Film At 11: The War On Drugs

The War On Drugs are set to release their fourth album, A Deeper Understanding, on August 25, following 2014’s Lost In A Dream. For now, we’re bringing you their video for “Holding On,” which follows the daily life of an elderly man, portrayed by actor (fans of The Wire take note!) Frankie Faison. Check it out below.

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Sylvan Esso: The Sad, Deep History Of Pop

Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn avoid the sophomore slump

On second album What Now (Loma Vista), Sylvan Esso expands the sonic palette of its electronically altered folk, but the band never loses the human touch. Even when they’re riding a crisp, discofied rock beat, singer Amelia Meath and producer/keyboard player Nick Sanborn make warm, intimate music.

“We want our songs to be full of genuine emotion,” says Sanborn. “Every choice we make in an arrangement points back to the original inspiration of the song, an investigation into how hard it is to be a person faced with our inherent contradictions.”

The songs on What Now are optimistic but measured. “Die Young” looks back on the hedonism of youth from an adult perspective that sees the folly in excess and the comfort of a lasting relationship. “Kick Jump Twist” is a bubbly number that considers the sadness lurking behind the narcissistic moves on the dance floor, while “Song” has traces of ’60s R&B as it recalls the bittersweet happiness generated when you listen to the hits of yesteryear.

“As we were making this record, we kept thinking, ‘What now?’” says Sanborn. “We had success with our first CD and didn’t want to repeat ourselves. We were thinking about growing as a band, and as individuals, coming to terms with the idea that nothing is ever really over, no relationship is going to save you, and no solution is ever going to be eternal.”

Meath agrees: “We found ourselves wanting to be more realistic. Singing about sadness has a deep history in pop music. There was a spate of flowers and sunshine from the ’50s to the ’70s, but pop music, in general, is sad. A good pop song has a feeling that, within the majesty of happiness, there’s always a bit of ennui lurking.”

The duo got together when Meath asked Sanborn to remix “Play It Right,” a song she wrote for her all-female folk trio, Mountain Man. “Everything I added seemed to subtract from the song,” says Sanborn. “When I started using the texture of the three voices as the main instrument, I saw how I could serve the song and have the electronic effects amplify the emotions. You want people to focus on the song first and hear all the interesting layers after.” Meath liked what she heard. They began writing songs together, letting the vocals determine the direction of the arrangements, with the electronic sounds kept to a minimum. “I love pop, but the sound of the human voice is disappearing,” says Meath. “I learned how to sing by listening to the radio, but you’re hearing fewer and fewer voices that aren’t crammed into key with Auto-Tune. Young people today are trying to sing like they’re Auto-Tuned, but the goal of music, and singing, is to access real emotion. You have to feel the breath of the singer. I still love the hits, but on most records today, you don’t really  hear the singer breathing.”

—j. poet

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The Back Page: Shelf Life

Years ago, we had a carpenter come in and cover a whole wall of our living room with built-in wooden shelves. Most of the shelves are covered with books. One area is devoted to my vinyl records, all but a few of which I’ve owned since the 1970s. And then there is the row of smaller shelves that take up the space to the left of the door.

When we had the shelves built, it seemed perfectly reasonable to include 11 smaller shelves that would house my ever-growing collection of compact discs. The home for the CDs made as much sense as the space dedicated to the vinyl. Even more, since I was still buying most of my music on CD at the time.

I look at the CD shelves now and laugh. I can’t think of the last time I added a newly purchased CD to the collection. Worse, there isn’t a CD player nearby if I wanted to listen to any of the hundreds of discs on the shelves. There’s a computer in the room. Most of the CDs have been imported to iTunes, so I have access to the music that way.

All of this is the end result of a process of technological progress and obsolescence that began almost 40 years ago and has irritated and annoyed me pretty much constantly ever since. That process has now reached a point of absurdity that’s no longer tolerable and for which the only apparent escape is to simply stop buying music.

Seriously. After being played for a fool for four decades, I’m done. The last gasp was a story I came across recently via social media. The gist of it was that the companies that owned the technology to create mp3s were no longer enforcing their licensing rights. Essentially, the story said, the mp3 was dead.

I’m not about to shed tears over this. I have no sentimental attachment to the mp3 or the compact disc. All they were, ultimately, were more convenient ways to store and convey music. If they are now turning out to be disposable, well, that’s the way things go.

The problem is that there’s no longer any illusion that progress is being made. There was, back when the CD replaced vinyl as the primary medium for storing music. There was a lot of excited talk about how the sound was better—“cleaner” was the word most often used—and of course the portability was a definite plus.

