cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Sing It As Blue As I Feel

This morning I learned the sad news that Merle Haggard was hospitalized yesterday, for unknown reasons. He had been scheduled to play at a casino in Pendleton, Oregon, but was forced to cancel that show as well as subsequent dates in Boise, Idaho and Tacoma, Washington. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish him a complete and quick recovery. This is also the perfect excuse (not that one needs an excuse to listen to Hag) to post my favorite song of his, just to get some good vibes spreading.

Merle Haggard - "You Don't Have Far To Go"

This song is from Haggard's 1965 debut album Strangers, and contains one of his very finest vocal performances. He wrote the song with Joe Simpson and it's still one of his most affecting lyrics. It's available on CD as part of the 1998 2-on-1 Strangers/Swinging Doors compilation or on the 1996 four-disc box set Down Every Road, both of which are readily available at most major record stores. Keep in mind that this song is a slightly different version than the one that appeared on 1967's Branded Man, where it was titled "You Don't Have Very Far To Go".

Word on the street (read: the internet) is that Haggard will be touring with none other than Bob Dylan in March and April, so that's just one more reason to be sending Hag the best possible wishes. Keep an eye on his official website for more information.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Count All The Good Things

Alright, I wonder how many people are going to be alienated by this post. Not that I'm doing it on purpose; I just have a feeling most people will consider themselves too hip or too manly to be able to appreciate today's song in all it's girly, decidedly new-wavy goodness. I hope to be proven wrong, but if not I have no problem dancing with myse-elf (oh!) to a little ditty called "Sunshine, Sunshine, Where Are You?".

Miss TK & The Revenge - "Sunshine, Sunshine, Where Are You?"

In a better world, this song would be an immediate smash hit, filling dancefloors across the nation, mucking up make-up, obliterating hair-dos and soundtracking glorious excess at its most playful. It's hard to believe how dynamic this song is, and equally hard to believe that there isn't even a hint of pretense or irony; it's just fun, fun and more fun!

I was able to find little information on Miss TK & The Revenge online, but apparently they're from my home state of New Jersey and are comprised partly of married couple Tannis Kristanjson (i.e. Miss TK) and Ari Katz, both of whom were in the band Zero Zero. Here are two more mp3s from thier website:

Miss TK & The Revenge - "Nowhere To Go"

Miss TK & The Revenge - "Concentrate [Demo]"

If you like "Sunshine, Sunshine, Where Are You?", please buy their debut album from last year, XOXO, because it's chock full of more glitter and glam. You can buy the album from their label, Gern Blandsten Records.

And To Them I Say, Bring It On!

Carrie Brownstein, one of the mega-cool guitar-wielding singers of Sleater-Kinney, updated S-K's offical website on Tuesday with a longish note to fans. The most exciting piece of information revealed in that letter was her description of their new album, The Woods (due out May 24th on Sub Pop), as "heavy, raw, psychedelic". My answer is, bring it on! I can hardly wait.

Carrie went on to say: "We wanted to make something different, we always do, but for the first time, I think we actually have." While respectfully disagreeing with that "for the first time" bit (c'mon, both All Hands On The Bad One and One Beat were very different takes on the distinctive Sleater-Kinney sound), I'm glad that Carrie, Corin and Janet feel they've come up with something new.

After some musings on the Academy Awards (people still care about those things?), Carrie also wrote briefly about touring:

Plus, it has been a while since we've toured, which aside from writing songs and putting out records, is the reason we play music. When we don't tour, we don't connect with the people that listen to us. It all begins to feel a bit abstract.
About recording with new producer Dave Fridmann:

We were nervous to work with someone new but that quickly dissipated once we arrived in Fredonia. Dave Fridmann is masterful, and he understands our sonic intent better than almost anyone we've worked with. He pushed us and challenged us and I think it paid off.
And about being on a new record label:

We went through a lot of changes in the last year. Julie (our publicist and friend) retired from the business. And we switched labels. Sub Pop has been great. They didn't know what songs we took into the studio and we never played them the demos we did in our practice space. We mixed and sequenced the record with Dave and handed it over to Sub Pop completely finished. We crossed our fingers that they would like it and they did. We've greatly appreciated their complete trust in our vision.
Ending with that unique Carrie graciousness, of course:

We look forward to seeing many of you on our upcoming travels. Thanks for your support. I hope everyone is happy and healthy and still up for the struggle of just being alive right now. Peace.
I realize there isn't much of the note that I didn't quote, but you can read the full thing here if you like. The only other tidbit of news I have to report is that Sleater-Kinney will be playing SXSW this year, if you're into that sort of thing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

You Better Let Me In

Gram Rabbit's debut album from last year, Music To Start A Cult To, was a welcome surprise. G-Rabbit's pot runneth over - cooking up everything from alt-country twang to trip-hop to jangle-pop to a variation of rap closer to Nellie McKay than Chuck D - resulting in something they consider akin to their forefather Gram Parson's "Cosmic American Music". Of course, any group that attempts to capture so many distinct styles under one parasol isn't going to succeed entirely, but Gram Rabbit certainly do better than could reasonably be expected of a debut. In other words, the music Gram Rabbit make is as weird and unique as the desert trees which inhabit their hometown of Joshua Tree, California. There are quite a few wrinkles in the Gram Rabbit fabric, but I'm looking forward to the band attempting to iron them out on subsequent albums.

Unfortunately, since the band really is all over the place, there's probably not one song, or ever two, that I could post to give you an accurate impression of their full-length. Suffice to say, if you like any of the following tracks, do not hesitate to pick up Music To Start A Cult To.

Gram Rabbit - "Devil's Playground"

"Devil's Playground" is my favorite song on the album. It sounds like it might be a cover of an obscure country song from a by-gone era, but in fact it's just another gem from the pen of Jesika von Rabbit, Gram Rabbit's leading lady, and guitarist/singer Todd Rutherford.

Gram Rabbit - "Witness"

Bassist and "sample-guru" Travis Cline makes this song, although Jesika's beguiling vocal performance certainly helps.

Gram Rabbit - "Dirty Horse"

There's also this interview I found online, if you want to read more about the band. Otherwise, head over to their website or to Stinky Records to purchase the album.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I Like Your Happiness

A couple weeks ago when I posted my best of 2004 list, one of the albums that snuck in near the end was Asobi Seksu's self-titled debut. I have no problem admitting that what first attracted me to the album was its gorgeous cover art, done by Sean McCabe: a heavily made-up Japanese girl in a pink cardigan lying on a bed surrounded by polaroids and a 45 phonograph. She's clutching tissue in her fist; her heart has clearly just been broken. The picture above appears to be an outtake from the sessions that produced the cover. It reveals a lot (the Jane Birken record, her legs and socks) that the cover left out. It really is a nice cover, all but guaranteed to reel in those of us who still care about what kind of package our plastic comes in.

But I didn't buy the album on the strength of the cover. What do I look like, a fool? I did some research, found out what Asobi Seksu means (look it up!), learned that the vocals are in Japanese and English (a +) and that the band is compared to My Bloody Valentine (a huge -) in nearly every review. Despite the cover, the Bloody Valentine comparisons took a serious toll on my interest. In fact, I probably wouldn't have picked the album up if I hadn't found it for dirt cheap in a used bin somewhere. I'm glad I did though: on the strength of a few great songs, it's a promising debut from a New York band trying to spice things up, at least a little.

I don't know that I would've posted about Asobi Seksu any time soon if it weren't for Fire Of lovE, a truly eclectic blog featuring everything from punk to gospel, mentioning in my comments section that he/she also had his/her interest peaked by the cover. So, here's your chance to hear Asobi Seksu, not live or in-person, before they get truly huge...which they will.

Asobi Seksu - "I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me"

Asobi Seksu - "Walk On The Moon"

I believe these are the two singles from Asobi Seksu. "I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me" is my favorite song of theirs: the pumping synths, Yuki Chikudate's deceptively tiny voice and that effortlessly happy melody...and that's well before James Hanna's guitar engulfs the chrous. You're right, I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but I'm too caught up in the tidal wave of noise to care.

There are a couple more mp3s on Asobi Seksu's website, as well as a link to buy the album at Insound if you like these songs.

