Sunday, May 29, 2011

Andrea Corr Releases Lifelines: A Track-By-Track Review!

I'm not much for covers albums but I'm giving a big kenixfan stamp of approval to Lifelines by Andrea Corr, out today everywhere, because the former lead singer of The Corrs has really done a masterful job of remaining true to the spirit of the original tracks while transforming quite a few of them in such a way as to make the covers essential interpretations.

With any sort of covers collection like this, it's probably best to go track-by-track so here goes:

"I'll Be Seeing You"

Andrea delivers this old standard almost like you'd imagine she would. It's a lovely performance and the fact that she opens, not closes, the record with it is a bold choice.

"Pale Blue Eyes"

This Velvet Underground classic is one of those songs I thought best left alone but Andrea Corr actually morphs the song quite a bit into something spacious and jazzy, life-affirming and warm where the original was jaded and dour.

"Blue Bayou"

For most Americans of my generation, this song is very closely associated with Linda Ronstadt. That monster hit in the fall of 1977 was inescapable when I was a kid and I almost started to hate the song until I heard Roy Orbison's original.

Andrea Corr manages to hit the right mix of longing and anticipation and when she comes to those familiar lines of the song -- "And those fishing boats with their sails afloat...if I could only see that familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes..." -- it's the sort of moment of vocal beauty that tugs at the heart-strings and gives a listener chills.

It's the ephemeral made into the transcendent. And those moments always remind me that a simple pop single can be a work of art.

"From The Morning"

Sprightly, like an Elbow track, this Nick Drake cover is less inward-looking than the original but the slide guitar anchors the song in the decade of its composition. Andrea brings a certain lightness of touch to her vocals here and the result is something that sounds wonderfully of-the-moment and effortless.

"State of Independence"

From Jon Anderson and Vangelis, this track sounds more like a jig now. With backing vocals and a prominent plucked guitar, the track has more of a folk-y edge as Andrea pours a lot of emotion and energy into it. The vaguely Irish-sounding backing bits add a lot here as well.

"No. 9 Dream"

As a Lennon fan -- who isn't? -- it was, at first, hard for me to appreciate this cover. Frankly, there are cuts that shouldn't be touched; sure, "Imagine" lends itself to covers but this?

That said, while nothing will ever replace the very distinctive way Lennon delivered the original track, Andrea Corr at least finds the tune at the heart of this trippy classic.

She's not trying to better the original but, rather, remind us of the great melody at the heart of John Lennon's very personal reverie.

And for that effort, she gets high marks as a performer on what is a very bold choice of a song to cover.

"Tinseltown in the Rain"

I hold The Blue Nile very, very dear to my heart, not least because of my very memorable dinner with the band. Wisely, Andrea doesn't attempt to replicate the mood of the original and, instead, turns the song into something expansive and lively.

This cut -- the lead single from Lifelines -- is exactly how to do a cover!

Andrea clearly loves the song and she molds it into something different enough from the original that it works on its own terms and doesn't do a disservice to a very special piece of music.

Not only that, Andrea's voice fits the song perfectly.

"They Don't Know"

Written by Kirsty MacColl, this song was a big hit in 1983/1984 for Tracey Ullman and the song fits Andrea's voice just as well. What was almost a tongue-in-cheek pop pastiche for Ms. Ullman, is now delivered in a more straightforward manner and Ms. Corr manages to find the emotion buried beneath the artifice of the track.


This is a Harry Nilsson track that sounds perfectly suited for Andrea's voice. Nilsson had a very unique style but his songs did lend themselves to covers and the wonderful thing is that it doesn't sound so much like a Nilsson song anymore; it doesn't sound like a cover, and on a covers album, that's quite an accomplishment for a performer.

"Tomorrow in Her Eyes"

Ron Sexsmith is a criminally underrated singer-songwriter. With the piano and delicate instrumentation here, the song almost sounds like something The Carpenters could have ridden to the top of the charts when I was a tot. One of the loveliest performances on this record, really.

