I’ll admit to being slightly underwhelmed by Christopher Owens’ debut solo album, Lysandre, released a year and a half ago after his disbanding of the amazing band Girls. Yeah, it had its standout moments (“New York City” being my favorite), but it lacked that immediate spark that made me want to go back and listen again and again.
The tunes I’ve heard from the newly announced album, A New Testament, have me intrigued and eager for the release. And today’s released single, “Nothing More Than Everything To Me” (with its accompanying video below) definitely brought the spark back. It’s a fun, infectious two minutes of pop – bringing a smile to my face the same way “Honey Bunny” and “Laura” did from his Girls days. Sounds like a return to form to me…
“Don’t try to get me down. Don’t try to harsh my mellow, man!”
Because after multiple listens over the last 24 hours, the short & sweet Lysandre album, brand new from former Girls frontman Christopher Owens, is doing the trick. And yes, Owens does indeed use the “harsh my mellow” line in “Here We Go Again.”
So for anyone who doesn’t know, I am enamored with the Girls catalog – the two albums and one EP. Christopher dissolved the band in mid 2012 to move on to some solo work. The first fruits of his solo labors is the concept album Lysandre, which has been kicking around in his head since the first Girls tour in 2008. For on that tour, while in France, he met a fair French maiden named Lysandre, and they fell hard for each other. Love ensued, but so did separation, as Chris returned to his home in San Francisco. Most of us know how difficult it is to maintain a long distance relationship, and theirs was no different than most of us – it fell apart.
Lysandre tells that story from A to Z in a sweet, sad, fun, beautiful little 28 minute package. My one and only complaint is the abbreviated EP-like length. It leaves me thirsting for more.
Tops for me so far is “New York City”, which is catchy as hell with that cool neo-Brian Wilson vibe, and juxtaposes tales of his pre-band days in Texas (dime bags, guns & knives, making a quick hundred bucks in the back of a pickup truck) with playing to a crowd for the first time in New York City: “But look at us in New York City, everybody’s listening to me.” Oh, and Saxophone warning! There is Saxophone on this track, which some may find over the top or cheesy at parts. I like Chris’s attitude about it though – put it in there, and make it loud! This, folks, is a fun song…
Another highlight is “Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener,” an endearing song about self doubt, the naysayers and critics, and an affirmation that “beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, love is in the ear of the listener.”
All in all, I admire the way this album is put together. As I’ve prattled on about before, any artist who is out there creating something fresh and unpredictable every time out has my respect. It’s one story told over 28 minutes. “Lysandre’s theme” / interlude makes appearances throughout, and ties the songs together. It never leaves the key of A. There’s saxes. There’s Renn-faire flutes. There’s bang-bang beach rock n roll… It’s a half hour journey through California, NYC and France – an enjoyable one that I look forward to riding along to in the months and years to come.
MP3 Download Giveaway – I bought a vinyl copy of Lysandre, and they included a couple of extra download codes for the digital album in MP3 format. If you’re interested in getting a hold of the digital album, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a couple of people in a few days (or – if there’s only two of you, lucky you!).
If you’re bent on grabbing that record here and now (which I heartily recommend), here are some links for you:
I’ve been as quiet here on Ickmusic as I ever have during its eight year run. Worry not, nothing (outside of my family) has taken a back seat to music in my life. It still fuels everything I do. But there has been a definite lull in my desire to sit down and type out regular blog posts. I know it tears you up inside (whoever “you” may be).
But it’s okay, Ickmusic.com is still here when I need it. Like today, for instance, when I feel like sharing my music highlights from the year Twenty-Twelve.
Here are some of the albums, songs and live shows that enriched my world in 2012…
Fans and critics who were praying for another Everything All The Time or Cease to Begin cried foul when Mirage Rock was released this year. Me? I ate it right up. The album, produced by legendary classic rock engineer/producer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Stones, to name a couple) definitely steers heavily into 70’s classic rock and even soft rock category. I am just fine with that. In fact, the wistfully sweet “Long Vows” and “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” are two of my favorites. But the boys sure crank it up with tunes like “Dumpster World”, “Knock Knock”, and the early 70’s Stones-ish “Electric Music.” Yep, I’m all in on this record. Oh, and if you’re looking for beauty, track down “Relly’s Dream” from the Sonic Ranch Sessions bonus disc on their deluxe edition. I spun this album start to finish more than any other release this year.
