Downtime… July 24, 2010

Our ongoing computer issues continued to cripple us this month, however… all is now right with the world and we are back on track. So, we put the mess of the last two months behind us and deliver a new installment of downtime.

High on Fire reissues!!!

Relapse is reissuing a few of High on Fire’s greatest albums on LP. That’s right, no longer do you need to spend upwards of $100 on eBay to get Blessed Black Wings on vinyl. Head on over to Relapse and get it for only $22. While you’re there you can add Death is this Communion and Surrounded By Thieves for $22 each,  as well. As of this writing they also have a great sale price of $16.50 on High on Fire’s latest Snakes for the Divine. Don’t miss out!

Captured Tracks

Wow, talk about a label worth exploring! Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks has been slowly but surely making their presence known for the last year or two with a solid slate of quality releases. Admittedly, I’m a bit late to the game with these guys, but I refuse to believe I’m the only one. This is one of those labels where I’d heard of very few of their bands, but almost every one sounds like they’d be pretty amazing. Take some time and check out two fantastic new records on this label – Wild Nothing’s Gemini LP and Beach Fossils’ self titled LP. Both records are getting a lot of love from the press lately and it’s certainly warranted.

Guided By Voices

I’m sure I don’t need to mention it, but how about that Guided By Voices reunion tour!!!! I won’t go into details because it’s been in the news constantly. Just noting our excitement. Thanks for indulging us.

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Downtime…. June 21, 2010

Downtime. Hopefully we all get at least a few minutes of this everyday. We here at Little Umbrellas are taking it upon ourselves to make sure you have something to do with your downtime by starting a new weekly feature that we hope you’ll enjoy. Downtime will highlight a few things we’ve discovered or found entertaining in the last week. So, to kick things off, here are two things we’ve been really into this week….

TAPES

That’s right, the primary medium of our youth is making a quiet but forceful comeback. Remember the 80’s and early 90’s when the cassette was the people’s medium? You made mix tapes, demo tapes, dub tapes…. whatever. They were cheaper than the CD, more portable, and seemed both modern and retro. The best thing about cassettes was the tiny cassette labels that were a dime-a-dozen back in the day. Everybody had a tape label; literally thousands of bands had a cheap outlet for their music and these fantastic little labels fostered and fueled an entire facet of the indie-rock scene. Well, thankfully it’s happening again. Afer being all but squashed by the once mighty CD, tapes and the labels that love them are slowly working their way back into the scene. This time, I think cassette labels will not just be an easy outlet for every local Joe with a band, this time I predict tape labels will be the new taste-makers. Really interesting experimental music is finding its way to cassette and happily thriving in the medium. A lot of other sounds are  popping up on tape labels, but more importantly, new sounds are being born here. If you feel like music is a bit stagnant these days, take a chance on some hot new cassettes. This is the place to experiment. For the price of one CD or LP you can pick up two or three cassettes and here two or three bands doing some really imaginative stuff. Our two favorite tape labels as of today are Plustapes and  Sweat Lodge Guru. Plustapes is a pretty fantastic label that’s been at this for some time now. Everything we’ve heard from these guys has been quality. Sweat Lodge Guru is a brand new label from the folks who run the amazing OMG Vinyl blog. The first four releases are available now. While we have yet to hear these releases we hope to very soon. Considering one of the tapes is from These Wonderful Evils, we’re pretty convinced this label will be a winner. Please check these two labels out and send them a few of your hard-earned $$$. We’re betting you’ll be more than satisfied.

LEMONADE

It’s summer as of today and what goes better with the hot weather than Lemonade. The drink is nice and all, but we’re even more in love with the CocoRosie single of the same name. The track is from their new Sub Pop album Grey Oceans and it’s nothing short of genius. Please see the video documentation provided.

Hope this keeps you busy for the week. Thanks for sticking around and it’s good to be back.

Sorry for the interruption….

If you’ve been reading this blog you’ve probably already left us for dead. It’s been just over two months since the last post. We’re really sorry about that. No really, we are. A series of computer issues and personal obligations really set things back for us, but the end is in sight. Computer issues are nearly resolved and summer lies ahead like an open, uncluttered landscape. The long and short of the situation is that we’ll be back in action any day now, actually probably later today. Next legitimate post is nearly ready to go… you’re excited I know, but wait just a bit longer…..

Robert Pollard Revisited: Robert Pollard with Doug Gillard – Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department

1999. It was a new era for Guided By Voices. New band, new label, new elements to a classic sound…. you know the story. This was also the time when Robert Pollard’s fledgling solo career started to get some lift under its wings. The vehicle for all things Pollard, outside of GBV, was the Fading Captain Series. This label was home to a host of Pollard projects, some good, some not so much.

The first really amazing Fading Captain release and Pollard solo effort was his collaboration with Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department.  In many ways, this is one of the most satisfying releases in Pollard’s catalog. These songs bring together the intimate, homemade feel of the best moments of Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand and weaves them into the mesh of Gillard’s instrumentation. Gillard’s music is polished and loaded with hooks, which proves the perfect vehicle for Pollard’s inspired songs. The album’s opener, “Frequent Weaver Who Burns”, is typical of the finer things on this record. Clean guitar lines and an easy vocal melody lift this song from the start. Really, the album just cruises from their. Other stand outs are the Pollard favorites “Pop Zeus” and “Tight Globes”. “Fo Something Real” hints at the Pollard-Gillard stadium rockers that surfaced on later GBV efforts. The song has the same big rock power but it’s delivered with small club intimacy and finesse. For my money, Pollard hits a home run with the last cut on the record, “And My Unit Moves”. The lyrics are cryptic but their delivery points to something darker, possibly ominous, possibly sad or nostalgic. It’s tough to determine the particular intent, but the song, as a whole, creates a perfect mood that speaks louder than the lyrics or any individual element.

Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department is a real high point in the ongoing career of Robert Pollard, as well as collaborator Doug Gillard. This one is not to be missed, so do yourself a favor and cruise over to Pollard’s site and pick up the CD for the meager sum of $5. Or you can surf ebay and pay something extortionate for the vinyl. Either way, don’t miss this one.

Robert Pollard Revisited: Guided By Voices – Isolation Drills

It’s no secret that Robert Pollard is one of the most prolific songwriters ever. I first became aware of Pollard sometime in late 1993, after the release of Bee Thousand. There were many albums and countless songs before that landmark album and there are even more in the years since Guided By Voices turned the world on its ear. A few weeks ago I was listening to Elephant Jokes, one of Pollard’s 2009 releases and one of his absolute best solo albums. As I flipped the record I wondered, if I had never heard Guided By Voices or any of the other bands Pollard fronted over the years, where would I start? For that matter, where would I recommend someone else start. It’s a tough question to answer. I think if you put 30 Bob fans in a room and asked the question you could very well come away with 30 different answers and a compelling argument for each. The longer I considered the question, the more difficult it became. I started slogging through record after record, taking mental inventory of the pros and cons of each. After an hour I decided to undertake an epic project. Starting today I plan to revisit and review as much of Robert Pollard’s catalog as I possibly can. Without further ado, here’s a look at Guided By Voices’s 2001 release, Isolation Drills.

Isolation Drills is an interesting Guided By Voices release on many levels. This is the band’s second and final album for TVT records, and the third album after the dissolution of the popular GBV line-up found on the earlier “classic” albums, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. In some ways Guided By Voices was still in the process of reinventing aspects of its personality. Isolation Drills’ predecessor, Do the Collapse, saw the band working with its first big-time producer in Rick Ocasek. Do the Collapse saw the beginning of Pollard writing songs that broke the 3 and 4 minute marks. For me, this one on the most notable qualities of Isolation Drills. The bulk of the 16 tracks clock in around the 3 to 4 minute area, and, most importantly, they sound like they were meant to be that length. The bands past attempts at longer tracks sometimes seemed forced, but not here. Finally, Isolation Drills saw the line-up of Pollard, Doug Gillard, Nate Farley, Jim McPherson, and Tim Tobias hit its stride. The band sounds comfortable and unstoppable on this record and Rob Schnapf’s production work only enhances the band’s chemistry.

Isolation Drills is packed with some of Guided By Voices most accessible, catchy, well-crafted songs. At the time of its release the indie-rock climate was such that the record went almost unnoticed. The fans were still paying attention, but the world at large, who ostensibly would love a slicker, better produced, more conventional GBV album, had moved on. Tracks like “Chasing Heather Crazy”, “Glad Girls”, “The Enemy”, and “Skills Like This” are incredible rockers. These are the Guided By Voices songs you would want to hear belted out as the band played a large arena. These songs are almost too big for the club; this is the soundtrack to a bigger party. “Frostman”, “Run Wild”, “How’s My Drinking?” and “Sister I Need Wine” harken back to the songwriting of the classic era. They are intimate while still sporting a full, produced sound. Lyrically Isolation Drills remains true to the Pollard and Guided By Voices tradition, but there is something slightly different here. I’ve never put my finger on exactly what it is, but I can only describe it as a kind of maturity. Maybe it was some kind of life-event for Pollard when the songs were written, I’m nor sure, but it does seems a bit more sober and introspective than other GBV records.

Isolation Drills remains one of my favorite Guided By Voices albums. Is this the starting point for the uninitiated? That’s still a tough one to answer, but it would definitely be one of the first five Pollard albums I’d recommend.

New Robyn Hitchcock Video for Ordinary Millionaire

Just heard  a new Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 album is due for release on March 22 in the UK, and April 6 in the US. The album is titled Propellor Time and if this song is any indication, this might be his best album in a long time…. see for yourself

Rachel Grimes – Book of Leaves

It’s true that often you don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s gone. I was acutely reminded of this when I heard Rachel Grimes new LP, Book of Leaves. Grimes ensemble, Rachel’s, is responsible for some of my favorite albums of the last 20 years. I was always thrilled when their new recordings showed up on the store shelves, but then it all stopped. Many times over the years I’ve wondered if they would ever record anything else, or if they were finished for good. Hearing Book of Leaves made me remember just how much I miss Rachel’s, but it gives me hope for future Grimes solo records.

I find the songs on Book of Leaves are more cohesive than some of the later Rachel’s records. These songs seem to belong together, interacting with each other closely, but in different ways on each listen. Most tend to be quiet and contemplative, but once in a while Grimes picks up the tempo adding a nice variety. “My Dear Companion” is a near perfect track, combining the upbeat with tender passages that are really unforgettable.  I would also recommend the two tracks that start the second side, “Mossgrove” and “Bloodroot”. The mood of this record is well served by its beautiful gatefold cover. Adorned with photos of trees, moss, and wood, the cover is a stunning and appropriate representation of the music is houses. These songs grow slowly, they seem quiet, yet are full of life, and like many aspects of nature, their beauty is in their subtlety.

While I do miss the full ensemble sound of Rachel’s, Rachel Grimes has cut a new path for herself with Book of Leaves. These songs retain the essence of Rachel’s beauty, but successfully leave the past in the past and forge a new way for a very talented artist. Please buy this record here. Act fast as these seem to be disappearing quickly.