"Some Things Last A Long Time"

Andrea Corr finds the real beauty at the heart of this Daniel Johnston song. The guy sometimes gets pegged as a pop oddball and, clearly, he is. But he's also a great songwriter and this rendition of one of his compositions proves it.

The production on this album by Brian Eno and John Reynolds is fairly unobtrusive and Andrea's vocals are the star of the show.

Lifelines, from Andrea Corr, is a very pleasant record and one that should reward both new and old fans of the fantastic Irish singer.

Follow Andrea Corr on her official Facebook page.

And be sure to check out Andrea Corr's lovely official site here:

In the US, you can buy the album on US iTunes here.

You can buy the album in various formats on here.

You can buy the album in various formats on here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Brother (UK) -Debut US EP Out Now!

Brother -- sometimes labeled Brother (UK) -- are a band from Slough, the city that inspired the original version of "The Office" on British television.

Brother are energetic and fun and a throwback to 1995 and the days of Menswear, Shed Seven, early Oasis, and loads of other bands. Produced by Stephen Street, tracks like "Darling Buds of May" are shouty and fun singalongs.

While not entirely original -- no new ground is broken here -- Brother make up for that fact with a lot of energy and a catchy set of tunes that a lot of those other Britpop bands didn't have.

To be direct about it, if you liked something like "She Left Me On Friday" by Shed Seven -- and I did! -- you'll like these 4 tunes quite a bit, I reckon.

The debut full length album will be out this summer and in the meantime, keep track of these lads from Slough via the links below!

Follow Brother (UK) here or here, or on MySpace here:

Get the Fly By Nights EP on US iTunes here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cliffie Swan (Formerly Lights) Bring Us Memories Come True: A Review

There's no shame in sounding like a band from the past.

No shame at all, especially if your influences are good ones.

Cliffie Swan's Memories Come True, on Drag City, sounds like Eighties rockers The Wygals, early Rush -- without the power-drumming -- The Adult Net, early tracks by The Bangles, and even Led Zeppelin II.

Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder previously fronted this band when it was called Lights. Now, with a name-change to Cliffie Swan, the band is back with a decidedly poppy take on those diverse influences.

When I say "poppy," I don't mean that in a Bieber-way; no, I mean that these are catchy and immediate tracks that would not have sounded out of place on college rock radio back in the glory days of college rock radio

And, weirdly, Sophia Knapp's lead vocals at times recall those Susan Sarandon sang in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)!

Cliffie Swan remind me of a band in an old 1970s movie where you realize that the on-screen group is the product of the film-makers but also that the group would have been a pretty cool real band outside of the film-world.

Along with Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder, Cliffie Swan consists of Alana Amram, Erika Spring, and Hannah Rawe and the players all create a real retro-band sound, with bits of flourish and flare tucked behind the tunes and clear, beautiful, and sometimes soaring lead vocals.

The Stevie Nicks-leading-Fleetwood Mac-isms of album opener "Dream Chain" recall AM Top 40 radio from the 1970s until a decidedly crunchy riff kicks in like The Posies behind the vocals and things get a bit swoony.

It's a bold, if understated, mashing of styles that recalls Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock" in a way.

"Yes I Love You" is like Olivia Newton-John leading Sister-era Sonic Youth: it's mellow but the fuzzy guitars lend a snarl-and-menace to the lovey-dovey stuff.

"Full of Pain" is Veruca Salt dueling with early Floyd. And "California Baby" is The Beatles' "Within You, Without You" pieced together by Helium.

There are many pieces here that one can trace back to worthy rock antecedents but the success of Memories Come True by Cliffie Swan is that the record is concise and original in the way those elements come together.

And, frankly, there's a welcomed sense of catchy pop-and-roll here that I found refreshing. I'm glad that Cliffie Swan decided to err on the side of the tuneful and memorable and not on the side of woozy shoegaze guitar pedal workouts.

Memories Come True is a remarkably concise and catchy record that still manages to sound a bit...trippy. Poetic and lyrical, the album marries Seventies acid rock to AM radio conventions and the result is a very modern product.

Memories Come True by Cliffie Swan is a lot of fun and it's still a bit daring.

