Homeboy Sandman: Fat Belly (video)


When you name a song “Fat Belly,” there’s obviously not some deeper meaning to decipher or literary metaphor to unravel: Homeboy Sandman is a fan of food and he’s going to write a damn rap song about it. So there.

We all have some weird relationship with food: We eat too much of it, not enough of it or post pictures of it to Facebook. When there’s so much anxiety about what we’re eating (“recent studies show that … “) and what it means for our image, I love that Homeboy Sandman can just celebrate food for what it is, free of all the guilt.

There’s some great, feel-good one-liners in here with a little clever wordplay: “If you’ve ever seen me turn down pasta / I promise you it wasn’t me it was an impostor.”

“Fat Belly” is part of the White Sands EP, with beats by the London-based producer Paul White. Dig it, on Stones Throw.

Sunny Day Real Estate: Lipton Witch


Not to sound like an old grump, but my days of waking up early, fighting crowds and squatting on achy knees to scour vinyl on Record Store Day are done (and have been for a couple years). I still love the spirit of the day and what it represents, but the inflated secondary market for limited-edition releases has dampened my enthusiasm (but that’s probably a story for a different day).

Needless to say, we didn’t get to Stinkweeds until around noon. In fact, my new Record Store Day goal is to show up as late as possible and see if I can still get what I want. This year I managed to grab a few gems – the Built to Spill reissue of Ultimate Alternative Wavers, the Hamilton Leithauser 7-inch for “Alexandra” and the Frightened Rabbit “Live from Criminal Records” 12-inch.

Of course, I missed out on a couple items I wanted, including the Circa Survive/Sunny Day Real Estate 7-inch split, featuring the first new SDRE song since 2000. But, perhaps predictably, a digital version of the song will be released on April 29 and Circa Survive has posted it to SoundCloud. (Or feel free to pay $30 to $100 on eBay for the actual 7-inch. Yeah, no.)

The song, it appears, came from sessions in 2009, when the band – whose tumultuous past is well-documented – reunited for a tour to support reissues of their first two albums (I was lucky enough to interview SDRE/Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel at the time.)

It’s a shame that the band’s attempts to record an album at that time “fell apart” because “Lipton Witch” is so full and promising, a song that captures what made SDRE great in one glorious moment of reconciliation.

But, alas, this is how it ends.

Hamilton Leithauser goes solo: Alexandra (video)


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
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


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

Miniature Tigers

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

Zilla Rocca

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


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


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.

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”

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


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

Richard Buckner
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.

"Prague… you'll come back a bug."