Thursday, December 22, 2005

Issue 4

"He's making a list. He's checking it twice. He's gonna find out whether it correctly adheres to the strictly defined editorial policy…eh? Excuse me?"

Yes kids, it's that time of year again. The festive beast is at our backs once more, and while bloggers have been feverishly posting Best of Year lists with an ever increasing desperation (Hello Mum!), scandal rocked the music publishing world when The NME was accused of fixing its Best Of Year Poll for commercial reasons. Well, here at Sleephouse I can assure you that no such thing occurs. Chance would be a fine thing. Here's my review of 2005. It's untouched by economic considerations of any kind. It's also untouched by anything I've ever played in Sleephouse before, so for a complete best of year list: just play every episode back to back and miss out anything that wasn't released this year.

To listen, simply download the audio file of the show (by clicking the image below) or use the flash player in the sidebar. This show can also be subscribed to as a podcast by copying the address of the RSS link in the sidebar into the podcast receiver of your choice. It’s all so simple…

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(42MB, 45 mins. MP3 file)

1. Destroyer & Frog Eyes : An Actor's Revenge (Merge)
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Throughout 2005 most critics marvelled at the brilliance of the Canadian music scene, placing Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade quite correctly in their best of year lists, but way back in January two of my favourite Canadian bands got together to record an EP's worth of music and no one batted an eyelid.

Over the course of his six or so albums Destroyer's Dan Bejar has quietly become one of the most pleasingly idiosyncratic stylists in indie music today, while Victoria-based Frog Eyes warped minds, and possibly eardrums, in 2003 with their breakthrough record The Golden River. Notorious Lightning And Other Works sees Frog Eyes backing Bejar's barbed hipster reportage with their trademark scraped guitars and wayward bluster. It's all delightfully messy, and the recordings devilishly unleash songs that were previously, and perhaps unfairly, sealed the antiseptic MIDI synth production on 2004's Your Blues.

Destroyer releases his new album Rubies in the New Year and it's an absolute cracker. Stayed tuned to Sleephouse for more updates on this elusive songwriter's latest opus in the next issue. Or you could go here for the best goddam blog entry I've ever read.

2. The National: Mr November (Beggars Banquet)
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Providing proof positive that there still remain heroes for the 30-something raincoat-wearing indie rock fan to look up to, The National's studied six-string misanthropy cut through 2005 like a knife. Refreshingly unconcerned with trends and fads, the boys from this New York-based outfit simply mounted the stage and did the business.

Their album Alligator is a shady beast indeed, lurking on the periphery, dappled with the light and shade of The Tindersticks and Nick Cave, but brimming with the stadium-bating confidence of The Walkmen and even (though I hate to say it) early U2.

'Mr November' was my favourite track of the year bar none, and made me want to drive very fast down a deserted highway in search of a possibly dangerous future. And I don't even own a car.

3. Vashti Bunyan: Here Before(Fat Cat)
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The story of Vashti Bunyan's return to music making after a 35-year-hiatus has warmed many a heart during 2005. Few would have predicted that a 60-year-old forgotten folkie would have captured the zeitgeist in the way that Vashti has this year. I spent the majority of 2004 tucked up with the startling Just Another Diamond Day re-issue, but even I never imagined her return to record would prove so vital.

Perhaps fired by an impressive list of collaborators (Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Mice Parade, Adem and producer Max Richter), and buoyed-up by the experience of recording the magnificently playful Prospect Hummer EP with The Animal Collective, Lookaftering sees Vashti casting aside her much publicized lack of confidence and producing an album every bit as good as its predecessor. 'Here Before' sums up the triumphant formula of the album perfectly: Vashti's haunting voice and plucked folk stylings delicately colliding with a modern production so deftly handled it already sounds classic.

4. Lau Nau: Kuula (Locust)
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One of the strangest tributaries of the flood of the weird folk music that engulfed 2005 was surely to be found in Finland. Prior to 2005 my only other previous experience of Finnish music was restricted to 22-Pistepirkko and Jimi Tenor, but this year it's been a pleasure to dream my way through nearly a dozen psych-folk albums by bands whose consonant and vowel combinations correctly memorised would catapult me to unrivalled supremacy in the Scrabble world were proper nouns from foreign languages acceptable.

