Hamilton Leithauser goes solo: Alexandra (video)

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If their show earlier this month in New Orleans was indeed their last – they previously announced a hiatus – it seems to me that the Walkmen went out on their own terms and still in prime form.

Still, I wasn’t expecting something Walkmen-related so soon. But a solo venture from singer Hamilton Leithauser is officially underway. His album, Black Hours, is due out May 6 on Ribbon Music.

On this first single, “Alexandra” (co-written and produced by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend), Leithauser’s voice sounds warmly familiar – all throaty/boozy and slightly imperfect. He tells NME that Sinatra inspired the new album, so the video’s loosened-tie, lounge-singer vibe makes sense (even that album cover recalls something in the Blue Note vein).

Pre-order Black Hours here and check the tracklisting below.

5 AM
The Silent Orchestra
Alexandra
11 O’Clock Friday Night
St Mary’s County
Self Pity
I Retired
I Don’t Need Anyone
Bless Your Heart
The Smallest Splinter
Waltz (deluxe edition)
In Our Time (I’ll Always Love You) (deluxe edition)
Utrecht (deluxe edition)
I’ll Never Love Again (deluxe edition)

New WATERS: Got to My Head

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From his days in Port O’Brien to his debut under the WATERS moniker (all caps) in 2011, big, powerful hooks just seem to come so easy to Van Pierszalowski.

He’s at it again with this new WATERS track “Got to My Head,” the first song off what is presumably a follow-up to the very excellent Out in the Light.

There’s so many ways to lose yourself in this song that its title seems only appropriate. Once the drums burst through at about the 19-second mark – punctuating a brutally honest opening line: “I’m turning myself in / I’ve been a jealous friend / Feels like I’m always sinking” – they just propel you forward into one immediate hook after another. And just when you think it’s over, there’s one last great group chorus singalong that ends the whole thing on an exclamation point.

Looking forward to what else awaits us from Pierszalowski, who no doubt is counting down the days to Opening Day.

New Miniature Tigers: Swimming Pool Blues

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It’s hard to believe, but Miniature Tigers – based in Brooklyn by way of Phoenix – are just a few months away from releasing their fourth full-length album. The band’s come a long way – I mean, those guys played a show I put on nearly six years ago, so it’s been fun to follow their career arc, almost from the beginning.

Further proof of the band’s progression will reveal itself with the release of Cruel Runnings, an album recorded in Jamaica, due out May 27 on YEBO Music.

The first leak, “Swimming Pool Blues,” suggests Miniature Tigers still have a deep well of impeccable pop from which to draw. The way frontman Charlie Brand describes it, the song – aggressively upbeat and charming with its “yeah, yeah, yeahs” in the chorus – sounds like a welcome-back hug to his fellow bandmates and fans after a bit of time off:

“The stillness of home was a stark contrast to the craziness of tours that had left us in debt and doubting everything we had worked so hard for. This set the tone for a confusing summer where I stopped writing and stopped believing in what I was doing. Even though I had found some peace at home, I had built so much of my identity around the band, that adjusting to life outside of it was also proving difficult. I missed the weeks spent crammed together in a van with Rick, Algernon and Brandon.

“After a long summer we went on a tour that changed everything. Meeting so many amazing people every night reminded me how lucky I was to be able to play music and that I would happily live penniless for a lifetime if I could continue doing it. I came home rejuvenated and instantly wrote Swimming Pool Blues.”

Can’t wait to hear more of it. The band is setting off on a tour that starts Feb. 26 and includes a Phoenix homecoming on March 27 at Rhythm Room. Buy tickets here.

Zilla Rocca: Neo Noir

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When I emerged from my hibernation – don’t call it a comeback – one of the first people to welcome me back was Zilla Rocca, Philly’s noir-hop Mad Man.

I’ve gotten to know Zilla a bit over the years, so I feel bad that my inactivity on the site meant not continuing to spread the word about him and his crew. Consider this an attempt to rectify that.

Last year saw Zilla Rocca release Neo Noir, his first mixtape since 2008′s Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca, with appearances from his Wrecking Crew mates (Curly Castro and Has-Lo), doseone, PremRock, Elucid and Dewey Decibel.

