Delta Spirit: Give Them Your Tired

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The outspoken folk rockers in Delta Spirit speak up for the underprivileged

“I feel that I was born to scream into a microphone,” says Delta Spirit guitarist/vocalist Matt Vasquez. “We love to play loud, and from the start, we wanted to get into that American folk groove. This country has a tradition of people speaking their minds and questioning the way things are. There’s always been a feeling of ‘the haves’ against the ‘have nots.’ It’s a situation that’s as old as time, and one we have to deal with today. When you’re a little kid, you’re told to play fair, but as you grow up, you see that the world obviously isn’t fair. You can’t ignore that, and it’s easier to be an idealist in a song than it is in real life, so we write songs about what we think is right and just.”

The band’s new album, Into The Wide (Dualtone), is full of anti-war and pro-working-class songs, steeped in literary and biblical images that will make them resonate with almost any listener. The music is deep and moody, playing off the sound of chiming rock guitars, driving rhythms and anthemic vocals against a thick wall of dark, almost industrial noise.

“We spent a year confined in our Brooklyn studio, a claustrophobic recording and rehearsal space we built ourselves,” says Vasquez. “We were in our own world, and the songs took on the feeling of a person trapped in an urban setting and longing for the freedom symbolized by nature—or, in our case, touring. We wanted to capture the feeling of being confined, knowing it’s always possible to break loose, but in the process we got a little insane. Then we went to Atlanta to record with Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Belle & Sebastian) in a studio with big windows and a lot of natural light. The stress lifted off of us, and we were able to bring some sunshine into the songs.”

The band had more than 50 tracks demoed, but eventually pared the list down to the 11 tunes that appear on the album. The songs paint pictures of the disenfranchised, disillusioned and downcast citizens of our country, folks struggling to get by, but still maintaining their faith in the promises of the American dream.

“We decided we wanted to be more folk and less pop this time around,” says Vasquez. “There are no singles, and everything is introspective. We feel a connection to the story songs and murder ballads of traditional folk, but we want to write songs about this century, using the sounds of today to make them resonate with people. Some of those traditional ballads say more in three minutes than most writers can say in a novel. When you hear them, your imagination takes the place of all the prose. It may be a lofty aspiration, but those are the kind of songs we want to write. We want to make people think without telling them what they should think.”

—j. poet

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In The News: Kinks, Jeff Bridges, Pink Floyd, Fall, Metallica, Bryan Ferry, Bruce Springsteen, Jethro Tull, R.E.M. Who, Frank Sinatra And More

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The 50th anniversary of the Kinks will be celebrated by BMG/InGrooves with the release of a five-disc boxed set, The Anthology 1964-1971, on November 18. It will contain career-spanning material including rare demos, interviews, alternate mixes, outtakes and more … Mailboat will issue Live, which features performances by Jeff Bridges & The Abiders in Las Vegas, on September 30 …  Pretty Music For Pretty People is the new record from the Dead Milkmen, due out October 7 …  Pink Floyd has announced the November 10 release of The Endless River, which was started during the band’s 1993 Division Bell sessions, on Columbia … On October 27, the Fall will release Live: Uurop VIII-XII Places In Sun & Winter, Son via Cherry Red … Another classic Jeff Healey Band concert will be issued by Eagle Rock, Live At The Horseshoe Tavern, on October 7 …  A 10-year anniversary two-disc Blu-ray edition of Metallica documentary film Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster is set for a November 24 release … Avonmore, the latest album from Bryan Ferry, is due out November 18 via BMG … Columbia/Legacy will issue a boxed set of seven remastered Bruce Springsteen albums, The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984, on November 17 … The 40th birthday of Jethro Tull’s Warchild will be celebrated with an expanded two-CD/two-DVD set—complete with unreleased tracks, orchestral pieces and rare video footage—on November 24 via Parlophone … R.E.M.’s relationship with MTV is chronicled on REMTV, a six-DVD collection of live performances, award-show highlights and a feature-length documentary. It will be available from Rhino on November 24 … This year marks the Who’s 50th birthday, which will be commemorated with a two-disc definitive-hits collection, Who Hits 50!, set for an October 27 release on Geffen/UMe … Sinatra: London is a deluxe three-CD/DVD collection containing more than 50 unreleased tracks by Frank Sinatra, which will be out from UMe on November 25 … Columbia is slated to issue the new AC/DC record, Rock Or Bust, on December 2 … On November 11, earMusic/Eagle Rock will release Status Quo’s Aquostic (Stripped Bare)Drivin’ And Cryin’ is the subjects of evh pic/Shanzing Films documentary Scarred But Smarter (life n times of drivin n cryin), which will be in stores on DVD and Blu-ray on November 4.

