The Twilight Sad: free acoustic EP

I’m not sure acoustic versions of Twilight Sad songs actually get the point across of Twilight Sad songs. The sonic pummeling of distortion and feedback is all part of the experience, especially live.

That’s not to say the songs can’t stand on their own without that. James Graham certainly writes powerful lyrics with a voice that can carry them in most any setting. Personally, I just love how their epic sound moves the needle, sonically and emotionally.

But, hey, see for yourself because the Scottish outfit is offering a seven-track acoustic EP for the small cost of your email address at its blog (or in that little widget below that sometimes takes awhile to load).

Tracklist:
1. I Became a Prostitute
2. Interrupted
3. Seven Years of Letters
4. Suck (The Wedding Present cover)
5. That Birthday Present
6. The Neighbours Can’t Breathe
7. The Wrong Car

Incoming: Death Cab for Cutie with Frightened Rabbit, Aug. 15

deathcab

Until seeing the Arcade Fire two weeks ago, I hadn’t been to Comerica Theatre (nee Dodge Theatre) in eight-plus years. Now it looks like I’ll be going there for a second time this year.

Death Cab for Cutie announced new North American tour dates, and they include an Aug. 15 stop in Phoenix. I’m having a hard time remembering when I saw Death Cab for the first (and only) time, though I feel like it was at the new Nita’s Hideaway with John Vanderslice, but this tour history doesn’t list that show (but it does list one with Nada Surf in 2003, so maybe that was it?).

Anyway, Death Cab has long outgrown the small-venue scene and it appears their tourmates, Frightened Rabbit – one of my favorites – might be next. If not for Frightened Rabbit’s inclusion, I’m not sure I’m willing to pony up the $32 for tickets. Can’t wait to hear how their songs carry in such a spacious venue.

Speaking of tickets, they go on sale May 7, but Stateside Presents is having a pre-sale on May 2. There’s a Death Cab pre-sale Friday, but you must belong to the fan club, and only Zooey Deschanel likes Ben Gibbard that much.

You can get a taste of three new Death Cab songs below, all of which will be on their May 31 release, Codes and Keys.

DEATH CAB for CUTIE – Home Is A Fire by ATL REC.

DEATH CAB for CUTIE – You Are A Tourist [Album Version] by ATL REC.

Death Cab for Cutie – Some Boys by ATL REC.

Random: Life After Lesson Plans web series

megaran

Phoenix rapper Random, who has to be one of the busiest and most prolific musicians in the Valley, is about to find himself with a lot more time on his hands. The self-proclaimed “TeacherRapperHero” took a brave leap of faith by resigning as a middle-school teacher to focus on his music career full time.

I hope to catch up with him about this soon – maybe over some grub at The Main Ingredient – because I have a ton of respect for him being a teacher (a career path I’ve often thought about pursuing) and even more for walking away from it to chase his dream as a musician.

But it seemed like a good time to bring it up because now that his teaching stint is officially over, Random is already coming up with creative ways to inspire and connect with fans. He’s creating a reality show of sorts called Life After Lesson Plans, a web series that will chronicle this next step.

The 10-minute pilot – which shows, among other things, Random and Black Materia producer Lost Perception signing and packaging CDs to ship (such a glamorous life!) – premiered a few days ago and it’s a great introduction into the mind of one of the most accessible and down-to-earth guys you’ll come across.

So congrats to Random, and this only underscores why it’s so important for fans to support artists they like.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Chris Testa (Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer)

The 53rd installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Los Angeles-based producer/mixer/engineer Chris Testa, who won three Grammys for his work on the Dixie Chicks’ 2006 album Taking the Long Way.

Chris’ resume is extensive, and he’s become the go-to guy for several Phoenix/Tempe bands, including Jimmy Eat World, Source Victoria, Kinch and Reubens Accomplice (2011 should be a big year).