2. Show: World Party – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix – 12-02-2012
Thanks to Zia Records, the top independent record store here in Phoenix, I won a pair of tickets to see Karl Wallinger and his band World Party. As a big fan especially of the Goodbye Jumbo album, it was a rare honor to see Karl play an intimate venue like the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix (my #1 room in town). After a serious health scare in the early 2000’s (a brain aneurysm), Karl’s voice is as pure and dynamic as you’d hope for. Along with his sharp young Nashville bandmates, he tore through WP classics like “Is It Like Today”, “Ship of Fools”, “Way Down Now” and (my favorite) “Put The Message In The Box”; and also sat down at the keys for “She’s The One” and “God On My Side.” This gig far exceeded my expectations (I didn’t know what to expect, really), and I sincerely hope Karl continues on with making music and touring. I can’t wait to see him again.
Here’s a video I shot of Karl and violin/mandolin/harmony vocalist extraordinaire David Duffy singing “Mystery Girl” (bump up the quality to 720p or 1080p):
3. Show: Band of Horses, Marquee Theater, Tempe 10-26-2012
I’d seen Band of Horses a couple of times before, but only in a festival setting (Austin City Limits). This first true headlining show came out of the cancelled Railroad Revival Tour with Willie Nelson. Ben Bridwell and the boys set up at Tempe’s Marquee Theater in late October and tore the roof off the dump. Drawing from all four of their studio albums with a couple covers thrown in (Them Two and Hour Glass, nice & obscure!), the songs were rambunctious, mellow, inspiring, wistful, beautiful, rocking… all the adjectives that reminded me (and the full house) why we love them so much. Not to mention getting to chat for a while with Ben after the show. The dude abides.
Give me the cool, gravelly roots/folk/country rockin’ twang of Ryan Bingham any day of week. Tomorrowland is a return to the more straight-ahead rockers that seemed to be missing on his last album, the T-Bone Burnett produced ‘Junky Star.’ He wastes no time on Tomorrowland’s opener, launching into “Beg for Broken Legs” with urgency and force. “Guess Who’s Knockin” is another strong one, featuring a satisfying F-bomb chorus. “Never Ending Show”, “Flower Bomb”, “The Road I’m On” – all standout tracks. If you haven’t checked out Tomorrowland (or Ryan Bingham) yet, you’re missing out. Just do it.
5. Show: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Jobing.com Arena, Glendale 12-06-2012
I took a couple of Bruce first timers a few hours early to go through the wristband lottery to try and get up near the front of the stage (“in the pit”, as they say). Sadly, our numbers were not of the lucky variety, and we were shut out. So we ended up behind the pit right next to the sound booth. The disappointment was very quickly washed away with Bruce’s first strum of the acoustic for the opener “Surprise, Surprise.” The first 30 minutes was a showcase of career nuggets: “No Surrender”, “I’m a Rocker”, “Hungry Heart”, “Prove It All Night”, “Trapped”, and “Lost in the Flood” – and all those before launching into the new Wrecking Ball material! Three plus hours from a tireless 63 year old and his very large troupe of supporting members – the E Street Band and then some. My eighteenth live Bruce experience, and yet another reminder why The Boss sits on the top of the pile in my world.
Who would’ve thought I was seeing Girls the band in one of their final performances? For not long after, frontman, songwriter, and singer Christopher Owens announced on Twitter that the band was done. He’s moving on in another musical direction (his debut solo album, Lysandre, comes out in just a couple weeks). So I am fortunate to have seen Christopher and the band play songs I’ve come to absolutely love since discovering them a couple of years ago: “Laura”, “Alex”, “Honey Bunny”, “Love Like a River”, “Die”…
Something about Christopher’s music draws me in – the beauty and innocence, the light in the darkness – and I’ll basically be following him around for however long he decides to make music. A great show – short, but sweet.
A 27 minute album opener with the lyrics “I wanna get a hip-hop haircut”? Check. Something about this record, particularly the longer running tunes (“Driftin’ Back”, “Ramada Inn”, “Walk Like a Giant”), really grabbed hold of me. It’s the loud, distorted (and long) guitar solos, it’s the way Neil sneers his way through the lyrics… It’s the unconventional and F-you attitude of it all. Everything Mr. Neil Young represents.