—Emily Costantino

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Normal History Vol. 288: 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 30-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In this week’s column, I continue to compare songs on Calico Kills The Cat with songs on our new album, Empathy For The Evil, from start to finish. See notes from Sept. 6, 2014.

4. “My First Love Song” (Calico Kills The Cat, 1989) I think this is the only song of ours with the word “love” in it. It was awkward to sing a song about writing a song about love. I opted never to do that again.

4. “Between Livermore And Tracy” (Empathy For The Evill, 2014) This is the first song we recorded once we got set up in the studio. David played a piece of music he’d worked on, but I’d never heard. I played piano to this and then sang sections from six pages I’d compiled about my father, who was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack when we left Vancouver. Actually, his heart wasn’t the problem at that point; it was the delirium that had set in during his hospital stay. The song’s title is the second reference to the Rolling Stones after the album’s title. Altamont Speedway—the site of a free Stones concert where an audience member was killed by a Hell’s Angel in 1969—is between the towns of Livermore and Tracy in Northern California. The film Gimme Shelter documents the concert and, of particular interest to me, Mick Jagger’s reaction to the murder as he watches film footage at some point after the show (keeping in mind that, in those days, film had to be processed). I found there to be something very ominous about the way the hyper-reality of a killing collides with and alters the intensity of an ego-based exercise in rock showmanship. I suppose I drew a parallel between my father’s temporary dementia—a completely unexpected reality that seemed like it could change things forever—and the sense that Mick had perhaps noted his own mortality on that day between Livermore and Tracy, and then again while he watched the film footage of the disconnect between his persona and a murder right in front of him.

In comparing these two songs, I look back at what seemed like two monumental turning points at the time—love intensifying and madness looming—but these eventually softened and fell into place within a continuum that can be examined from many different vantage points in an ever-expanding past. Specific love ends, sanity returns. Life goes on, albeit somewhat differently.

“My First Love Song” from Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):

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Film At 11: The Dig

NYC indie-pop quartet the Dig recently released a new album, You & I, and is on an extensive U.S. headlining tour until November. Now, the band has issues a video for “Over You Again,” and it’s beautifully simplistic. In the clip, the group joyfully sings, dances, climbs on rocks, sets off fireworks and plays its instruments in the middle of a scenic desert. Check it out below.

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Live Review: Blonde Redhead, Paris, France, Sept. 22, 2014

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Lower your expectations and you will rarely be disappointed. Scientists refer to this as the “Tom Arnold Principle.” It applies particularly well to tonight’s Blonde Redhead concert.

In the 1990s, Blonde Redhead was breathtakingly original. Its bracing, no-wave indie punk inspired (fitting) comparisons with alternative legend Sonic Youth. Its jagged rhythms and jarring, boy/girl vocals created a dynamic that was the envy of all bands who courted the avant-garde yet still wanted to sound catchy.

With the turn of the millennium, BR shifted gears, toning down its rock elements to create dreamy pop gems fashioned in a Fabergé workshop. The group had transitioned from gorgeous art rock to gorgeous art pop.

And now this.

The trio’s latest release, Barragán, is suitable for an elevator in Stockholm—fittingly, come to think of it, since the band seems sympathetic to its captors: it has fallen hostage to Euro-wusscore and seems content to seal the cocoon permanently shut. The album lacks the elegance and exquisite beauty of its previous releases: the tracks—cottony and threadbare—float through one’s ears like tumbleweeds through a dusty ghost town. To cite but one clunker, “Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)” sounds as if the High Llamas dropped acid and performed on Hee Haw.

So expectations were running low for this gig. However, in Paris’ regal Trianon club, Blonde Redhead offers a polished, and at times inspired, performance. Kazu Makino and twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace play a deliciously languorous version of “Hated Because Of Great Qualities.” Even Barragán’s “No More Honey”—a bit limp on record—is haunting, hypnotizing in this live setting. It oozes voluptuous ’60s French pop à la Ivy. The song’s pendulum-like guitar line hangs suggestively in the air, tantalizing one’s libido.

Late in the set, the focus of the show narrows sharply onto Kazu. She abandons her guitar and bass and takes center stage with mic in hand. Previously, she had lurched about with the grace of a paraplegic spider, but with the euphoric, dancehall shoegaze of “23” she sways and shimmers and thrashes with physical poetry, energy and—fuck yeah—sexiness.