Without trying to sound cliche, what strikes me here as I dig deeper into Neo Noir is Zilla Rocca’s maturity – a man eager to embrace his 30s and beyond. About 10 years ago, my wife and I bought our first house, despite the fact that I didn’t have the first clue what we were doing. But then one day you’re paying a mortgage, reading about interest rates, walking a dog and calling a Saturday of Netflix binge-watching a damn good night.

It’s great to see this development in Zilla, who is now engaged and in the process of house hunting. I caught up with him – over some quality bourbon –  when he made it out to Arizona with PremRock and Curly Castro for a pair of shows in November, and it wasn’t hard to get the sense that this is a guy who has found a comfortable balance, in his life and music (finding the right partner can do that).

But you don’t even have to be friends with him to see it. It’s all right there in his music. Listen to “2 Dollar Lunches” (featuring Has-Lo) to see where his head is at:

“I want to get the blood stains out with OxyClean /
I want to buy an old slot machine /
Sick of landlords, I want to own property.”

And then: “I save money, one day I’ll be outta debt /
And buy avocados instead of Alpha Bits.”

Another standout is “Never Tell Them You’re a Rapper,” featuring PremRock, a candid indictment of their rap reality. It’s funny because it’s true.

“Hate when people ask me, ‘What kind of music do you do?’ /
I say, ‘hip-hop’ /
They say, ‘Dude … no seriously, what kind of music do you do?’”

Pick up Neo Noir right here, and it looks like we have a 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers follow-up to look forward to in 2014.

Circa 45: Quicksand – Voice Killer

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Seven years ago, when I was young(er) and eager (also, dumber), I thought it would be a good idea to keep up with two blogs – this one and something I called Circa 45, a site dedicated solely to digital transfers of my 45/7-inch collection.

My ambition didn’t last long and, well, I eventually let the circa45.com domain name lapse, and now it’s spam city over there. But the good news is I still have this site, and I still have my records. So why not revive the idea as a weekly (or so) feature?

The bulk of my 45 collection is made up of pop/rock from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, thanks to an old Wurlitzer jukebox I took over from my dad. I’ve modernized it a bit with records I previously owned – and ones I continue to buy – and I swear one day I’ll finish cataloging all of them into one glorious spreadsheet.

As it stands, they’re mostly cleaned up, alphabetized and stored in boxes. I’ve been picking through a few loose ends and recent purchases, like this 7-inch for “Divorce” (purchased at The Record Room) from post-hardcore faves Quicksand.

“Divorce” appears on 1995′s Manic Compression, Quicksand’s second (and, sadly, final) album. This 7-inch was a 1994 promo – pressed on a strangely thin record, as noted here, only slightly sturdier than one of those flexi-discs – with the unreleased B-side “Voice Killer,” a song so good you have to wonder what other gems a band in its prime left on the cutting-room floor.

Eric Steuer: The Best Way To Tell You Is To Say It In A Rhyme

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You might remember Eric Steuer (aka Cuzzo D.) from his “Bad at Rap” mix – one of the most incredible/terrible things you’ll listen to – and now the man who also makes up half of Meanest Man Contest is back with more.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes his latest: “The Best Way To Tell You Is To Say It In A Rhyme.” Steuer put together this collection of tender rap songs for Hit City U.S.A.’s “Nice Touch” mix tape series. It’s available for $5 in cassette form – cheaper than a box of chocolates, which is so played out anyway – or you can stream the two sides below.

I got to meet and chat with Steuer in San Francisco last year, and we rapped a bit about the fetishism of collecting – records, books, baseball cards, whatever. He clearly has vast knowledge and probably a deep collection of music to back it up, taking up space somewhere – a closet, a hard drive, his brain. This is museum-level curating of the obscure/offbeat/oft-forgotten rap of yore.

And about that image up there: Steuer recently became a father for the first time (congrats again!), and he started a Tumblr called Nocturnal Commissions, in which he commissions an artist at Fiverr to turn a photo of his “puffy, creased, new-dad-in-the-middle-of-the-night face” into a portrait for the world to see. I bet his son will get a kick out of looking at these later in life.