And of course Neil has a 27 minute long official video for “Driftin’ Back”…
Rock Star. Completely and indisputably. It’s fun to sit back and watch a performer just turn on all the glamor, glitz, and poses of a Rock Star. Lenny has perfected this persona over his 20+ years of performing. He’s got a quite the catalog to choose from, and watching him perform the hits (“Are You Gonna Go My Way” being my favorite) as well as tunes from his surprisingly strong latest album, ‘Black and White America‘, had us out of our seats the entire gig. Lenny has always been and remains a total badass. Such an entertaining show.
9. Song: Bruce Springsteen – “Jack of All Trades”
This is my favorite Bruce tune in years. I thought about including the whole ‘Wrecking Ball‘ on the “list”, but that wouldn’t be an honest assessment. While I enjoy Bruce’s Great Recession album from earlier this year, I just haven’t connected too much with the songs (of course, hearing them live is a whole ‘nother ball of wax – see above for my December 6th Bruce show). “Jack of All Trades” though, wow. A slow, dirge-like bass drum and piano start off the song. It builds and builds with each verse and ends with a forceful guitar solo from Tom Morello. The theme of strength, perseverance and optimism in the face of adversity is a common one in Bruce’s music, but he really connects with this tune in a goosebumps and tears kind of way.
“I’m the jack of all trades / honey we’ll be alright”
Matt Vasquez and company continue to evolve, refusing to stay pigeonholed the way some fans prefer (see Mirage Rock comments). “California” was the lead single and the most obvious stray from their former indie/folk sound – a more electronic modern pop sound. But they still rock out – “Money Saves” is one of my favorites, as are “Tear It Up” and “Tellin’ the Mind.” Nothing matches my three standout tracks from their last album, ‘History From Below‘ – “911”, “Bushwick Blues” and “Salt in the Wound” – but that’s not a knock on this record. I love a band that explores new territory and challenges themselves to try something new – Delta Spirit is a band I’ll be following for years to come.
It wasn’t until about midway though the year that I reconnected with Canadian singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith. I listened to him in the late 90’s and early 00’s, but for some reason, I seemed to veer away. ‘6 Volts’ was released in January, and quickly reminded me what drew me to Fred: clever songwriting and storytelling, and great folk/root-rock sounds and rhythms. ‘”Betty” is a standout track from 6 Volts, with Fred conjuring up dark imagery on as cheerful a melody and cadence as possible: “Betty what’d you do with the gun? There’s strangers at my door / and there’s more where they come from / …was it the money, was it the drugs / was it somebody that you used to know / …Betty Betty why won’t you tell me”.
Straight out of Duluth, Minnesota, I became aware of Trampled by Turtles when I saw them at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival. I’ve seen categorizations bandied about in the past for this band, like “newgrass” and “speedgrass”… but with this year’s release, people will have to search for new adjectives. They jump into more rootsy, Americana-inspired territory here, bringing the tempo down with some great tunes like “Midnight on the Interstate”, “Alone”, “Widower’s Heart” and “Beautiful.” Of course, they haven’t abandoned their bluegrass roots, their banjo and fiddle players remain. So if you want your speed fix, listen to “Don’t Look Down” or “Walt Whitman.”
Christopher Owens, the heart, mind, body and soul behind San Francisco’s Girls, decided to leave (and effectively disssolve) the group back in July with an announcement on Twitter (One, Two, and Three).
Thankfully, the creative juices are still flowing, and he’s been busy in L.A. recording his first solo album. The word is now out that Chris will be releasing Lysandre on January 15th, 2013 on the Fat Possum label.
There’s a really nice piece here on Fader where Chris talks about the backstory behind Lysandre. In a nutshell, Lysandre is a French girl he met on Girls’ first tour back in 2008 (supporting their debut, Album). A long distance romance evolved and eventually ended. The album tells the story of the journey.
I feel like this is the most focused effort I’ve ever made musically; telling a story from one song to the next in order of occurrence, making the album almost like one long song. A little bit like a musical. I’m very proud of it and happy it worked so well. I’m pleased to be able to share it with the world; its story, its music, its universal and classic themes. It’s a coming of age story, a road trip story, a love story. It’s a moment in time that has been captured and brought to life through art. For you, for me, for us. For what it’s worth. – Christopher Owens
I am so locked into this guy and the music he makes, so count me among those who are very excited about this new record. The first two tracks have been offered up on Soundcloud: “Lysandre’s Theme” (a short instrumental intro) and “Here We Go,” featuring soft acoustic guitar, flute, fuzzed out electric… Time for another listen.
