The Smiths - Covered

Every time the internet starts to let me down, not updating its precious, delicious podcasts fast enough or making me feel like I can no longer garner true enjoyment from it, something phenomenal comes along. It's kinda like love and money that way, isn't it? Right when you think the whole situation is fucked beyond repair, something comes along because you stop looking. Maybe it's not exactly like that. I might be exaggerating. Then again, I might not be, so let's be safe. This is a review-ish thing about an album of covers. Specifically covers of the Smiths, but since we all already know the Smiths, and in these cases a simple link-and-wink (TM) will suffice, I don't want to belabor the whole review thing. Instead, let's look to one amazing Tumblr called Copy Cat that appears to house just about the best of any song that anyone can or will or wants or thinks to cover. You want to hear "The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire covered? You got it. If you like Ryan Adams, but wish he'd do some Elton John? Sure. Or maybe just reworkings of great songs like the National's "Mr. November" or Feist's "Let It Die" will float your proverbial boat? It's a beautiful and perfect way to spend an evening, just scanning through, listening and realizing the sheer volume of talent in the music world. Go there now! Do it! Well, wait, for a second actually. I'm almost done.

From Copy Cat, I found a phenomenal collection, free for download, of Smiths covers. And yeah, covers aren't everybody's scene. That's cool. But, some of the artists involved in this collection are as follows: Stars, Spoon, The Morning Benders, Dum Dum Girls, At The Drive-In, She & Him and... and... many more! While this is just a collection and not a more strictly designed album project, and it does have some hitches and minor errors in the recordings, it's a really compelling and enjoyable compendium featuring pretty much all of the Smiths best songs. So, if you like the Smiths, hey, here's your ice cream... It's a pile of Smiths songs. But look out for the chocolate sauce and jimmies, because those are the great cover artists. Really it's just some phenomenal work. Especially with She & Him's turn on "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want," Colin Meloy's version of "Ask," and "Panic" as covered by Spoon. A lot of these are live recordings, but goddammit, let's not be so picky. You should, not just can, but should download this compilation from Perfect|Midnight|World right now. It may not be news, but it's new enough.
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Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys

Either we judge Death Cab for Cutie for being too saccharine, too delicate and too precious, or we judge Death Cab for venturing too far from that formula. Really, we all clamor for a return to the days of Transatlanticism and the Postal Service. Both of those albums were epic masterworks that seemed to foretell of Ben Gibbard's destiny to pull at least part of the sword from the modern rock composer stone. Since no recent album has exactly backed up those claims, the cache and love wears off, so while much of Ben Gibbard and Death Cab's recent accomplishments have resulted in great music, it's just not perfect enough for us. (Plus there's that whole Zooey Deschanel thing...) So, the best/worst thing any band in Death Cab for Cutie's position can do is release an album that ventures into different territory, diverse in sound, recognizable primarily because of the vocalist, darker, slower, sparser, less emotional, more mechanic and new. It's either going to succeed (as evidenced by the aforementioned Postal Service) or it could fail (general lackluster receptions to the new MGMT album, for example). So how do we judge Codes and Keys?

Ben Gibbard has gone "on record" to say the band isn't as guitar centric as it once was and that is evident from track one. "Home Is A Fire" is a wander, slow-burning song that heaves and breathes like a slumbering beast. It builds to small mountains, falls to delicate valleys and grows again. But what's gone is the lyric-heavy poetry found on previous Death Cab albums. Instead of precisely crafted stories, the vibe is one of patience and concern. Codes and Keys just feels different. The slow tone holds through "Codes and Keys" and "Some Boys," both of which reach only minor points of rising, feeling more like the sentimental lamentations of a Tom Waits-type world-worn barfly. On "Doors Unlocked and Open" the pace finally picks up, offering more of a pseudo-dance, pop-punk vibe, all filled with Gibbard's signature calls and cries. What happens here is actually a lot like a Postal Service song, without the electronic touches. Vocal manipulation comes in, and Gibbard feels miles away and underwater. It becomes, ultimately a catchy-as-hell pop song. And you're happy, as the listener, to get to track four and its reminder that the band will give you some riffs and some hooks.

"You Are A Tourist" keeps that theme alive. Death Cab starts to feel like a combination between "In A Big Country" by Big Country, and some of the proto-80s-punk-pop-dance of Bloc Party. Really, it's a very nostalgic feeling song, even when heard the first time. Ben Gibbard's vocals are mixed and looped and layered to the point where a call-and-response thing begins to happen that really enhances the track. "Unobstructed Views" calms everything back down, at least initially with a slow-loading piano intro that is exceptionally designed. It's not until halfway into the 6 minute long track that Gibbard's vocals appear as an echoing poet from above. As the song grows, it turns into a sweeping wall of sound, covered with repeating, ominous electronic touches. It's a song like a thunderstorm. You see it rolling in. You can feel the air turn cool and damp. And then the as it starts to rain, nature adds all the layers of sound and experience that make it truly special. Still, it's a slow track, one that burns ice-cold. "Monday Morning" is all buzz, fuzz and great tonal riff. Another very '80s style song that tries to hold the middle ground between huge acoustic new wave battle cry and folk rock. At the halfway mark, the electronic elements become more obvious, and though it doesn't quite hit a point of higher energy, "Monday Morning" feels like it gets stronger, healthier as it plays.