When the iPod came along, portability was the main selling point, and it was not insignificant. When I first started traveling for work in the 1980s, I had a Discman and a case that held maybe 24 CDs. That was the music I would have access to on a plane or in a hotel room somewhere. By the early 2000s, I had an iPod with thousands of songs on it available to me at all times.

That felt like progress. You might be sacrificing something, too, but there was a general feeling that you were moving forward. Now? No one is even pretending there’s a point.

The exciting new way to buy music is on vinyl. For $35 or so, you can buy an album and listen to it on a turntable. I’m sorry if that doesn’t excite me. I used to spend $12 and listen to an album on a turntable. This is not an experience I’m interested in overpaying for at this point in my life.

Meanwhile, Spotify and other streaming services will allow you the ability to listen to pretty much any song at any time, giving you the convenience of that old iPod without the bother of having to own and store the music. Except that, at the risk of outing myself as a dinosaur, I want to own and store the music that I love. I believe in paying artists for their work and, for a price, I want to have access to that work whenever I want, even if the Wi-Fi isn’t good.

For the last decade or so, we’ve been shedding artifacts. We take pictures and store music on our smartphones, and that’s great. It’s much easier and faster than developing a roll of film or buying a CD. But how many photos from the past five years do you have access to right now? Maybe you stored some on a cloud or you uploaded them to a computer or whatever, but how many have just vanished? If Facebook or Instagram went dark overnight, how much of your personal history would disappear with it?

This all seems very dangerous to me. Maybe that’s just proof that I’m living in the past and I haven’t embraced reality. Or maybe we’re all rushing headlong into the future without much regard for, or protection of, the past. That’s certainly how it feels.

Then I look at my shelves. Books I’ve owned for 30 years are still sitting there, as easy to take down and re-read as they ever were. Vinyl albums I got for Christmas when I was in high school are lined up in alphabetical order, as available to listen to today as they were in 1978.

Thousands of songs and photographs are over there on the computer, praying that hard drive doesn’t crash. The books I’ve bought on my Kindle are here, assuming I can find the charger and get the device going again. The still-working DVD player is the only thing keeping my collection of movies from becoming shiny, useless junk.

I get it. Everything is digital and portable and will be available on our smartphones forever. That’s the promise, right? It’s just that it’s the same promise I’ve been hearing since I started buying CDs. Right now, I have some very pretty shelves covered with proof that this promise is total bullshit. And frankly, I’m getting too old to throw money away on bullshit.

—Phil Sheridan

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From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: Best Songs By Anyone Ever, Volume 3 (Son Volt “Tear Stained Eye”)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

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Thebeau: In St. Louis, we have a special place in our hearts for Jay Farrar. He grew up in Belleville, Ill., across the river (rode the same school bus as my wife) and played all the same clubs we did. While many of our best and brightest moved away after experiencing success, Jay made St. Louis his home. He made it out there, and he came back here. Jay’s songs are a view through a cracked window into the experience of living in a river city forever burdened by its past. One of the Best Songs By Anyone Ever, “Tear Stained Eye,” contemplates the passage of time via scattered, oblique images of flooded river towns, waxing philosophically on matters of life and truth. Conclusions are hard to come by, but when they do arrive they are stoic, yet not quite comforting:

“If learning is living
And the truth is a state of mind
You’ll find it’s better
At the end of the line”

The wandering lyrics are reined in by a straightforward musical arrangement—three verses and three choruses. There are no fancy bridges or key changes. It doesn’t need them. It’s like a ride on a tired old horse slowly shuffling through the boarded up Main Street of a once-vibrant, then flooded, now abandoned town. Though “Tear Stained Eye” is about time passing, the song itself seems to sit outside of time like it’s always been there.

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Essential New Music: Jenn Grant’s “Paradise”

What makes a record sound “overproduced”? Unnecessary lushness, maybe, but when is lushness ever really “necessary”? That’s sort of its whole point. And Canadian chanteuse Jenn Grant’s sixth full-length is indeed lush, a richly layered mix of instruments, studio atmospherics and vocal processing. If “overproduced” refers to a record sounding a little too busy, arrangement-wise, for its own good, there are moments when Paradise tacks that way. The opening title track, “Hero” and “Sorry Doesn’t Know” (which contains what could be a sly lift of the keyboard riff from Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.”) all sound slightly as though the music’s aggregate components are starting to get in the song’s own way. But most of the record, echoey and airy as it is, holds the reins tightly. Grant’s previous album,  Compostela, grew from the loss of her mother; if some of the cool gravitas of that record still clings to this one, Paradise still sounds like the work of an artist turning her face back, if somewhat slowly, toward the sunlight.

