of country music, and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Honor by Bill Clinton for the same. The bar is plastered with souvenirs from Charlies tours of the American South and headshots of famous stars (like the Dixie Chicks and Brad Paisley) who have visited the saloon or played in the festival.

While the place obviously appeals to foreigners, Charlie's got a big group of Japanese regulars. Charlie likes to say he's spreading world peace through country music, and I can't think of a better example of that than an elderly Japanese couple teaching me how to Texas line dance.

If, for some reason, you end up in Kumamoto, Charlie's is a necessary stop.  It'll feel a little bit like home.

Charlie Nagatani's Good Time Saloon and Country Gold Festival -- Country Gold Festival, Official Country Gold site, Lonely Planet

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Japan 2014: Saotome Satsuki

Here's another omiyage (souvenir) from Japan. These guys came on after the twenties (see below.) It was an experience, to say the least.

It might seem tame from the photo, but Saotome Satsuki is anything but. When these guys came on, they were a wall of pure sound and fury. And those Kyoto kids had no idea what to do with it. I've never seen such a stony response from an audience. In America, if a band really sucks, the audience will talk, play on their phones, or leave. In Japan (or at least Kyoto,) everyone stood around and stared, stony-faced, politely enduring the set without even applauding.

I don't know about you guys but I'd rather be ignored.

But here's the thing. Saotome Satuski does not suck. The audience just isn't ready for it. Even though it was a Friday night, I was easily the oldest person in the room with my 25 years. These songs are about the disappointments of young adulthood, and the kids just aren't there yet. Even with the language barrier, I totally got it and I was totally into it. Many of their songs sound like more traditional pop songs, and that's also why I fell in love with the band. Unlike most hardcore acts, there is a melody underneath all of the other stuff.

Oh, and speaking of falling in love...(you're gonna have to turn your computer sideways. Sorry.)

This is Isuzu. I'm in love. In addition to melting your face with her guitar, she's also charismatic as anything. I couldn't get a picture of it, but throughout the entire set she had the widest grin on her face. This is the childlike joy anyone who reads this blog feels at a rock concert, and it was clear from the second the lights went up to the moment they went down. (Dear Isuzu, if you ever want to move to America, you can totally marry me for a green card. It's legal here!) I'd like to think that if we had more musicians like Isuzu in the States, rock'n'roll would still be alive and well.

The band just released this video last week. It is absolutely worth watching the whole way through and (conveniently) has English subtitles. You'll also learn a brand new English word!

Saotome Satsuki -- Official (mostly in Japanese),


こちらも日本からお土産だよ!the twenties の後に、こいつ出した。すごく特別だった。。。

写真は静かにそうだけど、実は五月女五月は反対だ!出した時、音波から壁みたいでした。あの京都人はまごまごそうだった。 そういうオーディエンスリアクションを見たことがない。音楽が嫌いそうだった。アメリカで、バンドが好きじゃなったら、みんなは友達と話したり、形態をしたり、出かける。京都で、バンドが好きじゃなったら、なにもしない。アプラズでもしない。


とにかく、 五月女五月はまずいじゃない!でも、オーディエンスは歌うがわからなかったと思う。じつは、私は26際。あの日、金曜日だけど、私は最年長者だった。この歌うのテーマは二十歳時の問題んだ。そして、高校生はそういうことがわらかなかったと思う。とにかく、五月女五月が愛にしている。

といえば、こちらはいすゞだ。いすゞに愛している。いすゞさんはギターがすごく上手で、引いている時、いつも子供のように笑みしている。 (いすゞさん!ニューヨークへ住んでいたったら、私に結婚して、green card をもらえる!ニューヨークで同性愛結婚は法律上だ!)アメリカはいすゞのような音楽があったら、アメリカでrock'n'rollが一番人気があるはずだよ!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Japan 2014: the twenties

As I've mentioned a few times, I went to Japan this summer. I came back with a suitcase of CDs and a few live shows under my belt. For the rest of this week, I'm going to tell you about them. I'm going to keep the language as simple as I can so any Japanese readers out there can (hopefully) understand it. でもあとに、日本語に訳してみたいんですが。。。

Kyoto may be known for its traditional temples, but it's a thriving city in its own right. One club, mojo box, features punk rock every night. If you're a foreign tourist, they waive the cover. (But if you live here it's easy enough to fake it -- all I had to do was show them my passport.) However, they didn't seem super thrilled to see me. I guess this is what New York is like for tourists?

This was in the women's bathroom. I think it says "the toilet is beautiful"?
From what I can tell, here are the rules for Japanese rock concerts:

1. There is to be no shouting or cheering. Please quietly applaud after songs.

2. Do not make fists, devil horns, or any other threatening gestures. Instead, wave your hands. Making a gun with your fingers seems to be OK, though. (See video.)