Let me add, if I haven't made it clear enough already, that Asobi Seksu is a full, four-person band. On the off-chance that the band reads this, I apologize in advance for using the picture of only Yuki. I think it's disrespectful when the frontman or woman for a band, regardless of how photogenic he or she may be, gets all the attention. In this situation, I needed that particular image for the opening of this post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Today's post is a special one to me because it's my thirty-third post. 33 has long been my favorite number, so to celebrate making it this far I'm going to post my favorite song. That's right, ever, all-time...however you wanna say it. It's all downhill from here.

And since my favorite song ever is by a man who uses the English language more profoundly than I could ever hope to, this is one that I'm going to let speak for itself:

Bob Dylan - "To Ramona"

In retrospect, my last post on The Gunshy makes for a good segue into this post. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the transition from Tom Heinl to The Game.

If you want to hear more incredible songs like "To Ramona", and really there's no reason why you shouldn't, you can buy the album from which it came, 1964's Another Side Of Bob Dylan. You can probably find it used on Amazon for pretty cheap. It's an underrated masterpiece in the Dylan catalogue that deserves to be heard by everyone.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Kinda Nice To Maybe Shine

Usually when I hear that some unknown kid sounds exactly like one of my favorite singers I pay it no mind. Nine times out of ten it ends up being completely false. But, like a sucker always on the hunt for that latest discovery, I picked up The Gunshy's 2004 album, No Man's Blues, because I constantly heard him being compared to Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. The Gunshy is the name that 24 year-old Matt Arbogast has chosen for his one-man band. Unsurprisingly, the songwriting and performances on No Man's Blues are galaxies away from Dylan and Waits, but it's true about his voice: Arbogast does sound exactly like Tom Waits used to. It makes for an eerie, almost discomforting listen. It's entirely possible to close one's eyes and imagine you're listening to a lost Waits album. I know, I know, there's no way you're going to believe me until you hear it for yourself. Fair enough:

The Gunshy - "No Man's Blues"

The Gunshy - "Your Favorite Dylan Song"

Now do you believe me? "No Man's Blues" is the song on the album that features the most Waitsian vocal performance. "Your Favorite Dylan Song" pretty much makes it clear how Arbogast feels about comparisons like these, but it's also one of the best songs on the album...and not just because it references the Master in its great title.

The rest of the album doesn't reach the heights of these two songs, but it's still worth hearing. It's hard to resist the feeling that at times Arbogast pushes his voice to sound older and more haggard than it actually is. That might be unfair (he didn't choose his voice, afterall), but it is a notion that crept into my mind from time to time as the album spun. That and the production are the two main things holding The Gunshy back, but I think in time he might develop into a truly compelling talent.

There's more information on The Gunshy at this press release, including links to mp3s of a few more songs from No Man's Blues. If you like any of these songs enough to listen to them more than once, please buy the album from Latest Flame Records or catch one of The Gunshy's passionate live shows.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Peep Game

The Aftermath/Shady family strikes again this January, this time with the much anticipated debut of Compton emcee The Game. What I've heard so far has been underwhelming, especially the lead-off singles "Higher" and "How We Do" with 50 Cent. But with production by Kanye West, Just Blaze, Hi-Tek, Timbaland, Eminem and the good Doctor himself, it's sure to have some of the best beats of the year.

Here's a sneak at the best track I've heard so far, not surprisingly the one produced by and featuring Eminem.

The Game with Eminem - "We Ain't"

If you can't (or don't want to) wait for the release of The Documentary on January 18th, you can peep the album in it's entirety on MTV's The Leak.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Because Laughter Is Cool Too

On Saturday I went to see the Encyclopedia Of Fun at the ABC House in Olympia. They're a young Olympian band, comprised partly of Jenny Jenkins and Gabe Lifferth (also of the Strangers). They have this one incredible song called "Hole In The Ground", which is probably the first "looper" of the year for me. Unfortunately, they didn't have any of their CDs with them so I have nothing by them to post, but keep your ears open.