SIDE A:
1. Raheem – “You’re the Greatest”
2. Rated X – “Be Cool to Your Girl”
3. L.A. Dream Team – “You’re Just Too Young”
4. M.C. Shy-D – “I Don’t Want to Treat You Wrong”
5. Black Rock & Ron – “True Feelings”
6. Misty D – “Out On a Limb”

SIDE B:
1. Hansoul – “Imagination (Philly Cheesesteak Mix)”
2. Little Shawn – “I Made Love (4 Da Very 1st Time)”
3. Yo-Yo – “Tonight’s the Night”
4. Kwamé – “Hai Love”
5. Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention – “Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)”
6. Nikki D – “All About You”
7. Brotherhood Creed – “Helluva”

The Baseball Project unveils 3rd cover art, tracklisting

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You didn’t expect a band called The Baseball Project to release an album in the winter, did you?

Just as players begin filing into camps across Arizona and Florida comes news of the group’s third album – appropriately titled 3rd – which will be released on Yep Roc on March 25, perfectly timed between the Dodgers-Diamondbacks opening series in Australia and the rest of Major League Baseball teams lifting the lid on another season.

The Baseball Project boasts an impressive cast of accomplished music veterans, bound by their love of the national pastime: Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows, R.E.M.), Linda Pitmon (Zuzu’s Petals and Steve Wynn) and Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M.

The cover for 3rd (above), a very cool artistic piece centered on Babe Ruth, is incredible and the tracklisting (below) gives clues to the album’s subject material (Dock Ellis, Hank Aaron and … Pascual Perez?).

A summer tour is on the docket and we’re still waiting for the first song to be released, but in the meantime, keep up with The Baseball Project on Facebook and Twitter.

1. From Nails To Thumbtacks
2. ¡Hola America!
3. The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads
4. To The Veteran Committee
5. Monument Park
6. Box Scores
7. They Don’t Know Henry
8. The Babe
9. They Are The Oakland A’s
10. Pascual On The Perimeter
11. The Baseball Card Song
12. Extra Inning of Love
13. Larry Yount
14. A Boy Named Cy
15. The Played Baseball
16. Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Richard Buckner’s ‘Bloomed’ to be reissued

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I’m not sure if Bloomed, the stunning 1994 debut from Richard Buckner, has actually ever been available on vinyl. But that’s never stopped me from looking. I always check when shopping, just in case, and I often imagine the feeling of triumph/smug satisfaction when – after hours, days, months, YEARS of thumbing through rack after rack of records – I find my white whale. At long last!

Or, you know, now I can just wait until March 18, when Merge Records will release a CD and 180-gram vinyl reissue of the album. It’s not as dramatic as the scenario I envisioned in my head, but it will get the job done.

Bloomed is an all-time favorite, one of those Very Important Records. My first experience with Buckner was seeing him live in Tempe, with Alejandro Escovedo, in the mid-90s (or maybe it was the late 90s?) and, my God, it floored me. He’s an imposing presence on stage with a voice to match.

Naturally, I tracked down whatever music I could, and Bloomed presented itself to me at a time (in college) when music started meaning something different to me, something more. Seeing Buckner live sort of taught me how to make an emotional connection to music; Bloomed then intensified it. That night – at Balboa Cafe, if memory serves – was a bit of a game-changer in my music-listening landscape. I didn’t understand how a man and an acoustic guitar could move a room the way Buckner did. It was the most visceral music moment I’d had to that point, and, NO, I wasn’t crying, OK?

Then I took my first job out of college in Lubbock, Texas – where Bloomed was produced, by Lloyd Maines – and I liked to think I connected to the album on some deeper level: I lived in Lubbock. I get it now! I mean, when Buckner recounts the album’s creation and speaks of Lubbock’s skies hailing “so hard that heaven’s angry pellets were storming in under my motel door” or arriving “under the suspicious gaze of downtown’s Buddy Holly statue,” well, I’ve been there. More than anything, though, it’s just a neat intersection in my life: That a West Texas outpost where I once lived might have somehow shaped/influenced one of my favorite albums is cool to think about.

And now 20 years after its inception, I’ll be glad to get my hands on a proper vinyl version of Bloomed, which can be pre-ordered here. (The reissue includes a bonus CD with 11 tracks of radio sessions, live performances and original recordings of songs that appeared on future releases.)