"Portable Television" despite its meager length, is a real treat. A straightforward love song that evokes imagery from a time when televisions had fuzz rather than just a screen from the cable provider or television manufacturer with the bouncing words "no signal." But, "Underneath the Sycamore" is another great, cute, catchy track too. It feels like a Ben Folds song at the outset with playful piano and chanting vocals. And it's on the poppy side of things, energetic, somewhat Olde Timey, but continuously joyful despite its lyrics. It never grows to a huge crescendo, never flies over the top. Gibbard remains pretty metered throughout, conservatively holding back a sonic explosion, which makes the track a little dry, but no less truly enjoyable. "St. Peter's Cathedral" goes back to the Death Cab roots. Gibbard carries the first minutes of the track. And it's a song about the size of things and the insignificance of creation, humanity, design and our place in the universe. It's also kind of U2-y, insofar as it sounds like a U2 song... perhaps mixed with a bit of "Take A Picture" by Filter. "Stay Young, Go Dancing" is perfect. I can't say a negative thing. And it closes the album perfectly.

As a departure, or as a continuation Codes and Keys serves only to enhance the mythos of Death Cab for Cutie. It shows Ben Gibbard's songwriting and vocal abilities off in strong fashion. And while some tracks are slow, and the pacing of the album feels a little like waking up without coffee at first, every aspect of the album works exceptionally. If you like Death Cab, this record may take a while to grab you. If you don't well, shit, I don't know how long it will take you to like it, but you will. Codes and Keys is full of significant callbacks to other artists, brilliant lyrics and catchy songs. You'll definitely find yourself stuck on a few. Listen to it below, go buy it, then hug it out with a loved-one on a bearskin rug.

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Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Justin Vernon has come a long way in three years. That's not to imply there was anything unsatisfying about For Emma, Forever Ago. That album is undeniably mighty. And now, in contrast to Bon Iver, that first album feels like the solemn, sweet build toward something massive. The acoustic calm before the electric storm. Though I'm reluctant to call Bon Iver some kind of electric breakthrough. It's not. It's a reasonable progression. It's poppy and powerful. Loaded with grinding, thumping energy. There are moments when it feels as if a folk guitarist and a small brass band have crashed into a busy dance club. But never, NEVER! to disastrous effect. The truth is, and if you've already heard this dozens of times over the 2 months that the album was floating around the internet due to leakage stay with me, Bon Iver is phenomenal. Every ambitious rock element Justin Vernon plays with is exceptionally done. Every soft note of lament or ballad is perfect. The lyrics are heart-plucking, tear-jerking and foot-tapping, and at times all three at once. This is as lush an album as I've listened to all year. And it's Bon Iver, a band whose name pronunciation has caused some controversy on the It's A Thing! podcast, so ultimately, this is built to satisfy.

"Perth" is your holy-shit-really!? moment to start the album. It's a track so powerful, big and energized that it's nearly unexpected. I want to take a little aside real quick... Justin Vernon is a busy man. In the three years since For Emma..., he has created an EP with Bon Iver, collaborated with Kanye West on My Beautiful Dark Twisted etc., churned out an exceptional album with Volcano Choir called Unmap, and recorded a full album with GAYNGS. During all of that, he also composed this album. This beautiful fucking wonderful album that makes you cry and jump and sing and cry a little more. If I had a nickel for each time Justin Vernon has done something prolific, I'd be heavy enough for the mob to kill me without the cement shoes. Anyway, "Perth" is just so incredibly epic. And when it ends, the album tapers down into a gentle plucking guitar that reloads our hearts and ears for a more delicate "Minnesota, WI." Some of the greatest beauty comes in the form of the haunting "Holocene," a sad song about reminiscing and learning to see beyond the past. The gorgeous call "I can see for miles, miles, miles" bring a tear to my eye just as it holds a cache of golden catchiness. It's a song that demonstrates so greatly how much Justin Vernon know about quality song writing. The careful rattling snare and fluttering horns mixed into the background just seem to fall like fresh snow. It doesn't matter that it's June, nearly July. It's a mood and an emotion and a world unto its own.