Follow Cliffie Swan...

on their Drag City page

on their Facebook page

or on their MySpace page:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Clara Engel - Discover This Exciting New Artist

Recalling a different era (the Eighties) when a more experimental artist could gain inroads with a college rocker like me, Clara Engel shared a haunting track today.

There's a touch of "Second Skin" by Hugo Largo here, but the music behind Clara is more direct and less impressionistic. And Clara's voice on first listen reminds me, oddly, of Alison Moyet's but without the electropop bubblings around it.

Clara Engel on Bandcamp here

Clara Engel's Facebook page.

You can buy Clara Engel's first vinyl EP on Vox Humana here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oh My! Run This Town - Listen Here

Hailing from Leeds, Oh My! is Jade and Alex. They have a unique pop sensibility and here's a track to enjoy. Poppy, stylish, shouty, and fun!

Dig it!

Oh My! - Run This Town by PurplePR

Follow Oh My! on Facebook:

Or on the 679 site:

Free Download From Manchester's Driver Drive Faster!

I don't know a lot about this new band yet, but I like the tracks I've played so far.

Manchester's Driver Drive Faster are due to release a debut album in June and they are playing a host of gigs in the U.K. right now!

Check them out and download a free song below!

Driver Drive Faster - Gravel Dents by akoustikanarkhy

For now, follow the band on their website here:

The debut album will be out in June on Akoustic Anarkhy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Even More From Razika!

Yeah, I can't get enough of this band!

There's a hint of the late, great Poly Styrene in this track; sure, the skankin' beat recalls The Specials, but there are those vocals which are a delight, recalling as they do Clare Grogran's lead vocals on something like "See Those Eyes" by Altered Images, as well as the more playful and sprightly tracks on Germfree Adolescents by X-Ray Spex.

I am really thrilled by Razika and I can't wait to hear the full length album which should be out in August.

Taste My Dream by Razika

Follow Razika on Facebook:

On MySpace:

And on the Smalltown Supersound, their label here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat Deliver A Masterpiece

You know, if an astute music junkie like myself somehow missed news of this album, then the least I can do is draw attention to the record and point people in the direction of the thing.

Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strab) and Bill Wells (Pastels and Isobel Campbell collaborator) have released a real thing of beauty. Everything's Getting Older by Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat is out now on Chemikal Underground. In the States, it's already up as an MP3 download from Amazon with the CD due soon.

Get this record. Now.

Imagine, somehow, Arab Strap doing Songs For Drella (1990). I really can't do this record justice so that lazy comparison will have to do.

Take "A Short Song To The Moon": over barreling piano riffs, the song unfolds with a Weillian flare. That is followed up by "Ballard Of The Bastard" which -- lyrically, at least -- enters familiar lands of self-hatred travelled earlier by Moffat with Arab Strap -- but that piano! Shame replaced with a poignant self-awareness, the song is like Tom Waits doing Sondheim!

But then, on a spoken word piece like "The Copper Top", we've got strings coaxing Moffat's tale of a trip to the tailor.

"Birth, love, and death: The only reasons to get dressed up."

Recalling the best moments of Arab Strap, the lyrics don't invite despair but a simple acceptance of the ups-and-downs of the everyday. Like director Mike Leigh, Moffat and Middleton got pegged as miserablists but they were so much more: honest, empathic observers of life.

And now, with the music of Bill Wells behind him, Moffat gives vent to his sadness but the music carries things along if not jauntily, at least with a hopeful rise at key moments.

On "Dinner Time", a largely spoken word story from Moffat, the piano from Wells recalls a crime film from the 1970s, something from Italy maybe?

The mix of musicians here is what is key.

It's the way the piano seems the optimistic force behind "The Greatest Story Ever Told", another spoken word piece. Moffat talks over the track, more or less, and comes to the line "And remember: we invented love. And that's the greatest story ever told.". A listener could hear those words in an Arab Strap song and it would be the song and story of something lost.

Here, with those drums and piano kicking in behind the lyric, it sounds like the recognition of something to be proud of.