Meanwhile, Buckner is wrapping up a living room tour (it’s absolutely killing me that I can’t make Saturday’s stop in Phoenix), and he’ll be launching another in the spring through the Midwest and East Coast.

A few words about 2013

Oh … hey. How you doing? It’s been a long time! How’s the wife? The kids? Job? Great, good to hear. Let’s grab a beer and catch up, shall we? This one’s on me.

I know: It’s been quiet around here. Too quiet. The last post went up in October (thank you, Harris Pittman). The last post by me went up in September. What can I say? Life has a way of getting in the way. At least that’s the easy answer.

If I’m honest about it, I’ve been a little complacent, maybe uninspired. And that’s weird, right? I could remember a time when I wouldn’t dare go to bed if I didn’t at least have one fresh post for the day. Times they change. When one of the music blog forefathers calls it a day, you gotta wonder what you’re doing still hangin’ around.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll reinvent this space in 2014. Or maybe I won’t. I have my own internal hang-ups about doing this, about writing. Without delving into any sort of pity party, the main point here is that I didn’t want this site to just unceremoniously die on the vine. There’s a pulse — faint as it is.

But, hey, now that we’re a month into 2014, let’s talk about 2013. It wasn’t exactly a banner year for this blog in terms of output, but I still listened to music – I just didn’t get around to sitting down and writing about it very much. If I had to list a few of the albums that I listened to – and enjoyed – the most, it would be these: Tender Madness by PAPA; self-titled releases by FIDLAR and Bass Drum of Death; The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by the National (a sloooooow grower, however); Afraid Of Heights by Wavves; and (probably my favorite) Light Up Gold by Parquet Courts.

My wife and I host a New Year’s Eve party every year and I’ve made it a tradition to burn CDs – yes, CDs – with a playlist of (most of) my favorite songs of the year. I like the challenge of keeping it to 20 or so songs and 80 minutes. I think the mix I made more or less defines my year of listening, though I’m sure I left plenty of great material on the cutting-room floor. Neko Case had the distinct honor of occupying two songs on the mix (like Father John Misty in 2012).

Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist of the mix. If anyone is dying for an actual CD, I can do that, too.

1. PAPA, “Put Me to Work”
2. Wavves, “Demon to Lean On”
3. Caveman, “In the City”
4. Bass Drum of Death, “Shattered Me”
5. Telekinesis, “Wires”
6. Low, “Clarence White”
7. FIDLAR, “Gimmie Something”
8. Overseas, “Down Below”
9. Neko Case, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”
10. Night Beds, “Ramona”
11. Phosphorescent, “A Charm / A Blade”
12. Frightened Rabbit, “The Woodpile”
13. The National, “Sea of Love”
14. Daughn Gibson, “Mad Ocean”
15. Earl Sweatshirt, “Chum”
16. Vampire Weekend, “Step”
17. Pusha T, “Numbers on the Boards”
18. Queens of the Stone Age, “I Sat By the Ocean”
19. Lorde, “Royals”
20. Kurt Vile, “KV Crimes”
21. Neko Case, “Man”
22. Parquet Courts, “Stoned and Starving”

And here’s a list of the shows I saw in 2013 (26 of them, which seems low compared to the 34 I saw in 2012):

Jan. 25: The Walkmen with Father John Misty, the Fillmore (San Francisco)
Jan. 27: Sea Wolf with The Donnies the Amys, Crescent
Jan. 29: Geographer with On An On and Bogan Via, Rhythm Room
Jan. 31: Pinback with Judgement Day, Crescent Ballroom

Feb. 16: Louis CK, Celebrity Theatre
Feb. 17: Night Beds with Bad Lucy and Hunter Johnson, Sail Inn
Feb. 28: Source Victoria with Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl and the Breakup Society, Crescent Ballroom

March 26: Billy Bragg with Kim Churchill, Crescent Ballroom
March 29: Blackalicious, Crescent Ballroom

April 18:The Postal Service with YACHT, Comerica Theatre
April 22: The Cave Singers with Bleeding Rainbow and Golden Boots, Rhythm Room
April 28: Telekinesis with Mount Moriah and Roar, Crescent Ballroom

