Tag Archives: 7″

Andrew Bird – The Crown Salesman & So Much Wine

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Andrew Bird has been releasing records in some form or another for the past 16 years (1996 he first contributed to a Squirrel Nut Zippers Record). Most known for his exquisite skills as a whistler(notably appearing at the end of The Muppets), Mr. Bird is a multi-instrumentalist who creates music that defies most descriptive genre labels. At times folk, at times pop, and in moments ethereal and other worldly, Andrew Bird creates compositions that are uniquely his own.

In preparation for Mr. Bird’s album, Break It Yourself, he released this 7″. The release is actually two cover songs, the a-side, ‘The Crown Salesman’, was originally performed by a band called Alpha Consumer, which is Jeremy Ylvisaker‘s band, who is also Bird’s touring guitarist. The b-side is called “So Much Wine” and is performed by The Handsome Family, an alt-country band formed in 1993.

What did we think of the songs? We’re gonna tell you!

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Rob: I don’t know if there’s such thing as a typical Andrew Bird song, or a typical Andrew Bird sound, but to me, the intro distortion and guitar sound announce that this is going to be a song by Andrew Bird (even though it really doesn’t sound a whole lot like many other Andrew Bird songs). There’s a slow building distortion. The ever present violin, but a guitar that seems to be trying to find it’s voice, but can only let out high pitched distortions of voice.

Later in the song, after the second verse, there’s an almost screeching-ness into the violin and guitars. It’s right on the borderline between being pleasurable musically and nails on a chalkboard, but it just rides the line. It’s small things like that, intricate sounds that on first listen seem simple, but upon further reflection seem to be down right hard to create.

The lyrics, at first, seem to be almost anthemic, supported by a driving, march like drum (or an early Bruce Sprinsteen rock and roll beat, just slowed down (boom   – – da da). Riffing on the Statue of Liberty,  Mr. Bird sings, ‘bring me your trampling masses, your Sunday best’. It seems as though the Crown Salesman is running the game. We only get two verses and the chorus twice, with the rest of the song creating the atmospheric violin / guitar distortion described above. Check out the original version, to see how Andrew Bird makes it his own, adding the distortion and his own unique brand of singing.

Eric: The way the guitar starts out in the song, its like a paragraph starting with a period, or maybe an ellipsis.  As if the guitar is saying, what was I saying? Oh, that’s right.  Then Andrew Bird’s voice cuts it, but throughout the song it feels as if he and his guitar are struggling: each one wants to have the floor to speak. When he sings “I am the Crown Salesman!” the guitar then comes in as if to answer, “Oh, really?” and in the end, it seems as if Mr. Bird loses his struggle and the guitar and violin take the floor to let out the chaos that he had been holding back.

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Rob: ‘So Much Wine’ is also a cover. And far more traditional as we begin with just a simple acoustic guitar accompanying Andrew. In come the brushed snares, and then a little later the single twangy guitar. If anything, this song demonstrates that Andrew Bird might have a second career as a country artist. His voice still retains it’s majestic or baroque qualities, but he still manages to impart a small bit of twang.

In quintessential country song fashion, ‘So Much Wine’ is about drinking (obviously, I suppose). And like any good country song, it’s not about the loss and loneliness that that wine causes. The narrator seems to be counseling his significant other, and realizes that her problems are deeper than any glass of wine can help. Until the drinking itself has become the problem. And all he can do is drive away, and contemplate the stars.

In the second half of the song though, the solo guitar loses it’s twang and instead we get a little bit of the distortion we heard in the first song. Not an all encompassing distortion, but the twang is allowed to stretch a little bit, to float off into the night sky, as if the song was being played around a camp-fire, with coyotes coming closer in the woods and howling their pleasure to every line.

Eric: “When you fell asleep/with blood on your teeth/I just got in my car/And drove away” sounds like it could be a line from a song about vampires. Though this is not the case, it is very much so a song tinged from beginning to end with melancholy, talking about the tragedy of alcohol and relationships. I absolutely love the refrain of “Listen Butterfly/there’s only so much wine/you can drink/in one night/and it will never be enough/to save you from the bottom/of the glass”. No matter what you do, eventually you have to come back to the sober reality, consequences and loneliness that come with the next morning. I think Andrew Bird puts a great spin on this song, carrying it out and away.

Lemuria – Brilliant Dancer 7″

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Part of what makes Lemuria so compelling is the way in which they use alternating female and male vocals. In ways that certainly seem innovative (at least to me) the two lead singers will not only trade lines back and forth, but will also sing the songs that the other member has written. It creates a bit of gender dysmorphia; maybe causing the listener to consider the words carefully. (As a good example of this, see ‘Lipstick‘ from Lemuria’s 2008 album Get Better). When Lemuria switched to Bridge 9 records for their most recent release, Pebble, in 2010, people were a little confused. Bridge 9 is traditionally a hardcore outfit, putting out records by the likes of Agnostic Front, Death Before Dishonor, and Champion (funny story, I picked up their debut Bridge 9 CD way back in 2002, my first experience with Bridge 9). But, some would argue that the word ‘traditional’ is maybe not exactly of a punk ethos, so in a weird way, it makes some sense that Lemuria are on Bridge 9. They’ve always been a little bit moodier than traditional pop-punk bands, but not quite in an emo way. Get Better showed hints of sparseness, but Pebble created more difficult sonic landscapes, drifting away from the poppier sun land of Asian Man and heading down river towards ominous clouds. But, Pebble, while not as poppy, was still Lemuria, and had more than it’s share of quotable, sing along verses. (and It’s not like Get Better was that happy ie ‘I spend more time missing you than kissing you’ isn’t exactly the cheeriest of sentiments… So where does all that leave us? The relationship between Bridge 9 and Lemuria seems to be proceeding smoothly as they have released a few 7″s after Pebble, and are now on the verge of releasing a new Lemuria full length. To get ready for that release (pre-order here) we’re going to talk about the first single from the album and the b-side.

Brilliant Dancer

Eric’s thoughts: ‘Brilliant Dancer’ starts off with a rolling guitar that seems straight off of a Gaslight Anthem or Against Me! track. The difference being that there is never a throaty growl following that guitar, instead we get some female vocals sung quite pleasantly. A song about an unexpected appearance of a crush, it hits amazement and incredulity pretty well. And watch out for the key change about halfway through, it seems as if they start in a whole new song without warning.

Rob’s thoughts: I like the way we start with just a picked guitar, as the drums and guitar enter slowly. Then bring in the vocals, soft and sweet. But before the minute is over we’ve suddenley upped the volume, and now we have both singers, singing in unison. One of the most compelling part of Lemuria’s music is their ability to start one place and end up somewhere else completely different. They utilize stops and starts, tempo changes, and even have multiple movements within one song (see Eric’s comment above). This song is a good lead single for the new album, as Lemuria definetely have an anthemic aura about them, but just before you’re ready to start singing along, they pull the rug out from under you and go somewhere else, leaving you on the floor, brilliant dancer spinning above.

Helloing

Eric’s thoughts:  ‘Helloing’ is a slightly shorter track and it wears its pop sensibilities on its sleeve, getting you toe-tapping right from the get go. I think ‘Helloing’ plays a good b-side to ‘Brilliant Dancer’ because they both seem to be about the tentative feelings that come before a relationship starts or later after one ends.

Rob’s thoughts: If ‘Brilliant Dancer’ sounds like an Against Me! track, then the riff influence on ‘Helloing’ seems to be Hold Steady. Those crunchy power chords stand out as the initial drum beat drops out and comes back. But instead of the speak-sing stylings of Craig Finn, we get Alex Kern’s melodic monotone (just about as distinctive). ‘Helloing’ seems to find the two character’s of the song in a long term relationship, wondering what’s allowed. The first verse brings up the question of fidelity, or flirting, which prompts the female character to defend herself, and at the same time bring up a philosophical question: where does friendliness end and flirting begin and end? As one mature’s in a relationship, does one have to sacrifice their own characteristics, blunting their personality to prove their love? ‘I didn’t talk to, look at, or touch any others /I wish I had more time to be nice to others’. The bridge is a crunchy guitar, with stop and start bass and drums coming and, driving us to a climax, before we repeat the chorus twice more, ‘Is it still safe to be helloing’,  stuttering and fading out.

Listen to the songs here or on Bandcamp, and buy Brilliant Dancer now!

Laura Stevenson – Runner 7″

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Laura Stevenson is an indie singer songwriter with a background in the punk community. Her latest album is titled “Wheel” and released on Don Giovanni records. This 7 inch contains the first single of the new record, ‘Runner’, as well as two other non-album songs, ‘The Fire’, and ‘Slouch’. ‘Wheel’ marks Laura’s third album, and first to drop the moniker ‘and the Cans’ from her band name. This 7 inch showcases three different of aspects of Laura’s sound, from the driving indie/punk of ‘Runner’, to the more slow burning, country tinged ‘The Fire’, and finally the contemplative piano ballad of ‘Slouch’. Here’s what we thought of each of the songs.

Runner

Eric’s thoughts:  “To give yourself a bit of hopes a lie” is not a cheerful way to start a song. Which is okay, because I’m not sure ‘Runner’ is a cheerful song, though it does have an infectious beat and a chorus that will have you singing along. The chorus goes “The summer hurts”. When I first heard the song I sympathized in a simplistic way: I agreed that the summer can hurt, the sun can be unbearably hot, so much so that you might not want to go outside at all. Which is why I prefer the other seasons. But I listened again keeping in mind that the name of the song is ‘Runner’. This time the lyrics clicked differently. I know too well the pains of being a runner, the feeling of waking up early to beat the pavement mile after mile with the sun menacing in the sky, seat pouring down and all of my muscles telling me to stop, turn around. Running is a battle as much as it is a pleasurable form of exercise. I think Miss Stevenson captures that duality well in this song.

Rob’s thoughts:

The titular song off of “Runner” is a reminicscent of a lot of the songs from Laura’s last release, Sit & Resist. A bumpy, bumbling beat with a strong bass line gets us going. Laura has an almost violin like voice, shading from highs to low when she holds a longer word, or punctuating the chorus, “This summer hurts “. I think the dynamics are part of what make Laura Stevenson songs so interesting: even when you can’t totally understand the words, her voice acts as a 5th instrument melding seamlessly with the rhythm section. In the style of the best indie songs with punk backgrounds (see Weakerthans, Hold Steady), Laura writes an accessible pop-song with that punkish ethos the base that propels this thing forward. This summer might hurt, but we’re going to run at it, hurtling on no matter the pain.

 

 

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The Fire

Rob’s thoughts: After the explosive propulsion of Runner, The Fire brings things back to a more manageable speed. This is the flip side of Laura Stevenson (both figuratitevely and literally, I suppose), the country-tinged slow burners (hard not to use that cliché when the songs called The Fire). The banjo, the brushed snare drum, and the accordion flourishes drag this song out to the porch. After the anger and the fireworks of the beginning of the summer, the Fire are those late July, early August nights, when the excitement of early summer has warn off; it’s still warm, but now it’s recounting stories, watching the stars come out, letting the sun set on a lake, somewhere in the north woods.

Eric’s thoughts: Here’s a toe-tapping song that builds with nostalgia and melancholy for a memory. Is it a break up song? i’m not sure. Perhaps She’s invoking the fire to eat away this painful memory that is plaguing her. Definitely a good song for a rainy afternoon or a starry night of driving with the windows down.

The Slouch

Eric’s thoughts:  Close your eyes for this one. let the sparse chords lull you peacefully to sleep. ‘The Slouch’ is a come down after ‘Runner’ and ‘The Fire’. This song is the blanket lovingly draped over you once you’ve drifted off in an improbable position. Let the piano take you away.

Rob’s thoughts: And finally, Slouch. This is maybe the third and most sensitive side of Laura’s work. Just her and the piano. The protection of the band gone,just a microphone and her voice, and the piano. This song is recorded in a lovely way (you can hear the pedals and the creaking of the piano bench as she plays, giving a soft almost percussive noise). And just as the summer fades away into autumn, so does this song hit a few, last hopeful notes, before fading out. The lullaby at the end of the night.


 

Order Runner. Also, the Laura’s new full-length Wheel is also great!

Don Giovanni puts out some cool records, as well.