Everything's Getting Older by Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat is a beautiful record. This is private music full of adult emotion and an awareness of the everyday, the commonplace mingling with the transcendent thanks to the talents of Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Silver Spring's First (And Probably Last) Made In Indonesia Festival

I went to the Made in Indonesia festival today in Silver Spring.

I stood in line for an hour in the sun for Indonesian food.

I left.

What I envisioned as a cross-cultural smorgasbord of food and fun, was, instead, overpriced Java-wood furniture, expensive coffee, and some poorly organized food tables.

Here's where that went wrong: two big vendor tables with one table containing both an Indonesian food dealer and another non-Indonesian dealer.

As that table was averaging 20 minutes to serve one customer, I'm guessing that not a lot of people got to sample the food.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to make more people happy and rake in the dough: one cart for the drinks; one table or strolling vendor for the satay; one table for the Indonesian entrees; one table for the non-Indonesian entrees.

Descriptions of the dishes would also have helped because if the one server has to explain what each dish is to each person, that line ain't gonna move fast.

I applaud Downtown Silver Spring for undertaking an Indonesian festival.

Maybe next year's will be better?

Maybe next year I'll be having better (cheaper) Indonesian food in Hong Kong with Indonesian friends?

That's another story...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One More From Razika: Vondt I Hjertet

It's no accident that one of the band members is wearing a Two-Tone T-shirt in that photo; Razika, a new Norwegian band, are clearly taking a few clues from the music released on the label of England's legendary Specials.

Razika may be young but they manage to blend disparate influences into an affecting whole. Styles bump into each other like kids slamdancing for the first time at a punk gig.

One can listen to this and play a guessing game about which bits came from where but, at the same time, that doesn't matter as these 4 girls are putting those pieces together in an entirely fresh way.

Of the tracks that I've heard so far, I think "Vondt I Hjerfet" is my favorite. Somehow it sounds a bit like Clare Grogran of Altered Images fronting Arctic Monkeys. On paper, that sounds like a big mess. It's not. The song is both beautiful and peppy, like a revved-up "Planet" by The Sugarcubes.

Vondt I Hjertet by Razika

Follow Razika on Facebook:

On MySpace:

And on the Smalltown Supersound, their label here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

From Norway: Razika! A Free MP3 Of This Genre-Bending Group!

This is the type of thing to brighten my day (I was having a pretty good week but not a good day)!

Razika are four 19-year-old girls from Norway and yet they sound like The Slits and The Specials with a hint of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!

Most importantly, this is music that is joyous and that sort of energy is something a lot of indie rock is missing.

You can download a free MP3 of their rollicking "Nyatt Pa Nyatt" here!

Follow Razika on Facebook:

On MySpace:

And on the Smalltown Supersound, their label here.

Nytt Paa Nytt by Razika

The Kinks Release Double-Disc Edition Of Something Else

For those of you who don't read Pitchfork -- and I can't blame you for avoiding that site, can I? -- there's news from them that The Kinks are reissuing 3 of their best albums on deluxe 2-CD editions in early June.

Face To Face (1966), Something Else By The Kinks (1967), and 1969's Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) are the albums getting the treatment.

I'm more interested in those first two but Arthur has its moments.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor To Play London's XOYO On 14 June 2011

The day after she releases her 4th solo album, Make A Scene, Sophie Ellis-Bextor will be performing at London's XOYO on 14 June 2011.

Details are in the photo!

Check out Sophie Ellis-Bextor on her website:!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Which Damon And Naomi Bring Their Magic To D.C.'s Red Palace

Damon and Naomi are proof that creating something delicate and lovely in a loud world does not mean you have to be pretentious about it.

After seeing the duo, with Bhob Rainey, perform at D.C.'s Red Palace last night, I can say that the husband-and-wife performers managed to deliver what this fan wanted to hear plus a little bit more.

On tour to promote their fantastic new record False Beats and True Hearts, the duo opened with "How Can I Say Goodbye" and expanded the song into a warm duet. What was a showcase for Naomi Yang's beautiful vocals on the record was now a more robust affair, with Damon Krukowski lending the track more emotional urgency. The song played to the strengths of each performer and, clearly, the couple are one of musical equals.