Even while belting out the staccato chorus to “Equus,” she exudes fragility and shyness. The audience is thoroughly entranced.

The band closes with “Seven Two” from the current album. The Pace brothers quickly exit the stage, knowing that all eyes are on a different set of twins. Kazu stands alone in a slinky white dress, absorbing lavish applause. She blows charmingly awkward kisses.

The public gushes. Kazu blushes.

Tonight, Blonde Redhead finds a new way to exceed expectations. Such is the art of seduction.

—Eric Bensel

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MP3 At 3PM: Anabot

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As Analise Nelson’s name is a combination of “Ana” and “Elise,” Nelson also created Anabot by combining “analog” and “robot,” which is quite fitting when paired with the sound of her music. Now Anabot releases new single “Candy-Eyed” from upcoming EP, Kiss Like A Knife, out December 2. “Candy-Eyed” has a strong electronic base, as an electric cello can be heard booming in the background, and it’s altogether a very catchy and well-composed song. Download it below.

“Candy-Eyed” (download):

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The Hold Steady: Ten Years After

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

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After a decade of cheap beer, positive jams and killer parties, there’s blood on the carpet, mud on the mattress. MAGNET goes to Brooklandia to watch the Hold Steady sleep it off and wake up with that American sadness. By Jonathan Valania

When Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn was growing up in suburban Minneapolis in the shag-carpeted ’70s, there was nothing musical about the Finn family. Nothing at all. Nobody played an instrument. Nobody played records on the stereo. They did not even sing show tunes on long car rides.

But when Finn was eight years old, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham choked to death on his own vomit, and that’s when a young boy discovered the awesome, mood-altering, life-changing power of rock ‘n’ roll. Up until this point, he’d thought of rock ‘n’ roll as nothing more than the interstitial music between the zany capers and wacky hijinks on The Monkees and The Bay City Rollers Show. But judging by the trail of tears running down the apple-hued cheeks of his babysitter—a pretty neighborhood teen he had a secret crush on—this was an Important Cultural Moment, right up there with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination. His babysitter made him listen to Led Zeppelin A-Z that day, and there would be no turning back. One day, he vowed, with God as his witness, he would make pretty girls cry when he died. This remains a work in progress.

This year, Finn turns 43, and the Hold Steady turns 10. (Technically 11, but who’s counting?) The kids at their shows now have kids of their own, as the song goes. On March 25, the Hold Steady released Teeth Dreams, its sixth studio album. (The band also boasts six EPs and a live LP.) If the Hold Steady was the Replacements, this would be its Don’t Tell A Soul.

It’s been four years since the Hold Steady released an album, which is something like 16 in rock ‘n’ roll years. Entire presidencies, college sports careers and World Wars come and go in the span of four years. In that time, the Hold Steady came closer to ceasing to exist than anyone in the band cares to admit out loud. Ego, exhaustion, addiction and communication breakdown—the great hunger-makers of rock ‘n’ roll’s infamously insatiable appetite for self-destruction—have left their scars, as they invariably do to bands around the six-album mark. Which only goes to show that there is always a crack where the darkness gets in, and even a critically acclaimed band that has waved the flag of positivity highly and mightily is not immune to private despair.

Fortunately, the members, all at or nearing 40-something, were mature and self-aware enough to recognize the warning signs and course-correct before it was too late. So, they took some time off. Finn started working on a novel, then flew to Austin and recorded a well-received solo album, which he toured on for a year. Guitarist/primary songwriter Tad Kubler got clean. Drummer Bobby Drake bought a bar in Brooklyn with Spoon’s Rob Pope. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay took his leave and was replaced by noted six-string shredder Steve Selvidge. (The latter is the son of late, great folk singer/recordist/indie-label pioneer Sid Selvidge, a pillar of the Memphis music scene for five decades who will be remembered for, if nothing else, having the sheer balls to release Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbert, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s all-time great hot messes.) They got new management, a new label, a new producer and a whole new attitude—more heart, less cowbell. And unto the world a new Hold Steady album was born.

***

It’s 3 p.m. on a yet another colder-than-a-witch’s-tit late-winter afternoon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Craig Finn is nursing a seltzer and lime at a back table at Lake Street Bar, an old-man dive short on old men and long on beardo Brooklandians getting a head start on tonight. Finn asked to meet here because he knows the owner—Hold Steady drummer Bobby Drake, who is presently restocking the bar in preparation for the coming happy-hour onslaught—and, as the song goes, the drinks are cheap and they leave you alone.

He’s a little bummed at the moment. His friend Oscar Isaac didn’t get an Academy Award nomination for his indelible portrayal of Llewyn Davis in the latest Coen brothers film. “I think he got screwed,” says Finn emphatically. “He was mind-blowing.”

Read More »

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Film At 11: Parquet Courts

Originally from Texas, Parquet Courts blew up in the Brooklyn music scene just a few years back. Their pure punk attitude and songwriting made the band popular quickly, and rightfully so. Sunbathing Animal, the outfit’s third full-length, took the music world by storm, and they’ve now released a video for the album’s first single, “Bodies.” The clip is a compilation of shots from a live show at Sugar Hill Supper Club that have been filtered to look retro, which actually seems to follow the theme of their music as well. Check it out below.

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MP3 At 3PM: Cult Of Riggonia

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Macon, Ga., collective Cult Of Riggonia readies for the release of debut album Nematode Rodriguez Presents on October 28. In accordance with its name and album title, the music is also a bit strange. It’s a noisy brand of psych rock that soars through different hypnotic passages. “Dwell Neo Dwell” exemplifies the oddity that this music aims to represent. Download the track below.

“Dwell Neo Dwell” (download):

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Eli August And The Abandoned Buildings Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

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Singer/songwriter Eli August is known for his darker brand of Americana. When backed by the Abandoned Buildings, August is a force to be reckoned with. The music they play is both catchy and driving, as well as an introspection of life and memories. Now August and his band have been so kind as to make MAGNET a mix tape. Check it out below.

Dolly Parton “Jolene”
August: This track is one of my favorites, because it handles the familiar subject of “the cheating man” in a very different way, and from a different angle. Dolly is reaching out to the mistress and begging her not to steal her man away. There is no anger, only pleading and desperation. She packs a lot of story and a catchy chorus all in less than three minutes. Video

Bend Sinister “Time Breaks Down”
Robare Pruyn: I’m a sucker for old-school electric-piano tones, a little bit of Brian May-ish guitar and surf-rock vocal harmonies. This track is frenetic and high energy and combines a lot of disparate elements to create a tune that takes you places you don’t expect. I love that in a song. Video

Beatles “Something”
Molly Hebert-Wilson: I’ve always loved George Harrison’s transitions throughout his songs, particularly in this one, where he opens up the last chord of the verse to give a more emotionally demanding chorus. Video

Led Zeppelin “Gallows Pole”
Alex Bell: Zeppelin’s version of this one makes mandolin and banjo sound so much cooler than they actually are. Video

The Goat Rodeo Sessions “Here And Heaven”
Matt DeBlass: This is one of my current favorites. The quality of musicianship is, of course, amazing, but the sound is unlike anything else out there, and the song’s hushed intensity sucks me right in every time I hear it. Video

Renaissance “I Think Of You”
Melissa Perry: I can’t remember who first showed me Renaissance, but I know it was not my father, as he was surprised when he caught me listening to them in my teens. They opened my eyes as to what a band could sound like. This song is more stripped down than a lot of their other tunes as well as shorter, but I always loved the genuine and intimate quality of it. Video

John Miller & Ruthie Dornfeld “Dolor y Gusto”
Noam Berg: A lovely tune, effortless playing by two masters who have absolutely nothing to prove. You can hear how much fun they’re having in their performance. Audio

Radiohead “Hearing Damage”
Rebekah Griffin Greene: This is my favorite song ever. The words spoke to me about unconditional grace at a time a few years ago when I really needed it. Video

Ryuichi Sakamoto “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”
Michael Wolf: Through all my studying of classical music, this contemporary composer remains my absolute favorite, and this is my favorite piece of his. Very much in tune with minimalism, it manages to take a simple melody and, rather than developing it through alterations or closely related keys, restates it in slightly different settings. Video

Gift To The Greedy “Grease”
Brennan Kuhns: This band was one of the most exciting live bands I’ve ever seen; I went to countless shows of theirs in the ’90s and on. This is about as random a three minutes of music can be, but still connects to itself. Audio

Buddy Holly “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”
John Wheldon: This is a great example of musical evolution. Buddy Holly started in country before going into rock ‘n’ roll, but this song (the last he recorded before his death) shows he was beginning to experiment with different instrumentation. It’s so good, and it showcases how tragic his death was. We will never get to know where he would have gone next. Video

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