"Towers" is wonderful too! Another gentle track that gives way to the casual waltz of "Michicant" where bike bells and echoing, smooth drums fill in the back beat. The build and the growth in this short track is nothing short of admirable. "Hinnom, TX" has that '80s era synth warble and demonstrates again the vocal range Vernon possesses. His throatier, non-falsetto, feels almost like a TV On The Radio track. And you may even pick up a tiny bit of Sufjan Stevens in the arrangement. Going back, it's just amazing what Justin Vernon can come up with. From every cover he has put his own mark upon, including the Bonnie Raitt medley from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, to his Feist cover, he is always learning from every song he hears. That's not to say he lacks his own style. Not at all. Instead, he's like a musical super sponge. It's as if his technique changes so constantly and so perfectly with each new bit of information. And while every band grows over time, Vernon and Bon Iver seem to grow more broadly, sprawling as much as they reach skyward. "Wash." is a soft track that starts with subtle, repetitive piano and starts pulling in multiple directions, adding strings and loops and warbling electronic touches. If you don't listen closely you can miss some of these stylistic touches. But you will listen closely because it's worth it.

"Calgary" is especially interesting for the reasons I've just mentioned. It begins like a calm day and builds almost slowly enough that you'd never notice until it's nearly a power pop track and then it cools and disappears. So fucking beautiful. Really. The penultimate track "Lisbon, OH" is a brief rest, a calm before the final cry that is "Beth / Rest." And "Beth / Rest" feels a bit like Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence." That's a compliment. And really it's nothing like it, but there's something in the chord progression. And the synthy echo of the piano. Regardless, you could not ask for a better closing track. Or for that matter, a better album.

I'd love to have had the complete album streaming here, but since it just came out, and experienced the leakage issues early this year, it's not fully available anywhere. So instead, check out the links above and the video below, a remix of "Skinny Love" that will light your lamp.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #10 - "For All The Lovers"

Holy shit! It's A Thing! And not just any thing, but this thing... is the 10th thing... Apparently not the only thing out there. A "competing" podcast is out there, being a thing too. Weird right? But at least Jared and Mikey are back in the Alps where they're safe from internet doppelgangers. And hey, the boys are doing okay... on this THEMED SHOW! For all the lover's out there, it's time to get aroused, get cozy, but don't crack open that bottle of wine just yet. You don't want to spoil your love-ppetite. The important thing is that this thing, which is undeniably a THING, is all about love. Don't touch the radio dial... it's not yours. You don't own a radio. It's 2011. Apparently Mikey used to live in Seattle and saw Cursive there. And Jared lists the extravagance in which they record the show. All the while in total darkness. With a noose dangling from the ceiling... Apparently the noose stuff just gets creepier. Is Jared a sociopath? Will he be as popular as Dexter? Can anyone be? AMAZEMENT! There's so much story, even to tell more in this synopsis would ruin the crap out of ALL of them. Okay, fine, you got me... Mikey hadn't heard a song, but remembers D'Angelo and that one video that we all remember. Fan-boy gushing ensues. There's love, baseball, stuff, things! You'll LOVE it. And it will love you back. Hopefully gently. Oh wait for it... total nudity. And a sneak peek at next week's episode... with a special guest.

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June 15: Okkervil River & Titus Andronicus

Damn this frail body. Damn this mortality. I used to be bulletproof. Now I feel like a bullet magnet. In the process of last night's phenomenal Okkervil River and Titus Andronicus show, I noticed that my lightly bruised shin/ankle (result of a soccer collision) was swelling up like a gourmand locked overnight in a bakery. No big deal, except that Gas Lantern Media's own Kellen O'Brien was boarding Titus for the night. And I had every intention of chatting it up with the band. And had my ankle not started murdering me like I was a post-coital teen at Camp Crystal Lake, I would have. Spilt milk, I suppose. But it makes me wonder why I can't have nice things...

Enough of my bitching. The show, one that filled the Bluebird to delightful capacity, was exceptional in every way. I heard, second hand, that the very opening act, Julianna Barwick, was less than spectacular, but I can't speak to that because we arrived only just in time to see Titus take the stage. So remember, that was second-hand commentary... from a reliable source.

Titus played their set, a relatively short one, with expert energy and unparalleled vigor. There were moments when the audience was so tuned into them, in that entranced, hypnosis way, that I couldn't believe they hadn't been the headliner. Throughout the set, there was a playful air, the energy throwing itself around the stage like a rag doll, blasting us with perfect walls of grinding guitar and pummeling drums. On their final song, Titus turned to a quiet place, opening with delicately sung vocals and a single electric violin. It was a beautiful and peaceful space, that they thrashed into rock oblivion with an undeniably excellent build. They played an amazing set and left the crowd wondering, at least for a moment, if they had just seen the best the night would offer. And I found myself harboring a fan-boy crush on the girl with the violin and a guitar wrapped around on her back, Amy Klein.

