Further evidence that Chicago is the place to be when it comes to interesting new bands sprouting up constantly. Me Jane is a quartet that met in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and has since released a demo and a single, and now their debut full-length entitled “ISON.”
The production is stripped down and transparent, making the overall sound of the songs reminiscent of Wire’s “Pink Flag,” or early Cure, but the songs here have a tendency to be somewhat more ebullient at times, alternating with inquisitive melancholy – or at least nostalgia. Me Jane walks a tightrope, balancing the stark production with touches of dream-pop and deeply affecting guitar leads.
Take the track “Ghost” for example. As the guitars fade in and the synth emerges from the background a multi-layered song structure is beginning to take shape. More instrumental than lyrical, I think the band’s ensemble work and craftsmanship really shines on “Ghost.” I can’t help but feel that, on the track that immediately follows, “Racket,” the singer is channeling a bit of Wild Flag era Carrie Brownstein. The sharp crescendos that punctuate each vocal phrase, and just the delivery in general – with the backing vocals also owing to the Wild Flag sound – borrows elements from a style, without coming off at all like a cheap imitation.
It’s the moments where the guitar breaks free a little bit, with a kind of reverbed surf-rock tone, that really define Me Jane’s sound. They seem to be testing out a bunch of different approaches across the album, but their distinctive and original voice is most certainly coming through loud and clear.
“ISON” came out this past May and can be purchased either digitally from their bandcamp page, or on limited edition white vinyl directly from the Me Jane site. They also have a few shows coming up in September in Chicago if you happen to be in the area. Dates and other things can be found at their awesomely named website: mejaneyoulisten.com
Anyone that has been paying attention to this blog for the past couple of months already knows that I have been eagerlywaiting for this album to come out.
Well, tomorrow is the day that Kill Rock Stars will officially release Quasi’s 9th studio album. “Mole City” is not only the band’s 9th studio album, but also an album released on their 20th year as a band.
The album is stacked, for starters. Not including the bonus EP of cover songs that comes along with the album there are 24 tracks spanning over an hour of music. Right out of the gate after the brief initial organ solo opening of “*,” the track “You Can Stay But You Gotta Go” begins with a low rumble and charges through with ultra-fuzzed, guitar that (I think) has been run through a whammy pedal, or something similar, to send the pitch down an octave. I mean, it could be a bass guitar, but there are times when the line goes above the range of the bass…of course I could be wrong.
Anyway, that’s not the point. I’m getting off track here. The album amps up Quasi’s early rock influence with several tracks built upon a bar-room piano riff foundation overtop of which squealing, howling guitar noise is placed. This is exactly the structure of “Fat Fanny Land,” with the added shuffling backbeat laid down by Weiss. It’s built on a standard 12-bar blues form, with Coomes’ vocals and rhodes piano adding a nice dose of grit to the mix. And there’s even more blues piano on “Headshrinker,” which presents an interesting case. The song builds so slowly, taking the majority of its 4-plus minutes to get to it’s wildest. And what is done during that slow, steady build is even more interesting (to me at least) in that this build consists entirely of one chord. When the Brian May type doubled guitar sol enters toward the end of the song it’s a real breath of fresh air. That solo is also the only part of the song that really moves away from the primary chord.
That’s quite a feat. It’s a challenging thing to create a song on a single premise without straying from that idea or adding to it while at the same time holding interest, avoiding monotony. Coomes and Weiss, however, manage this with relative ease.
There are some other blues based rockers, such as “Nostalgia Kills,” a song that also benefits from the slap-back echo on the vocals. “Nostalgia Kills” would be right at home on classic rock radio, with a guitar riff that sounds like something straight out of Molly Hatchet, or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Another country/blues guitar jam, “Bedbug Town,” features the spot on harmonies of Janet. Their voices work so perfectly together, and Weiss’ harmonies are always spot on. Speaking of Weiss’ voice, she has the chance to take center stage, singing the lone vocal on track “R.I.P,” with only a country style finger picked steel string guitar. Later in the album the track “One and Done” matches the sound of “R.I.P” with its quick guitar work in a similar finger-picked style, though this time considerably brighter with the addition of the slide guitar doubling.
Because of their inclusion of the honky-tonk style piano and ultra fuzzed out guitars or the distorted Rhodes, those songs often sound like they are coming out of a saloon in the wild west on acid. Though, lyrically, the songs are often dark and/or heartbreaking. That darkness is often hidden behind bouncy piano lines and early blues rock guitar hooks. In “The Goat” Coomes sings, “where’s the crime in tryin’ to get you to love me again?…I’ll be the goat if it makes it any better,” obscured in exactly this way. There are moments, such as in “Geraldine,” where the darkness is let to sound loud and clear.