'Kuula' comes from the album Kuutarha (Locust), and is the solo work of Laura Naukkarinen, a key mover in the Finnish scene and member of a good number of its bands including Kiila, Kemialliset Ystävät and Päivänsäde.

Everything you will ever need to know about Finland's politely invading psych-folk warriors is covered in this great Pitchfork article. And cheap european flights to Finland are available here. Book now to avoid any Folk backlash-related disappointment.

5. Arthur Russell: This Is How We Walk On The Moon (Phillips)
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While not originally released this year, this decade or even this century, Arthur Russell 's back catalogue has proved to be an endearing personal soundtrack for 2005. I discovered him in January when the fantastic album World Of Echo was re-issued, and since becoming familiar with his ethereal magic, I've noticed his name everywhere: bubbling under people's influences and hidden away in discerning record collections, a Nick Drake-like figure on the brink of a huge posthumous breakthrough.

Russell was an early dance music producer and innovator in the late '70s and '80s, but it's his gentler delay-drenched solo work that's really startling. Working solely with cello, drum machine and the odd bit of sparse orchestration Arthur Russell's albums (World Of Echo, Another Thought and Calling Out of Context) are truly lost shards of wonder. That he escaped a mention in LCD Soundsystem's 'Losing My Edge' is perhaps even more amazing.

6. Jan Jelinek: Im Diskodickicht (Scape)
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Truly groundbreaking electronic music has been a bit thin on the ground this year. But Berliner Jan Jelinek's album is one of the few in this genre which truly stood out. Part of the problem seems to be that pop and RnB producers have taken over from the left of field artists, and now innovate directly onto MTV and straight into the mainstream.

This was not the case for Jelinek however, who copped a few tricks from his country's krautrocking history books and produced Kosmischer Pitch (Scape Records), an album of steadily shifting, mesmerising loops that wrap themselves tightly around your brain and beg for your undivided attention. This is definitely not just background music.

7. P:ano: Covered Wagons (Mint Records)
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Brian Wilson may have resurrected a live facsimile of his Smile album and toured it around the world, but anyone searching for the true spirit of classic-era Beach Boys need have looked no further than 'Covered Wagons' by P:ano. Bursting out everywhere with beatific brass and mellifluous harmony 'Covered Wagons' is just one of the reasons why Vancouver's P:ano should not remain a local secret for too much longer. They've recently released their second album in a year, Ghost Pirates Without Heads, but this song comes from the spring-released Brigadoon—neither of which you'll wanna be without.

8. M Ward: Hi-fi (Merge)
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It feels just plain wrong to write about M Ward's Transistor Radio as being one of the best albums of 2005. Truly a man out of time, M Ward's output proves the argument that thousands of years from now no one will be able to tell who came first: The Beatles or Beethoven.

A songwriter so much in the classic mould, that simply playing one of his mp3s turns your computer into a wood-panelled valve radio, Ward's records consistently come up with the goods for anyone patient enough to give him a proper listen. Transistor Radio begins with his Fahey-like instrumental reworking of The Beach Boys 'You Still Believe In Me' and gently fades out with his take on Bach's 'Well Tempered Clavier'. In between Ward's songwriting reassures your fragile soul like an old friend even while his voice raises the hairs on the back of your neck like a cold draught in the night.

Now, if you haven't just swallowed back a little bit of up-sick after the last couple of paragraphs, maybe you'll wanna go and check out M Ward's performances for KRCW here and here. You can, of course, buy all the albums from very fine and upstanding people at Merge Records.

9. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone: Cold White Christmas (Tomlab)
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This last song is a Christmas gift from Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and Tomlab Records to you, the listening public. This seasonal nugget is available for download from the profiles of both Casiotone and Tomlab Records until December 26th. So I suggest you get yourself over there quick.

I've been a fan of Casiotone's whinsome organ-driven indie soap operas for a good while now and so when I discovered this song I took the opportunity to shoot Owen Ashworth an email to ask him about 'Cold White Christmas' and his forthcoming album.

Sleephouse: Where does the song 'Cold White Christmas' come from? When did you record it? Is it going to be on the new record?
Owen Ashworth: I recorded 'Cold White Christmas' in early August. The tracking and mixing was done at Pan American Recording Studio in San Francisco. Jason Quever from The Papercuts engineered the session and played the drums and Alex deLanda, also a Papercut, played the bass. I played the pianos and organs and sang it. 'Cold White Christmas' is one of three songs I recorded with Jason for the new album. The rest of the album was recorded with Jherek Bischoff in Seattle, except for the last song, which I recorded myself.