I’ve pestered Chris for a while now about doing this, and it turned out to be worth the wait. Just when I thought that maybe he’d forgotten, he emailed me this obviously passionate post about an album he calls “hip-hop’s most creative record” – on the exact 19th anniversary (April 21, 1992) of its release, no less.

check your headBeastie Boys, Check Your Head
(Capitol, 1992)

I was high the first time I heard Check Your Head … in my friend’s car at a party in Jersey. He had bought it and was freaking on it. I remember walking down into the basement of this party and seeing him see me and stop the cassette player, hit eject, grab a cassette and say, “Dude, you gotta hear this!” We went out to his car, smoked one and I heard it for the fist time. It was so fresh … so FRESH. The first track was more creative than most full hip-hop records (although calling it hip-hop could just be limiting what it really is). It’s one of the funkiest records of all time. Completely done in their own style, taking a real understanding of the past and totally doing something new with it. I feel in some way every great hip-hop record is basically a tribute to yourself and how “bad” you are. They’re proving grounds, but it was really about how creative you can be that makes Check Your Head the top contender. The thing is that the Beasties got their groove, whether it’s programmed music, fully live, or just a DJ, but their decision to start playing more themselves (and the brilliant production of Mario Caldato Jr.) just enforced their style on all parts of the sounds. This was the first record where everything coming at you was them (any samples seem more like them sampling themselves, minus the super obvious ones). It was a huge leap into a totally different thing than anyone expected. Most people never even knew they played. It was awesome to see “Bass: MCA, Drums: Mike D and Gtr: Ad-Rock”. I didn’t know what to think … all I can remember was a state of disbelief that their playing was something they just hadn’t shown us yet. How often are you that surprised by what your favorite bands do? I have an answer – rarely ever. At the time I was heavily into all of the pioneers of funk like James Brown, Sly Stone, P Funk, the Meters and every other band that introduced the word to the deep groove. The Beastie Boys were just like a lot of their heros from the ’70s, innovators in their time by making something new of that past … they had it all together. If you look back now at their clothes, their guitars, their fucking drum heads for that matter … all totally new and different from what was going on at the time, yet a total homage to everything that was cool in the past. They were reinventing, and it was dope.

There’s so many things that the Beasties really innovated with Check Your Head. It’s hard to think of just one, so I’m going to break it down:

Their humor

I think one of the main things that everyone related to that existed through all of their records was their humor. Let’s face it: They were funny at shit. Just watch any video. It’s not easy to take something that’s initially funny and twist it into something cool, but they managed to do that all the time. I mean, “The Biz v. The Nuge”… I mean, Biz Markie was a decently big rap star at the time, but Ted Nugent, he had nothing going on. It’s almost like what Quentin Tarantino did with John Travolta. “Let’s pick the most underappreciated artist and hip people back onto them.” Who else would have put a Ted Nugent sample on their record? They pulled the greatest out of the most random people and references, like grabbing Jimmie Walker’s “Dy-No-Mite!” before anyone else did.

The shout-outs

Buddy Rich, Rufus Thomas, Bob Dylan, Minnie the Moocher, Grady Tate, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder – it’s the history of groundbreaking music

The lyrics

Lyrically I don’t think anyone ever really expected anything for the B Boys after their first record, but they did introduce a lot of people to Buddhism on this record with Yauch’s track Namaste. Their wise-ass-ness from the first two records seemed to turn into intelligent sarcasm with style, and is it me or is “Funky Boss” really “Fuck Your Boss”?

The message

The message was straight off an early Sly and the Family Stone record. Stand Together, Time for Livin’, Gratitude, Namaste – bringing people together and paying thanks, almost non-existent in hip-hop music today. Their group camaraderie made them seem like a gang. Almost all hip-hop acts at the beginning were groups, not solo artists. The Beastie Boys continued that tradition. The Ghetto Boys, Public Enemy, NWA, the Furious Five, Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, Cypress Hill, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest – all groups that fed off each other, respected each other, wrote songs and rhymes with each of the other guys in mind. in order to share the wealth you need to have respect and to give room to others and collaborate on views and opinions. The mentality today in rap is virtually incapable of doing that … collaborating requires skill as well.

The sonics

Sonically it was an entirely different thing than they had done and, by far, miles apart from any hip-hop record of the time – distortion, delays, spooky reverbs, percussion, mixed-up samples. It took Paul’s Boutique to a higher yet rawer level … way more stoner. It combined everything in hip-hop, rock, punk and funk, something that had never been done before. The record was made with DATs, four-tracks, two-inch tape, cassettes and anything else that they could record to. Sonically it was super creative without ever really caring about how it sonically sounded – as long as it grooved and had attitude it was kept.