So much for equality as Naomi took the lead to deliver a stunning version of "Lilac Land" from the band's Within These Walls (2007) album. Sounding a lot like Sandy Denny, Naomi's voice soared from behind her keyboard which produced harpsichord-like figures.

Alasdair MacLean, from tour-mates Amor de Dias (and The Clientele), sat in on guitar for a few songs since Michio Kurihara had his passport stolen and couldn't make it past US immigration, apparently.

Recalling Roddy Frame's guitar-picking on Aztec Camera's Knife (1984), MacLean added a nice twist to "Walking Backwards" which had a more languid feel here despite some feisty moments on guitar.

On "Ueno Station" from 2005's The Earth Is Blue, it was Damon's turn to be the emotional center of the performance. Between this song, "A Second Life" from the same album, and the between-the-songs patter -- and those free drink tickets to a few lucky patrons -- Damon Krukowski seemed the effusive host of the gig.

What's worth noting -- but shouldn't be a surprise, I guess -- is that someone can create beautiful art without being precious about it.

From the new album, Naomi used a combination of effects from her keyboard, and her wonderful voice, to deliver an affecting version of "Nettles and Ivy" that seemed more immediate than the version on the record.

I think the mark of great songwriting is that the songs work in various settings. After seeing last night's concert, I can say that the songs on Damon and Naomi's False Beats and True Hearts work on the record and live, with each version slightly different than the other.

After renditions of more cuts from False Beats and True Hearts -- "What She Brings" and "Helsinki" -- the group closed with an Emmylou Harris cover.

As I chatted with both Damon and Naomi after the gig -- after a lovely set by Amor de Dias -- I thought how unfair it is that a band like this gets tagged and labeled. And I thought that those moments of simplicity and beauty on their records were produced by two hard-working musicians and artists, not a bunch of effete shoegazers.

(Besides, Damon and Naomi were never part of that scene, despite being lumped in at times with that bunch, at least the American wing.)

No, with influences ranging from Sinatra to British folk, and with a touch of the avant-garde, Damon and Naomi continue to produce uniquely Ameircan non-mainstream pop music.

Without a lot of fuss or fury or fluff, the pieces all add up and things come together and the magic happens.

Catch Damon and Naomi on tour with Amor de Dias now!

Tour dates are here.

Their website:

And False Beats and True Hearts is out now on CD, vinyl, and MP3 from all the usual retailers!

New Free Track From Mark Helm (ex-D.C. legends radioblue)

About 20-or-so years ago, Mark Helm fronted D.C. power-pop legends radioblue. The band achieved some measure of success. They deserved a lot more.

Mark Helm has continued his music career in different ways since then and this is a recent cover of the Donovan classic, "Wear Your Love Like Heaven".

I think the overdubs and multi-tracking here are pretty awesome and it sounds a bit like Elf Power or early Super Furry Animals to me.

26 wear your love like heaven by mhelm

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Damon And Naomi Play D.C.'s Red Palace Tomorrow (May 18)!

Following on from my review yesterday of their wonderful new album, False Beats and True Hearts, I'm reminding everyone that Damon and Naomi are playing The Red Palace in Washington, D.C. tomorrow (18 June 2011) night!

AOL is streaming the whole album today. Check out False Beats and True Hearts here on AOL Spinner.

Word from the street is that Michio Kurihara will not be touring with the band due to a stolen passport. However, Alasdair Maclean, of Amor de Dias and The Clientele, will be sitting in on electric guitar.

Download an MP3 of "Walking Backwards" here.

You can buy False Beats and True Hearts from Amazon US on CD here or on vinyl here.

Follow Damon and Naomi on their own lovely website.

You can also follow them on the 20-20-20 Records label website here.

Check out the video for Nettles and Ivy from Haden Guest, the Director of the Harvard Film Archive, and Argentine film-maker Lisandro Alonso

Robbie Williams - It's Only Us Live!

Easily my favorite Robbie Williams song, this rollicking, Oasis-esque jam was originally the double A-side of his more famous "She's The One" single in 1999.

I am not sure where this live performance is from, but it's clear Robbie and his band are not lipsynching.