When is the new record due? Have you finished recording it? Have you settled on a title yet?
The new album is called Etiquette and it will be released on March 7, 2006. I finished it in September.

I've noticed that you seem to be using more instruments and orchestration on the most recent recordings, are you stepping away from the solely keyboard-driven stuff? Do you feel that you've taken that sound as far as you can? And was this change motivated by the re-recordings you did for the Tomlab Alphabet series?
When I started writing and recording for Twinkle Echo, I knew it was the last Casio album I was going to make. I finished my trilogy and I was ready to try different things. Jherek Bischoff played contrabass on one song on Twinkle Echo, and he would have played on more if logistics had worked out.

That "Alphabet" single was the next thing we recorded together, but at that point we were playing shows together as often as possible and I was writing new songs with him in mind. I was writing on a piano and a Korg EM-1 sequencer/drum machine that I named Baby Cousin. I was living in Portland last winter and every few weeks I would drive up to Seattle with Baby Cousin to work on arrangements with Jherek. There are two songs on Etiquette that use Casios, and in both cases it was by Jherek's insistance. I wanted to use string arrangements.

What are you planning for Christmas?
I'm going to listen to my Charlie Brown Christmas CD and probably drink some egg nog.

Best record of the year?
I didn't buy too many new records this year, but I liked that Antony and the Johnsons album a lot.

What will you remember most about 2005?
2005 was kind of a big year for lots of personal reasons that don't belong in this interview. I can tell you that I did a lot of growing up and I made a really great record.

What does the next year hold for you? I know you're planning a tour...
I'm moving to Chicago in early January, and I'll be on tour for most of the Spring, and probably again in the Fall. I will probably get really famous and have to stop being so nice. Just kidding.


That's all for this year folks. I'm sat in a little farmhouse in Norway as I type this entry and I long to rush outside and frollick in the crisp white snow. So without further ado, I'll wish you a happy and relaxing festive season and I'll see you back here for Sleephouse 5 in January. Take care.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Issue 3

In these last few weeks London has become a cold bitter wasteland. Winds whip in from the north and my tiny flat assumes the all the life preserving qualities of a carpeted Frigidaire. Only the hot air kickout of my computer fan provides warmth and so I keep working, huddled close to the screen, bringing you the newest issue of Sleephouse.

To listen, simply download the audio file of the show (by clicking the image below) or use the flash player in the sidebar. This show can also be subscribed to as a podcast by copying the address of the RSS link in the sidebar into the podcast receiver of your choice. It’s all so simple…

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(44MB, 48 mins. MP3 file)

Here’s this week’s artist info:

1. Broken Social Scene: 7/4 (Shoreline) (Arts & Crafts/City Slang)

The chugging guitars, lolloping brass and pummelling crash cymbals of ‘7/4 (Shoreline)’ signal the return of one of the most unlikely success stories in recent years: An eleven strong Toronto collective that conquered the world. Or at least should have.

You Forgot It In People made a huge splash in indie world, but it passed by the "Great Unwashed" unnoticed. No crass car commercials hammered the songs down our throats, no stick thin socialites feigned interest while Broken Social Scene headlined The Bait Shop, and no political leaders waltzed their way to victory with ‘I’m Still Your Fag’ as their campaign song. And, actually, now that I think about it, thank heaven for that, we’ll keep this band for ourselves.

Their new album is out now in North America, but it gets a Europe-wide release in January on City Slang. It’s simply titled Broken Social Scene, but it’s anything but simple. An album more densely packed with ideas you’ll be hard pressed to find.

Broken Social Scene have an extensive Europe, North America and Australia tour lined up. Be warned though: tickets will be as rare as rockinghorse shit.

2. Caribou: Hello Hammerheads (Domino/Leaf)

Musical boffins don’t come better qualified than Dan Snaith of Caribou, a man whose 2005 has not only included a lawsuit-hastened change of name and the release of a career-peaking album, but also the completion of a PhD in some kind of head-scratching Mathematics.

Recognising that it’s still a tad early in the calendar for the best of year lists, I’ve been searching for an excuse to feature Caribou’s excellent Milk Of Human Kindness album on Sleephouse for a while now. Thankfully that excuse is conveniently provided by the release of a DVD collection of animations used by Caribou in his live show.