However, as luck would have it, a Mr. Tom Heinl was one of the first acts. This was to my complete surprise, I hadn't seen his name on the flyer for the show, but I was certainly pleased when he took the stage. Actually, there was no stage, so when he took the front of the room. Tom writes parody songs in the vein of classic country and western, at times sounding like a comedic Johnny Cash. I first heard about him more than a year ago from a friend who assured me that his music was hilarious; now having seen him live I can definitely attest to that. He had me hunched over in laughter for the duration of his set, delivering such strokes of genius as "Three-Way" and "IHOP" in complete deadpan. Here's a couple songs, hopefully they'll make you laugh too:

Tom Heinl - "Three-Way"

Tom Heinl - "Half Day Vacation"

Tom Heinl - "Ingrown Nail (On The Oregon Trail)"

See what I mean? "Ingrown Nail" sounds like a classic C&W story song from the 60s, until you consider the lyrics. "Three-Way" is Countrypolitan to the core, right down to the background singers, and anyone who doesn't double over when they hear Tom sing "you know it kinda turned me on when you told me one time you had a three-way" for the first time is hopeless.

Tom has two albums, I believe, the latest being 2003's With Or Without Me, so called because of the instrumentals that comprise the second half of the album, which invite the listener to sing their favorite Heinl songs through the wonders of Stereoke! "Three-Way" is from With Or Without Me. So is "Half Day Vacation", but the version above is from a tape of demos.

If you enjoy these songs, visit Tom's website and learn more about him. You can even read some of his fifth grade journal while you're there. Or you can purchase With Or Without Me from Leisure King. Lastly, there's this short but sweet interview of his with The Onion.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

I Say, Don't You Know?

sebby called it! When the 2004 lists began drifting in and Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" sat near the top, if not at the top, of most of them, I wasn't surprised. This song more than any other made 2004 for me. When I finally got my hands on FF's debut in March, it was immediately clear to me that "Take Me Out" was the stand-out. And it seemed 1000% unlikely that any other song would come along and knock it from the top spot. Nine months later the initial reaction still stands: "Take Me Out" is not only far and away the best song of 2004, but perhaps the best since the turn of the century. Haters can hate, let them miss the thrill of it all because they're too busy arguing over whether it's disco or not, at the end of the day it's a winner: a brilliant and infectious four minutes of sass and stomp.

My favorite "Take Me Out" moment is near the first minute mark, when a second song of new energy and urgency starts to slowly break free from the shell of the first. It's as if the song is taking over, forcing Franz Ferdinand to play something they hadn't intended. Or something like that.

There's probably little reason for me to post this song, seeing as anyone who's bothering to read an mp3 blog has surely heard it, but I'm posting it anyway: its ubiquity has done nothing to diminish its power.

Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"

Friday, January 07, 2005

Best Songs Of 2004

Here are what I consider 33 of the best songs of last year. Enjoy, and let me know whether you agree or disagree.

Tift Merritt - "Write My Ticket"
Antony & The Johnsons - "Fistful Of Love"
The Transmissionary Six - "Happy Landings"
Two Gallants - "Crow Jane"
Joanna Newsom - "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie"
Royce Da 5'9" - "Regardless"
Björk - "Triumph Of A Heart"
Elvis Costello - "Monkey To Man"
Simon Joyner - "Flying Dreams"
A Girl Called Eddy - "Girls Can Really Tear You Up Inside"
Murs - "The Pain"
Lloyd Banks with Eminem, 50 Cent & Nate Dogg - "Warrior Part 2"
The Arcade Fire - "Wake Up"
Modest Mouse - "Bukowski"
The Clumsy Lovers - "Rest"
Ghostface - "Be This Way"
Kanye West - "Through The Wire"
Xiu Xiu - "Fabulous Muscles (Mama Black Widow Version)"
Nas with Olu Dara - "Bridging The Gap"
Dan Bern - "Sammy's Bat"
Eminem with Obie Trice, Stat Quo & 50 Cent - "Spend Some Time"
Frausdots - "Dead Wrong"
Of Montreal - "Disconnect The Dots"
Castanets - "Three Days, Four Nights"
Mouse On Mars - "Wipe That Sound"
CocoRosie - "By Your Side"
Penelope Houston - "Hole"
Secret Machines - "The Road Leads Where It's Led"
Inouk - "Elected"
Devendra Banhart - "Will Is My Friend"
Nedelle And Thom - "You Know"
The Court & Spark - "Suffolk Down Upon The Night"
Tom Waits - "Dead And Lovely"

