The Rock and Roll Hotel is nestled on H Street in D.C., quite inconveniently placed more than a mile from the nearest metro. The upstairs bar is a cozy little abode, with three amputated mannequins overhanging the bar. Instead of heads, the mannequins sport cow skulls that leer over your drink like overbearing relatives. There were winged Stratocasters on the ceiling and some kind of ridiculous anime show on Cartoon Network playing on the tube. After a couple of drinks and a few minutes of pondering what the hell the deal is with girls and Blue Moon, I headed back downstairs for the show.
British Columbia native, Carolyn Mark, has been active in the country music world since the early 1990s. She established herself by performing all over Canada and frequently tours the West coast of the United States. In 2000, she released a CD with Neko Case under the band name the Corn Sisters before wandering off to begin a solo career. She has been prolific as she has recorded five albums on her own now and the recently released Nothing is Free is an album that continues in her usual poignant style of roots country a la Tammy Wynette and the Carter Family.
While Sunset Rubdown may be referred to as Spencer Krug’s (Wolf Parade) side-project, their third album, Random Spirit Lover, sounds less like a side-project and more like a swan song. Through the album’s lengthy fifty-eight and a half minutes, Krug is able to manipulate the poetic chaos in a seemingly effortless way, giving equal time to both the frenetic and more sedated sides of his songwriting.
It’s been three years since their last album, Carnival, which was a rhythm section led masterpiece and now New Model Army have just released High, an album that sounds a little more akin to their typical songwriting style, but is no less compelling. The band have been described as being everything from punk to goth to folk, but the truth is that they have always eschewed categorization by just being themselves, a unique rock group led by Justin Sullivan, who continues to write intelligent, passionate music without effort. In this regard, High picks up where Carnival left off and New Model Army remain instantly identifiable and yet constantly evolving with another excellent release.
What a pleasant surprise the new Marissa Nadler CD was when it arrived in my mailbox. She is a relatively new artist from rural Massachusetts whom I knew nothing about. Songs III: Bird on the Water is her third record, and it is her first that was professionally recorded. It is a folk album in the true sense of the word and it is great. There are no traces of what most would refer to as alt-country. Refreshingly, there is hardly one shred of country at all in this sophisticated collection of folk songs. The songs themselves are quite bare, with minimal ethereal accompaniment and contain a moderate amount of shimmer and echo. The songs are somber and haunting, and if I were to come up with a quick comparison, I would say that she sounds something like a modern day female Leonard Cohen, but she also grasps her own autonomous voice.
“I think that’s the scrappiest version I’ve ever done of that in my life.”
That’s the line 21-year old Jamie Treays (aka Jamie T) uses to describe the album version of “Brand New Bass Guitar” to lead off his debut album, Panic Prevention, and I’d say that “scrappy” is an apt description of the album as a whole. He’s been compared to a number of seminal British musicians, from Joe Strummer to Mike Skinner, and those two influences in particular are apparent all over this album. He’s already been critically and commercially well-received over in the motherland, and is making moves in the States with his interesting blend of hip-hop (“So Lonely Was The Ballad”), spaz-dance-punk (“Operation”) and even a little scatting (“If You Got The Money”). The album flows seamlessly with vocal interludes all throughout and a very consistent tone, which might be what makes it so refreshing.
Andorra, the latest release from Ontario-based digital maestro Daniel Snaith, is about as good of an indie electronica release you’re likely to hear all year. Snaith has been playing under the name of Caribou since 2004 after the threat of a lawsuit from punk rocker Dick Manitoba forced him to change his previous title of the same name. Whatever Canada-inspired moniker he chooses to adopt, what hasn’t changed is his ability to direct his own sonic landscapes into a diamond-honed product. Still in his late-20s, Snaith has demonstrated a powerful presence as a producer and digital musician. The music of Andorra ranks as not only some of his most intricate work, but also that which finds itself in good standing to make top-10 lists for 2007.