Here’s the track listing for Lysandre. Pre-Order the album here.
1: Lysandre’s Theme
2: Here We Go
3: New York City
4: A Broken Heart
5: Here We Go Again
6: Riviera Rock
7: Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener
9: Everywhere You Knew
10: Closing Theme
11: Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)
I can confirm after this morning’s run that Team Coco’s Rdio playlist entitled “Good Zombie Killin’ Music” happens to double as a mighty fine runnin’ mix. Rage’s “Bulls on Parade”, Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”, the Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling”, and some new tunes for me – including the strange but fascinatingly entertaining “I Fink U Freeky” by Die Antwoord.
I think my favorite of the bunch was Outkast’s “B.O.B.” off their Stankonia album. It reminded me that there’s a treasure trove to be found in Outkast’s stuff. This week, I’ll be diving into Stankonia with fresh ears. I’m not sure if I’ve ever listened to the whole thing.
If you’re on Rdio, you can follow Team Coco, and subscribe to the handful of playlists they have up thus far.
The Zombie mix? Solid.
Back on April 18th, my favorite band of the last few years – Girls – took to Conan’s stage for a performance of “Love Like A River.” See it? No? Well here…
2011 was another year of musical discovery for me. Clocking in highest on the discovery meter were San Francisco’s Girls; but right up there with Girls were two bands that can’t technically qualify for my best of 2011 album list: Delta Spirit and Titus Andronicus. Their latest albums – History from Below and The Monitor (respectively) – were both released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until this year. Overall, when I think of 2011, these three groups reigned supreme in my corner of the world.
But on to the albums. Looking back at my iTunes and Last.fm listening history, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to muster up a Top Ten list. Sure, I could B.S. and include something like the Beasties’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – which I enjoyed on some level, but never listened to straight through more than twice. Thinking about albums, ’tis all about honesty, and what’s truly important to me as a full body of work. So in that spirit, here are my Top 8 albums of 2011…
I had heard – and loved – “Laura,” a single off Girls first album a couple years back. But it wasn’t until this year that I fell completely head over heels for the San Francisco band led by Christopher Owens. The quirky “Honey Bunny” video drew me in – and when I tracked down the new album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it was over – I was hooked. It’s rich with emotion, it rocks, it’s delicate… I can’t wait to follow Christopher around from here on out and hear what he has to say. Both Girls full lengths and the EP are excellent – discovering them has been the music highlight of my year.
Here’s one that surprised me. Though I loved “The Poet Game” single many years back, no full album of Greg Brown’s had really come along that knocked my socks off. Freak Flag did just that. Full of beauty, wisdom and Greg’s wry sense of humor, it’s the folk masterpiece of 2011.
I love Delta Spirit. I love Deer Tick. I love Dawes. So it’s no surprise that Middle Brother was up among the tops this year, since the group is made up of the front men of all 3 groups. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Brother live this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, which may very well have been their last performance… but something tells me Taylor Goldsmith, John McCauley and Matt Vasquez will be making more music together somewhere down the road.
Highlight: “Million Dollar Bill” – This is a Goldsmith-penned song that also shows up on Dawes’ new record, Nothing Is Wrong. On the MidBro version, the three guys each get a verse, and the result is profound, in my ever so humble opinion. I prefer it to the Nothing is Wrong version.
It’s hard not to be endeared to this L.A. band that channels the SoCal / Lauren Canyon 70’s vibe. Taylor Goldsmith is a brilliant lyricist, and they’re just getting started. That’s scary (in a very good way). And their live show? Forget about it. Passionate and fiery stuff…
Highlight: “Fire Away” – This tune features Jackson Browne on background vocals, Taylor’s brother Griffin taking lead vocals on the bridge, and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on the organ. Great sing along chorus – a tune that really takes off into the stratosphere by song’s end – especially live.
Jim James (er – Yim Yames) and the boys of MMJ always put me in a good place. Another solid studio album featuring tunes that ignite in a live setting. I must have watched MMJ on at least 3-4 festival webcasts this summer. Another mind-blowing live band that can also deliver in the studio. Confession though: I just don’t like “Holdin On To Black Metal.”
