From The Desk Of Spirit Family Reunion: Just Coffee

When the folks in Spirit Family Reunion raise their voices in song, they deliver an inspiring message. Their mostly acoustic approach combines elements of rock with hints of bluegrass and country music. They have a feel that approaches the fervent emotions of gospel music, but their messages stay grounded in the secular world. Banjo player Maggie Carson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on the band

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Carson: Just Coffee is a small company in Madison, Wisc., that we had the pleasure of getting to know last year. They embody the three most important values for any company: creating high-quality products, keeping prices competitive and just as importantly demonstrating a steadfast commitment to thoroughly ethical practices. They say they are “dedicated to creating and expanding a model of trade based on transparency, equality, and human dignity,” and I believe them. There is a section of their website titled “Transparency” where you can see the contracts they have signed with small coffee farmers and co-operatives around the world. Fancy coffee is huge business these days, and lots of the top companies make efforts toward some version of responsible practices. Without the name brand recognition or the Wall Street funding, Just Coffee is bravely and rightly pushing even further. And their coffee kicks ass.

That’s why we were so excited when they said we could have our very own Spirit Family Reunion roast. It was like when Arizona called Arnold or when Jerry called Jerry, but with a company we could really stand behind. Just try a bag of the Congo single-origin Wake Up, Rounder Roast and get to know Just Coffee.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Spoon

MAGNET fave Spoon recently released the Inside Out Remixes EP with contributors Fabrizio Moretti, Tycho, Brian Reitzell and Operators. Now Sppon has a new video for the track “Inside Out.” The clip follows frontman Britt Daniels through many adventures and overall focuses on human interaction. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: Prurient’s “Frozen Niagara Falls”

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In an about-face to the insular world of American noise music, which he’d been the preeminent voice of for nearly a decade, Dominick Fernow’s 2011 album Bermuda Drain saw him integrate melodic synthesizers and (gasp!) discernible lyrics, downplaying the highly abrasive elements that he’d become synonymous with. The result was easily the best and most fully realized release of his career, and since then, Fernow—who does business as Prurient, Vatican Shadow and a host of other increasingly arcane aliases—has further explored contemporary electronic music with an increasingly head-on approach, most compellingly on the menacing demon disco of 2013’s Through The Window.

Frozen Niagara Falls, though, sets out to define Fernow’s legacy—and succeeds so comprehensively that it could effectively be repackaged as The Essential Prurient. From the stark imagery and alternatingly ear-splitting and serene sonics of standout “Cocaine Daughter” to the jarring inclusion of acoustic guitar on sublime closer “Christ Among The Broken Glass,” it’s far and away Fernow’s most affecting recorded work to date.

—Möhammad Choudhery

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MP3 At 3PM: Falling Stacks

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U.K. rockers Falling Stacks ready for the release of their debut full-length album, No Wives, due out June 9. This is a humorous band that doesn’t take itself too seriously, saying its own music sounds like “the thrashing and squawking of a buzzard with its leg caught in a mantrap.” Now the guys offer chaotic track “No Stops” for free download. The song moves from more noise sections to more mathy parts, but keeps the underlying vibe going. Download “No Stops” below.

“No Stops” (download):

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Phoning It In: “ECNALUBMA” And “Starry Eyes”

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They Might Be Giants have resurrected their ingenious Dial-A-Song concept by streaming a new song each week of 2015 at www.dialasong.com. MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch reviews them all.

After 19 consecutive weeks of posting Phoning It In, we finally got our own category on the MAGNET site, and then … we miss a week. (Who is this “we”? It’s just me. Fritch. Army of one. Deflecting blame.)  This week, then, it’s a Dial-A-Song double shot. Which is fitting, because these two tracks play like the A-side and B-side of a single. A single that doesn’t chart very well.

“ECNALUBMA” is “ambulance” spelled backward. The song has an odd momentum, aided by skittering horns and drums, but it never seems to reach its destination. Cover songs are at an automatic disadvantage; “Starry Eyes” by ’70s power-pop band the Records is a fine choice but doesn’t have the sneery British accent of the original. Credit is due, I suppose, for the Johns not attempting a British accent.

File-A-Song (“ECNALUBMA”): 5/10

File-A-Song (“Starry Eyes”): 4/10

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Mikal Cronin: Cronin Burg

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The third time is charmingly confounding for garage-rocking storyteller Mikal Cronin

“Every record I’ve made, there’s a point when I’m listening to the demos when I completely freak out and ask my friends, ‘Does this all make sense?’” So says Mikal Cronin, who’s now on his third solo collection, MCIII.

Cronin’s a pal of fellow Californian Ty Segall—he was on a European tour with the prolific rocker when he grew the beard that he sports on the cover of the new album, although he’s since shaved it off and cut off most of his hair. MCIII casts a wider net than either of his previous albums; while it still has plenty of the scruffy garage rock and blissful power pop that made 2013’s MCII such a gem, many of its songs weave in grand orchestral textures among the brash guitars, and the second half is a six-part set of tracks that form a connected narrative. Dare we call it a concept record?

“I like the idea of concept records and song arcs that have a bigger story,” says Cronin. “But at the same time, it seemed like the first instinct with a concept or story is to come up with something fictional or fantastical.” Rather than go the route of, oh, Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade and make up a story, Cronin turned to his own life, as he does in all his songs.

“Just the way my songwriting has been the last two records, I want to keep it personal and honest and write about my own experiences,” he says. “So, I went back to a part of my life about 10 years ago, which, in retrospect, turned out to be an important coming-of-age moment and influential in what I do now. It was a very difficult time to get through, and very confusing to me. But in retrospect, it set me down the path that I am still pursuing today. It’s like an autobiographical short story.”

The coming-of-age story arc that follows from “i) Alone” to “ii) Gold” to “iii) Control” to “iv) Ready” to “v) Different” to “vi) Circle” is there for the listener to decode. The music ranges widely—it’s kinda like listening to an ambitious and grand Guided By Voices album, with strings—and the songs certainly work separately. The revved-up, cacophonous “ii) Gold” was an advance single.

Cronin put his college music degree to work when he decided he wanted to write parts for strings and horns for this album. Although he had used an isolated violin or French horn on previous records, the broader orchestration is something new.

“It’s always been really interesting to me to add those elements to my music, and increasingly so,” he says. “The string arrangements and horns in there, I technically wouldn’t have been able to do years ago when I was doing the first records. It was a push and struggle for me to learn how to best write for those instruments. You kind of have to revamp everything else to fit around them.”

He wasn’t hearing lush, ’60s orch-pop or Beach Boys-style teenage symphonies. He still wanted the hard-rock guitars and garage-rock riffs, and he struggled to find the right ratios.

“I personally haven’t heard a lot of models of that, at least in the music I listen to,” he says. “Just finding that specific balance of what I wanted to do, kind of heavy guitar and bass with strings—I’m sure there is, but I was going kind of blind.”

Cronin plays most of the instruments himself on the record, but he wrote charts for the string and horn players. “They’re not the most intricate, crazy arrangements with those instruments,” he says. The orchestration bolsters the joyful hooks of “Made My Mind Up,” which Cronin likens to early Tom Petty; it thickens the feedback-laced finale of “Say”; a somber cello sweetens the acoustic ballad “I’ve Been Loved.” But it’s understandable that Cronin worried about it all hanging together.

“I find my musical taste mixes a lot,” he says. “I listen to a Cheap Trick record immediately followed by a Black Sabbath record, then, oh, Kate Bush. When I started making music under my own name, I had that initial need to figure out what direction I was going to approach it from. I played in tons of different kinds of bands: more straight garage, surfy punk, and punk, and weird proggy bands, and I wrote songs acoustically and wrote soundtracks and shit. I wanted to find a way to mix everything in a kind of congruent way. That’s always been important to me. I feel it’s getting more extreme on every record. The harder moments and the softer moments on this one are a lot farther apart than anything on my first record.”

Cronin needn’t worry about it all making sense, however. MCIII cuts a wide path, but it’s not schizophrenic. It’s a great listen, start to finish.

“For better or for worse, I want to throw everything into a blender,” he says. “I have to remember that it all holds together just because it’s my experience and me writing it.”

—Steve Klinge

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From The Desk Of Spirit Family Reunion: “The Long Goodbye”

When the folks in Spirit Family Reunion raise their voices in song, they deliver an inspiring message. Their mostly acoustic approach combines elements of rock with hints of bluegrass and country music. They have a feel that approaches the fervent emotions of gospel music, but their messages stay grounded in the secular world. Banjo player Maggie Carson will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on the band

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Carson: Long before The Big Lebowski or Inherent Vice hit the big screen, there was The Long Goodbye, my favorite of the Southern California noirs. It stars Elliot Gould in what I think is Robert Altman’s best film. The entirety of the movie is covered by an eerie fog. Gould mumbles Altman’s signature overlapping, sometimes in-audible lines perfectly. The pacing of the whole film sometimes moves dangerously slow, with long, single shots, but never loses the audience. In times when all they seem to make is comic-book movies, it’s great to sit down with this film and enjoy it for what it is.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Mikal Cronin

Singer/songwriter Mikal Cronin returns with new album MCIII, the follow up to 2013’s critically acclaimed MCII, and now shares a comical video for the track “Turn Around.” The song features a string quartet while the clip is a shot-by-shot reenactment of Natalie Imbruglia’s video for “Torn,” with special guests including Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler. Check it out below.

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Record Review: Wire’s “Wire”

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A curiously self-titled Wire album betrays a lack of new ideas

When a band names its debut after itself, the meaning is clear: “This is who we are.” When it happens after a long layoff, the message is: “We’re back.” But for Wire, the eponymous option is harder to decode. Wire follows its predecessor, Change Becomes Us, by only two years. It’s the combo’s 13th or 14th studio album (depending on how you count ’em) in a career that spans 39 years, and while it’s its first to feature guitarist Matthew Simms as a fully participating member alongside founders Colin Newman, Edvard Graham Lewis and Robert “Gotobed” Grey, he’s been touring with the band for years. It’s hardly starting over.

But when you consider that Change Becomes Us was a reworking of material abandoned in 1980, a more troubling notion emerges: Are these guys running out of ideas? The first Wire track, “Blogging,” does not reassure. It sounds crisp, but disengaged, as Newman’s voice recites observations about electronically mediated interaction. It registers skepticism, but not enough bite. Fortunately, things pick up from there, with a series of earworm tunes, glassy guitar licks and brittle beats that sound like an alternative follow-up to Wire’s icily electronic effort from 1986, The Ideal Copy. Still, a shroud of familiarity veils everything save the remorselessly heavy closer, “Harpooned,” which points out what is missing: Wire needs more of the barbed wit and brute anger that has enabled the band’s best post-2000 work stand up to its iconic ’70s recordings.

—Bill Meyer

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MP3 At 3PM: Rahim Quazi

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Singer/songwriter Rahim Quazi will release his new album, Ghost Hunting, on June 12 and now offers another single, “Relax, Believe,” for free download. The track is more upbeat and bluesy than the title track and has a happier feel. His style is reminiscent of music from the ’60s but with a modern twist. Download “Relax, Believe” below.

“Relax, Believe” (download):

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