Actually, these are all runners-up, tomorrow I'll post what I believe to be the single best song of 2004. I should probably warn you that it might be a bit anti-climatic: this year one song in particular stood out to many people as the best of the best, and I happen to concur with that selection.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Best Albums Of 2004

I have about a dozen or so (supposedly great) albums still to hear from 2004, plus a few imports I'm looking forward to tracking down, but by and large I know where I stand with 2004. To be honest, it was a pretty lackluster year from my perspective, although that might've been due to some disappointing efforts from a few of my favorite artists (I'm looking at you Eminem and Leonard Cohen). Also, part of the reason 2004 struck me as less than stellar may be that 2003 set the bar so incredibly high. Having said all of that, plenty of artists (including many newcomers) stepped up to the plate and made magic. As promised, here's my personal list of the best albums of 2004, in reverse order:

25. The Beta Band - Heroes To Zeros

24. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Like Bad News

23. French Kicks - The Trial Of The Century

22. Nedelle And Thom - Summerland

21. The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows

20. Asobi Seksu - Asobi Seksu

19. Jason Molina - Pyramid Electric Co.

18. Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter - Oh, My Girl

17. Eleni Mandell - Afternoon

16. Elvis Costello - The Delivery Man

15. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose

14. Mouse On Mars - Radical Connector

13. Jolie Holland - Escondida

12. The Thermals - Fuckin A

11. Dios - Dios

10. Tift Merritt - Tambourine

9. Tracy + The Plastics - Culture For Pigeon

8. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

7. Simon Joyner - Lost With The Lights On

6. Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles

5. The Arcade Fire - Funeral

4. The Transmissionary Six - Get Down

3. Penelope Houston - The Pale Green Girl

2. A Girl Called Eddy - A Girl Called Eddy

1. Castanets - Cathedral

This list will definitely change as I hear more from last year, but these are albums I'm sure I'll always enjoy and, thus, highly recommend. Questions, comments, death threats, all will be appreciated.

I've Learned How To Wait

Sleater-Kinney have announced five new tour dates on their website. These shows will take place before the release of the new album, so they should feature lots of new material. When I saw them a couple months ago in Portland, the majority of their sets was brand new...and very, very good! Here are the dates:

2.14.2005 Western Washington University - Bellingham, WA
2.25.2005 Night Light Lounge - Bellingham, WA
2.26.2005 Commodore Ballroom - Vancouver, BC
3.02.2005 Mercury Lounge - New York, NY
3.03.2005 Mercury Lounge - New York, NY

They also promised new and expansive (including international) tour dates after the release of the new record, which is scheduled to be released at the end of May by Sub Pop.

I'll for sure be at the two Bellingham shows and maybe the Vancouver show if I'm feeling adventurous, so let a brother know if you'll be in attendance too.

And lastly, did anyone catch their New Year's Eve show with Wilco and the Flaming Lips at Madison Square Garden? If so, I expect a detailed report in the comments section.

Ciao 2005

I'm back from my road trip. I guess it was only two weeks, but it felt like a lot longer. I was surprised by how much I missed blogging. It appears I've grown attached to this after just a couple months.

Hopefully this will be the year I put cool hand bak on the map. I'm looking forward to using this blog more and more to capture my musical journey, to detail the music that's captivating me as it happens. 2005 is already shaping up to be a great year for music, with new releases expected from Sleater-Kinney, Magnolia Electric Co., Bright Eyes, Antony & The Johnsons, M. Ward, Solomon Burke, The Decemberists, Blackalicious, and The Fiery Furnaces, among others. I'm excited to finally have an outlet that allows me to comment on and share my appreciation for that music. That doesn't mean I won't be posting old stuff though: they'll be plenty of songs from years gone by.

Later today I'll post my personal Best of 2004 list and later this week I hope to round up some of my favorite songs from last year.

I want to thank everyone who commented while I was gone. It was great to check in from the road and see that people were still enjoying some of the songs I posted before I went away.

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