May 4: Father John Misty with Jessica Pratt, Crescent Ballroom
May 6: Akron/Family with Destruction Unit, Crescent Ballroom
May 7: Built to Spill with Junior Rocket Scientist, Crescent Ballroom
May 17: Los Dias de La Crescent with Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta, Crescent Ballroom

June 3: Parquet Courts with Gospel Claws and Snake Snake Snakes, Rhythm Room
June 25: Radar Brothers with No Volcano and Hunter Johnson, Crescent Ballroom

July 11: Dessa with Aby Wolf and Open Mike Eagle, Crescent Ballroom

Aug. 4: Daughn Gibson with William Tyler, Dylan Pratt and Body of Light, Rhythm Room
Aug. 17: Peanut Butter Wolf with Dam-Funk and the Stepkids, Crescent Ballroom

Sept. 12: Neko Case with Pickwick and Jon Rauhouse, Orpheum Theater
Sept 21: Cold War Kids with PAPA, Orpheum Theater (Flagstaff)

Oct. 22: Hanni El Khatib with Bass Drum of Death, Rhythm Room

Nov. 7: Prem Rock with Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro, Tempe Tavern
Nov. 8: Prem Rock with Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro, Hidden House

Guest review: Harris Pittman on Deltron 3030′s Event II

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Last year, Harris Pittman, bassist for the now-disbanded L.A. group Henry Clay People, took part in the I Used to Love H.E.R. series to declare his affinity for Deltron 3030′s self-titled debut, released in 2000.

With the group’s follow-up finally released – 13 years later – Pittman has kindly returned to offer his take on Event II.

Deltron 3030 – which consists of Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala – live in the future.

Maybe not the year 3040 as the their second full length, Event II, suggests, but it’s got a good 15 years ahead of anything going on right now in hip-hop. Before you start listing off the members of Odd Future or A$AP Mob, remember Dan the Automator did that 17 years ago with Dr. Octagon.

Event II, has our protagonist, Deltron, living in a world where technology is so far advanced that society has imploded. His rhymes transcend time and remind us that power can, and will, corrupt. Del takes the high road and informs the listener of a greater goal for the future instead of quarreling with tangible enemies – maybe his peers that live above the underground in 2013 should take a listen.

Like 2000′s self-titled Deltron 3030, Event II embraces one of the most important elements of hip-hop: the DJ. Koala’s cuts remind us that scratching is an art form – one that can provide hooks. It may be the 31st century, but Koala refuses to see the art of scratching vinyl go the way of the rewind button.

Though the future is bleak, Automator provides a soundscape that recalls Maurice Jarre scores and samples from David Axelrod’s Urizen, from 1968′s Song of Innocence. The track “Nobody Can” slaps you with a bass line reminiscence of Prince Paul’s “Steady Slobbin” from Prince of Thieves, mixed with a Syd Barret-esque guitar that any Black Angels fan will envy. The bass lines on Event II are thick and nasty; we can thank Merlo Podlewski (aka J. Radio) for lending his wisdom.

Casual shares a track with Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, “What is This Loneliness.” Del and Casual, both founding members of Oakland’s Hieroglyphics, rhyme over spaghetti western guitar until Albarn drops, “It’s all in your head, this loneliness I’m feeling,” a haunting chorus that seems to invoke that hope is soon to be lost.

“Look Across the Sea” features the hopeful vocals of actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who played main love interest Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) – perhaps a surprise at first, but after listening to this countless times, it’s becoming a standout track. While Deltron 3030 is often referenced as “underground hip-hop,” “Looks Across the Sea” could top any mainstream hip-hop station and maybe it should.

On “Do You Remember,” the vocals of English jazz/pop singer/songwriter Jamie Cullum seem to float over Del’s insight. It’s the perfect complement to the aforementioned Albarn track, but this time with a dash of optimism.

This volume of the Deltron saga features many guest appearances, from Mike Patton’s hook on debut single, “City from the Rising Ashes,” to insights on a foodie culture – or lack thereof? – by David Cross and chef David Chang.

Successfully following up a phenomenal debut record 13 years later is always a task that very rarely, if ever, accomplished. Event II defies those odds. Perhaps musician/producer Eric Bachmann was right with his comment that “the underground is overcrowded” – so maybe it’s time for Deltron 3030 to destroy mainstream hip-hop.

"Prague… you'll come back a bug."