Okkervil River arrived about 30 minutes later. Will Sheff and Co. opened with a string of the pop-power fun tracks from the new album, I Am Very Far. At first, I wasn't sure if they were the band I remembered from The Stage Names. This group before me was some kind of noisy, angry and powerful entity quite different from the quiet, contemplative, reserved poets whose music I had first fallen for. About halfway through their set, they play "A Girl In Port" and it's amazing. Then they play "John Allyn Smith Sails" and it's staggeringly phenomenal. And when Okkervil closes the show, on the very expected and desired "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" the place explodes with fan-fueled ferocity. They destroy the Bluebird with that song. It is the best version I've ever seen that instantly re-invigorates my love of their music. And I start to wonder how anyone writes anything so great. It's a beautiful moment at a beautiful show. Ankle be damned.
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Fucked Up - David Comes To Life

David Comes To Life has the feel of an epic, sweeping narrative. In contrast other punk albums I've listened to in my life, this newest entry by Fucked Up, probably Toronto's most notable punk 6-piece, feels as much like a piece of the oral tradition as anything. Broken into 4 movements, it may as well be a 4-act play, built around the high drama that punk usually trades in. Really, punk, for all its anger and hardness, is one of the most melodramatic music genres. Feelings here are massive. The guitars cry out vengefully at every moment of destruction and doubt. The vocals are raspy and frustrated. And the pace, accelerated as it should be, serves more as a set-piece (this story takes place in a high-speed, grinding world) to keep a story of love and loss, ennui and rebirth. All the while maintaining the tongue-in-cheek tone necessary to keep interest and prevent a slide into emo. Still, Fucked Up figures out a way to create a rock/punk-opera, in the vein of Tommy, but more brutally contemporary. It's streaming below. Give it a listen.

Over 18 tracks, Fucked Up demonstrates incredible virtuosity with one perfectly crafted track after another. Sure, it's punk, but it's hook-heavy and catchy as hell no matter how you look at it. Each song serving as a short vignette that ties itself to the two songs around it. Conceptually, it's well-thought out, and in execution it is incredibly enjoyable. David Comes To Life rides a theme of "waiting for the other shoe," in a way that even as it appears outwardly tough (those raspy, potent vocals and crunchy guitars) it maintains a sense of constant vulnerability. This is a story of someone finally getting what he wants, fearing losing it, losing it, discovering the truth of why he lost it and then bouncing back. The perfect part is that for all that seriousness, implied and explicit, Fucked Up never loses sight of having fun. And in so doing, they maintain the punk ethos... anger, speed, hooks, distemper, etc.

David Comes To Life feels complete. That's the most important thing. The story follows a strong, well-spelled-out arc and does so without ever compromising the band's musical wheelhouse. Fucked Up holds onto the abrasiveness we desire, demand and expect from punk music, and in the process produce a whole overflowing bushel of beauty too. Hearing this album isn't a unique experience necessarily, but it is a truly valuable one. And knowing that there was not one song on this album that DIDN'T grab my ears immediately, shake me about and take possession of my focus is accomplishment enough. Give it a listen. Even if punk isn't usually your thing, and it's definitely not every one's, this album will fulfill your desires. And if you don't like the raspy, guttural vocals, they become easy enough to drown out, leaving you awash in a sea of phenomenal progressions, licks and drum work.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #9

On the 9th It's A Thing! titled "How Did It Come To This?" or "Brand New Numbers" or "Nudity In The Mountains." Since they passed the naming rights to me, I'm gonna call it "The Incredible Roadtrip Through Sonic Sadness." Jared and Mikey discuss the future of the podcast, including some special guests and program notes. Plus, cabs and helicopters: Which one is the more responsible transport to their Alps studio? Laughter occurs at regular and repeat intervals. Jared's bad habits with bartenders cause some weighty resentment. It's just pleasant. Very pleasant. Almost too pleasant. Then Jared talks about his dog Luka, strange laps, and space maps. Suddenly, the floor drops out of the room and sadness washes over them like that swamp in The NeverEnding Story... Oh gods and clown makeup! Secrets will be revealed! Mistakes will be made. Happiness will be brought back to the mid-line. Luckily, the boys have plenty of money for all the times they'll be sued. And that's somewhere around a million... Also, look there out on the distant rampart! It's a reference to the Charleston! Will Jared break his hip before he gets the chance to become an older man? It's an emotional and raucous episode, loaded with blurts and bursts of madness, and in that way it's just like real life, only much, much funnier. Giant air guitar! Exclamation point (bang)!

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Vinyl Worthy: My Morning Jacket – Circuital

We've been blessed with another exceptional column by guest writer and aficionado Kellen O'Brien. Let's not belabor with a long intro... The album is streaming at the bottom of the review. Get to it! - Nate

Kellen O'Brien: I took an early evening stroll last week to Twist and Shout to purchase Circuital. After a cursory stroll through the stacks, I giddily walked home. One tangent about Twist and Shout: retro electronica is a new section in the stacks. When I returned to my apartment, I delighted in the process of tearing the plastic wrap from glossy cardboard. The album is sleek, and possesses a retro modern feel that only Wilco pulls off as equally. The vinyl also has a nice touch, mini fires that grace each label. My Morning Jacket has long been a band to buy on vinyl, and this album showed that they have a deep respect for vinyl purchasers.

My Morning Jacket promoted this album in a nearly perfect way. First, they teased fans with five weeks of free live tracks, culled from their career spanning Terminal 5 shows. This series finished with a download of the title track. Cobbled together, the Terminal 5 songs make for a strong live EP. Not long after releasing “Circuital”, the Jacket streamed the album’s most arresting tune, “Holding on to Black Metal.” ON the eve of the album release, “Victory Dance” surfaced. A cheeky move. 

The band’s “Storyteller’s” appearance shined a light on Jim James the song writer. He wears so many hats, and wears them so well. James was candid, humorous, and emotional as he described the origin of particular songs. “Dondante” took on much added significance, as James’ explained that the song is a tribute to a deceased friend conceived immediately after the dream described in the lyrics.
With the augmentation of these promotional tools and my deep fandom of the band, my listening to the album took on a deeper and more nuanced understanding than for ordinary records. I have always appreciated the Jacket most as a live force. Seeing a performance nearly a decade ago was my first introduction to the band and I have continued to see them on a nearly annual basis. However, I also frequently listen to their studio albums, at least chunks of them. My favorite chunks are the opening halves of It Still Moves and Z. Their songs dot many of my playlists, ranging from “Librarian” to “Master Plan.” They are one of my favorite bands and, as much as a music fan can be, I am proud of them.

The Jacket has cemented itself as this era’s festival stalwart. I would venture that in the next five years they will headline a night at one of the major four festivals. Of course, they are most closely linked with Bonnaroo. I witnessed 2004’s “Welcome to the Thunderdome” performance, 2005’s puppet conducted performance, and 2008’s epic midnight until 4 AM set that included Kirk Hammett on “One Big Holiday,” a suite of R&B covers, and a persistent, cold, dreary rain. This year they pre-headline Saturday during an envy producing run of music starting with Florence and the Machine, Jacket, then Arcade Fire, with Big Boi, Ratatat, Bassnectar and Pretty Lights providing late night. Yes please! Another Wilco connection: Wilco pre-headlined my favorite night of Bonnaroo ever: Saturday 2009: Wilco, The Boss, NIN, MGMT. The Jacket certainly has the tuneage to perform an 8:30-midnight set, but they need a higher peak to have the popular appeal of Pearl Jam or Arcade Fire.

That said, The Jacket is a live powerhouse, transcendent—I have seen them eight times over the last nine years, in venues enormous and tiny. They have played five of my favorite 30 or so concerts. When I listen to them, I imagine how each of their songs will fit in their live repertoire.

After careful consideration then, I have decided that there are three types of songs on this album:


“Out of My System” is one of the happiest, most exuberant Jacket tracks. It is also one of their few anthems. The twinkling keyboards and summer montage bass line build up and tickle the toes of euphoria. After several listens, this has become my favorite song on the album, a feel good summer powerhouse that washes down like Somersault Ale.

“Victory Dance” will stalk the open air with threatening keyboards and bass lines that darken the tune’s atmospheric clouds. The last thirty seconds of the song unleash the cathartic thunderstorm of menacing guitar, rumbling drums, and funneling wails.

One of the great things about the Jacket is how easily they can morph from a five-piece concert act into a multi-faceted extravaganza. It is unfortunate “Holding onto Black Metal” did not exist for Bonnaroo 2008, when a horn section joined the Jacket for a suite of 70s soul and R&B. Even without accouterment, the groovy bass line will still float just beneath the surface like a Great White shark on the prowl.

Slow Dance in the Breeze

“First Light” could be a burner, but I also think it’s a perfect opportunity to twist and shake with your chosen lady or gentleman. Continuing the chipper tone of “Outta My System,” the song rocks out fully at the end as directed by Carl Broemel’s fuzzy guitar solo. Broemel has certainly taken a step forward on this album. His guitar work no longer sits in the shadow of its inspirations; for the first time, Broemel’s riffs and solos are completely his own.

“Circuital” sounds like one of the bands the Jacket paved the way for. Local Natives, Band of Horses, and Fleet Foxes come most directly to mind, although there are many others. (I love it when neophyte’s tell me that MMJ reminds them of Fleet Foxes.) However, the tune slowly builds a solid foreground groove with interesting sounds bubbling beneath the surface.

“Wonderful” recalls ‘70s soft rock—an era not often considered an essential influence—by bringing out the tender side of James’ vocals. “Wonderful” is so tender that a James Taylor duet would be perfectly natural.

“Slow Slow Tune” is one of the few songs on the album that is a bit of retread. Hearkening back to “I Will Sing You Songs” My Morning Jacket has covered this ground before. Both songs are cradle-rocking lullabies that give the band’s sound a counter balance to the roaring fire in songs like “One Big Holiday” and “Mahgeetah.”

Time to Get a Beer

Movin’ Away” recalls a better song, “Phone Went West,” than “Slow Slow Tune,” but following in its wake “Movin’ Away” is to slow to satisfactorily bring the album to an end.

“You Wanna Freak Out” is more than anything a chance to look for a lighter or replenish the stash of IPAs.

Every time I try to listen to “The Day is Coming” I zone out and don’t recognize sound again until “Wonderful” is nearly a third of the way in. It could just be me.

This incarnation of the Jacket has been together for seven years; it seems that after three albums of lineup upheaval, this one is complete. Their first two albums are both high in quality, but do not represent the complete sound that the Jacket now possesses. Drummer Patrick Hallahan is the group’s most underrated member. Although his joining the band may not have been a causal factor in their ascendance, it more than coincided. Hallahan’s energy and force provide much of the engine of their live performance. His inclusion also marks my first run-in with the band.

Together with my two best friends, I took a weekend road-trip from the University of Wisconsin to Chicago for a concert and a Cubs game.  We were joined at the show by our concert buddy Drew, and had purchased tickets on the affinity we had for openers Detachment Kit and Burning Brides. Detachment Kit played chaotic indie rock and Burning Brides contributed V2 Garage Rock. Like a lot of the Metro shows I attended in that era, patrons were sparse and it was easy to lock down a spot on the rail at the foot of the stage.

Predating the release of It Still Moves by four months, this show opened my eyes and made me an instant fan. I stood about ten feet from Jim James. Back then he hid his face behind long hair that hid his face almost completely. The bands rollicking Southern rock filled me with energy; I didn’t know the songs but I danced and head banged with them anyway. At the time, the Jacket provided a perfect bridge between hard rock, my high school persuasion, and jam band, which I listened to almost exclusively by the end of my college career. I was hooked, and have waited anxiously for all albums and concert opportunities ever since.

My excitement for Circuital increased as my view of their previous album crystallized. After careful consideration, I have determined that Evil Urges is best viewed as a set of EPs cobbled together to form an LP. I determined long ago that it is not a vinyl worthy album. Z and It Still Moves join Circuital as vinyl worthy, and At Dawn is likely the next purchase. In fact, At Dawn might prove to be the most vinyl worthy of all.  But back to Evil Urges for a moment.

The songs should have been organized in the following EPs. Released in this arrangement in waves over a two-year period, these recordings would have a completely different reputation in music snob circles.

EP #1: Evil Urges, I’m Amazed, Two Halves, Aluminum Park, Remnants

EP #2: Touch Me I’m Going to Scream (Pt. 1), Thank You Too, Look at You, Sec Walking, Smokin’ from Shootin’.

Stand alone single: A Side - “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream (Pt. 2)” B Side - “Librarian”

Leave out “Highly Suspicious” as a live gem and don’t give the chance for Pitchfork to take swipes like, “Any discussion of this record has to start with the eye-poppingly annoying "Highly Suspicious", a loud thud ending any chance Urges had to match the group's previous records… I cringe thinking of an entire amphitheatre singing along to "peanut-butter pudding surprise" unless they're at a Ween show.” Three years later, I am still offended by the harshness of that comment. The sing along point is justly given, but this song has still become a live standout. At Bonnaroo 2008, “Highly Suspicious” allowed Jim James to showcase his talents at their most fully virtuosic. First, a high paced Joker-like “High” held for close to a minute followed instantly by an ear-ripping guitar solo. On record, this vocal becomes metallic and foreign; live it was testament to James’ other-worldly pipes. I still remember his silhouette as he held that note, arched skyward like a rejoicing werewolf.

More Pitchfork: “After listening to Urges, I wonder if My Morning Jacket might just be satisfied following in the footsteps of labelmates Dave Matthews Band: nestling into a comfortable niche and aiming for the Starbucks carousel with rootsy New Age romanticism.” To be fair, Pitchfork has had a lot of nice things to say about the Jacket. In fact, Evil Urges is the only Jacket album to receive a negative review (It Still Moves was given Best New Music status), but this criticism misses the mark with its broad accusation of selling out; what My Morning Jacket pushed towards on Evil Urges is Jim James’ mantra, which the review’s writer used to praise their earlier work: “don’t remain creatively static.” Evil Urges did not seek a new, latte-purchasing fan base or the complacent creative comfort many bands settle for a decade into their career—look for instance at Red Hot Chili Pepper’s creative stagnation after Californication or DMB. Instead it was an experiment in different sounds from disco to soul to soft rock. Jim James and company didn’t want to settle for retro modern Southern Rock; they wanted to take off their plaid shirts, cut their hair, and put on some new dancing shoes. They wanted to push their sound in a new direction, to challenge themselves, to defy fan expectations. To defeat stagnation, they took risks most bands would avoid if they had the standing My Morning Jacket had at that point in their history. Evil Urges is their most courageous album, and one of the most courageous albums of this past decade from any major band.

Don’t remain creatively static. This ethos lays much of the groundwork of Circuital, an album that is a return to the band’s core, but which also makes confident strides to expand the band’s sound. See: “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” includes backup singers in the soul revue style they dove so deeply and divisively into on Urges. “Wonderful,” fits snugly in the Jacket repertoire after the palette expanding, and endlessly sexy “Librarian.” Now, Evil Urges doesn’t sound like a misstep, it sounds like a natural part of the My Morning Jacket sound. Taking risks has kept the band fresh and vital after the huge wave of success they road post-Moves, and, to be sure, it makes them one of 2011’s most essential bands.

Because Evil Urges must have been a process of taking new, somewhat awkward steps as a band, it tested the Jacket’s sound for a new sonic climate (year 2010, when niche became everything. I’m looking at you chillwave.) If not for this decision, the band might well have accepted a stagnant sound, and Circuital would be part of their falling action. Now, it seems like the beginning of a new ascent.

Circuital hints at continued transformation that began before Evil Urges. As a devout My Morning Jacket fan, I am content to let them progress as they will, especially if they continue to deliver the goods in concert. However, this album brightens my view of their future relevancy. It’s clear the band decided their emo-Allman Brothers sound expired sometime during It Still Moves and Z. They, especially Jim, have explored several avenues since then, and it makes sense that Circuital doesn’t sound completely settled. They are still growing as a band. My Morning Jacket is not a flashy new outfit you hustle to a thrift store after one summer, they are your favorite hoodie from college that has worn well and will be worn well for a while yet to come.

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Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island

Chad VanGaalen reigns from the Great White Northerness of Calgary, Alberta. He does his recording in a home  studio called, playfully, "Yoko Eno." His music is multi-layered and charming. It feels almost effortless. VanGaalen, like any studier and creator of music, displays a strong awareness and fondness for music's past in each of his songs, but what he has also succeeded in doing is touching all the bases required to stand up to bands like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear. His music is enveloping, but pop-aware. And it goes beyond mere serviceability by infusing brilliantly complex production and electronic and dream-pop elements that enhance each track. His newest, Diaper Island, is alive with those notions. VanGaalen is able to hit the design notes of Brian Wilson, Lennon/McCartney, and Costello, while still constructing sonic buildings that are of their own genre. By using sparse and clattering guitar tones, amid many washing walls of echo, fuzz, hush and reverb, VanGaalen seems driven to nearly bury the hooky pop he has written, but leave it in a shallow enough grave that it can claw back out and surprise. (Yes, like a zombie.) And all the while, Diaper Island surprises on another level.

Songs like "Heavy Stones" come right out of the Ryan Adams Heartbreaker realm, suddenly so delicate and natural, lacking all the electronic adornment and flourish of earlier tracks like "Peace On The Rise" and "Burning Photographs." It works, too, in part because VanGaalen doesn't leave one song hanging out there. After that, he presents "Sara," a song that feels beautifully Fleet Foxian, with a touch of Crosby, Stills and Nash. It's another beautiful natural track that fits so perfectly, while elegantly lifting the pace and setting the tone for further experimentation. That set of tone is essential. The crunchy and energizing "Replace Me" follows and fills in all the pastoral openness of the previous two tracks with a healthy dose of fuzz, pounding drums and screaming reverb. It's an amazing lift. A jolt of caffeine after a calming hike. And it is followed by the psychedelia of "Blonde Hash," swirling with repetitive chants and grungy guitars. And post-trip, it's a speedy, pop-gasmic '60s-esque track called "Freedom For A Policeman." "Can You Believe It?" adds a massive spoonful of space-rock to the situation, loaded with powerful echo and crunching speedy riffs. Plus, there's some hilariously wonderful lyrics.

In mastering all of these genres, and capturing them so perfectly while adding his own flavor, VanGaalen concocts one of the most eclectic and immediately charming albums of the year. It is bombastic and frenetic, darting from thought to thought and style to style, but in that it succeeds so spectacularly each time, that kind of "aimlessness" becomes enjoyable and very much desirable. If you enjoy the bands I've mentioned before, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket and other purveyors of great folk, power pop, and effects-heavy guitars, this is an album you must hear.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #8

The eighth It's A Thing finds Mikey and Jared far from their usual studio in the Alps on a whole new continent. Mikey attempts to make amends with his brother and father after last week's "Razor-Scooter-broken-leg-Playstation-3-purchase" debacle. It's a heart-warming series of fathers and sons and brothers, and family. But can Mikey's tall tales stand up against Jared's small stories? It's a tough task given that Jared will mention that movie where Bill Murray keeps waking up over and over and over again to repeat the same day. What's that movie called? Moments include: sketchy cabs and borrowed time, waiting tables at terrible breakfast restaurants... (Gas Lantern Media does not condone the throwing of bricks through storefront windows.) Oh man, and there are pie trees! All the flavors of the rainbow! Great tunes fill in the gaps between massive life-changing revelations! Isn't that a treat!? Will they survive to create a potential ninth and tenth podcast? Yes. Sorry to spoil it. But, yes. Yes they will!

It's A Thing #8
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June 2: The Dodos

Photo courtesy of Max Winkler
Oh a trend is forming! Another show with no Nate. Instead, our phenomenal concert correspondent, Kellen O'Brien hit up the Dodos show on Thursday night at the Bluebird Theater. We've got shots and video (courtesy of Max Winkler) from the show, so get ready to get something!

Kellen: The Dodos are water drinkers. With pounding rhythmic interplay, drummer Logan Kroeber and frontman Meric Long perform a sonic biathlon. After most songs, Kroeber spent a few moments massaging his wrists and wiping off the sweat. A compelling two-person act takes a lot of energy even if there is a modern day Pat Smear in accompaniment.

After working until 8, I met Lizzie at my apartment. We had a quick drink with our concert buddies and high tailed it to the Bluebird. We missed Gauntlet Hair, and the Dodos were already on stage when we arrived. I quickly purchased myself a McSorley’s Irish Black Lager and found a spot on the first terrace. As I said in my No Color review, the Dodos stick to a signature sound.

Long and Kroeber are sound fiends. They went on huge digressions several times, jamming relentlessly. When they discovered a different key or rode a wave of feedback, happiness washed over their faces.

Long and Kroeber play in sync, in their own worlds.

They also played spot on renditions of some of their best songs. “Fools” is one of my favorites, an early standout, and Thursday’s set closer.

Initially, I felt a bit underwhelmed because the Dodos only played an hour, but, upon further reflection, I am happy they left me wanting more. With a fresh, simple sound, a pleasing live show, and one of the best band names in the business, I am sure that I will see them many more times in the future.
Photo courtesy of Max Winkler

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June 1: Yeasayer

Another great show that I was unable to attend, but fortune smiles upon us all because guest columnist, the immortal concert connoisseur Kellen O'Brien brings you a spirited and critically epic review. Grab an ice cream sandwich, dust off the monitor and set the phone to silent. It's go time...

Kellen: Yeasayer might have invented a new genre: slow jams electronica. There will be head bobbing, but leave the deodorant at home, because you aren’t going to break a sweat.

The Ogden hosted a three-ring hipster circus Wednesday night with Yeasayer the star attraction. After selling out the Bluebird last year with Sleigh Bells, Yeasayer moved west down Colfax. They had no trouble filling the place on a weeknight; we arrived at 9:30 and had to settle for a spot on the third terrace. The late arrival cost us an opportunity to see the Smith Westerns, but bar-side buzz informed me that they encountered their typical mixing problems.

“Madder Red,” the opening number, displayed a couple of Yeasayer’s live strengths. During the song’s extended intro, synths bubbled underneath a crisp two-drummer groove that recalled Phil Collins’ most famous thirty seconds. Then the two vocalists took over; the vocals set Yeasayer apart from the indie rubble. On “Madder Red” it became clear that the high-low cohesion and catchiness of the vocals would dominate the performance. Tunes like “Rome” and “Ambling Alp” were fluid anthems. Other songs relied on keyboard flourishes, jungle beats, samples, and even hip hop scratching to add texture and vivaciousness.

As much as I appreciated this energetic quintet of groove merchants, I couldn’t help but think what they could become. For a band taking their cues from Prince, they lack virtuosity. When they played “O.N.E.” halfway through the set, I expected the energy to increase, but it hit a plateau. No one, namely the guitarist, stepped up to solo, which would have elevated the sound above the album version. On “Mondegreen” however, he gave a taste of what the Yeasayer sound can become when it is topped off with guitar. The sound became three-dimensional and filled the space fully.

Ultimately, Yeasayer only has 50 minutes of concert, so the 70-minute set felt at times like the checkout line of a grocery store. Luckily, they did produce some quality banter to fill in the gaps. “We saw a lot of you pre-partying in the bar at the hotel across the street. (Pause) I wondered if it was a halfway house.” Zing. I don’t want to hate on Yeasayer too much, because they put everything they had into the show and I definitely enjoyed it. I just hope they can develop rock and roll chops to further augment their confident song writing and sonic abilities.
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