Highlight: “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – I’m a sucker for some mellow MMJ. A great moment when the drums come in at “I-I-I-I’m going where there ain’t no fear…”
Snarly wild man John McCauley is back with another Deer Tick record. This time he shares the spotlight with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neill, who write and sing on a few tunes. Divine Providence has a little bit of everything – honky-tonk rock, punk, pop. Oh, do I need to mention they’re also a killer live band? I saw them three times this year – twice in their home state of Rhode Island as they took over the Newport Blues Cafe during Folk Festival time.
Highlight: “The Bump” – The Deer Tick theme song. “We’re full grown men! But we act like kids!” The drunken devil strikes again.
I was frankly surprised by Lenny’s latest. Rock, funk, soul, pop – yep, pretty much the Lenny Kravitz blueprint throughout his career. But the hooks and melodies caught on quick with me, and had me coming back for more helpings. The last time I enjoyed a Lenny album this much, I was 21 (1991’s Mama Said)!
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it.
Highlight: “Liquid Jesus” – A sexy 70’s soul vibe as Lenny channels his inner Curtis Mayfield.
I was looking forward to a full length album from the UK’s Frank Turner since stumbling across his set at the ACL Festival a couple years back. It was worth the wait. Frank’s working class, populist folk/punk is alive and well in England Keep My Bones.
Highlight: “If Ever I Stray” – Certain songs give me goosebumps and make my eyes well up with their sheer power. This is one of those songs.
God, have I fallen hard for this band. There’s some sort of musical synergy that I share with Girls singer/songwriter Christopher Owens. The three Girls albums (2 full lengths and an EP) are played regularly, and every listen is more and more of an enriching and fulfilling experience. I connect so deeply with his melodies, his lyrics, the soft touches, every nuance of his voice, and pretty much every element he crafts into his songs.
Case in point, the journey of “Carolina” from Broken Dreams Club, their stellar 2010 EP. It’s broken up into three separate parts: first, a calm, quiet into with guitars (pedal steel and electric) and some other-worldly effects; then the drums gradually build and launch into the second part – a driving, trance-inducing rhythm where the first lyrics come in…
“Get the reaction / get it right now / Find a connection / Get it right now…”
And finally, an unexpected transition to one of the sweetest, most beautiful melodies you’ll ever hear, where Chris breaks out his familiar falsetto and these lovesick, heart-wrenching words:
“I’m going to pick you up baby, throw you over my shoulder
Take you away, I’m going to carry you home
To Carolina, Carolina
Away to southern Carolina
And then I’ll never let you go.”
It’s classic build and release – so, so satisfying.
Sometimes an album comes along that covers you like a warm blanket. There’s no rhyme or reason to it really, it just feels right. You carry it around with you, playing it every chance you get. It’s not just a connection to one or two good songs, it’s a connection to the whole body of work. Every song seems to hit you in a good place, and every listen is a fresh adventure.
Sometimes that feeling doesn’t kick in until you’ve listened to an album a bunch of times (an example this year: My Morning Jacket’s Circuital). But other times, it’s immediate. And when it’s completely unexpected – my God, it’s such a rush.
It happened to me today with a new album called Father, Son, Holy Ghost by San Francisco’s Girls. A couple of years ago, I became enamored by one of their songs, “Laura”, and had the good fortune to catch part of their set at the ’09 ACL Festival. It’s a song that still pops into my head from time to time, including this morning. Then, I saw they had a new album out, and I clicked Play (on Rdio). And I really haven’t stopped since.
Beautiful melodies. Shades of the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd… Summery pop interspersed occasionally with an edge, but never losing its luster and beauty – all from the mind of singer/guitarist Christopher Owens.
Believe it or not, you’ll fall in love with songs called “Vomit” and “Die”. And the lead single and album opener “Honey Bunny” sucks you right in.
I’ve been listening to this record for less than 12 hours, and already it’s one of my highlights of 2011.
Here’s the official video for “Honey Bunny”, featuring Christopher and his real life girlfriend, Hannah Hunt. He channels Prince with his black belly shirt (the “Kiss” video), and MJ with his “The Way You Make Me Feel” gestures. I’ve also been reading that the video (and the band itself) takes inspiration from Ariel Pink – who I’ve heard of but know pretty much nothing about. Perhaps I shall explore.