Eric Waggoner

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In The News: Ted Leo, Waterboys, Horrors, Gary Numan, Mynabirds, Verve, Fairport Convention, Live, Steve Winwood, Sonny Rollins And More

On September 8, Ted Leo will self-release The Hanged Man, his 13th LP and first since 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks … That same day, BMG is issuing Out Of All This Blue, a 23-track double album by the Waterboys … The Horrors will release fifth album ‘V on September 22 via Wolftone/Caroline … On September 15, BMG will issue Gary Numan‘s 22nd album, Savage (Songs From A Broken World) … The Mynabirds‘ latest LP, Be Here Now, is out August 25 via Saddle Creek … Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke will release third solo album Fatherland via BMG on October 6 … Red House is issuing the latest from Charlie Parr, Dog, on September 8 … Balmorhea returns after seven years with Clear Language, out September 22 on Western Vinyl … On September 29, Shania Twain will release NOW via Mercury Nashville … Snow, the fourth album from Angus & Julia Stone, is out via Nettwerk on September 15 … UMe celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Verve‘s Urban Hymns on September 1 with the release of the landmark album in four formats: single CD, double CD, five-CD/one-DVD set and three-LP box … Also celebrating an anniversary is Fairport Convention, which turns 50 this year with the release of seven-CD boxed set Come All Ye: The First Ten Years and the vinyl reissue of debut LP Liege & Lief (both A&M/UMe) … Live‘s Mental Jewelry debut turns 25 with a deluxe reissue courtesy of Radioactive/Geffen/UMe on August 11 … Steve Winwood will release Winwood: Greatest Hits Live on September 1 via Wincraft/Thirty Tigers … MVD is issuing Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus, a film about Sonny Rollins, on Blu-ray and DVD on August 4.

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From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: A Walk In The Garden Part 3 (Chantenay Red Core Carrots)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

Thebeau: I’ve only had one year where I had success with carrots. That year, we dug up a wheelbarrow full on the same day we were playing our wiffle ball final series (I’ve since retired from wiffle ball; a story for another day). Every year since then, I’ve either dug them up too soon, planted them too close together, had them eaten by some unknown animal or just skipped it entirely. When we did have luck with them, they were a bit on the bitter side. I don’t know if it’s because I dug them up too soon or because of the variety I planted. If we don’t have good luck this year I may put an end to the entire enterprise of raising carrots.

One theory for why we haven’t had good luck with carrots is that maybe our soil is too compacted for them to really take root. So, I switched to a new location this year in a slightly raised bed and really dug down deep while tilling ahead of planting. I chose Chantenay Red Core carrots in part because they are stump-rooted, meaning they aren’t supposed to grow as deep as the normal types. And how can you say no to a name as fine as Chantenay Red? Should we make wine from these? Where are we? Paris? Napa Valley?

The wiffle ball final series was almost always in September, though sometimes we tried to get it scheduled before school starts in late August. So, I guess I’ll mark the calendar this year for early September and cross my fingers that nothing eats these carrots before I get to them. Last year, I got the distinct impression that something was either digging down from above or coming up from below (do moles/voles eat carrots?) and taking bites out of the ripe ones. I dug them up early to try and beat them to the punch but by then the bigger ones all had bites out of them and the rest were too small for human consumption. I wonder if Elmer J. Fudd is available to keep watch?

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Screamfeeder Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

Screamfeeder just released Pop Guilt earlier this year. We previously made sure you heard first single “All Over it Again,” and now we’re bringing you a new mix tape from the Brisbane veterans. Check out these picks from Kellie Lloyd and Tim Steward.

Grouper, “I’m Clean Now”
Lloyd: I have so much respect for people who can make super quiet, really intimate and restrained music like this. I can’t find restraint like this; get me on a guitar and I want to play it with distortion and wah-wah pedal. This is so dreamy, so pretty with an edge of danger and sadness. The video is perfect with it, too. Video

Camp Cope, “Done”
Lloyd: The revolution is here. Where are you? Video

Moreton, “The Water”
Lloyd: This swirling, melancholic song flies close to the ground but soars all the same. It’s sparse, with this mesmerizing slow groove, Georgia Potter’s voice a gentle touch. I just love this so much. The video, too; it’s so engrossing. “I can dig my way out of here if I want to/I can run my own race if I’ve already lost.”  Video

Gareth Liddiard, “Strange Tourist”
Lloyd: This song defies traditional structure and pushes the boundaries of songwriting into the most sublime place. It’s like a bastard Nick Cave song, strung out, epic and biblical in proportions. I often listen to this as I drive between Toowoomba and Brisbane from visiting my home town. Gareth’s solo album creates all sorts of images in my mind. How does he write songs like this? It’s dark magic. Video

Headland, “Remain On Stop”
Lloyd: You may have heard of Joel Silbersher from the Australian band GOD, Murray Patterson who plays with Tex Perkins in the Dark Horses and Skritch from Brisbane’s Gota Cola and Mary Trembles. You may not have heard of this project though, and it’s music set as the soundtrack to 16mm film footage of early Byron Bay and Lennox Head surfers. It’s a beautiful historic document and just beautiful to watch. The music is gorgeous laid-back surf/Americana. If you’re a fan of Califone, you’ll love this. Video

In Each Hand A Cutlass, “Sartori 101”
Steward: I usually avoid instrumental navel-gazing bands like the plague, but this Singaporean band actually transcends the “prog” genre and combines enough smart rock and pop hooks to make it a really rewarding listen. No one song represents the album, The Kraken, as a whole, so if you’re going for a long drive, do yourself a favour. Video

Worst Party Ever, “Kicking Myself In The Face”
Steward: You know those bands that make you go, “Ah fuck that’s why I love music—that’s what writing songs should be about” and remind you that all your minor 7ths and songs with more than three parts are a waste of time and writing and performing a song should be a simple expression of joy. Lo-fi punks from Florida. Video

Ben Ely, “Goodbye Machine”
Steward: Another voice reminding you why simplicity is so great. This level of purity is so hard to achieve. Brisbane guy Ben has distilled his thoughts down to the bare bones and still managed to make it lush and deep. It’s totally captivating. Video

Kill Dirty Youth, “Pay The Man”
Steward: These Melbourne punks are playing up to all the clichés of the scene with tongue firmly in cheek, but they’re actually the sweetest most genuine punk lifers and music-lovers I’ve met in a long time, total disciples to the cause. Like all Nirvana’s most atonal moments wrapped into every song. Super young, they get better with every release and every gig. Video

TV Haze, “Laundry Day”
Steward: These guys’ melodies are right out of the ballpark. They sound like Neil Young fronting Swervedriver. Flag flyers for noisy dirty pop. I love them. C’mon, feel the noise. Video

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Normal History Vol. 434: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

The Dogs
My thoughts are chased my dogs
trapped in Instamatic snapshots
their eyes are red in the night
I can see into their mouths
past the teeth
past the teeth

I’m at home in the strangest places
but the sea is just pounding water
trying to get revenge
trying to get revenge

The dogs are barking
running towards me
through a roll of twenty-four exposures

The dogs have questions for me
I don’t know what they are

On the train I heard the sea on the tracks
roaring in a straight line
away from me
away from me

Stop it with the gun
Stop it with the gun
was a philosophy of hers
more than a request
but right now she’d like the kid to quit it
he has a sound-equipped machine gun
pointed at her head
pointed at her head

The dogs have been measured out to me

Some of the snapshots have one big dog
some of the snapshots have two dogs
some of the snapshots have three dogs
I don’t know how many dogs there are
more than three
more the ones my flashcube illuminates

The dogs have questions for me
The dogs have questions for me

Dogs don’t mince words

“The Dogs” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991) (download):

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From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: Top Five Coolest Cheap Trick Shows I Ever Saw (4. Blueberry Hill/Duck Room, St. Louis)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

Thebeau: The Blueberry Hill Duck Room is located in the space that was formerly Cicero’s Basement Bar. Blueberry Hill and Cicero’s used to be next-door neighbors. When Cicero’s moved down the street to a larger space, Blueberry Hill bought up the rest of the block and expanded their building. They then somehow managed to dig the floor of the basement down deeper, creating a higher ceiling. And they tore out all the old Cicero’s back bar area to make the room bigger in all directions. The Duck Room is a great venue in its own right. Chuck Berry used to play a show there once a month.

I don’t quite recall what year it was, but at some point in time, Marlboro did a series of pop-up music shows where folks who had saved up Marlboro Miles could redeem them for entry. The weird part about these shows is that they wouldn’t say who was going to be playing until it was relatively close to show time. Still, somehow, the secret had just gotten out that Cheap Trick was going to do a Marlboro Miles show at the Duck Room, capacity 350, give or take. And here I am a non-smoker. I scrambled to find friends who were not only smokers, but Marlboro smokers, and beg them for their points. I believe a few friends may have resorted to buying up cigarettes they had no intention of smoking. Anyway, a group of us managed to secure enough Miles to get into the show.

Cheap Trick blew the roof off the place! They threw away the “hit mix” set list, and played a few extended versions of some of their heavier tunes. They were clearly energized by playing in a club setting; something they probably just hadn’t had the chance to do much since becoming a mainstay on the state-fair circuit. It was a short set, but it was a great show. At the end we just stood there staring at the stage wondering if we really saw what we thought we just saw.

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