Their studio

The Beastie Boys were so far ahead of anyone with the creation of their own studio, G-Son Studios. No one had their own studio in 1992. Well, maybe some very famous session musicians or someone like Neil Young, but certainly no rock bands and definitely no hip-hop groups. They realized early on (and supposedly their decision to create their own place came out of the massive expense of Paul’s Boutique, the studio time and the sample clearance) that they needed a spot to relax and find their own groove and sound without worrying about the clock, a concept most people didn’t get into until about 10 years later. The whole record was recorded and mixed there. It was punk hip-hop, especially since it was in a shitty part of town in a building that they couldn’t even start recording in until 6 p.m.

The tracks

The standout tracks in my mind were almost too many to list. That’s why the record is so great. They’re all standout tracks – every one.

It was one of those records that made you feel more like a badass when you listened to it. It’s one of those few records that make you feel stoned even when you’re not. And if you are, shit, it’s way better. It sounds as fresh today as it did that night in Jersey sitting in that car hearing it for the first time.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Kyle Rapps

The 52nd installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Kyle Rapps, the New Jersey-born and Harlem-based emcee who on March 29 released his debut EP, Re-Edutainment, his own take on the Boogie Down Productions classic Edutainment.

The EP uses samples and loops from the BDP album and features KRS-One, which makes Rapps’ post here all the more fitting.

return of the boom bapKRS-One, Return of the Boom Bap
(Jive Records, 1993)

So I’m at my middle school dance in Princeton, N.J. I’m playing the wall with the rest of brothers praying for a chance to get my first slow dance on with a cutie across the room. All of a sudden we hear “woop woop that’s the sound of the police” and we all instantly hit the floor and start moving, throwing our hands up, etc. Students, teachers, even the police officer designated to make sure fights don’t get out of hand is nodding his head hard-body. The brilliance of this record is that it’s club smash Showbiz production, and infectous chorus contains lyrical content that is going completely over everyone’s heads. KRS-One is breaking down the finer points of police brutality and injustice from every angle, replete with ingenious world play. He does everything from comparing officers to slave plantation overseers, to dropping epic social critiques such as “there can never really be justice on stolen land.”

A week later, after stealing the tape from my local Sam Goody, I was in hip-hop heaven. Listening to the blastmaster recount his rising up in the hip-hop scene after being homeless and battling rappers in the shelter system, to losing DJ Scott La Rock and turning to Public Enemy for support on Outta Here gave me the deepest respect for the Bronx, NYC pioneer. I lost my mind hearing I Can’t Wake Up where he describes his nightmare about being a blunt and having everyone in the rap industry smoking him…creative virtuosity. Black Cop contains timelessly relevent messages to law enforcement around the world. With production by DJ Premier and Kid Capri, every track is winning. Without Return of the Boom Bap, “conscious” hip-hop would probably not exist. Utilizing a street flow and vocal prescence that spans from reggae to funk to jazz, this Boogie Down Productions masterpiece is hip-hop’s Mona Lisa.

Low: Try to Sleep (video, feat. John Stamos)

stamos_low

Finally, after almost six years of writing this blog, I have reason to use John Stamos’ name in a post title. I expect my traffic to explode accordingly. People are Googling “John Stamos,” right?

But seriously, this is a pretty gorgeous video for Try to Sleep, the first single off Low’s newly released album C’Mon.

Turns out, Stamos, who looks very Mad Men-esque here, is a fan of the band: “I’m actually good friends with their producer Matt Beckley, and he had played me some of the record while they we’re making it, which I loved. Ironically it turns out I was a big fan of one of their older songs Cue the Strings … I’m a sucker for a well written song with great harmonies, and when it came time for them to cast the video, they asked if I’d like to be involved, I liked the concept I was happy to be a part of it. The new record is on all the time at my place. One of my favorite indie bands.”

Elbow: Open Arms (Comic Relief performance)

elbow

There’s usually a moment – or two – on every Elbow album where the skies open and the seas part and an invincible rush overtakes your ears.

Usually, the moments are obvious, like on the 2008 standout One Day Like This, from the Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid. Or Station Approach, the leadoff track from the 2005 album Leaders Of The Free World.

Sometimes, these moments can be subtle, which seems to be the case on the new album build a rocket boys!, a mostly subdued but elegant offering. That said, I probably overlooked Open Arms upon my initial handful of listens. But then I saw a video of Elbow performing the song live for Comic Relief as part of Red Nose Day, and, well, when you add a children’s choir and put the song’s chorus – “We got open arms for broken hearts – in this context of helping the needy, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the power of it.