It’s entitled Marino and it was released at the beginning of November by Domino or Leaf - depending on which side of the pond you live. It not only includes videos for almost every song from Snaith's two most recent records, but also comes with an EP’s worth of material left over from the Milk of Human Kindness sessions. And with Snaith’s sound growing to encompass everything from electronica, folk, shoegazing and krautrock, your home entertainment system will never be better utilised. This DVD is the reason you installed surround sound.

Sample Caribou's music with free mp3s from the Leaf Label

3. Cobra Killer & Kapajkos: Heavy Rotation (Monika)

On any normal record Berlin duo Cobra Killer would meet you head-on with an explosion of sample heavy metal box electro. But this is no ordinary record. This is genius.

Aided by hitherto unknown mandolin wranglers Kapajkos, Cobra Killer have plundered their back catalogue and reconfigured an album’s worth of songs as coked-up, blood-sucking Romanian folk tunes. Or something. Weird folk music is bloody everywhere right now, but unlike the majority of recent beardy snoozefests, this record is so fresh it wriggles. And hopefully you will too, as woozy malevolent melodies dance magnificently around these two girls’ thoroughly modern lyrics.

For my money Das Mandolinenorchester is by far the best work these two have ever produced, and it's an inspired record that craves your attention. Or one rather gets the feeling that these two girls might turn nasty.

Grab your German dictionary and head over to Monika Records for more information on Das Mandolinenorchester. [Photo by Gill May]

4. Grizzly Bear: Fix It (Rumraket)

Can you be part of a local scene if you never leave your bedroom? It’s a question that those who wish to overemphasise Grizzly Bear’s Brooklyn roots really should ask themselves. Judging from the back story, and, indeed, the actual sound of this record, their debut could have been produced anywhere, provided of course that there was access to a home recording setup and the odd inspirational bong lying around.

Grizzly Bear started out as the bedroom project of Edward Droste and was partly realised during an impressively misanthropic-sounding 15 month domestic shut-in. By the time his friend Christopher Bear (apparently no relation to The Animal Collective’s Panda Bear) added guitars and vocals Horn of Plenty was complete. It’s a quietly rewarding debut of cracked folk and hushed indie pop and on this evidence future Grizzly Bear releases promise much.

Horn of Plenty is being re-released by Efterklang’s Rumraket record label here in Europe and comes backed with a stunning remix album, which you’ll find out more about if you read on….

5. Grizzly Bear: Don’t Ask [Final Fantasy Remix] (Rumraket)

That the Horn of Plenty remix album improves on the original version is—although perhaps slightly unfair to Grizzly Bear—not really all that surprising when one takes a quick glance down the list of contributors. Ariel Pink, Safety Scissors, Simon Bookish, Dntel, Hisham Bharoocha and Rusty Santos, Castanets and The Soft Pink Truth are just a few names that bend and twist Grizzly Bear’s original material into magnificently different starry shapes. And although some songs make repeat appearances and the range of interpretations is diverse, the remixes hold together to form an album that easily holds its own as a complete long player.

Final Fantasy is one Owen Pallett, a man who gains instant cache in the grave digging community for arranging strings for every undertaker’s favourite indie rockers The Arcade Fire. Owen’s violin traps Grizzly Bear’s ‘Don’t Ask’ in its wintry clutches, and transports it to a windy plateau of sorrow. I wouldn’t recommend listening to this song on the radio while shaving with a cutthroat razor in the bath, just in case its mournful tone gets the better of you, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a quite sublime piece of aching beauty nonetheless.

‘Don’t Ask’ is a more than good enough reason for moving your mouse over to this link and investigating how you can get your hands on the whole goddam Horn of Plenty/Remix package.

6. Dreamies: Program Ten [Excerpt] (Wilmington Studios)

In 1972, Bill Holt, inspired by the Beach Boys and The Beatles ‘Revolution #9’, decided to quit his corporate job with 3M and retreat to his basement with a guitar, a moog, and a reel-to-reel tape machine. When he emerged a year later, he was on the verge of bankruptcy but his album, Dreamies, was complete. Eventually released in 1973, the album made little impact, but its cult status has grown every day since.

At once both of and ahead of its time, Dreamies is an incredibly interesting sonic document, an pean to the kind of '60s ideals that only became a reality for the average person during the 1970s. It’s basically two 25-minute aural collages that weave together droning acoustic guitar phrases and bubbling moog blasts with news reel snippets and amazingly melodic West Coast harmonies. This is musique concrete as played by the Byrds or ‘70s folk opportunists America.

The album is now available on CD or the more authentic choice of vinyl (just get up off the beanbag and turn the bloody thing over!). Hopefully the time is right for Bill Holt to gain the mass recognition he so rightfully deserves.

Bill Holt currently runs a website that produces strange little chunks of political satire and ambient weirdness—it’s like The Daily Show on very subtle acid and it very definitely merits your attention.

7. Michael Johnson: The Natives Going Under (Must Delicious)

At the beginning of the year, Amanda Petrusich wrote an article for Paste Magazine that attempted to sum up a movement in American music that has gained real precedence in recent years. She spoke of “a handful of pioneering musicians… catering mostly to the twenty-something/T-shirt-and-Pumas set, but playing a new, weird kind of Americana, punctuated by twittering Moog synths and prickly classical guitar, harp strums and free-jazz sax wails."

Among the bands sited by Petrusich as part of this New Weird America movement are The Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens and Holopaw. And while most of these bands are pretty well known by now, she also reserved high praise for someone less well known: one Michael Johnson.

Familiar to some as Holopaw’s drummer, Johnson is actually much more important to the Florida neo-folksmiths than this simple album credit suggests. Holopaw have always stood out for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach they take when constructing their music, and Nonsense Goes Mudslide, Michael Johnson first solo effort, proves just how much influence Johnson has on this aspect of the group’s work.

Nonsense Goes Mudslide is a quite astonishing record. A veritable overflowing junkshop of sound, the album twitters with laptop beats, acoustic guitars, vintage moogs, sampled brass and sun kissed vocals. If New Weird America is becoming the Main Street of independent music then Michael Johnson’s Nonsense Goes Mudslide is a Thanksgiving Day parade turning back on itself and tripping over each other when the marchers get comically lost in a back alley.

And if that doesn’t convince you that it’s worth checking out, perhaps this wonderfully sweet note from Michael himself will melt your icy heart:

“Nonsense Goes Mudslide, my first record, has been received well critically, but received not at all consumerly. If you want to buy a copy, it's available direct from Must!Delicious at $10 ppd, I believe. Drop a note so I don't feel too bad about bankrupting him. It's also available at Tonevendor and Insound. If you downloaded it, you owe me a beer.”

8. Indian Jewelry: Lost My Sight (Girlgang)

Most people give MySpace a pretty bad rap, but if it wasn’t for this vanity-driven hall of mirrors I would never have been able to plunge my head into the wailing noise washing machine that is Indian Jewelry’s ‘Lost My Sight’, a choice find from some psyched-out LA mentalists cast from the same mould as Sun City Girls, Boredoms and Suicide.

I have to confess I know very little about this band aside from the fact that this track comes from the album, Health and Wellbeing, released this spring, and it’s very much worth checking out if you’re interested in where the margins of modern American music lie right now.

9. AIDS Wolf: We Multiply (Lovepump United)

Fans of raw throats, vicious hardcore and patently silly band names will think Christmas has come early when they discover AIDS Wolf. Actually, it hasn’t--the album, The Lovvers LP, is not out until January. So I guess technically for them Christmas has actually been delayed. But what are you gonna do? Everyone just cross your fingers and hope that Goblin Cock album keeps you going past the Winter Solstice.

Seriously though, Aids Wolf are far more than the previous pithy paragraph suggests. Don’t ask me how—I thought I’d heard enough noise to last me a lifetime—but they’ve successfully managed to breath fresh excitement into a genre I have penchant for calling Spazzcore.

True, ‘We Multiply’ might kick your ass and leave you cold the first, second, or even third time around but something like a coherent structure will reveal itself after significantly prolonged exposure. And blow me if it isn’t an addictive little bugger—I have an unhealthy tendency to keep this song on repeat for hours, which is probably why my brain is mush and writing this is such hard going.

Key members of AIDS Wolf are also responsible for the Montréal based Seripop. Which is very cool—and unless you wanna have your hipster status revoked, you’ll wanna check it out. Thankfully it is explained by a good friend of Sleephouse here. Phew, I though I’d lost it there for a second. Nope--still cool.


Please remain cool until Sleephouse returns in around two week’s time (I promise).

Xo daddio.