Short bursts of noise such as “*,” “Chrome Duck,” and the sound collage of “Mole City” break the album up nicely, serving to create convenient divisions in the album that serve as waypoints guiding the listener through the album.
Finally, the addition of the covers EP (available to those that pre-ordered “Mole City”) makes total sense in creating the connections between the Quasi sound with bands like Queen and Black Sabbath, as well as Marvin Gaye and Nick Lowe. Come to think of it though, after listening to the dark lyrics of the preceding album Queen’s lyrics “don’t stop me now, I’m havin’ a good time, havin’ a good time” can’t help themselves but sound a bit ironic. But anyway, if you haven’t heard their cover of “Heaven and Hell” that appeared as a bonus track on 2010’s “American Gong,” then do yourself a favor and check that one out. Janet’s ability to replicate Keith Moon’s style couldn’t be closer to perfection.
Mole City is out October 1st (ie tomrrow) on Kill Rock Stars and can be found at your local independent record store or at the link below. The album is available on vinyl (coke-bottle clear while supplies last, otherwise black) CD or as a digital download.
Carrie Brownstein of Wild Flag is featured on this week’s WTF Podcast with Marc Maron. If you aren’t a fan of the podcast now would be a perfect time to start checking it out. Marc presents 2 episodes a week of conversations with comedians, actors, writers that are sometimes funny, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes revelatory and always entertaining.
On this episode (No. 267) Carrie and Marc discuss Carrie’s years with Sleater-Kinney, awkward meetings with Peter Buck of R.E.M., meeting Fred Armisen and creating Portlandia, guitars, pets and a whole bunch of other things. Check it out.
Also, as an incentive to listen, Marc gives his listeners a 20% discount on the Merge Records website. That discount covers everything on the site from vinyl, CD’s and merch to digital downloads, so take a listen and find out how to get that discount.
Check out the WTF Podcast with Carrie Brownstein here
Download from iTunes. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast, it’s regularly great.
Wild Flag is currently finishing up their tour. There are still some shows coming up on the West Coast, and Mexico, through May. Check them out if you can.
It’s hard to tell whether this was a really great year for music or if I was just paying attention more than last year. That sums up my feelings at the end of every year. I don’t want to do too much of an introduction because I have quite a bit to say. I’m not putting these releases in any particular order, they are just my favorites. Some I listened to more than others, but putting them in order just seems too subjective and a pointless waste of time.
Chad VanGaalen – “Diaper Island”
Listening to this album filled the void left by Women not releasing anything this year. This was my gateway into listening to more of VanGaalen’s stuff and it remains my favorite album of his. With it’s haunting and warm sound, psychedelic imagery and noisy guitars Diaper Island hit all the right notes. Standout tracks “Peace on the Rise,” “Heavy Stones” and “Do Not Fear” would be a good fit on any year end mix. (review here.)
Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
Simply put, this is one epic album. It may seems like a chore to listen to this nearly 78 minute hardcore opera about love and loss, but when it comes down to it the album still relies on catchy hooks, pure unbridled emotion and more guitars than have ever appeared on any album ever. The complexity of the arrangements may be overshadowed by the brash vocals but take another 10 or 20 listens and you’ll undoubtedly start to appreciate how truly brilliant this album is from it’s structure and lyrics right on down to the execution. This continues Fucked Up in their clear evolution of a hardcore band that is always searching for new ways to expand the medium.
Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”
Radiohead will never be able to catch a break ever again. They are caught in the terrible, yet still enviable, position of people expecting great innovations from album to album and then fans and critics regularly misunderstanding their music and heaping faint praise onto them. Make no mistake The King of Limbs is a fantastic album. Sure, it is short, and there isn’t much in the way of guitar on it, and it’s really percussion heavy. It’s still a Radiohead album though and in my mind they are nearly at the level where they can do nothing wrong. There are definite gems on here and it should not be simply cast aside. (review)
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/07-Give-Up-The-Ghost.mp3|titles=Give Up The Ghost]
tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l”
Probably the most divisive album of the year. I have yet to come across anyone that could say, “Yeah I heard the tune-yards album, it was ok”. The reactions were always hard to one side. If I recall correctly even those of us in the Tympanogram camp were at odds over how we felt about it. My take on it is that it’s a wholly new sound that is interesting rhythmically to a very high degree, orchestrationally it also makes great use of everything available but never tries to go too far, or do too much. This album manages to do all of those things while continuing to keep it interesting and different from song to song covering a variety of moods. (review)
Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”
This is a straight up rock record. I had been looking forward to its release ever since Carrie Brownstein left NPR to pursue music in a touring band once again. They manage to easily sidestep any of the normal pitfalls of a debut album because all of the members of Wild Flag are seasoned pros. Each track is exciting and energetic and simply rocks. They captured the energy of a live show and released it simultaneously as they toured across the country garnering acclaim for their exciting, energetic show. (review)
Colin Stetson – “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges”
This album is the only thing I have listened to that has left me absolutely speechless and astounded upon its conclusion. It’s flashy, arty and walks that line between art-music and jazz. It’s another album that stands in a category of its own, which is exactly the kind of thing that I’m attracted to. What’s even more amazing is that it’s almost all solo saxophone music, except for one track that Stetson performs on French Horn. On the surface it is not exactly the kind of thing that I would be drawn to, and maybe it’s not the kind of thing that you’d be drawn to either. To you I would say this is definitely worth a listen or ten. It’s damn near revolutionary and will leave you spellbound. (review)
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/12-The-righteous-wrath-of-an-honorable-man.mp3|titles=The righteous wrath of an honorable man]
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/05-From-no-part-of-me-could-I-summon-a-voice.mp3|titles=From no part of me could I summon a voice]
Starfucker – “Reptilians”
Catchy as hell, synth-laden, danceable pop tunes about life and death, though mostly about death. This was definitely an album that I had cast aside earlier in the year, but when I came back to it I found that I was surely missing out. There’s something satisfying about a thick, buzzing synth sound.
Tim Hecker – “Ravedeath 1972”
I definitely don’t fashion myself an expert on ambient music, but there is just something so moving about this album the way that it uses masses of sound to create an atmosphere that is ethereal and familiar all at once. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what I love about this album. Maybe it’s the fact that I keep coming back to it, that it keeps forcing me to come back to it. It’s just so damned intriguing.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – “Mirror Traffic”
The Pavement nepotism is obvious. I became absolutely obsessed with Pavement when I finally started paying attention to their albums around 2006. Come to find out I was wasting all sorts of time missing Pavement because Malkmus has been putting out fantastic albums since right after Pavement’s last album came out in 1999. “Mirror Traffic” is full of songs with interesting harmonies, sudden shifts, catchy melodies and Malkmus’ literate and sometimes cryptic lyrics.
The Two Koreas – “Science Island”
I know that hardly anyone is going to agree with me on this album. I also know that not too many people have heard this album and that is a shame. That is also partially the reason why I am making it a point to mention it on my year end list. The music is sloppy to a certain degree, totally embodying a garage rock aesthetic. Every track is a barn-burner sung with a sneer with plenty of jangly, noisy guitars adding to the overall experience. If you listen to anything on this list, or are inspired to listen to anything new I would suggest most highly this album. (review)
The much anticipated album from indie rock “super group” Wild Flag has finally arrived, giving everyone something to shout about. One could practically hear the reviewers proclaiming the, at that point unnamed project, “Best of the Year” after Carrie Brownstein announced that she was leaving her post at NPR. It was decided a priori that this group was going to be amazing. I don’t want to start to sound like I totally disagree with the excitement that is surrounding this group, I just am shuddering slightly at the nepotism of the scene.
Luckily for Wild Flag they have released an album that is capable of supporting all of the buzz that has been generated on its behalf. A backwards approach, but that isn’t their fault. From my point of view it seems as if they are starting from as new a place as they can. They can’t help that they were in Sleater-Kinney, Helium and a bunch of other more under-appreciated bands, and why would they want to? It’s that experience that no doubt influenced the formation of Wild Flag and the production of their solid debut album.
Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, are joined by Mary Timony on vocals and guitar and Rebecca Cole on keys to create a powerful guitar driven rock sound that seems to be influenced by the spontaneity of live performance. The album’s 10 tracks capture the rough around the edges sound of an experienced live band. Despite their only having been together as Wild Flag for about a year it is clear that their collective experience is guiding their way. This album definitely does not sound like a debut. It is a focused and confident release.
“Glass Tambourine” and “Racehorse” are two of the more experimental and lengthy jams while “Endless Talk” is reminiscent of The Cars with Brownstein’s sharp, clipped vocals matching to a degree those of Ric Ocasek while her guitar work adds a bit of a more abrasive tone over top. “Short Version” gets right to the point, full steam ahead with blistering guitar riffs cutting through the silence.
Throughout the album Timony’s vocals are contrasted sharply by Brownstein’s. Where Timony’s voice has a more natural and relaxed sound Brownstein’s delivery sounds purposefully forceful. Her guitar style matches her vocal delivery in that it seems to cut sharp angles against the rest of the band. It’s the difference between a song like “Electric Band” and “Future Crimes”. An exciting album from one of the most talked about bands of the year. Thankfully the music seems to match the hype, for once.