The band also released an official video for the song (albeit an edited version, by about 40 seconds or so), featuring the artwork of Oliver East:

Awkward: Advice (feat. Open Mike Eagle)

awkward_grandprize

My introduction to Open Mike Eagle came via his excellent 2010 full-length, Unapologetic Art Rap. So until I got a chance to talk with him when he played our Feb. 18 show at Hidden House, I didn’t know about his 2009 EP, Another Roadside Attraction.

He was cool enough to hook me up with a copy – even though it was right under my nose all this time. One of the standout songs is Career Advice, a sobering take on the putrid music industry from someone who deserves better (which is probably why those folks wouldn’t get it anyway). It’s a song every musician – hip-hop or otherwise – really ought to hear.

UK beatmaker Awkward, a member of the crew/label Machina Muerte, produced the track. And for his latest full-length, Grand Prize, Awkward revisited the song – now simply called Advice – for what you might call a remix of his own original, which we’ve seen him do before with Mike Eagle.

And while I haven’t gotten my hands on Grand Prize yet, I have been diggin’ on Awkward’s First Prize, a freebie mix tape of remixes and assorted loose ends. Mike Eagle shows up there, as does Isaiah Toothtaker.

06. Advice with Open Mike Eagle by Awkward

Frightened Rabbit/Twilight Sad demos cassette for Record Store Day

fatcat_demos

As we creep closer to Record Store Day on April 16, the announcements of the exclusive releases that will bankrupt me are coming faster. (Glad I held onto that Stinkweeds gift certificate I got for Christmas.)

An email from FatCat Records especially got my attention. The Brighton-based label will release a limited-edition run of 777 cassettes containing demos by Scotland’s finest, Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad.

The numbered cassettes were assembled by hand (proof!) and feature inserts screenprinted onto vintage paper stock along with a coupon for a digital download of the tracks.

Here’s the tracklisting, which appears to include the Twilight Sad covering Frightened Rabbit’s Be Less Rude:

SIDE A (Frightened Rabbit)
1. Be Less Rude
2. I Feel Better
3. Snake
4. Keep Yourself Warm
5. The Greys

SIDE B (The Twilight Sad)
1. 2d
2. 3iv
3. 2c
4. Be Less Rude

Now, the press release says the tracks are “previously unheard,” but if you look hard enough, FatCat has built a demo archive of the submissions it receives. That includes a page with three Frightened Rabbit tracks: An Incident, The Greys and Be Less Rude. There’s no telling if these versions of Be Less Rude and The Greys – finished versions of which appear on the band’s debut album Sing the Greys – are the same as on the cassette, but I’ll be on the hunt for that tape regardless. I knew I saved my Pioneer double-cassette deck all these years for a reason.

(Photo via FatCat’s Tumblr)

Incoming: Radar Brothers, April 24

putnam

I’d like to think that Jim Putnam and his Radar Brothers had such a good time last July at our five-year anniversary show at Yucca Tap Room that they just couldn’t wait to get back to the Valley. Less than a year later, the band is returning to play Rhythm Room in Phoenix on April 24, via Stateside Presents.

Last year, Radar Brothers were touring in support of their 2010 release The Illustrated Garden (Merge Records). And now the band is already hard at work on a new album, which apparently will be titled Radar Brothers Family Magnetic.

According to a recent website posting: “As this is turning out the be the largest line-up of Brothers yet, (and maybe sisters??…who knows) it has been dubbed the RADAR BROTHERS FAMILY MAGNETIC.”

After bringing aboard new members Be Hussey and Stevie Treichel for Garden, Putnam has expanded the lineup to include three more cohorts: Dan Iead (guitars, formerly of the Broken West), Ethan Walter (keyboards, guitar), and Brian Cleary (keyboards, formerly of the Movies).

Tickets for the Easter-night extravaganza are $10 and available here. Photos from last year’s show can be seen here.

(Photo via Company Flickr set)

RELATED:
Radar Bros. on Daytrotter
Radar Bros.: Brother Rabbit (video)
Radar Bros. on KCRW (video)
Mt. Wilson Repeater (Jim Putnam of Radar Bros.)
Radar Bros.: When Cold Air Goes to Sleep (video)