3. This one applies to clubs, too: do not, under ANY circumstances, move your pelvis while you dance. (No wonder Japan has a population problem.)

After the concert, Ryo Takai, the lead singer, told me I was a "really good" dancer. Pray for Japan, ladies and gentlemen.

It's hard not to shake your booty (I have no idea how to translate that into Japanese) when a band like this comes on stage. (Note the girls' creepy unison while they dance.) Takai is simply too cool to give a shit. In the first few songs, he lolled on the stage extravagantly, mumbling lyrics and ignoring the audience. But as they got deeper into their set, Takai ditched his bored act and gave a punk rock performance that was one for the books. The rest of the band was just as fun and ass-kicking. And, like, any indie band worth its salt, approachable and friendly after the show.

Next time you're in Tokyo, look these guys up. Here's their latest music video:

the twenties -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes

京都は伝統的なお寺で有名だけど、現代町のように忙しいだ。mojo boxというクラブは毎日パンクロックコンサートを出している。外国人にただでしょう。しかし、私が入った時、店員はうれしくなかったそうだ。。。乳ヨークのツーリストの感じだかなああ。。。


2.握り拳やdevil horns を作ってはいけない。怖いいそうだ。しかし、ガンはOKそうだ。

コンサートの後に、the twenties の歌集タカイリヨウは私の驚いてのは上手といった。みんなさん、日本のために祈ってください。

でも、the twenties に 踊るには簡単でしょ。まずに、タカイさんは無関心そうだった。壇場でくよくよして、くぐもった。もうすぐ、本当にすごいパンクロックshowをあげた。the twenties 中で、みんなさんは上手でした!コンサートのあとに、元気で、やさひかった。

次の東京へ行くとき、the twentiesのコンサートをさがしてください! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jeffrey Martin -- Dogs in the Daylight

By the time I get around to writing reviews, it's usually been a month or two since I first listened to the artist. So I can't quite say for sure what grabbed me about Jeffrey Martin's Dogs in the Daylight but I do know what made me come back to it. Martin's lyrics have a quiet majesty matched by his warm voice and spare instrumentation. Dogs in the Daylight may have been released in August but I can't think of a better match for this drizzly autumn morning.

My personal favorite is "Wellspring," a gentle epic of a family caught by a surprise Apache attack. Martin's hushed, impassive narration of the violence and retribution capture Martin's approach to songwriting: observational and piercingly honest while retelling stories of glory and defeat, much like watching the fall foliage blaze  out and drift to the ground.

Jeffrey Martin -- Official, Purchase

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Field Report -- Marigolden

I always make a show of being befuddled by the music my students like to listen to, but sometimes it's not for sure. (I still don't understand why women lose their panties for Drake.) This time, when a student asked me what I listen to, I directed her here. When I explained what the site is and how over the years I've gotten tons of free stuff, I'm pretty sure I earned a few cool points in some of my students' eyes ("So does this mean you're rich?" Ha.)

One of the bands I got a sneak peek of recently was Field Report.

Field Report is on the more indie side of the indie-folk spectrum for sure -- but unlike so many of their peers, this band exploits the benefits of straddling the line to full effect. Amidst the spare, electronic drum beats, songwriter Chris Porterfield fills the spaces in between with painstakingly crafted lyrics that deliver huge payoffs to the attentive listener. More importantly, though, Porterfield's warm, earthy voice keeps the band from floating away on its otherworldliness. Porterfield reminds me of a young, high-tech Bill Mallonee -- in his hands, complex lyrics feel simple and homespun. Where most bands making similar music might come off as pretentious, Field Report keeps it honest but deceptively complicated.

Field Report -- Official, Stream on (ugh) Pitchfork, Preorder from Partisan Records or iTunes

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

VIDEO: Karen and the Sorrows -- Just a Little Heartbreak

I've gotta come clean. I'm addicted. To sleep. I just got in a solid 8 hours for the first time since...August?...and it felt great. So I'm not going to write a full review tonight.

However, you can enjoy Karen and the Sorrows' newest music video for "Just a Little Heartbreak."

If you are someone whose life ambition is to live in Brooklyn, this portrayal of two queer ladies moping around Park Slope and Crown Heights is the gritty side of the borough they won't show you in Girls. (In other news, I am super bummed that I couldn't make it to the video shoot. It looks like it was a fun time!)

If you like Karen and the Sorrows, you can purchase one of their songs, "Star" on my compilation album! Proceeds go to a great LGBTQ youth-based organization called FIERCE.

Karen and the Sorrows -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp