Review: Works Progress Administration, “WPA”

Glen Phillips’ brand of Southern California folk-rock has always flirted on the edge of its bluegrass and country and western roots. In the years since Toad the Wet Sprocket closed up shop, his songwriting has danced closer and closer to those roots, and with 2000’s Mutual Admiration Society – pairing Phillips with members of Nickel Creek – it seemed to come to the forefront. Taking that collaborative spirit to the next level, Works Progress Administration consists of Phillips and his MAS cohorts Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family) with Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band, Lyle Lovett), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell), Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters).

The group’s debut record, WPA, is a slice of modern Americana with strong pop sensibilities. Recorded over the course of five days, the recording itself feels very alive and immediate thanks to the production of Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty). There is a dynamic that showcases the collective beautifully and shines a light on the real star of the show: the 12 well crafted songs that make up the album.

”Always Have My Love” is easily one of the strongest tunes that Phillips has written in the past 10 years. It’s followed by the equally stellar “Good as Ever”, with Sara Watkins providing her angelic voice to bolster Glen’s vocal. Sara takes the lead for the gut-wrenching cover of Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep”.  As strong as these songs are, “I Could End This Now” (mp3) is easily my favorite track of the bunch. It manages to take the bluegrass mélange and adds just a touch of soul resulting in a stormy mid-tempo ballad.

WPA is not without its faults. The rave-up of “Paralyzed” and the hoedown of “Wedding or a Wake” seem awkward by comparison to the rest of the material. The record’s lowest moments come at the plodding “Who’s Gonna Cry for You” and “Remember Well”. Despite these small missteps, this record is a must for fans of the group’s respective origins.

Buy WPA: Amazon

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace | on Facebook | on Twitter

Two Gallants come from the old time, baby

Well I come from the old time baby / too late for you to save me

For two guys in their late twenties, they sure sing and sound like they come from the old time. San Francisco’s Two Gallants are a duo – Adam Stephens on guitar & vocals, Tyson Vogel on drums & vocals. These two caught my ear during my summer vacation in Colorado. I was checking out Pandora during a nap – listening to Deer Tick Radio (totally recommended) – and these guys kept popping up and bowling me over with their low-fi but powerful tunes.

They’ve released three albums, the last couple on Saddle Creek records. This tune is a favorite, and was actually one of the singles from their second album, What The Toll Tells. As is my custom it seems, it caught up to me a few years later. Go ahead, see what these guys can do with one guitar and one drum kit.

Two Gallants Steady Rollin’ (mp3)

From What the Toll Tells

VisitOfficial Site | MySpace

Went for a run and got the Harlem Shakes

So I went on an ill-advised 100 degree run this morning. Usually I’d be okay, but clearly the beer and food from last night’s BBQ had something to say about it, and I ended up really light-headed and exhausted. Now that I’m back to normal, I’ll share one of the great songs that popped up during the Hot Run.

Harlem Shakes are a quirky NYC-based indie band. I’ve had their latest, Technicolor Health on the iPod for some time. Today’s surprise kick in the pants shorts was “Radio Orlando”.

Harlem ShakesRadio Orlando (mp3) – from Technicolor Health


Review: Desktop, “Desktop EP”

If you hadn’t guessed already I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the blips and bleeps of the current generation of electronic indie pop. Detroit duo Desktop bring blips, bleeps, swooshing synths, atmospheric guitars and enough pop sensibility to make this all too brief EP an easy sell. Think of it as dance music at a time when we could all could use a reason to ignore our concerns and just dance. “Liberty” leads off the set with its quirky ‘80s techno leanings. “Fired Up” is the funkiest of the bunch with a driving beat a la Prince with shades of Cutting Crew. “Too Much” brings it all home with some over the top, make your ass wiggle goodness. What makes this an even easier sell is the fact that the group is offering it up for free.

Download Desktop EP Here

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace

ScarJo and Yorn’s new song “Relator” – and a vinyl giveaway


Even though Scarlett’s cover album of Tom Waits tunes didn’t fare too well commercially or critically, you have to hand it to her for following her musical whims and desires. Her latest project has her teaming up with Pete Yorn for Break Up, a new album due September 15th.

The first single is “Relator”, which was released a couple weeks back. Last week, the video was released – which is a huge deal for me, because, well, this is Scarlett Johansson we’re talking about here, folks.

7″Vinyl Single Giveaway: The good people at Rhino sent me the vinyl 7″ single, which includes the B-side “I Don’t Know What To Do”. If you feel like adding this to your collection, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a random winner a few days down the road. The cover art is different (and better) than the one above. I look at the one above and four words come to mind: “Outta the way, Yorn!!

Listen: Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson – “Relator

Visit: The Break Up Album dot com


Simply Gorgeous

“Their songs start off OK but then it’s all…..ARRRHHHDDDAHHHHHHHRRRRRRARAR.”

So says my wife regarding the New York based band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Back in 2003, I dragged her to their first show at First Avenue when they were touring in support of the first CD, Fever To Tell. The reaction on her face (nausea) when they did the song “Art Star” (a track from their first self-titled EP which, btw, is one of the BEST album covers EVER) naturally led to what has now become a decade-plus debate with my wife on what is and what is not art.

This perpetual debate usually ends with me saying, “You have to have your art spoon fed to you” which invariably results in me not getting any vag booty that evening (please email me if you do not know what vag booty is or what the difference is between it and ass booty). It’s always been tough to play the Yeah Yeah Yeahs over the years for my wife, who considers The Stranger by Billy Joel and Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf to be the high water marks of art in music.

While I do enjoy both of those albums immensely, I think the tapestry of art that is music should contain a great deal more depth than those records. Variety, angst, power, labia, and soul vomit (all words that come to mind when I think of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) should also be a part the lexicon of artistic expression in music. I doubt my wife, as well as many others, will ever see this.

So, when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released It’s Blitz last March, I expected a similar reaction. As I listened to the record, I was stunned to hear an entirely new direction. A mellow sound made up of stunning vocals by Karen and wispy keyboards gave me hope that my wife would give it a chance, or perhaps even like it. One track in particular has haunted me since I first played it last spring.

“Skeletons” is simply gorgeous. It’s so fucking good it just breaks my heart. It starts off with melancholic softness and builds into a majestic cacophony that makes the listener feel like he or she is John Wayne riding through Monument Valley in triumph. I am honestly at loggerheads as to which track will be the track of the year… this one or “Strange Enough” by N.A.S.A. Both feature Karen, so at least no matter which song I pick, I know I won’t dis the indie goddess of this century.

Last night as I was making dinner, I put “Skeletons” on the iPod boom box in the kitchen. My wife was reading the paper and looked up in the middle of the song. “This is a terribly sad song. I like it, though. Who is it?” I told her it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Her face quickly turned to astonishment. “Really? There’s no…….ARRRRAARRRGGGHHHHAARR…I hardly recognized it.”

I recommend that you buy the deluxe version of It’s Blitz as it has an accoustic (stunning!) version of “Skeletons” in addition to the original version.

Listen: Skeletons (mp3)

Buy It’s Blitz (click the cover):

Visit: Official Site | MySpace

New Pete Droge: The Droge & Summers Blend

Pete Droge just added Volume One, a new EP by The Droge & Summers Blend, to his Puzzle Tree Online Store today. The EP is made up of 5 tracks, and you – the picky music consumer – have the option of paying what you want, a la Radiohead’s In Rainbows. I just picked up the digital download for the default price of $2.99, and they are well worth it. Head over to Pete’s store to listen to the tracks and download if you fancy. The EP is officially released later this month.

The Summers in The Droge & Summers Blend refers to Elaine Summers, a Seattle area musician and artist who shares the vocals with Pete. They recorded the songs on nearby Vashon Island.

I’ve been a fan of Pete’s since his debut, the Brendan O’Brien-produced Necktie Second, back in 1994. There’s just something about his vibe – relaxed, genuine, gentle – that has always sat quite well with me.

Here’s one of the tracks – a happy-go-lucky, summery kind of tune…

Listen: The Droge & Summers BlendTie the Knot (mp3)

Name Your Price at Pete’s Puzzle Tree Store.

David Gray, “Fugitive”

David Gray has managed to exist just outside of my listening radar, crossing over here and there. What has always struck me is the depth of soul that he is able to breathe into every tune I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. That soul is abundant in the first single off his upcoming release Draw the Line due out September 22nd. Titled “Fugitive”, Gray says the image of Saddam Hussein being pulled out his spider hole inspired in part the lyrics for the song. The result is a striking and moving bit of singer-songwriter heaven which I’m sure will get many spins in the coming month and has me looking forward to the coming release.

For a peek behind the curtain Gray has shared this bit of film during the recording process:

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace

<div><div id=”c_s013FX69FvjCtpXOHcInsUnsw==”><div class=”ilike_content”> <ul class=”song_list_preview” style=”list-style:none;”> <li style=”overflow:hidden;”><a class=”song_play_btn” title=”Fugitive” href=””>Fugitive</a> by <a href=””>David Gray</a></li> </ul> </div>  </div><script src=’;k=s013FX69FvjCtpXOHcInsUnsw%3D%3D’></script><div id=”ilike_s013FX69FvjCtpXOHcInsUnsw==”><div style=”border-top:1px solid #dddddd;padding-top:5px;font-size:smaller;”>More <a href=’’>David Gray</a> music on <a href=’’>iLike</a></div></div></div>

Something like that, right? Is that what you want?