I just had to post this since it had so few YouTube views considering it's Robbie Williams.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Return Of Damon And Naomi: False Beats And True Hearts Drops Tomorrow (A Review And A Free MP3!)

You know, I should admit something here that may require me to turn in my honorary hipster card.

I actually like Damon and Naomi more than Galaxie 500, their originating band.

And, yes, I was aware of Galaxie 500 when they were a current recording act -- got a promo cassette (!) in the mail of On Fire (1989) when it was new at the good old U. Md. Record Co-Op. The band at that time was on Rough Trade Records' US wing.

Maybe it was Dean Wareham's voice, maybe it was the almost slavish devotion to the Velvet Underground, but whatever the reason I understood Galaxie 500 more than I liked them.

(It's worth noting here that the band's posthumous Peel Sessions CD remains the one Galaxie 500 album I own.)

1992's Damon and Naomi album, the Kramer-produced More Sad Hits, spoke to me -- to use an overused phrase -- in a way that Galaxie 500 never did.

Since 1992 -- for nearly 20 years now! -- Damon and Naomi have produced music that seems always on the verge of slipping away. And yet, their tunes never dip into the waters of frivolous or twee styles.

It says something about the limited vocabulary of the post C-86 indie landscape that I find it so hard to describe the music of this amazing duo.

To call it folk is a mistake. And to use the ill-defined dream pop label, I'd only be lumping Damon and Naomi in with acts who care more about effects and simple mood than songcraft.

I think we're going to have to invent a genre for Damon and Naomi.

How about intellectual soft rock?

There's nothing ironic about the use of previous forms of popular music here, just simple, direct, and affecting tunes that retain a hint of the unexplainable after multiple listens.

Just listen to album opener "Walking Backwards"(the free MP3 below!): opening with a wash of guitar squall (from Ghost's Michio Kurihara) that sounds like something from the Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) soundtrack, the cut unfurls and then relaxes as Damon Krukowski's voice takes over with Naomi Yang providing the backing vocals.

Recalling the peculiar mix of the Sixties and the modern that made the first Mazzy Star LP such a pleasure in 1990, the track makes no attempt to hide its "backwards" glance.

Naomi sings lead on the second album track, "How Can I Say Goodbye" -- no ? on the CD or lyrics sheet -- and the song is so beautiful that I had to sit down when I first heard it.

The vocals here are quite literally breathtaking without being showy. Recalling the best moments of Sandy Denny's solo years as she veered away from pure folk, the song is the highlight of this record for me.

On "Ophelia", Damon sings "Lord knows who we are but not what we may be" and a listener can hear both regret and exhilaration in his voice. The song soars like AM radio pop from the 1970s but with the silliness of those one-hit wonders replaced with wisdom.

It's worth noting how much the guitar of Michio Kurihara brings to the group now. Damon and Naomi have been working with the guitarist for more years than they were in Galaxie 500.

With the pull-and-twang-and-squall of that guitar, Damon and Naomi have a more robust sound that seems less rooted to any one obvious predecessor; one could could even imagine a performance where it was just the two vocalists with Kurihara's guitar behind them, rippling off Jeff Beck-ish lines.

Damon and Naomi are not the sort of artists who suddenly introduce a radical element into their work. No, the changes are more subtle than that.

And it's no insult to say that False Beats and True Hearts should appeal to many long-time fans of the band.

That said, there are new things at work here: Michio Kurihara seems more like a member of the group now, his guitar adding another voice to Damon's and Naomi's.

And the woodwinds on this record give the album a classic feel; what might have been ethereal on past records is now organic and direct, the emotions clearly expressed in the poetic lyrics.

Damon and Naomi deliver moments of beauty without being pretentious about it.

That counts for a lot in today's musical climate.

False Beats and True Hearts should warm the hearts of old fans of the band.

And for a listener who wants to give the band a chance, this is a bright, sunny way to start.

Download an MP3 of "Walking Backwards" here.

You can buy False Beats and True Hearts from Amazon US on CD here or on vinyl here.

Follow Damon and Naomi on their own lovely website.

You can also follow them on the 20-20-20 Records label website here.