“Daddy, what’s stream of consciousness?”

My nine year old daughter was in the back seat of our minivan as we were heading home from summer day camp and laid yet another way beyond her age question on me. For a moment, my thoughts went back to when she was four years old and asked me if George Bush was a Christian. And if he was, why would he send people to kill other people if it was murder and breaking one of the Ten Commandments? I think Jean Piaget, developmental psychologist of the early and middle 20th Century, was rolling in his grave to hear a four year old express a question dripping with formal operational thought.

I actually could’ve used Piaget in answering not only the question from five years ago, but the current one that had piqued her curiosity.

“Why do want to know, hon?” I asked her.

“Well, we were talking about rap music today at camp and one of the counselors said that rap was cool because it was like stream of consciousness. So I want to know what that is.”

So, I spent the next few minutes explaining to her what it meant…how random thoughts can be strung together in a seemingly related way to express a thought or mood. Or both.

“Let’s listen to a song like that.”

I knew she’d make this request and I had the perfect one in mind…the Song of the Summer of 2009.

American Sam Spiegel (aka Squeak Spiegel) and Brazilian Ze Gonzales (aka Zegon) came together in 2007 to create a massively cool indie hip hop band called N.A.S.A. No, it’s not your father’s space agency but actually North America-South America…a sisterhood and brotherhood of unity that, quite frankly, our country could really use right now. All of their music reflects this mood quite wonderfully.

On February 17, 2009, the duo released The Spirit of Apollo. There are several great tracks on this record as well as a collection of guest stars like David Byrne, John Frusciante, Tom Waits, Santogold, George Clinton, and a wide variety of rappers and hip hop artists.

The track that really grabbed me, and officially became OCD (Obssesive Compulsive Disorder) song #1 of 2009 (review of OCD #2 to appear here soon) – and what I played for my daughter to illustrate the beauty of stream of consciousness – was “Strange Enough”, featuring the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Wu Tang Clan), Fatlip, and the seriously stunning on several levels Karen O (lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). What an absolute fucking corker of a song!

I think I have played this track every day at least once since it came out in February and, for whatever reason, it has become synonymous with this summer. Virtually everyone I have played it for has downloaded it. It’s rhythm is tight. The mood is intense and the lyrics are just plain cool. “Freak show pantie lover…but I’m getting too old for this like Danny Glover” or “Wild boy cowboy entertainer…insane…Purple Rainer”(special shout out to our Prince loving host of this site) are just two examples of how much fun this song is.

And Karen O’s bit is mega fucking cool. Towards the end of her rap, which is essentially the chorus of the song, she breaks down and giggles, asking Squeak and Zegon, who were presumably in the control room while she did her part…

“Something like that, right? Is that what you want?”

To which, the reply from Fatlip is:


No shit. Track of the Summer. Period. Heck, it might even be the Song of the Year but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have five months left of 2009. And there is this track (serendipity!) on the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album…

Hear: Strange Enough (mp3)

Buy: Spirit of Apollo

Visit: N.A.S.A. Official Site | MySpace

Discovering Discovery

As side-projects go, the pairing of Rostam Batmanglij (keyboardist for Vampire Weekend) and Wes Miles (vocalist for Ra Ra Riot) makes perfect sense. The results however, are as far as you can imagine from the twee indie pop of the pair’s respective bands. Trading in guitars, violins and afro-beat for synths and 808 drum machines, Discovery is an unabashed love letter to the days of electro-pop past.

The record opens with the one / two punch of the jubilant summertime “Orange Shirt” followed by the equally brilliant (and insanely catchy) “Osaka Loop Line”. “Can You Discover?” is a chopped and screwed re-imagining of Ra Ra Riot‘s “Can You Tell”.  Angel Deradoorian of Dirty Projectors lends her vocal shine to the hook of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”. The dynamic “So Insane” is easily my favorite track of the bunch and is shaping up to be a contender for my summertime jam. The record covers the hipster spectrum from reggae-tinged (“Swing Tree”) to R&B through twee-tinted glasses (“Carby” (featuring Batmanglij‘s bandmate Ezra Koenig)) to a timely (albeit, ironic) cover of The Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back”. The record wraps just shy of 30 minutes and almost begs an immediate second (and third) listen straight away.

It’s not ground-breaking but Discovery‘s LP could very well be the indie-pop record of the summer.

You can stream the entirety of LP at Discovery‘s  Official Site.

Discovery – “Osaka Loop Line” (mp3)

Buy LP: Amazon (available for only $3.99!)

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace